A question was asked from the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his final breakfast meeting with media heads last year. ‘Who is your real opponent, Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremesinghe or Chandrika Kumaratunga?’ He did not hesitate in responding: ‘Chandrika!’
This became the lead story in all newspapers the following day. The headline in almost all newspapers was ‘Chandrika is my real opponent!’ or else versions of that same line. What happened next is interesting.
The Maithripala Sirisena campaign quietly sidelined Kumaratunga. It must be remembered that it was this lady who flanked Sirisena when he announced his presidential bid. Many who were close to Candidate Sirisena expressed the view that she did more harm than good. Her entire speech was full of invective and littered with revenge-intent, quite in contrast to the campaign theme (Maithree-Paalanayak or ‘Compassionate Governance’). Perhaps it was hard to flush the bad news down the toilet at the time, but Rajapaksa’s assertion tipped the scales, so to speak. She was essentially restricted to Gampaha. The fact that she could not even deliver the ‘ancestral seat’ of Attanagalla speaks volumes of her political worth.
On the other hand, after declaring that she was his true opponent, Rajapaksa focused on attacking Sirisena. Had he succeeded in turning it into a Mahinda vs CBK affair, he may have fared better, one can speculate.
The fact is Chandrika is bad news for whoever she supports. It is fashionable these days to tag ‘corruption’ to anything associated with the Rajapaksas. Yes, not just corruption but thuggery, abuse of power etc., etc. It makes sense if it is a matter of defeating a Rajapaksa-led coalition of course, but if one stands back and does not pretend to have been born after 2005 then one must concede that the dark days began long before Mahinda Rajapaksa became President.
Not only did Chandrika do nothing of significance during the 11 years she was President, her reign was marked by absolute incompetence in managing the economy, unprecedented election violence (remember the Wayamba Provincial Council Election), political victimization, harassment and murder of journalists (remember the ‘Satana’ editor, Rohana Kumara?) and of course a cluelessness about dealing with the LTTE.
Victor Ivan called her fp!r /csk (‘Chaura Regina’ or ‘Thieving Queen’). Diehard UNPers and even the holier-than-thou JVP would feel embarrassed to talk about the CBK-days, but a short visit to the National Archives would help unearth all they had to say about the lady before Ranil and Anura Kumara Dissanayake saw her as ally as per the classic thesis ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’.
Political parties have to weigh merits against demerits. There are costs and these are checked against possible benefits. This is why, perhaps, Sirisena came to the party almost clinging to Chandrika’s sari-pota and this is also why he dispatched the lady to Horagolla not long afterwards. He would have sensed that she is a liability. He probably was savvy enough to figure out that what politicians might forget (and forgive) the electorate may not.
Today, more than six months after the Presidential Election, the euphoria of the ‘venasa’ (change) is but a distant memory. Sirisena came with promises. The delivery van after some hopeful spluttering came to a halt not too long after. His ‘abdication speech’ essentially delivered the SLFP vote base to the man he ranted about and whose defeat he sorely needs, Mahinda Rajapaksa. The UNP might believe that the January 8 result (and all the votes) were green in color, but that’s wishful thinking. The flak for all that was not done after January 8 (20th Amendment, Right to Information Act, Code of Conduct for MPs) and what was done (the Central Bank bond scam) got credited nevertheless to Ranil Wickremesinghe’s party simply because Sirisena took a back seat during the period. So when Ranil says ‘Chandrika will return and some bombs will explode’ he is showing desperation.
There are bombs that Chandrika can explode. She did toss some grenades (as we mentioned) and they almost wrecked Sirisena’s face. This time, if we go by her now obvious party preferences, she will be closer to Ranil than Mahinda. No prizes for guessing who is more likely to get hurt. The point is, Chandrika does not carry bombs with her. She doesn’t need to. She’s one.
Politics in Sri Lanka, then, is a strange game. For years, Ranil was Mahinda’s best friend and vice versa. Chandrika could have been Mahinda’s best friend but he didn’t market it right, as explained above. Ranil needed Mahinda to split the SLFP and perhaps this is why he was slothful in investigating the wrongdoings of the previous regime. It didn’t help that his buddies were busy making bucks using connections of course but that’s another story. Sirisena and Ranil were friends and still are one supposes, but Sirisena in trying to affirm loyalties played into Mahinda’s hands.
Chandrika thought Sirisena was a friend and believed that he would somehow ensure that Mahinda would not get nominated. He read it all wrong. She was peeved. She left in a huff. Ranil thinks Chandrika is a friend and has been since Mahinda effectively turned her from a Somebody into a Nobody in 2005, but she is his worst enemy.
One thing about her, though. She adds color. She makes things interesting. It’s more fun when she’s around than when she’s absent.