Basil Rajapaksa has been out in the cold for some time but when the heat is on and the family sweat begins to flow from every pore, blood not only becomes thicker than water but turns viscid to become sticky syrup hard to remove. It’s time for the prodigal sibling to return home to the [...]


Basil comes in from the cold to build MR’s nest on SLFP branch


Basil Rajapaksa has been out in the cold for some time but when the heat is on and the family sweat begins to flow from every pore, blood not only becomes thicker than water but turns viscid to become sticky syrup hard to remove. It’s time for the prodigal sibling to return home to the family fold.

HAVEN OF REFUGE: "Now disgruntled members of the UPFA at least have a home to come to," Mahinda Rajapaksa said at the opening of his new political office in Battaramulla.

For a man who is out on bail after having served time in remand for over three months last year on a charge of misappropriating Divi Neguma Funds; for a man who last week invoked the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to pre-empt his imminent arrest on a similar charge which relates to amassing wealth illegally, it must take extraordinarily resolve and resilience for the former Economics Minister Basil Rajapaksa to focus his mind and energies on the singular task of creating from the ashes of triumphs, a new political party to serve as the decorated Rajapaksa float to transport his brother Mahinda back to the cutting edge of political power.

Where lesser mortals would have been swallowed up by the sinking hole of damning woe he is presently sucked into, he finds in that well of despair the lotus of his forlorn hopes poised to bloom; and nought — not even the dismal prospect of possible incarceration — can deviate him from performing his role as the live wire in the campaign to restore the family fortunes and see burnished the family silver.

And when one aspires to place his elder brother on the top of the ladder where else to begin but at the lowest rung? This week in a live television show, the erstwhile operator Basil Rajapaksa announced his commissioned plans to start from the local government pradeshiya sabha level and said he had a special obligation to help the cause of former UPFA members. “I am aiming for the forthcoming local government elections,” he declared.

“The current SLFP leadership had conveniently forgotten the party’s primary role, thereby depriving those who opposed the UNP a political platform,” he said stressing that the country needed an alternative political party against the UNP backed as it was by a section of the SLFP, the JVP as well as the main opposition party the Tamil National Alliance, all pursuing a common strategy.
True enough. The nation needs a dynamic opposition even as it needs a strong government. With the two major Sinhala-dominated parties forming a national government, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) with its 16 seats became the party with the highest number of members to occupy the opposing benches and was declared as the main opposition party in the House after the August elections last year.

But, as predicted, they abjectly failed to live up to the historic role of opposing the Government in matters that affected all of Lanka. Instead by their intrinsic inability to venture beyond the ambits of racial frontiers and only rise to the occasion when minority Tamil interests were on the line, they abdicated their responsibility of being a credible opposition and created a vacuum in the process.

That vacuum would have been easily filled by those donning the satakayas and sitting uncomfortably in the Government ranks and raising their hands to be heard in a tone and tenor different from their brethren on the same benches. Their frustration was audible.

Screaming in high pitched operatic notes which would have sounded like the mating call of a feline cat on a hot tin roof to some TV news commentators uninitiated in oratory’s octaves, there were many to rant and rave and to hurl the bricks against their own party but none carried the necessary weight to be of effect for it emanated from within and muffled thus could not burst through the tolerated decibel range.

Since August last year when the SLFP was relegated to second place in Parliament with the self-appointed campaign leader Mahinda Rajapaksa failing to win over the voters as he thought he could with his charisma and believed he would with his sycophants’ hosannas coupled with prophecies that the Rajapaksa magic would work to guarantee the party’s success, the constant refrain of the Mahinda rebels has been that they should be accorded recognition as a separate group within the party.
But how could they be so recognised by the Speaker when the party they hailed from and to which they owed their seats, were part and parcel of the national government under the leadership of President Sirisena who was both president of the SLFP and president of the UPFA, the umbrella outfit under which they had contested? But despite the speaker’s refusal, none was prepared to sever the cord linking them to the SLFP or UPFA motherboard.

But it was inevitable that this charade of hunting with the hounds when they were the hares being hunted had to end. And after six months of a cold war, this week it was clear the beginning of the end had begun.

