By Grusha Andrews –
“Mary, Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells- and cockle shells,
And pretty maids in a row”
‘Mary Mary quite contrary’ is an old nursery rhyme. Queen Mary, also known as ‘Bloody Mary’ of historical infamy was the daughter of King Henry VIII. In an attempt to break away from the Church of England, she tried to revert back to the Catholic Church in the immediate aftermath of her coronation. Systematic and purposeful murder of Protestants was carried out to achieve this end.
Literary historians believe that this nursery rhyme is actually a cunning preservation of history by the tortured folk poetically immortalizing Queen Mary’s methods of torture. The silver bells stood for thumb screws that were torture devices and cockle shells were genital torture devices. The pretty maids in a row symbolized people lining up to be executed by the Halifax Gibbet, a guillotine-like device. “How does your garden grow?” was a reference to the cemetery, where with increasing deaths, the cemetery “garden” would grow.
Four hundred and sixty years after the death of Bloody Mary, in a country once colonized by the British, two immature post-colonial men are quite contrary with each other. They are taking a troubled walk in their’ garden’, the country they have pledged to rule united, now a cemetery for reason. An electorate, baffled by uncertainty are watching the near total suspension of adult behavior. What is the anatomy of this infantile relationship between the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka?
Maithri, Ranil: quite contrary
To the rational mind, the singular person who deserves the joint contrary of Sirisena and Wickremesinghe is none other than Mahinda Rajapaksa. Instead of channeling their power and energy on bringing the Rajapaksas and their cronies to justice, both the President and the Prime Minister forgot the pact they made with 22 million citizens of this country at the drop of a hat. They both made cryptic and deceitful alliances with the two main persons of the Rajapaksa clan, Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It is widely believed that the ‘peaceful’ exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the wee hours in the immediate aftermath of the Presidential Election of 2015 was due to a ‘gentleman’s promise’ extended by Wickremesinghe that ‘ all will be well’ if Rajapakse co-operated with a non-violent transfer of power. Although the above is not conclusively substantiated, the behavior of the said ‘gentleman ‘for the last three years of his Premiership is uncannily supportive of this claim. Small wonder how old buddies take precedence over the promises made to millions of citizens in a split second. Small wonder still is how gentleman’s promise made to a despotic ex-dictator (and to his brothers by proxy) can be kept religiously for three years but the people who have maintained him on a lap of luxury for decades are easily forgotten. Sri Lankans have a huge problem with naming phenomena. When a domestic helper steals five hundred rupees, she is a lowly worker class thief. When the Premier is connected to the largest financial scam (aka Bond Scam) in the modern history of the nation, he is still a gentleman, high class, and yes, a Royalist! Gosh, we must all continue to regard him an unreal, phenomenal, larger than life demi-god and continue to call him statesmanly, sophisticated, elegant, cultured (a pearl probably has more culture)and quite outside our league and feel grateful for his leadership!
Then there is the Trojan horse, the President. Erected on the hope of 62 lakh voters, fed by the civil society activists, this Trojan horse came to the middle of the political city to make things right: dead bodies were unearthed, commissions appointed, rhetoric delivered. Millions of citizens who dared to dream of a better tomorrow rose from long political apathy to re kindle their sense of justice to oppose the only text book case of a despot that Sri Lanka has ever seen: Mahinda Rajapakse. The irony of it is that the hearts of those who outvoted Mahinda Rajapakse to enthrone Sirisena still loved Rajapakse, as one would love a brutal ex. They loved him for ending the 30 years’ arms struggle against the LTTE, for the city beautification, for the highways, knowing very well that all the Rajapakse fingers were in the national till. They loved him as they hated his brutish brat sons. They loved him as they also loved the smiling image of Thajudeen and wept for God’s tears. It was a national syndrome of love and hate. They wept as the very man they voted out just 24 hours ago left the Temple Trees ‘peacefully’ (what you don’t know can’t hurt you).
