By Sarath de Alwis –
Hero and Antihero
Maduluwawe Sobitha Hamuduruwo and Medagoda Abayatissa Hamuduruwo differ in their world views. The differences are so deep that an attempted comparison would be absolute blasphemy. It would be as heretical as a comparison of Gandhi – the Mahathma with Bin Laden- the fundamentalist.
The reported tête-à-tête between President Sirisena and Medagoda Abayatissa Hamuduruwo in cloistered confidentiality is an alarming eye opener. It alerts us to politics of caprice.
It prompts this retracing of the life, times and pronouncements of Sobitha Hamuduruwo. Events overtaking us makes it necessary for the nation to be reminded how Sobitha Hamuduruwo single handedly made the idea of a common candidate a credible proposition, making the Sirisena Presidency to happen.
A parallax view offers an angle specific vision. The appearance of an object and its position changes with the change of the angle of viewing.
Maithripala Sirisena the common candidate had an angle. Maithripala Sirisena the President at his swearing in at Independence Hall had a different angle. Maithripala Sirisena President of the Republic and President of the SLFP now has a totally different angle.
Flummoxed and fuddled by this crisis conundrum, this essay is an attempt to come to peace with myself for voting for the common candidate on 8th January 2015. This is also an exercise of catharsis for this writer’s sanguinity in composing prose in praise of this President. This is a desperate bid for atonement for the folly of believing that Maithrpala Sirisena will be different.
A President made in 47 days
On 21st November 2014, Maithripala Sirisena, the General Secretary of the SLFP and Minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cabinet announced that he would contest the presidential elections as the common opposition candidate. The idea was to deprive Mahinda Rajapaksa Executive President and President of the SLFP a third term as the supreme law giver of the land.
In under 47 days Maithripala Sirisena was elected President of the Republic.
This writer is the father of two daughters, and knows how daughters adore their fathers. Chathurika Sirisena has written about her Janadhipathi Thaththa. Since this writer has not read the book, ethical propriety precludes the writer from asserting that she has not made any reference to the role of Sobitha Hamuduruwo in making her ‘Thaththa’ the Janadhipathi of this land.
That said, the subject is too serious a matter to indulge Chathurika by agreeing that her Janadhipathi Thaththa is one of history’s inevitable products. He is not. He is an accident of history. Her Telecom Bappa has already attempted to reverse history by banning a website. The scurrilous contents that sometimes appear in the website earn contempt and condemnation of all decent minded citizens. The banning of the website is an equally outstanding obscenity in this age of digital enlightenment.
A Grand reversal
According to reports, Janadhipathi Thaththa is currently engaged in transacting a compact with dethroned tyrants to make the SLFP strong.
Chairman Mao, surveying the collapse of the country’s economy, coolly observed that there was “great disorder under the Heavens” and concluded cynically that “the situation was excellent.”
The euphoria of January 8th, 2015 has given way to a directionless bewilderment. There is indeed great disorder under our heavens. The rainbow in the cloud has evaporated. The drought of deceit has shriveled the soil. The good governance sapling has withered. Oligarchic bonds asphyxiate the people, depriving them of oxygen of accountability.
The President’s call to Basil Rajapaksa, his inclination to accept counselling of Medagoda Abayatissa Hamuduruwo convener of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa front ‘Eliya’ are definite signs of a grand reversal.
Back to the drawing board
The situation demands that we go back to the drawing board and review the blueprints of Sobitha Hamuduruwo the architect and author of the 8th January 2015 covenant.
Medagoda Abayatissa Hamuduruwo with whom the President is now in a compact of unity was then a declared adversary of our Sobitha Hamuduruwo.
There is no single word in English to describe schadenfreude. It is an essentially German philosophical premise – secretly celebrating failure of others. Militant Mahinda promoter Medagoda Abayatisssa Hamuduruwo was biding time to celebrate failure of Sobitha Hamuduruwo and his movement for a just society. He stood for continuity of patronage. The other stood for social justice.
Sobitha Hamuduruwo built his movement as a catalyst for change. He avoided encounters of meaningless conflict. He encouraged Mahinda Rajapaksa to underestimate his impact.
It is our good fortune that he succeeded. In retrospect it is Sobitha Hamuduruwo’s good fortune that he did not live to see the day when the common candidate made his Faustian compact with the parvenu priest of Pepiliyana.
Time for Home Truths
It is time, for President Sirisena to be told the home truths about revolutions and reform processes. They don’t fall out of the sky in 47 days of politicking. Collective consciousness of a people is not a spontaneous occurrence.
