By Frederica Jansz
If ever there was an award winning con artist in the making first prize must indeed go to Wimal Weerawansa.
Of course the political kingpin; able to pull strings, influence the UPFA administration, give employment to close associates at government institutions in mere seconds and to remove them, can only function as he does because he not only has the blessings of President Mahinda Rajapaksa but functions as his “blue eyed boy.”
It is in this context that Weerawansa’s resignation from his cabinet portfolio be viewed. A political ploy that had political analysts laughing last Friday proved that Rajapaksa himself forced the resignation – all part of a gambit and political game – for no sooner had the “letter” reached the President’s office it was rejected. No surprises there.
It didn’t take long after Wimal Weeravansa having fallen from grace with his former comrades the JVP and kicked out from that erstwhile party – was soon elevated to such heights by the UPFA, which made the average citizen feel that there was no UPFA without the charismatic presence of Weerawansa only to realize that Mahinda Rajapaksa adopts his own political techniques, puts a face to them and practices them well.
Of course all of this does not take away one simply fact. Wimal Weeravansa is poorly educated and plain stupid. Wimal Weerawansa is a perfect fit for the ‘boiled frog’ metaphor. Living in a small pond where he figures he is a big fish. Idiotic and bullheaded to the core – what he failed, very simply, to understand is that he is unimportant and inconsequential for the likes of the United Nations and its Chief Ban Ki-Moon.
Weerawansa may well compromise on a buth packet or two pretending to starve – but Moon will certainly not deter from his objective. And that is to go ahead with the Panel of Experts already appointed to probe charges of possible war crimes committed in Sri Lanka. In fact Weerawansa’s shameful and utterly stupid initiative last week will one year from now have a telling – nay – a hugely debilitating effect on Sri Lanka.
For it is now clear that Ban means business as demonstrated by his decision to call back his resident representative from Colombo and also the decision to close down the UNDPs regional office in Colombo.
While Wimal of course will call off his fast in double quick time. Not before the State media have been summoned to Bauddhaloka Mawatha where either his Godfather President Mahinda Rajapaksa or a group of Buddhist Monks, or both, will appear begging the “Patriot” to stop his fast and instead stay alive for God and King.
Which, is exactly what happened last morning Saturday July 10th.
The history of the JVP and Wimal
It is a given that since Rohana Wijeweera and most members of his central committee were captured and executed following the discovery of Wijeweera’s luxury Ulapane hiding spot in November 1989, it has been the sweat and blood of a handful of loyal JVP members that managed to bring the party back to life after its second failed insurgency.
The only Central Committee member to survive the military’s surgical and methodical purge of the JVP’s leadership, was a man known as ‘Comrade’ Giribava. It was Giribava who came as a beacon of hope to the party’s remaining incarcerated loyalists.
When he arrived at the Boossa prison from the Punani camp where he was held previously, Giribava was able to unite the JVP prisoners in the camp and bring order amongst them. Nihal Galapaththi and K.D. Lalkantha headed one of the factions inside the camp.
When the party’s lower rung members emerged from prison, they had nothing to their name with which to dream of re-generating a political party. Starting from scratch, the surviving hardliners made use of their Marxist training, which taught them to survive on ingenuity and hard work. Violence no longer being an option to further their cause, the remaining splinter groups set up community shops, and used the profits from these shops to build up support amongst their local communities.
The party operators were injected with a bolt of energy when they learnt that politburo member Somawansa Amarasinghe had survived the purge and was living in the United Kingdom. Amarasinghe wrote regularly in the Sinhala Hiru newspaper, which was the newspaper that carried forth the JVP ideology, and the grassroots members drew inspiration in knowing that one of their leaders was alive. When the UNP government withdrew the state of emergency in 1994, the JVP survivors went into political hyper-drive.
The various splinter groups scattered across the country began to consolidate, and coordinate their efforts. Since their party was still proscribed, they used the name ‘National Salvation Front’ under Ariya Bulegoda for their political operations; although it was clear that this was in fact a political wing of Wijeweera’s JVP.
The head office of the National Salvation Front was Bulegoda’s house in Pagoda Road, Nugegoda. As the party workers were getting geared for their election work in the various districts, a stunning revelation was made by the Colombo JVP group to the party’s Galle organisers.
There was no party organisation to file nominations for Hambantota, and there were hardly any candidates either. With the revelation made at 11 pm the day before nominations were to close (at 12 noon) it was decided that the Colombo office would send a nomination paper with a party member from the Nugegoda head office, to Galle in a three-wheeler.
Importance of Hambantota
The Galle JVP group was to prepare a couple of three wheelers of their own, along with a group of candidates for dispatch to Hambantota with the nomination papers sent from Nugegoda. The importance of fielding candidates in the Hambantota District was that it was home to Rohana Wijeweera’s native town of Tangalle, and thus was a likely area of wide grassroot support for the movement.
