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Boon in disguise

Published : Apr 20, 2012 00:00 IST

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Distributing stickers demanding the boycott of U.S. products, in Colombo on March 23.-ISHARA S.KODIKARA/AFP

Distributing stickers demanding the boycott of U.S. products, in Colombo on March 23.-ISHARA S.KODIKARA/AFP

In many ways, the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution came at a good time for President Mahinda Rajapaksa. People were on the streets protesting against price hikes, and the police were repeatedly called in to disperse demonstrators. In one instance, a fisherman died in police firing.

Prices of all essential commodities have shot up in the recent past in Sri Lanka. Fuel prices were hiked over 40 per cent and the cascading effect was felt in almost all sectors mainly in transport costs and food prices. Also, the Sri Lankan Central Bank decided to stop propping up the Sri Lankan rupee, which was losing steadily against the dollar. Since February 9, the rupee has lost more than 12 per cent against the dollar.

This made imports expensive. Sri Lanka relies heavily on imports. For instance, 80 per cent of the medicines required are imported from India. In addition to this, by repeatedly antagonising its major markets the United States and Europe over its human rights record, it lost some of the export concessions it had enjoyed earlier.

Soon after the UNHRC resolution became public, the government began organising protests. Now it was outside forces that were at the receiving end. All sections of society organised protests Tamils, public and private sector workers, trade unions, young entrepreneurs, Muslims, Buddhist monks, musicians and Ministers and condemned the U.S. and other Western powers. Surprisingly, there was little anti-India rhetoric.

The season of protests is not yet over. Now the focus seems to be on identifying the traitors.

Obviously, there is only so much of diversion that people can put up with. Bread-and-butter issues are again to the fore. Economy watchers say that the same conditions that led to the 40 per cent plus fuel hike in February exist now. There seems to be no escape from yet another debilitating price hike.

Conventionally, a full stomach produces a vocal patriot. As pressure mounts on the common man to make ends meet each day, he is unlikely to bother about what the man in the White House is up to in the cosy comforts of climate-controlled hotels in Geneva. He might just decide to trek to Temple Trees the Sri Lankan President's official residence and demand his meal. And, he is unlikely to be alone.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Apr 20, 2012.)

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