Prancing of Political Horses for Pole Positions
11 July 2007
also Democracy, Sri Lanka Style]
The standard dictionary definitions, for prance (a verb) and for pole position
(a noun), are as follows:
- prance: (of horse), raise forelegs and spring from hind legs.
- pole position: the best starting position in a horse race or auto race.
These two definitions comes in handy to read between the lines of the editorial
carried by the Sunday Times (Colombo) of July 8th, under the
caption ‘Donor duplicity and free for all foreign policy’. Here is an excerpt:
“…in this week's plea from faraway Washington, International Trade Minister
Prof. G.L. Peiris goes on record saying it would be a ‘tragic error’ if
Western donor nations cut aid due to alleged human rights abuses linked
mainly to the country's long standing separatist insurgency. …It is the
continuing contradictory statements that are making matters worse for the
For instance, Norwegian peace negotiator Jon Hanssen Bauer is told he can
visit Kilinochchi anytime to meet the LTTE, but the Information Minister
says nobody invited him to do so. Then, Highways Minister Jeyaraj
Fernandopulle trying his hand at foreign affairs, something very foreign to
him, attacks the US over some statement they've issued. This is the same
Minister who, when he was in charge of Trade, went pleading to Washington
for extra garment quotas.
As our Political Editor says on this same page, it's a ‘free-for-all’. Yet
the President seems to permit this kind of freedom of expression with
caution thrown to the winds on collective responsibility. Usually, only the
President or the Foreign Minister would speak on foreign affairs. Clearly,
the Foreign Minister is not up to the task and the President is exasperated.
There are Ministers who tell the President that they can go to Washington
and sort things out with the Americans. There are Ministers who say they can
do so with the Indians; with the Brits, the EU, and the Norwegians. The
President gives all of them the go-ahead, but these are just joy-rides on
state expense with no meaningful results accruing.
The Minister Peiris led garment delegation to Washington for example was a
The editorialist had provided only snippets about what is happening these days
in Colombo, and how the pampered Cabinet ministers are making hay. But for a
sensible reason of not slitting his own throat, the editorialist has ignored why
the cited ministers such as Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and G.L.Peiris are making
voluble barks and neighs. Folks, the prancing phase and pole position time has
begun in Colombo. For what? For the second banana slot (aka, prime minister).
The current second banana, Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka (born in May 1933), has
reached 74 years and may not hold the position for long.
Soured Dreams of Anura Bandaranaike and Mangala Samaraweera
When Anura Bandaranaike – with a qualification as the only son of two Sri Lankan
prime ministers - was angling for the prime minister crown in November 2005, his
ambitious balloon was pricked by the current President Rajapakse, who opted for
Mr.Wickremanayaka nominally on the basis of parliamentary seniority. During the
last presidential campaign, Anura Bandaranaike also was taught a practical
lesson that in politics it is more a norm to kick the ladder which one climbs to
reach the roof. Here is an excerpt of a news report of Poorna Rodrigo, which
presents this vignette.
an obvious reference to Minister Fernandopulle, Minister Bandaranaike in his
letter to the President said the Bandaranaike family had unintentionally
nurtured some Frankenstein monsters who had subsequently turned against
Mr. Bandaranaike said during the 1975 by-election at Katana, Mr.
Fernandopulle was on a push cycle, clad in Bata slippers and it was he who
had given Mr. Fernandopulle the opportunity to address the crowd.” [Colombo
Daily Mirror, Oct.27, 2005]
Apart from Anura Bandaranaike (whose ambitions for becoming the prime minister
under President Rajapakse was thwarted by upstarts like Fernandopulle; but Anura
also dug his own pit in the 2005 prime minister sweepstakes by refraining from
campaigning for the incumbent president in the last presidential election),
there was Mangala Samaraweera who also salivated for the prime minister crown.
It later transpired that Samaraweera was not offered the prime ministership by
President Rajapakse on the premise that Samaraweera still hasn’t reached
chronological maturity. Now that Anura Bandaranaike has been sidelined within
the jumbo cabinet, and that Mangala Samaraweera has been expelled from the same
elite cabal of coterie, other contending political horses have begun to prance.
This correctly explains the breast-thumping notes among the Rajapakse claque,
which are euphemistically tagged as ‘continuing contradictory statements’ by the
Sunday Times editorialist.