As for the election campaign itself, the party’s de facto leaders, Galapaththi and Nandana Gunatilleke, were largely absent. As such the party’s rank and file faced incredible odds in spreading word of the JVP’s rebirth and rekindling support for the party, having been left to fend for themselves.
Emergence of Weerawansa
During the election campaign, a member of that era’s JVP vanguard recalled an incident that brought the budding Wimal Weerawansa’s sense of humour to light. Several of the most senior JVP members, including Nihal Galapaththi, were packed into a small van on the way to an election meeting. The driver of the van had been driving fast and recklessly, flooding the stomachs of the Marxists with butterflies.
Aruna Soyza, one of the JVPers seated in the rearmost seat of the van with Galapaththi had pointed out that should the driver crash the van, all hope of resurrecting the JVP would perish with it. Galapaththi, on realising the risk shouted to the driver to be more careful, but to no avail. Weerawansa, who was seated closer to the front of the van then chipped in with his words of wisdom to the driver.
“If you’re going to kill us, make sure it is quick and painless and try to avoid us suffering. Enough of us have suffered for this cause,” Weerawansa had said, to the amusement of the other occupants of the van.
Interestingly, Galapaththi, who was fondly referred to as Kalu Aiyya, was a notable absentee on the political platform during the active campaign for the hotly contested general election. At one point, a member contesting the Galle District had even asked Galapaththi as to why he shied away from the campaign, only to be told that his mother was suffering from high blood pressure.
This was the best excuse Galapaththi could offer to his ‘comrades,’ some of whose mothers had been beaten and killed as punishment for their sons being associated with the JVP. Nevertheless, with Galapaththi off-stage, the baton was left to the lower rung of the party to convince the people in the south the need for the JVP to become a political force in the country.
Although no National Salvation Front (i.e. JVP) candidate garnered enough votes to be directly elected to parliament, the party managed to muster enough votes for a national list seat. As it is the south that has always acted as the heart of the JVP, it was no surprise that they won their national list seat in the Hambantota District.
The Hambantota District leader was sworn in to parliament. However, the party leadership was insistent on appointing Galapaththi to parliament. A request was then made for the Hambantota District leader to resign to make way for Galapaththi – a request he obliged out of blind faith. Thus Galapaththi’s entrance to parliament was secured by trampling those members who toiled for his party night and day.
Following Galapaththi’s entry to parliament, the JVP began to grow in numbers throughout the 1990s, largely ignored in the political shadow of the incessant bickering between the UNP and SLFP. By the 2000 general election, the JVP’s grassroots organisation was the envy of its counterparts in both the UNP and SLFP.
Starting from zero, and with minimum funding, the JVP had through sheer dedication of its cadres, built up its extremist nationalist base in the south by winning the trust of its supporters first, and pitching their complex ideals and policies second.
Beginning of the end
The drastic shift in Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa’s lifestyle created open envy among party members for the first time since the media began to focus on his opulent lifestyle.
As much as the JVP leaders of the Wijeweera era amassed wealth while their loyalists toiled, there was hardly any media exposure. But when Wimal Weerawansa would spare himself a haircut for a price higher than some of their salaries, a lot of grassroots members began to quietly fume over what was going on.
The picture that shocked a lot of village JVP organisers, which had become popular over the years, was that of Weerawansa holding his high tech camera phone up in parliament to take a picture. Not that there was some JVP rule against photography, but in some villages whole houses could have been built for the value of that phone – a fact not lost on those who lived by the doctrine of the party.
When the JVP, again primarily at the behest of Weerawansa, chose to canvass on behalf of Mahinda Rajapaksa for the November 2005 election, it was adding a whole new dimension to the party’s image. Wimal Weerawansa himself highlighted in parliament last December the level of effort put in by the JVP to bring President Rajapaksa to office. “We woke up before dawn every morning” he recalled, “and rested after midnight,” until the job was done. Thus the JVP’s campaigns in 2006 and 2007 attempting to blame Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government for the plight of the nation largely fell on deaf ears.
Part of the problem
On one occasion, party General Secretary, Tilvin Silva appeared on private television and openly claimed Wimal’s spouse Sasha Udayanthi to be part of the problem. “That lady obviously has political ambitions. She has been trying to do various things and we have warned Weerawansa against the conduct of his wife. This is not the UPFA or the UNP. Our political example is different, and this applies to our families as well,” Silva said.
The not so equal comrade
Although Wimal Weerawansa has claimed that he has been so busy and dedicated to JVP work that he hasn’t had the chance to even visit Sigiriya, this didn’t stop him from sending the brood off to California on a luxury holiday.
