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No hawkish noises from this 'hardliner'

"HAWK", "hawk" they began to squawk no sooner he won the selection of his party to be the candidate at the last Presidential Election.

The wire services were quick to hang on to it, as did all private media in the country. With the agreements he entered into with the JVP and JHU he was given the additional epithet of "hardliner".

It did not matter to the media, both local and foreign, that Mahinda Rajapakse had not shown any signs of being a hawk or hardliner over the ethnic issue all through the tragic period of its continuance till this day.

Far from being a hawk, he played a lead role in helping the families of the 'disappeared' in those days of institutionalized terror of the green tigers in 1988/89.

Together with Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu he was active in the work of the 'Mother's Front, that campaigned against the loss of their sons and daughters to the terror of the State.

He took the case of the disappeared to Geneva, and championed Human Rights both as a lawyer and a member of the Parliamentary Group on Human Rights.

However, to call him a hawk and a hardliner suited his opponents and the media. To the former, it was the best way of making political prophecies of an inevitable return to war if Mahinda Rajapaksa is elected.

To the foreign media it was a good hook on which to hang their stories, bringing a touch of excitement to them to ensure publication. It was most helpful to the LTTE in their incessant propaganda campaign through the Tamil Diaspora that there could be no peace with the Sinhalese.

What was a campaign strategy to frighten the people into defeating him at the polls, we now see as the day to day strategy of politics in the country.

Many who made a huge fuss about his not being the elected President of all the people, but only a section of the people, because of the anti-democratic boycott of the polls by the LTTE remain calling him a hawk.

They turn a blind eye to the increasing admiration among thoughtful commentators and political analysts both here and abroad of his restraint, patience and refusal to let the country be drawn into the stage of resumed armed hostilities, in the face of strong provocation by the LTTE.

The fear of consensus

President Rajapakse's search for consensus among the political forces of the South, in order to carry out effective and meaningful negotiations with the LTTE has found welcome responses from many in the South.

Even influential members of the main opposition party, the UNP, are now of the view that this consensual and inclusive approach to find a negotiating position with the LTTE deserves all support.

The sections of civil society that are genuinely for an honourable peace for the Sri Lankan people as a whole, and not the proxy voices of the LTTE or its foreign funding agencies, are also in favour of this approach.

The 'hardline' or 'radical' JVP and JHU are very much muted in their comments not opposing the spirit of consensus.

Very importantly the clergy of the main religions, particularly the Maha Sangha, is also in favour of this search for understanding among those who are being targeted by the LTTE, as to how peace could be achieved.

But there are strong forces that actually fear the emergence of such a consensus in the South, and they are noticeably active today. To them it is not sufficient anymore to keep crying hawk or hardliner.

They are now going to the election itself, and say quite loudly that Mahinda Rajapakse's victory was that of the extremists among the Sinhalese Buddhists.

This thinking may be as puerile as those who kept lamenting that Ranil Wickremesinghe lost only because of the large number names of voters that were not in the polls register.

Puerile as it may be, it also has its sinister aspects. It seeks to divide on grounds of race and religion, the Sinhalese majority, and other sections of the people who participated in the election that brought Rajapakse to office.

On what rational basis can anyone say that Mahinda Rajapakse's election was because he pandered to extremism among the Sinhalese Buddhists? True he did sweep the entire South including the areas badly affected by the tsunami.

Yet does that mean that all those voters, many who were traditional UNP voters that changed sides this time, were all racist or religious extremists?

This kind of analysis may be good for those quick flying foreign correspondents who are satisfied to obtain the views of a few opinionated journalists and political analysts with tunnel vision as being representative of the country; file their stories and fly away to the next destination of crisis or disaster.

But it fails to represent reality. With the failure of the effort to label him as a hawk and hardliner, the pressure is now on by those who are not even prepared to give six months for Mahinda Chintana to show whatever results it can, to carry the task of destabilization of the Rajapakse government.

The weapon they find most handy is to say, with no evidence whatever, that he represents only extremist forces among the majority Sinhala Buddhists.

