‘Party before post’

timthumbIt is very seldom that SLFP politicians have a kind word to say about the late President J. R. Jayewardene, who is blamed for all present-day politico-economic or even socio-cultural ills in this country. But, never do they hesitate to emulate him when it serves their purpose. They make a public display of their contempt for the Constitution he introduced in 1978 while making the best use of it to perpetuate their power; they won’t let go of the executive presidency which they once dubbed the mother of all evils.

Minister Basil Rajapaksa, however, has, in an interview with a weekend newspaper, broken with the SLFP tradition to appreciate something the late president did. JRJ, he says, had the wisdom not to appoint senior party officials like the General Secretary and the Treasurer Cabinet Ministers. On being praised by his rivals, the Old Fox must be guffawing wherever he may be!

Why Minister Rajapaksa has suddenly remembered JRJ’s ‘good deeds’ we don’t know, but the late president’s policy that those holding key positions in the UNP should not contest elections or receive ministerial positions reminds us of a political masterstroke by an ambitious and equally paranoid Indira Gandhi in the early 1960s when her illustrious father Nehru was too sick to run the Congress government and she felt that the prospect of her ascent to power was bleak.

Probably, JRJ took a leaf out of Indira Gandhi’s book. In 1963, it may be recalled, the Congress Working Committee ratified what came to be termed the ‘Kamaraj Plan’ which was said to be the outcome of discussions between K. Kamaraj and PM Nehru on how to strengthen their party. The slogan associated with that plan was ‘Party before Post’. Senior Congress leaders were urged to resign as cabinet ministers and chief ministers and engage in full-time party work. That was an adroit move the party seniors could not oppose as it was made out to be the ailing PM’s brainchild.

In keeping with the Kamaraj Plan, a list of six chief ministers and six Cabinet ministers including the heavyweights of the calibre of S. K. Patil, C. B. Gupta, Moraji Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram, Biju Patnaik and K. Kamaraj himself, was prepared. They were asked to resign and help revitalise the Congress! Both PM Nehru and Kamaraj, the eponym of the plan, reportedly denied any responsibility for preparing that list. Political observers have claimed that it had Indira’s signature because she, feeling increasingly insecure and troubled by a gnawing fear of being smoked out after her father’s death, wanted to clip the wings of the Congress leaders so as to consolidate her power in the party.

Ministers holding key posts in the SLFP need not worry about the fate of the aforesaid Congress leaders befalling them. The question of their having to give up either their ministerial posts or party positions which help them build support within the ranks does not arise because the president of the SLFP also holds political office; he is the current holder of the executive presidency!

However, prime ministerial and presidential aspirants in the SLFP are likely to get further into the web of intrigue in internal party politics, and their jousting for supremacy is bound to intensify in time to come. For, with a general election expected before mid-2015, the party will have to decide who its next Prime Minister will be in the event of its victory.

In the run-up to the last North-Western PC polls, President Mahinda Rajapaksa jokingly called the contest a race among chief ministerial candidates. The SLFP is not short of prime ministerial hopefuls as well and they will be using a whole bag of JRJ tricks, as it were, to ruin one another’s chances of securing that coveted post. It will be a case of ‘post before the party’.