By Vishwamithra –
Power, as a constantly moving legacy of those who held it, has its inherent baggage of corrupt and extremely dishonest elements. Its powerful and ambitious psychological rudiments call for more and more, exposing man’s greed and gluttony beyond all human characteristics and idiosyncrasies. No man or woman, who held political power, even for one single day, has been spared by the ugly fundamentals of this necessary but intrinsically obscene phenomenon. Our current President is one of those unfortunate creatures as well as a pathetic victim of this powerful and dishonorable venture of pursuit of power which is also called politics. His failure to rise above the fray and communicate an understandable message in un-nuanced terms is costing the country dearly. Yet the more telling tragedy is that our Prime Minister too has joined the President in this naive enterprise of political messaging and taken the country and her people to a dangerous abyss of extinction as a diverse yet united people of different ethnicities.
The President’s deficiencies and inadequacies, his lack of intellectual prowess, his phony simplicity and above all else, his unadulterated sense of ungratefulness have been exposed in the current national crisis. Yet the current crisis is not simply a one of internal political gamesmanship; it is not a random occurrence of an inconsequential and superficial rivalry between two political schools of thought. On the contrary, it is of national and geopolitical significance and the very survival of a nation as one single community, as one single nation of Sri Lankans – not as different ethnic groups with tribal psyches – is at stake. All stakeholders are caught up in this unforgiving whirlpool of politicking.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too cannot be spared in this moment of national predicament. His lack of empathy has been largely bared open; the vernacular diction or lack thereof, coupled with a total absence of national-ness in the appeal to the people of the country, while making an otiose attempt to pass the buck, has largely contributed to a nation wondering whether she is to go forward, backward or stagnate. The resultant state of uncertainty has impaired the revival of our country’s economy and how far that impairment has reached an irreversible notch is anyone’s guess.
It is in the midst of this chaotic governance-milieu that the country is getting ready for the forthcoming Presidential Elections in January, 2020. It is not a very conducive background for an election. Yet we must be practical and must be prepared for what is looming ahead; the long process of societal development cannot be deterred, nor should it be decelerated. But an essential ingredient for such social progress is a pair of steady hands at the helm. But what is missing in action at this very moment is a steady hand controlled by a sturdier head.
But political intrigues and maneuverings are strange and sometimes bizarre. A political enemy of yesterday might well be a coalition partner the next day. There are no permanent enemies or permanent friends in politics. Maithripala Sirisena was just another product of the Bandaranaike revolution. His fidelity was more to the genre of the culture that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) created; his loyalty to that strand of life which constituted of servility and subservience to the elite of society, the Bandaranaikes, continued all the way up to the time he assumed some significant office in the party. The common man’s party was headed by the uncommon KGB (Kandyan, Govigama, Buddhist) element of society. Some SLFP stalwarts went to the extent of changing their names (especially to conceal the caste element) in order to fit into this decadent socio-political cabal.
When the Rajapaksas took control of the SLFP, this culture of subservience had taken deep root in the party. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s alleged behavior, although spoke more of an uneducated suburban political ruffian than that of a product of a low-country Southern family, reflected the obscene cultural patterns so set in by the widow of SWRD and her successors.
Defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa was a gargantuan task. Mahinda’s hold on his subordinates was absolute and with the aid of his brothers amongst whom was the one who controlled the Defense apparatus of the country, was total. But they forgot that Sri Lanka is a Democratic Republic. Her political leaders are elected to office by her people and when the election time comes, mere subservience to the ‘Lokkas’ (leaders) would not suffice. An attentive electorate always waits to pounce on those politicians whose misdeeds and abuse of power, during their tenure of office, come to limelight thanks to a more attentive civil society who had been harassed, intimidated and even murdered in broad daylight (such as Lasantha Wickrematunge, Sunday Leader Editor).
No man or woman can forget that, in the wake of Mahinda’s victory in the 2010 Presidential Elections, he humiliated his opponent, Sarath Fonseka, the war-hero, by manacling him and dragging him out of the Hotel he was staying in, and then let him rot in jail. He fired the Chief Justice via a fake impeachment. He allowed the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge to go un-inquired for years. All that time Maithripala was in bed with Mahinda Rajapaksa and the SLFP-cabal. His loyalty to the SLFP leadership has overwhelmed his fidelity to good governance.
That inner psyche seems to have taken control of his political decision-making mechanisms again. As much as this writer can see this, there is no doubt whatsoever that Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family too must have realized the subtlety of the workings of this political process. In that tortuous context, Mahinda Rajapaksa would consider Maithripala Sirisena as his best bet for the forthcoming Presidential Elections.
Today Maithripala Sirisena, current President, is the leader of the SLFP; Mahinda Rajapaksa is the virtual leader of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP-Pohottuwa). Both are wedded to the culture created by the Bandaranaikes and their successors. Their appeal to the fringe elements in their political parties cannot be underestimated. The next President will not be as powerful, especially in the context of constitutional powers, as his predecessors. Mahinda would be quite at home and content with the office of Prime Minister; added to that governing formula, he has some internal issues with his family. Some members of his family are vehemently opposed to the nomination of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. While Maithripala being still in control of the Ministry of Law and Order, facing an election with that apparatus in hand would be not only be quite easy but ideal. Mahinda lost the election despite the fact that his brother was in charge of the three Forces and the Police. But a circumstance in which him not having any of them in an election with the opponent having access to those engines of government would spell disaster.
One minus point of this formula of Mahinda–Sirisena partnership is that Sirisena has the dubious honour of being the most hated politician in the country today. Ranil Wickremasinghe must be thankful to that inexplicable circumstance. But unlike their self-appointed advisors and other social cockroaches, this is not a reality. They advise their ‘boss’ in a most strange way. These advisors are there to tell their boss what he likes to hear, not what he needs to hear. A very few leaders read anything beyond the headlines. Their news intake is watching their favorite television and what comes out of the tube is god-sent gospel. It is indeed a very tragic aspect of leadership, especially in the third-world where exposure to balanced points of view is a totally alien practice.
Rajapaksas may still think that Maithripala Sirisena as the Pohottuwa-candidate is a very viable one; when they are left with no alternative, they would have to embrace what is at hand and the most suitable ‘friend’ they have is Maithripala Sirisena. However, strange and weird it may seem, Mahinda Rajapaksa reaching to his tormentor in 2015 for his survival in 2020 and to ensure the succession story so that Namal Rajapaksa too can one day tell his grandchildren that not only their great grandfather, but their grandfather too was the leader of Sri Lanka, is not an impossibility.
Maybe politics might play its most cruel game in 2020. The current environment that is riddled with uncertainty and fear is not conducive to any long-term strategic planning, specifically in the political field. At this point, it may be very pertinent to quote Leon Trotsky who wrote thus: ‘You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you’. Usually most politicians are not accustomed to strategic planning; they have no time for long-term planning and nor do they have the capacity for such serious planning and moving ahead, but there are a few, a very few, serious politicians and it is they, as Trotsky says, who shall be found by strategy.