The “force” is with Mahinda Rajapakse but….

“Keeping Wickremesinghe in the opposition is also the best option available for Mahinda Rajapakse. Wickremesinghe’s anti-national politics give an edge to the Rajapakse regime. Even though Wickremesinghe has pledged not to return to the failed CFA or federalism the people have no faith in him.”

(August 26, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) North Central Province and Sabaragamuwa Province constitute the heartland of the Sinhala-Buddhists. When over 55% of this heartland vote for the national forces engaged in combating minoritarian terror in a free and fair election, then analysts must sit up and consider how far out they have been with the grassroot forces.

Winning this psephological height in these troubled times, when the socio-economic factors were running against the Mahinda Rajapakse government, is a phenomenon that explicitly reduces the issues raised by the international community, the regional powers and all the ideologues touting imported theories into the margins and elevates the internal imperatives to the top of the national political agenda. It is a formidable phenomenon which confirms unequivocally that “the force”, as they say in Star Wars, is with Mahinda Rajapakse and he has to cement and consolidate his base further if he intends to climb higher, avoiding the downward trajectory of Ranil Wickremesinghe heading into the dustbin of history.

The UNP, backed by foreign and anti-national forces, is now hovering between 35 – 40 % in both provinces. To cover-up for their lack of grassroot politics Wickremesinghe parachuted Maj-Gen (rtd) Janaka Perera and pretty boy, Ranjan Ramanayake. They were also backed by the Muslim votes of Rauf Hakeem and estate workers. The government was also handicapped by the split with the JVP – a key electoral partner. The NGOs and two of the major private sector media organizations too were backing the UNP. No doubt, the bulk of the Tamil voters too would have gone to the UNP, hoping to get a new mandate to stop the war. Wickremesinghe was also joined by his other pretty boy, Mangala Samaraweera, who promised to bring down the government with his bloc vote.

“Mahinda Chintanaya” battled against all these odds and won by scoring over 55% of the votes. By any yardstick it is a resounding victory that endorses convincingly the current political trend of taking the nation to new heights that seemed impossible only a few months ago. The sizeable bloc vote of the Sinhala-Buddhists, bearing up the heavy burden of the cost of living and other economic and social disabilities, places the total responsibility of managing the next steps in the hands of Mahinda Rajapakse. It is also the soldiers recruited from this heartland that are scoring the victories for Mahinda Rajapakse to win the elections.

Irrespective of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s personal and ideological differences that continue to divide the UNP and the SLFP on the current national crisis – he will admit that his policies have not brought the nation, his party or himself any credit or glory – his moral and political duty at this critical hour should have been to back the grassroot and military forces. From the word go, his critics have been warning him that there are no votes in Washington, Oslo, London, Tokyo or even in Delhi to save him. He should learn from his counterparts in the International Democratic Union (IDU) that Jacques Chirac, John Howard and Tony Blair/George Brown etc., participate as active and leading members in the IDU not by sacrificing their national interests, or by running down their governments but by affirming their right to pursue their national interests without surrendering to external pressures.

As a political leader aspiring to lead the alternative government his primary duty is to defend the nation, both at home and abroad, on vital issues that threaten the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation. Today he has reaped what he had sowed in belittling the achievements of the heroic forces and going against the basic political instincts of the nation. In an attempt to demoralize the Forces he and his party men were challenging the Army to go to Vanni. They have gone there and captured even the second largest town, Tunukkai. Next stop is Killinochchi. But where is Wickremesinghe?

Each advancing step of the Forces is pushing him and his political ally Prabhakaran into the back of beyond. If Wickremesinghe had played his cards right he would be getting ready today to take the salute of victory standing next to the Commander-in-Chief, Rajapakse, in Vanni. But how can Wickremesinghe, who has not participated in a single Independence Day parade since 2005 (though he has all the time to run to Singapore to have breakfast with Charles Gnanakone, the LTTE shipping agent) now share the glory of national victories when he is allied to all the known anti-national forces?

