Articles

Outfoxing the Fox by Dhanuka Dickwella

South Asian politics is emotionally driven. Being rational has not been a part of the said political culture. How successful you are as a politician will depend on how skillfully you could flame the emotions of the general public. Politicians are capable of picking the most sensitive trending social issue & capitalize on it. The race & the  religion have been the most favorite picks.The notion of Food security has surprisingly managed to topple a few governments in the 60s & 70s. It is so rare that people have the choice to pick topics sensitive to them. So there was hardly any movement that Political reforms, system changes were the topic of the time. That all changed when the Sri Lankan  youth took to the street. Their demand was nothing but a just system, an end to nepotism, corruption & impunity. A real future for the country.

This was a domain the Political elites have made sure to avoid since it challenges their very existence. A final nail to their way of life which only benefits them. What did the Rajapaksha family do to face this crisis ?

The family has always been united & there was no crack. So they held on. The nucleus of this family has always been none other than Mahinda Rajapaksha or MR. He is a shrewd, street smart ,power hungry politician who could probably read a few moves ahead. He was also considered a people’s man. The cream & core of the SLPP were his ardent supporters who backed him no matter what. He commanded the absolute rule of the SLPP uncontested. From the grassroot level members to the council members of local & provincial governments to Parliamentarians every one rallied behind him. This was supposed to be his legacy & the only unfulfilled task was to hand over the mechanism & the power to his beloved son Namal Rajapaksha. Well there was a catch though.

 Ever since Gotabaya Rajapaksha was elected the President , MR’s power hold started to wean. First he lost the power wrested upon him by the constitution as the prime minister through the 20th amendment. Although he appeared in many national  events the only real authority he had was on the ministry of Buddhist affairs. It is said that once he claimed the only thing he was able to freely execute was to ordain a monk. Needless to say that MR was unhappy with the status quo & kept trying to undermine GR. There were open clashes between the fractions of GR & MR even in lower levels. Viyathmaga that brought GR to power was ridiculed by MR’s supporters. There were disputes with regards to appointments to various portfolios of government ministers, departments & diplomatic missions.  

There was an obvious brewing cold war between GR & MR. Prime minister used his loyal Buddhist monks to criticize GR. Basil Rajapaksha made sure that only a very few of the Viyathmaga supporters were given the opportunity to enter national politics. The freefall of the economy seems to be no accident but a very well executed conspiracy to bring the wreath of the  people on the President. Civil servants who were in bed with MR for decades ran the economy just like a bull in the china shop. Hundreds of economists & stakeholders pleaded to change course yet to no avail. The end result is the dire situation we are in now. Why did Basil & MR teamed up to challenge GR ? Well Basil had his own political ambitions, economic interests & MR was fighting on behalf of Namal’s future.

The climax of this event was the brutal violence unleashed by the MR supporters on the peaceful protesters in the Galle Face.Their calculation was a predictable outcome. The protesters will be haunted by the inflicted horror & back away. There will be no more calling for the resignation of the government or reforms. This violent method was adopted straight from the text books of typical Sri Lankan political tactics. History has proved that it has always worked. Except for this time. 

The hunters started to get hunted. MR supporters were beaten , their vehicles burnt , paraded naked & humiliated in public. The events in Colombo had a spillover effect. First the vigilante groups were searching for fleeing MR supporters & their vehicles.Then they started to ransack the homes of regional politicians around the country. The mayhem was inexplicable.  

Although the whole chain of events looked spontaneous , certain observations make us think otherwise.  What did the police do during this whole drama ? First they allowed the MR supporters to do as they pleased in beating the innocent protesters. Then they allowed the angry public to return the favor. The sacred duty of law & order was not their interest of the day. Sounds fishy ? Well hold your breath , there is more to the juiciness. 

The list of vehicles that entered the Temple Trees was leaked to the public. Anyone who has been to the Prime Minister’s residence would know that such lists will be available only to the security personnel. This  leaked  information was so vital in hunting down the MR supporters.  Who was the ones behind this leak  ? Who had access to such details ? Why was it deliberately leaked ?

