- Rajapaksa loyalists chagrined over Anura’s invitee
- Opposition explores ways of working with JVP
- Ranil’s inconsistency irritates UNP members
47th commemoration of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was
held on Tuesday (26) at Horagolla with the participation of
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Minister, Mani Shankar
It was also the 6th death anniversary of the world’s first woman
Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
The commemoration ceremony was held in a very solemn and fitting
manner to this great statesman and stateswoman, who rendered a
yeoman service to the country as prime ministers of independent
A memorial oration was also held the same evening at the BMICH.
The oration was delivered by the Indian Minister of Panchayat
Raj and Youth Affairs, Mani Shankar Aiyer. The conspicuous
absentee on both these occasions was former President, Chandrika
Minister Aiyer arrived in the country on Monday (25) to be on
time for the Bandaranaike commemoration.
In fact, President Rajapaksa, who was keen to invite Minister
Aiyer for the event got in touch with him over the phone
somewhere in late June and asked Minister Anura Bandaranaike to
follow up with a formal invitation in writing.
On Monday when he arrived in Colombo, Aiyer was first hosted by
Advisor to the President, Sunimal Fernanado, to high tea along
with several other political personalities at his residence at
Horton place. It was reported that Minister Aiyer has been a
close friend of Sunimal Fernando for a long time.
The same evening, Minister Anura Bandaranaike too hosted the
visiting Indian Minister to dinner at the 1864 Regency of the
Galle Face Hotel, where mainly the friends of the Bandaranaike
Among the invitees were Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe,
SLMC Leader, Rauf Hakeem, Ministers John Seneviratne and Nimal
Siripala De Silva, business magnate Lalith Kotalawela, Indian
High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Ms.Nirupama Rao, Dipoo
Senanayake and several other guests who are Bandaranaike’s close
Rajapaksa loyalists are bit irked over the manner in which
Bandaranaike had selected his invitees. They thought that
President Rajapaksa should have been invited to the occasion,
but there are no misgivings over that. What irked them more was
the invitation extended to Rauf Hakeem and Lalith Kotalawela,
who are not in the good books of the government.
The government’s backroom analysts are of the view that Anura
Bandaranaike wanted to create an impression in the mind of the
visiting Indian Minister that he could play a pivotal role in
bringing together the various factions who are politically
divided on petty political issues.
This was further corroborated when Minister Aiyer referred to
the dinner hosted by Bandaranaike during his intellectual
disposition and on the two most outstanding Bandaranaikes, at
the BMICH on Tuesday.
Minister Aiyer said that at the dinner hosted by Minister
Bandaranaike he saw what democracy was all about. In the same
breath he said, at the lunch hosted by Nirupama Rao, that he
thought that it was Sri Lanka’s National Government that best
showcased democracy at work.
What does that imply? Is it that India is capable of making a
government in Sri Lanka according to what it believes is best
for its little neighbour? Or is it just a random thought coming
off the cuff?
Whatever it may be, it could be a mind boggling question for
many to ponder. However, the underlying message could be that
Sri Lanka should not do things on its own maverick way when the
big brother is just across the shore.
Be that as it may, at the dinner hosted by Anura Bandaranaike on
Monday at the Galle Face Hotel in honour of visiting Minister
Aiyer, High Commissioner Nirupama Rao looked disillusioned. and
was keeping a very low profile. Most of the invitees too were
amused to see Ms. Rao sitting more towards the corner of the
table when protocol demanded that she sit elsewhere.
Banadaranaike added insult to injury on Tuesday when her name
was mentioned as the former High Commissioner for India in Sri
Lanka during the announcements made over the public address
system at the main ceremony at Horagolla. The officials at the
Indian High Commission are not taking it very kindly and they
are annoyed over the way the Indian High Commissioner was
However, the theory that every action has an equal and an
opposite reaction came into play the same evening when Mani
Shankar Aiyer delivered his memorial oration on the
He made it a point to praise Nirupama Rao profusely and put her
on a pedestal as a member of the Indian Foreign Service.
Thereafter he quoted copiously from a newspaper article that she
had written. Aiyer showed his intellectual capacity, no doubt,
but he went on butterfly shooting, one analyst told this column,
putting the whole thing in a nutshell.
Some of them were of the view that he had no theme and did not
mention a word about Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike during his
speech. They thought it was more appropriate to call it the
random thoughts of Mani Shankar Aiyer rather than an eloquent
presentation at a commemoration.
Many of the invitees thought that his reference to Rao was
totally irrelevant, but being a politician drawn from the Indian
Foreign Service himself, he had instinctively changed his course
and defended her role as India’s envoy in Sri Lanka.