Four Categories of Sinhalese Politicians
Sixteen years ago [Tamil Nation, April 1, 1991], I categorized the
Sinhalese politicians into four types. These are as follows:
(1) Schemers: This breed pretends to dispense justice to Tamils but
practice only opportunistic politics; e.g: all the past and present leaders
of the UNP and the SLFP, who became the prime ministers and presidents of
(2) Screamers: This vocal breed (mostly originating from the
non-Govigama castes among Sinhalese) pretends to be the patriots of the
Sinhala nation. Since they could not aspire to the top echelons of power,
they vented all their frustrations on the Tamils with demonic intensity;
e.g: K.M.P.Rajaratne, C.P.de Silva, I.M.R.A.Iriyagolle, Philip Gunawardena,
Rohana Wijeweera, Cyril Mathew and Merril Kariyawasam.
(3) Sleepers: More than 60% of the Sinhalese politicians belong to
this breed. They do not care about the Tamil issue; as such, they are
labeled as ‘sleepers’. Many novices begin as sleepers and then graduate into
either schemers or screamers.
(4) Sympathizers: This is a rare breed (e.g: Wilmot Perera, Edmund
Samarakkody, Shelton Ranaraja and most of the leaders of the traditional
Leftist parties till 1960) who sympathized with the Tamil aspirations but
did not carry adequate political clout among the Sinhalese. They have been
mostly obliterated now.
The two political horses – Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and G.L.Peiris - who are now
making rabble rousing, anti-Tamil exhortations identify with the ‘screamer’
category. It is a political truism among Sinhalese politicians that, weaker the
identity of Sinhalese ancestry, the louder the anti-Tamil cacophony raised by
By birth, both Fernandopulle and Peiris don’t belong to the high ranking
Govigama caste. Their names attest to this fact. If Peiris is of Portuguese
origin (i.e., less than 500 years deep in history), Fernandopulle is a
cross-breed recent entrant in the caste-conscious Sinhalese society. The two
components of this name, Fernando (of Portuguese origin) and Pulle (a corruption
of the Tamil word, Pillai) reveals that Fernandopulle’s ancestors were
relatively recent (i.e., less than 200 years) Tamil-speaking migrants from the
South Indian shore. Eelam Tamils shouldn’t take it too personally. Both Peiris
and Fernandopulle are merely following the previously trodden path of C.P.de
Silva, K.M.P.Rajaratne and Cyril Mathew.
Fernandopulle’s Foray into LTTE Affairs
That Fernandopulle is an ambitious politician always angling for media publicity
is no secret, and that he also has a penchant for political spin is on record. I
reproduce two 2001 reports about his forays into LTTE affairs. The first is by
Celia Dugger of New York Times, and the second is from the Tamil Net.
These make interesting reading.
Sri Lankan Cabinet Minister Meets with Rebel Leaders
[by Celia W. Dugger, International Herald Tribune, August 16, 2001]
New Delhi – A Sri Lankan cabinet minister has made a rare trip into
territory held by separatist Tamil rebels, meeting with rebel leaders just
weeks after their group carried out a devastating attack on the country’s
only international report, according to an official statement.
The foray by the cabinet minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, into the northern
Wanni region of Sri Lanka was particularly surprising since he is in charge
of the aviation ministry, which oversees the airport where the rebel attack
destroyed or damaged half the national airline’s fleet.
It was not clear from the two-page statement issued Tuesday by the Ministry
of Tourism and Aviation whether the meeting Monday was a step toward formal
negotiations. But the minister’s visit was highly unusual. The ministry’s
statement said the rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, had given
him ‘full security and protection’ – a remarkable circumstance since the
Tigers have often sent suicide bombers to blow up such senior officials.
The Tigers posted no comment about the minister’s visit on their web site
Tuesday. There is no cease-fire in the war that the government and the
rebels have been fighting for 18 years. In recent weeks, Sri Lankan Air
Force jets have been pounding rebel camps.
