Barely two months ago, when David Cameron was here on his CHOGM visit, he made a statement which expressed his concern and scorn of how the humanitarian issues in the North are being handled. In Cameron’s visit to the North he was reported to have met diverse segments of the Northern communities and his parting comments were set to displease many stooges and supporters of the Regime; including its well-pupped contingent of journalists.
Among those who begged to differ from Cameron was the former Cricketer, Muttiah Muralitharan who had insisted that Sri Lanka was much different from the picture Cameron and co had painted; and that he — a Tamil — knew better than the rest as to how egalitarian Sri Lanka has evolved to be: a land of milk and honey for the Sinhalese and the Tamils alike and sundry.
Muralitharan was more popular than Jesus — if the Regime’s “chosen” were ever waiting for the arrival of a Saviour. In a parallel universe, the diplomatic Chris Nonis was playing some witty ping pong at the absence of Christine Amanpour and the sportsman in Murali became the mascot of CHOGM Disaster Management (featuring, the Rajapakshic Media Machine).
Barely two months from Murali’s public doosra against Cameron, rumour runs riot that the very same Muralitharan is tipped off to be the governing United People’s Freedom Alliance’s (UPFA) Chief Ministerial candidate for the upcoming Western Provincial Council election. Of course, this is not a major surprise either, for for mild mannered Murali to mark his run up against Cameron has to have a impetus that need not necessarily be within the 15 degree tolerance level given by the International Cricket Council for bowlers bowling with a bent arm. It is no debate as to how much Muralitharan can speak on behalf of the ravaged North — a 26 year site of protracted warfare — for Murali is neither a citizen nor a victim of that war. Being of Malayha Tamil origins, Murali was more a spectator of a dirtier political game that dug in the Northern soil holes that cannot be easily filled. Therefore, Muralitharan cannot truly empathize, though his concern of the Northern Tamil has, in the past, often been marked with acts of sympathy and relief.
The unclear part of the story, however, is as to how Muralitharan got drawn into the Chief Ministerial contest, set to unfold in 2014? Was Muralitharan aware of this move-to-be even when he decided to go public against Cameron? Or, was this a post-CHOGM development, altogether? Is Muralitharan free in his ability to make a conscious choice whether to contest or not (if nominated as CM candidate, that is) and what would the stakes be on which that choice will be balanced? There, once again, is a rumour that Muralitharan’s connection in this Election Drama is an inevitable star appearance the former cricketer will have to make, as a compromise to a “dirty deal” in which someone close to him is involved. But, of course, this is rumour and we don’t establish our judgment on unestablished facts.
Muttiah Muralitharan was, for nearly two decades Sri Lanka’s ace spinner and match winner. He has in excess of 800 Test wickets — more than any other bowler in the history of the game, and more than any bowler will ever get in the years to come — and is popularly ranked as the second best spin bowler of our generation, after Australia’s Shane Warne. He is also a player who, unlike many international Cricketers who balanced the sport with its business acumen, did not retire until retirement was begging him for consideration. Muralitharan easily played 2-3 seasons with waning power and with his sting getting lesser and lesser. A Caesar can afford to rest on accumulated laurels for a year or two and hence, Muralitharan played on. He also played a lucrative stint in the multi-million dollar Indian Premier League, badly under-performing in his last two seasons, but with an eye on the jack pot.
When Muralitharan speaks out the way he did against Cameron — considering that Muralitharan is a level-headed Sri Lankan citizen who has spent his adult life on Island Paradise — one has to discriminate among the many profiles that are merged together as Muttiah Muralitharan. Of course, he is a star sportsman — that is why we are urged to believe his judgment. What is peddled as credibility in Murali’s statement is not the scientific research he may have conducted to ensure us that the Northern Tamil is now set on terra firma, but his image and mileage as a sports star.
Secondly, Murali is a Tamil national, Therefore, even if Murali’s ancestry and family tree does not necessarily seek the same “homeland” as majority of the Tamil nationals of the North — whose grief and loss Murali denies with his anti-Cameron delivery — for a readership to whom these distinctions do not matter (or to those who choose them as insignificant) Murali is “Tamil enough” to speak on behalf of the state.
Muralitharan is also a businessman at heart. This, among other aspects, is a cardinal consideration when assessing the weight of Muralitharan’s recent actions. Sri Lankan politics — as in the politics of many other parts of the world — is a business berth: a wicket with sufficient purchase for every barbet and bandicoot who has an ancestry, money, a business or popularity. Certificates and diplomas are irrelevant and expertise in a specialized field is merely optional. The popularity of cine stars and sports stars, therefore, is an instrument for any political overlord balancing the voter base of his party. Sanath Jayasuriya was a unprecedented success from Matara in 2010, though that gentleman’s contribution to national development is — arguably — at a different level, when juxtaposed with his stamina at Indian talent shows and Cricket matches organized between ministers and MPs.
Muralitharan is, however, the “Wily Ol’ Fox”, so Tony Greig used to say. As the saying goes, one may change the forest but one cannot change one’s spots. If — if — Murali is fielded as the UPFA’s Western Provincial candidate, not only will the “Little Murali” of yore be given a Big Pawn’s role to play, but it will also be interesting for us to see as to how he will, now, hold his bat.