By Vishwamithra –
The situation is approaching irreversible proportions. If it were only the Covid-19 virus, maybe, perhaps maybe, we may have had a chance of recovery within a reasonable period of time. But it was too little too soon for the governing principals to cope with. Their elemental qualities took over the already-corrupt temperaments. Whatever happens to the real victims of the deadly virus that has been claiming millions of lives all over the globe, how could the Covid virus benefit me? That was the recurring stanza ringing in the ears of our corrupt, dishonest and dishonorable rulers.
Sri Lanka, which was engaged in a brutal civil war for nearly thirty years, had to fight another battle on a different and unfriendly terrain. The Covid-19 virus is no friendly gentleman who happened to visit us in the evening for a drink and a chat.
Surrounded by these most unfortunate circumstances, it may be time to reflect upon our short 70 plus years of self-rule after Independence. From D S Senanayake to Nandasena Rajapaksa in the political landscape, what was once known as an ideological difference has become a stark transformation from decency to socio-political lewdness; one from commitment to the country and its people to naked exploitation; one from accountability to blatant immunity from the law of the land. It is not only a sense of lamentable apathy on the part of the rulers and the ruled, it is a dangerous harbinger of much worse to come. What seemed at the very outset of Independence to be a gradual decline of time-tested values and traditional norms has accelerated its process of decay where the proverbial point of no return has long been passed.
Pancha Maha Balavegaya (five-pillared-force as S W R D Bandaranaike defined his political storm in 1956), in today’s analysis, consists of the three Bandaranaikes and the two Rajapaksas. What a tragicomedy of political drama?
SWRD, as he was fondly known among the broad masses, introduced the Swabhasha policy creating a brazen division between the majority Sinhalese and Tamils and this single piece of legislation became one of the most divisive, intended or otherwise, legislative measures that created an irreparable division between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. The drastic consequences experienced in the wake of the passage of the Sinhala only policy of the S W R D-government are being felt even today. Whilst it could not be named as the sole factor that resulted in the 27-year war between the Tamil militants and Sri Lankan security forces, it certainly was one of the principal contributors towards the widening of the gulf between the two ethnic groups who claim Sri Lanka as their motherland.
With the beginning of the destructive language measure, the slogan of ‘Ape Aanduwa’ (our government) introduced into our legislative body, played a very vital role in introducing into the local political arena a set of uneducated, unskilled and dishonest politicians whose primary aim was to enrich themselves at the expense of the broad masses who elected them to office. Slow death of accountability began with this uncouth set of parliamentarians and the total apathy displayed by their leader, S W R D, only encouraged these evil-doers. One glaring example was the indifference shown by Prime Minister Bandaranaike towards the illicit affair that was carried on by the then Kelaniya Temple Chief prelate Mapitigama Buddharakkhitha and the then Minister of Health Wimala Wijeywardene. Ultimately Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk who was one of the card-carrying loyalists of Bandaranaike’s Pancha Maha Balavegaya, headed at the time by none other than Buddharakkhitha himself. Such ironies of history are rare and they are equally cruel too.
SWRD Bandaranaike’s unwise and short-sighted policy of Sinhala Only and misplaced sense of social justice were yet to produce their mega size repercussions later in the 2nd half of the twentieth century, in the sixties and the seventies. Nevertheless, to eternal credit to S W R D, he did not indulge in nepotism as it was to manifest itself in the ugliest forms during times of his widow Sirimavo, daughter Chandrika and the Rajapaksas, Mahinda and Nandasena. Yet the seeds were thrown into a soil that was yearning for such weed to emerge late in the day.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, though the total opposite of S W R D in education, intellectualism and erudition, cut herself as a singularly ruthless vengeful ruler whose ego was even larger than her late husband’s store of knowledge and education. Her pursuit of happiness dwelt in finding a place for her kith and kin and she never hesitated to look after them with lucrative jobs and positions. Her fondness towards her only son Anura knew no bounds and went in the wrong way to show that fondness by sidelining other qualified leaders and men and women of intellectual stature at the time. No mother can be found fault with for loving her children; but when she does it as a political leader of a Nation-State and does it at the sacrifice of more qualified and suitable persons, it is a sin bordering on political criminality.
Under Sirimavo, the Bandaranaike ‘Family Tree’ grew; its roots, stem, branches and leaves and fruits were all Bandaranaikes, Ratwattes or Paranagamas or some others of Kandiyan Radala aristocracy. Her short-lived political marriage with the then leftist parties led by Dr. N M Perera and Pieter Keuneman brought the country’s economy close to near collapse. The leftist policies implemented by her government caused such hardships to the countrymen so much that consumption of rice was banned on Tuesdays and Fridays. Rationing of essential food items created a total scarcity in the marketplace, people resorted to looting and digging into dustbins on the roadsides. Parents sent their school going children to the bread queue at 3 o’clock in the morning. Scarcity was the order of the day; yet Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her kinsman Felix Dias ruled as if the country was their own playground. They were so blind to the realities of daily hardships imposed by their own imprudent policies, they went around the country holding fussy tamashas (upahara rallies) lauding tribute to their own friends holding political office. It was firstly ugly then they completely turned into comic extravaganzas.
But the worst feature of this government, except of course the economic debacle the country was plunged into, was the absolute breakdown in discipline amongst their parliamentarians. Some members happened to attend parliament under the total influence of alcohol; it was a national embarrassment and Sirimavo Bandaranaike chose to ignore this obscene spectacle.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunga
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunga’s tenure was utterly forgettable. Apart from being the most unpunctual President, she did not have anything else to write home about. Once again, the complete absence of accountability on the part of the Bandaranaikes, was quite visible during Chandrika’s regime. It was known all over the country that she did not take any action against a well-known Cabinet Minister after he was caught red-handed in a lewd behavior with a member of the fairer sex inside his Ministry office!. Instead of taking prompt action and setting an example to the rest of the country, her option to remain quiet did more to speak about her own personal conduct than the accused Minister.
Total apathy towards a modicum of accountability is a dishonorable badge all the Bandaranaikes wore without shame. Set against such a miserable precedent, the Rajapaksas came to wield the same power and now a synopsis about their sad saga:
Mahinda Rajapaksa and Nandasena Rajapaksa- Twin Tower
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a remarkable man. What was presented to him as what is possible with power, he managed to show his masters and mistresses as to whether there was anything that was not possible. He extended the borderline of corruption, nepotism and dishonesty. He went where no Sri Lankan ruler had gone before. If Sirimavo’s was a Family Tree, Mahinda’s is a Family Forrest. He placed his elder brother, Chamal as Speaker of the House of Parliament; then younger one, Gotahaya as Secretary of Defense, Basil, the most profoundly unpleasant man as Minister of Economic Development and his son, Namal as heir apparent.
Mahinda in effect set in motion the crude yet inevitable path to political nastiness which their henchmen perceive as political glory. In their ignominious presence, honesty faded into nothingness; morality disappeared into thin air and decency lost its sheen.
The difference between the Bandaranaikes and the Rajapaksas is simple: Bandaranaikes are either dead or retired while the Rajapaksas are still consuming the country’s heart, body and soul. However much one could disagree with the Bandaranaikes, he or she cannot say that they, the Bandaranaikes, subjected the country’s men and women to death to facilitate themselves or their kith and kin to make a quick buck. But now that accusation is out there; the Covid-19 pandemic is being used as a prime opportunity for them and their cohorts to make money. Covid deaths don’t count as sad departures of their own brethren; the more the number of deaths, the more money they and their henchmen can make. What a proposition!
The Bandaranaikes were bad for the country and yet the Rajapaksas are worse.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org