The attack on politicians’ houses. The diehard MR supporting Politicians had to pay the heaviest price. Their houses were ransacked, burnt to ashes & many were damaged. The locations of such houses , surprisingly enough supply of petrol for such arson attacks, the selection of politicians to be attacked , non availability of any videos of such events only suggest a very well coordinated & executed plan. While the burnt houses belonged to an  absolute majority of MR / BR supporters, few of the GR supporters also lost their houses. The burning of Channa Jayasumana , Nalaka Godahewa’s houses  appears to be a balancing act to say that even the GR supporting politicians were not spared. The tomb stones of Rajapaksha parents, the famous Gna Meniyos houses could have been collateral damages. Certain houses were targeted by the area’s youth for the obvious hatred for certain ministers who called for violence. For instance, minister Johnston had it coming. The attacks on regional politicians including mayors & other MR supporters were largely spontaneous & mostly carried out by JVP  & The Frontline Socialist Party fractions. 

Let’s take a look at where all these incidents brought us to. 

MR who kept refusing to give up the premiership , thereby kept challenging GR had to resign. It was not at all a respectable departure rather disgraceful forced resignation. His popularity of being a people’s politician has completely evaporated. Instead he has become an icon of public hatred & traitor to many. Not only MR has completely lost his ability for any sensible political maneuverability but also has lost any kind of opportunity even at the grassroot level. His ardent supporters are terrified beyond life & do not & will not dare to back him in anyway. The entire MR structure has fallen – effectively  null & void. That includes the once powerful ministers , council members , union leaders, religious leaders, celebrities ,various cross sections of groups & the support base of non urban Sri Lanka. MR is now a spent force. He is now under the mercy of the President. Sri Lanka navy that has been the most loyal support base of the GR is now in charge of the security of this once powerful politician. What an irony. Can he or BR challenge GR any longer ? Facts are obvious.

Although  GR was voted for presidency by a majority , those voters were largely the core supporters of MR who were from non urban Sri Lanka. True that GR was favored by a considerable population of urban  middle class but it was never enough to make him get elected. What is the future if those MR supporters ? Seeing the violence unleashed on the powerful ministers , they will obviously look for a safe haven. The only known place for them now lies with GR. The grassroot Mr supporters will slowly but steadily migrate to GR camp. It is unavoidable. GR is their insurance policy to be politically active.

GR managed to bring Ranil Wickramasinghe on board. At the very beginning of this crisis a majority of Sri Lankans wholeheartedly agreed that Ranil is the only fixer of the mess. There were certain groups at the Galle face protest movement who backed such ideas. Now we might see a split among the various , diverse groups at the Galle Face with regards to the appointment. RW has made a vow to not touch the Galle Face movement furthering this split. Did GR manage to drive a wedge amongst Galle Face protestors by appointing RW as the premier. The obvious answer is Yes. If there was some unity in the parliament against the President , this move has largely undermined that. MPs of the Sajith faction have started to abandon the ship . WIth possible Cabinet portfolios offerings more will leave Sajith & join RW. It will lead to the weakening of the opposition benefiting none other than GR.

Just ask yourself what topics were among your colleagues last week & what do you talk about now ? The power cuts, fuel ques, soaring cost of living does not seem to be the most favorite any longer. Instead there are new topics, RW’s appointment, US ambassadors welcome note of RW , violent incidents that struck the country , where abouts of MR, political future of Namal , assault on the SDIG Deshabandu etc. Isn’t it obvious that the authorities managed to get a breathing space & divert the attention of the public from the most worrisome to emotional ones ?

JVP has been accused of counter violence throughout the country. There were pictures of one of their hardcore members ( Jagath Manuwarna ) attacking the opposition leader. In many areas the JVP & The Frontline Socialist Party  party members were the ones who attacked , ransacked & burnt the properties of village level MR supporters. Many celebrities  who identified them with the JVP ideology seem to be calling  for violence through their social media accounts. They were well organized in unleashing the street level violence & took leadership in vigilante groups who kept the violence going. If there was a slight hope for the JVP to be treated as a potential frontrunner for a future government , now it’s gone. The only thing the JVP was conveying is that the habit of resorting to arson, violence is in their DNA. With a damaged credibility the & a tarnished reputation it will be difficult for the JVP to rally people behind them to oust GR.   

We tend to believe in what is obvious . Not necessarily the real truth. The very reason is the confusion between reality and delusion. Political strategies are planned thinking of short, mid & long term goals. You are free to interpret the events unfolded the way it fits your narrative. Yet one thing is clear. The era of Mahinda Rajapaksa has come to an end. Who was behind humiliatingly defeating such a  Grand Master from his own game of chess – goes without saying !!!

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