The Sunday Leader

Walk The Talk, Or Talk The Walk?

by N. Sathiya Moorthy

Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena

The Rajapaksa-centric ‘Long March’ of the Sri Lankan kind, from Kandy to Colombo, may not have borne any fruit for any of the political stake-holders in the country just now. Yet, it may have taken away the national focus from more important issues that needed greater and more immediate attention from a larger perspective.

It remains to be seen how the Maithiri-Ranil Government reacts to the march and its success (as they perceive the same). For now, they are all talking about the walk even as the Rajapaksa camp walked the talk. At times, they shouted, too. It reportedly happened when the marchers were passing Maithiri-Mahinda’s SLFP headquarters in capital, Colombo.

Mahinda has said that the Colombo march (or, is it the ‘Kandy march’?) was only a dry-run for a longer, nation-length march or some such thing involving the Joint Opposition, centred on him. After the comparative and comparable success of the May Day rally by his faction, the march now has continued to keep the nation’s focus on him than on the rulers of the day.

A stage may have come that any reversal in the focus to the ruling Duo might occur if, and only if, they start fighting between them – real and proper. Then, Mahinda R may have to vacate at least a part of the centre-stage, and for a time at the very least, for the benefit of other players, too.

There have however been occasions elsewhere when by keeping the focus continuously on their common political adversary, a ruling combine or party had continued to win elections. Rajapaksa did it by doing it viz the LTTE. But it works only as long as all those that contributed to the electoral defeat of the common adversary continued to stay together – and made their combine stronger.

 

Common adversary

The incumbent Government of National Unity (GNU) cannot claim to do so. The TNA is out and out, out of the combine. So seems to be the JVP. The so-called coordination committee of the GNU stopped meeting very long ago. There is nothing to show that there is coordination between the eternal Sinhala political adversaries, namely Sirisena’s SLFP and Wickremesinghe’s UNP, other than at the level of the leaders – and concerning their own concerns.

If there is any coordination among all those that are partners in government, all of it is only in and through weekly Cabinet meetings.

The alternative seems to be the well-oiled Sri Lankan practice of backroom manoeuvres. They have often stopped with the self and those that surround the leaders – not about constituencies and communities, voters and vote-banks.

It’s possible that the Duo may consider tightening the legal noose(s) around the Rajapaksas on the corruption front, especially. It’s equally possible that they may be shaken to reconsider the course already taken on this front over the past one and half years – but to no avail. Their continued confusion is all too visible.

So far, there have only been enquiries and inquiries, investigations and arrests. There has not been any court case, trial and conviction. There is not even an acquittal. Arrest, like the first sip of alcohol, is forbidden only until you gulp it down. Once it has happened, the rest of it follows – like it or not, enjoy it or not. The shame and consequent reservations are all gone.

 

Losing constituencies

It’s not only the decisive Tamil and Muslim constituencies that the present government may have lost already, and for reasons that are not far to seek.

By his repeated criticism of the nation’s media – however wrong and wrongful they might have been – Prime Minister Ranil may be losing that powerful constituency. With that even a section of the civil society, whose campaign alone helped in the defeat of Mahinda R in 2015, may be looking askance. It’s not an easy decision for the rulers to take just now – they having lost the initiative and drive even before they had set the momentum.

Better or worse still, they have among them those that in public perception have become as corrupt as their predecessors – who at least had the ‘war victory’ to cover up for their alleged sins.

The less said about the ‘international community’, the better.

They find themselves marooned as under the Rajapaksas, be it on ‘accountability probe’ and/or on ‘political solution’. The increasing differences within the Duo have evolved into a visible pattern, however invisible it might be to the naked eye.

The question is how long and how far could and would the international community pretend that it’s all rosy, still. It’s not that their resolved positions at Geneva are anything that a self-respecting people would let their Government accede in the first place. What next is the question for all those that are involved, from within the country and outside.

 

Straight face

The irony of present-day Sri Lanka, post-polls, is that all those that were a part of the predecessor Government, and benefited in terms of pelf, position and otherwise, are the ones who are talking about the ‘erstwhile rulers’ even more than the legit claimants to such phrase. The list starts with President Sirisena at the top.

They are saying it all with a straight face. There is however a lesson for their ilk of politicians, too. If there are those that still relish their kind of ‘erstwhile rulers’ talks still, it owes to the perception that the Rajapaksas had kept all powers, all lawlessness and all corruption, to themselves. With that, all benefits of power, too.

The JVP that’s now crying wolf about a purported Ranil-Rajapaksa deal lost the script very long ago. It began when they joined hands with Mahinda in the 2005 presidential polls, then lost the local body polls completely to him only months later. It was complete when they quit the Mahinda Government, and joined hands with the UNP Opposition, when war and other ‘governance issues’ were on the top of the people’s mind.

 

Price, not peace?

An embarrassment for one Rajapaksa, or even a jail-term for another, by itself will not turn the traditional Sinhala voters of the camp away from them. Nor would a political solution to the ethnic issue be a sobering element. Economic revival alone would do it.

That too, not the traditional UNP kind of ‘market economy’ that in the past has put more money in the pockets of those that already have it, and take away whatever pennies that those that do not have it, have. ‘Transferability’ is not an option that market economy offers, not in Sri Lanka, not elsewhere.

It’s a very, very long call, but the available time is short – even if the intention were there. But the intention is just not there. Or, so it seems.

The alternative would be for Maithiri and Ranil are able to sit together and work together, not tangentially and intermittently. It again should not be confined to issues that are not of immediate concern to the average Sri Lankan – Sinhala or Tamil, Muslim or Burgher.

Instead, the man on the streets is bothered more about jobs and prices, not war and peace. Else, they would have voted back Rajapaksa for a third time in January 2015 – not defeated him, not in the parliamentary polls, where the Tamil votes did not make the margin.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: sathiyam54@gmail.com)

 

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