Krishna Extracts Promises And TNA Woos The South
It was a week that had the Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna making headlines in Sri Lanka. He broke tradition, in many ways. His insistence on meeting with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamilian political party in parliamentary opposition, before he met with the Government, had Minister Prof. Peiris and the big wigs at the Colombo Foreign Ministry wondering what they could pull off, in proving they are not incompetent in handling their responsibilities.
The media was hurriedly called upon to stress that Minister Peiris was at the BIA tarmac personally, to receive the visiting Indian Minister, when the plane carrying the Indian delegation landed.
Why Minister Peiris was personally at the BIA, it is said, was to prevail and invite Minister Krishna to first visit the “Thaipongal” ceremony arranged at Temple Trees, before meeting with the TNA. That was to be a hurried photo event. Photos of Minister Krishna in Temple Trees, with President Rajapaksa was thus released to the media immediately and most news reports did not mention of any meeting with the TNA, the same evening.
Krishna says 13th Plus promised
The first official meeting with the TNA after landing here on a four day visit, before meeting the Government for official talks, was not the only deviation, by Minister Krishna. It was also that he made his own statements to the media on his official meeting with President Rajapaksa, though with Minister Peiris in attendance. Usually in the past, joint written statements were issued by the two Government parties. He was also to meet the President and the Sri Lankan delegation, not at Temple Trees, but very officially at the Presidential Secretariat.
After the meeting with President Rajapaksa, Minister Krishna with Prof. Peiris by his side, told the media that President Rajapaksa has promised to go beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in providing a stable solution to the long standing conflict with the Tamil society. This assurance by the President to the Indian Minister had mixed reactions here in Colombo, with both the UNP and the JVP wanting to know what the Rajapaksa Government has to say about it.
Karu meets President at Wedding
For Karu Jayasuriya, who officiated at the high profile wedding ceremony of Derana 360 talk show anchor, Dilka Samanmalee from the groom’s side, received an opportunity to meet President Rajapaksa who attested at the wedding, from the bride’s side.
The first ever wedding to be celebrated in the tiny island resort in the Beira Lake, left the two one time ministerial colleagues engaged in a brief conversation, that perhaps picked on the issue of the 13th Amendment. The response it is said had been a 180 degree turn to what Minister Krishna announced at the media briefing. It was to be a Second Chamber of a sort (Senate), with no police powers explained away nonchalantly with an “I don’t care” attitude, that left most commenting that it is another Rajapaksa bluff, as it had been always, for Indian consumption.
The wedding and its sneaky stories apart, Minister Krishna’s deviations were no mere “Sarkozian” aberrations in politics. For the Tamil people and for the world, they had very peculiar overtones on the Indian approach to Sri Lanka and its government. It showed that Minister Krishna would not be carried by the powerful “South Bloc” bureaucrats, who usually decide on Indian foreign policy and take a public stand on Sri Lankan issues. At least this time around, on Sri Lanka and the Tamil political issue, he seems to be on his own.
Chennai Lobby and China Connections
The Chennai Tamil lobby, seemed quite happy over these “Krishna deviations” in handling the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. They had previously been accusing most South bloc heavy weights, working as a “Malayali cabaal” of being mostly negative than even neutral on Tamil interests. The accusations extend up to saying, the Rajapaksa regime had always been saved or bailed out by these Malayali bureaucrats. Top names in the Indian Foreign Service, some important even now, including M. K. Narayanan, Shiv Shankar Menon, Nirupama Rao (nee Menon), Vijeya and Satish Nambiar, were bandied about in TN Thamilean politics. Vijeya Nambiar, the Chief of Staff of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon any way stands implicated in the “white flag” surrender issue. What seems interesting is that some of these names are linked to Chinese connections in Sri Lanka. Menons have been having “China stop overs” in their family line, with Shiv Shankar credited for his role in improving bi-lateral relations as Ambassador in Beijing, while Rao is considered an Asia Pacific Security expert with a stint in Beijing as Ambassador as well as a very close personal link with the Rajapaksas.
Moragoda and Delhi
Yet another interesting episode for Sri Lanka is Milinda Moragoda’s comings and goings with the Indian connections. He was often the trusted link with Delhi for Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who was considered pro US . Political allegiances thereafter changed and Moragoda is rumoured to have burnt the midnight oil backstage, to include the Rajapaksas in the trusted fold of the Indian South bloc. The Rajapaksas have since been flying to Delhi with just a phone call to Moragoda to make arrangements, minutes prior to take off from Katunayake. With Rao in particular, they had become very trusted friends and the TN lobby hesitates little to say that they all have pro China business links.
Dropped out of the Indian canoe, Moragoda has been left to fight his own survival in the Colombo Municipal Council with a small time local council member, Azad Sally. They have two things in common. Firstly, they are both pole vaulters from the UNP, Sally was a one-time UNP Deputy Mayor, while Moragoda was a cabinet minister in Wickremesinghe’s government from December 2001. Secondly, they are both known for their very close association with Killi Maharaja and MTV.
