By Samanmalee Unanthenna –
“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it”.
Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural Address, 1861
Several months ago, in an article I wrote, I gently chided Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri for his comment that we should make up our minds to live with this regime for the next 15 years. Reading his recent interview in the Divaina dated 15th April, 2012, it is clear that Dr Dewasiri has changed his mind. He has no intention of waiting 15 years anymore; in fact, he does not want to wait even 15 months! What has happened during the last several months to have brought about this change, not just in Dr Dewasiri, but many others?
Clearly, the economic consequences of the Rajapakse regime are becoming intolerable. Apart from the favoured 1% who are profiting by the regime’s excesses, the rest of us fight on a daily basis to cope with the rising cost of living. It is not unusual to see people buying two carrots, one egg, half a loaf of bread, 100gms of sugar; more seriously, even cutting down on essential medication because that too has become a luxury we cannot afford. When Minister Bandula Gunawardene arrogantly claimed that a family can survive on Rs 7,500.00 per month a more conscientised people would have marched up the Ministry of Education and physically hurled him out on to the street.
Perhaps, all of this would have been somewhat tolerable, had the regime shown any sensitivity to the woes of the people. But what this regime has excelled in is twisting not just truth, but hard evidence to suit its agenda. Thus, the countries that abstained from voting in favour of the US resolution in Geneva, were actually supporting Sri Lanka; political activists and journalists are not being abducted but handing themselves into police stations in order to obtain a free ticket out of this country; the price of goods is rising in order to keep up with the rising incomes of people. Governor Ajit Nivaard Cabraal cites the number of SUVs on the roads of Colombo as evidence for how well the economy is doing. How out of touch can this ‘people’s government’ be?
Dr Dewasiri, in his interview is expressing the frustration many of us are feeling about the way in which this regime is getting away with such lies and the fact that they are not being called to account. The regime’s response to the education sector is a case in point. A newspaper recently reported that Minister SB Dissanayake has proclaimed that university students can now apply for loans to fund their higher education and he had mentioned several state universities as having agreed to this scheme. Why should students apply for loans for state funded education? If students are expected to repay the cost of their education through a loan scheme, that is a serious policy change. Can a Minister merely announce such a change through the media? This and other throw away comments made by the Higher Education Minister have become so commonplace as to be not even commented upon anymore. But what it indicates is just how bereft this regime is of any logic or sense. This is not funny – it is dangerous.
What is disturbing is that while the general public appears to be increasingly disgruntled with the performance of Ministers and the bureaucracy, they appear to not see that this is not a problem of individual Ministers behaving badly or stupidly: this is the nature of this regime and the buck should stop with none other than the Rajapakse siblings. Because, make no mistake. This country is being run to the dogs by none other than the Rajapakse family and their cronies. This family behaves as if the country and its people are their personal fiefdom. This is the nature of Medamulana politics. Their sole objective is nothing but their own aggrandizement and advancement. They are to put it simply, the modern day equivalent of mediaeval robber barons. It’s a combination of populism and patronage delivered with the threat of violence if anyone steps out of line. You will be looked after as long as you do not challenge the overlord. JR had a vision for the country, however misguided the vision was and the unscrupulous means he used to achieve it; similarly, Premadasa, subscribed to a particular plan that went beyond the wellbeing of his own clan. Not the Rajapakses: this is all about themselves. So what if the Ministers are ruining education, health, agriculture, the energy sector and everything else? That will make it all the more easier to sell off all these sectors to the highest bidder!
How else can we explain diverting cargo (exempted from charges) from the Colombo Port to Hambantota? Or an international airport and a Shangri-la resort in an area known for serious, periodical, water shortages and intense drought conditions? How does any of this even make economic sense? Development according to the Rajapakses is all about performance. It is not about actual improvement in people’s lives – those people who are not direct beneficiaries of the Rajapakse benevolence. Instead, development is about commissions and then providing entertainment for the masses so that they can be distracted from the fact that their own lives are steadily deteriorating. So, the Southern Highway is opened with cart races and marathons; fake ships arrive at the Hambantota port and fake planes will definitely land at the Hambantota aiport. Perhaps, fake tourists will arrive at the Shangri-la resort as well. In the meantime, crowds of people are encouraged to ‘view’ these ‘miracles’ at state expense. Indicators of development are the number of SUVs on the road, number of people taking the Southern Highway to have lunch in Galle, the number of ‘festivals’ Sri Lanka hosts per year and the number of boutique hotels and luxury resorts that are springing up around the country. All this is backed up by fake statistics that claim unemployment is down, poverty rates have declined miraculously, economic growth is unprecedented and external debt has decreased as well! With the ever friendly IMF ready to step in with another loan and to declare that the economic fundamentals are strong, this performance of development miracles is not just well funded but has international guest performers!
All this hides the sad truth that our economy today is surviving due to foreign remittances; women in the Middle East doing menial work and getting abused and battered in the process and to a lesser extent young men in Korea doing jobs that no one else wants. This is what the Central Bank and the IMF can claim as strong economic fundamentals! And our gratitude is such that the state steps in actively to protect alleged perpetrators of rape and sexual abuse of women in the Middle East. It doesn’t matter what the women have to put up with – just keep the remittances rolling in! Isn’t it ironic that this most patriarchal of regimes is dependent on women’s labour to keep itself going? So, the recent publication of the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment, showcasing ‘strong’ women of Sri Lanka, lauds the First Lady for her supportive role in this performance, but naturally does not even mention the tens of thousands of women whose sweat and blood bankroll the Rajapakse regime.
Mahinda Rajapakse has been recently compared to Abraham Lincoln in the wake of the nationalistic fervour that was whipped up during the time of the Geneva resolution. It would be good for His Excellency to remember the words of Lincoln who proclaimed that citizens have the right to not just to vote out a government, but if necessary “dismember and overthrow” it. The excesses of this regime are beginning to tell and the legendary patience and passivity of the Sri Lankan citizen is slowly but surely showing signs of wear and tear. Dr Dewasiri’s recent interview is a good indicator of this change.
This piece was written prior to the incidents at Dambulla; however, what happened in Dambulla and its fall out is yet another reflection of the growing chaos unleashed by the Rajapakse regime. Having unleashed, fuelled, nurtured and protected, Sinhala Buddhism nationalist forces to the maximum, this regime has no response to the ugliness of what occurred in Dambulla. After all, if it speaks out against the religious bigotry of the Sinhala Buddhists as exemplified by the Chief Prelate of the Dambulla temple and his supporters, it will antagonise its most ardent and passionate supporters. The regime’s Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is the ONLY factor that is providing it with some cheap popularity at the moment. Any indication that it is not willing to stand by its racist credentials will complete the growing disillusionment and anger that is growing against the Rajapakse regime. At the same time, having antagonoised a section of the international community and aligning itself with ‘alternative’ global powers with supposedly similar concerns about US and European ‘neo-colonialism’ the Rajapakse regime is in grave danger of antagonising yet more foreign nations after this latest fiasco. That this government is rapidly earning pariah status internationally should surprise no one. The term ‘hoisted by your own petard’ comes to mind. However, the tragedy is the heavy cost of the Rajapakse misrule on this country and its people. This regime is spiraling out of control and its dragging us all down with it.