The UNP under its present leadership has been contesting elections on an anti-war platform. And its string of defeats, the latest being the loss in the Eastern Province has come to be blamed on its appeasement policy. The on-going internal strife of the party which is likely to cause another split of the magnitude of the breakaway of 17 rebels led by UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya has also stemmed from the conviction of some prominent UNPers that their party has alienated the majority community without taking a tough stand on terrorism. They fear that the UNP is doomed to lose at future elections as well, if its present policy on terrorism is to be continued. The need for the UNP to win over the Sinhala constituency was pointed out by none other than the late Tamil MP T. Maheswaran at a number of intra party fora.
Now that UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is mired in a crisis with pressure mounting on him to step down to avoid further defeats, he seems to have heeded the call from the UNP stalwarts and rank and file for changing the image of the party and restoring it to its pristine position as a patriotic outfit. This may have been the reason why he decided to field a retired major general with a proven track record as the UNP's chief ministerial candidate in the North Central Province. Janaka Perera is his name.
Gen. Perera's dilemma will be whether to continue to be the hawk that he is said to be so as to exploit his successful military career at the upcoming election or to conform to the UNP's policy on terrorism and present himself to the people as yet another UNP candidate. The only way he can eat into the UPFA vote bank is to sound as anti-LTTE as or more 'patriotic' than the government worthies. If he does so, he will only be making a mockery of the UNP's anti-war credentials.
If Janaka Perera becomes a conformist and begins to coo, he won't be able to market himself to the NCP, which has borne the brunt of the LTTE terrorism over the past two and a half decades and is therefore well disposed towards the government's military campaign against the outfit.
Gen. Perera is sure to lay out his CV during the campaign and tell the people how he valiantly fought so many battles and defeated the LTTE in most of them. His credentials as a good soldier are fairly well known but his biggest liability will be that the UNP has belittled the victories that the security forces, especially the army, have scored against the LTTE during the past two years. He will have to make a stand on the war effort of the present government, where defence is handled by one of his former colleagues, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who, too, has an excellent service record as a soldier who took part in almost all key battles including Operation Liberation (1987). If Gen. Perera seeks to deride the operations against the LTTE and pooh-pooh the performance of the troops, the image he has built over the years as a soldier will crumble overnight. For, even the LTTE has admitted, as manifest in its desperate appeals to the international community that it cannot face the military onslaught it has come under. Very few will believe Gen. Perera, if he says the present military campaign is ineffectual.
It is doubtful whether the UNP will be able to change its image by roping in a single general. Before Janaka, there was Gen. Lucky Algama, another veteran soldier, who was assassinated by the LTTE by using a suicide bomber at a UNP rally in 1999, as Prabhakaran feared he would be the UNP's Defence Secretary in the event of UNP Presidential Candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe's election, which he sought to facilitate by making an attempt on President Chandrika Kumaratunga's life on the eve of the presidential election held in that year. Algama had evidently failed to shape the UNP's policy on the LTTE. What would have been his position on the LTTE under a UNF government, if he had not been felled by the LTTE? He would have had to endorse the appeasement of the LTTE or part company with the government. The tail, they say, cannot wag the dog.
Gen. Perera today finds himself in the same predicament as Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana. Both have become square pegs in round holes. The former is a hawk in the appeasement camp and the latter a pacifist among hawks. Both of them are surrounded by strange bedfellows brought together by their greed for power.
Whether Gen. Perera is destined to be an ordinary provincial councilor or a chief minister remains to be seen. Our only worry is that another good soldier, irrespective of the party of his choice, has chosen to plunge into the cesspit of politics.