The Sunday Leader

Snatching Victory From The Jaws Of Defeat

Sri Lankans have the remarkable capacity to believe that  snatching of victories from resounding defeats suffered by their favourite leaders are outstanding successes.
On Thursday, we had the state controlled Daily News and another English language daily (calling itself an ‘independent publication’) proclaiming on their front pages that the recent debacle in London of President Mahinda Rajapaksa was an outstanding success. Of course they were quoting a trio—President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Sri Lanka’s High Commisioner in London Chris Nonis and Sajin Vas Gunawardena the External Affairs ‘Monitor’— at a press conference.
This belated meeting with the press was obviously a damage control exercise but it appears to have caused more damage than effected repairs. The government controlled paper claimed ‘significant foreign policy successes’ probably because of the brief meetings President Rajapakse had with British leaders including a fleeting handshake with the Queen.

Brave and heroic

The ‘independent’ paper attempted to project the bravado of the Sri Lankan president in going through pro LTTE mobs to various venues ‘running the risk of being physically attacked’ and that there ‘could have been an attempt on the president’s life’. However, the piece de resistance of the presidential visit— the cancellation of a part of the sessions where President Rajapaksa was scheduled to deliver the keynote address— was glossed over by both publications in the reports.
This belated attempt to salvage the image of the Sri Lankan president and of Sri Lanka could be best described by that now much hackneyed saying: ‘Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat’ and in the now popular  Sinhala saying: ‘Nava gilunath band Chuun’ (Keep playing the band even as the ship sinks).

Nava gilunath band…

The origin of this term we as schoolboys were told comes from the sinking of a German War ship ‘Emden’  that was torpedoed off the Coast of  Sri Lanka  and the unconquerable German captain of the ship ordering the ship’s band to keep playing while the ship sank. This indomitable spirit in the face of defeat caught up with the Sri Lankans and today even at cricket matches as a side collapses the supporters chant ‘Nava gilunath band chuun’. The Rajapakse supporters have no doubt imbibed the spirit of the Emden and that of the Roman emperors—Nil desparadum. ( Never say die)
This London fiasco was not the only occasion in which absolute defeat was claimed as a victory.  There was the occasion of Mahinda Rajapaksa travelling all the way to Britain to address the prestigious Oxford Union and having the lecture cancelled by the Oxford Union with ex-patriate Sri Lankan Tamil hordes threatening to wreck the meeting.
Rajapaksa put on a brave face and came back home and his faithful officials and cheer squads declared it was another victory recalling our Emden Spirit. Then there was the American sponsored resolution at the UNHRC annual sessions in Geneva being adopted calling for investigations into the alleged violation of human rights.
The resolution was adopted by 28 votes to 15 but our intrepid statisticians adopted the new mode of statistical analysis known as Cabraalonomics by adding on the abstentions  to the vote given to Sri Lanka and claimed that we lost only by one  vote! This was the same modus operandi to explain away the defeat of Sri Lanka’s bid to stage the next Commonwealth Games. The difference in the votes polled by the winner, Australia and Sri Lanka were divided by two and added on to either side to show that the defeat of Sri Lanka was only marginal!

Hat-tick plus one?

Thus the bids by the Rajapaksa regime to emerge triumphant in the international scene had been defeated on four occasions—three of which were victories of for the Tamil expatriate groups—Oxford, Geneva and London and once at St  KITTS IN T HE CARIBBEAN which the LTTE rump had no visible effect.
It would be good for the Sri Lankan president and Sri Lanka if the Rajapakse supporters instead of dissipating their energy on the their fantasies of ‘victory’, if they  prevent  the LTTE rump from scoring a hat-trick plus one at  Geneva  when the UNHRC meets  in November to review the progress made by Sri Lanka in implementing the resolution adopted in March.
To claim that the recent debacle of President Rajapaksa in London resulted in  positive foreign policy gains for Sri Lanka defies not only any accepted norms of diplomacy or even plain commonsense. The state controlled newspaper quoting the trio of officials said: ‘Six out of seven main events attended in UK were resounding successes.
They helped to portray the country’s recent gains and establish Sri Lanka as a nation on the forward march towards a bright and prosperous future’.
What oh what were the ‘country’s recent gains’? What were the unspecified ‘resounding successes’? Perhaps the spokesmen were not willing to engage in megaphone diplomacy. But wasn’t this unprecedented meeting with the press an exercise in megaphone diplomacy?

With advisors like this…

A young Johnny Come Lately to Sri Lankan politics Sajin Vas Gunawardena holds a unique post of being the ‘Monitoring MP for the External Affairs Ministry’. From where he came to diplomacy and how he entered the field, professional diplomats are unaware of and what he ‘monitors’ is perhaps known only to the all powerful president. He has been quoted: ‘The predominant positive aspect of President’s visit to UK is that he went ahead with it despite being aware of the obstacles that he would be posed by sections of the diaspora’. The young man obviously does not believe in the age old wisdom such as: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. So, macho Rajapaksa went to London to take on the much feared terrorists head on, just as much he may have tucked up his sarong and walked into a hostile Medamulane mob? This is stuff that village thugs are made of not diplomats and least of all statesmen which Mahinda Rajapaksa undoubtedly strives to be.
With advisors like this does the president need any enemies?
Unfortunately not only Mahinda Rajapaksa but Sri Lanka’s reputation too suffers.
We do feel extremely sorry for the humiliation caused to this country by stupid egoistical exercises and expressions of national stupidity.
We face the charge of the frequently bandied charge of treason but in the interests of Sri Lanka facts have to be faced and not conned away for crumbs that fall from the table of the mighty.
Sri Lanka’s foreign affairs is undoubtedly is in deep mire. When it is stuck in the mud—as it usually is— the Ministry of External Affairs—is to blame but it is elementary knowledge that the directions are coming from the Presidential Secretariat whose advisors are far from being qualified in foreign relations. There cannot be much hope for the country is the status quo remains.
The most galling feature is that, like in all other fields, the public is being led by demagogues. A demagogue has been defined as ‘one who preaches doctrines he knows to be quite untrue to men he knows to be idiots’ We may be having a surfeit of idiots this Lotus Eating Isle but beyond our shores they are few and far between.

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