Rajpal's Column

8th April 2001

No party out there in the mainstream

By Rajpal Abeynayake
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This has been an interesting week, at least on television. In the newspapers too. 

On the ground, nothing happened except that Mangala Samaraweera's cat-walk collapsed onto the limelight.

But the contours of things to come are clearer now.

The rebels are flirting with the mainstream, tap dancing on its fringes. The Tigers have clawed their way into talks. The mainstream is not sure footed in its reaction to that situation at all. 

The JVP is in the mainstream, but the political elite doesn't like that one bit.

Tube - talk commentators say that the JVP is predictable, because whenever the JVP becomes activist, a bloodbath follows. The establishment is equally predictable. Whenever the JVP comes into the mainstream, the establishment seems to want to force it underground. Jayewardene did it by Presidential fiat, but these days the establishment wants to talk the JVP into it. 

On the other issue, even the Norwegians probably think Prabhakaran may be dead. The LTTE issue is not a simple "us'' vs "them' issue for the establishment. 

A protracted cease- fire has confounded the government, and has even the mediators nonplussed.

The third-party didn't quite come prepared for this script either. It is almost as if the third party is becoming irrelevant, because the contours of the crisis have changed dramatically after the LTTE declared its ceasefire.

This is war by peace, Eelam war redux and in remix.

Waging peace is an old guerrilla tactic, but to turn an old Che axiom on its head, "when the rebels begin claiming entry into the mainstream, the war is considered already over.'' ( Che said "When the forces of oppression come to maintain themselves in power against established law, peace is considered already broken.'')

Though the LTTE has definitely not made any indication of coming into the "political mainstream, '' the protracted ceasefire means this Eelam war is already over. 

If fighting begins again, it will be Eelam War but with a different serial number. But, Eelam War as we knew it three months ago, is now interred.

If that is due to the fact that Prabhakaran was buried along with it, this will be the biggest war that went out in a whimper. But, if the man is alive, it can mean all kinds of possibilities, which is why the political establishment does not know how to react to this war of peace.

If there is peace, a need for a mediator will not be to negotiate for peace, but to broker the peace that has already broken out.

To the Sri Lankan side of the conflict, all this still appears in the abstract, as the army is still technically engaged, and the Air Force is bombing Tiger positions for dear life. 

But how does one fight a guerrilla/quasi-guerrilla enemy which is not engaged? Can the government get the flea to bite? 

Positions have not essentially changed, as those who swear to know the LTTE mind are still definite that this peacefire is a ploy to buy time for the LTTE to regroup. The LTTE will then hit from a position of strength. That may be the correct position, but it still does not alter the fact that the establishment is unable to react to this gambit.

The state can continue as if the war is still on, but that goes against the grain of a state, and this political existential - reality seems to be what has all the watchers of this war flummoxed. 

It is correct, as the talk show analysts say, that there is still no reason from a strategic point of view for negotiations. But, the psychological operation of the LTTE seems to be too much for a government to contend with, even though those who sit of the fringes can say "do not talk.'' One option for a government that mistrusts the LTTE is to pretend to talk and go through the motions. The government seems to be moving closer to this position. 

But, governments that have developed the killer instinct against rebel and insurgent movements find it a queasy task entertaining such elements when they flirt with the mainstream. 

All this soul searching these days even though there is no real war on the ground, seems to be a result of that syndrome. 

There is no "JVP''without Wijeweera or a LTTE without Prabhakaran, and these are dimensions of war and peace which many conditioned minds find difficult to come out of. 

Prabhakaran may not be dead, but he may have opted out of the war, for reasons more complicated than any conditioned minds can imagine. If that's the eventuality, the best case scenario for the government will be to hope that the fighting will peter out, as it did after Wijeweera was eliminated. 

On the other hand, the conditioned minds may not have been so conditioned for nothing. Prabhakaran, if he is playing the peace card, is too dangerous for the government to attempt to smother with its public relations machine, as it is doing with the now mainstreamed JVP. The government can only pretend to talk, and maintain a massive army, which will only mean that even without a war, it will still continue to be losing. 

Press row envelops Queen 

The Press Complaints Commission has severed relations with the Queen's most senior media adviser as the row over the Earl of Wessex and his wife Sophie's alleged exploitation of their royal connections for business purposes threatened to spin further out of control. 

The PCC will in future deal directly with Sir Robin Janvrin, the Queen's private secretary, bypassing Simon Walker, the public relations executive seconded from British Airways to update the royal family's public image. 

Lord Wakeham, the PCC chairman, was furious that palace sources suggested he came up with the idea of a News of the World interview with Sophie, granted in exchange for the paper's tapes of her indiscreet comments. The strategy backfired when the countess's unguarded comments on political leaders and members of the royal family appeared in other papers. The interview with the News of the World was also a disaster: in it, she insisted that her husband was not gay and that she was able to have children. Amid mounting exasperation, a senior palace official described her conduct as "naive at best". 

Officials are bracing themselves for further damaging revelations about the business practices of Prince Edward and his wife this weekend. It is understood that the News of the World has three to four hours of tapes still in its possession, and revelations are expected to focus on Sophie's business partner, Murray Harkin. 

Sir Robin was meeting Prince Edward and Sophie following their return from an official visit to the Gulf , ostensibly to talk about security arrangements at their Surrey mansion, Bagshot Park, but undoubtedly also to raise mounting concerns about the crisis. 

The palace has been desperately promoting a "business as usual" approach, playing down anxieties about what has become the most disastrous week for the royal family in years. 

The "firm" has watched as its carefully constructed media strategy to recast the royals as a modern institution was blown apart by a ferocious media hunt. 

There are fears that new revelations throwing more light on the couple's exploitation of their royal connections for commercial purposes will bring the whole family into renewed disrepute. 

Although outwardly supportive, the countess was privately being censured by officials for allowing herself to be trapped into making disparaging comments by the News of the World's investigative reporter disguised as a sheikh, supposedly anxious to do lucrative business with her public relations company RJH. 

The countess, 36, who married the Queen's youngest son two years ago and who was supposed to instil a new business and media acumen into the royal family, found herself trapped into making disparaging comments about Tony and Cherie Blair, William Hague, the Queen and Queen Mother. Stephen Byers, the trade and industry secretary, told BBC viewers sardonically: "If a sheikh came to me with a glass of champagne, I would make my excuses and leave." 

The future of Mr Harkin was in doubt last night as he came under the spotlight. He was allegedly the original target for the Sunday paper's investigation after an RJH employee, Kishan Athulathmudali, raised his concerns about how the company was playing on its royal connections to attract possible clients. 

The Guardian, London

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