Mahinda, declares ‘Ranil Dhang apith ekka’ (Ranil is with us now). But Ranil may be saying: ‘They are with me now ‘. The indication he gives is that he will be president till the term of the ‘R-Paksas’ party ends.


Gamini Weerakoon

(The writer is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader.)

The focus of the nation in recent times has been shifting from the ‘Glorious Uncertainties of cricket’ to inglorious uncertainties of politics and for the search of a square meal a day by the poor.

When our ‘Singha Pattaw’ (lion cubs) were all ga-ga after winning the Asia T-20 Cup, we warned about the uncertainties of the T-20 variety of the game pointing out that it was like our national card game Booruwa where the probabilities were 50-50.

The uncertainty in politics is much greater: a wild card out of the pack turning out to be the trump card. However, what the nation is going through is not a game of cards, cricket or politics. It is one of survival for the majority of the people.

In 2019 ‘Gota Rajapaksa’ polled that much celebrated 52.56 percent in the presidential election and next year the political patriarch of the ‘R-Paksas’, Mahinda, led their party, winning a near two-thirds majority, reducing Ranil Wickremesinghe to zero. Politically he was written off. But right now he is the president calling the shots and ruling the country with an iron fist.

The aging Mahinda, the political patriarch of the R-Paksas, declared two weeks ago, ‘Ranil Dhang apith ekka’ (Ranil is with us now). But the maverick Ranil may be saying: ‘They are with me now ‘. The indication he gives is that he will be president till the term of the ‘R-Paksas’ party ends.

On Wednesday, he used a massive phalanx of police muscle-locked shoulder to shoulder across the highways in deep multiple rows to prevent the thousands of activists from political parties, trade unions and universities protesting against his authoritarian rule by demonstrating on the roads of Colombo.

The protestors were abiding by their vow of non-violence through which they drove out a corrupt inefficient government from office. Wickremesinghe demonstrated the technique of suppressing the democratic right to protest with police muscle.

How long can this suppression continue? Apologists for Wickremesinghe say he should be allowed to continue because he has been able to ride over the most acute phase of the financial crisis through negotiations with India, the IMF, other international monetary institutions, Western nations and Japan with humanitarian assistance from China.

The crisis has been partly defused by the weather gods. The northeast monsoon has filled up hydro reservoirs, enabling power supplies to continue with little or no power cuts.

Prolonged power cuts and threats of extended cuts resulted in the Middle Class, particularly women, not only coming onto the streets but also joining ‘Gota go Home’ protests. These people have been, more or less, holding themselves back despite 300 percent inflation in some commodities.

Queues for petrol, diesel and cooking gas have been eased out because of the Indian loans coming through faster instead of in driblets as at the commencement of the crisis. India has given four billion dollars but these are loans that were negotiated prior to the advent of Wickremesinghe. They have to be paid back just like loans from China and the people are unaware of the terms of agreements and rates of interest.

The loans involve the nation’s strategic interests like the Trincomalee harbour, the Oil Tank Farm and northern islands plus the right to intervene in the country’s internal affairs through the 13th Amendment. Thus the people are still unaware of what has to be paid back to India.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delights in posing as a leader of a World Super Power on international platforms although India despite its many achievements is still an underdeveloped nation in many respects.

Last week, the World Hunger Index in its report for this year (2022) said: ‘India slips to 107th in World Hunger Index’. India was behind its neighbours such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar.

The report has estimated that more than three million children in India are malnourished, about half of them severely. The positions for South Asian countries in the Hunger Index are: India (107) Afghanistan (106) Pakistan (99) Bangladesh (84), Nepal (81). Sri Lanka is way ahead at 64. The Indian government has challenged the report with the World Hunger Index, reports said.

The World Hunger report is prepared by the European NGOs of Concern Worldwide and Wellhunger Life. They attempt to measure and track hunger globally, region by region and country by country. Tracking down hunger in the vast Indian sub-continent populated by 1.1 billion people is no easy task and the NGOs dependent on their local branches may be somewhat off the mark. But it does reveal that hunger stalks this land whose leaders give priority to reaching planets far away.

The R-Paksa loyalists would, no doubt, hail this report but the opposition would undoubtedly say: ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’. The recent financial crisis resulted in driving almost the entire self-employed sector — the poorest sector of the economy — into unemployment. Vendors of food, threewheeler drivers, fishermen, and poor peasantry were left without an income and how they are able to survive has not come out in any report, official or unofficial.

Meanwhile, the R-Paksas are attempting their ‘Third Coming’ through a programme ‘Ekwa Nagitimu’ (Rise Unitedly). The title, as a correspondent has pointed out, is an admission that it had fallen and wants to get back on its feet. Their friend, philosopher and guide is Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been opposed to all parties that the Rajapaksas have been in during his entire political career of 52 years till the day came when President Gota wanted to flee the country and appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister to be elected later by his party as the president in accordance with the much-reviled constitution!

The only chance for the resurrection of the ‘R-Paksas’ is a splintered opposition. Wickremesinghe’s obstinate determination to remain the leader of the UNP in 2009 resulted in the collapse of the Grand Old Party, enabling a cakewalk for the return of the Rajapaksas. His tactics resulted in only about a month’s time for Sajith Premadasa to organise his presidential campaign.

Despite such severe obstacles thrown on his path, he polled 41.99 percent of the vote to Gota’s 52.5 percent with all the advantages of the backing of a government in power.

Sajith Premadasa as the opposition leader has been a disappointment to UNPers, especially those who abstained from voting at the last presidential and parliamentary elections because of his isolationist stand of trying to go it alone.

He appears to have broken his self-imposed shackles and come out into the open and join opposition forces in order to throw out the political comedy that is now in place.

Last Wednesday, he was marching with the opposition forces that gathered in Colombo to oppose the suppression of the democratic right of protest.

Broad opposition coalitions are called for to throw out entrenched suppressive regimes. Perhaps it is too much to expect a united political coalition against the return of the discredited regime but even a no-contest election agreement may achieve the objective.

The JVP, for reasons of its own, wants to go it alone, the excuse apparently being to protect the purity of the party ideology. A weakness of Marxists throughout history has been the squabbling of various factions in the name of true Marxist ideology. Russia had such factions even before its Great October Revolution.

Lenin started as Narodinik. Later there emerged the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Social Democrats, Leninists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, and Bukharinists right down to Titoists et al.

Space does not permit us to discuss the Lankan pantheon of Marxist deities here but it should be noted that the JVP achieved political success only when it coalesced with Chandrika Kumaratunga’s SLFP. They succeed in staging massive demonstrations but suffer humiliating defeats at the polls while singing hosannas to Rohana Wijeweera.

Courtesy: Sunday Times