By Sarath De Alwis –
There is a slavish bondage between Mahinda Rajapaksa and his personal support base. He is a skilled communicator, eloquent and persuasive. He reaches the deepest recesses of emotions of a large section of our people. His devoted and loyal base does not believe that he or his family has either raided the coffers of the treasury or trampled on their civil liberties. Wimal, GL, Vasu and Dullas are canny, clever and crafty. Their sanity is not in doubt.
Limited in his nature, infinite in his desires, Man is a fallen god who remembers heaven’ wrote Alphonse de Lamertine poet and politician, in his poem L’homme – Man. He lived during the time of the social upheaval which we now call the French revolution. It made liberty and equality imperatives of civilized governance. Sri Lankans are not French. A stupid statement but it makes a point. The average Sinhala citizen would say Liberty, Equality and up yours.
By all counts, the fallen President, remembers the heaven he built and had to relinquish. He reclaims it unabashedly. His fame as the war winning Sinhala warrior is readily and willingly conceded by a majority of the majority. The infamy he has earned for financial profligacy, tyrannical governance and capricious corruption is confined to the razor thin majority that Venerable Sobhitha thero was able to muster on 8th January 2015.
President Sirisena and his Prime Minister Wickeremesighe have grossly underestimated him. That too is the result of unlimited desires on their part. The President has an abundant supply of naiveté. His Prime Minister has an enormous reservoir of arrogance. Those who put them in power have sleepless nights not because the ‘yahapalanaya’ has had a stillbirth which today is a given but the fear that Mahinda could still hijack the referendum on constitutional reforms.
Constitutional and electoral reforms, devolution of power, national reconciliation and a decisive break with tribal politics in favour of a modern national ethos faces a real and present danger. The phrase real and present danger is used advisedly. The danger is not potential but real. It is likely to cause a catastrophe if not immediately obstructed or neutralized.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is not planning a return as the war hero ousted in an election. The choreographed politics of the Joint Opposition, the existence of which we may deny at our own peril has him portrayed as the indigenous leader. Those responsible for his ouster are an unpatriotic clique who conspired with external enemies of the state. They have deprived the people of an enlightened ruler. He is a combination of a Sukarno and an Ali Bhutto.
The Sirisena Wickeremesinghe duumvirate has no idea of what he is up to. They are simply no match for his skills as a street fighter. His latest performance tells this writer that MR is frighteningly close to his prize. His new offensive is classic mob inspiring rhetoric. The video now available in the internet shows Mahinda the grassroots idol of the majority.
‘Mama Dunne Neha. Eyaa Balen Gaththa’ he tells an adulatory audience explaining that he represents the genuine Sri Lanka Freedom Party and that President Sirisena betrayed the principles of the centrist political movement founded by SWRD Bandaranaike. He puts D.A. Rajapaksa ahead of Sri Nissanka a deliberate distortion of history. But that is politics.
His tone is measured and mournful. Plaintive and poignant pleas have replaced defiant and definitive declarations. The intra party SLFP battle is his new theatre of war. Here he is at an advantage.
The SLFP was never a party with a core ideology. It was a reformist party as was conceived by its founder SWRD It worked on expedient adaptations. SWRD’s biographer James Manor called him the ‘The expedient utopian’.
Someone should explain to President Sirisena what the SLFP is about. This writer believes that he does not have the foggiest idea of what it is about.
Bandaranaike by forming the SLFP gave delicate wings to the Sri Lankan caterpillar in its colonial cocoon. In 1956 it broke out. Till then the UNP caterpillar thought that it had its world. To this day the UNP remains cocooned and the SLFP explores the world often with disastrous consequences. Between the UNP and the SLFP there is truly the dialogue of the progressives and the conservatives. As Chesterton observed one rushes to the ruins and the other admires the ruins. The UNP converts SLFP ruins in to sacred traditions and defends. Example – Sri Lankan airlines will not be sold. It will be reoriented. More of it in a later article.
The SLFP made mistakes. Sinhala only was not its mistake. Its mistake was the empowerment of the Buddhist Church. It is the Buddhist Church that compelled Bandaranaike to abandon the Bandranayake Chelvanyakam accord. The Buddha Sasana in the custody of the institution called the Sangha is a nebulous organism accountable to none but itself. In this day and age it wields a political clout that the Pope never possessed in the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne.
The Chancellor of the Jayawardenepura University Professor Dr. Bellanwila Wimalaratha Nayake Thero is on record that tame Elephants are essential for the preservation and propagation of Buddhism. The Venerable Monks gambit of making Elephants venerable was ingenious. He said that environmentalists in the country were at the beck and call of Western elements and had little knowledge of Sri Lankan culture. The elephants formed a part of the fourfold army of the ancient kings. The environmentalists of yore and animal lovers in the time of kings did not point an accusing finger at them.
On reading the learned Buddhist prelate’s plea to have tame elephant calves in temples this writer was reminded of that great passage in the ‘Buthsarana’ that describes the confrontation between the Buddha and the Nalagiri Tusker. “Aatha Budu Radunya. Maatha Nalagiri Athuya.” In Buddha’s day the villainous got the Elephant drunk to harm the serene one.