No doubt it was a slap in the face for Anura Bandaranaike and
more than anything it proved beyond reasonable doubt that India
meant serious business when it came to statecraft. Friends are
secondary to all that and they have clearly identified their
priorities — a good lesson to our politicians, especially
Bandaranaike who thinks that friendship could do anything and
everything. The answer should be ‘yes’ but not always. This fact
was hit home by none other than his celebrated friend, Mani
Interestingly Bandaranaike had these words to welcome the Indian
Minister. He said,” there is no finer person than Mani to
deliver my father’s 47th commemoration lecture. My father began
and laid the foundation of a long and lasting friendship with
the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Mani is a remarkable man who epitomes
all that is best and finest in the firmament of India’s volatile
politics. He is a gifted writer and an outstanding orator who
virtually single-handedly took on the might of the BJP
government and crossed swords with another great orator, former
Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and demolished his
government with wit, tact and sarcasm.”
The question asked all round is what Bandaranaike got in return.
It was sheer embarrassment. In addition to this, Bandaranaike
was visibly upset over the reference made by Aiyer to S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike as SWORD Bandaranaike.
Bandaranaike always likes to take refuge under the shadows of
his father, mother and sister, uttering various things done
during their tenures in office. He boasts that the Bandaranaikes
have rendered a great service to the nation and likes to delve
into the past, recalling their family connections to the Nehrus
and other Indian leaders, just to take solace under those great
names. It is now time for Bandaranaike to realise that people
cannot be taken for a ride any longer through this rhetoric, and
that India is not going to change its policy towards Sri Lanka
because of his family connections. All we can tell Bandaranaike
is to shed all that is superfluous and try to be a politician
with a mature and intellectual disposition. If he develops these
qualities, no doubt he could be a leader worth his salt.
All Party Conference
It was not only Bandaranaike but even President Rajapaksa who
hosted Mani Shankar Aiyer to dinner with a representative
gathering of Sri Lankan politics. Some of the participants
represented minority parties such as the CWC and the Upcountry
People’s Front. At the dinner, it was suggested that Minister
Mani Shankar Aiyer should take the opportunity to address the
All Party Conference on Wednesday before he left Sri Lanka.
The suggestion was first put to the officer dealing in political
affairs of the Indian High Commission, called Vipul, who in turn
asked the High Commissioner, Nirupama Rao. Her spontaneous
reaction was to tell the political affairs officer that the
minister’s itinerary was full and that it would not be possible
to accommodate the President’s request. Knowing that the High
Commissioner was not very happy over the manner that things were
being done, it was decided to ask Minister Aiyer directly to
which he acceded very happily.
Accordingly, a time was fixed for 9.30 a.m. the next morning,
but the minister was late by exactly 45 minutes - the reason
once again being Anura Bandaranaike. It was later reported that
Bandaranaike was hanging around in the Taj Samudra Hotel where
the minister was staying to meet him that morning following a
misunderstanding over a breakfast meeting and its venue. Finally
all those problems were sorted out, but the problem between
Bandaranaike and Nirupama Rao, who is scheduled to leave the
shores of the island in three weeks time, remains unresolved.
At the All Party Conference meeting, Minister Aiyer dealt with
the subject of devolution and the characteristics of the Indian
model and on the Panchayat Raj system which is effectively
practised in India.
Mani Shankar Aiyer has now left the shores of Sri Lanka, but in
fact, he was originally invited to deliver the Lakshman
Kadirgamar memorial lecture in August but apparently Foreign
Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, had failed to set in motion any
follow up action at this end after having given him a verbal
confirmation on the matter.
Initially the invitation was extended at the residence of Sri
Lanka’s High Commissioner for India, Romesh Jayasinghe, by
Minister Samaraweera during one of his tours to India, but he
apparently had forgotten the whole episode when he came back to
Sri Lanka. The matter became a faux pas after diplomat
Jayasinghe accidentally met him at the Delhi Airport.
Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer told our High Commissioner that he
needed the formal invitation to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar
oration on time for him to obtain permission from the Prime
Minister and to attend to other formalities. Jayasinghe faced a
bit of an embarrassing situation, but told him very
diplomatically that the government had already invited a
respected Indian statesman, Karan Singh, to deliver the memorial
Later, Minister Aiyer complained to his Sri Lankan friends about
the diplomatic faux pas on the part of the Sri Lankan government
and the emotionally upset Minister said that he would not come
to Sri Lanka again, but he however, changed his mind after
President Rajapaksa telephoned him to invite him to deliver the
Bandaranaike memorial lecture on September 26.
