By Gamini Weerakoon
(Gamini Weerakoon is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and Consulting Editor of the Sunday Leader)
Blackouts are a fact of Sri Lankan life in this second decade of the 21st Century. At Nawala where blackouts are of frequent, if not of daily occurrence, we asked a long-standing resident and legal pundit if anything positive can be done about it and he rejected it outright. Its Jus naturale (law of nature) in these parts for long years was his sardonic comment.
However, a six-hour islandwide blackout is rare and a much more serious thing, even a staunch supporter of the SLPP (Pohottuwa) Party admitted over the phone during the blackout.
Last Monday’s blackout will certainly have a negative fallout in many aspects, including the economy. We have looked at the political fallout on this new Rajapaksa government which is now revving up to take off to the promised ‘Vistas of Splendour and Prosperity’.
We see it not as a hiccup but a big dent in the sleek supposedly shatterproof political structure of the SLPP that arrived unscathed after going through two gruelling tests — presidential and parliamentary elections. After the two victories, the supporters of this party were convinced of the invincibility and the ability of their leaders to sail through hell fire and brimstone. Their hopes and emotions had risen to cocky heights.
But, then, as their state ministers — the Second X1 — were assuming duties and monks were chanting pirith to bless the aspirants, came a blackout that lasted for about six hours. Never mind the auspicious times and other rituals that went awry but the belief that everything that ‘Gota does works to clockwork precision’ was blasted. Even more, the country was in darkness at an auspicious moment and nothing could be done about it for hours!
It was not a setback to the work programme of the new government. But it shook the belief and ego of those staunch and even fanatical supporters who believed that ‘ Gota can do no wrong’
Certainly, President Rajapaksa is not to be blamed. No President can look after every fuse, trip switch or sacred cow in the country, but the myth of infallibility, military super-efficiency, etc that have been building around him since his days as Defence Secretary in the last days of ‘The War’ were shaken. Politically — whether he desired such magical attributes or not — he had gained great mileage from such beliefs.
The political division of the country was well revealed during those dark hours on Monday. Rajapaksa supporters kept assuring that power would be restored in a matter of minutes while others riled them by querying whether we had reached ‘Singapore standards’ overnight.
Election statistics repeated ad nauseam does not bridge the divide.
What the defeated, sulking UNPers say among themselves is that the Rajapaksa victories were nothing very great having been given on a silver platter to them by their leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. As the leader of the UNP for 24 years without much success to show, he clung on to the leadership. Even after mass desertions, he continued to hold on to power. Finally, at the elections, the Rajapaksa party had no opposition. It was a walk in the park for them.
The hard fact, however, is that the Rajapaksa party is now well ensconced in power with a two-thirds majority and is getting ready to frame a new constitution that would enable them to rule the country according to their thinking.
The UNP is in shambles, with Sajith Premadasa leading the most number of UNPers while the official leader Ranil Wickremasinghe and a Gang of Four mediocrities trying to go their way. The latest is that despite a massive electoral rejection he has now declared that he will retain the leadership of the UNP till the next provincial councils’ elections. Do Wickremesinghe and his Gang of Four hope to win the provincial councils elections or does he want the UNP to remain in shambles so that a reunited party or Sajith Premadasa’s Samagi Jana Balavegaya can’t present a stronger opposition? That of course will delight the Rajapaksas.
Earlier he had come out with a sensible suggestion that Karu Jayasuriya, the only respected senior UNPer, be made the leader of the party. That would have enabled the shattered parry to reunite but Wickremesinghe’s latest decision to remain as leader ends all that.
It is indeed regrettable that Wickremesinghe is playing the role of a crematorial chief of the party. He has served the party well having taken over its leadership and led it after Prabhakaran systematically annihilated most leaders. He fought presidential elections to a very close finish with Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa and lost due to unfortunate developments that went against him such as a bribe paid to Prabhakaran who passed a fiat to all Tamil voters not to vote for Wickremesinghe.
But he had led the party for 24 years without success and the writing was on the wall that he failed to read.
Getting back to the blackout, we returned home after a journey out of Colombo around 6pm to find our home hot and humid. Reaching out for a fan, we found it dead, without power. After a shower we retired to an open window and began noticing fireflies which had slipped our memory for years. We reminisced to times about 70 years ago when Mt. Lavinia was under developed and blackouts were a regular feature plunging houses into darkness.
When that happened the call all round was: send for Peuse (Fuse).
Peuse was a decrepit employee of the UC given a small and cubicle in the Mt. Lavinia market beside a beef stall and was the official assigned to look after power failures in houses at night.
He was fully inebriated by twilight and a power unto himself, initially refusing to oblige to desperate calls by residents. Only ‘santhosams’ offered could make him move and Peuse after energising himself further hitched his tattered sarong, mounted his rusty bike and arrived at his destination.
He told residents that the UC was to blame for giving unlimited connections to homes and he had to bear the brunt of it all. He then took out his magic box containing a thin wire coil which he wound around the burnt-out fuses by the electricity meter and pushed them in place.
Lo and behold Peuse had dispelled darkness and brought light to grateful inhabitants at home! They rewarded Peuse once again, as an insurance payment for the next blackout.
Our darkness at Nawala vanished at 7.55 pm enlightening all at home and brought us that feeling of Déjà vu and Peuse of seven decades ago.
We may sound facetious in comparing Peuse with the highly qualified electrical engineers of those gigantic power houses of Norochcholai and like. But the effect is the same for mere mortals like us: dispelling of darkness.
President Rajapaksa and his Power Minister Dullas Alahapperuma may not know much about electrical gadgetry and need not know but they must have the best available engineers to tell them what went wrong on Monday.
Appointing commissions of inquiry is the standard practice but that we all know will be like going round the mulberry bush. There should be a presidential and ministerial adviser to tell them what went wrong for them to make their own decisions.