The rebels’ goal is a separate state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. But the
ministry’s statement said local Tiger leaders ‘told the minister they had no
desire for a separate state and asked him to initiate a process that would
bring peace with justice.’ Mr.Fernandopulle, who also holds the Christian
affairs portfolio, visited the Madhu shrine, a pilgrimage site for
Catholics, during his trip to the Wanni region. He said the government would
donate a public address system to the church and restore its electricity,
which has been damaged by fighting.
denies talks with Sri Lankan minister
[TamilNet, August 15, 2001]
The Liberation Tigers Wednesday denied claims by the Sri Lankan government
that the organisation had met and held talks with a Sri Lankan cabinet
Minister during his visit Monday to the Roman Catholic shrine in Madhu, a
town held by the LTTE. When contacted by telephone, the LTTE’s chief
negotiator, Anton Balasingham, told TamilNet Wednesday that Aviation
Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle had merely met with the LTTE’s border
two page statement issued by Sri Lanka’s Aviation Ministry Monday said that
Mr. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle ‘had the rare meeting with regional leaders of the
LTTE on Monday during a Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the island's embattled
‘There was no such meeting. Mr. Fernandopulle only met our border guards who
provided security for the Minister who had entered territory under our
control for the purposes of pilgrimage to the Madhu shrine,’ Mr.Balasingham
said. ‘The minister appears to have misunderstood the role and capacity of
the cadres whom he met during his crossing,’ Mr. Balasingham said.
‘Regrettably, Mr. Fernandopulle, whose government is facing severe political
problems, has falsely raised hopes of peace with his peculiar claim of a
meeting with LTTE leaders,’ the Tigers’ chief negotiator added. ‘The
coverage in the international media has also unreasonably heightened
The Sri Lankan government statement said ‘Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle had
the opportunity to meet with local leaders of the LTTE,’ and that he had
been given ‘full security and protection’ by the Tigers. ‘The local LTTE
leaders told the minister they had no desire for a separate state and asked
him to initiate a process that would bring peace with justice,’ the Aviation
There have been no official meetings between the LTTE and Sri Lankan
Ministers for over a decade. A two-year peace initiative by the Norwegian
government, has remained stalled for several months after the Sri Lankan
government unilaterally downgraded the role of the peace envoy Erik Solheim
earlier this year, shortly before the ongoing political crisis erupted in
Game Peiris Play for becoming a Prime Minister
provide excerpts from a satire column (now nearly 9 years old) which had touched
on the game of ‘prime minister stakes’, indulged in by G.L.Peiris and another
strong aspirant for that job, Lakshman Kadirgamar, in 1998. To quote,
last week's The Sunday Times we read about the crazy games G.L. Peiris and
Lakshman Kadirgamar were playing in America, at the expense of the taxpayer.
When Kadirgamar meets US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Carl
Inderfurth, G.L. Peiris goes to see him. Peiris then goes to see UN envoy
Olara Otunnu with whom Kadirgamar is dealing with about children in armed
Kadirgamar addresses one audience in Washington only to be followed by
Peiris or vice versa. And, at the receiving end was former US Ambassador in
Sri Lanka, Teresita Schaffer who was never so busy in her life, running from
one reception to another involving the two ministers who however never met
The only redeeming feature in this ‘Premier Stakes’ race was Minister
Kadirgamar being good enough to meet our leader [i.e., Ranil Wickremesinghe]
in New York and talk of a bi-partisan approach to politics in Sri Lanka and
about dealing with the LTTE. And that is how it should be too.
G.L. Peiris, on the other hand, probably hurt (metaphorically) by Kadirgamar
meeting Ranil Wickremesinghe and hurt (literally) by spraining his ankle
trying to keep pace with his colleague, the ex- Trinity Athletics Lion,
slammed our leader at a public meeting in Washington using strong words like
"vacuous" and "irrelevant" to describe Ranil Wickremesinghe's call for
unconditional talks with the LTTE.
Then, in New York, Minister Peiris had a dinner 'date' with diplomat
Jayantha Dhanapala, and it looked as if both did it specifically to spite
Minister Kadirgamar- the public perception being that the latter blocked Mr.
Dhanapala's path to the post of UN Secretary-General…” [‘Dogs may bark –
Caravan Moves On’, Sunday Times, Colombo, Oct.18, 1998]
What was revealing from this satirical column was that Kadirgamar was a neophyte
sycophant to President Kumaratunga in 1994; but by 1998, despite his handicaps
in being of a different ethnic and belonging to a non-Buddhist religion, even
this token Tamil in the SLFP Cabinet had begun to prance for the prime minister
Bandaranaike’s Epistolary Gambits
late 1990s, Anura Bandaranaike (then in the UNP camp) had some choice words for
the prancing ambitions of Kadirgamar. Whatever said and written about, one is
tempted to note that Anura Bandaranaike is not that of a wimp when it comes to
political script writing.
