By Kumar David –
A totem-pole or a totem is a cultural marker, an emblem or a symbol of a group or a tribe of people. To be trumped is to be thwarted or to be bested by your opponents. Trope is a less commonly used figurative term for a typical or emblematic example. Critics of the Gota-led Executive-Militaristic Regime (critics say the Mahinda-loyalist political side is less egregious) fault it for three cardinal offences – apart from lesser ones such as favours for corrupt immigrant buddies from the US, nepotistic appointment of clan members, cronies, in-laws and hangers-on, and for setting up politically biased presidential commissions. The three big ones are – even readers who deem the rebukes unjust cannot deny that they proliferate in the public domain.
1. The Gota clique is reviled as a vehicle of Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-religious inspiration.
2. He is accused of attempting to accumulate dictatorial or autocratic powers; his military buddies are suspected of harbouring a craving to foist a military state on Sri Lanka.
3. Both Mahinda and Gota kow-tow to Beijing imploring financial support and project financing.
Where does the balance sheet stand 15 months after the presidential election? At the start Gota danced around the ethno-religious totem-pole for electoral support and continued for a while after the elections. But neither Mahinda nor Gota, bogus games to gratify monks and fool voters aside, are deeply religious. Mahinda and his politicians, being shrewder than Gota and his brass, understood and responded quicker to the Muslim burial dispute. The latter slow of wit and imperfect of intellect needed an international prod to wake up. UNHRC Commissioner Bachelet’s harsh warning, the half-hearted pleas of the Muslim world and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s stern remarks in Geneva about human rights stifled the ethno-religious itch of Mahinda-Gota. Totem and dancer have reversed roles; now the regime is totem, monks and prejudice imbued petty-bourgeoisie the dancers. The change is subtle but significant; remember Mapitigama Buddy and Somarama.
Victor Ivan is confident, perhaps overconfident: “The political movement dominated by extremist Sinhala-Buddhists is now coming to an end. Its leaders and actors will lose recognition and inevitably will (be held) in contempt by the majority of Sinhala Buddhists. One ugly era is coming to an end”. (Financial Timed – SL – 26 Feb 2021; Edited for length). I am also at a loss to understand what’s behind the Cardinal’s tantrums – the PCI Report is said to have been tabled in Parliament – so the good prelate must be aware of its contents.
On point (b) trumped, the second term in my title, is apposite. The rush to dictatorship has been challenged by stout opposition; public opinion, the press – even those editors of English newspapers and media outlets who once bummed Gota ardently – global antipathy to the Burmese coup, the fall-out in the UNHRC, the cockup the army has made of the pandemic and the tide of Muslim and Tamil domestic antipathy, have come together to push back the rush to authoritarianism. Trumped, least for now!
The consequences of (c) will be longer lasting than people appreciate. It’s not only that Sri Lanka is broke and sinking ever deeper into China’s pocket; the bigger problem is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Economic decline, indebtedness, and public anger at rising cost of living cannot be reversed. It is not Gota’s goose but all our collective geese that will be cooked. It is a trope in that Lanka will go down as a cliché and metaphor for predictable and perpetual indebtedness to China. Don’t blame the Chinese; if a supplicant comes begging to your gate what will you do? Pakistan and Sri Lanka are only too happy to dance to China’s fiddle; the former cares not a farthing for the persecution of Uygur Muslims nor does the latter care a stick of incense for Buddhists in Tibet. To these two and many others religion is a sucker’s game for ready coinage.