the bane of Lanka
nation has its cross to bear and Sri Lanka's has been the
Bandaranaikes. Learning from the British whose cultural sons they
were, no family has been as hungry or as immoral in its quest for
power as they have.
was S.W.R.D. Banadaranaike, whose Progressive National Party -not
the LTTE- in the 1920s first began agitation for a federal
constitution for Sri Lanka. It was SWRD's father, Solomon Dias,
who initiated a public fund collection to celebrate the KCMG he
received for services to the British. In fact, old Solomon
revelled in the joke that KCMG stood for "Kindly Call Me
God." (The next highest ranks in this ancient order are the
CMG and GCMG, which, it was said, stood for "Call me
God" and "God calls me God".)
was SWRD who, in 1956-the Buddha Jayanthi Year- was elected on the 'Sinhala
Only' ticket, seeding the strife that has engulfed Sri Lanka over the
past quarter century. Alienating the Tamils, he left them little choice
but to seek autonomy. Indeed, it was in the wake of Bandaranaike's
doctrine of hate that the Tamil Federal Party, that same year in
Trincomalee, claimed autonomy for the Northern and Eastern Provinces
under a federal constitution. A Tamil federal state is not the
brainchild of Ranil Wickremesinghe or Velupillai Pirapaharan: it was the
single-handed doing of the Lion of Horagolla.
his folly, Bandaranaike sought to draw back: it was then the extreme
right of his party, and indeed an influential section of the Buddhist
clergy, that prevented reason from prevailing, performed satyagraha on
the lawn of Temple Trees. By making glib promises, just as his wife
would promise to bring rice from the moon and his daughter would offer
bread at Rs 3.50, to Oxford educated Bandaranaike, the natives were just
wogs who would swallow anything you threw to them.
three years in power, Bandaranaike was truly father of the child:
through spectacular economic mismanagement he succeeded in running down
Sri Lanka's foreign reserves from Rs 1.3 billion to Rs 540 million- and
he didn't even claim to have a PhD in economics. By 1960, the country
was bankrupt. And what did his successor, soon to be known to one and
all as "Mrs B" do? She nationalised almost everything there
was to: schools, transport, companies, everything. In the meantime,
SWRD's Sinhala Only policy effectively disenfranchised an entire
generation of youth, leaving the plum jobs to the English-speaking
middle class. By the mid-1960s, the Bandaranaikes jointly and severally
had ground Sri Lanka into the mud.
B's regime of the 1970s is still fresh in everyone's minds for her
numerous acts of cheap vindictiveness (which included the
nationalisation of the Buhari Hotel, in addition to the businesses and
even residences of numerous perceived enemies). She was elected for five
years and stayed on, by force, for seven. Bandaranaikes do not like
quitting office even when they get marching orders from the voters: it
was Mrs B who, greedy for power and incredulous that the proletariat had
shown her the pink slip, squatted in Temple Trees and refused to budge
until she was gently elbowed out by relatives, in a state of
now we have the daughter to contend with, heaven help us. Elected in
1994, nine years ago, Chandrika Kumaratunga has been shown to be, to
everyone's satisfaction, a barefaced liar and a fraud. A trail of blood
from numerous murders, including that of dissident Kumar Ponnambalam,
leads to her very official residence. From 1994 to 2001, hers came to be
known as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Between 1994
and 2001, the rupee halved in value against the dollar (in the past two
years, for the first time in history, it has actually appreciated
against the dollar). Tenders were brazenly fixed by her summoning tender
boards to her residence and telling them how to decide. Her puerile
attempts at constitutional reform had only one thing in common: that she
would retain her powers as president even as all else changed.
the Bandaranaikes, the Sri Lankans have always been serfs. Born to the
manor, they are born to rule - at least in their own convoluted minds.
