Colombo Telegraph

Shindig At The Shangri-La

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

“I saw the Emperor -this soul of the world- go out from the city to survey his reign; it is a truly a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrating on one point while seated on a horse, stretches over the world and dominates it.

“Such was the reaction of the great Philosopher Hegel when he contemplated Napoleon Buonaparte astride his white Stallion at Jena. That was the end of philosophy wrote a 20th century philosopher Alexandre Kojève who wrote a critique on the work of the master. 

I saw Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the lectern at the Shangri-La. I pray that it is not the end of our democracy. Men of action are a menace to the human kind. 

This is about the Shindig at the Shangri la. This is about that great event, where Gotabaya Rajapakse announced that he is not a politician. That he is the outstanding alternative to the miserable alternatives we are presently saddled with. 

 “By the year 2030, China’s economy would expand and become twice the size of the economy of the US relegating it to second place. India’s economy will become the third largest followed by Japan and Indonesia. We Sri Lankans, cannot seize the opportunity to develop the country if we are not ready by the year 2030.”  

That is wonderfully illuminating if only he told us how he proposes to make us ready for 2030. Is it by electing him President in 2020? 

He did not say it explicitly. But he has gone to great lengths to imply it. This missive is pended on that rather, solid premise.  

He told his Shangri-La audience, that Sri Lanka should seize the window of opportunity presented by the shift of global economic center of gravity. 

If that was the burden of his thesis he should agree to open the damned window and not insist on keeping it shut as he did when he was the powerful puppeteer behind his brother’s throne. 

In his time at the helm, the internet was not freely accessible. His gate keepers were busy devising ways of encryption and decryption. Now he speaks of the virtues of a knowledge-based economy. 

If he has gone to a reform school in the interim, he certainly did not mention it in his peroration.  

In measured resonance, punctuated by apparently sincere conviction (so we presume) Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained his ‘weltanschauung’ – his wide world perception. 

‘We will open our economy for foreign investors whilst protecting our sovereignty and preserving our cultural values. Economic policies, past and present will be reviewed and improved. Policies that harm the economy will be repudiated.”  

Therein lies the abyss that we are staring at with a Gotabaya presidency. He is modern and antimodern. He preaches cosmopolitan economics and practices xenophobic politics. 

He is really and convincingly dangerous. His bigotry is genuine. He is a vegetarian with the appetite of a carnivore.

“Love your country. Play your part in shaping its future. The future is in our hands.” 

Nobel sentiments indeed. Now we come against an insurmountable barrier. What is our country? Is it a multiethnic plural democracy wherein different groups compete for power and access resources? Or is it a majoritarian monument resting  on the myth of a cosmic habitat of a chosen tribe?        

Autocratic leaders do not come through the back door. In most instances they are elected. Dictators enter from the main gate and very often they are carried on the shoulders of adoring citizens. They are given the reins of the state by people maddened by the inefficiency and sickened by the indifference of their elected governments.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is well on his way to the executive presidency in 2020.  His ‘Viyath-maga’ Erudite-Path conclave at the Shangri la was a dazzling demonstration of his mastery in managing terror- his specialty and expertise. 

The Shangri-La shindig attracted everybody who was somebody in commerce, industry and finance. Why did they come and sit through the proceedings with such contrived patience and simulated attention?

They came not to declare their allegiance to the would-be president. They were there because caution and foresight that got them to the top of their businesses, told them that a declaration of obedience was the commonsense option. 

By enticing the linchpins of commerce, industry and finance to his presidential circus he has delivered a body blow to the UNP establishment that has always retained a prescriptive title to the subconscious of the opulent and the affluent.  

They did not go there to learn how Zuckerberg made his billions or how the center of gravity of the global economy was shifting to a point between China and India in the coming decade. In this age of internet of things, such pseudo profundities would not have excited anyone but the most moronic and the least connected.  

A Harvard historian Timothy Snyder has explained the 21st century resurgence of tyrannical regimes under the guise of nationalism and economic revival.  The process begins when we allow demagogues to seize the monopoly of defining development. The demagogue excels in challenging verifiable reality. 

The demagogue insists on the illusion of a parliamentary opposition. More than that, the demagogue relies on moderate language and extreme institutions.  

South Korea, Indonesia and China are the countries that are focused on. India is included more or less as an afterthought. Japan is included but not stressed.  

Dis these countries achieve economic growth under democratic regimes? Unfortunately, no. Economic growth does not go hand in hand with democracy. The East Asian examples tell us that that it was economic growth that led those repressive development models to accommodate democratic demands and values. The processes were too painful. 

A point that is missed in the punditry dished out by his marketing acolyte and his Mossad funded advisor from Singapore. Democracy in the East Asian tiger economies were the compelled policy choices of their respective dictators.   

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has forgotten how he arrived at this firmament. He arrived at this point because universal adult franchise made it possible for his great uncle D.M indeed a great man to represent the peasantry immortalized by Leonard Wolf in the state council. 

The people of this land demand economic prosperity. But they are not ready to barter away their independent minds for a deceptive utopia.      

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