By Vishwamithra –
“To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence.” ~Joseph Conrad
What is the magic that the Rajapaksas have and the Maithri-Ranil Combo does not? What is it that sustains the Rajapaksa campaign of vitriol, lies, exaggerations and hallucinations? What makes the masses not dispel the idea of a Rajapaksa comeback? What makes them blindly cling on to a fantasy of a corrupt regime but more attractive in terms of deliverables, charisma, projection of surreal circumstances such as ‘Miracle in Asia’ and ‘humanitarian operation’. In short, what makes the Rajapaksas click in an uncertain political dynamics that constantly demands progress?
These are not easy questions to answer. Pundits have attempted to analyze and deduce. They have tried many times to dissect the issues and the attempts made by the Rajapaksas to resolve these nagging national issues. In some cases the Rajapaksas have succeeded, while in others, they failed. But when they failed they did not get bogged down in an unworthy state of stagnancy. They either swept those issues under the carpet or simply ignored them and got back to the job that they are most capable of doing- hoodwinking the masses. They resumed their terrible habit of corruption and nepotism. The most stark and vivid difference between the Rajapaksas and Maithri-Ranil Combo is that the Rajapaksas have fine-tuned the art of deception. Both Chanakya and Sun Tzu, two great intellectuals of the ancient world would be surprised by the way and fashion in which the Rajapaksa Inc. navigated the ship of State during and after the Northern War in Sri Lanka.
It is beyond dispute that the Rajapaksas fittingly earned full credit for bringing the war to a successful end. While three of his predecessors failed to achieve this task, Mahinda Rajapaksa managed to end it in a most dramatic fashion. The very optics of the war-victory was breathtaking; the killing of Prabhakaran who was a scourge to all Sinhalese-Buddhists and display of this mass-killer’s dead body generated a sigh of relief on the one hand and a satisfying sense of revenge on the other. Then Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of the country alighting from his aircraft and worshipping the soil of his motherland created a semi-durable impression in the minds of all citizens of the country barring Northern Tamils. The victory rallies that followed kept that impression afresh at least in the minds of Sinhalese-Buddhists. Backed by a superb team of advertising and public relations experts, Rajapaksa Inc. became a success story overnight. From the old women who worshipped Buddha morning, noon and night living in a humble abode in a country hamlet to a three-wheel driver in the busy suburbs and super-rich elite professionals in Colombo, applauded the Rajapaksa Inc.-led government.
The pervasive sense of patriotism that engulfed the country consumed each and every non-Tamil citizen in the country and it was justifiable in the context of untold misery and disruption to civil life the Northern war brought about in the land. There was no nuanced rendition of the message. It was direct, simple and hard-hitting. If you are not with the government, you are taken as an adversary not of the government but of the country and its inhabitants that yearned for peace and stability. That is the end result of this euphoria that manifested itself in the wake of the cessation of violence in the North.
But a number of civil organizations led by some local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and University academics went thus far and no further. It was mainly due to the following factors that played a decisive role in transforming an assenting mind into a collective adverse:
- Taking General Sarath Fonseka into custody
- Impeaching Shirani Bandaranayake, the Chief Justice at the time
- Passage of the Eighteenth (18th) Amendment
- Making a mockery of the judiciary and the Supreme Court
- Continuing cavalcade of corruption
A seemingly stable and solid government that enjoyed a two-third’s majority in the House of Parliament became a mere tool in the hands of a very few; a coterie of family members and their immediate cohorts, whose vested interests were the same, became so powerful; substantial manifestations of cruel and corrupt deeds were taken for granted as rational and logical characteristics of a democratically elected government. The story of corrupt practices of that regime has been catalogued by some journalists, legal luminaries and social scientists. It’s not my intention to revisit those ugly and obscene episodes. The very memories of those distasteful allegations could be defilement to mind and deflation to spirit. Yet what became a surprise victory for Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential Elections in 2015, February was a surprise only to Rajapaksa Inc. For the rest of the country, it was a not only a drama playing its final Act, but more a realization of a what was considered a mere fantasy. The way the Rajapaksas and their immediate support cast played the country out in all financial dealings was being condoned and sometimes encouraged and bolstered. But it had a limit.
That is all history. What confronts the country and its present ruling partnership today is entirely different but in no way novel, although they attempt to portray as one. Yahapalanaya is only a new word introduced by the Manifesto of the UNP-SLFP, especially in line with the modern Western liberal thinking. Advanced democracies such as Western Europe and some countries in Asia like Singapore and Japan can boast of a very educated electorate which is sensitized to Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information. But Sri Lanka whose electorate has been sensitized to a culture of gross corruption and unhinged nepotism could hardly relate to genuine and tangible Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information. The sheer subservient culture of our people has gripped them in a stagnant and muted outlook as far as their relationships to the sophisticated machineries of governance is concerned. It has made them serfs of a system which their past generations had been used to and had no quarrel with. Governed by Kings and Queens in all of their history, Sri Lankans are inherently attracted to strong men and women.
A cursory glance into our post-Independence history too shows the same propensity. D S Senanayake, Sir John Kotelawala, J R Jayewardene, Sirimavo and Chandrika Bandaranaike, R Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa are excellent examples. In modern times our electorate responded the same way our ancestors did during the various Monarchies in our history. Coalition governments are inherently weak in that the very process of governance becomes a practice of constant adjustments in relation to power-sharing and distribution and delegation of resources. The Rajapaksa Inc., in its rule of nine plus years, managed to drive the country further into corruption. Its practice of nepotism became accepted as norm for there were so-called elites who never hesitated to oil the right palm of the right clan member. It could be a sibling, son, brother-in-law or nephew or niece, it never stopped to surprise itself; by prolonging a ludicrous circus of nepotism and corruption, they all danced to the tune of the Rajapaksa Inc. it did not seem to have dawned on them that the country at large was getting close to a breaking point, and when it broke, the country’s faith in the new ‘Yahapalanaya’ grew and sadly those who were elected to power now seem to have forgotten that the process which was replaced was rotten from head to toe and was comprehensively rejected by an electorate treading a dangerous line of desperation.
It is this electorate that the present rulers seem to have forgotten. Sri Lanka cannot enthrone a leader exclusively from amongst Sinhalese Buddhists. A candidate who is tipped to receive a substantial majority of Tamil and Muslim votes does not need a majority of Sinhalese Buddhist votes. That constant changed only n 2009. That is because of the war-victory and Rajapaksa Inc. managed quite rightly so, to harness an overwhelming majority of Sinhalese Buddhists plus a fair amount of Muslim support. But in 2015 the story was different. Thanks mainly to the machinations of the BBS (Bodu Bala Sena) and other anti-Muslim advocacies, politically engineered by the siblings of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Muslims were alienated from the SLFP. In 2009, the Rajapaksa Inc. defeated Sarath Fonseka, the military leader who commanded the forces at the time of war against Tamil terrorists/militants.
Maithri-Ranil Combo that was elected in successive elections, Presidential and Parliamentary, has already wasted two and half years. The sense of uncertainty, the sense of weakness that is being felt by a great majority of those who voted for them is increasingly gaining a foothold; with that, the patience and faith is diminishing at an alarming rate. It is still not too late for the current administration to show some moral and ethical strength. It is never late for adjustments. If you try you give yourself a chance. If you don’t, you deprive yourself of that precious chance.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org