Nugegoda: Hamlet staged without the Prince


The event last week which infused a new dynamic into the body politic was undoubtedly the Nugegoda rally organized by Dinesh, Vasu, Wimal andUdaya. If anybody thought it was not possible to stage Hamlet without the prince, they were proved wrong last Wednesday. The rally in Nugegoda organized by four small political parties turned out to be the biggest gathering ever held in the Nugegoda town. The present writer lives only a little distance away and has certainly never seen anything like it in Nugegoda in the past three decades since coming into the neighbourhood. Not only was the supermarket car park and the main road a sea of heads, people were watching the proceedings from the rooftops, balconies, staircases of the commercial buildings, the tops of the few available tress and even from the posts carrying high voltage electrical cables along the main street. What was most significant was the enthusiasm and emotion of the crowd.

The only scene that the present writer can remember which was even remotely like Nugegoda was the arrival of J.R.Jayewardene and the new cabinet at the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy in 1977 in the wake of the UNP’s unprecedented victory that year. The enthusiasm of the crowd then was somewhat similar to the atmosphere in Nugegoda last Wednesday. But in 1977, what enthused the crowd was the arrival of JRJ and his entire cabinet in Kandy. However neither Mahinda Rajapaksa nor any member of his family came to Nugegoda; yet the people came in their thousands and cheered themselves hoarse every time the name Rajapaksa was mentioned by a speaker. The sound amplification system was not functioning properly and what was said could not be heard clearly in some parts of the venue. Dayan Jayatilleke read out a message from Mahinda.

Even after the meeting ended at around 7.00 pm, thousands continued to mill around in the area without going home immediately. In the days before the Nugegoda rally, Champika Ranawaka was telling the public that ‘racketeers’ who had been associated with the Rajapaksa regime were organizing buses to take people from various parts of the country to Tangalle to ‘weep in an organized manner’. He refused to believe that these were village folk who were genuinely shattered by the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa. What Ranawaka failed to explain however was why any racketeer would want to spend so much money to bring tens of thousands of people from various parts of the country to Tangalle in an exercise that happens daily largely away from the eyes of the broader countrywide public.

Occasionally we hear through the media that thousands are still going to Tangalle to see the former president. But most of the time, what is happening there is only known to the people of Tangalle or Medamulana and only the people in the vicinity would see the crowds thronging to see the former president. There is hardly any need to keep the people of Tangalle or Medamulana reminded of how popular the former president is. Be that as it may, the emotionally charged Nugegoda rally is a reminder to everyone that there is still a groundswell of support for the former president. Consider the fact that this was a political rally being held less than six weeks after an election. Furthermore, it was held by the defeated party – not the victor. What was most significant was also that this meeting was successful despite Mahinda not being present. This is as close as one can get to staging Hamlet without the prince.

Worrying changes in the army

Nobody seems to know who is doing what in the government. Fast on the heels of some changes in the Army, there are allegations that changes are being made in high positions in the army without the knowledge of the prime minister. The first to cry blue murder was Mangala Samaraweera’s website Lanka News Web which had a banner headline screaming "General Fonseka seizes control of the Army!". This was a reference to the fact that two of Sarath Fonseka’s loyalists Maj. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake and Brigadier Duminda Keppitiwalana were made Military Secretary and Director Operations of the Army last week. Both officers were reinstated recently after having been made to retire prematurely by the previous government on charges of being politically involved with Fonseka.

Both these are not names known to the public as neither of them got any prominence or publicity at any stage of the war. Duminda Keppitiwalana’s name however is well known within the journalistic community. The military secretary is in charge of the promotions and transfers of officers and the director operations as the title implies has a pivotal role to play in army operations.  Lanka News Web reported that the prime minister had not been informed of these appointments. Even more worryingly, the JVP website Lanka Truth reported in another banner headline last Friday "Hamudawa avul kireeme kumanthranayak!" (A conspiracy to destabilize the Army) what this report said was that while the president was in India somebody had been planting stories in the press saying that Maj. Gen. Jagath Rambukpotha was to be appointed army commander in a situation where the president himself had made no mention of any choice he had made. Even without any indication from the president, the news that Rambukpotha had been appointed army commander had been given wide publicity over the media.

Last Friday came the news that Maj. Gen. Krishantha de Silva had been appointed army commander. Apparently this was a choice that the president and prime minister could agree on. It would certainly be a relief to both sides of the political divide that another Fonseka loyalist was not appointed army commander. Several parliamentarians who were friends of Lasantha Wickrematunga met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe last Friday to find out what was going on. Understandably, the PM himself was not happy with this turn of events. Nobody seems to know who was doing what, but the good news is that the politicians on both sides of the divide and journalists are wide awake and watching the situation closely. A harbinger of things to come was the incident last week where a mob had surrounded the house of Jayantha Ketagoda who has not yet resigned for Sarath Fonseka to come into Parliament although he’s on record saying he would do so if there was an assurance that Fonseka will fill the vacancy. The Speaker had ordered the IGP to provide special police protection to Ketagoda after that incident.

 Minimum purchase price nightmare

The economic woes of the new government are only just beginning. At one level will be the problem of collecting enough revenue to finance the welfare package that the government gave to the people. But the economic fallout will begin in a way visible and audible to the ordinary public as the paddy harvest begins to come in. As we said in this column earlier, the JVP is a permanent feature of the harvest time nightmare for all governments. The JVP has already begun saying that the government was planning to buy 200,000 MT of paddy at the guaranteed price of Rs. 50 a kilo while the paddy harvest this season is estimated to be in the range of 2.8 million MT. Their demand is that the government create a mechanism to buy the entire harvest at the guaranteed price.  At Rs. 50 per kilo, how much will the government need as an upfront outlay to buy 2,800 million kilos of paddy? They will of course be able to recoup most if not all of it by selling the paddy later but who is going to provide the capital to buy the paddy and what about the cost of administering such an operation?

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