By Jagath Asoka –
According to a recent Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index, a Sri Lankan Passport is among the 10 worst in the world in terms of free access to other countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Palestine, Eritrea, Nepal, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Lebanon. If you wonder how this happened to Sri Lanka, juxtapose the previous fact with the following fact: Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdom was summoned to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office for a meeting related to the issues of renegade Tiger guerrilla leader Karuna entering Britain with official backing from the Government of Sri Lanka.
Rajapaksa clan and its cronies brag endlessly about the tremendous progress that they have made in infrastructure: new highways, stadiums, a new harbor, a new international airport, and a marvelous theater; Colombo looks cleaner; but our inner-structure has been deteriorating. The name “Rajapaksa” is so ubiquitous in Sri Lanka that only the public toilets are not named after Rajapaksas. I think it is better to name our public toilets after some Sri Lankan politicians: Mervin’s mouth; Dayasiri’s tongue; and Wimal’s brain. In 1975, Dr. N. M. Perera exposed 45 rich industrialized families who were controlling Sri Lankan. Now, there is only one: Rajapaksas.
Superabundance of anything turns to its opposite; this phenomenon is known as enantiodromia; Heraclitus introduced this concept. When I was studying in the former Soviet Union, Lenin was so ubiquitous that my roommate, another Sri Lankan student, worshiped Lenin and offered flowers and bread to Lenin, as Buddhists would offer flowers and food to the Buddha; to my Sri Lankan roommate, Lenin was the Buddha of the Soviet Union. We all know what happened to Lenin’s statues when the Soviet Union collapsed. Every Sri Lankan politician is trying to emulate Rajapaksas by introducing their family members into politics, because politics has become more lucrative than selling illegal drugs; in fact, prostitution has become worthy of veneration in Sri Lanka because hapless prostitutes sell only their own bodies to make a living to feed their hungry children; on the other hand, some Sri Lankan politicians have only one goal: To sell the country to become billionaires. Skullduggery, thuggery, and politics have become synonyms in Sri Lanka.
Words such as “nepotism,” “despotism,” “plutocracy,” “Machiavellianism,” “authoritarianism,” “feudalism,” etc.—well, I can keep on using all the words that I know, but that would be too ostentatious. Still, I cannot think of a single word to describe this phenomenon in Sri Lanka. If you can come up with the mot juste to describe this phenomenon please let me know.
Sooner or later, Mahinda Rajapaksa is going to realize what he has done to Sri Lanka: He has created a Minotaur-like monster—this political alliance, the UPFA—that he cannot control. Think of what Mahinda said about abolishing the Executive Presidency in Sri Lanka before he came to power. It is similar to what Minos did with the snow-white bull. Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of support. Minos was instructed to kill the snow-white bull to show honor to Poseidon, but he decided to keep it instead because of its majesty. Mahinda promised to abolish the Executive Presidency but decided to keep it instead because of its enormous powers. To punish Minos, Pasiphae, Minos’ wife, was made to fall deeply in love with the snow-white bull. The archetypal craftsman Daedalus built a hollow wooden cow, and Pasiphae climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull, and she pretended to be a cow. The offspring was the monstrous Minotaur. In Sri Lanka, the Executive Presidency is the snow-white bull; Minotaur is the political system that Mahinda has created. There is no labyrinth to hide this monster that he has created; this monster has turned the entire Sri Lanka into an elaborate maze. Seven Athenian youths and seven maidens were sent every year to be devoured by the Minotaur. Mahinda has to feed his Minotaur by giving ministerial jobs to satiate and control his rebellious politicians. Who is going to kill this Minotaur? Where is our Theseus, the slayer of the Minotaur and the robber Procrustes? The hoi polloi, is that the hollow wooden cow?
If you do not kill the Minotaur soon it will devour you; soon, one of these refractory members that you have created—the biggest threat to Rajapaksa clan—is going to challenge Mahinda when the conditions are ripe; so, kill the Minotaur before it is too late; give up the Executive Presidency in Sri Lanka, before someone much worse than you become our next Executive President. It is just a matter of time. Remember what J. R. Jayewardene did to Sirimavo Bandaranaike?
