By Malinda Seneviratne –
Colombo Telegraph put it well: ‘President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka and President Alexander Lukashenko turned the UN General Assembly into a Daddy Daycare!’
Young Daham Sirisena should not have been part of the Sri Lankan delegation. The uploading of the relevant photographs, the photo-editing ‘out’ of Daham and Daham’s disastrous damage-control exercise have been reported and commented on.
The love of doting dads sometimes makes them forget lots of things. For example the difference between right and wrong, the meaning of use and the meaning of abuse. In this case we need not be surprised. Sirisena (Snr) after all was all flushed and excited about having met an old lady called Elizabeth and a war criminal called David in London. He just couldn’t stop talking about it. It was ‘big’ for him. Maybe New York and the UNGA was big too and maybe he wanted the little boy to see a bit of the world. Understood.
But it is not new. We have seen versions of the same sickness. We saw spoilt brats of politicians operating as though the rest of the citizenry owed them a favor. Brats were indulged. In the case of Mahinda Rajapaksa it was all legal, but it left a bad taste in the mouth when Namal did his night race number. Had Daham Sirisena wanted to turn the ‘weva-ravuma’ into a race track during President Rajapaksa’s time, the idea would have most likely been shot down. From above.
But it’s not new. Chandrika Bandaranaike was put in charge of Land Reform by her mother even though she had no credentials to show by way of qualifications for the post. Not illegal, though. Not ‘wrong’ in the way that Daham’s joyride is ‘wrong’.
But it’s not new. Way back in the year 1978, I remember an event at Royal College which was ‘graced’ by the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. As a member of the school choir, I was present. The choir, like the Scout Troop, was called upon regularly to be present at school functions.
There we were, ready to sing the school song. The Chief Guest walked in. Ranasinghe Premadasa in national suit, neat as always. He came with his wife and son. Maybe the daughter was also there but I can’t remember. Premadasa was accompanied on to the stage by the Principal, Mr L.D.H. Pieris. Hema Premadasa following a few feet behind.
I noticed young Sajith tagging along and distinctly remembered thinking that he would go find a seat somewhere in that vast assembly hall. Sajith, at the time was a Grade 6 student at Royal College.
I was both surprised and shocked to see the 12 year old boy following his parents and the principal on to the stage. ‘This is wrong,’ I told myself.
‘Wrong’ because Saith was a student of the same school and although there were no rules against it, students didn’t sit with the Principal on the stage. The Principal did not object, perhaps because the Prime Minister was his guest. It was not Saith’s fault but his father’s.
I can’t remember if it was the same occasion, but there was an event organized by the Students Christian Movement (SCM) where again I was present for choir-duty. Eran Wickramaratne was the President of the SCM at the time. It was therefore his show. He was also the Head Prefect of the school. At the end of the ‘show’, he had to deliver the vote of thanks. I can’t remember who was the MC that evening, but I remember the following: ‘Now I invite the Head Prefect of Royal College Eran Wickramaratne to deliver the vote of thanks’.
Not wrong. Not right either. If a group belonging to another religion had a similar event the Head Prefect would not be asked to deliver the vote of thanks. Eran’s status obtained from his position in the SCM and not his prefecture. The MC was probably careless and anyway it was a trivial matter. But it is such trivialities that add up and give us things such as the Daham Sirisena Syndrome.
On the 2nd of May, 1993 I was returning to Colombo from the Kirindi Oya settlement area after a field visit had to be cut short due to the assassination of President Premadasa the previous day. I was with a team from the Agrarian Research and Training Institute (ARTI). We were traveling in a green Pajero, a common brand in state institutions at the time. Somewhere between Matara and Galle, we ran into a bit of traffic and had to slow down. On our left, in an open space, some people were putting up flags. One of them chided us: ‘ආණ්ඩුවේ වාහනයක් නේද? අඩුම තරමින් කොළ පාට කොඩියක් වත් ගහගෙන යන්නේ නැත්තේ ඇයි?’ [It’s a government vehicle isn’t it? Why can’t you have at least a green flag?].
There is that kind of honest confusion. State is Government, some think. State is Party — that’s also assumed.
So this is not just about Daham Sirisena being a Daddycared brat and an obnoxious one at that. It is not about the President being incapable of seeing ‘wrong’ in his son (and daughter too, let us not forget) acting as a proxy of sorts, never mind anti-nepotism pledges. It’s a problem that is resident in the general understanding of the political and the inevitable perversions that arise.