deafening sound of silence
One of the more important events in the calendar of Sri Lankans,
both past and present, living here is the annual festival of cricket.
Some find the cricket just an excuse for good day out, to meet,
greet and eat and have a jolly good jaw, jaw.
Sunday, like several hundreds of Sri Lankans, I joined the motley
crowds surging around the dozens of marquees advertising this, that
and the other or selling Sri Lankan food from bittara appa to idi
appa and mutton rolls, pattis and cutlis as they were called in
our distant student days.
mouthfuls of bittara appa and lunu miris, gossip was exchanged like
in some ancient barter trade and as customary Sri Lanka's politics
was bisected, trisected and a few individuals assassinated but fortunately
the gathering of the Bandaranaike clan - President Chandrika Kumaratunga,
brother Anura Bandaranaike and elder sister Sunethra (briefly) -
was at the centre of it all.
of them I met already knew the President and Tourism Minister Anura
Bandaranaike were in London. What concerned them most was what they
were doing here, whether it was an official visit or private visit
and if so, who was paying the bill and related issues.
of course, had already read on the internet The Sunday Times political
editor's comments that day headlined "The Bandaranaike party
and the snubs in London."
leaders and their minders, at home or in the Sri Lankan diplomatic
missions in the countries they visit, never cease to amaze me with
their child-like attempts to conceal their visits to foreign lands.
President Kumaratunga's visit to London, particularly the date of
arrival was supposed to be all hush-hush.
is what her spin doctors and security minders think. But her arrival
was known here even before she set foot. At the first Sri Lankan
Law-Medical dinner-dance held in London on Saturday June 12, some
guests already knew of the president's arrival in London that day
and that she was here for her daughter Yasodara's graduation.
President could not have planned this visit on the spur of the moment
after hearing her daughter's success. My information - and I don't
vouch for its accuracy - is that St George's University which her
daughter attended, held its final clinical examinations on Thursday
June 10 and the results were released the next day.
if President Kumaratunga arrived here on Saturday via Dubai, as
the Sunday Times Political Editor has stated, the visit would have
been planned earlier.
assumption gains greater credence by the request made earlier for
a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Moreover, the Political Editor stated that Anura Bandaranaike had
been in Vietnam and Thailand and left for London from Colombo.
point is that however much efforts are made to make such visits
secret, or at least known only to a limited circle, it is not possible
to keep such information out of the public domain. The news leaks
like a sieve.
One can understand the need for security, particularly after President
Kumaratunga's miraculous escape from an assassination attempt. For
that reason alone, flight details etc need to be highly restricted.
in an open-mouthed society such as Sri Lanka where politicians talk
even more than the public, information does reach foreign capitals
before the political leaders have reached their destination.
All this secrecy creates doubts and suspicions in the minds of Sri
Lankans at home and abroad about whether such visits are useful
or not, whether they are private or official and who ultimately
pays for the suites at luxury hotels and for the retinue at hand.
doubts and suspicions are greatly enhanced when our own diplomatic
missions try to play coy.
It is unfortunate when diplomats close up tight as oysters. One
can understand the oysters doing this as some of them carry valuable
instance when the meeting with Prime Minister Blair did not materialise,
it was suggested that Blair had snubbed the Sri Lankan President.
Her highest-level contact with the British Government was with Foreign
Secretary Jack Straw, as far as we know.
I do not personally think Blair snubbed her. But the fact is that
the impression she was snubbed has gained ground. This is because
there is no official source to correct this impression.
only way to counter these rumours and interpretations from gaining
currency is to brief the Sri Lankan media at least. After all, the
immediate purpose is to nip in the bud such talk circulating in
is where not only President Kumaratunga and her government have
come a cropper but also that of the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration.
Both President Kumaratunga and then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
fight shy of meeting journalists from their own country.
speak to their tame favourites in the media at home who readily
bowl full tosses that are then hit to all parts of the political
arena, but avoid those who are likely to bowl a couple of doosras.
years ago President Kumaratunga hired a PR firm here Bell Pottinger
to improve her public image and give her views an international
airing. The disastrous interview with the BBC's Tim Sebastian where
she was cut to ribbons because she was not properly briefed, is
now history. The last I heard was that Bell Pottinger was claiming
money from the Sri Lanka Government. Who knows, we might well have
to cough up anything like £2 million with legal costs and
are these leaders avoiding talking to journalists representing the
Sri Lanka media, especially if they are Sri Lankan? Are they afraid
that close questioning might expose their political faultlines?
Kumaratunga is said to have met the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister.
This information was guarded as though it was the family heirloom.
Was it because it was an embarrassment, a President of a country
meeting a lowly deputy foreign minister when so many Norwegians
are already in and out of Sri Lanka that it is beginning to look
as congested as the Pettah bus stand.
political leaders who should be explaining their foreign engagements
to the Sri Lankan people are, for some inexplicable reason, unable
to meet journalists at hand, at least diplomatic missions should
be instructed to, or should undertake the task, of officially briefing
of the deafening sound of official silence that has pervaded this
visit, like others before it, people will believe that President
Kumaratunga, on whatever kind of visit she was here, was indeed
snubbed by the British prime minister.
They can only blame themselves for this.