It will be interesting to see how he tackles the upstarts Jeyaraj
Fernandopulle and G.L.Peiris. Due to his pedigree, the SLFP still remains as
his cradle. A letter penned by Anura Bandaranaike last year to El
Presidente, providing an excuse for absenting himself from the SLFP Central
Committee meeting held on June 28, 2006 deserves little notice. In this
Central Committee meeting, Rajapakse was unanimously elected as the top dog
of SLFP, replacing his predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga.
A summary of Anura's letter written in English, and presented in a pro-UNP
website Lanka E News [www.lankaenews.com] dated July 1, 2006 reads as
This is a very confidential letter, because I think only you should beware
of these facts. I will not send this letter to any member of the party. I
will not direct this letter even to the Central Committee. I have received a
letter from the party General Secretary suggesting a few proposals to amend
the party constitution. I think these proposals have kicked the party leader
out of the party.
It is tough for me to choose between the President and my sister. For me to
choose is a Herculean task. Whichever side I take they will say I betrayed
my sister or one of my old friends, whose bestman I was. No other person had
this most difficult choice to make. My deep friendship for you has not
lessened anyway, neither has my affection for my sister. What I am going to
say is not a decision personal decision against you. Our 36 year old
friendship cannot just be forgotten. We have travelled across the world
through this friendship, not only we have visited London, Moscow and
Baghdad, we have played cricket in Maldives. We have staged protest marches.
When your beloved mother passed away you were in remand prison. The then
government did not allow you even to attend your mother's funeral. So I
spoke to the then President J.R.Jayawardane and on a personal request made
by me you were allowed to visit your mother's funeral.
The two children of your brother Basil Rajapaksa were admitted to schools by
me. I mention these things not because I wanted to show off that I helped
you, but to illustrate how deep our friendship was.
The former President is my sister. She is a politician with incredible
capabilities. She was able to bring the SLFP into power after 17 years and
was able to remain in power for 11 years. During that period she won 11 out
of 13 elections faced by the party including two presidential elections. She
made many personal sacrifices during this period. She was just 14 years of
age when she lost her father. Her husband was brutally gunned down before
her own eyes. She was blinded in one of her eyes as a result of an LTTE
suicide attack. The bullet proof vehicle prevented her from being blown to
pieces. She ruled the country for 5 years with just one eye. She had to
spend time here when her two children were in England. No one else in the
SLFP has undergone such difficulties.
If we were able to find an amicable solution to this problem, what a
formidable force our party would have become. It could have become the most
potent political force in the country. However forgive me for not being
present at the central committee meeting that decide on the party
leadership. I will continue to support the SLFP within the next five years
and I will give an assurance on that matter.
Here is another, recent epistolary gem from the hands of Anura Bandaranaike,
addressed to the editor of Sunday Times (Colombo). It appeared in the
Sunday Times of Feb.25, 2007.
“Sans a (sic) English typist, I am hand writing this letter. Your article of
the Sunday Times of February 18, 2007 Page 4 titled ‘CLOWN PRINCE BACK IN
THE CIRCUS” is a venomous, diabolical and vicious piece, that can only
emanate from a demented mind.
You say that I ‘cried’ and apologized to the President for attacking his
family and Government. There were 3 witnesses, Governor Alavi Mowlana,
Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Basil Rajapaksa. On the contrary, the
President embraced and kissed me and never referred to my references to his
family. No tears flowed from my ‘chubby cheeks.’ It was a most cordial
meeting full of jokes, as it was on my birthday, the next day, where the
President spent 2 hours !!!…I have no wish to hang on to ‘Visumpaya’,
unlike G.L. Peiris. When my private residence is fully repaired, I shall
gladly go back. Many Ministers of the Cabinet who have more than one
residence in Colombo, live in state houses…”
those five words, “President embraced and kissed me”. I only wonder where that
Presidential kiss landed?