That is why they treat the people like servants. Kumaratunga lies
through her teeth one falsehood after another, and thinks no one could
possibly be clever enough to know. Her actions last week were entirely
in character. After all, her party was roundly trounced in the December
2001 election. She has no moral authority of any kind, though the
constitution she claims to despise allows her to remain as executive
president until 2005. And here she was, staging a coup, trying
desperately to grab power.
coup attempt was so ham fisted that it could have been masterminded only
by her. She made a fool of herself by declaring a futile emergency (her
entire rule was under emergency: she knows nothing else), grabbing key
ministries. The state media were relegated once more to the Goebelsian
propaganda that only Sarath Amunugama can churn out: two years of media
freedom passed away like a breath of fresh air. And we're back to a
regime of lies, lies and more lies.
while Sirasa TV showed the thousands of people who thronged the
Katunayake-Colombo highway to receive Prime Minister Wickremesinghe,
mobbing his motorcade (it took him eight hours to reach Temple Trees),
the state media were ordered to black out the event. They had Hindi
songs instead: that is Kumaratunga's idea of media freedom. Kumaratunga
had better wake up to the fact that while the people of Sri Lanka might
not claim (falsely, as she does) to have been educated at Sorbonne, they
are not the gullible idiots she thinks them to be.
Sri Lanka finds itself in a crisis. While there can be no doubt that
Kumaratunga is determined to wreck any truce with the Tigers and any
prospect of prosperity, much of the blame for the predicament we find
ourselves in must go to Wickremesinghe. Even after seven years of her
rule from 1994 to 2001-after Wayamba, countless military debacles,
economic collapse and billions of rupees on personal extravagance, when
he resoundingly won the December 2001 elections he continued to scrape
and grovel before her. Why? Is he also another one of those Horagolla
is one thing and one thing only that motivates Kumaratunga: an
unquenchable thirst for power, and power for life. It is her birthright.
Wickremesinghe does not understand that. One smile from her twisted
lips, and he thinks she wants to cohabit with him. Kumaratunga's and
Sarath Silva's impeachments should have been the first items on the UNF
government's agenda in 2002. Instead, Wickremesinghe hoped they would
reform: that they would be born again. The bitter lesson he has learned
now is no consolation to the nation, which, after all, pays the price.
With the budget derailed on a whim of Kumaratunga's, the whole economy
has been thrown into a spin, and the stock market suffered till the
Prime Minister's triumphant return. Is this what we elected
Wickremesinghe to deliver?
before a brazen bully is no solution. Pandering to Lakshman Kadirgamar
with Benzes, houses and men carrying arms is no solution. The country
expects leadership of Wickremesinghe, and it is part of his job to keep
Kumaratunga in check. The manner in which Wickremesinghe handled the
recent crisis was, of course, masterly.
under pressure, he did everything just right, taking care not even to
sully his lips by mentioning Kumaratunga's name when he addressed the
media on arrival at Katunayake last Friday. His clear demonstration of
his parliamentary majority, and the fact that not one member of the UNF
deserted under pressure, must have given Kumaratunga pause for thought.
If that was so, the spontaneous reaction of the thousands of people who
mobbed Wickremesinghe's triumphal entry into Colombo, causing
Kumaratunga to postpone by eight hours her scheduled address to the
nation, would have shown her she miscalculated, and badly at that.
Kumaratunga, having slipped on a banana skin of her own making, is in
serious trouble, not knowing where to turn. She acted at the behest of
her cronies, rather than relying on the mature judgement of the likes of
Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse. She has made a right ass of
herself. The people's fear is that like a knight in shining armour,
Wickremesinghe will come riding in on his white charger and bail her
out. Given his sense of chivalry, there is every danger that this is
what he will do, as he has done so often before, for example by making
Anura Bandaranaike Speaker just because he wept and threatened to drink
himself to death if he didn't get the job.
has repeatedly been warned by his party stalwarts to put Kumaratunga in
her place. He has been told that like a scorpion, it is in Kumaratunga's
nature to sting: she cannot overcome herself. Yet he has chosen to sup
with the devil, talking of cohabitation. Wickremesinghe must realise
that his is an unrequited love. This time, his party stood solidly by
him, but next time-if there is one- they may not.
Lanka has been through a spasm like no other since Wickremesinghe took
office. Kumaratunga has painted herself into a corner and is cowering,
tail curled and quivering between her legs. It is now time to force her
to go to the people, and to hound her out by all democratic means.
nation has had enough of the second generation of Bandaranaikes too, and
no doubt even as we write the third is girding their loins in the wings.
Enough is enough. The time has come to show Kumaratunga the door and rid
the nation of her malign influence before she is able to inflict even