Editorial in The Island, 31 July 2020, bearing this title “Battles and Puzzling Moves”
SLPP founder and chief strategist Basil Rajapaksa has said something very interesting in a recent press interview. He has explained why he is not contesting the upcoming election. Others in the SLPP are guided by Rafferty’s rules, to all intents and purposes, in trying to win; they and their supporters flout election laws and health guidelines with impunity.
Intra-party battles for preferential votes are raging in some political parties, and the worst affected is perhaps the SLPP, whose candidates are hurling abuse at one another openly. Only the JVP-led coalition is apparently free from such problems. What we see in the SLPP, which brought down the yahapalana government, is like a Nat Geo wildlife programme, where big cats fight fiercely, unable to share the flesh of the animals they jointly pursue and kill.
Basil could have easily won in the Gampaha District if he had entered the parliamentary election fray. The yahapalana government prevented him from contesting the 2015 general election by introducing the 19th Amendment, which, among other things, debars dual citizens from becoming MPs. He could have cleared that constitutional hurdle the way President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did last year if he had cared to. He has said, in the aforesaid interview, that it is not necessary for one to be an MP to do well in politics, and pointed out that, in China, the Communist Party directs the Chinese government. In Sri Lanka, too, governments are controlled by the political parties that form them.
Basil is one of the politicians known for their lateral thinking. His strategy failed in 2015, when the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa was beaten by a dark horse—Maithripala Sirisena—in the presidential race, but the newly formed SLPP, has had a meteoric rise in national politics, turned the tables on the yahapalana government, scored a stunning win at the local government polls, produced a President and engineered a regime change. It is also confident of forming the next government.
As Basil says, one does not have to hold political office to be a mover and shaker in politics if history is anything to go by. Basil’s thinking reminds us of the Kamaraj Plan. In 1963, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu K. Kamaraj resigned from his post, devoted himself to full-time party work and urged other Congress stalwarts to follow suit. He was known for his political acumen. His strategy worked. Several other party seniors emulated him, and the Congress was revitalised, at the grassroots level. Kamaraj put the party before political office. Subsequently, he became the party leader and much more powerful than ministers and was instrumental in ensuring the election of two Prime Ministers—Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. Some political observers claim that the Kamaraj Plan was intended to queer the pitch for some Congress seniors and pave the way for Indira’s rise in national politics. However, the fact remains that the plan worked for the party.
It looks as if Basil wanted to be the eminence grise in a future SLPP government and plan his next move. He does not even want to lead the SLPP! It is said that he who pursues the stag regards not the hare. One can argue that Basil has set a higher goal for himself and does not want to settle for anything less in the short run.
Meanwhile, there have been complaints from election monitoring outfits against some SLPP candidates. Thankfully, we have not witnessed major polls-related incidents. However, it behoves the SLPP leaders to keep the unruly elements within their ranks on a tight leash and ensure that they abide by election laws and health regulations which alone can prevent an explosive spread of Covid-19.