Originally Published 2017-12-13 09:23:56 Published on Dec 13, 2017
The future beckons Sri Lanka, but only euphemistically.
Sri Lanka — A nation on 'denial mode'

Now that the nation moves farther away from the effects of elections 2015, and even more from war and victory, made-up faces are losing their sheen and skin, and ground reality is beginning to hit back with unmitigated cruelty. It is not just about the Sri Lankan state and the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim polity, but about the nation and the people as a whole.

Call it last hope or wishful thinking, the urban elite in all ethnicities wanted to believe that first with the exit of Prabhakaran and his LTTE, and later with the Rajapaksas and their wrong-doings, all would be good and clean from then on. It was not intended to be, it is not to be either, since. Instead, Sri Lanka is suffocating from itself, no external help required in the matter. If anything, all covers, made available in the form of UNHRC, Chinese investments and/or India-bashing all have given way to expose the ‘real Sri Lanka’ all over again.

If anyone thought that it would be honky-dory on the ethnic front after the exit of the LTTE, it was not to be, not intent to be. If they further thought that the twin-leadership of President Maithiripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe meant to be genuine and would actually strive to be genuine, it again was wrong, from the very word, ‘Go’.

If nothing else, the two leaders of the incumbent government have had varied personal background and political ideologies, and the differences matter a lot in Sri Lanka than in many other third world democracies. Even their methods and approaches were varied and different from day one on.

Loud and clear

Unlike President Mahinda and Minister Maithiripala on the one hand, and President Mahinda and UNP leader Ranil on the other, there was/is nothing open about the character and conduct of both the present-day leaders. Whether one liked it or accepted it, Mahinda and the rest of the Rajapaksa clan were loud and clear. Ranil was always seen as a quiet operative.

To this situation joined in, Maithiri, who was of untested quality in this specific department, but the way he got himself positioned or repositioned against his president of ten years should have shown to the UNP leadership and the voter-at-large as to the kind of leader that the nation was voting for. The same goes to the Tamils and Muslims, whose votes (alone) helped Maithiripala become president, and his UNP ally to hoist him.

Two of the same class and cunning is what the nation is now suffering from. Even in the days of the LTTE, it was always known that Prabhakaran would always outsmart his Sinahala state leadership(s) at every turn and at will. It was only when he encountered a loud and open person in Mahinda, who went to his people first before taking on the LTTE and the international community, did he face his first real strategic hurdle of the political kind. The two were playing the same game, almost the same way, and Prabhakaran blinked first.

There is no such blinking of any kind between Maithiri and Ranil just now. Through the two-plus years of political cohabitation, President Maithiri has always left Prime Minister Ranil and his Team UNP to have their say, the whole say and nothing but their say, to reverberate across the country – and then come down on them, always from behind, the very way he trounced a mightier Mahinda.

It is thus on the Hambantota equity-deal, central bank bonds scam and a whole range of other issues, including UNHRC, international probe and the like, he has had the last laugh. No one has asked him why he did say something in his maiden address at the UNGA on the war-crimes probe, and changed tack on return home? No one has ever questioned President Maithiri as to what he and his ministers in the Government for National Unity (GNU) when the ‘bonds scam’ was being worked out within days and weeks of their coming into office?

It is another matter that no one inside or outside the Bonds Scam Commission has asked Prime Minister Ranil, why he had to appoint a non-citizen in Arjuna Mahendran as Central Bank Governor when equally capable persons may have been available inside the country for the very same job. The way the scam has unfolded, dating its birth to the early days of this government, the question does arises (wishful still as it may be) if the ‘bonds scam’ itself was built into the agenda for leadership change, in the first place.

All in the past

Today, it is all in the past, the future beckons Sri Lanka, but only euphemistically. The present is real, but no one wants to mount the tiger — or, is it the lion? The ‘denial mode’ is palpable as the nation keeps moving from one crisis to another, and yet another, all thankfully only of the political and not militant variety. At each stage and with every new situation or scam, the nation and the people readily forget the earlier one(s).

Today, the SLFP factions are on a merry-go-round, not knowing who will call the shots, when, where and how. The way the Sirisena camp seems cringing at their doors, if not feet, it would seem that Mahinda still holds all the cards on that score, even if not close to his heart, now or ever. He seems wanting to repeat his bête noire CBK’s accidental experiment of capturing the SLFP from ‘outside’, not necessarily inside. Whether or not SLFP parliamentarians and Provincial Council members want Mahinda R or not, they want the ‘Mahinda votes’ — 47 per cent in the presidential poll, and 45 per cent in parliamentary polls, when he sought to become Prime Minister, a la Vladimir Putin in Russia.

In comparison, all is quiet on the UNP front, and uncomfortably so. Barring bond scam and every other kind of embarrassing political situation, the party under Ranil is yet to go back to the days of internal convulsions. Barring the lone episode of a junior minister in Harsh de Silva wanting Cabinet colleague Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe out for his controversial and unconvincingpost facto comments on the Hambantota equity-deal, no one has really asked for anyone’s head – especially that of PM and party leader Ranil.

It is unlike the UNP when the party was out of power for years and decades together. If nothing else, no one has heard of Sajith Premadasa since he became Minister, and possibly taking himself through the learning curve quietly, in preparation for great and bigger things — but only when they come his way on their own?

There is a message in this, not just for Ranil and the UNP, but also possibly for the nation, especially the vocal and vociferous sections of the urban elite, who are sworn to defend and protect the UNP and all that they suppose the party and/or the leadership stands for. The bubble may burst anytime, or as a unified party, the UNP is ready to wait to see the end of the SLFP, factions or not, before letting inevitability of internal squabble take over.

In all, all of it only means that the nation is in for a further period of continued, if not contrived turbulence. The incumbent government was a marriage of personal convenience, not political conviction — as the rest of the world wanted Sri Lanka to believe, but no Sri Lankan really believed it in his heart. The chasm is showing, the nation that caused it is now being called upon to cover it up all over again — beginning the truncated local government elections, but not ending with it!

This commentary originally appeared in The Sunday Leader.

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