Government pachagandists (read propaganda hirelings), who are battling Tigers more heroically than the armed forces serving in the northern theatre of war, have trained their propaganda cannon on Elephants, an endangered political species. As if the roughing up of those poor creatures in the East the other day were not enough, they are being given a right royal mud bath these days courtesy of the kept media which apparently derives some sadistic pleasure from adding insult to injury. (Ironically, those pachaganda experts are quite capable of making an about turn in case of a change of guard at the helm.)
On Thursday, their target became Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe returning from an overseas tour. Some government supporters staged a protest against what they termed his smear campaign against the country. We are being told that Ranil was booed on his return by ‘the people’. Who doesn’t know that the term ‘people’ is political shorthand for party supporters? The state media also accused him of striving to have the GSP+ facility scrapped, a charge that the UNP has vehemently denied.
We are baffled by this kind of propaganda. Ranil is usually derided by the government as a weak leader incapable of winning even a Local Government election for his party. The recent defeat of the UNP at the Eastern PC elections was also attributed to his leadership. But, at the same time, he is accused of having launched a campaign to isolate Sri Lanka internationally!
That the UNP has made little progress under Ranil’s leadership is fairly well known but when the government says he is on a mission to turn world opinion against Sri Lanka, that slur becomes a sad reflection more on his critics than on him. For, what follows from that argument is that the government is not confident of countering the campaign of a person whom it castigates as a weak leader! That is certainly an indictment of the Foreign Ministry and the Sri Lankan missions abroad maintained at a tremendous cost to the state coffers. What have they been doing? The government seems to consider them no match for one man called Ranil in influencing the foreign policy of countries like the EU. It is also possible that the government is not confident that it will be able to retain GSP+ and by blaming Ranil for campaigning to have that concession withdrawn at this juncture, it is trying to have a scapegoat ready to be used in a worst case scenario.
We are yet to find a Sri Lankan leader who has not committed the sin of seeking foreign assistance to oust his or her rivals at home, especially in the post 1977 era. Young Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa or Mahinda Rajapaksa as he is better known once did something naughty during President Premadasa’s regime in the late 1980s. He took his human rights battle against the late President to Geneva amidst scathing criticism from the then government. The role played by some foreign governments favouring the new leadership of the SLFP in 1994 in effecting a regime change is only too well known.
Invoking foreign powers to settle personal scores was not something alien to our ancient rulers as well. It was a rivalry between the last king of Lanka and the Kandyan noblemen who sided with foreign invaders to tame the royalty that paved the way for the total subjugation of the country by the British. There have been many other instances. In the 5th Century, when Kashyapa of the Sigirya fame committed patricide and usurped power, his brother, Mugalan, fled to India to raise an army and campaign against the patricidal king. Finally, he succeeded in his endeavour. (Had there been something like GSP+ at that time, Mugalan certainly would not have hesitated to use it as a bludgeon against his sibling. But, those were the days when Lanka paid scant regard to garments, as evident from the attire of the heavenly maidens immortalised in Sigiri frescoes.)
Millennia before that, King of Lanka, Ravana, the first earthling to use a flying machine—Dandumonara, a prototype of the airbus—was shocked to find that his brother Vibishana had sided with Rama, who brought an army here from India over a grievous ‘human rights violation’—the abduction of his consort, Sita by Ravana. (For once, a wag says, in this country the siblings of the ruling family are sticking together, as could be seen from the Rajapaksa brothers’ unity!)
If the government is feeling jittery about the fate of the GSP+ facility, all that it should do is to eliminate the factors that have strengthened the hands of the enemies of the State who are calling for its withdrawal. Never mind human rights violations at issue: If the EU happens to probe the appalling living conditions of garment workers, that concession may be in jeopardy. Garment girls, most of whom are malnourished, live in squalid boarding houses with five or six of them crammed into one small room each in and around Katunayake and adjacent areas. Their plight reminds us––to some extent––of the Dickensian description of the harsh living conditions of workers during the Industrial Revolution in the Hard Times. The State and the garment industry must look after those workers who keep the economy afloat, together with other women slaving away on tea and rubber estates and in West Asia for a pittance.
The predicament of the UNP as regards GSP+ is like that of a tippler drinking some white liquid under a palmyrah palm. It may be milk that he drinks but someone can always claim it is toddy! The biggest problem of the present UNP leadership is that it has a history of pandering to the whims and fancies of foreign powers hostile to this country.
However, the government-instigated protest against the UNP leader on Thursday left a bad taste in many a mouth. It only demonstrated venom and bankruptcy of protesters and their political masters.