By Laksiri Fernando –
It was very true that those who gathered in ‘a hundred thousand’ or those who spoke on behalf of Mahinda Rajapaksa at Nugegoda didn’t care about ‘corruption, human rights violations or dictatorship.’ As Dayan Jayatilleka has opined they WANTED him for the ‘Nation’ instead.
It was also clear from the speeches and also from the mood of the crowd that this ‘nation’ that they talk about is not the ‘Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim-Burgher’ nation. It is not the political or the civic nation of Sri Lanka. It is the parochial ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ ethnic nation that they talked about with considerable disagreement of the Sinhalese and the Buddhists as shown at the last elections. It is the ‘nation’ that the admirers talked about without concern for ‘corruption, human rights or dictatorship.’
It was not the size of the crowd that mattered but the contents of the speeches and the statements. It started with ethnically patriotic Sinhala songs and ended with the national anthem which is denied to the Tamil community to sing in their own or known language. The Professor who argued that a national anthem should only be in the dominant language in any country, Nalin de Silva, was on the stage. Next to him was the one time celebrated novelist, Gunadasa Amerasekara, who abominably turned a chauvinist thinker in his senile days. The announcer of the meeting was delighted to announce the name of Dr Dayan Jayatilleka along with those two names quite fittingly.
They all came from left persuasions in old days, let alone Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who gave a mumbled speech talking about a ‘new era and a new age’ under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘imagined premiership’ who was in power as the Executive President for 10 years but ironically lost two years by attempting to snatch six more years on the 8th of January.
It was not the war that the country won under his presidency (when Sarath Fonseka was the army commander) that ousted him from the presidency, at the last presidential elections, but his craving for power even mercilessly harassing the former army commander after the elections in 2010. Of course the minority communities, particularly the Tamils, wanted justice without continuously discriminating them for the atrocities committed by the LTTE.
The crowds at the meeting in size perhaps were parallel to the United Left Front meetings in early 1960’s which I have seen and attended or the DUNF rallies led by Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake in early 1990s which I have not attended. However, a major difference was that, apart from the population of those days, while those opposition forces in the past were progressive in both the social and political nature going against dictatorial powers, in the present instance at least the speeches of the speakers were completely regressive and even going backwards from the SLFP or the UPFA policies in the past or the present.
That is why it was not a UPFA or a SLFP rally.
The Personality Cult
The rally showed the extent to which the Rajapaksa personality cult has/d been built in this country utilizing the powers of the executive presidency and the financial resources of the tax payer’s money during the last ten years or so.
Maithripala Sirisena is a clear contrast.
All those who were on the stage except perhaps Dinesh Gunawardena were direct beneficiaries of the Rajapaksa cult, also excluding of course Dayan at the last stages. The most disgraceful of this pilgrimage was Vasudeva. There was nothing else (except also Sinhala chauvinism) at this meeting but this Rajapaksa cult. They gleefully announced that day by day thousands of people go to Mademulana to pay homage to Rajapaksa. Many of them may be innocent admirers, created and mobilized by the past financial beneficiaries of the Rajapaksa cult.
As it was unashamedly noted by one admirer/beneficiary of this cult: “It was the most emotional, energetic and enthusiastic crowd I have seen at a public meeting in Sri Lanka, and that emotion wasn’t against anyone. It was for someone and something.” It was also mythical, as the same source noted, “It was an energy that ran along an invisible circuit extending from Nugegoda to Medamulana and back.” This is no any ‘science’ but blind faith or worship.
The most articulate on the stage of this cult was Wimal Weerawansa who was glorified as a ‘pure Jacobin orator.’ He was well suited for the whipping task. He told the story of Jesus who was resurrected (apparently by God in this case) and then people venerated him as the God. This is exactly what the admirers or the beneficiaries of the cult want people to do, worship Rajapaksa as the God.
Weerawansa also told the crowd that the people who demanded that Barabbas be released and Jesus instead be crucified thereafter repented to mean that people have committed mea culpa at the last election by electing Maithripala Sirisena to the presidency. There were other stories and when the disjointed stories and the rhetoric were taken out there were no facts or sense. This is the same with those who have admirably written on the meeting.
