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Rajpal's Column

30th May 1999

Beyond the coconut groves, in kekiri land, itís politics

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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"The PA came to power from the South. The PA will go down also from the South.,Ē a gung - ho Southern UNPer says so , with a reminder that the PA unleashed its first assault on the bastions of power at a Southern provincial council poll.

The barren South. Now, thatís where the politics is. Many believe thatís where the politics start.

So anyway, one Sunday newspaper still thinks Chandrika Kumaratunga is a pretty incompetent puppy. Other Sunday newspapers and political analysts have arrived at the inevitable conclusion that her puppy days are over, though she may be sometimes bizarre in her approach to the issues.

She has strength in having a bizarre set of cronies who are generally buffoonish. But, thatís a strength, as she has been able to easily assert herself as the lone leader and the undisputed matriarch ( akela they used to call that?) among the boy scouts. She says jump, and they generally ask how high and in which direction, and however clumsily they always jump.

But, in the South there are rumblings. Southerners or some of them, are not happy with the fairly copious scale of corruption that has gone on in the pocket boroughs of certain provincial councillors, who held office in the South. They say, to hell with the national issues. Local politics is a prism through which the national political picture is projected . The South is in a angry mood, particularly as there are many angry young men too in the South.

A great deal of the Chiefís boy scout brigade have descended down South to try and diffuse some of this anger , and see that not many votes are stolen by the angry party, the JVP. The UNP and its hopefuls believe with almost religious fervor that the South can make the difference. They believe that the entire electorate in the rest of the country can be ignored if the South gives them the momentum by granting majority in the forthcoming elections.

But the country and the South and particularly the deep South is jaded. Southerners have read enough exposes in the Sinhala tabloids and the Sinhala broadsheets to know that there is a great deal of incompetence and a great deal of buffoonery going on in the power centre in Colomboís Ministries Corporations and Authorities.

But when they consider that the UNP had straight laced competent corruption of a very high ordper in their 17 years or so, they feel that corruption buffoon- style or flagrant corruption is all the same thing with a different flavor. So they are jaded.

But the Southern voter, or lets just say the Sri Lankan voter, is a past-master at using the tool of the protest vote effectively , irrespective of how unattractive the alternative may be. So there is a limit the electorate will tolerate the buffoon - boys and enjoy their mishandling of strikes and making of controversial and shady deals. They will much rather have another set of corrupt boys coming in, rather than let the same set of arrogant boys continue to do their buffoon - thing for a continued period.

Even the UNPís rejected lonesome anti hero M. S.Amarasiri will cast his vote in the end for the ďaliyaĒ says another gung-ho UNPer who also believes the South will sing - in the downfall of the PA. But this is an euphoric altered state that most believers in the UNP have got themselves sort of drugged into. The whole truth probably has to be looked at more dispassionately, because even the South is not all clout. There is streak of deep-going rebelliousness in the South that translates as a distrust for the ways of the rightist UNP. With a choice of UNP and PA the Southern voter may be between the mythic Sylla and Charibdis and may poke Scylla in the eye in order to spite Charybdis. But Scylla being Scylla, it will take some doing to do that to Charibdis.

These classics on Vesak may admittedly be grating, but in an atmosphere in which even one of the Mah-anayakeís the Ven Madihe Pannnaseeha has had cause to say that Buddhist monks should not speak on political platforms, it is pert to ask why we should even try to divorce Vesak from politics. The two may be inextricably intertwined which is the only reason the Ven Mahanayake has to try so stubbornly to disentangle them .

Anyway life, is knotty within and knotty without, the Buddha said, and itís a tough knot this to disentangle, especially at this time of the year when many Buddhist monks are rearing to go in many of the Southís political platforms.

In the South, Vesak colours intermingle with the political hues, and for many priests, itís the best time of year when they who are an integral part of the Southís spirited political culture can look all pugnacious and ready to punch the devil incarnate ó no matter from which party the devil incarnate contests.

In that coastal stretch from Kalutara to Tissamaharama , where a driver normally is enthralled at the sporadic peeping of the sea from in between coconut groves, there will be many Pajeros plying in these the coming weeks. These Pajeros or Land cruisers ( Pajero the generic term for convenience) will be taking the pundits to kekiri land where the pundits will try to wrest every ounce of political advantage they can from the troublesome Southern yokels. ( Itís kekiri land beyond Ben-tara, as it was the Southerner who coined the term kolambata kiri apata kekiri in a now forgotten rebellious interlude. ) On election day the yokels will do the talking, and the pundits will watch to see whether the wheel is really turning full circle again, or its just a bunch of UNPers being intoxicated by the salty breeze and all that politics.


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