Be that as it may, on Tuesday, Indian High Commissioner in Sri
Lanka, Nirupama Rao, invited a wide spectrum of politicians to
lunch with Minister Aiyer at India House. The government was
represented by ministers DEW Gunasekara and Thondaman, while the
Presidential Secretariat was represented by Presidential
Advisor, Basil Rajapaksa and Secretary to the President, Lalith
The UNP was represented by former ministers G.L. Peiris and Ravi
Karunanayake. Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and TNA
Parliamentarian, Raviraj and JVP Leader, Somawansa Amarasinghe
were also present on the occasion.
Somawansa Amarasinghe was seated next to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and
they were seen discussing a very important matter. During the
conversation, Gotabhaya spoke his mind and apparently told off
Amarasinghe. Gotabhaya was heard saying, “You all are not
allowing us to do this and at the same time you are also not
doing anything constructive” — probably a reference to the
criticism levelled by the JVP to the government. Amarasinghe was
visibly upset over the remark made by the Defence Secretary but
had to stomach everything since the situation demanded him to be
calm and quiet.
It now appears that the Rajapaksa administration that maintained
cordial relations with the JVP is not prepared to tolerate the
party any more. Basil Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabhaya, who
were having a long chat with TNA parliamentarian Raviraj, had
apparently downplayed the JVP factor in the government.
With this kind of development that reached a point of
culmination after the utterances by the JVP Leader that the SLFP
was similar to those who are practising the oldest profession in
the world, the SLFP leadership is now hell bent on getting
around the UNP to form a government of national consensus.
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday briefed the UNP
delegation sitting in committees to explore possibilities of how
they could work together. The conspicuous absentee from these
briefings was none other than his erstwhile lieutenant, Milinda
Moragoda. Some UNP insiders feel that Moragoda has already
crossed the borderline, but he had been present at all the
meetings between the two parties although he had skipped the
party leader’s briefings.
Just before Tuesday’s meeting with his party delegation,
Wickremesinghe had a meeting with Professor G.L.Peiris to
discuss the party’s position relating to the bilateral talks
with the SLFP delegation.
Hare and hound
With all this, yet party insiders are not happy with the
disposition of Wickremesinghe who believes that he is trying to
run with the hare and hunt with the hound simultaneously.
His effort these days is to keep the party intact without
allowing further erosion to take place, but he is suspicious
that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was moving insidiously to grab
more UNPers from the fold. It is rumoured that Wickremesinghe
had apparently summoned one Ravi Wijeratna, a one time ally of
the UNP, for a meeting in order to discourage him from wooing
UNPers to join the government.
At Tuesday’s Parliamentary Goup meeting, UNP party members
expressed their concerns over the current political situation in
Former minister, Ravi Karunanayake said that the JVP’s hypocrisy
should be exposed to the people. He said the JVP was now
pretending to be the godfathers of the security forces.
“They go on preaching that they are the protectors of the three
armed forces,” said the former minister. He said that the UNP as
a responsible political party should counter their propaganda
and tell the world how they went on a rampage during 1987-89
periods trying to liquidate the very armed forces whom they are
now trying to protect.
Karunanayake also had a severe indictment against the party’s
media outfit and said that the media unit is more or less a
non-existent one and called for the immediate reorganisation of
the media arm of the party. He said that somebody should take
responsibility for the despicable behaviour of the party’s media
Party Leader Wickremesinghe said that there would be a complete
overhaul of the media unit but Karunanayake wanted to know when
he was going to implement all these reforms. Then reply was that
it would be done very soon but Wickremesinghe did not assign a
date or time for the proposed reorganisation.
At this meeting it was also asked by members whether it would be
detrimental to the future of the bipartisan talks between the
government and the UNP, if they criticised the government on
Wickremesinghe replied that there was no barrier on criticising
the government despite the ongoing talks. At this point, Bandula
Gunawardene said the oil prices in the world market had slumped,
but the government had failed to reduce the oil prices
accordingly in keeping with the world prices. Gunawardene saw
this as a conspiracy against the masses and wanted the party to
take appropriate action to bring the oil prices down.
The main problem appears to be the heavy debts of the government
to the Petroleum Corporation which have not been serviced as
required and the heavy taxes which have been passed on to
unsuspecting consumers. The Petroleum Minister always tries to
mislead and bluff the masses by saying that the corporation is
running at a loss and not
revealing the truth behind the fabricated story by the ministry
from time to time, he said.
At the meeting, Prof. G.L.Peiris explained the progress they had
made so far in their talks with the government. He said the two
delegations were devising a common national agenda to work
together. The six sub committees who are working separately on
six identified areas would be submitting their reports at the
next plenary to be held on October 3.
