To give the devil his due, Wimal Weerawansa is a ‘human headline’.
You may not agree with his politics and you may not like his cantankerous personality, but you have to concede that he is never out of the news. Whenever you thought that he will be silent for a while and that it is safe to read your newspaper or watch the news on television, there he is – again!
Except that, at times, what he does is downright daft.
This time, he is staging a ‘fast unto death’. Yes, another one.
Sounds familiar? Of course it does. Weerawansa and death fasts are inseparable. He is no virgin when it comes to death fasts because he did it once before in 2010.
That was to protest against then Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon appointing a ‘panel of experts’ to probe alleged war time atrocities in Sri Lanka. Weerawansa threatened to die after fasting unless Moon withdrew his panel.
That was in 2010, though. Weerawansa was riding high. It was only a few months earlier that he had been appointed as a Minister in the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The stage was set for the drama, literally and metaphorically, opposite the UN office in Colombo.
In less than 72 hours, no less a person than then President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself visited Weerawansa and offered a glass of water. Weerawansa gratefully gulped it down and ended his fast unto death. Later, he was to say that he could not decline the request from his leader.
At the time, his critics pointed out that some packets of the popular biscuit ‘Lemon Puff’ were seen next to his bed, while he was fasting. Lemon Puff or not, Weerawansa got nothing from Ban Ki Moon for calling off the fast – the panel of experts continued their work and went on to make some damning pronouncements against Sri Lanka, although most of them were unsubstantiated allegations.
However, Weerawansa got what he wanted- publicity, and plenty of it too.
Fast forward to 2017 and here we go again.
This time, Weerawansa is apparently protesting his detention at the Welikada Prison. He says that despite several bail applications, bail has been refused which is why he is staging yet another fast unto death. Following concerns about his health, he had been admitted to the Prison Hospital. (subsequently he was admitted to the National Hospital Colombo on March 30, he gave up his fast)
Let us look at a few issues here, shall we?
First, Weerawansa is being detained on significant charges. He is being charged with misusing state property. He will of course argue that it is a trumped up charge and that this is all a political witch hunt. However, there is substantial evidence that he distributed over forty state vehicles to family, friends and various hangers-on.
Now, those who remember Weerawansa’s verbal pyrotechnics will recall that not so long ago he was chiding the government for accusing the previous regime of being corrupt but not doing anything about it and not successfully prosecuting anyone and sending them to jail!
Therefore, Weerawansa argued at that time, the accusations against the previous government were false. He challenged the current government to prove its case by successfully prosecuting a single case of corruption.
Well, that is what seems to be happening right now.
In any event, it is not the government that has detained him – it is a court of law. It is difficult to say that the courts follow the dictates of the government. That certainly was the case during the previous regime but it is not so now – and several judgements have indeed gone against the government.
Besides, what is Weerawansa’s logic? ‘I think I am innocent, so if you don’t let me go, I will fast until I die’- is this what he is thinking? Is he planning to arm twist the next judge who hears his bail application into granting him bail?
If each and every prisoner – including rapists, murderers and other assorted offenders- began to think like Weerawansa does, there will be hunger strikes galore in the prisons! And there will also be a complete breakdown of law and order because no judge will be able to convict anyone because they will then launch a hunger strike, a la Weerawansa!
Is this the utopia that Wimal Weerawansa dreams of? Is this what Wimal Weerawansa really believes? We think not.
Wimal Weerawansa may be many things – brash, insensitive, undignified and even uncouth – but he is not a fool.
As we see it, this is 2010 all over again. Yes, there is a sense of déjà vu about all this. This is not about his bail application; this is all about the Weerawansa brand. It needs to be marketed. The public needs to be aware of the name and remember it.
Ask anyone in public relations and they will tell you that if you wish to sell a product, the rule is that the product must remain in the minds of the public. That is why popular brands launch different advertising campaigns from time to time for the same product. That way, the product remains in the public eye and the public retains interest in that product. That is also why the same product is often re-marketed with the tag ‘new’ or ‘super’ or something like that attached to it.
Don’t be fooled, ladies and gentlemen, Wimal Weerawansa is doing the same thing. He wants to market himself yet again. He wants to rise above the Vasudevas, Gammanpilas and Dinesh Gunewardenas who also do their best from time to time to stay in the public conscience – Vasu utters unprintables in Parliament. Weerawansa has to show the masses that he is doing something to ensure that the cameras and the headlines are on him and not someone else. If he gets his bail, that is a bonus. But even if he doesn’t, he will still get his publicity, which is all what he wants.
So, spare a thought for Wimal Weerawansa, folks – he is only doing what he has to do. But, remember, don’t be fooled by him!