By Emil van der Poorten –
When I decided to use an old quote about history repeating itself I was torn between George Santayana’s that went, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and what Karl Marx had to say on the same subject: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” because either would have fitted the bill with regard to what I am about to say apropos of the legislation stampeded through Parliament which enables the current regime to appropriate whatever they want, whenever they want and distribute that largesse that emerges from the ensuing arrangement among themselves, their friends and relations. The Divineguma Bill which has resulted in the government pulling out all the stops to ensure its swift passage a la the 18th Amendment to the Constitution is only the most recent example of the tightening noose of absolutism in this country.
Members of the ruling junta have, in interviews with the media on the subject, displayed a monumental arrogance in that they have continued to display their propensity for platitudes in responding to the questions, though not even making a pretense of denying their readiness to take whatever they pleased from whomever they pleased!
What has gone with this all-encompassing “entitlement” has been iron-fisted vindictiveness that had precedent in the days of Mrs Srimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike’
I know that Vickramabahu Karunaratne in an English Sunday newspaper (not the Sunday Leader) , sometime ago, made specific reference to legislation brought in by Mrs. Bandaranaike’s regime that was driven by the same motivation.
“Bahu’s” contribution to the discussion certainly struck a chord with me because I had very personal experience of the vindictive behaviour by the government of that day (Mrs. B’s) that went after me as a political opponent of the time. However, in all fairness, apart from providing “jobs for the boys” there was no element of using the land acquired for purposes of self-aggrandizement, either by the perpetrators or their acolytes. In that time, since Kobbekaduwa and Ilangaratne couldn’t lay their hands on land that I owned, they got the closest van der Poortens they could. Interestingly, both of those were lifetime leftists one of whom had his first experience of a police baton cracking his head working for Mrs. Tamara Kumari Ilangaratne in a by-election (that she won) in Kandy! However, when it comes to the obsessive need for revenge such niceties got laid by the wayside, one van der Poorten being as good as another! There was a happy ending of a sort to that particular saga, though, when, after the fall of Mrs. B, the courts, in a landmark decision, adjudicated that the acquisition had been based on pure and simple vindictiveness, made mala fide, and returned the land to my siblings! While that was a precedent-setting decision there is no likelihood of a similar dispensation of justice by the Courts now because, thanks to J. R. Jayewardene’s constitution, improved upon by Mahinda Rajapaksa, such would, literally, be impossible in now what passes for a “democratic” government. Also, insofar as so-called “Land Reform” is concerned, all I have to do is, literally, look around me to appreciate the fact that 1500 acres of agricultural land which belonged to members of my family which has been parceled out by Land Reform has been reduced to: possibly, a hundred acres of productive plantation and 1400 acres of “mana” (Guinea) grass which is of no use to man or beast!
When it came to the need to whack a UNP stalwart in the person of Daya Gamage such action was made even more logical when one could, almost literally, channel the sugar syrup spoils into the vats of a political friend who was waiting with bated breath, liquor-manufacturing licence in hand, for this largesse that might, otherwise, not have been available to him. Another “no brainer!”
The immediate reaction of local capitalists to all of this was to make renewed efforts to display their loyalty/sycophancy by funding and joining a junket to the Caribbean to promote/secure the largest (up to that time) circus in the bread and circuses circuit of the Rajapaksa Regime – the 2018 Commonwealth Games. This was what proved to be the first act of obeisance of a horde that has continued to support every hare-brained scheme for the glorification of the present regime. As a response to the myopia displayed thereby might I suggest they get somebody to write down what Pastor Niemoller had to say (and experience) under Adolf Schickelgruber’s Third Reich and stick it on their mirrors so that they can’t miss seeing it every morning? The behaviour of these guys (and they do seem, without exception, men) is such that I suspect that in their greed and stupidity they will continue to live in a fool’s paradise in which they believe they will be immune to what happens to their business colleagues (and the rest of the country) as the days drift by. I suppose these businessmen have been so busy padding their bottom lines under the current Libertarian Dispensation that they haven’t had the time to read any history! As for the rest of us: I don’t think many will be shedding any tears over these greedy little overnight-acolytes of the Rajapaksas (as they were of Jayewardene and Premadasa before him). They will deserve every little bit of grief that awaits them, particularly after what the larger swathe of the Sri Lankan population will have endured by the time the final collapse arrives. However, as a little act of charity may I refer them to a lady called Naomi Klein whose words of wisdom I shall never tire of paraphrasing. Referring to Dubya Bush and his helpmates she said, essentially, “Don’t try to place them in some frame of philosophy or principle insofar as their behaviour is concerned. Their conduct is driven by greed and the need to make themselves and their friends rich.” Does that sound familiar in the context of what is happening in the Miracle of Asia?
A matter of some interest in the business of targeting and then “rehabilitating” opponents is the fate that has befallen “Dirty Harry” Jayawardena who was seen as the one to pull the chestnuts out of the Petroleum Corporation fire for H. M. the President. However, it did not, it seems, give him adequate protection from the hatred that simmered beneath the surface which went back to his being “Chandrika’s Banker,” not quite “God’s Banker” from the days of the huge Vatican financial scandals, but near enough from a Sri Lankan perspective. Soon enough though, Harry was returned to the government’s doghouse when a scapegoat was required for the contaminated petroleum scandals.
Returning to the political theorist and the philosopher with whose names I opened this column, let me say that I believe both their quotations to be more than apt given the context in which I considered using them. The tragedy, though, would be that those of us who, in spite of not being a part of the problem and who have been forced into the role of spectators by the Rajapaksa Regime, are going to suffer the tragedy of Niemoller’s Germany, without the amusement that Marx suggested might be in store for us!