By Kusal Perera –
A few days ago, I ran into a school pal a few years junior, at a Colombo pub, after almost two decades. His first reaction was that I should stop writing against the Rajapaksas. At least wait till MR is elected again. “You’d then lose the purpose of writing, anyway.” he told me. Not me alone, but the other two with me also perplexed by his straight spat, we got chilled into a foamed larger and sat silent.
But then, this sent us completely off the rocker. “You see, by now Buddhism is over…..There are no Buddhist monks now. They’re ordinary politicians, traders, dealers and confidence tricksters. See how the Maha Nayakas go about with back-up vehicles in front and behind ?….. Temples are tuition or karate centres…….These monks are into everything….sexually molest children, rape, extort money and been proven guilty too…..Only if Lord Buddha was here to see them…!” Looking around and then smiling, he said, “So give Rajapaksas another chance….. They’ll finish this Sinhala mess, JHU and all …… Then….you can write about your secular, inclusive project for Lanka…..with or without ‘Sri’ ….”.
That sounded plain logic, if one wants to gulp them. But politics don’t work so easy and straight, don’t work on whims and fancies of disillusioned minds. Yet there is beneath all what was said, some hard truth. Good reason for the disillusionment of these urban, Sinhala “new” middle class. He comes from beyond Ratnapura, works for the apparel sector, runs about in a “hybrid” car and resides in a compact, luxury apartment in Colombo. His children go to international schools and wife probably shops for designer label stuff and listens to “rap sermons” from Bikkhus in posh and regimented “Ashrams”, most every Sunday.
He feels a different “truth” evolving. One he sees as self destructive. Feels the fear of it. A new contradiction he seems to feel between his now nostalgic childhood in a slow, open Sinhala village society and this new, desperately fast and overworked urban life. He sees it erupting in no clear rhythm, since the evolution of the Rajapaksas through war, into a turbid post war culture.
While we hold this Rajapaksa regime for violation of all “Rights”, depriving democratic Tamil aspirations, for naked breakdown of law and order, shameless politicising of the judiciary and massive plunder of the economy, there is a different “truth” for another people. For those who thought the Rajapaksas would give them a new “decent” Sinhala world, one to live in peace and earn with comfort. They now feel they are left out from this post war Sri Lankan society. There is a mismatch. A growing mismatch for them. Their values and their expectations, given no heed.
The other conservative society, the English speaking Sinhala urbanites, who wouldn’t dare protest even when editors and journalists of their daily morning news papers were abducted, assaulted and threatened, wouldn’t look through the window when their neighbour’s son was picked up by unidentified men in white vans, when Tamils who came to Colombo were rounded up and sent in buses to Vavuniya, now come out on city streets with banners and placards, asking why the Secretary to the Defence Ministry wouldn’t talk with “animal lovers”. They want Gota to tell them what happened to those dogs picked up from city streets. Every one has a “right to live” they say, in a Buddhist country like ours. Their gentle values in life, given no merit in post war Sri Lanka, they feel shattered. .
So do I. I find people who did not want to know what was happening around them during the war, wanting to voice their opposition to most around them, now. Not on my priorities, not on my agenda though. They have their own from stray dogs to mosquitoes to garbage. From city parking to regular traffic jams. They now have “rights and wrongs” this regime would not respect. And they have Gota on their list of responsible people, for most going wrong around them.
From different understandings and for varied reasons, we now meet, around a common carom board to “pot” the only “Red” on the board, from all sides. Gota is now being turned the conspicuous “Red” among the Rajapaksas, on board.
Within the Rajapaksa regime, Chamal and Basil were the two brothers, who were into politics. Dudley, the first Rajapaksa to migrate to LA, shows no interest in politics, so much so, few would know there’s a ‘Dudley’ in the Rajapaksa family. Chandra, though within the regime, has always stayed in Hambantota and has always been a wayside beneficiary. Gota, the only Rajapaksa brother who came from the US and into an administrative post in the elder brother’s regime, has turned into a powerful political figure with the war, but was never into politics before.
He wouldn’t therefore understand politics, the way Basil does. Basil groomed himself under Mahaweli Development Minister Gamini Dissanayake and learnt how important the economy is in politics, during the Jayawardne regime. That political understanding would not come to one who only learnt to take orders from above without questions and now believes, it is his turn to give orders from above. Like with all ex-servicemen in top civil posts, power accrues silently and is used without questioning.
For Mahinda, all that matters little while he plays the custodian of the regime as elected President, for the immediate circle around him to enjoy such power. His ministries, except Finance and Planning totally controlled by Dr. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Treasury from 1998 to date, less about 03 years in between, are basically under Gota. The Defence and Urban Development Ministry is singularly under Gota’s total purview. Apart from the three armed forces, defence and intelligence related institutes and the Sir John Kotalawala DU that’s under his direct control, he is responsible for the Police Department, Civil Security Department, Immigration & Emigration Department, Registration of Persons Department, Coast Conservation Department, Coast Guard Department, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, National Defence Fund, the SL Land Reclamation and Development Corporation, the UDA, the NGO Secretariat, Lanka Logistics Ltd., and the Rakna Arakshana Lanka Ltd. He seems to have good access to almost all other departments and State authorities, than most ministers.
