Fall of Mangoes — I: The real loser

The sacking of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party dissidents (known as the Mango Group) as ministers did not come as a surprise. It was bound to happen. However, even those who are close to the President didn’t expect that to happen before his visit to China. Licking their wounds, the ousted Ministers have vowed to fight back. Former Minister Mangala Samaraweera has made a scathing remark that ‘when cowards are consumed with hatred anything is possible’. Although he hasn’t been bold enough to name the cowards, it is apparent that his vitriol is for the consumption of the President. If so, a rational mind will want to know why on earth he campaigned so hard to get the person whom his tirade is aimed at elected President in 2005? Why didn’t he join his heroine cum former boss Ms. Kumaratunga, who went all out to prevent the election of her bete noire Mahinda Rajapakse?

Mr. Bandaranaike has said he is more than happy to leave a ‘carnival of clowns’. Why didn’t he do so on his own without waiting to be thrown out of the carnival so unceremoniously. The problem with carnivals of clowns is that they go on even after the exit of some clowns! Mr. Bandaranike, when he together with his sacked chums, meets the press shortly, ought to make a solemn pledge that he wouldn’t become part of the ‘Carnival of Clowns’ again, even if the President were to soften his stand and offer to reinstate him.

The other day, in a comment on the internal strife of the SLFP, we referred to a pithy local aphorism: No pot is too big for a club! Similarly, no minister is too big for a President, who wields the executive bludgeon. He can smash the ministerial clay pots effortlessly. Even the real political giants like Lalith, Gamini and Premachandra, in comparison to whom the present day dissidents look a bunch of dwarfs, faced that fate at the hands of the late President Premadasa. If the ousted Ministers continue their fight, as they have vowed, then they run the risk of being thrown out of the party as well, because former President Chandrika Kumaratunga is no longer the party President to protect them. All SLFP senior leaders and the cabinet have endorsed the President’s decision to sack them. Whether their endorsement will make the President’s decision politically correct is a different matter. But, it is obvious that all dissidents—big or small—sacked by the Executive President become bananas without the skin overnight, as it is said.

If the rhetoric of the dissidents is anything to go by, then they are toying with the idea of forming a political alliance—presumably along the same lines as the DUNF of Lalith, Gamini and Premachandra—with Chandrika at the helm. But, the question is whether Chandrika, who could not pose a serious challenge even to a debilitated SLFP languishing in the Opposition in the 1980s with her break away, can form a viable counter to a strong SLFP led by an Executive President at present. Having left the SLFP in a huff and formed the SLMP and later the BNP, she finally had to return to the SLFP’s fold to be ‘somebody’ again in politics. Now that she has no way of going places internationally through the UN, Chandrika may not mind devoting her retirement to a protracted battle with President Rajapakse to give vent to her pent up anger. But, Mangala with many more years of politics in him will have a problem with that agenda which will take him nowhere politically. Joining the UNP is also not an option for him, as he who refuses to play second fiddle to the Executive President may not want to be a lower ranker in the UNP, which is in disarray and has even its stalwarts crossing over to the government. Will Managla want to jump from a cruising ship to a sinking ship? Most SLFPers who crossed over to the UNP in 2001, have gone back home. (Former SLFP General Secretary S. B. Dissanayake, who defected to the UNP and has emerged strong in that party, it should be recalled, has endorsed the President’s decision to sack Mangala and others.)

On the other hand, Mangala, who has become the de facto Opposition Leader by standing up to the President, has eclipsed the battered UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and it is doubtful whether he will continue to be the darling of the UNP press, which has been lionising him in the SLFP, if he joins the UNP, where no one is supposed to outshine the leader. The fall of Mangala will be advantageous not only to the ambitious elements in the SLFP aspiring to his position but to the UNP leader as well.

Even the grand alliance that Chandrika is said to have in mind, won’t have a top slot for a non-Bandaranaike and an over-ambitious Mangala, who reportedly wanted to be the Prime Minister, will not be comfortable there.

President Rajapakse may stand accused of having sacked a person who campaigned very hard to ensure his election and he may be called an ungrateful leader. But, the fact remains that Mangala has emerged the real loser in the personality clash. It looks as if the fate that befell the late Maithripala Senanayake, who left the SLFP at Anura’s instigation, in the 1980s, were awaiting Mangala. (Anura returned to the SLFP’s fold before Maithripala, whose political future was ruined because of his exit.) Mangala appears to be moving in the same direction as Maithripala, led by the Bandaranaikes. Look at the way even those who were considered loyal to Mangala have sided with the President and endorsed his sacking! A black flag or two may have been put up by a handful of his supporters in some parts of Matara against his removal from the Cabinet, but if he thinks all his supporters will join him to fight the President or to follow him to the UNP, he is simply daydreaming. The day may not be far off when Matara has a new SLFP organiser (most probably a Communist Party member to join the SLFP at the President’s request) with the full presidential backing to outshine Mangala.

-The Island Editorial

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Posted on February 12, 2007, in Sri Lanka and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Fall of Mangoes — I: The real loser.

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