By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Sri Lanka is the realm of the Absolute Star. Our Leader has all within his grip. Like a cat that has caught a rat one observes a look of perennial satisfaction in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s face. For he smiles and smiles. Even in a temporary moment of what looked like him being powerless when David Cameron did the old British Governor’s march to the North, our Leader beamed with his moustache.
Let’s be honest, what Sri Lanka now has is a quasi-military dictatorship headed by Rajapaksa. His regime continues to don the same democratic trappings that this once-free island nation had for decades after political independence. Elections are held regularly; there is a parliament and there are opposition parties. To the outsider all looks above board. However, our ‘democracy’ is only skin deep. Appearance and reality diverge sharply. An autocrat is in place backed by military units being set up in the periphery and called in to do the job of the police as we saw at Weliveriya a few months ago. Protests and revolts can be crushed, while a once-honorable and independent judicial system has been replaced by a pliant one that may adjudicate against the protestors and victims of executive abuse of power.
We see a dramatic parallel of appearance and reality in the collective behavior of the monks of the JHU in parliament who drape the sivura and talk the Dhamma but who by their language of silence over the bizarre happenings in governance reveal that they back high-level corruption, the drug connection, the casinos, the flouting of the constitution and rule of law, and state violence toward detractors. The JHU’s usefulness is in its symbolic status of representing Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. Authoritarian regimes have been known to manipulate ideology. This is our governing establishment’s ideology and its modus operandi of gaining and keeping an electoral support base prepared to overlook abuse and incompetence.
Nationalism and anti- Semitism was Adolf Hitler’s ideological base; nationalism was Mussolini’s ideology; communism was Hitler’s and Mao Tse-Tung’s. Funnily, as if to make the Lankan regime contemporarily relevant, nationalism is also the ideology of North Korea’s ‘Dear Leader.’ The Communist ideology drove USSR into bankruptcy and demolition. Nationalist ideology drove the German nation into the abyss. Likewise Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism will drive the island nation to division and fracture. The rump of the terrorist LTTE and its backers world-wide are (hands-crossed) hoping to see this madness developing to the point when the lost hopes of Eelam can become achieved reality.
And if one observes the antics of another set of yellow- robed persons who style themselves ‘Buddha putras,’ going round the country burning churches and mosques and closing Muslim trading establishments and beef stalls it seems clear the madness is allowed to conflagrate. Government is silent instead of asking these persons to go back to their temples if, indeed, they are from temples. Groups like the Bodu Bala Senawa ( ‘Senawa’ meaning‘army regiments), Ravana Balaya and what- not operate without hindrance in an ambience of state permissiveness.
Wise rulers and those who work genuinely for the welfare of the people will learn from the tragic historical consequences of nationalist extremism mentioned above. They would adjust their sales appropriately. On the other hand, does Lanka have such a ruling establishment? If we have one, it wouldn’t squander the peoples’ money on useless projects like the port without ships, the airport without planes and the International Sports Stadium in Hambantota without sport (unless by ‘sport’ one means the hunting of wild animals). At the same time, they wouldn’t keep projects like Mihin Air in the air; they wouldn’t waste public funds to upkeep inept Ministries and create unnecessary overseas diplomatic posts to find jobs for their boys; they wouldn’t violate the constitution; they wouldn’t destruct the independence of the judiciary; they wouldn’t close-down over 400 of our schools; they wouldn’t deprive our hospitals of drugs letting our cancer patients lie in improvised beds in the exposed corridors of Kandy Hospital crying for these life-bringing medicines.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was a one-time street-fighter for human rights. He did some sort of long walk by way of the pada yatra. Given power, he could have turned into even a weak shadow of a personage like Nelson Mandela after the latter’s ‘long walk’. That would have been enough for us. He had all the power and popular backing for a meaningful and lasting contribution to Sri Lanka. In particular, having destroyed terrorism with the help of General Fonseka and his men what couldn’t he have done? The sky was the limit with international aid waiting to pour on Lanka to restore and to rehabilitate. It is fair comment to state that no previous ruler in Lanka’s history of three thousand years had such an opportunity.
Yet, our leader was made of different genes. His vision had problems and his character was different. He was seduced by the possibility of converting the bahubootha vyawasthawa of JR into an absolute dictatorship. He preferred the model of an absolute fuhrer who would reign with the help of a circle of “power lords” the latter being permitted to amass gains from their little ruling ambits, in return for their support. In the meantime, he would ensure that all checks and balances are rendered impotent. The classic statement of Lord Acton which has become clichéd, namely that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely has manifested itself to the detriment of the country..
Ruling establishments do need power to act decisively. There isn’t any doubt about that. But didn’t the democracy we had since independence achieve so much with its democracy and its periodical smooth transition of power? Didn’t we build and rebuild massive irrigation schemes and revive the great ancient hydraulic civilization of our kings? Gal Oya, Minneriya, Parakrama Samudra, Kawdulu wewa? The recent Mahaweli Development Scheme? Free Trade Zones? Didn’t we build a great system of Maha Vidyalayas, Madya Maha Vidyalyays, and tertiary education institutions? A fine health system? Didn’t Sri Lanka have a unified country with harmonious relationships among the all ethnic and religious groups?
Above all, did we not win the war against terrorism while a democratic system of government prevailed merely with the promulgation of Emergency Regulations under such a democratic system? Weren’t all those powers adequate for us in the worst of times? Then why did we want the 18th Amendment? Why did we want the politicization of the elections, the police and the judiciary?
What went wrong is where we are now. Where we will go from here isn’t hard to see. (CONCLUSION)