During the speech of Udaya Gammanpila, three political personalities were attacked and mocked in his own style with a winking eye: Azath Salley, John Amaratunga and NPC Chief Minister, C. V. Wigneswaran. It is not true that the meeting was not against anyone. The arguments of the speakers went to deny the validity of the votes of the minority communities at the last elections, the Muslims, the Tamils and the Christians.
Ven. Pallaththara Sumanajothi’s ‘sermon’ (anusasana) was the most pathetic particularly as a chancellor of a university. He defended family nepotism as natural and something condoned by the Buddha himself! His grumble was that his ‘government vehicle’ given by Mahinda Rajapaksa was taken away by the new administration!
It is not true that the meeting didn’t attack Maithripala Sirisena and he “was safe, unchallenged, acknowledged as President.” The main purpose of the big mouthed Weerawansa was to humiliate the President. Strangely enough I didn’t hear anything against Chandrika Kumaratunga!
If Maithripala Sirisena was acknowledged as the President, there was no point in talking about a conspiracy. This conspiracy theory was the main thrust of the Statement of Mahinda Rajapaksa to the meeting which was read out to the crowd with much enthusiasm by Dayan Jayatilleka.
It said, “We were not defeated but deprived of power.” “What we are experiencing is not a defeat but the result of a conspiracy.”
It was abundantly clear that this power hungry crowd of chauvinists don’t have any faith in elections. Elections were held when it was convenient and elections are denounced as conspiracies when they get defeated. No one has to be defensive or apologetic of Maithripala Sirisena getting overwhelming votes of the minorities. They are part and parcel of the Sri Lankan electorate. In a democracy, every vote has an equal value whether it is from the majority or the minority. It is not so long ago that those who ‘lament about the defeat’ even after obtaining 58% of the 74% of the majority votes tried to picture that the Northern Tamil community in the population is just 4%. It cannot be a mistake but a prejudice.
What is very clear from the statements that they have made at the meeting or after that, whether it is Gammanpila, Gunawardena, Weerawansa or even Jayatilleka is that their reluctance to accept the Tamil or the Muslim communities as equal citizens of the Sri Lankan political system. To them until the so-called ‘civilizational core’ of the people, and that means according Jayatilleka is the Sinhala majority, approves an election that would be a ‘conspiracy.’ It appears that Jayatilleka has become the newest or foremost ideologue of Sinhala chauvinists surpassing Nalin de Silva or Gunedasa Amerasekera.
The election ‘conspiracy’ was linked to the defeat of LTTE terrorism and ‘conspirators’ were branded as the enemies of the country. This branding was extended to the President Maithripala Sirisena. Then for Weerawansa, Mahinda Rajapaksa is not a name but a country. That may be the logic for them to consider those who were against Rajapaksa at the elections were against the country.
From the Statement of Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Nugegoda meeting, it is very clear that he hasn’t accepted the democratic verdict of the people at the election on the 9th morning or thereafter. Ironically, he has called the election which he called and wanted, a conspiracy! This is the kind of a Hero that the chauvinists have. I don’t know whether AW Singham (“The Hero and the Crowd”) wrote about these kind of heroes that Dayan mentioned and talked about.
Until this Statement, I was not convinced that there was an attempted (but an aborted) coup on that 9th morning. But this statement changes my mind. This is clear evidence that he didn’t accept the people’s verdict and call(ed) it a conspiracy in addition to saying that “I was not defeated, but deprived of power.” This must definitely constitute one of the clear evidence of the court case against that attempted coup. Two more conclusions are in order.
The Nugegoda rally is nothing but an attempt to resurrect the Rajapaksa personality cult by its former beneficiaries. However, given the history of this cult already built during his executive presidency (2005-2015) and utilizing the financial resources of the tax payer’s money, the present government or the Rajapaksa opposition particularly within the SLFP should not take the challenge easily.
Most dangerous is the chauvinist echoes that the rally reverberated among the people against the minorities. In the course of the forthcoming period, leading to the parliamentary elections, they would try their best to propel these chauvinist feelings among the Sinhala majority. Even the SLFP and the other partners of the UPFA (LSSP, CP and JHU) might come under that pressure unless relevant discussions and forceful political and educational campaigns are launched. There are responsibilities even on the part of the leaders of the minority political parties, particularly the TNA or the NPC leaders, also not to aggravate the polarization. This should not be a cosmetic effort but a genuine attempt at reconciliation and moderating views and feelings of the broader sections and masses.