Appointing Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera to any post with State patronage was an injury but following that up with the Ali Sabry Resignaion pantomime was adding a grievous insult to that injury.


Rajpal Abeynayake

So, Ali Sabry didn’t resign after all. But he did resign to the inevitable. What was Minister Ali Sabry’s purported wish to resign his ministerial portfolio all about? To be charitable to Mr. Sabry, he could not have expressed the desire to resign on a matter of principle. It appeared he just wanted to resign for “technical” reasons, i.e the fact that the findings of the “One Country, One Law” committee were to be made into law bypassing him. Or, at least, that they were to be placed before the legislature, without so much as a “by your leave” from the Minister.

But resignations are not resorted to for technical reasons. For example, ministers in other countries – god forbid, not Sri Lanka – have resigned when there were train derailments that cost lives.

Yet none of them said: “Well, if the Prime Minister can prove that I was in fact asleep when the accident happened – which I was – then, I’m not resigning, hallelujah, so help me God.”
If such resignations were common, they would not have been called resignations. They would have been called threats. When Minister Ali Sabry said he would resign because the President had appointed a controversial task force to draft new laws, the people thought he was as good as his word.

They thought that even if he could never be a Gamini Jayasuriya, he could at least aspire to be. For those who are too young to know, or those who simply don’t remember, Gamini Jayasuriya was a minister in the J.R. Jayewardene Government, who resigned over the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The gentleman wanted to make a speech in Parliament opposing the proposed 13th Amendment when it was being debated. However, the then Deputy Speaker who was presiding, Norman Waidyaratne, refused to let him speak. He said there were some 11 government MPs slotted to make speeches that day, and that Mr. Jayasuriya should speak on government party time that had been allocated to the then-United National Party (UNP) members. However, Opposition MP Anura Bandaranaike offered to give Mr. Jayasuriya his allocated time, but the Deputy Speaker wouldn’t allow that.

Shortly after this exchange in Parliament about the denial of a time slot, the Deputy Speaker, making an announcement, let it be known that he had received a copy of the letter of resignation that had been sent by Mr. Jayasuriya to the party Secretary General. He read it out in Parliament. Gamini Jayasuriya had resigned from the UNP and his MP post over the issue of the 13th Amendment, and that was that.

That’s called resigning on a matter of principle. The late MP Jayasuriya did not say that he would stay on because legal experts had told him that a demerger of the North and East was possible some day, even though the two provinces had been merged under terms of the Indo-Lanka accord made into law by the 13th Amendment.

Not that there was any indication at that time of the two provinces being demerged, but at least, hypothetically, it would have been possible that somebody spoke to Mr. Jayasuriya about the legal viability of such a reversal.

But here was the gentleman quitting and going home, entirely on a matter of principle. The fact is that he was not doing it out of a desire to create some sort of political pantomime. He was not doing it to keep up appearances with his constituency. He was resigning because in good conscience, he could not be a member of the governing party any more, period.

That’s the definition of a resignation on a matter of principle. Some have written in the wake of Sabry’s “resignation” as if there is only the resignation of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the Indian Railways Minister, as a reference point for a principled resignation in the sub-continent.
They obviously forgot Gamini Jayasuriya, who quit in the face of the J.R. Jayewardene juggernaut. His name went down in history, and though many wouldn’t be able to remember him today, that name is writ indelibly as the lone voice of dissent over the 13th Amendment that was passed in an inordinate hurry, with hardly any notice to the Cabinet of Ministers or to Parliament.

There were others who did the political pantomime at that time too, such as Lalith Athulathmudali, a powerful minister who made a sideshow of voicing his dissent on the 13th Amendment, but then went along and voted to pass the legislation. Just imagine, he didn’t even abstain, though he could have when it came to voting time.

But that’s Athulathmudali who, when the country was burning during the 83 riots, came on TV and exalted that there were no queues at the CWC outlets. He was no stickler, obviously, for matters of principle and propriety.
So it was no surprise that his name became synonymous with political pantomimes such as, for example, the so-called peace-agreement that he signed with one K.C. Senanayake, who was supposed to be representing the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). The JVP was in full insurrection mode at that time and the country was convulsed in terror, with the Wijeweera-led insurgents embarking on a spree of murder and destruction. But K.C. Senanayake was some sort of showman who had nothing to do with the JVP – so when he signed a peace accord with the Minister of National Security in the full glare of the media spotlight, it became quite the joke.

But jokes apart, political pantomime has become all too commonplace in this country. There were presidents who made a show about signing the papers to assume office with a ballpoint pen, and then there was the minister who regretted that though his father had somehow miraculously predicted the Easter Sunday attacks the night before, he hadn’t paid any heed to the prophecy.

Minister Sabry’s latest non-resignation adds to this lengthy assortment of political teledramas. Apparently, the President told Minister Sabry that he wasn’t “prepared to let him go”. Imagine if J.R. Jayewardene had said that to Gamini Jayasuriya?

The fact is, J.R. wouldn’t dare. That was the aura of rectitude that was associated with a politician of the calibre of Gamini Jayasuriya.

But one might say Sabry couldn’t aspire to that even if he tried, because though he has made a great show of being independent and trailblazing, he isn’t. He may have envisioned some positive legal reforms, but several ministers tried before him, so the project can be applauded if and when it shows results. Mind you, he doesn’t have to be either independent or trailblazing anyway. He could be a loyal minister like any other, and be done with it – there is no law against that, unless he proposes to enact one.

It’s when he wants to have that cake and eat it too that he becomes another actor-politician in a long line of such actors who can’t aspire to be anything more than folk who made up the numbers in the Cabinet. Gamini Jayasuriya was not such a man.

When the President says “I will not let Sabry go”, he’s aggressively marking his territory. Sabry is one of the markers – he’s firmly within that territory as well. Any aspiration to independence, especially from this point onwards, would be a joke and, to put it very mildly, would not be taken seriously by anyone.

Then there is the fact that the President “did not accept the resignation”. The fact is that there is no such thing. If any minister wants to go, not even the President can keep him by force!

The people ought to be spared these pantomimes. They are heartily sick of game-playing in the face of appointing Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera to any post with State patronage. Having that happen is an injury – but following that with the Sabry pantomime was adding a grievous insult to that injury.

Courtesy:The Morning