Outclassed by the elitist Wickremesinghe and his esoteric buddies Sirisena appears to have lost his political nerve. Inept in the English language and in the art of getting those competent to decode difficult political scriptures, he fell in to the common trap of the rural disadvantaged who are an easy prey of soothsayers and bumpkin advisors. Equally uneasy with the tycoons of the private sector as with the elegant and west-philic Wickremesinghe, the conversation has died spelling the end of the anyway doomed marriage. Never before in the history of Sri Lanka has the class and privilege disparity between a President and a Prime Minister been so stark, infringing on the aspirations of a desperate electorate. He systematically distanced himself from the learned advisors with vast experience and maturity to seek comfort in serenade singers without insight in to governance who gave him false hope in perpetuating power. According to his own interview to Sirasa TV pre- local government elections, Sirisena actually believes that he can ‘salve the economy’ with the help of one individual, Prof. Lalith Samarakoon, who has self-imported himself from the USA for this purpose. He even fell for the teenage trap of Faizer Mustapha who actually convinced him, with the help of equally immature lawyer types that he can be president for six years instead of five. Sirisena didn’t need to understand the amended constitution to figure that he did not have a six year tenure. He just needed to know grade 5 arithmetic and a well-meaning grandmother to advise him to keep away from manipulative frenemies.
Legacy of the growing garden: silver bells and cockle shells
Sirisena’s legacy could very well be this: to teach this country conclusively that we as a society should battle against poverty, inequality and class privilege. That keeping people in the fringes of inferiority complexes, lack of knowledge in English and under-confident political recesses can hurt a society. We can learn from Sirisena how emotional isolation and class insecurity can hurt a nation in ways we never imagined before. It is apparent in his body language. He is very much the emotional, rural relative bungling inside a seven star outfit. Sirisena is a mirror unto our own conscience to reexamine our priorities in education, softening social hierarchy, acknowledging the seriousness of privilege mismatch in politics and governance. To teach us this lesson he would soon sleep with the most dangerous enemy of all: Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in 2020 will deliver us all silver bells and cockle shells. Literally. Hundreds of Lasanthas, Thajudeens, Tarakis, Ekneligodas, and Noyahrs will manifest before our very eyes. The self-professed political pundits and arm chair political arithmeticians, who, due to their dissociation from the ground reality, naysaying to a Gotabaya comeback will understand that fact is indeed more intriguing, surprising and deadly than fiction.
We, the people, in a row
Rows and rows of countless citizens had finally let the reality of this failed government sink in to their minds. One does not have to be a pundit to understand that the no confidence motion of 4th April is directly executed by Rajapaksa with the blessings of Sirisena. The stinker letter of resignation written to the Prime Minister by his long standing private secretary Sudath Chandrasekera carrying embarrassing allegations laced with sexual intonations is widely believed to be architected by persons with close links to the President. One of the first web leaks of this letter, uncouthly and ruthlessly released one day before Wickremesinghe’s 69th birthday was via a local website believed to receive indirect Presidential patronage. Today this downward spiral was compounded by an attempt by the President to remove the Central Bank from the purview of the Premier and place it under Mangala Samaraweera. These events stacked on top of another is meant to apply pressure on Wickremesinghe climaxing in to the no confidence motion. What Sirisena and his strategists perhaps do not realize is that Wickremesinghe is made of sterner stuff and his political heart is unyielding and self-regenerating like the mythological liver of Prometheus. Beyond the ideological and class clashes, this strained relationship has reached a new low of vanishing decorum. Both Wickremesinghe and Sirisena have been displaying the collective emotional intelligence of two teenage girls out of ‘Mean Girls’. When mean girls are busy conniving and not talking to each other they lose sight of the doom that awaits them. Both these political contrary Marys have every reason to grow up. The tragedy is that they both seem to be feeding the Rajapaksa python who would one day devour them both, not just politically but quite literally.