Friday, January 23, 2015

The backers of the 11th hour

It is easy to back a winner. It is not so easy to back a dead (or half-dead) horse. It is also not easy to take the vicissitudes of life with humility. Winning elections, for example, isn't a real victory if you don't have the humility to bow down before those who made victory possible. That's what Maithripala Sirisena did. We are grateful to him. We hope he will continue likewise. The 100-day program, you must admit, is supported by all, regardless of party colour and preference.

But there are other heroes too. Those who backed the dead horse, for instance. Cheerleaders are easy to find and easy to pay for. When defeated, however, they can't be found. That is why I have always felt (and believed) that inasmuch as there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, those who stay behind and refuse to champion the victor (and thereby stick to their principles) are to be lauded. All the way.

This is why, whatever said and done, I will raise a cheer for some people. They stayed behind. They continued to stand by ideal. They didn't apologise. Yes, they championed the dead horse. Yes, they are to be admired.

I am no fan of politics. Indeed, I pity those who take to it. I also pity those who lose, and feel gracious enough to congratulate the loser (and winner) if they take defeat (and victory) with humility. Some say the loser at this year's election wasn't humble enough. They say he tried to cling to power. It didn't work, of course, and in the end he had to concede defeat. Not easy, you must admit. After all, we had a former president who tried to cling to power by claiming that she had one more year. Didn't work.

There were those who didn't refuse to back this year's loser. They brought Mahinda Rajapaksa and tried to hand him the SLFP's chairmanship. At the time I am writing this, Rajapaksa has conceded defeat on that count too, and has handed the post to Maithripala Sirisena. It's too early to tell, in this quiet game of chess, which of the two will emerge at the end. But that's not important right now.

It's time I mentioned some names. There was Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, who was one of the more gentlemanly stalwarts from the preceding regime. There was also Susil Premajayantha, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Wimal Weerawansa, Dullas Alahapperuma, and Dinesh Gunawardena.

Those were the chief names. There were others too: Dilan Perera, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Kumara Welgama. A cheer for them all.

I don't back Mahinda. I don't back Maithripala either, at least not until he proves himself with the 100-day program, but that's another story. For now, what's important is this: it's not easy to back the loser. There is much up for grabs from the winner's side. Perhaps that's what those who defected that day to Maithripala Sirisena, who decided that he should be the party's chairman, thought. After all, it's conceded by everyone that among those who defected, there were "unclean" names too: names the new government must not associate with if it is to remain "clean".

I have little sympathy for politicians. Winners or losers. But there was much vilification that day. Those who defected, I must say, didn't do themselves any favours when they crossed over without as much as a by-your-leave. We are talking about people who vociferously badmouthed Maithripala Sirisena's campaign here. People who salaamed Mahinda Rajapaksa unabashedly, who were part of what the late S. L. Gunasekara called the "Maharajaneni Club".

Those people left one "Maharajaneni". They are with another. That's sad. Which is why I will say this: they should not be tolerated.

I mentioned S. L. Gunasekara above. I remember what he wrote five years ago, at the time of the 2010 election. It was obvious at the time that he championed Mahinda Rajapaksa, not because he was a lily-white angel, but because of his political convictions. I also remember an interview with him, which went on TV right after the election.

He spoke frankly there. Those who crossed over, he claimed, did so for personal gain. When the interviewer quizzed him on this, he raised an interesting point. Those who crossed over claimed that they did so to support the war. They broke away from their parties and lent support to Mahinda for this reason. But, Gunasekara asked, if they really did support the war, why didn't they do so without crossing over, while staying in the opposition? Apt.

Five years later, the tide has turned. Those who once salaamed now detract. We have that synthetic doctorate-holding goon, for example, claiming that he was unfairly treated by the outgoing regime. We also have those who badmouthed Maithripala Sirisena speaking of how useless it is to grieve over a "dead body" (the reference to the loser was clear there). Scoundrels, all of them. They aren't to be trusted. Maithripala Sirisena, I must say, should be wary of them.

Still.

Those who backed the (half-)dead horse were in the few that day. But they backed the loser, at least until the loser himself conceded defeat. That's class. Those who defected that day would have overseen the eventual, peaceful transition of power had they stayed behind a little longer. They didn't. That's not class. That's opportunism. Spinelessness.

For their dedication, the backers of the 11th hour are to be admired. Permanent friends can't be found in politics. But they proved otherwise. I don't want to take sides here, but looking at it all, I suppose that when the SLFP's history is recorded someday, their names will go down as those who stuck by principles and spoke for the loser. No mean feat, that. But they did it. And for that, I will admire them. Always.

Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com.