Rajpal's Column

17th October 1999

No clash of the Titans

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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Governments may come and governments may go, but rain, cricket and coups in Pakistan remain forever.

Apparently, Sri Lanka is a bad location for political leaders. An African leader, who was in Colombo for the non-aligned conference, found that he was deposed in a military coup before he got off his aircraft.

Now, an army commander from Pakistan gets the boot before he goes home. It's a different matter that he rebounds and gives the boot back to the sender.

Military coups are like a cottage industry in Pakistan, though nobody has really found out why. But, there are some very good insights on why coups fail. In the J.R. Jayewardene biography written by K. M. De Silva and Howard Wriggins, the authors analyse the putsch for power that took place during the first Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration of the early sixties. The coup, as it is history now, was lost to pillow talk. One of the key players gave his wife the information on the impending grab for power, and she blabbed. And that was the end of that. But more startling revelations are made in the Howard Wriggins/ K. M. de Silva book. It is said that Dudley Senanayake was involved in this particular coup, which is quite disturbing since he has acquired the image of being a great liberal democrat. So, that was the coup that wasn't.

But the book was subject to heavy criticism after it was published, and Professor K. M. De Silva had to make a defence of it. . The book is a very good narration anyway of how the grand old party was divided, and how political divisions were played out in a different time. All of this brings us to another thing that's permanent about Sri Lankan life, after counting rain and cricket, and news of coups in Pakistan. These are the internecine conflicts in political parties. But, over time, it seems that Sri Lanka is suddenly lacking in contending political personalities.

Take for instance, the political warfare that is now purportedly taking place within the People's Alliance. Apparently, there is a theory that the People's Alliance might self destruct, due to the fault lines that are developing within the party. These come in the shape of Ashraff, Mahinda Rajapakse and some others. But the leader of the Alliance, President Kumaratunga, does not have an adversary who can be trusted to be a good adversary, with any degree of consistency, that is.

That is probably a great drawback for a party leader, because not being challenged enough, a politician can go into a form of political somnolence. This crisis of being in the midst of political non personalities, is even greater in the UNP, for instance. There is Ranil Wickremesinghe, for example, who does not have an adversary half as potent as Dudley, politically speaking. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's problems seem to be even more acute, in the adversary department. Not only does she not have any heavyweight adversaries within her party, she doesn't seem to have any outside of the party either. Even the political adversaries who might have been worthy foes seem to have got thoroughly disinterested, and perhaps in that category are Anura Bandaranaike, Sirisena Cooray, and others who could have been great foes, but are not offering the kind of adversarial relationship that would make the President feel sufficiently challenged. There are those who emerge every now and then, who seem to have the makings of foes who will be able to offer a good challenge to their leaders. For instance, Karu Jayasuriya, it seemed , was a foe in waiting. He seemed to be the kind of person who would have made a great Dudley Senanayake to Ranil Wickremesinghe's J.R.(by relationship, that is). Though Karu Jayasuriya did not have a Dudley-kind of lineage, he seemed to be a political type who had a kindly exterior, and could do no wrong. But that potential challenge from Karu Jayasuriya , to the great detriment of Ranil Wickremesinghe, never materialised.

In the PA, on the other hand, there wasn't even the ghost of such a challenge. So leave alone coups in the grand musical - chair tradition of Pakistan, we do not even see a putsch for power within a party, which is all very sad, purely from a journalistic point of view, in the first place. But, in the second place, more importantly, it means that Chandrika Kumaratunga doesn't even have to read her Machiavelli. Neither does Ranil Wickremesinghe, come to think of it. Those within their parties, prefer to be yes men, in the long run, except for people like Ashraff, for instance, who has developed the remarkable ability of consistently saying both yes and no at the same time. But its all very sad. Where is the good old fashioned fight? A good old tussle between two strong political personalities, may, more than a national government, give us some national leaders who are at least halfway inspired.

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