The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Mr. Rajapakse's one big dysfunctional friend
You really should have been there to see the Indian ambassador the day that Mahinda Rajapakse was made Prime Minister after the PA victory over Ranil Wickremesinghe's UNP in April 2004. Grinning from ear to ear was this diplomat, the first to arrive after the PM's appointment, at Rajapakse's quite un-imposing then private home in Thimbirigasyaya. Everybody there including politicians and Editors were treated by the Indian ambassador with a Delhi dose of joi d'vivre and exuberance, as if they have all been part of this happy conspiracy to get India's buddy Mahinda Rajapakse elected Prime Minister against all odds and despite a baying outfit of dissenters.

Come presidential elections in 2005, the same ambassador wasn't occupying India House anymore, but India's sympathies were known unless you were particularly dense or did no know any Indian journalists. They all backed Rajapakse, those Indian scribes, almost to the point of being belligerent if it was suggested that Ranil Wickremesinghe might have a chance also.

So, Rajapakse may be accused of being an India panda now - -- a man pandering hopelessly to the Indian ambassador's Femina-cover guiles -- ditching protocol and meeting Mr. Thondaman for a trouble shooting exercise in what's adamantly being referred to by commentators as Indian territory, the Indian ambassador's residence.

But this particular India panda was engaged in a highly reciprocated relationship. India made a spectacle of backing him. By this default, they made sure they got the message across that Ranil Wickremesinghe was their specially tended pariah.

Now when India trashes Rajapakse and refuses to sign a defense pact because the manic depressive politicians of Tamilnadu are rooting for the Tigers, it appears, specially in view of this reciprocated relationship that India is nothing but a tease.

Mahinda Raja-pakse will be correct to call India a tease even though protocol and pragmatism doesn't even allow him to do so. India is such a tease that if this was a British woman and not a South Asian country we are talking about, India could have got sued. (There is special legislation now in Britain to sue women who lead men on with the promise of conjugal union, and bail out at the last moment. Trust these British to resort to legal recourse even in uncomplicated matters of intercourse…)

But as they always say, this is India. How many times you would have heard or read that phrase in your life? 'They travel on the rooftops of trains in that country', I've heard from the time I was a tot, and by the time I was a teenager I heard that they also travel on the tops of trains in Malawi, but at least in that African country there is a waiter on the roof dressed impeccably calling himself a steward who serves tea and snacks traipsing deftly across bogeys as if he was waiting on table at the Hilton.

But that's in Malawi - - and this is India, where buses breakdown and it took me three bus breakdowns and two days to move from new Delhi to Srinagar in Kashmir. This is India, where relationships, and particularly diplomatic ones, breakdown as fast as buses, which is why India wants Sri Lanka to accept the rebuff and the decision not to sign the defense pact as all in a day's work. It's in deference, we are told, to the Tamilnadu lightning rods, the Vaikos and those fire eating pan-Tamilian zealots.

Should Sri Lanka accept this routine offhand relationship, and take India's compensations of offering an extended credit line -- some kind of a Bajaj compromise for being utterly undependable?

If Mahinda Rajapakse had a choice, he shouldn't. Received wisdom says that small countries do not have any manoeuvre room when the giant sharks such as India canoodle, but look what happened in the 1960s and I'm not quite sure about that anymore.

They say now in the news this week, nonchalantly as if a 43 year interval was a commercial break, that it was Fidel Castro that got John and Robert Kennedy killed, even though it has been known for scores of years now that the Kennedys ordered the assassination of Castro and wanted the plot carried out with ingeneous devices such as revolvers disguised as fountain pens.

Castro turned the tables by using a plain telescopic rifle and apparently by getting an eccentric communist sympathizer by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot straight. Reminds me of 2001 when Clinton, and Reagan before him, was thinking of Star Wars defense systems against enemy attacks -- and the Al-Qaeda did it nicely with the help of a couple of box cutters.

This is not to suggest that Rajapakse should send a Buddhist zealot to assassinate Sonia Gandhi. A touch bland, Mahinda Rajapakse has the personality to get India to look after at least the Palalay airport for the simple reason that he needs some form of reciprocation - - an out of court and under the table settlement. He could use expected oil reserves and America as weapons, which means that he has to learn the ugly ways of political intrigue, which only smoke room political Machiavellis can tell him.

Maybe he needs some of those in his administration; a modern day cross between Esmond Wickremesinghe and Gamini Dissanayake would do. Dissanayake, now forgotten, hatched the Indo Sri Lanka accord with the help of N. Ram and a Insurance man who may look as abstracted as Einstein, but was a realist to his last premium. Rajapakse needs a couple of smiling assassins to do that kind of job for him.

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