Given that an air ticket from Colombo to California sells for around $1,500 and assuming that the two Weerawansa children got a half rate, the former Parliamentary Group Leader’s family holiday would have cost at least US$ 3,000 in airfare alone.
The Sunday Leader has in the past years bared details of much of the Weerawansa family’s extravagance, from Wimal’s five star hair cuts to his wife’s multi-million rupee car. The Weerawansa Disneyland trip makes it irresistible to paraphrase George Orwell, from his novel Animal Farm: All members are equal… But some are more equal than others!
Sex and the Weerawansas
Then there was the sexual harassment charge levelled against Weerawansa by a former Lake House employee who was sent on punishment transfer after she complained over the issue.
The scandalous tale indicates that the pontificating politician has been in the habit of telephoning the innocent village girl from Polonnaruwa whose job at the Lake House was secured by Weerawansa, though he allegedly requested for sexual favours from her afterwards.
What is more, for having resisted his overtures and for a news item that appeared in a newspaper linking her to Weerawansa following some comments made by the opposition in parliament, the MP had threatened her by phone and allegedly claimed that her entire family would be wiped out.
The immediate result of the publication of the news item terribly impacted on the girl. She had been immediately transferred from the VDT Unit, Lake House where she worked as a computer operator to the Anuradhapura branch with effect from October 31.
With authorities failing to assist her in her hour of need, the victim sought justice from the highest in the land.
In an emotional appeal to President Mahinda Rajapakse, she had claimed that she was transferred simply due to a personal vendetta which had nothing to do with her work.
For a man who loves to drag others down, and interested in publishing sometimes even non existing sleaze and scandal about those who do not subscribe to his views, Weerawansa had allegedly made a habit of giving amorous calls to the said girl.
The victimised girl in a hand written letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse on November 11 had claimed that she had been transferred out from the VDT Unit of Lake House with effect from October 31 without any prior notice.
The real drama started afterwards. Wimal Weerawansa according to what is on record had allegedly called the victim and abused her in absolute filth and threatened to kill her. While the victim who was embarrassed by the call was claiming that she played no role in a possible campaign against Weerawansa, Shirsha Udayanthi, wife of Wimal Weerawansa had grabbed the telephone and begun using abusive language. She had allegedly threatened the victim would not be allowed to work for more than a few days and further alleged that she would be taken unawares when a great tragedy strikes her soon.
A few minutes later, Shirsha Udayanthi had telephoned the girl again; apologetic for her bad choice of language in the presence of her husband. Her excuse had been to say that her husband was there in front of her at the time, hence the use of intemperate language. Weerawansa’s wife had then allegedly claimed that she was quite aware of her husband’s weaknesses.
An angry wife had allegedly told the girl according to the evidence on record that the husband enjoyed phone sex and nothing more and admitted to having an affair with a leading SLFP politician with the blessings of her own husband.
The victim had cautioned that she had no interest in the personal lives of the Weerawansas and simply asked her to be left alone.
But she was not. With those in power managing to hide facts, the girl was instantly penalised. She was unceremoniously transferred to Anuradhapura with no other option or even an explanation. She had further charged that Weerawansa invited her to visit various places with him which she had declined.
Meanwhile the President on receipt of the letter had been visibly shocked but had decided to ignore it lest it becomes a political hot potato for him to deal with.
MR threatens to expose Wimal’s business dealings
And before Mahinda Rajapaksa and Wimal Weerawansa were to become bedfellows President Mahinda Rajapaksa threatened to expose the business dealings of Wimal Weerawansa who was at the time the JVPs Propaganda Secretary if he persisted with ‘false allegations’ of a US$ 10 million kickback against a top government member in relation to the sale of Telecom shares to a Netherlands based company.
Rajapaksa dismissed the bribe charge as baseless stating the share transaction was a private affair between two companies with which the government had nothing to do.
The President also told his ministers that Weerawansa met him to promote the Vanaspathi business and that he had all the documents to put the member to shame if he persists with his line of attack.
A two-faced Hypocrite
If indeed Wimal Weerawansa’s problem is about the country’s sovereignty being compromised what is his stand with regard to the IMF and it’s bearing on the government? Isn’t the IMF dictating economic policy to his government an infringement of the country’s sovereignty? Aren’t the people much more directly affected on a daily basis by the IMF’s interference in monetary policy that reflect in price hikes than Ban Ki-Moon’s advisory panel?
Also last week didn’t the government issue visas for a team from the US to probe working conditions in the factories that export products to the US under its GSP? Probably with Disney Land on his mind Weerawansa has not uttered a word in this regard. It’s selective sovereignty it seems.
But we have not heard the last of Wimal Weerawansa. He will certainly return to play the same trick another day, another time on a people he clearly has taken for nothing more than asses.