It is also learnt that the Committee on Mechanism has had a
meeting on Thursday (28).
The UNP was represented by Prof. G.L. Peiris, Rukman Senanayake
and Milinda Moragoda while the government was represented by
Nimal Siripala de Silva, Maithripala Sirisena and John
Seneviratne. Minister John Seneviratne was not present for the
meeting due to certain exigencies, but met with them later in
The talking point at the moment is the UNP’s decision to appoint
a committee to strike a dialogue with the JVP. The committee
comprises Jayawickrama Perera, Bandula Gunawardene, Vajira
Abetwardene and T. Maheswaran.
It was Maheswaran who suggested to Party Leader Wickremesinghe
the idea conceived in his mind. Wickremesinghe not only approved
Maheswaran’s idea, but appointed a committee to explore the
possibilities of working together.
Maheswaran has already spoken to his friends in the JVP who had
also agreed to talk to the UNP to explore areas where the two
parties could work together.
Besides Anura Kumara Dissanayake and K.D. Lalkantha, Maheswaran
had also spoken to Wimal Weerawansa who told Maheswaran to send
a formal letter signed by Ranil Wickremesinghe to JVP Leader
However,the committee faced certain snags at the very initial
stages because two of the committee members are trying to
distance themselves from the so called JVP-UNP committee. One
member said that such a committee was not in existence. The two
members who are distancing from the committee are Jayawickrama
Perera and Bandula Gunawardena.
At the same time, some UNP members think that this committee has
been formulated by Wickremesinghe to scuttle the bi-partisan
approach between the government and the UNP.
Various people had various things to say. Some said that the UNP
would have to agree to the 20 point programme of the JVP if they
were to work together, while others said that a pre-condition of
the JVP would be to abolish the Ceasefire Agreement and removal
of the Norwegian facilitators from the peace process.
One maverick type UNPer told this column it was better for the
leader to give all these assurances to the JVP now itself or the
JVP would turn back and say the same thing they told the SLFP
couple of days ago. He said - “they might say even worse things
Another idea is that he should have appointed Rukman Senanayake
to talk to the JVP, since Rukman single-handedly handled the JVP
during the 1989 crisis period.
Be that as it may, the question of having a dialogue with the
JVP was raised at the meeting held under the chairmanship of
Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Cambridge Terrace office of the UNP
leader on Thursday. There he said that he was not in a hurry and
that he told Maheswaran who initiated it, to wait for at least
three weeks before talking to the JVP. Maheswaran however had
denied any such direction from the Leader.
Party members are apparently annoyed with the ways of
Wickremesinghe who is not consistent in his policies when it
comes to party matters. One angry UNP insider told this column
that such red herrings are going to be a damp squib for him.
The UNPers are more or less in a confused state since they are
now not too sure of what their leader says. On most of these
occasions, they tend to cross-check with each other to be
definite as to whether he meant what he said.
At the meeting to discuss the government-UNP talks, the UNP
delegation also deliberated on the proposed electoral reforms
devised by the Dinesh Gunawardene Select Committee.
Although the party is of the view that the reforms are useful,
Party Leader Wickremesinghe has reservations about the whole
exercise. In fact, he has taken into account a worse scenario
for the UNP, the situation that arises from an electoral defeat
and thinks that the proposed system is disadvantageous for the
party in such a situation.
Though it likely to apply universally to all the other parties
at an electoral defeat, Wickremesinghe has worked out the
numbers in relation to the UNP and found it to be
disadvantageous for the UNP. Hence it is likely that the party
might drag its feet on the proposed electoral reforms which
envisages 150 seats under the first past the post system and 75
seats under the proportional representation system.
Not only the UNP, smaller parties like the SLMC and the CWC are
also not in agreement with the proposed reforms. The stand taken
by the SLMC is that there was no ample time given to the parties
within parliament to discuss the issues involved.
Parties like the JHU which would have to fight for survival
under the new system, had asked the cut off point for the
proportional representation system to be reduced to the very low
ebb of 1% from the proposed 3% where they might have the luck of
scraping in at least one member out of the 75 members to be
appointed under the proportional representation system.
The UNP’s idea is for a more American based constitutional
system where the executive president could draw his cabinet from
outside - mainly technocrats to run the country - while
proposing committees for each ministry which would function as
the supervising body for each ministry. These committees would
be drawn out from parliament and will bear the features of the
American system. In fact it is these oversight committees, which
are much like the Congress Committees in the US, that the UNP
hopes to get the JVP to agree to during talks with them, should