- return of the prodigal Western liberal
the space of two weeks, Chandrika Kumaratunga apologised to the
Tamils for the 1983 pogrom, and said Buddhists should work for the
people's welfare rather than agitate for an anti-conversion Bill.
So now it is clear - - she remains a liberal populist at heart.
also brushed the JVP off of her sari pota, by dropping the leadership
of the UPFA Alliance. It was a clear move to pursue the peace agenda
without being encumbered by the JVP's own brand of tub-thumping
Kumaratunga has been known before as one of the social scientist's
circle of Colombo based liberal bleeding-hearts. In her pre-political
incarnation, she was effectively Vijeya Kumaratunga's sidekick,
gadding about in a double-cab, and being comforted in the embrace
of moderate Tamils who had Tamil self-determination uppermost in
their minds. She exuded Sorbonne chic to her fingertips, and being
cast in that mould she had almost disowned her father's Sinhala
only policies with a self-conscious embarrassment.
as President she had to discard that baggage when the LTTE tried
to assassinate her, in the process upsetting her rather presumptuous
notion that no Tamil group will walk out on her brand of 'refined'
Western liberalism on the national question.
she was, fresh as a Daisy from Sorbonne, a Francophone to beat Sarath
Amunugama, and the LTTE dared walk out on her Western liberal formula
for equity emancipation and justice??
wouldn't do. She was shocked, she told a nation with patch on her
left eye, and tearing profusely from the other. She then declared
you cannot expect a Sorbonne Liberal to jump so fully out of her
skin. So, intermittently, while the war-for-peace rumbled on, she
asked the Norwegians to sort things out for her with the LTTE, while
she had bouts of troubled-conscience (and probably sleepless nights)
in her hostility towards the Tigers.
she is fully back to her old mode. It took Ranil Wickremesinghe
to exorcise the last Sinhala nationalist demon within her, and she
is in quick succession making all the moves she hopes would stamp
her credentials as a true Western Liberal.
who are still more cynical will however argue that her father was
a nationalist through political expediency, while the daughter is
a Western liberal owing to the same quantity. In other words, they
would say she needs the Western block for aid to bail her out, and
peace to keep the moribund economy from completely dying out on
her, therefore explaining her current political turn….
to talk to the Tigers on the only written political proposal they
have presented since the crisis began -- is that expedient? On the
other hand, it may be the only smart thing to do. She is discarding
the political slogans of the election, saying to the UNP "you
stew in your own juice - because anything you do I can do better."
She has the JVP eating out of her hand in the bargain.
one way it is a class political act - - the problem is that she
still doesn't seem able to bring it off. The LTTE seems prepared
to talk only to a totally supine and weakling Sinhala leader, which
she is not. The LTTE wants a Sinhala leader spreadeagled and on
the floor to have their way with him/her. Ranil Wickremesinghe was
spreadeagled. She won't be.
there is still some time left, and many other considerations. It
does not necessarily mean that Prabhakaran will walk out on Chandrika's
brand of Western liberal populism. But yet, he also might see it
as a veneer. The Tigers might also see her as a conjurer - - a person
who holds out various tricks to bamboozle the Tamils, while not
engaging sincerely ("sincerely'' in their frame of reference)
in addressing their cause.
is being almost embarrassingly cloying towards the Western liberal
donors, and in veering that way she may have even overreached. Why
an apology now, for instance, for the 1983 pogrom, which was anyway
certainly not an act by the Sinhalese against the Tamils? Everybody
who knows the ABCs of Sri Lankan politics will understand that 1983
was organised by a jingoistic rump group of the then UNP, and carried
out by paid thugs. This was not something done by the Sinhala-Buddhists
to the Hindu Tamils, the way the Western news agencies like to put
it across in their over-eagerness to please local minorities.
the anti-conversion Bill, she is probably right in calculating that
it is not what the nation wants, definitely not at the moment. One
hardly needs an axe to be wedged between two ends of a very polarised
anti-conversion arguments and anti anti-conversion arguments can
flood the discourse, and the people can have an orgy debating this
issue to its bare-bones. In Christian eyes the Bill is seen as a
push towards persecution, and in Buddhist eyes, it's seen as the
last stand against being swamped by a rabid alien contagion. As
in most community issues however, the truth is never considered
to be lying perhaps somewhere in-between.
may be a modicum of truth in both Christian and Buddhist perspectives
in this matter of the Conversion Bill. But, whatever the truth,
to spring the Bill on the community at this time, when there is
an albeit exaggerated idea that there is a war brewing around the
corner, seems to be foolish even to those who swear by the need
for the Bill.
the President ratiocinated properly. She read the signals and adjusted
her positions with the single-mindedness of one who knows what she
wants and knows how to get there. It wasn't so difficult either,
because all she had to do was to crawl back into her discarded Western
liberal skin. But then one has to wish for her that peace would
be as easy as taking up positions, discarding slogans and issuing
apologies -- however cloying or artificial they may sound.
at least she has succeeded in nudging the JVP aside on the issue
of the national question, and rather rudely at that -- something
which most sane political watchers would not have imagined possible
some months ago. So who won't give this President half a chance
of pulling it all off in the end? She has pulled things off before,
albeit easier ones, but with luck on her side she could pull this
one off also despite the Western liberal lobby which has written
her off for not being Western liberal enough!