By Vishwamithra –
“I saw him open his mouth wide—it gave him a weirdly voracious aspect, as though he had wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him.” ~ Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
In the sixties and the seventies Ceylon’s scourge was the Bandaranaikes – Sirimavo, her children and Felix Dias. The massive parliamentary election victory of the then Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1970, which led to a near-extinction of the then United National Party (UNP) led by Dudley Senanayake, lent the Bandaranaikes a false sense of permanency of political power. The two Bandaranaikes, Sirimavo and Felix Dias were the prime movers in the then SLFP-led government. The SLFP was backed by the traditional left at the time. That traditional left which consisted of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP) were led by N M Perera and S A Wickremasinghe respectively.
Never had Ceylon seen such scarcity of essential items; food such as rice, bread, dal, dry fish etc., kerosene oil and clothing were selling at premium prices. Price-controls that were enforced contributed to a further exacerbation of the situation, creating a black-market that was an integral part of an inefficient socialist economy. But the people did not have to wait for another term of the Bandaranaikes. Passing away of Dudley Senanayake, the UNP leader, on the New Year’s day, April 13, 1973, while making many a Sri Lankan shed his or her genuine tears, also brought a glimpse of hope when J R Jayewardene took over as the leader of the Party.
The SLFP-led coalition government suffered on all possible fronts. Albeit the fact that S W R D Bandaranaike made the ‘Ape Aanduwa’ concept an oft-repeated slogan in 1956, it was the Sirimavo-led government in 1970 that gave a whole new meaning and weight to the slogan. With the entry of the left-wing parties into the Sirimavo-led Cabinet and with the introduction of People’s Committees (Janatha Committee), Ape Aanduwa became a slogan in action and every household assumed the wrong and misguided notion that political power vested in the representatives in Parliament is an essential instrument to control all facets of life of all citizenry. Janatha Committees, Five Year Plans, Upahasa (tributes) for living politicians and friends of the government gathered momentum in the vernacular used by not only government politicians but also the average citizen.
It’s rather redundant to canvass opposition to the failed regime of the Bandaranaikes of that era. But its ironic similarities to the current Rajapaksa regime, its basic ideological premise and the protruding character consisting of incompetence, nepotism and corruption seem to remain the same. Not only have these three salient features, namely incompetence, nepotism and corruption been the base of their below-average performance, it would invariably contribute to its own implosion. In the Seventies J R Jayewardene created the rift amongst the Bandaranaike siblings, Anura, Chandrika and Sunethra. But unfortunately for the UNP of today, there is no such political chess grandmaster like J R.
Let us examine the similarities and contrasts between the then SLFP and today’s ‘Pohottuwa’ cabal. They will be centered on these main characteristics of their respective regimes: 1. Incompetence, 2. Nepotism and 3. Corruption.
Ever since the so-called 1956 revolution, the advent of the ‘common man’ to the upper layers of the political ladder and the corresponding fading away of intellectualism and sophistication of mind from politics could not be stemmed. The ’56 revolution, even though provided a proverbial ‘place in the sun’ for the common man, it did not make provision for equivalent education for the emerging common man whose essential dwelling was in the remote rural hamlets in the hinterland. This ever-expanding gulf so created between cities and rural regions, especially in the field of education and knowledge of English as a linguistic tool, in turn began to produce a widening dynamic of jealousies and unfair competition between them. This new reality is not only true amongst Sinhalese Buddhists, it was also the case with the Northern and upcountry Tamils.
A cultural clash between the haves and have-nots, not only in financial terms, but in all other supplementary parts of human society like access to technologically advanced amenities, entertainment facilities, sports activities and other extracurricular undertakings conspired to produce successive generations of utter unproductiveness and lackadaisical disposition. Incompetence was not only confined to the SLFP and SLFP-led governments. For instance, the so-called Yaha Palanaya-government of the 2015-2019 period was no second to any SLFP-led governments either by the Bandaranaikes or the Rajapaksa cabal. But the previous UNP-led governments, I dare say, were rather less incompetent than more competent!
