All Cabinet ministers are equal in rank, technically, but not all their portfolios are equally prestigious. Cabinet reshuffles, therefore, invariably lead to disgruntlement among those who lose their previously held plum portfolios and others who fail to secure them. Only a few Cabinet ministers are happy in any government. Politicians have an insatiable desire for power and prestige, and it is only natural that Monday’s mini-Cabinet reshuffle, here, has left some ministers unhappy.

Pavithradevi Wanniarachi, who was the Health Minister, has been appointed the Transport Minister, and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has got the Health portfolio; Prof. G. L. Peiris, who held the Education portfolio, has been made the Foreign Minister, and Dinesh Gunawardena has been removed as the Foreign Minister and appointed the Education Minister; Gamini Lokuge, who was the Minister of Transport has replaced Minister of Power Dullas Alahapperuma, who has been appointed the Media Minister. Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa has received an additional portfolio—development supervision and coordination.

The only thing explicable about Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle was the bonus for Namal. The Sports Ministry is important, butmuch gravitas does not accrue from it to an ambitious politician, especially the scion of a political family. Therefore, Namal was given something extra so that he can outshine others, especially the young politicians in the SLPP. Apart from that, political observers are still trying to figure out what really made President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to effect a limited reshuffle, at this juncture. There have been various explanations. It is being claimed some quarters that he is concerned about the problems in the education and health sectors. Whatever the reasons for the presidential action in question may be, it left at least two ministers unhappy—Wanniarachchi and Alahapperuma. In the case of the latter, there is some consolation because he is an ex-scribe and loves the media. In the case of Pavithra, the transport portfolio is not something much sought-after, given the fact that the state-owned bus and train services are huge liabilities and full of problems,and the private bus service is a nightmare for even a toughie like Lokuge. She, who was with doctors, is now with conductors, as cynics say.

A story inside a story

Pavithra tried to look unfazed after the reshuffle, on Monday, but not even her KN-95 face covering could mask her dejection. Many a true word is said to be spoken in jest. This is just what Pavithra did, in her farewell speech at the Health Ministry perhaps subconsciously, on Monday. She said that one had to take things as they came and remain optimistic without losing hear. Choked with emotion, she related a parable about aking and his advisor to drive her point home and probably to give her speech a Buddhistic touch. Here is an English translation of the story told by her: A king, accompanied by his chief advisor, set out on a journey through a jungle, and shot an arrow at a deer on the way only to be disappointed; an alarmed antelope galloped away, leaving the king red-faced. The advisor asked the king to look at the positive side of it. Another deer came within their sight, and the king tried to kill it, but missed the aim again. His advisor said the same thing again. They proceeded and the king drew his royal sword and a part of one of his fingers got cut off accidentally. The advisor asked the king, writhing in pain, to look at the positive side of what had happened to him. The latter flew into a rage and threw the former into a wayside pit, and trekked alone. A group of tribesmen, engaged in a ritual, caught him. They were about to sacrifice him, when they saw his injury; they set him free because they were looking for someone with all his or her limbs intact. The king remembered his advisor’s words. He retraced his steps and pulled his companion out of the pit, apologizing profusely. The advisor said there was no need for an apology because the king’s angry reaction had done him good. A perplexed king wanted to know what good his angry reactionhad done to the latter, who said, “If you had not thrown me into the pit, I would have gone with you, and my limbs being intact, the tribesmen would have sacrificed me.” Pavithra said she also looked at the positive side of the Cabinet reshuffle, and hoped for the best.

The political subtext of the parable related by Pavithra not only betrays her inner feelings but also conveys a message;when things go wrong for a king, he takes it out on others who offer wise counsel. But those who are loyal to him should bear it up as he is sure to realize they were right and he was wrong and regret his hostile actions. What one gathers from Pavithra’s story is that she has chosen to exercise patience and remain optimistic, taking things as they come. She seems to think that getting the Transport Ministry is much better than being left without any ministry, at all. This is positive thinking. Maybe, she is hoping to get a better ministry one day. Hope springs eternal.

Alahapperuma is said to be one of the senior SLPP politicians who feel they are not being treated fairly. Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa are also among the disgruntled members of the SLPP parliamentary group. These MPs are said to believe that an attempt is being made to smoke them out. This is why some of them have said someone in the SLPP is emulating Felix Dias Bandaranaike in the SLFP-led United Front government (1970-77); he was blamed for elbowing out the SLFP’s leftist allies.

Ex-scribe helms Media Ministry

It may not be preposterous for anyone to argue that the partial Cabinet reshuffle was intended to take Pavithra and Dallas down a peg or two. They have not ruffled the feathers of their political bosses and, therefore, are not marked targets. But the question is why the really inefficient and incompetentmembers of the Cabinet have been able to retain their portfolios. Some of them are also not in the good books of the powers that be.

One may not be able to figure out what actually caused Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle, but it has had an unsettling effect on the dissenters holding ministerial posts. Curiously, some constituents of the SLPP coalition, on Thursday (19), wrote to President Rajapaksa calling for a countrywide lockdown whilepraising the government for its vaccination programme. Ministers Weerawansa and Gammanpila are among those who signed the letter to the President. They are not critical of the government, but they have struck a discordant note.

The SLPP government is faced with many challenges on various fronts, and what it needs most, at this hour, is unity. It is yet to face a mid-term election, and dissention within its ranks augurs ill for it. It has to keep its approval ratings high and improve its performance amidst the pandemic, which has put paid to its development efforts, if it is to avoid unpleasant surprises. If the government leaders are wise, they will heed the hidden story in Pavithra’s farewell speech, and act accordingly.


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