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A confused, desperate President Rajapakse in political cuckooland

Editorial, Oru Paper
6 January  2006

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse at Guruvayur, Kerala on his recent visit to India

What is Sri Lanka�s Executive President up to? But for the fact that the office he holds calls for some respect, it must be said that Mr.Mahinda Rajapakse�s political behaviour has been bordering on the neurotic. Let us look at his performance in sequence. First, he appointed two known hawks to two crucial posts. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was appointed Prime Minister and Deputy Defence Minister. Kotakadeniya, a one-time D.I.G.was appointed Senior Advisor to the Defence Ministry. Kotakadeniya is a man with an unsavoury past. Retiring from police service he joined the racist Sinhala Urumaya which later became the Jathika Hela Urumaya, (JHU) and became its chief spokesman.

These appointments set the tone for the President�s tough approach.

Next he sent his chief electioneering campaigner and now his Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera on a �soft approach� mission to New Delhi. The idea was to test the political waters there and see whether New Delhi would yield to his constant refrain that India must play a greater role in Sri Lanka�s peace process. Samaraweera who looked lost in Delhi came back looking even more lost. (How the Sinhala nation misses their Kadirgamar!) It was clear that India was in no mood to depart from their often repeated positions � no direct political or military involvement. (After all they had learnt bitter lessons from both involvements in the past) But the President was not satisfied. He decided on a 4-day political pilgrimage to Delhi himself.

But before that, Rajapakse did something that no head of state in any country in the world would condescend to do. Accepting a telephone call from an interfering Indian High Commissioner Nirupama Rao, he went to India House, not on any State affairs, but to sort out a personal problem which his own party men created. What was that problem?

In an act of revenge for the CWC support to the UNP, he had Mr.Arumugam Thondaman�s security withdrawn and one of the CWC offices searched by the police. An angry Thondaman quickly turned the tables on the government. He announced that the CWC would form a united front with all other Tamil parties, and to rub it in even went to Kilinochchi and had talks with the LTTE leadership.

Rajapakse did not expect that sequel to his own folly. India House was rattled. In Indian eyes the plantation was in a sense still their property. And so came Madame Rao�s phone call, and the President went crawling. Not only did he show himself as a novice in matters of protocol, but he restored Thondaman�s security on Mrs.Rao�s bidding. It was a small price to pay as against an LTTE presence in the hill country.

The President�s biggest blind spot appears to be centred down the word �unitary�. He hugs the word to his bosom as if it is some manthram needed to save the Sinhala nation. Addressing a Press conference before his departure to India, he said he wanted to study the Indian model of devolution of power; as if he could not study it from Colombo. Even after his failed mission to India he talks of giving �maximum devolution� through a unitary constitution. He said so even in his speech at the banquet given to him by President Kalam.

The Tamils who are running their own government in another part of the country have reason to laugh over President Rajapakse�s great desire to grant them �maximum devolution� through a unitary form of government.

Does not that reality strike him in the face? His government�s position changes from day to day. �No� to Norway, �Yes� to Norway, �No� to Solheim, �Yes� to Solheim. No more visits by representatives of foreign governments to Kilinochchi it was announced. Two days later envoys of the European Union, the UK, Norway and Japan were at Kilinochchi talking to Thamilselvan. All these show not only confused thinking but a state of desperate thinking.

As for the President�s gung-ho advisor on military matters, the ex-JHU Kotakadeniya, what does the man say. Interviewed by the Sunday Leader, he says the lands taken by the LTTE have to be taken back by force even if the country is not prepared for war! If the President thinks of taking the advice of his own military advisor, may God save Sri Lanka!


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