Hurrah, the LTTE and its apologists will say when such charges come from the south. There will be another hurrah from those who made self-fulfilling prophecies about a return to war under Mahinda, having no clue whatever as to what the LTTE may have done if Ranil was elected.

Strengthening the Tiger's paw

If there was a pandering to the extremists among the Sinhalese Buddhists one saw it from the beginning of the UNP campaign to have Ranil elected.

The promise of building the largest dagaba in the world in Sri Lanka; the pledge to make this the centre of Theravada Buddhism, which it already is, were very much appeals to the extremist sentiments among the Sinhala Buddhists.

The appeal to these forces were more evident in the latter part of the campaign when Ranil suddenly beginning to wrap himself in a Sinhala flag. It was seen by the many efforts made to show that Ranil was indeed a Sinhala Buddhist of the genuine kind, despite his verbal blunders on stage.

This was also very much evident in the last minute efforts to win over what must be Sinhala Buddhist extremist voters by the claims made that the LTTE was weakened by the breakaway of the Karuna faction, thanks to the UNP.

At a time when the media should act with more caution in the larger national interest, which does not mean not criticizing and exposing the faults of those in office, to proclaim that President Rajapakse's constituency is only the extremists among the Sinhala Buddhists must certainly sound sweet in the ear of the tiger.

It certainly helps strengthen the LTTE in its negotiating positions when it is able to point a finger at the national leadership as being the representatives of extremist racist and religious forces.

This is excellent propaganda for the Tamil Diaspora that funds the LTTE and is eagerly awaiting the outcome of its latest strategic moves of terror directed against the armed forces, and civilians be it Sinhala, Muslim or Tamil, who they consider to be enemies or not belonging to them.

How is anyone to make any serious charge that Mahinda Rajapaksa won only with the votes of the extremist Sinhala Buddhists when he swept to victory in most of the coastal Christian Catholic belt, bar a few electorates Chilaw, Wattala, and Negombo. He even won in Ja-ela where Dr. Jayalath Jayawardana, with his Catholic credentials did have a strong following, other than the traditional UNP vote.

The sweep came down from Nattandiya to Moratuwa, and yet there are charges that President Rajapakse only represents extremist forces among the Sinhala Buddhists.

Were there no Muslims who voted for Rajapakse and can anyone dare say that there were no Tamil who voted for him either? If the UNP makes a thorough analysis of voting patterns in Colombo city alone, it will find that a sizeable number of Tamils did support and vote for Mahinda in preference to Ranil.

Of course these are hard facts to swallow to persons who believe in vote banks among communities. It is even harder to accept by those intent on depicting Rajapakse as a hawk or hardliner, even after the electorate paid scant regard to such propaganda.

One must remember that the victory of Mahinda Rajapakse came in the face of a costly publicity appeal to the forces of extremism among Christians and those opposed to any form of radicalism, carried on through the media in the most provocative nature. "Christians Awake!" said one such screaming message.

Yes, they did awake and decided on Mahinda Rajapaksa as their choice, and not the purveyors of crude religious fanaticism.

Strategy of terror

The election is now over. The LTTE is unleashing its strategy of terror that it had planned to carry out for sometime, possibly with a preference for Rajapakse as President. They did not honour the Ceasefire Agreement when the UNP was in office. They violated it further when the UPFA took over office under President Kumaratunga.

They have now accelerated the pace of violations, which even the SLMM may not be able to keep count of or will consider worthless doing so.

Surely, this cannot be the time to portray President Rajapakse as the agent or creature of Sinhala Buddhist extremism.

His policy statement brings out the best in the Buddhist teaching and Sinhala tradition.

Why not give those a chance instead of being crusaders for the cause of separation brought about by terror and oppression of the very people the LTTE claims to seek liberation for?

How is it that those who see the representation of Sinhala Buddhist extremism in Mahinda Rajapakse not notice the most glaring extremism of the terrorist kind in the LTTE and Prabhakaran? Are they blind or do they not wish to see the reality?

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