It is not only in cricket that anything is possible. In politics, too, that is so. Whoever thought Mahinda and Mangala would ever sit together for a meal again and make a good dessert of a World Cup cricket match at the Temple Trees after all the insult they had traded a few moons ago? The duo pretended that nothing had happened, when they met on Tuesday! Politicians are good actors, aren`t they? It was like a get-together of Darrel Hair and Murali!
In politics, they say, there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends; there are only permanent interests!
The Mahinda-Mangala powwow is considered part of the on-going rapprochement process and another round of talks is expected to take place after the President returns from the West Indies after cheering for the Sri Lanka team in the World Cup finals. The inevitable seems to be happening. Both of them are aware that they are engaged in a battle, in which neither of them is going to emerge victorious comprehensively.
Mangala is, no doubt, a popular SLFP strongman but by taking on the executive president, he only banged his head on a brick wall, as it is popularly said. No pot, they say, is too big for a club. A president who has control over Parliament wields a massive executive bludgeon, with which he or she can smash any number of political pots or heads. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga almost did that to Mahinda, who had got under her aristocratic skin during her Opposition days. But, the latter was wise enough to behave and deny her the pleasure of unceremoniously showing him the door. He chose to maintain a very low profile, eating as he did a great deal of humble pie at her hands, until she became a spent force. Then, he wrong-footed her, in style! But, Mangala tried to do it the other way round and is still nursing his head. His pal Sripathy, who followed him, is reeling in remand prison. Little wonder that no other government MPs have joined forces with them!
By launching a campaign against the President with Anura as a partner, Mangala only began to retrace the route that the late SLFP heavyweight Maithripala Senanayake had taken to the political limbo in the 1980s. Maithripala left the SLFP with Anura only to have the latter rejoining the party shortly afterwards. He followed suit but it was too late by that time. Others had overtaken him. Immediately after Mangala threw down the gauntlet to the President, we warned him in these columns that he would be left in the lurch like Maithripala. Anura rejoined the Cabinet. True, Mangala didn`t leave the SLFP but his predicament is no better than that of Maithripala.
Chandrika, too, made the mistake of fighting the party leadership and leaving the party. She was in the political wilderness for a long time but she was wise enough to return to the party fold at last. Else, she wouldn`t have been able to become at least a Pradeshiya Sabha member! The bitter experience of Lalith, Gamini and Premachandra, who left the UNP, having made an abortive attempt to impeach President Premadasa, may also serve as an example of the fate that awaits those who jump from sailing ships to choppy seas. After Lalith`s assassination, which was followed by that of President Premadasa, the others found their way back to the UNP, where they were at the time of their untimely demise.
Having returned home from Singapore to a hero`s welcome, in the aftermath of his removal from the Cabinet, Mangala got carried away. He apparently failed to see that sustaining the momentum of his campaign was going to be a gargantuan task. Little did he realise that the JVP and the UNP were only making a cat`s paw of him on the pretext of supporting his mission. Both the JVP and the UNP used him to settle some scores with the President. But, when Mangala began to outshine their leaders, the two parties distanced themselves from him. Mangala becoming a de facto Opposition Leader was the last thing they wanted. Two dogs at the same bone usually don`t want a third to join them!
Matara has got a new SLFP organiser and Mangala is on a bad wicket. President Rajapakse, too, stands to lose to some extent in terms of votes, if he doesn`t patch up differences with Mangala, though by virtue of the executive presidency, he is capable of controlling the damage. But, if he can go beyond dining and watching cricket with Mangala and take the latter back in his Cabinet, he will be able to rest assured there won`t be any split in the SLFP vote in Matara at a future election. A political reconciliation is therefore beneficial to both of them?more to Mangala.
But, their problem will be Sripathy as well as the basketfuls of dirty linen they washed in public, the stench of which still lingers. Mangala put forward ten demands for returning to the Cabinet and the President`s camp accused the dissidents of having launched a campaign to further the LTTE`s interests. Mangala and Sripathy accused the President of having entered into a secret pact with the LTTE before the presidential election.
Mahinda and Mangala may be able to bury the hatchet but the allegations they made against each other will remain etched in the public memory and be ammunition in the hands of their rivals. They will continue to haunt them for a long time to come.