That incompetence of the Bandaranaike and or Rajapaksa cabal-led governments reached a zenith when confronted by the adverse financial conditions in the seventies and the Covid 19 in the twenty first century respectively. Surrounding themselves with more incompetent technocrats and officials did manage to intensify an already decaying governing mechanism.
Nepotism of course is a hallmark of all SLFP-led governments. The cruel philosophy behind nepotism is rooted in the base instinct of human evolution. If one were to safeguard his or her own misdoings against all criticisms and condemnations, he or she would willy nilly surround them with trustworthy cronies. Who else would that fit that bill better than their own kith and kin? When it comes to sharing the spoils, who could render a better assistance than a brother, sister or brother-in-law or for that matter father or mother. A very unkind phenomenon of human development has reverted to its deepest and most dreadful propensities of avarice, greed and resultant self-preservation. The scourge of the seven years in the seventies of the Bandaranaikes has been bettered by the Rajapaksa cabal in the second decade of the twenty first century. Cronies and kith and kin of the Rajapaksas populate the current administration, whether it’s in the field of foreign affairs or domestic administration.
In the dishonorable sphere of nepotism, the Rajapaksas led by Nandasena has made the Sirimavo/Felix-led government look like a virtuous regime. The scourge of nepotism continues to wreak havoc in the country and the tragic irony is that the rural masses have come to accept it while the English-speaking city-pundits have embraced it, lock, stock and barrel.
Corruption is totally a different cup of tea. Of corruption, almost all politicians, except may be a handful, are guilty as sin. While the practitioners of corruption of yesteryear may have been less culpable, the modern-day ones are horrendously advanced. One of the politicos of today, who is not even an elected member of parliament but controlling the switch of governance, as was revealed by Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, would not sit down with a potential donor/businessmen without a 10% – 20% payment in advance. Corruption under the Rajapaksa cabal has reached not dizzying heights but into bottomless pits. Cronies and henchmen have been given lucrative jobs, kith and kin are enjoying the ill-gotten wealth made so surreptitiously via this contract or that deal, the national coffers are being ransacked by a group of buddies and the people at large have become innocent bystanders.
These participants and inheritors of the spoils of such imprudent deals such as Mattala airport, Hambantota harbor and Colombo Port City, would not hesitate to sell the country for a couple of dollars! They are not only corrupt to their very core, they are indeed corrupting too. They have managed to corrupt the entire government service from Grama Niladhari to the Government Agent (GA).
We are so unfortunate to witness such a caravan of corrupt and corrupting deals and but for the fact that there is still a modicum of freedom of the media, we may never have learnt about these scandalous deals and ferocious tempers of the current holder of power. But the door is closing; we can see it; we can feel it. The alleged telephone call between President Nandasena and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe reminds us of a similar misadventure between Fredericka Janz, the then Editor of Sunday Leader and Nandasena when he was the Secretary of Defense under Mahinda’s Presidency.
Nandasena has not changed one bit. The venomous character he is, every now and then, reveals himself; his white garb comes off, leaving a very naked human being with blood on his hands. Blood of Lasantha Wickrematunga, of Prageet Ekneligoda, of the Jaffna journalists and many whose else we might never know. George Bernard Shaw said that ‘Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.’ Shaw could not have uttered truer words.
In short, within a very short time, as short as two years, this man has taken this country from bad to worse with the active assistance of his cronies and with that of his extended family. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is a true harbinger of what is yet to come. Having access to enormous amount of ill-earned cash, both domestically and externally, the potential of this bizarre enterprise becoming much more treacherous is infinite. And it is mindboggling.
R Premadasa was such a demonic leader. But no one could point the finger at Premadasa and say he was incompetent. He was a dangerous man to be trusted with power and so is Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org