The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Deconstructing the national temper tantrum
If doomsayers should be banished so should incorrigible optimists. There was one UNF Cabinet Minister who used to go around saying that as far as he is concerned his glass is always half full.

The implication was that most listeners were pessimists and their glasses were always half empty. When he came and threw at me this cliché I said there is only one glass that I'm really worried about and as far as I'm concerned this is always full.

The present seems to be the season for doomsayers. Not that they can really be blamed with the government hanging virtually by the thread of a sari pota. All kinds of ill portents such as a rupee sliding against a dollar are signaling the impending disaster we are being told - and of course the peace talks too are in jeopardy.

Certainly, a plague on all politicians' houses - and a whopping bubonic plague on both their houses as far as the two major political entities are concerned. That definitely should be first in the order of events for the day.

But also doomsayers should not fall into the familiar trap of making their fears self-fulfilling. What needs to be struck -- to put it albeit a little clumsily -- is a fine balance between doomsaying and the necessity to ensure that the polity and the economy carry on unimpeded.

On the face of it, the malaise of the new government seems to be its irresponsibility. The President has a desire to enjoy a very long political life and all other issues are subservient to this consideration. While this situation persists, there is of course the deteriorating situation in the East of the country, which is generally seen as being resultant from the Karuna factor. Doomsayers are entitled to say at this point that the Tiger is ready, and that it is a matter of time before it pounces.

Now, to borrow from the ex-UNF Minister, whether your glass is half full or not one thing needs to be conceded -- which is that the doomsayers are half correct.

But the oft forgotten point is that they are only half correct. Without seeking to beat about the bush, it's important to bring out the main sticking point in the tenuous peace between the LTTE and the government, which is that the LTTE feels that the army or the government is using Karuna to destabilize the East and weaken it.

The government swears it is not the case. Mr. Mangala Samaraweera has almost plaintively pleaded his case on this point and when Mangla Samaraweera becomes plaintive one can say that the government is definitely hurting.

The next commander of the army Gen Shantha Kottegoda is a good man but will his army like many armies not succumb to the pressure of taking advantage of a split in the enemy's forces?

The LTTE habitually takes advantage of the balance of power issues that arise due to the monstrous J.R. Jayewardene constitution that is still the supreme law of the land. The LTTE and of course all minority parties thrive in the divisions that are encouraged by the Clauses that have been written into the 1978 constitution. Who is to blame? It is the Sinhala Southern polity of course for being unable to get its house in order and for being unable to evolve a system of government that is at least marginally respectable.

But there are no tears shed on behalf of the Sri Lankan government for this state of affairs. The international community on the other hand has always rapped the Sri Lankan leadership on its knuckles and said if the government cannot get its act together there will be drastic consequences.

So if that's the way the biscuit breaks, there is no point in fantasizing that the cookie should crumble in a different way for the LTTE. If there are schisms and divisions within the LTTE -- at least someone is bound to take advantage of these even if it is not the Sri Lankan government - - and the LTTE will have only itself to blame for that.

But now there is an effort to blame the Sri Lankan government for the fact that it cannot provide the glue to keep the LTTE together. This takes the cake. The Sri Lankan government is more or less faulted for not keeping the LTTE united; the government is also blamed for the fact that various elements are taking advantage of the Karuna split within the LTTE.

At best however this will only be a diversionary tactic, because the LTTE needs to heal its rift before it comes to the negotiating table while the Sri Lankan government also can use the breather to at least paper over its deep divisions and talk as a cohesive unit.

But what's happening in the meantime is that the doomsayers are having a field day as a result of which all the signals are being skewed. There is the usual lack of energy in the business and investment sector which is almost a given now with the advent of any SLFP led administration.

So, while all Cassandras are perhaps well meaning, it appears they are not contributing to untangling the knot. Their prognostications are having the contrary effect of pushing the country deeper into the bog.

There are some positives at least in the dramatic catharsis that's taking place in the national body politic. Its being in one sense cleansed of the fringe elements. For example the Sangha which at least sometimes voices an obscurantist agenda has been totally demystified and deconstructed.

Their firebreathing entry into Parliament has resulted in making them look a tame and ineffectual commodity. Sometimes they are exposed for what they are.

The JVP's radicalism also has a lot of the gloss taken off it. The JVP has been forced to work as opposed to talk, and their education is proving to be a traumatic exercise for them. But through all of this the nation may eventually grow out of its tempestuous adolescence.

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