By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“Sri Lanka is drowning in parochialism as the island people are being swayed by greedy politicians to avoid thinking, ‘Sri Lankan.’ As a community, our internal tribal differences are being exploited. Fear-mongering stories like the recent one in Ampara are being privately touted and disseminated by politicians.”
Money, Power, Privilege & The Political Short-Cut
With money playing a more and more critical role in the lives of people world over, the road to political power is being sought after as the short cut to personal achievement. Besides, power at the top brings with it an enormous hold over resources that are both public and private. Men and women are at your feet and if you know the art, you are in Nirvanic bless. Life can never be better and abusing the right of a private individual to his own life and his own enjoyment becomes a trifle too easy.
Politicians who get a taste of power don’t want to leave off their hold.
Xi Jinping and Donald Trump
The above proposition has latest support in a story in the news outlet, “World,” as cited by news.com.au (4/3/18). Here, it is:
“After news of Chinese President Xi Jinping possibly ruling his country into the indefinite future, a transcript has surfaced of Donald Trump saying he might do the same. In closed-door remarks, a recording of which was obtained by CNN, Trump congratulated Xi for consolidating power, adding he wouldn’t mind making such a move himself.
“He’s now president for life. President for life. And he’s great,” Trump said.
“And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot some day.”
Yes, indeed, maybe we can soon see the American President manoeuvring his way in Machiavellian style to reach this new goal. It is hard, though, given the American Constitution and the American people.
Our Own Mahinda
On the other hand, Sri Lanka’s system has been fluid and flexible. And so it has had many recent experiences: the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa humbly inhabited his position as President in the year 20005. Utilising the great coincidence of a thirty- year -old war ending during his time, Mahinda snapped at a grand ambition.
By a Freudian slip of the tongue he announced that the General who had won the war Is “the greatest Army Commander in the world!” However, soon he realised he had blundered. With the help of his powerful brother Gotabaya who had the Defence under his hold, Mahinda went about putting down the posters that a grateful public had put up hailing the General. Hey presto: in no time the narrative was changed: the war was won by the President’s own effort; it would have been won sans Fonseka. His brother gave the strong supporting arm.
Our slave media men followed suit and history was re-written in a flick. Now it was “Gota’s War.” Story writers were engaged. Fonseka was put into prison jumpers and soon converted from being the greatest Army Commander to the lowliest jailbird. He stayed in a tiny cell for three years until international pressure helped have the poor devil released. Charges had been framed up against the war General and a controversial special court had him tried; his hard-won titles grabbed away from him.
Men and women are assessed by their doings and not by what they utter in public. Remember, Mohideen Baig’s song: “Sinhawen ho kathawen behe maninnata minisa.”(Judge not a person by the words from his mouth or the smile on his face). This malevolent deed is enough to unveil the quality of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother as human beings.
Be that as it may, that episode was over. Mahinda ruled for ten years watching over the mysterious murders and disappearances of the few dissenting journalists that had the courage to delve into abuses of that regime. Gotabaya also kept watch over those dark episodes. The latter did nothing and, having been the Defence “Chief,” what could he not have done? He once, arrogantly, told off the BBC interviewer, “Who is Lasantha Wickrematunge?”As if to say that Lasantha was a small man who can be forgotten. Small or big is not the question. It is all a question of respecting the right of an individual to live. If leaders don’t respect human life, can one expect big things and noble things from them?
Then came the notorious 18th Amendment to our constitution that would have had Mahinda and his family ruling Sri Lanka for the foreseeable future like Xi Jinping to be. Fortunately, good old Sumanananda, the astrologer, helped stymie that.
Maitripala Sirisena took over as President with a promise to demolish the executive Presidency.That did not happen. Just within three years of his incumbency, he had got a wonderful taste of the power he wielded. The crooked ones who had crossed over from Rajapaksas had managed to do a mind-game on Maitri and make him have a go at an extension. The law of the 19th Amendment was clear. Yet, Maitri did have a shot at it-as Trump, now, promises to do. He tried a hopeless misadventure by attempting to stake for monopoly power against his major coalition partner who had put him to his seat in the first place. The campaign killed the credibility of Maitripala ,which he had gathered in the meantime through three years of cooperative rule with the Prime Minister and the Grand Old Party of the UNP. It nearly killed the UNP, too, and gave much needed oxygen for the Mahinda Sulanga.
Morphing of the Power Experience
What is revealed in all such incidents and episodes is a universal pattern of human behaviour, namely that the possession of power turns into an aphrodisiac that transforms the mere act of possession into an emotional clinging to power. In Buddhist parlance, it is both balaya vindeema (experience of power) and bala upadaana ( clinging to power) that operates in situations like this. It is an imperceptible morphing of the power experience.
As is obvious, this is not something uniquely Sri Lankan but something that is universal human behaviour. World history is so replete with examples. We began this piece by mentioning the most recent experiences about Chinese Xi Pinjing and America’s Donald Trump. However, right through history and in every culture this transfer from balaya vindeema to bala upadaana can be seen.
Such leaders will necessarily develop an ideology and a suitable rhetoric to sell themselves to their gullible publics. This is for sure. Hitler and Muusolini’s fascist regimes came up with their own versions of ideology, rhetoric and slogans. In Germany, the Jews were the target and the ordinary Germans’ intrinsic dislike of the economically powerful Jews was played upon by Hitler. In Russia, Stalin carried out one of the world’s most ruthless dictatorships in history chanting the idea of Marxist-Leninist socialism. In Sri Lanka we have the easy targets of the minority Tamil and Sinhala communities. “We must make America great again,” cried Trump. Much before that, SWRD Bandaranaike and Mahinda Rajapaksa suggested,”We must make Sinhalese proud again.”
To the ordinary people, however, would be the poorer for all this narrow ethnic nationalism or parochialism as is evident in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is drowning in parochialism as the island people are being swayed by greedy politicians to avoid thinking, “Sri Lankan.” As a community, our internal tribal differences are being exploited. Fear-mongering stories like the recent one in Ampara are being privately touted and disseminated by politicians.
The demographic reality is that Sri Lanka is sustainable as a unified state, only on the assumption of multi-culturalism. The three communities must learn to live together. Sinhala nationalism will end in genocide and in the balkanisation of the island into separate parts. Sampanthan stated prophetically a few days ago: “Pohottuwa (election symbol of the Sinhala Nationalists) will bloom into Eelam!” Like it or not; it is the truth.
Material Condition of Poverty
There is a causative link between parochial nationalism and the state of the economy. It is all a vicious cycle since the poverty of the people would necessarily induce such parochialism. In Australia, we have a prosperous and growing economy that leaves the sky of opportunity open to anyone and all. Hence, some165 ethnic groups get along together. Tensions are quickly sorted out. There is room for everyone. On the contrary, Sri Lanka has a claustrophobic economy with little room for all. Being import-dependent and debt-driven, its economy is structurally weak and vulnerable. In such a stifling context, groups turn against each other in a tribal blood- let. Dog eating dog; birds grabbing from birds.This is Sri Lanka’s current plight in a nutshell.
Karl Marx has given us great insight here:
“It is not the consciousness of men that determine their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Mind is not the forerunner; material conditions are.