“Theruwan Saranai”….., this is a king size Shawarma on a “Gasaa”. Obviously, Gota is held for all ills, turning epidemic by now. Drugs abound and drug “Lords” frequent politics. Guns are more freely available here, now, than perhaps in Arizona. Police don’t even arrest roaming local thugs with warrants on their heads, when they are known to hang out with the powerful. Colombo city slums are raised to ground as illegal structures with the military in charge of operations and one half of Colombo 07, out of all 15 city zones is beautified with military labour. The rest is wholly neglected or acquired for massive hotel projects. Even the Galle face land with Bandaranayake gazing into the Indian Ocean and its adjoining military land went under the hammer. The military too goes into business from tourist hotels in Colombo to small wayside kiosks and groceries along the A-9 and beyond Omanthai. Land in the Vanni and in the East abounds for any project decided here on “Baladaksha Mawatha”. Security forces are considered key players with ex-servicemen as Governors in both provinces.
Tourism is no more “eco or safari” based, nor are they round trips through ancient heritage sites. Tourism now along the coast and in heavily restricted areas, is gonna be big time casino and night life with Filipino, Thai, or Russian in style and flavour. Its high profile, the ordinary tour guide and the guest house owner would not know about.
A different squeaky growth it is, with a different set of powerful men accumulating wealth, with no refined culture and humane social values. Not so easy to understand too, how they go about. One day I had a chat in trying to understand the ‘goings on’ at the Colombo stock exchange. “Well….its nothing much…..You put through a deal and get a profit….that’s about all…..” I was told. “What’s all this ‘push and dump’ talk ?” I asked and was told, “Oh….its nothing….just creating a ‘Bull market’ for GOOD profit”. What’s wrong in making profits, I was asked. They do have power for all that.
Its this arrogant style of running the country that is resented by the middle class, that wanted some sane order in society. Wanted some decency. Their incomes, their education and health, their social values and their style of living, all have been ignored and shunned with no choice offered to them. Obviously they are angry.
We are angry too. There is no commitment shown in solving the major socio political issues the government promised it would, when elected. The law and order situation under Gota, is the worst we ever had since independence in 1948. Protests and opponents are gunned down. Magistrates are asked to restrict funerals and the military intervenes in civil life. Universities and the next generation is under security surveillance with Rakna Arakshana Lanka Ltd., in charge of university security. That seems a small patch of their large canvas, one could see if one wants to.
The Rajapaksas also show no commitment in democratising the State, allowing for a political solution despite promises to the Delhi administration and the international community. Plus or minus, the 13th Amendment is being left out as one that was thrust upon us, but the much trumpeted “home grown” solution is never proposed for power sharing. Every time these issues are brought up for discussion, Gota gives reasons why they should not be the answer(s). He decides, or rather breaks all protocol and norms to tell, who has rights to which part of this land. He tells which Constitution is adequate for Sri Lankans, though not for the Tamils and the Muslims and for those who want a democratic, inclusive State, in a secular form.
Gota virtually decides politics for the Rajapaksa family and the government. He creates the bottle necks, one after the other, President Rajapaksa thereafter has to creep through with his sheepish innocent smile and a slow pat on the back. Nothing nevertheless gets sorted out. Nothing remains the same either, with more complex international manoeuvrings taking place beyond the seas. Gota is meanwhile spoken of and quoted in foreign media as “the most powerful defence secretary of Sri Lanka”. Well, we don’t have a “defence secretary” as in the US system. We only have a secretary to the ministry who is not even “permanent” as in good old days. But Gota is a powerful Secretary, for all who knows the regime.
I had enough of it and thus wrote an article to “Ravaya” the weekend Sinhala broadsheet over two months ago and titled it “Gota a problem; Should go!”. But now, my school mate with his own peculiar logic, makes me ask, ‘should Gota go’ ? What if he remains ? He could play the arrogant manipulator in holding back any political solution to the people of the North-East. He could have protests and opposition to the regime curbed with a heavy hand. He seems the only person who could stop this regime from behaving as a decent, accountable, elected government. The only person to make the decent citizen feel distraught and disgusted. That part of Gota certainly does better than me writing about the Rajapaksa regime.
A cartoonist had all of it pretty sweet. Meeting Rahul Castro may not have been the first priority, when President Rajapaksa went to Havana. But Fidel was not available. “Brother Fidel is not so well….these days” said Rahul in the cartoon and then retorted MR, “How good it is….to have brothers!”