It has been a long time since I wrote anything about my country-in-law, namely Sri Lanka. Now is as good a time as any since the island nation is preparing for an early election called by President Mahinda Rajapaksa amid serious political acrimony and defections from his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led ruling alliance.
One trivial albeit pleasant aside to returning to Sri Lanka as a subject matter is one encounters lovely names that sound like straight out of Emperor Ashoka’s time. For instance, the man leading the rebellion against the president is Maithripala Sirisena. Some of you might know that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country. Incidentally, the name Mahinda (Mahindra in Sanskrit) is also shared by a 3 BCE Buddhist monk and a son of Ashoka’s who is credited with having brought Buddhism to the island. But I digress.
My immediate interest is the presence of the Hindi cinema grandee Salman Khan along with former Miss Sri Lanka turned Hindi cinema actress Jacqueline Fernandez to lend weight to Rajapaksa’s apparently beleaguered campaign. Speaking of lovely singsong names, it has been suggested by Rajapaksa’s critics that rather than roping in Khan-Fernandez from Mumbai, he should have asked local movie stars Amardeva and Malini Fonseka.
The United People’s Freedom Alliance, the coalition controlled by the president, lost its two-thirds majority after Sirisena and others defected. He is now a major challenger to Rajapaksa’s supremacy over Sri Lanka. By the way, Sirisena’s full name is Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena who studied political science at Maxim Gorky Literature Institute.
Speaking of Khan and Fernandez, I find it fascinating that for an avowedly Buddhist leader his two star campaigners are a combination of Hindu-Muslim (Khan) and Burgher-Christian (Fernandez). Incidentally, the Burghers are unique to Sri Lanka as descendants of the European colonists from the 16th century onward. They were predominantly men of Dutch-Portuguese-British descent who married Sri Lankan women. Only in South Asia would you have a combination of four major religions fused doing things together. Of course, what unites them here is entirely political. Khan enjoys celebrity that seems to be agnostic to the kind of campaign he might be endorsing. He had famously sort of endorsed India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The election is scheduled for January 8, two years earlier than it might normally have been because President Rajapaksa wants to tide over both the rebellion as well as dwindling popularity. He has been in office since November 2005.