5th September 1999
From Adrian D'Melo, Our South Asia correspondent
India's Defence Minister and Samata Party leader, Mr.George Fernandes, has sent a legal notice to AIADMK chief Jayalalitha, asking her to retract her "defamatory" remark that he was hand in glove with the LTTE and tender an apology, or face legal action.
The Tamil Nadu leader had told an election rally in Salem that Mr. Fernandes had restrained the Indian Navy from taking action against the LTTE engaged in drug and arms smuggling in the seas around the Andaman Islands.
Ms. Jayalalitha went further and said that Mr. Fernandes had himself told her that he helped save the LTTE in this way. Ms. Jayalalitha's contention was only an echo of what was commonly alleged in India before the Kargil crisis.
The Defence Correspondent of The Hindustan Times, Shishir Gupta, had reported that the then Defense Secretary, Ajit Kumar, had categorically told the service chiefs in writing that no gun running ships should be pursued on the high seas around the Andamans without prior and express permission from the ministry.
The Delhi-based daily had also reported that Mr. Fernandes had explained his stand saying that some of the supporters of the Myanmar rebels in Delhi and elsewhere were threatening legal action against the government of India for intercepting their vessels on the high seas. As a supporter of 'liberation' movements across the globe, the maverick politician's residence had been a meeting place of rebel groups, though he maintained that none of them was entertained since he took charge as Defence Minister. At any rate, before he became minister, he did hold a pro-LTTE conference on the lawns of his Delhi bungalow.
Though the tri-service 'Operation Leach' did result in a huge haul of weapons allegedly meant for India's north eastern rebels, there were no other operations of this kind in the months that followed, apparently because of the ministry's order.
The fate of the LTTE vessels, Mariamma and Showa Maru, whose presence the Indian Navy was aware of, still remains a mystery. Taking objection to Ms. Jayalalitha's allegations, Mr. Fernandes said that the AIADMK leader had made it a habit to utter falsehoods and to "embellish" them each time they were repeated.
The Samata Party has also complained that the Indian Election Commission is not taking note of the defamatory remarks uttered by the opposition leaders, while objecting to the remarks made by leaders of the ruling coalition.
For how long will buth packet and cap trick work?
By: Virudda Paakshikaya
My unseen friend, Paakshikaya must surely be an optimist of the worst kind. The predictions he made in these pages last week are enlightening for they reveal the ignorance from which he and his colleagues in the Peoples' Alliance are suffering.
Paakshikaya is confident of victory at the next elections just because a million people(who counted them, anyway?) are supposed to have attended their fifth anniversary celebrations a few days ago.
From his past writings I believed Paakshikaya to be a Sri Lanka Freedom Party veteran who knows the basics about Sri Lankan politics. But his present arguments indicate that he is not conversant with these home truths.
My friend, one of the first rules in assessing your party popularity is not to be swayed by crowds. I do not know whether you can recall those days but at the 1977 May Day, the SLFP procession and rally drew the biggest crowds. And so it was in 1993, when the UNP May Day drew a massive gathering before the unfortunate assassination of President R. Premadasa.
But what happened thereafter? The SLFP was routed in 1977 and so was the UNP in 1994. The moral of the story, Paakshikaya, is that the ruling party draws the largest crowds, whatever the mood of the people might be.
Why, Paakshikaya, you and I know how these events are organized. Those present at these 'propaganda shows' are not the average voters of this country. What we, both in the UNP and SLFP do is we ask our MPs to send so many people from each electorate for the event. They are of course given free transport at state expense, a 'buth' packet and sometimes a T-shirt and a cap thrown in for good measure.
I do not mean to be condescending but for many who attend, it is an enjoyable picnic to Colombo where they can come to the big city, spend the day there, enjoy the proceedings and then get back to the weary existence in their hometowns, all at no extra cost to themselves.
And don't tell me that was not the way it was done this year too, Paakshikaya. We even know how 'buriyani' was provided by some ministers to the participants from their areas. Then there were some reports that Samurdhi recipients were forced to attend, being told that if they did not, their allowances would be discontinued.
And this is the show of solidarity for your government that you boast about. You gave it such importance that all state-run television and radio stations gave live coverage of the event, discontinuing all regular programmes just so we could hear Her Excellency tell us what she hoped to do in the next millenium!
