22nd June 1997

Prevention is better than Cooray

By Rajpal Abeynayake

B. Sirisena Cooray's arrest enlivens what was becoming a boring political climate. Cooray will now be bestowed victim status, something that sits well on a politician. God knows he could have got himself arrested.

A political columnist writing for a Sinhala daily has theorised that Mr. Cooray was first supposed to "create a rift in the UNP" by the government politicians who welcomed his return. But, the theory goes, "Cooray turned out to be a weak politician'' because the supposed rift was not created. Instead Cooray mended fences and blended in with the UNP.

The columnist then goes on to say " those who sought to engineer a rift were incensed by this turn of events". Hence, they thought " the next best thing was to arrest Cooray.''

Enter Mr. Cooray the political sufferer. Basically, if our columnist's theory is correct, then the PA theorised that Cooray should be arrested to prevent any trouble. Prevention is better than Cooray?...

Either way, Cooray must be a force to reckon with. Without accurate information, however, it is difficult to reach a conclusion. The government has not divulged the reason behind Cooray's arrest, accept to say that "it is for his own protection'' and that " a threat to national security was manifest (in his being at large.)''

Cooray belongs to a UNP cabal which consists of politicians and technocrats such as Jehan Cassim, the former Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon, K. N. Choksy, the predecessor to G. L. Peiris as Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Sunil Rodrigo, former Chairman of Lake House and others. The uniting factor bringing these men of diverse backgrounds together is their fierce loyalty to R. Premadasa, the former President.

But, as the cliche goes, it is not for nothing that Premadasa gathered these men close to him. Most of these loyalists are ruthless pragmatic men who are known as political movers and shakers who get things done.

Cooray was known to be a very good organiser, who didn't desist from cultivating underworld connections to strengthen the UNP's political base which of course has its roots in Colombo.

These supposed underworld links make it easy to pin anything on Cooray. The old aphorism holds that "those who lie with the dogs will have to wake up with the fleas." Whether Cooray consorted with underworld is another matter. The fact is that the image of being close to the underworld stuck to him.

But, Cooray was never a potent threat to the government. He may have been a latent threat, but then why not let sleeping Coorays lie, with or without fleas?

With the Cooray arrest, (unless it was for a very good reason), the government risks giving the opposition material for a much needed resurgence. "Political victimisation' is a potent label that the UNP can attach to its wagon. As the PA will know best from its past political experience, people's passions can still be aroused by casting the incumbent government in the role of the bully. That's exactly what the PA did with a UNP government which was performing quite well (with a 6 p.c growth rate) at the time it was kicked out at the 1994 elections.

A government can be too clever for its own good. J. R. Jayewardene, for instance, would have been able to ruminate on that fact in his days of retirement. Jayewardene was intentionally clever. He read Machiavelli, practised Machiavelli and thought no end of Machiavelli. When Lalith Athulathmudali was sick and convalescing after the parliament bomb blast, JR visited him and presented him with the works of Machiavelli. He advised Lalith to read Machiavelli again. Obviously, the old man knew that a man with Lalith's monumental political ambitions would have already read Machiavelli, but he wanted to get across the message that Lalith had not practised his Machiavelli well enough. Basically, JR was telling Lalith "never nix your leader ..... there is a path to political ambition, but trying to stab a leader of my calibre in the back is not one of the best routes." At that time, Lalith was hedging his bets, distancing himself from the Indo-Lanka accord by positioning himself as a pro-Sinhala hero who was not tainted by the political sell-out of the Indo-Lanka pact.

JR' s smug line of thinking was that providence had taught Lalith a lesson by picking him as the victim of the parliamentary bomb blast. JR knew he was the supreme political strategist in the United National Party, but what he did not know was that he was the superior thinker only in relative terms. Though he was politically cleverer than the relatively immature and politically brash Mr. Athulathmudali, what JR didn't seem to know was that he was being too clever for his own good.

JR had a gloating political style that exuded the message that he was the greatest and that whatever he did was so clever that it was assured to succeed. When JR released the JVP leaders imprisoned in connection with the '71 insurrection, his snide remark was that "they should find a hiding place if they want to do a repeat of what they did in 1971." The JVP repeat performance eventually forced JR out of power into a retirement in which he regularly practised his oratorical skills on captive Rotaract audiences.

Though probably without the bombast, many of the tactics of this government have been quite JResque. The whole Cooray thing, if our Sinhala newspaper columnist is right, is definitely a JResque tactic. The facts are not clear yet. But time will tell if prevention is better than Cooray.

Go to the Hulftsdorp Hill by Mudliyar

Return to the Editorial/Opinion contents page

Go to Rajpal's Column Archive