If there is anything that makes former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga stand out from the rest of politicians, it is her restless tongue which moves faster than even subatomic particles, as it were. She is in the news again having told an Opposition parliamentarian, according to a local TV channel, that she would tell the UNP how to topple the Rajapaksa government within three months if Ranil Wickremesinghe ceased to be the UNP leader. She is reported to have said in the same breath that Ranil is much better than her bete noire, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
If she really thinks Ranil is better than Mahinda, the question is why on earth she sacked Ranil`s UNF government in 2004 and appointed Mahinda Prime Minister after winning the 2004 general election and subsequently made him the SLFP`s presidential candidate, albeit loathingly.
Chandrika now calls Ranil a good guy but when she was President she accused him of having, in his capacity as the Minister of Education, prevented her son`s admission to Royal College, Colombo. According to a leaked diplomatic cable, a US diplomat has reckoned that her animosity towards Ranil, stemming from such personal matters, was one of the reasons why the much-needed cohabitation between the UNF government and her party fell through, threatening a fragile peace process, which later came a cropper. She also appointed a special presidential commission to probe torture and extrajudicial killings believed to have taken place at a paramilitary safe house at Batalanda, in Ranil`s electorate, during the second JVP insurrection in a bid to implicate him in those alleged crimes, demonise him and destroy his political career. Having stated that Ranil is better than Mahinda, she must apologise to the UNP leader for her vilification campaign against him and the sacking of his government, which, she now says, she regrets.
Is Chandrika really capable of translating her rhetoric into action and helping dislodge the Rajapaksa regime?
Mahinda used to ruffle Chandrika`s aristocratic feathers at every turn while she was in the Opposition trying to make a comeback in national politics in the late 1980s/early 1990s. He once almost threw her off the platform at a Mothers` Front rally in Matara, claiming that she had turned up there, uninvited. Hell hath no fury like Chandrika scorned! But, not even as the Executive President and leader of the SLFP could she engineer Mahinda`s downfall, in retaliation. In fact, Mahinda`s greatest achievement is not so much winning the presidency twice or defeating the LTTE but becoming, under Chandrika`s tenure as President, a Cabinet minister, Opposition Leader (2001-2004), Prime Minister and the SLFP`s presidential candidate in spite of all her attempts to trip him politically and electorally. She also joined forces with his political enemies to prevent him from securing a second term in 2010, but in vain. Whether she will be able to achieve that feat today without any power is the question.
Why does Chandrika try to write off Ranil as a leader not capable of bringing down a government? He toppled her government which came to power in 2000 a little over a year later, formed the UNP-led UNF government and clipped her presidential wings to a considerable extent. What keeps the present government in power is mainly President Rajapaksa`s popularity and political acumen. So, it is doubtful whether the UNP will be able to bounce back as a formidable political force to dislodge the incumbent dispensation if Ranil is ousted by any chance.
Never mind Chandrika`s ambitious moves to bring down the Rajapaksa government! In 1994, in the run-up to a general election, she promised to make paan available at Rs. 3. 50 a loaf. She waxed eloquent insisting that people had to pay more for bread because of the UNP`s profligacy and corruption. The masses voted for her overwhelmingly and she won impressively. But, bread prices shot through the roof and the rest is history. So much for her political promises!
If Chandrika thinks Ranil is not strong and competent enough to take on the present government, who else is, in her opinion, capable of performing that task? Ranil has no doubt failed. So has Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who, in spite of benefiting from the combined might of the Opposition, could not defeat President Rajapaksa in the last presidential contest. And currently he is behind bars. Is Chandrika trying to create a leadership vacuum in the anti-Rajapaksa camp by engineering Ranil`s ouster so that she could move in to gain a foothold in national politics once again and lead a rudderless Opposition, vowing to battle dooshanaya and beeshanaya (corruption and violence)?