“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are used to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”
“Gaveshana Charika” literally means ‘investigative tours’. Taken in the literal sense, these investigative tours undertaken by a group of United National Party (UNP) parliamentarians indeed sound very genuine though it is quite obvious to every man and woman on the street that the tagline is a politically-loaded catch phrase invented by the UNP essentially to render at least some rudimentary identity to an otherwise isolated mode of protest launched by the Party to satisfy a ‘suspecting’ public getting increasingly alarmed and frustrated at the rotten stagnation and inactivity of the main Opposition party in the sphere of agitational politics in Sri Lanka.
Yet to everyone’s surprise, this very lackadaisical approach to protest is being given validity and importance by none other than the Government itself, against whom the protests are aimed. Had the Government opted to keep quiet about these “Gaveshana Charikas”, and allowed the UNP parliamentarians to enter the premises of failed Government projects and departments and show a farcical sense of freedom and tolerance of opposition-politics, then the steam, if there was any, would have died a natural death and no instant heroes would have been born. Yet, what has happened has happened. The “Gaveshana Charika” programme has its own pluses and minuses. However, in a close analysis, one would find more pluses than minuses and one significant minus is the very composition of the team of parliamentarians who engaged in it on a steady basis. When two National List MPs, Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne who do not represent any electorate or district in a real sense, in that they were not elected by the people, are leading an agitational campaign, it leaves room for real argument and debate as to whether or not these parliamentarians really could relate to the people at large, their aspirations, their wants and needs, etc. The credibility suffers as the programme could be interpreted as one undertaken by the UNP Leader’s cohorts. At a time when the very unity of the United National Party is being questioned both internally as well as from the outside world, the last thing that a Leader must do is to display that disunity in public. The people invariably ask as to where Sajith, Buddika, Ruwan, Rosy, Thalatha are, and it is a very legitimate and pertinent issue that has been bothering the well-wishers of the UNP for quite some time now.
"The content of the “Gaveshana Charika” seems quite sensible starting with two mega-size “white elephants” in the Deep South"
Nevertheless, the content of the “Gaveshana Charika” seems quite sensible and the institutions and locations that this group of parliamentarians had chosen fitted the bill. Starting with two mega-size “white elephants” in the Deep South,namely, Mattala Airport and Hambantota Harbour which in fact do portray, in more ways than one, the inflated egos in the Government and the extent to which these egos would go to further polish and preserve them.
Nevertheless, the crucial minus of the programme is the total absence of people-participation at these Charikas. If there is any, it comes in the form of anti-Charika protests, depicting a picture of people siding with the Government, although these protests by those at these work places and the vicinity are spectacles organized and orchestrated by the Government itself with an aim to show the television viewers and reading public that the common man’s solidarity is with the Government and that he, the common man, would travel the extra mile to safeguard it. When the confrontation becomes one between MPs and the ‘common man’, the advantage goes to the Government although a more positive and militant image of those who take part might be created among the UNP supporters. To that extent, the message that these ‘Charikas’ disseminate could be extremely helpful.
Yet these Charikas do not seem to create any follow-up action. Visiting a different workplace or a project is not the follow-up action that is referred to. Raising these matters in Parliament and holding news briefings are all a must in these agitational political campaigns, but the real effect must be felt on the streets, on the pulse of the people and their very stomachs. In other words, no room should be left for would-be saboteurs to brand this campaign as one of, by and for the bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie of the country. When such an incredulous badge is garlanded round the neck of these opposition politicians and their pet political campaign, the loss of credibility and sustainability will have an irreversible negative effect not only on the specific campaign, it would also flow down to the core of the United National Party and its leadership -- not that the leadership of the Party has not already suffered enough.The image of an ‘out of touch’ bunch of leaders would be extremely injurious to any future campaigns the Party wishes to undertake and its slow death would only be accelerated.
It is not the intention of the writer to be unfairly critical of a political campaign, which on the surface looks very promising in content and exciting in style. The United National Party does not need to look anywhere else but at its own history. The way J R Jayewardene virtually created a ‘new UNPer’ and the Party, after he took over its leadership reins in 1973, it was replete with programmes, strategies, tactics and above all else, the collective will. It was sufficiently evident and was an example of how a lackadaisical political party could be transformed into a dynamic and powerful political machine with the correct individuals controlling the switches of power and correct policies given publicity.
The UNP needs to take one fundamental calculation. It has to resign itself to the notion that, if they are really serious about coming to power by displacing the Rajapaksas, there is no way whatsoever, I repeat, no way whatsoever, that it can do so on its own strategy, strength and stamina.
There isn’t a single speaker among UNP leaders today who will make people tread miles to listen to. In the seventies, people trekked dozens of miles to listen to J R Jayewardene, R Premadasa, A C S Hameed and Gamini Dissanayake. In the eighties, in addition to JR, Premadasa, Hameed and Gamini,the people didn’t hesitate to trudge the same distance to listen to Lalith Athulathmudali, Nissanka Wijeratne and Ronnie de Mel. One does not need to be a charismatic orator; the usual traits of oratory such as delivery, diction, substance and poise were not present at all in some of these speakers. Yet what they lacked in delivery was substituted by substance, sometimes when they lacked poise, the diction and delivery delivered the ‘goods’.
It is very rarely that substance, style, diction and delivery are all present in one single speaker. Yet the magic of a speaker might not reside in these factors alone. For instance, I have no doubt that our people would travel any distance to listen to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunge today, for, although she is no great orator by any standard, the way she attacks the ‘First Family’ and its misdeeds is sometimes ‘sweet’ to hear.
That is why the UNP needs the speakers of the caliber of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Chandrika Kumaranatunge and Sarath Fonseka on the same platform. They draw crowds and the ruling cabal would dread to find all these personalities on the same stage backing a ‘common candidate’, with one voice and one purpose.
The UNP must make the sacrifice -- in fact it is its Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe who must do it -- of accommodating all these diverse personalities and embarking on a “Mother of all Campaigns” to derail the incumbent. Does the UNP have the vision, mission and desire to do it? I wish I knew.