Personal Perspectives
Pandora’s Box

By Rajiva Wijesinha
Here am I, an old (wo)man in a dry month

Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain (T. S. Eliot)

It is a great pity that Greek myths are not common reading in our schools. Apart from the general light they throw on human nature, they are particularly appropriate in the Sri Lankan political context. I know this to my cost, for when I was a little boy, many centuries ago, a play I wrote on the Agamamnon story was banned from the SLBC, on the suspicion that I was trying to suggest Mrs. Bandaranaike had seized power by murdering her husband.

The idea had never occurred to me, though now I realize that perhaps the story of Electra may help to explain some of the more bizarre aspects of Chandrika’s character. Still, this is not the time for amateur psychology. A much more elemental legend is more timely now, that of Pandora, the girl who was given a gift of a box she was warned never to open.

Of course she did open it, and out swarmed all the ills that now plague the world, drought and floods and power cuts and anthrax and so on. Chandrika, it seems to me, must feel a bit like Pandora now, and not only because of SB and GL buzzing in her ears. To have Anuruddha and Ferial and now Weerawansa and Wickramabahu buzzing on her side must be even worse, one would have thought.

In all this she must feel even greater reliance on Mangala than usual. Of all the bright young men she had around her, when she was first propelled into political prominence, only he is left. Lalith and Gamini, who gave life to a moribund opposition, were killed by the LTTE, Navin gave up largely because of Thilan, and Thilan had to go, he says, because of others he doesn’t (yet) name. GL was to be cut to size by SB, but instead the two of them abandoned her together.

Mangala must seem to her then like the gentle creature, the only one that did not rush out when Pandora opened her box. She shut it, too late of course, for all the monsters had got out, and then she heard a little voice begging her to open the box again. When she finally brought herself to listen, she heard the voice say that its name was Hope. So she opened the box again, and Hope emerged, and has since solaced all humans when other sorrows sting.

The only problem is, much as I admire Mangala’s intellect, not a difficult thing to do when you consider those of many of his cabinet colleagues, I don’t really see him as soothing the nation at large. He is as yet too specialized a taste for that, too much Peaseblossom and Cobweb and Moth and Mustard Seed, all rolled into one, to Chandrika’s imperious Titania. If she grows enamoured of a Bottom with an ass’s head, one gets the impression Mangala will ticke its ears for her. Indeed, watching the reconciliation that will have to take place between Anura and Mangala will be almost as entertaining as seeing Ranil clasping GL to his bosom.

So is there no Hope then for Chandrika? In a context in which there seems little hope for the country, perhaps one should not try to clutch at straws. But while it is clear that a government in which Chandrika continues to run policy and planning and implementation will be totally disastrous, the same is certainly not true of Ranil. I hold no special brief for him, indeed I would be the first to grant that, in his salad days, he was to JR a bit like Mangala to Chandrika, the Moth that tickled the ass’s ears. But little boys do grow up, and in any case he, like Mangala, showed himself from the start a creative and efficient departmental minister.

Paradoxically then, I would suggest that the only Hope for Chandrika is Ranil. I have no doubt that, as in the case of Pandora, it will take her a long time to recognize this. But from this box of troubles that she has unleashed, the only solace that remains to her will come if she allows Ranil to emerge. If by some bizarre stroke of fate, or the Ratwattes, the PA wins this election, the country will plunge rapidly into ruin, and Chandrika will end up more loathed than any leader in our recent history. If the UNP wins however, it is possible that we may begin to stagger along the long slow road to recovery.

And in this context Ranil is god’s gift to her. Though she has forgotten it, he behaved with astonishing restraint in her first years of power, without undue criticism of her negotiations with the LTTE or their aftermath. Gamini would have run circles around her, and perhaps in the long run that would have been better for the country. But Ranil’s was a statesmanlike response, for which she was singularly ungrateful. Again, despite the disgusting way she treated his very genuine offer of power sharing in early August, he is even now prepared to talk of a National Government. Her underlings claim this is weakness, but she should rather see it as an attempt at building up consensus if they need to work together after the election.

And if they do work together, while he runs planning and policy and administration, she can claim all the credit. Instead of indulging the bitterness that has affected her over the last couple of years, she should turn on the charm that stood her in such stead before. After all, if it comes to a public relations battle, she will win hands down.

But I am dreaming. Hope after all was an illusion, and the chances are that Chandrika will continue in the confrontational mood that has overtaken her. Unfortunately she will continue as President, so that even if there is only Mangala to read to her, she will ensure that everyone else also has a very dry season ahead of them.