19th December 1999

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The hidden hand

The sickly report of a bomb go- ing off has disrupted in an eerie but familiar way, the Presidential election campaign which was at its fag end with polling scheduled for Tuesday.

It's the hidden hand with the diabolical agenda that seems to be operating here; "the fourteenth candidate'', who seems to have shown for around the tenth occasion in recent times his ability to alter the political agenda in the South.

This time, though, he may have botched the operation and not got at his target. But, that hardly makes a difference.

The Presidential election of 1999 now stands irrevocably changed. The duel bombings of a Ja-ela election rally and the President's rally in the Colombo Town Hall premises have spiked the equation. What obtains in the run-up to the Presidential poll is a tense, charged atmosphere in which almost anything can happen, which is in pointed contrast to the acrimonious but relatively peaceful atmosphere that characterized the campaign period after elections were announced a month back.

The incident shows the absurdity of national political theatre in the so-called South. While the protagonists of the political battle are basically tearing each other apart in loud acrimonious verbal duels, the force that now with sickly regularity seems to be changing the course of Sri Lankan politics has spoken with a deafening bang in the process.

The two bombs, whose almost simultaneous timing conveys the real possibility that they were part of a general plan to disrupt the ongoing election campaign, make it clear that there is no such thing as a possibility of a peaceful election in the South. The bombs indicate the extent of the complacency in this part of the country due to the almost total distraction of the southern polity by an election campaign that has ignored the reality that the agenda more often than not is written elsewhere in this country.

How many times can the country be disrupted in this manner, and with such absurd regularity, by the audacious machinations of a hidden hand operating from the periphery?

Are we forever condemned to this political pantomime in which our leaders seem often to be tragicomic passengers in a political theatre that is stage-managed by a person who has a penchant for the dramatic, even though of the most diabolical variety?

This must be the political pantomime of the absurd, but at least this bomb blast which came close to killing another Sri Lankan President should not become part of the surreal abstracted montage of events that have characterised political life in the country in the past ten years. There is at least some point at which a nation wakes up to the reality that it is essentially under siege, no matter how absorbing the immediate events of import are in the capital or the rest of the country which enjoys an illusive peace.

If this isn't the wake-up call, just two days before a national Presidential election, it would appear that this country is in a dangerously permanent collective escapist state bordering on the really absurd.

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