The latest polls indicate that he has missed the bus by a huge margin. According to known standards of the IDU he should resign. The alternative is for the UNPers to throw him out. But it is doubtful whether the UNPers will have the guts to throw him out. The UNPers were prepared to sacrifice the elephant symbol to accommodate the other loser, Mangala Samaraweera, but they are not prepared to perform the critical surgical operation to remove the lingering cancer in their political system. The UNPers are now led by characters like “Taxi” Abey, the former chairman of the Airport, who is a plant of Wickremesinghe. He is the man who allowed the Tamil Tigers returning home from futile talks abroad to bring in duty free goods, including strategic radio equipment etc. The other failed operator behind Wickremesinghe is Lasantha Wickremetunga, the Editor of The Leader, and the go-between in the Mangala Samaraweera and Wickremesinghe marriage – the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka which, however, did not turn out to be gay as it was meant to be. They were pinning their hopes on this marriage to bring down the government either through a defeat in parliament or in the electorate. Lasantha was even pushing the UNPers to give up their elephant symbol in favour of Mangala Samaraweera’s batik sarong.

So what will Wickremesinghe do now? A survey of Wickremesinghe’s politics confirm that he has gone through all the options available to him – from alliances with Western powers to alliances with Prabhakaran and Samaraweera, from dog demonstrations to juck-muck-toot-toot politics – and failed. Unfortunately, those inside the party are not likely to mount a revolt strong enough to oust Wickremesinghe. Some of them are too weak (like Rukman Senanayake, a good man who is too busy trying to locate where his backbone is), some are waiting for the auspicious time predicted in the horoscopes (like Sajith Premadasa, the hesitant man who believes that he should wait till 2017 to slip into his great father’s shoes), and some are unacceptable political freaks (like S. B. Senanayake who is aspiring to grab Susanthika’s Olympic medal dangling on her ample chest) to give a new leadership to lift the UNP from the doldrums.

Keeping Wickremesinghe in the opposition is also the best option available for Mahinda Rajapakse. Wickremesinghe’s anti-national politics give an edge to the Rajapakse regime. Even though Wickremesinghe has pledged not to return to the failed CFA or federalism the people have no faith in him. One fear that put off the people of NCP and Sabaragamuwa is that he would sign another secret deal with Prabhakaran and expose those living near the Vanni to the bullets of the Tigers. In short, Wickremesinghe has lost the image of a trustworthy national leader.

His strategy should have been to close the ideological gap between him and the President. But with each move he widens the gap. Mahinda Rajapakse is quite happy to step into this vacuum in the widening gap between him and the leader of the opposition. He has captured and dominated this vacuum comfortably and there are no competitors to challenge him. But thee is an enormous responsibility that goes with it. Whatever he proposes to do in the post-Prabhakaran phase, there is one thing he cannot do: he cannot betray the trust placed in him by the people in the heartland who have repeatedly endorsed him as their chosen leader. Working out a peace deal is bound to be greater than fighting a war which is, by and large, a straightforward act. He will have to make compromises, no doubt. But these compromises need not be at the expense of all the other communities. The final solution must address the aspirations and the needs of all the communities and not just one community.

Of course, there are those who are pushing him to abandon his base and surrender to the bogeys of Tamil Nadu/India, international community, foreign aid etc. This is scare-mongering which is not far removed from the tactics of the armed group manipulating foreign lobbies to advance their separatist/federalist aims. This scare-mongering lobby is aiming to achieve through the backdoor what the armed group has failed to achieve so far through open warfare: the break-up of Sri Lanka under various political and constitutional arrangements. They are chanting the same mantra as the armed group: “give in or else!” Their solution is to “give the maximum to one community” even if it means sacrificing the interests of all other communities. That is the fashionable theoretical mantra. “Mahinda Chintanaya” was not designed for that. Nor did our soldiers sacrifice their lives to give all to one community and leave the other communities high and dry. They are fighting to preserve the rights of all communities.

The unstoppable march of our soldiers from Mavil Aru to Thunnakai (with Killonochchi being the next) was not to hand over what was gained on the ground to satisfy some fanciful theories of antiquated, lumpen Marxists, or the formulas of self-proclaimed experts who are familiar with imported legal and constitutional arrangements but not the aspirations of diverse communities seeking peaceful co-existence. Sri Lankans are also wary and tired of the diktats of big brothers muscling in to make us dance to their drum beat.

Mahinda Rajapakse will agree that he does not have a mandate for any of these imported compromises. Nor is that written in his “Chintanaya.” The victories must be consolidated for peace and stability to fulfill the aspirations of all communities. Every rearrangement of the constitution must be to guarantee the individual dignity and rights to live as equal citizens of Sri Lanka sharing every inch of territory in common without any one community claiming exclusive rights to any mono-ethnic enclaves. The rationale of the military exercise led successfully by Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka was to undo the folly of giving territory and powers to one group under the Ceasefire Agreement. Any proposed constitutional arrangements to return to the pre-Mavil Aru status under the CFA, would be another devious means to negate the will of the people as expressed in the military and electoral processes. All the major political, legal and military battles have been waged, at great cost to the nation ever since February 22, 2002, to win back the rights of all communities surrendered at the signing of the CFA. “Mahinda Chintanaya” was in the forefront of these battles to create a stable, peaceful nation by other means.