In this day the Elephant is a Buddhist icon and the election symbol of the UNP. Malcom Cardinal Ranjith is a realist. He visits the Sambodhi Viharaya and informs Maha Nayake Theros that the Church finds no reason to oppose the constitutional provision that accords foremost recognition to Buddhism. He visits the Maligawa and offers flowers to the sacred relics. What is his message? He is a true Christian and a realist. He renders unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. The Buddha that this writer is acquainted with was no Caesar. Therein lies the rub.
The SLFP is the party that made the enlightened one a Caesar. This writer was a reporter on the staff of the Ceylon Observer when the constituent assembly deliberated the 1972 Constitution. It had numerous steering committees under different chair persons. This is an anecdotal reference and the reader should take my word for it.
It was proposed that Mrs.Bandranayake should chair the steering committee on Buddhism. Being the astute politician, she suggested that the steering committee on Buddhism should be chaired by Dudley Senanayake – the ‘Upsaka Politician. The obstinate power drunk United Front Government was in no mood to accommodate the UNP reduced to eight members. But the selection of Dudley for this piece of mischief was clever politics by Felix Dias. And his aunt. Dudley Senanayake was genuinely uncomfortable at the prospect. Those were days when one on one l interviews were done without videos or tape recorders. This writer can recall his words of discomfort. ‘Politics compels me to take it. They are opening a Pandora’s Box. There will be a Buddhist commissioner and a Buddhist department. The damn monks will run all over.’ The words may not be exact but the meaning was precise.
Up to 1977, the SLFP was a strong political party with a literate leadership that stood for interventionist economics and reformist politics. It was the party that commanded the allegiance of economically disadvantaged groups.
Seventeen years in the wilderness depleted its ranks of the intelligentsia but was slowly on the recovery path. Except for Lakshman Kadirgamar, the party did not attract people of depth and experience. The new leader did make some miscalculations. She certainly caries the cake for enrolling academically accomplished G.L Peiris who’s dazzling display of political charlatanry is matchless.
The advent of Mahinda Rajapaksa was due to a combination of circumstances augmented by the Darwinian principal of survival. The appalling decision of the UNP and the JVP to field the former Army Commander against the incumbent President in 2010 was the straw that broke the hump of the Camel.
What was in the shadows was brought to the open. Militarism became an essential component of governance. The ruler in collusion with Buddhist monks the traditional moral arbiters, placed himself above the law. The vast majority of the majority did not mind that the protector of the state and the faith was exempt from the task of protecting democracy. Unfortunately that remains the ground reality after one and half years of good, bad and ugly governance of the Maithri-Ranil duumvirate.
In the intra SLFP battle, Mahinda Rajapaksa has the added advantage of having performers whose credibility among people remains substantially intact. People listen to Banduala Gunawardane and Dullas Alahapperuma.
President Sirisena has S.B. Dissanayake, Mahinda Amaraweera and Laksman Yapa Abeywardena. In our tribal politics, Mahinda Amaraweera has a restricted constituency. Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene is a Jonny come lately through the saloon door and Jimmy Packers Casino clown. People remember. S.B. Disanayake is taken seriously only by his current patron Maithripala Sirisena.
This writer has a friend who was a contemporary of S.B. Dissanayake at the Vidyodaya University. They were student leaders and comrades in struggle that comes in search of articulate minds in that stage in life.
My friend whom for the purpose of this narrative I shall call Abercrombie is a man of great enterprise. Just as Minister S.B. Dissanayake from his humble beginnings has ended up with Prime real estate in Colombo, Hanguranketha and Melbourne, my friend Abercrombie has climbed the greasy pole of economic success. Abercrombie’s rise in the elevator to his perch above Crescat Boulevard is known to the commissioner of Inland Revenue. Has Minister S.B.Dissanayake filed his tax friend says of SB. ‘Machang this …ker had a hard time then. He used to move about on an old rickety motor cycle. Now he is in orbit. Not in this planet. In a different galaxy!’
Whenever S.B. Dissanayake appears on TV, he reminds this writer of Dr. Mrs. Siva Chinnathamby. In her last will, she bequeathed her residence in a prime location of the city of Colombo to the University of Colombo. S.B. Dissanayake was the Minister of Higher Education.
S.B.Dissanayake lost at the last parliamentary elections. President Sirisena nominated him from the national list. It was as explained later an act to redress what he the reformer perceived as a wrong committed by the people.
This writer would suggest that our home grown Mandela seriously introspect on the suitability of S.B. Dissanayake to carry the torch that was held aloft by men of the hill country such as T.B.Illangeratne, Hector Kobbekaduwa and lesser known men such as P.M.K Tennakone the Sinhala poet from Mihintale, our Mandela’s back yard.
No Mr. President. If you think S.B. Dissanayke is made of the stuff that made the men I just mentioned, you live in cloud cuckoo land.