Though appearing to be unable to tear himself away from his beloved SLFP of which he had been a member since almost antediluviun times, Mahinda Rajapaksa decision to open a new political party at Jayanthipura in Battaramulla last week signalled his decision to step into the Rubicon even if it was only to test the water and send waves of concern to the Maithri banks.
The emergence of a new political party to shed a different light on government action and provide a different voice to the nation is good news for Lanka’s democracy. The TNA has forfeited its right to lay claim on numbers alone to be the main opposition group in Parliament. If Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new emerging party is able to muster the allegiance of over 16 MPs then the mantle of the Opposition leader must fall on him. It will be good for the nation to have as the main opposition party one that has an axe to grind. It will ensure a vibrant democracy. The nagging question, however, is whether the Rajapaksa coterie will fit the bill? What exactly will the Rajapaksa axe be? And what will it grind?

Great political parties are often born and survive to fill a vacuum and to serve a public necessity. This was the case in 1951 when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike broke ranks and crossed over to the opposition benches to launch his new party the SLFP to give voice to the long suppressed Sinhala voice. With the party’s victory in 1956, the-two party system was born and no third force has been able to successfully usurp the UNP’s or the SLFP’s traditional roles in the two-party system that evolved as a result. Bandaranaike rode to power on the crest of public demand to have Sinhala interests better represented.

But sixty five years after SWRD took the momentous step of splitting the then monopolistic UNP, is Mahinda Rajapaksa preparing to split the party he says he loves more than anything else, and spurred only by such high motives of catering to a public demand in the public interest?

Or is he — in the manner of that white clad acolyte with the brilliantine conscience Gammanpila who, after being guillotined from the Jathika Hela Urumaya, formed his own one man band merely to portray himself as a leader of a political party to further his personal image and ends — only building his own nest on a decrepit SLFP branch to have a political force behind him to do his bidding, to bolster his flagging standing and enable him to brave the brewing storms that will soon hail down on him and his family? Is it to provide him with a cheerleader squad or a rabble rousing mob under his own command prepared to create trouble at every turn for the government and sabotage every beneficial proposal forwarded to further the public weal by the coalition government?

In the guise of filling a vacuum, is Rajapaksa forming a new political party to offer a much needed alternate voice or to further his own interest and safeguard his own position? Will opposing the Government be not for the sake of the people’s interest but for the sake of his own kith and kin facing as they do the advent of nemesis?

Take for instance the speech he made at the opening of the new political office in Battaramulla. After rolling out the red carpet to roll back the Maithri dawn, his main thrust was about the allegations of corruption he and his family faced. “If they can prove I have even one dollar of the 18 billion dollars they claim I have in a foreign offshore bank, I will cut my neck,” he declared. “The same allegation is made against Namal and he is also asking them to find these dollars if they can.”

“When I lost the election on January 8, I went to the village to retire. When I was asked to hand over the chairmanship of the SLFP, I gave that too and left for the village. I received advice that I need not give it up, that I need not hand it over, that he had no right to claim it since he had left the party and gone to contest the election, yet I thought seeing how SLFP supporters were being harassed, transferred, sacked, and arrested that if I have the party behind me I would have the power to save them and so I handed over the chairmanship and left for the village to live in retirement. Yet I couldn’t remain so, for the people came to my door in hundreds of thousands.”

But unlike Gammanpila’s one-man cosmetic party which can survive like a single cell amoeba, Mahinda’s new party will need thousands at grassroots level to emerge as a potent force. Undoubtedly, Mahinda’s personal popularity will ensure that he has sufficient cadres to applaud his every appearance. But they cannot vote for his party now for there is no election due in the horizon. Even the scheduled June local government polls which Basil had set his eyes on are reportedly postponed for next year. What is important now is whether he can attract senior members of the SLFP to break away from their political alma mater, and join him in exile.

Rajapaksa claimed at the opening of his new political office that there are 50 members in the UPFA who are the real opposition today in Parliament. He said, “They cannot talk independently. They are not given time to talk. That is the position that exists in the country. We may have many political differences. What we say is to them is to forget all these differences and join us for the time has come to unite on behalf of this country’s people. I believe that those SLFP members who joined the Government will soon take a decision whether to remain in the Government or to join us in the opposition.”

But will they? General elections are four years away. Who will be the senior figures in the SLFP willing to give up their ministerial portfolios and the attendant perks and privileges; willing to invite the wrath of an all powerful executive president able to spank their bottoms red as punishment for past misdemeanours with one hand or with the other balm with incense and myrrh to enhance their every mood and better their lives, and opt to spend four years paying penance with Mahinda plotting revenge in purgatory? Who will be the wives or mistresses who will allow them? If they are any, better stand up and be counted now and be identified as those who have strayed beyond the pale of Maithri redemption. And what would be the fate of the party and its members if the charismatic founder meets his?