And then there were giant cut-outs of madam's charming image parading the streets with Ministries and Departments competing with each other in trying to please her by presenting floats that depicted the so-called 'development' ushered by her now five year old regime.
And, after all that fuss that day what do I find enclosed in your favourite newspaper shortly afterwards? A charming family photograph of Her Excellency, her son and daughter printed on good glossy paper- again at state expense, no doubt- and distributed free to us by the House by the Lake!
Tell me, Paakshikaya, what do I do with the photograph? Frame it and give it a due place among my proud possessions in the drawing room? Or light a lamp every day and burn some incense? Surely, my friend you cannot accuse late President Premadasa of boosting his ego when your leaders resort to such methods- and I cannot believe that the servile bosses at the House by the Lake would have done such a thing without the blessings of the gracious lady!
But if you are happy with all this and believe that it will help you win the next elections, so be it, Paakshikaya. We are also happy to leave you to your own devices until realization dawns on you- and then it will be too late!
But what we are not happy about are your attempts to impose hardships on the people- even if it gives us a good issue to campaign against you. Take for instance the recent decision to increase bus fares. Just how do you expect the people to bear the cost of a 15 to 25 per cent bus fare hike, Paakshikaya?
And what do you do as a government to alleviate the hardships of the people? What we hear is that you are inviting the Latec millionaire Ravi Weththasinghe to supply buses. On the face of it, this seems what could be called a 'gesture' of gratitude for Mr. Weththasinghe's role in the Channel Nine controversy.
Now I know you will say Mr. Weththasinghe did business with UNP regimes and that is indeed so but that may also be a contributory factor to our being in the opposition now. Instead it is your President who is on record calling that deal corrupt. Why then, this sudden change of heart? And where is the transparency that you talked of those days? And anyway is it correct that Minister Fowzie doesn't want any dealings with this resourceful millionaire?
Why don't you get invited to one of those 'breakfast meetings' at Temple Trees, Paakshikaya and tell your leadership about these issues of which they seem to be so blissfully unaware ? But then, that would be rather difficult, wouldn't it, gaining access to those 'breakfast' meetings, when even cabinet ministers are left out? (And, I'm told, given the marvellous sense of timing by your President, those meetings have become more of a 'brunch' rather than a breakfast or lunch!)
Then, Paakshikaya, is it also true that this 'inner cabinet' has decided at the breakfast meeting that the best bet would be having a presidential election first? And have they also decided that the likes of Mahinda Rajapakse should be sidelined because they are still friendly with my good friend, Anura Bandaranaike.
I'm told the thinking was that in the event of a hung Parliament after a General Election, this so-called 'Anura Bandaranaike faction' in the SLFP would defect to the UNP- or at least, withdraw support to Her Excellency- and that therefore they should be kept out of Parliament, if necessary by withholding nominations.
Now, Paakshikaya, don't jump to conclusions and blame your efficient Fisheries Minister for 'leaking' this to me. He was, after all, not present at these meetings and you know that. (But then, given your government's policy of uncontrolled media freedom, several other ministers- even those in the inner cabinet- have turned into reporters!).
But do tell us whether this is indeed the case for it will prove what I have been saying all this time- that your government is mortally scared of defeat at the next elections despite all this talk about ushering in the next millenium and ruling till the President wins the Nobel Prize.
In such circumstances, there is one advice I can offer Paakshikaya. The Americans call it damage control and the idea is to minimize the negative fallout of a crisis. I think we saw one of your 'inner cabinet' ministers indulge in it this week- Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle tendering an apology to MP Ravi Karunanayake to avoid further embarrassment.
Maybe your government could learn a lesson from that and employ the same strategy in for example, the Channel Nine controversy.
Get rid of those who have a cloud of suspicion hanging over them and declare that you will not tolerate such scandals. Then, may be the average Sri Lankan voter who is used to forgiving and forgetting, will do just that.
Now, you might wonder Paakshikaya why I am offering you all this advice- and I will tell you. It is because we in the UNP know that even with damage control the PA- or President Kumaratunga- will not able to win the next elections. That is because somewhere in the past year or so, your government has crossed the thin dividing line between victory and defeat. So, you can continue with your 'breakfast meetings' for as long as you want but very soon, you will not be able to have them at Temple Trees!
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