The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

What truth will be out as the fasting ends?
The image of the bedraggled unshaven Omalpe Sobitha Thera, sprawled on a dais created for his very public episode of self-torment, has given the nation a slightly profiled view of itself. Like yellow journalism, there is now saffron politics.

The last this columnist heard was that the Venerable doctor will be persuaded to give up the fast on the condition that the Mahanayakes will be consulted before the curiously and somewhat unfortunately named P-TOMS is implemented. This columnist also last heard that fellow monks were throwing matchboxes at a younger monk who was holding onto a container of gasoline opposite the President's house, threatening to immolate himself. They were teasing him, and later, taunting him. "Take these matchsticks and do it,'' they shouted.

Like many pursuits in life, the death fast had theater intertwined with the laid down rules of the game. A cricket match is a sport, and it's meant for entertainment. But that does not mean that the umpire is excused if he shows he's biased towards one side?

The death fast is the national theater. It has engaged people to the point of distraction -- as a cricket match does, and people have hardly talked about the gasoline price hike even as a monk threatened immolate himself with that now precious commodity.

The President, now practiced in her deft resistance to saffron politics, knew all she had to do was to offer a sop to the Ven. monk to make him abandon his fast unto death. She made a statement that the "Mahanayakes will be consulted.''

Anything these days can be parried with words. So, when the JVP proclaims, "we will pull out of the Sandanaya if the P-TOMS is implemented'' Tilvin Silva simultaneously offers the packaged exit-clause with his threat. Says he: "we will not however make this a wish-fulfillment for our enemies.''

Who are these enemies? Ranil Wickremesinghe's opposition of course.
So, the proposition made here about the events of last week is quite simple. In the end, the saffron brigade will not quite fast unto death - - they will prematurely eject from the cause, once a rather nebulous assurance is given by the President that "the Mahanayakes will be consulted.''

The JVP might not pullout of the coalition as promised on the 16th even if the President does not give them an oath to the effect that the P-TOMS is kaputs. Wimal Weerawansa can always be relied on to come before the cameras, summon his full-option Sinhala vocabulary and say "the President has promised to consult us, and an assurance that she will not go ahead without consulting us is an assurance that she will not go ahead. We are not going to stick to the verbatim of our statement because any statement obviously is not interpreted only by its words, even though our enemies in the UNP were sincerely hoping that we will stick to the verbal meaning -- and quit just because we said we are quitting.''

That last line may not actually be voiced but it will certainly be inferred.
Suppose then that this is where the theater ends and the politics begins, and suppose then that both provocateurs the JHU and the JVP do not go the whole length in carrying out their threats ie: Ven Omalpe doesn't fast unto death, and the JVP does not pullout from the government even though there is no assurance from the President that she has ditched P-TOMS for good?

Will the President then eventually, after consultations and consensuses, sign the P-TOMs, even in slightly amended version where maybe a dot and a dash are taken out to placate the priests and the Marxists?

This is where we get this slight inkling that national politics in this country contains more in terms of theater, and less in terms of rigour.
She will probably not sign the P-TOMS at all even if everything in the south is settled, and would Prabhakaran then declare war?

Not if Prabhakaran is waiting all along for her to default on that promise of signing the document. She signs the P-TOMS, and Prabhakarn loses his rationale for a lot of things he stands for such as resistance against a stubborn Sri Lankan state, resistance against jingoism and political unreason…

So the denouement to this highly sensationalized national theater of penance will probably be that every actor in the entire drama will be back to his or her original position where everything began.
This will leave various analysts and political hacks arguing on television however, about how and why the P-TOMS came unstuck, until something else comes up and the next news-cycle begins.

About such talking heads on TV, the best that could be said is from that memorably lyrical poem by Oliver Goldsmith , "Deserted Village'' where he writes:

"In arguing too the parson owned his skill/
For e'en though vanquished he could argue still/
While words of learned length and thundering sound/
Amazed the gazing rustics around/
And still they gazed and still the wonder grew/
That one small head could carry all he knew.''
"E'en though vanquished, he could argue still??'' !!!

Doesn't that line say it all about our brand of national political animal?? Isn't this what they do all the time on national television: E'en though vanquished - argue still??

At the end of the P-TOMS drama, it would have been the people however who would have been vanquished, as the politicians would have returned to their original places, and the people would have seen prices rise without protest even as this entire non event was being enacted in the public political space.

But would that mean in the final analysis that none of these players, the self-immolators the hunger-strikers and the mob-orators along with a President who took so many theatrical bows almost in a manner of an ingénue, did nothing but play acting?

Not so.
In the end, like in the game of cricket, though it's only a game, the umpires had played their role, and one side had certainly won at day's end. Prabhakaran has played his role by jinxing the whole P-TOMS with his ritual killings. Chandrika played her role by being indecisive, the monks by reinforcing a certain Sri Lankan image. The JVP did its bit.

The winner: the forces, whatever they may be, that want to keep this country's economy in bondage to foreign petroleum sharks, multi national companies, the IMF and the World Bank who impoverish us - raise our tariffs, make living conditions hell --- right under our noses and without even our token protest, while we enact out national soap opera in its now seemingly endless episodes.

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