The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

The pampered become the pummelled
Seventy percent of the people have not been getting tsunami relief, said Thilak Ranavirajah one of the President's handpicked men in the post tsunami operation. In the face of the news, the President's own tsunami task force disbanded, like a flashlight that suddenly got self-conscious and switched itself off.

The verdict on this and other developments in today's passing political scene will arrive, not so much in the form of an election result, but in terms of a generational verdict."Living in a tent is no life,'' said a tsunami refugee in Galle. The tsunami has now been abandoned by the news cycle. In the international media, it's back to Pope and pneumonia and Bush and the insurgency.

In these circumstances, the post tsunami life is becoming more surreal for the victims every passing day. In the eye of the media they became a pampered lot on December 26th, garnering society's sympathy by the bushel load. But now that same sympathy is by and large swept under the bushel, because the world is moving on. What's left are people living in tents.

But, history records best, and nod we must to what Omar Khayyam said about the "moving finger that writes and having writ, moves on.'' History will be the most astute judge on whether the post-tsunami politics will have bundled out the JVP, along with the government that it keeps propped up.

U. Karunatillke writes in his Colombo Diary "what fantastic make-believe did the leaders of Ceylon's 1971 insurrection indulge in when they imagined that they could lead a communist revolution against a regime that was fighting foreign capital and local compradors, that has struck at the roots of imperialist control of the economy, and was moving steadily against private ownership and privilege?''

The diary was written when the 71 JVP insurrection was taking place. History's verdict on that today is that not only was the insurrection make-believe, but so was the 'regime' that was fighting foreign capital that Karunatilleke gets fairly ecstatic about.

History's verdict was also that however well-intentioned, this regime was deeply flawed, which was a fact that was almost comically borne out in the 1977 elections when the then Bandaranaike regime was reduced to a caricature 8 seats in parliament. In place of the imperialist controls on the economy, the regime had provided only a bathala revolution, and a business oligopoly of the Dasas and a few other unlikely mudalalais such as the Upalis.

But, when the regime was in full spate, even the well meaning such as Karunatilleke missed the nuance of this reality. They invested their dreams in a regime that they thought was sincerely trying to root out foreign control of the economy, when in fact the regime had become too insular and arrogant for its own good.

Similarly it is only history that's going to tell whether the current regime will survive. But even if history's verdict is going to be more definitive, what can be said even by the most blinkered is that the current regime is very deeply flawed. Its only lifeline seems to be an incompetent opposition and now a tsunami that calls for a momentary suspension of the contentious political drama.

The current regime's triumph over the UNP will in this way be seen not as a triumph of competence over incompetence, but one of cunning over stupidity. This considerable cunning of the Kumaratunga regime has been able to paper over its massive deficit in terms of real delivery.

If only 30 per cent of the victims get tsunami aid and if the government has not been able to come clean on issues such as bribery and corruption and the Chief Justice, this governments' record would speak for itself. Hence, if four things can happen in the immediate term, none of this helps us to guess which of these are more likely:

The four things that can happen are: (a) that the status quo will prevail. The SLFP-JVP coalition will soldier-on in its clumsy insincere manner, not delivering more than 30 per cent aid that's meant for tsunami victims, and mouthing platitudes on democracy and the Rule of Law while also encouraging roguish elements within the legislative and judicial end executive establishment. (b) The JVP will pull out, which will mean that the survival instinct will kick in among the establishment politicians forcing them into a coalition of the unwilling. The UNP and the SLFP will mutually hold their noses to join each other in a smelly conjugal union -- just so that they can keep the "barbarians'' of the JVP from the gates. (c) The JVP will pullout of the coalition, and in the resulting vacuum the UNP will slip back into power as if by default, as it did last time when Rauff Hakeem altered the parliamentary balance. (d) The JVP will pullout of the coalition, and in one hell of an upset, win the next election on its own steam, putting the establishment parties together in the opposition.

Being strategically incompetent, the SLFP establishment is at least in some ways playing into the hands of the JVP by treating it as a junior partner in the coalition, not good enough to be brought into the inner circle. That attitude must be secretly pleasing the JVP whose primary intent it is to say 'our hands were tied in government.'' Uttering this manthra they hope they can burrow into the vote banks of the establishment parties thereby increasing their number of seats at the next electoral outing. To this end, the JVP wants to engineer a paradigm shift in the electoral mind. It's an electorate that routinely chooses the security that's offered by an incompetent establishment, over the insecurity that's implied in an upstart party that's nevertheless working its skin off in the peripheries of society, therefore reinforcing the message that it's the only party that's genuinely interested in the people.

But the JVP's work in the periphery (tsunami relief work, tank rebuilding etc.,) needs to compensate for its loss of stature as a struggling junior partner propping up a collation that's only qualification is that its being touted as better than the dead-duck UNP. That's not saying much for the JVP at all.

But only history will tell whether in people's minds the JVP will be dumped and lumped together with the rest of the establishment -- or whether the JVP will be chosen as the ultimate emancipator. Or, is there a real force, at least some kind of hidden Takshin Sinawatra, who can offer more work than talk - - an attribute which even the JVP in this country cannot lay claim to?

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