13/07/2003 - The Sunday Leader
The 'warm and cool' of straight politics
Milinda Moragoda was once taken to task by two journalists. This was during a symposium at which he was a speaker. Moragoda was questioned on the biased reporting that was taking place on the peace process and one journalist charged that the government had its spies in news organisations.
To the charges was included Moragoda being a US stooge. The sweat beads on Moragoda's forehead gave away the fact that he was not enjoying the encounter. But, the answers he gave were nonchalant. Moragoda stuck to his point despite the prodding by the journalists.
In effect, Moragoda was performing his part, that of the new breed of politician. The one who is willing to tell the truth and tell it at whatever cost.
His book “A Warm Heart, a Cool Head and a Deep Breath” is a reflection of this. It is not really Moragoda's philosophy that is in the book. The collection of speeches is a collective voice of what he has been in public.
"And as for us today, there is a choice. The choice of becoming in the 21st century the Hong Kong of South Asia, or of becoming the Balkans, the Yugoslavia of South Asia. As of now, I believe that we are headed towards the latter," he said in his maiden speech in parliament on December 8, 2000.
Even then Moragoda was quite frank about him being among Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's chosen few. He was an advocate as well as a believer in the Ranil philosophy.
Two years down the line Moragoda is a point man in the peace process. Whenever the opportunity presented, Moragoda tried to be frank.
"Ahead of us lies a long, arduous journey. Even after an agreed devolution of powers and the resumption of normal social and economic exchange among all the parts of our country, there will remain the immense task of preparing the minds of future generations to absorb the lessons of a tragic past." He did not say this yesterday. This was the day after the MoU went through, addressing the media.
The speeches give insight into what Moragoda has uttered in public, but whether voters believe him is not dealt with. Moragoda's chosen path, that of a UNP politician is not the most trusted in the public's eye. His predecessors and some colleagues in the present parliament have done their level best to make sure that public trust is zero if not below.
And at times Moragoda sounds little too good to be true. In the viscous political culture to which he was born to like the rest of us, has taught hard lessons not to believe the saints. The US connection has been used by many a distractor to taunt Moragoda as another Yankee Dikey in the making.
"If the United States were truly to accept and undertake the role of leader, for which its achievements unquestionably qualify it; if it were to apply its substantial resources to the promotion of democracy and free trade worldwide and do so with respect for its partners and with patience and restraint that the strong should show those less strong, then not only would the security of the world be enhanced and the causes which erode security and breed terrorism be removed, but the world would look with fresh eyes upon its hegemony. You may then still hear the cry 'Americans, go home!' but it may well be accompanied by the refrain “...but please, take me with you!" Cool stuff, but say that to Iraqis.
The idea that he is carrying a brief for the Americans is heightened by such statements. Moragoda is in no position to change that with a collection of speeches. The US role in world affairs can undermine Moragoda. But he has never changed his line when coming under political fire.
The advantage that Moragoda has is that his most immediate appeal would be to the Colombo constituency which is more attuned to world affairs than the rest of country. The villages may buy the anti-US speak, but he still would be able to make his point to the voters who matter for the time being.
To add to the woes he has been targeted by the likes of Wimal Weerawansa of the JVP: when anti-Americanism is a convenient flag, Moragoda runs the risk of being the pole.
Trying to change the public mindset would be his biggest challenge. Whether he could do that is a toss up question. Others have failed and power corrupts in this country. Moragoda has made his vow that he is out to change this.
Only time will tell whether he would succeed.
He would have to prove that it most certainly is a warm heart and a cool head, not a calculating brain and a cool head.