By Vishwamithra –
News in the grapevine is not good. As a matter of fact, it has not been favorable to the Rajapaksas for the last two years. Mahinda, the eldest, is not well. He is sick, can hardly walk without an aid. The prognosis is not auspicious either. Gotabaya, our President is imbalanced, control over his tongue is rather uncontrolled. Basil, the fake wizard of finance, is corrupt. For that matter, all the Rajapaksas are corrupt beyond debate and beyond limits. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest, when the rest of the Rajapaksas, Mahinda, Gotabaya, Namal and Chamal, occupy the 8th or 9th tier, Basil is solely in occupation of the 12th echelon. What a badge to wear.
Nevertheless, those who stand behind these hooligans in the ‘satakayas’ have not realized that their days are numbered too. Not that the elections are around the corner or fall of the regime is imminent, but they have willfully chosen to close their eyes and ears and as a result they neither see nor hear anything that is hostile or critical of their leader-family. Nor would they approach the King and his family to present a brief that contains more negatives than positives. That is the name of the game. The ship is not yet sinking, but the coming signs of a stormy weather are unmistakable. Rats start leaving only a sinking ship, not one that is caught up in high tides and frighteningly swirling storms.
Apart from the corrupt First Family and its obedient clowns, there is another group of pseudo dramatists who are crowding the political theater today. That is those who call themselves the Opposition comprising of parties led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Sunil Handunheththi and Vijitha Herath and Sajit Premadasa. Patali Champika Ranawaka, Kabir Hasheem and the rest. On paper, all these Opposition fellows look far more qualified in education, cultural and intellectual stature and social acceptance. Yet the popular feelings are rampant that all our politicians are incompetent, dishonest and fundamentally corrupt. One really cannot find fault with that assessment.
On the seventy fourth anniversary of our independence, it is indeed heartbreaking to pen some disheartening words on the abysmal fate of our nation-state. From D S Senanayake to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, each and every leader and each and every party that they lead need to take ownership of the current misery our people are living through. Everything, in politics as in all else, is relative. We might be able to pinpoint some years and eras that were relatively low in corruption and leaders were relatively less dishonest. But on the larger canvas of national life, the painting that appears is more gruesome in portrayal, melancholy in content and foreboding in messaging. Distorted laughs and shy smiles owe their presence to the fine lines of the artist and should be credited to his immaculate skill and craft rather than a reflection of a true depiction of living reality.
Advertising experts funded by the ill-gotten monies of the politicians have found a way to depict a completely different picture; a picture that oozes out illusions and mirages instead of truth and running water, so to speak. It is indeed an unending sad saga of a beleaguered nation that is agonizing to come to grips with a global epidemic on the one hand and grapple with unspeakable corruption of their political leaders on the other. Their religious leaders, some Buddhist monks who claim to be above mundane judgment, have taken the devotees for unresponsive robot-like followers, are lending their shrine rooms and temples for the most ghastly rituals of day-to-day exchange of money, women and wine.
A culture on the throes of extinction is being dramatized and its swan song is seemingly ghastly and morbid. Seventy four years of deceit, corruption, waste and plain stupidity has been the overall picture that is Sri Lanka. Those seventy four years may be subdivided as follows:
1948 – 1956 D S Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala
1956 – 1977 S W R D Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike
1977 – 1994 J R Jayewardene and R Premadasa
1995 – Present Chandrika Bandaranaike and the Rajapaksas
We have been able to produce leaders from just three families: Senanayake/Kotelawala/Jayewardene Clan, Bandaranaikes and Rajapaksas. R Premadasa was, in fact, an aberration and ruled the country as President merely for four plus short years.
1948 – 1956: D S Senanayake is widely known as ‘Father of the Nation’. But he is also the father of nepotism. Had D S not handed the country to his son Dudley, S W R D would have remained with the United National Party (UNP) and there would not have been a Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and no ’56 revolution! Both Dudley and Sir John who succeeded as Prime Minister of Ceylon were thorough failures. Yet the Senanayakes, father and son, and Sir John, whose sister was married to D S’s brother F R Senanayake, did rule the country with some decorum and corruption was not one inglorious badge any of them wore. Had the budget proposal of J R Jayewardene, the first Minister of Finance in independent Ceylon, been accepted by the then Parliament, we may have had the chance to get rid of the ‘Entitlement Syndrome’ that has been the Achilles heel of every successive government since. Free rice was, in fact, one election pledge Sirimavo Bandaranaike could not keep after being elected in 1970.
1956 – 1977: This was the era of the so-called ‘Common Man’. S W R D transformed the sociocultural and religious milieu of the country by introducing the concept of ‘common man’ and paved the way for semi or uneducated men and women to enter Parliament. He thereby altered the entire political culture beyond all recognition. With this alteration of the political setting, the one single element that began an unalterable dynamic was the entry of the Buddhist clergy into the theatre of political drama.
Maha Sanga, the Buddhist clergy, since then became a necessary evil in our political organism and the depths and lengths they trod in order to secure favors, comforts and businesses are continuing to this very day. The involvement of the Maha Sanga also was pivotal in the Sinhala-only clamor which eventually lent itself as a basis for the polarization of the nation along ethnic lines. Ceylon is relatively a small country, at the time with about fifteen million people. Instead of making both Sinhala and Tamil official languages and English as the medium of instruction in schools from kindergarten to university entrance and thereafter, Sri Lanka could have ended up as a thriving social democracy in Asia. Tragically, it was not to be.
Sirimavo, S W R D’s widow, with the help of Felix Dias, S W R D’s nephew, went on rampage on a nationalization of profit making ventures and turning them into white elephants. This phase of our economic development, while distorting the real facts and figures, had a message which had an intrinsic appeal to the local population which was at the time being brainwashed by the traditional Left Wing led by N M Perera, Colvin R de Silva and S A Wickremasinghe that nationalization is the only answer to the ills of capitalism. This was the notorious era of queues, one for rice, another for bread, another for almost every household essential. It was an unreservedly forgettable era and thankfully it came to an end in 1977 until it rose up again in the twenty first century under the present regime.
But in fairness to the two Bandaranaikes, both husband and wife could not be painted with the ‘corruption-brush’.
1977 – 1994: Economic development assumed a fresh meaning and was garbed in foreign imported goods during the first few years of the Jayewardene-era. A few weeks after the fall of the Sirimavo-Felix combine, essential food items were made available in the markets, from the urban cities to the rural hamlets. Employment for our youth, the burning problem of the day, was addressed very seriously by our Minsters of Education, Health and all other line ministries. The transformation from a closed economy to an open economy took its firm roots and has come to stay.
In the agriculture sector, the massive Mahaweli Program, in the trade sector, the monumental development of our Colombo Port, unprecedented housing development schemes, all these giant development was taking place in the country and the management of the economy seemed to have been resting in capable hands. But the rest was yet to come!
Introduction of the Presidential system of government, the Tamil Question in the North and the East, emergence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and its undisputed leader Velupillai Prabhakaran were all in the mix and the mix did not spell niceties for the greater majority of people. J R Jayewardene who unshackled our economy ended up manacling the same population with the chains of a Presidential system whose hidden elements were really exploited by his successors, first by Premadasa then followed by Chandrika and the present lot of the Rajapaksas.
1995 – Present: Do I need to write anything new as to the current economic stranglehold we are in and the seemingly autocratic governance aspect of the present regime? We are living it and every breath that we inhale and exhale is testimony to that sad saga which has been unfolding, especially during the last decade or so. In fact, one can write a book on each of the above subheadings.
It has indeed been a humiliating legacy of Independence.
*The writer can be contacted at email@example.com