Recently, I met an erudite gentleman who had taught Rajapaksas when they were students at Ananda College. A remark that he made still reverberates in my soul: Mahinda and Gotabaya’s father—Don Alwin Rajapaksa—was a real gentleman politician. I sincerely believe him, but what about his children? Have they emulated their father’s decency and his struggle to create a better society in Sri Lanka? Do you think that the Sri Lankans do not deserve their freedom of expression—the mother of all freedoms— that was cherished by your father’s generation? Do you believe that all of us, including the Rajapaksas, regardless of our race, ethnicity, religion, and job or social status must uphold the basic principles of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law? Has the current regime done everything to protect your basic rights and the rule of law? Most unctuous sycophants and toadies would say, ”Well, that is the way in Sri Lanka.” Even highly educated Sri Lankans have said this to me. Well, my friends, that is too obtuse. Do you think Sri Lankans are incapable of creating good governance and a just society? Are we just cultural Buddhists, tartuffes, and our sanctimonious pity is just an elaborate comedy? In twenty five years, do you think that Sri Lankans are going to refer to Rajapaksa family as patriots or as gentleman politicians? Are Rajapaksas on the same par with politicians like N. M. Perera, Colvin R.D. Silva, Peter Keneumen, and Senanayakes? Here is my definition of a current Sri Lankan politician: Take a thug, a rapist, or a murderer, dress him up with a white long-sleeved shirt, a red or blue shawl, and a white sarong and voila, you get a Sri Lankan politician.
I would not say that J. R. Jayewardene and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike were gentleman politicians. S.W.R.D. was the first politician who exploited the hoi polloi by dividing them into “Five Great Political Forces (Pancha Maha Balavegaya): Sangha (Sinhala Buddhist monks), Veda (Indigenous medicine men), Guru (Teachers), Govi (Farmers), and Kamkaru (Workers); the first force that he chose “Sangha,” subliminally, conveys the message that the other four forces are also “Sinhala-Buddhists.” He did not choose the Sinhala word “Pujya” which denotes those who deserve veneration, and would have included priests and imams as well. Ironically, S.W.R.D. was assassinated by a Buddhist monk: This Buddhist monk was hanged for committing the murder of his prime minister.
J.R. was the first educated Sri Lankan Executive President who used thugs and policemen to intimidate, harass, and beat honorable judges, law abiding men and women, and decent politicians. Even though the current regime hired henchmen to ridicule Sri Lanka’s first female Supreme Court Judge Shirani Bandaranayake—when she was impeached, some people celebrated the occasion by having milk-rice in front of her house—at least, she was not physically beaten. We all know that she was chosen because of her loyalty to the Rajapkasas, but later her conscience would not let her remain loyal; how come our spineless politicians, university VCs, and educated elite of the leftist parties who used to brag that they were the true champions of the proletariats do not have the same guts to challenge the decisions and deportment of this government?
For the hoi polloi, both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranasinghe Premadasa illumine the nature of “charismatic” leadership in Sri Lanka. Both have the instinct of a fox in a lion’s clothing. I have seen Premadasa’s daring pugnacity during the 1977 campaign; he was savage in attack; he openly criticized, ridiculed, and challenged Indira Ghandhi. When he became President, he fought and won his battles against hubristic and supercilious Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake, using cunning maneuver. Both Mahinda and Premadasa understood at a very young age the hoi polloi’s deep desire to ridicule the English-speaking elite and the erudite politicians of Colombo. Mahinda’s cunning qualities of a fox and his Machiavellian politics have won more converts to his cause than the most patriotic Sri Lankan leaders.
On the other hand, I understand why people keep supporting Rajapkasas; what is the alternative? The devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. Because there is one thing common to all the devils that have been in power: each one is worse than his predecessor. If you think Sajith Premadasa is going to abolish Executive Presidency, you are in your own la-la land; when Ranil had a chance, like a cunning fox, he evaded it because he thought he would be the next Executive President. This Sri Lankan mentality of electing the husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, nephews, and nieces of politicians is a remnant of Feudalism. Did Rahula claim that he was the Buddha, when the Buddha passed away? I am not Dan Brown, so I do not think Jesus had any children, but Jesus had brothers and sisters; Did James, the brother of Jesus, said, “I am the next messiah,” when Jesus was crucified?
I admire the Sri Lanka artists who keep pushing the envelope. “And Company” is my favorite Sri Lankan TV show. Even though they make allusions to Mahinda as “Chintaka Sabapathi,” I have never heard any allusions made to Gotabaya; perhaps, there will be a character call “Baya Gota”; perhaps, there will be a sign “Jara Passa.”
I am very optimistic because the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. The best example that I know of is Emperor Asoka, who elevated Buddhism to the official state religion. Bloodthirsty Chandasoka (Asoka the Fierce) became Asoka (painless, without sorrow). According to legend, after the conquest was over when Asoka roamed the city, all he could see was a vision of hell on earth. When he saw the corpses, he realized that because of his insatiable thirst for vengeance and power, someone has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant. This deep compunction led to conversion: He embraced Buddhism. If Sri Lankans have any decency, sooner or later, they are going to rebel against corruption, thuggery, and lawlessness.
Here is what I think of Sri Lankan politicians: The leader and his cronies eat everything and leave the excrement for the hoi polloi, who occupy the bottom rungs of the social ladder; the hoi polloi fight with each other for the excrement that the leader and his cronies have left behind.