Azad Sally, whose credentials are also very much at stake, went on record saying Moragoda crossed over to the Rajapaksa regime to save his neck from corruption. Sally feels miffed with another UNP crossover to the UPFA, Colombo Central’s Mahroof being named the “Deputy Opposition Leader” of the Colombo MC, a position that has no real value nor seriousness in local government politics. Sally was sullied more at the CMC meeting on January 19, when he withdrew his resignation, saying President Rajapaksa had advised him to do so, a reason not taken seriously by the UPFA Councillors. Yet they say, Sally’s strength is Gotabhaya’s waning support for Moragoda, after he lost the much wanted Colombo MC to the UNP that was more a quarrel than a campaign.
No Cabinet Reshuffle
The Rajapaksas now have other issues larger than the CMC, said an insider when asked why the hurried cabinet reshuffle expected to happen last week, did not materialise. The heads cannot be rolled in the power sector that has turned militant with an uncompromising demand for a 45 percent pay hike. Regardless of the President’s not more than 2,500 rupee increase explanation in the 2012 budget speech, an 18 percent hike offered was increased to twenty five per cent of the salary within three days, only to be refused again by the agitating trade union leaders. With the private sector unions also gearing for a “national living wage” that would match the public sector cry, the President not wanting to invite any more trouble within his own house, seemed the logic behind the increase.
While a ruffled President speaking to a Sinhala daily denied any such cabinet reshuffle, MP Ravi Karunanayake was on his feet in Parliament to ask how true the media exposure on a cabinet reshuffle was, from Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. He was more keen to know whether Chamal Rajapaksa would be the next Prime Minister of the UPFA government. This prompted Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa also to deny such reports as rumours and went further to inform the House that the print media report would be investigated. This columnist who also picked up the story about a possible cabinet reshuffle in last week’s column, was thus left non plussed as to what exactly the Speaker meant by saying he would investigate the “media story”. The media does get such “leaks” but is not bound to tell the Speaker, where and whence the leaks spring, for these columns would not have their spice and size if the source is exposed. The best person who would know the truth of such “leaks” is the President himself, who at times takes pride in saying, he was also a reporter in the cabinet many years back.
Gomin Speaks Out
What was not leaked, but was quite clear to the public is the confusion the LLRC Report had created in the Sinhala circles that encircle the regime. Gomin Dayasri, a leading corporate sector lawyer who stood by the Rajapaksa regime, often getting up to clear doubts over Sinhala “rights”. Thus having more or less official sanction to use the airwaves of State run electronic media, went the whole hog in support of the LLRC recommendations last Monday morning speaking to ITN. He had no qualms in saying, development must reach the ordinary Tamil people in the Vanni, for the government to now prove its commitment on developing the whole country and that requires, the recommendations by the LLRC to be implemented without delay.
JHU, NFF and JVP a thorn
Dayasri was made to sound like a “traitor” when JHU Minister Champika Ranawaka with his MP, Rev. Rathana Thero and two others went all out to rubbish the report at a special seminar, held in the auditorium of the Mahaweli Centre on Tuesday. The speakers labelled it as anti-Sinhala and as against the mandate given to the LLRC. Ranawaka said, it is now time again to be on the ready to defeat a new wave of “separatist terrorists” in the making, with Tamil Diaspora support.
This whole seminar was an interesting projection that contradicts a Colombo US Embassy cable found in the WikiLeaks cable dump. The unclassified cable has it that Defence Secretary Rajapaksa briefed Ambassador Blake that such offers as amnesty to fighting LTTE cadres had been kept quiet as Sinhalese nationalist parties (JHU, NFF and JVP) would react loudly if such offers were publicised too widely. Yet now it seems they are on the same platform, raising the issue of a possible LTTE threat in the making, and doing so quite loudly.
The LLRC has certainly cracked the Sinhala base with the Rajapaksa regime. The JHU going the Gotabhaya way and the more moderate Sinhala bloc, the other way.
Tourism and Land
Meanwhile, the Rajapaksa triumvirate’s effort in turning the whole coastline into a holiday resort belt for high flying tourists, had run into troubled waters at Kalpitiya, not long after the Tangalle hotel murder of a British tourist that also left his partner allegedly raped and badly wounded, as reported in media. A lone Muslim woman in Kalpitiya, who fought for her ancestral rights to a land that was encroached upon by a businessman who had built an 80 villa resort on her land for a company named, Dutch Bay Resort, made the news. The Court decided the complainant owner, Ms. Saleema should be compensated for damages caused to her island property, to the value of 5 million rupees.
Community organisations that stood by her during the seven month long legal battle, are now looking for other victims whose lands have similarly been taken over for hotel projects by numerous businessmen, with political backing. Some in the area claim these squatter hoteliers are backed by defence authorities. This case creates a precedent says Herman Kumara, a social activist, among especially the fisher community, in evicting squatter hoteliers in Kalpitiya. They not only encroach on poor villagers’ lands but ruin the eco system as well, he charged.
TNA woos the South
Another week ends not so well for the Rajapaksa regime, leaving the TNA to sit with a regime for devolution discussions which they are not very comfortable with. Perhaps their decision to open up to the Southern Sinhala society in explaining their cause as justifiable and politically necessary, is due to their discomfort with the regime. This week would thus have a TNA parliamentarian addressing a public forum at the Dr. N. M. Perera centre on January 24, on their critical response to the LLRC Report. The Rajapaksa regime may not be comfortable with the TNA coming South. The TNA for sure feels the absence of their popular MP Raviraj, who was an asset to them in Colombo. For the regime, the absence of Raviraj in hindsight should make sense, when battle lines are drawn on democratic platforms.