Suicidal tendencies of politicians are monumental, as we have been repeating umpteen times in these columns. Lured by prospects of gaining political mileage, they resort to death-defying acts bordering on plain stupidity, which are suggestive of a kind of death wish. In so doing, they endanger not only their lives but also those of the ordinary people.
The government, we are told, is toying with the idea of having its May Day rally in Ampara by way of a show of strength in view of the upcoming Eastern PC polls. The proponents of this harebrained political project seem to think that turning Ampara into a sea of people for a few hours is the surest way to eclipse the UNP-SLMC combine and demoralise its supporters. Pretence or boru show is part and parcel of Sri Lankan politics. All political parties are notorious for transporting people to their rallies from distant places. The two main parties even dish out free food and liquor mainly sachets of kasippu (rot-gut) to those who take part in their political circuses. For a rally, say, in Kandy, people are bussed from places as far away as Moneragala, free of charge. (Today, NGOs are emulating the SLFP and the UNP to attract crowds to their events in a bid to impress their donors.)
This certainly is not the time for such gimmicks, especially in the Eastern Province. The LTTE has manifestly lost the East and it is unlikely that the outfit will be able to stage a comeback. But, it is capable of launching small scale terror strikes in any part of the country. Its sparrow units have struck in areas like Buttala and Hambegamuwa, killing dozens of people and injuring scores of others. All it takes for the LTTE to disrupt a rally is a single suicide bomber.
It was at a May Day procession that the LTTE assassinated President Ranasinghe Premadasa, one of the most protected leaders in the world. It has attacked a number of political rallies with devastating impact. Leader of the Opposition and UNP Presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake and several other UNP stalwarts were assassinated at one of the UNP meetings at Thotalanga in 1994. President Chandrika Kumaratunga had a narrow escape at the conclusion of her final presidential election campaign meeting in 1999. A group of Opposition heavyweights perished in a suicide attack on a UNP meeting on the same day.
This is not the time, we repeat, for mass gatherings. Politicians wisdom of holding May Day rallies anywhere at this juncture must, therefore, be questioned. The cancellation of a May Day rally is not an act of cowardice but the most sensible thing to do at a time when the war is raging in the Wanni and the LTTE is looking for something to offset the battlefield gains of the military. Nothing hurts the Tigers more than the fact that their invincibility pretensions have taken a serious dent at the hands of the military. They will do anything to boost the morale of their combatants. They will baulk at nothing in their desperate efforts to achieve that objective.
Ironically, it was only the other day that the government media announced that the ruling party politicians had been warned against making public appearances owing to high security threats against them. At a May Day rally, they will be there in their hundreds, exposing not only themselves but also those around them to terror strikes like the recent one that killed Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.
Why should politicians get involved in May Day rallies in the first place? The International Workers Day has nothing to do with politicians. They had better leave that to workers!
The government-TMVP alliance and the UNP-SLMC coalition have turned the Eastern PC polls into a prestige battle. However hard they may try to flex muscles, it is doubtful that their vainglorious shows of strength will sway easterners, who will have to be assured of their safety and helped rebuild their lives.
We thought the government was confident when it threw down the gauntlet for the PC polls in the East. It has banished the LTTE from that province and initiated a number of massive development projects besides having the entire state machinery at its disposal. The JVP s conflict couldn t have come at a better time for the government as regards the Eastern polls, where the anti UNP-SLMC vote will be split due to the JVP`s entry into the fray. The intraparty dispute of the JVP has left a bad taste in many a mouth and many voters who would have voted with the JVP at a future election is utterly disillusioned. The recent vehicle robberies and incidents of assault and intimidation have evoked memories of JVP s reign of terror (1987-89). The government also seems to think that its alliance with the TMVP which is on a mission to liberate the East from the domination of the North will help secure a sizeable chunk of the Tamil vote.
The UNP-SLMC combine has sought to pooh-pooh military victories and development projects in the East. It is eyeing a block vote, especially in the Muslim areas and banking on a possible protest vote from the Tamils opposed to the TMVP and sympathetic to the LTTE in addition to the traditional UNP vote in the East.
Thus, the challenge before the government is how to eat into the SLMC vote bank and win over the Tamils whom it has antagonised through its military campaign and alliance with the TMVP. The UNP-SLMC coalition will have to give the people an alternative to the government s development projects and tell them what it proposes to do with the present military strategy and the de-merger. For, the government has apparently sought to give the people a choice between voting with it and losing development projects as well as paving the way for the LTTE s return.
These are not objectives that could be achieved through a show of strength. They need a great deal of effective campaigning at the grassroots level.
Boru shows serve little purpose in this regard. They only expose political leaders and their followers to danger.