All the signs show that the new party is not designed to achieve long term goals. Even if the local government elections are held this June, though the Govt has announced it will not be, and even if the Mahinda new party wins at the elections, how will the victory at parochial polls herald lasting comeback signals for Mahinda? It will only be a temporary barometer of public opinion.

The national government caravan will roll on regardless despite local government yapping at the wheels. But it must not be forgotten that split SLFP is a boon granted unasked to the UNP and already questions have been asked from Basil whether he has struck a deal with the UNP which he has denied. The UNP may well be laying its cuckoo egg in the Rajapaksa nest and may even have started providing the wherewithal to feather Basil’s bird bunk.

If Mahinda Rajapaksa gets his parliamentary numbers right he will be able to deny the Government the two-third parliamentary majority to change the Constitution and to abolish the executive presidency. If out of bloody mindedness he chooses to do and deny Maithripala from keeping his sacred vow to abolish the presidency, Maithripala Sirisena will remain as executive president till 2020, enjoying to the full its concomitant extraordinary powers. Can’t imagine him complaining awfully about that, can you? Especially when it gives him the added opportunity to blame it all on his arch rival Rajapaksa.

For such a denial of parliamentary support to abolish the presidency will also mean that a presidential election would have to be held in 2020; and ironically Mahinda Rajapaksa will find himself disqualified by virtue of the 19th Amendment from contesting it; and the gates to the citadel of real power he so earnestly yearns and seeks will remain shut, bolted and barricaded.

Sing the song of Sri Lanka in one voice, not with two tongues
Even as this race-torn nation strives towards attaining a common identity and forging a one Lanka, it is imperative to sing in one voice. Not with two tongues.But isn’t this noble ideal somewhat diluted when the Government pulls into the pits and, in a show staged to cast itself in a magnanimous light of gallantly promoting racial unity, panders to the misplaced notions of activists and allows, in an almost condescending sort of way, a chosen group of Lanka’s Tamils to sing the translation of the nation’s Sinhala anthem in Tamil.
What really happened on the 4th of February this year when the national anthem was sung in Tamil also at the Independence Day celebrations held at Galle Face Green was not what the Sinhala chauvinists believed happened. If the Tamils thought that they had gained a status on par with the majority race and expressed jubilance they were wrong.If the Sinhalese feared, there was no cause for alarm. The status of the national anthem written and sung in Sinhalese had not changed nor was it under any threat. If the Tamils were elated, there was no cause for euphoria. Their relegation to second class had only been confirmed and distinctly shown, even if they had not realised it.What occurred on February 4 was that, as part and parcel of the Independence Day commemoration held at the Galle Face Green this year, Lanka’s national anthem ‘Sri Lanka Matha’ was sung by a bevy of singers in the words and the music spelt out in the Third Scheduled in the Constitution.Thereafter, in order to enable the minority community the Tamils to express the sentiments contained in the National Anthem ‘Sri Lanka Matha’ as stated in section 7 of the constitution, the Government patronisingly allowed a group of Tamil singers to give full throat to another song titled ‘Sri Lanka Thaye’ which is said to be a Tamil translation of the official national anthem. That is all.
Every translation pays honour to its original. And if someone of a particular race speaking in a different tongue wishes to pay homage to Lanka’s national anthem in their own language so be it. It is their right of free speech. Nothing for the Sinhala chauvinists to get their satakayas in a twist, is there? Neither is there any reason for the Tamils to tear in joy. Had the Government wanted to add a more cosmopolitan touch to the proceedings, Enrique Iglesias could have been invited to sing it in Spanish.The singing of “Sri Lanka Thaye’ by Tamils even at a national event attended by the President does not turn it into another national anthem of Lanka. It would require an amendment to the Constitution to make it another national anthem.
Some government MPs have expressed the view that singing this translation of the anthem at the Independence Day ceremony is an honour for the Tamils and Muslims. It is no such thing. What honour can there be for those who sing a translation of ‘Sri Lanka Matha’? The honour’s all Lanka’s and to the poet Ananda Samarakoon who wrote the original.The national flag and the national anthem provide a common identity to all Lankans. It is a common rallying point. It should remain so. Else those who advocate the singing of the National Anthem ‘Sri Lanka Matha’ in Tamil as a means of meeting the aspirations of the minority 2.5 million Tamils will also have to espouse the waving of the Lion Flag by the majority community as a means of meeting the wishes of over 15 million Sinhalese in the land.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.