By Nishthar Idroos –
Ladies and Gentleman try if you can and erase any previous memory you may have of the above caption. Now try and visualize the kind of imagery the above caption evokes. Doesn’t the phrase Sagarayak Meda (In the centre of an ocean) conjure emotions of a fantasy island, a salubrious and irresistible sanctuary pulling you to delight to heart’s content? Pristine white sandy beaches, crystal-clear blue seas, lush coconut trees and birds chirping and aimlessly flying over. Never ending sunshine inviting you to indulge and save precious memory. An unmatched tropical clime endowing year-round warm weather, moderated by ocean winds and moisture. What an experience? Ladies and Gentleman this heavenly description is none other than our own island country Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, an idyllic and ravishing island in the Indian Ocean. Travellers are dazed if not dumfounded by its sheer beauty, some visitors have even got married to the island and proudly call it home. Located in Southern Asia with her behemoth neighbor India to the north. Sri Lanka to-date has successfully preserved its unique mystique character and continues to intoxicate travellers.
This was not always the case for this pendent shaped island. Manmade and natural disasters had a huge toll on the beautiful island. For almost thirty years it was plagued and paralysed by a civil war which killed hundreds of thousands of people and virtually gridlocked economic progress. Some of the best destinations in the north and east were turned to ghost towns and tourism as a result started to reel. Black July was the first major bruise mother Lanka suffered in contemporary history. The anti-Tamil pogrom and riots in July 1983. A response to a deadly ambush on 23 July 1983 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that killed 13 Sri Lanka Army soldiers. Over seven days Sinhalese mob attacked Tamil targets, burning, looting and killing. The death toll was unprecedented. Thousands of shops and homes were destroyed. Approximately 150,000 people were made homeless. The economic cost of the riots was in excess of $300 million.
Then came the Boxing Day tsunami. The aftermath of the 2004 tsunami was a humanitarian catastrophe. It also gave rise to thousands of deaths and unspeakable devastation. As someone who closely witnessed the tragedy of the 2004 tsunami I wouldn’t go into any detail. The 2014 anti-Muslim riots is another incident that greatly manifested the growing intolerance of an administration in power. President Mahinda Rajapaksa astutely tried to politically manipulate the situation to his advantage by spreading tentacles of alliance and accord with his strategic voter segments .i.e. the Sinhala Buddhist vote. Did anyone of these grand labour efforts pay off? They say man proposes but God disposes. He eventually gave everything on a platter not to any stranger. His nemesis was none other than his own General Secretary. It was doubtless a crushing defeat to a war winning President. In the 2014 riots Muslims and their property were attacked by Sinhalese Buddhists in the towns of Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dhargatown. At least four people were killed and Hundreds injured and made homeless. Muslim owned Shops, factories and places of worship were targeted and destroyed. The whole operation was organised and orchestrated by a well coordinated mob ably led by the founder of the BBS the most learned, most enlightened, most noble, most eloquent and most composed Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara.
Finally in 2009 when the conflict was brought to an end the people had a sigh of relief but mistakenly thought economic progress would now proceed unhindered and prosperity would trickle down. Unknown to everyone a single family was extremely busy preparing a gargantuan invoice for emancipating the country from the ravages of terrorism. The course of time tells us that the family not only prepared an invoice, wrote the cheque, signed it, arranged the funds, cashed it, enjoyed with alacrity and honorably ensured that our grand children and great grand children obediently pay it off until its finally settled some day in the distant future.
It’s an irreconcilable irony that all of the above happened in this paradise island nestled in the centre of the Indian Ocean famous for its uncommon and exclusive beauty. No wonder why we only dream of being another Singapore or Hong Kong. It’s pertinent here to discuss what ultimately makes or breaks nations. All of this boils down to people, leadership and priorities. Roles played by politicians in nation building can do one of three things. They can further a cause, this can be good, bad or ugly, mitigate it or completely resolve it. From the standpoint of minorities politicians especially the educated ones who rose to high office in the past had been more of a bane than a boon vis a vis amicable resolution.
They sacrificed foresight for political expediency and bequeathed a pernicious legacy whose detrimental consequences is quite manifest. Former Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was born into the high class. Bandaranaike was looking for a breakthrough opportunity to propel him to leadership. The Oxford educated erudite and orator with very little knowledge of Sinhala formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and promised “Sinhala Only” and implemented it overnight. His children got an overseas English education and that’s a different subject matter. The country at large suffered. When the economy eventually liberalised it was a huge challenge to recruit people with a fair knowledge of the English language. The disaster this parochial policy engendered is history but the haemorrhage continues.
Deleterious effects of ill-conceived policy are gnawingly precedential in Sri Lanka. Most regimes in the past planned and executed for pure and unadulterated political gain. Drawing a wedge between minority and majority was the convenient stratagem of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He unleashed his diabolical tactics by way of the BBS and other nefarious organization to promote himself and strike a resonant chord with majority Buddhists. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he would one day become eminently susceptible to someone with better Buddhist credentials who would eventually oust him. Huge lessons are to be drawn from these experiences.
What’s intolerable in this whole repugnant enterprise was the deafening taciturnity of the educated in the administration. They behaved like egregious sycophants. Those like Professor GL Peiris who I believe has double doctorates, Ajith Nivard Cabral, Dr DB Jayasudara, Mohan Pieris were behaving like docile, dutiful and faithful criminals to the many earth-shattering crimes that were being committed right before their noses. The inventory will soon unravel and the people will know everything. The people have a right to know all the crimes, all the misleading and all the deceptions.
What did the country gain from their supposed education? What did country gain from their supposed intelligence? What did the country gain from their supposed experience and wisdom? The answer is zero, absolute nothing. In the final analysis all of it was reduced to controversy and calumny. I think it was Martin Luther King Junior who said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
This brings me to the main theme of this article. ‘Sagarayak Meda’ was a controversial film directed by the inimitable Sri Lankan film actor, film director and politician the late Gamini Fonseka. He gave a par-excellence rendition of the then Justice Minister, Felix Dias Bandaranaike. Gamini Fonseka made the film more real by offering a character to Ian Wickremanayake, who was the Bribery Commissioner during that political administration. Iranganie Serasinghe too acted magnificently in the film. Felix Dias Bandaranaike was the chief protagonist in the film. His scant regard for democracy and openly spoke of the need for ” a little bit of Totalitarianism” to put the country on its feet . Sagarayak Meda made for the wide screen soon after the United National Party came into power in 1977. It vilified the Sri Lanka Freedom Party regime that had just been overthrown, and lampooned and lambasted figures like Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the detested minister in that government.
The time has now come for some perceptive, insightful and critical director to write the screen play and direct “Sagarayak Meda ll” The principal protagonist’s role should undoubtedly go to the consummate, unequalled and unsurpassable Gotabaya Rajapaksa with equally prominent roles given to Professor GL Peiris, Ajit Nivard Cabral, Dr DB Jayasundara, Mohan Pieris last but certainly not least the irrepressible Weerawansa. I am sure our own Wilson Gunaratne will be more than willing to give the voice cut for Professor GL Peiris. I wish I could personally watch the shooting of the infamous Gotabaya interview to BBC where he said he would hang General Sarath Fonseka if need be. The country needs a big laugh after all what the people had gone through.