However, in the name of creating a climate for peace there is a move carried on by a group of theoretical kattadiyas, chanting the failed mantras of handing over asymmetrical powers to just one community at a time when the grassroot guardians of the nation are paying with their dear lives to get out of the terrors of minoritarianism and the ghosts of the CFA. The signs hopefully are that we are at last seeing the light at the end of the minoritarian tunnel – a minority which had consistently refused to co-exist even with the other minority communities, let alone the majority community. When the historic journey that began at Mavil Aru has come this far the theoretical kattadiyas are now chanting that further – no maximum – powers should be granted to ease the challenges posed by brutal minoritarianism. First, there is no clear definition or agreement on the term “maximum” and the cost of it to the rest of the communities flowing from the consequences of handing over the “maximum”. Second, there is no guarantee that today’s “maximum” is not going to be tomorrow’s “minimum” with new Oliver Twists asking for more. Third, will not this asymmetrical power create one community who would be more equal than other communities?

The national crisis had its origins in the vaulting ambition of one community trying to be more equal than all the other communities put together, with special privileges, status and political power allotted to them on an asymmetrical basis. Any political formula heading in the direction of asymmetrical concessions will not be fair by other communities, nor will it lead to a durable solution, as seen in the historical experiences of the post-Vadukoddai Resolution period. Going too far in one direction is bound to destabilize the equilibrium at the other end. The need of the hour is to work out a symmetrical solution giving more emphasis to individual rights living in all communities than going down the explosive path of giving rights to only one community. The northern violence took to subhuman brutalities against their own people mainly because it territorialized its ethnic politics. Separatism and violence are inseparable. Though the northern violence territorialized their political claims the underlying current underpinning both the north and the south violence is the search for the rights and the dignity of the individual.

De-territorializing ethnic politics and enshrining the fundamental rights, with increased economic opportunities for upward mobility, can be the way forward to defuse the tensions that had plagued Sri Lanka. Territorializing ethnic politics has been the root cause of the tragedy facing the nation. It has had a devastating impact on the lives of the very people that demanded the territorializing of their mono-ethnic politics. The outstanding example of Mr. V. Anandasangaree, leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, is symptomatic of the evil of territorializing ethnic demands. In the days of Mrs. Bandaranaike when the north was shared by all he could even protest in the Jaffna esplanade against her. But after territorializing the north he can’t even step into it, he states.

Besides, the ethnic mix in Sri Lanka is inextricably intertwined for any territorial or constitutional separation for peaceful co-existence. The entire political, military and legal thrust of the “Mahinda Chintanaya” has moved forward successfully not to establish linguistic or racial irredentist entities. It is for the cohesive co-existence of all communities which aim to build a new world of peace and stability without arbitrary and artificial borders. To live in a world without borders, respecting the rights and dignity of individuals, has been the goal of humanity marching in the highways and byways of history. Those who propose to construct cadjan curtains to compartmentalize communities may theoretically serve the aggressive and corrosive political claims and passions of the moment but not the ultimate mission of finding unity in diversity. In any case, giving into the demands of only one community over and above the claims of other communities is not the best way to ensure unity in diversity. To give into mono-ethnic extremism demanding mono-ethnic enclaves is the very negation of diversity.

All claims must be leveled and balanced for diversity to co-exist in unity. Any move in the opposite direction would be to go back into the failed past. If President Mahinda Rajapakse decides to go back on his “Mahinda Chintanaya” he will end up like Maj-Gen. Janaka Perera – a man with a colourful past but no future.

“Mahinda Chintana” is based on the simple principle that a thousand flowers cannot bloom in a small hanging pot. The field must be opened up, removing all borders, for each flower to bloom and enhance the colours of diversity in a common field.

( H.L.D.Mahindapala: Editor, Sunday and Daily Observer (1990 - 1994). President, Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association (1991 -1993). Secretary-General, South Asia Media Association (1993 -1994). He has been featured as a political commentator in Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Special Broadcasting Services and other mainstream TV and radio stations in Australia.)
- Sri Lanka Guardian