Compared to the insipid
epistolary grunts of V. Anandasangaree,
isn’t the ‘letter writing’ skill of Anura Bandaranaike more polished and kissing
(oops – touching)? Anura could polish some personal memories to tear-jerking
effect, which Anandasangaree cannot accomplish. Though chronologically a junior
and nominally a bachelor, Anura can teach Anandasangaree some deft strokes about
incorporating ‘kiss and tell’ anecdotes.
If only Anura had refrained from politics to focus on his penmanship, Sri Lanka
would have gained a solid script writer for television soaps. It is also on
record that in the above-mentioned SLFP Central Committee meeting, Jeyaraj
Fernandopulle staged a walk out dissenting on the usurpation of Kumaratunga from
the SLFP leadership [vide, Colombo Daily Mirror, June 30, 2006]. Now, I
wait for another emotional epistle from Anura to Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. Who said
Colombo’s political clowns are dull?
Why are the Political Horses Prancing?
Though the Sinhalese editorialists and analysts are ashamed to openly admit,
this year marks the silver jubilee of the transformation of Sinhala-biased
democracy into an overtly sham democracy cum dictatorship in Sri Lanka. The
architect of this transformation was J.R.Jayewardene, the first executive
president under the 1978
Constitution. Following his win in the 1982 presidential elections, he
cancelled the general election with a dubious referendum. Since then, all his
successors who ascended the presidential throne (Premadasa in 1988, Wijetunge in
1993, Kumaratunga in 1994 and Rajapakse in 2005) had been prime ministers first
and then, by choice or chance (in the case of Wijetunge only) were propelled
towards the presidency. This in nutshell explains why the political horses are
prancing for the pole positions.
Bertrand Russell had anticipated the descent of Sri Lankan Sinhala-biased
democracy into sham democracy cum dictatorship, in his 1938 classic work,
Power. Here are the two paragraphs, which appear in chapter 3, titled ‘The
Forms of Power’.
“The most successful democratic politicians are those who succeed in
abolishing democracy and becoming dictators. This, of course, is only
possible in certain circumstances; no one could have achieved it in
nineteenth century England. But when it is possible, it requires only a high
degree of the same qualities as are required by democratic politicians in
general, at any rate in excited times. Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler owed
their rise to democracy.
When once a dictatorship has been established, the qualities by which a man
succeeds a dead dictator are totally different from those by which the
dictatorship was originally created. Wire-pulling, intrigue and Court favour
are the most important methods when heredity is discarded. For this reason,
a dictatorship is sure to change its character very considerably after the
death of its founder. And since the qualities by which a man succeeds to a
dictatorship are less generally impressive than those by which the regime
was created, there is a likelihood of instability, palace revolutions, and
ultimate reversion to some different system.”
In merely 101 words of this second paragraph, polymath Bertrand Russell had
elegantly summarized (ahead of time!) the recent 25 year history of Sri Lankan
politics, from 1982 to 2007. Let me re-trace the major events. J.R.Jayewardene
established the dictatorship in 1982. He was literally targeted for killing by
the JVP in Aug.1987, immediately after the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayewardene Agreement.
Though he escaped death, his dictatorship was figuratively killed by JVP in 1988
which promoted Premadasa to presidency.
There was wire-pulling, intrigue and court favor during Premadasa regime (with
revolt by disgruntled rivals Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake) and
the dictatorship changed character. Subsequently, Premadasa was assassinated in
1993. His death has not been investigated until now according to conventional
judicial norms. Wijetunge as well as Kumaratunga who succeeded Premadasa were –
in the words of Russell - ‘less generally impressive than those [i.e.,
Jayewardene and Premadasa] by which the regime was created’. As such, there has
been ‘instability and palace revolutions’ for the past decade or so.
Among the SLFP political horses (the likes of G.L.Peiris, Lakshman Kadirgamar,
C.V.Gooneratne, Anura Bandaranaike and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle) that pranced for
pole positions since 1998, the ambitions of Gooneratne and Kadirgamar had been
smothered in 2000 and 2005 respectively and their deaths have been conveniently
attributed by the subservient Colombo media to LTTE without any judicial
What the editorialist of Sunday Times had noted on July 8th
about the incumbent President of country bumpkin grade cavalierly permitting
freedom of expression among his Cabinet cabal “with caution thrown to the winds
on collective responsibility” is nothing but a premonition to what Bertrand
Russell had prophesied on “likelihood of instability, palace revolutions, and
ultimate reversion to some different system”.