Leon Trotsky, another revolutionary betrayed and abandoned has told us how a collective consciousness takes substance and form. “Revolutions take place according to certain laws. This does not mean that the masses in action are aware of the laws of revolution, but it does mean that the changes in mass consciousness are not accidental, but are subject to an objective necessity which is capable of theoretic explanation, and thus makes both prophecy and leadership possible.”
As suggested in the title, this is a parallax assessment. The good, the bad and the difference are viewed from different angles.
Cover one eye and focus on an object. Then cover the other eye and focus on the same object. Because each eye provides a different viewing angle, the object will appear to move.
Presidential Candidate Sirisena genuinely believed that failure would send him six feet under. We saluted him for his courage.
On the day he was sworn in, President Sirisena was deeply aware of the seductive allure of power. He had just defeated a good man turned wicked by power. He knew only too well the world of a narcissistic clan that wished to hold on to power at all costs. He knew that there will come a time when he too would be tempted to compromise integrity and oppress others in the process.
Promise of a one term Presidency
In the address to the nation after the inauguration of his Presidency, Maithripala Sirisena displayed that rare grace of recognizing the corrupting influence of power. He knew, that too often, we start doing good and then suddenly and surely, we get twisted. We abandon promises made and begin to serve our own ambitions and personal comforts. Worse, we succumb to the avarice of kinfolk. Knowing the perils of power, he announced that he was a one term President. Sobitha Hamuduruwo in his Kotte Pansala approved but with a caveat. ‘We shall see’ was his pregnant yet muted sigh.
That in a nutshell explains the predicament of our do-gooding President. It also defines the entire territory of our predicament. That is those of us who voted for the common candidate.
He has changed tracks. Good governance is side tracked. He now wants to be the exclusive candidate of the party he decamped from on 21st November 2014.
Performance: Good, Bad & Stupid
Since assuming office, he seems to balance do-gooding with bad doings, sloppy doings and downright stupid doings.
The President elected to deliver good governance and cast out corruption, has not covered much territory beyond the 19th amendment. Indeed, there are some legislative cosmetics – right to information act, less than ideal electoral reforms for local and provincial elections and an office for missing persons. What is missing is commitment.
His Prime Minister is mired in scandal. Corruption investigations initiated with great brouhaha have lost all signs of bounce and buoyancy. The director general of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) was compelled to resign because the President was shocked and surprised that a former service chief was made to appear before a magistrate.
“There was an objective in setting up these independent commissions. Members of these commissions should know their limits. They must know the scope of their work, “said the common candidate now in the garb of a singularly uncommon President who proceeded to threaten to take “decisive action against those conspiring in corners.” “In all these commissions, the secretaries and director’s generals have been appointed by me. They have a duty to keep the chief executive- the President informed.”
Don’t take us for knaves
Ambivalence and equivocation have been the key indicators of Presidential direction. Establishing his political base in the SLFP has been the principal presidential focus.
Nobody has bothered to remind President Sirisena that when he vacated his office as SLFP general secretary, he also ceased to be a member of the SLFP. Polemics have a purpose on stage but before common sense and the Courts of Law it is a different ball game.
He should have left the business of reclaiming the soul of the SLFP to Chandrika. The President must not take us to be knaves. As he has reminded us on many occasions where would he be if his bid failed? The assumption was that with victory, the SLFP would fall in to his lap. Well, it did not. Mahinda recovered faster than anybody including this writer figured. Give the devil his due. Mahinda never stopped campaigning after he recovered from the initial shock. We do not know what passed between Mahinda and Ranil in that dawn meeting at Temple Trees on 9th January 2015. Let us not even bother to ask Ranil. He is not in the business of informing people. Ranil’s business is lecturing people.
Sobhitha Hamuduruwo saw early signs of perfidy
When defeated candidates were brought in to parliament on the national list, Sobitha Hamuduruwo was quick to read the signs of perfidy that awaited us.
Our accidental redeemer, Maithripala Sirisena has not read Antonio Gramsci’s ‘Modern Prince’.
Gramsci, the Cultural Marxist, offered a new definition for a modern day political party. ‘A political party is an organism that achieves genuine and lasting legitimacy through a complex arrangement in which the cementing of a collective will, recognized and partially asserted in action that has already begun.’
President Sirisena is not equipped to break Mahinda’s grip on the party apparatus and apparatchiks. Mahinda has developed his hold in ten years of patronage, sharing of loot, and a shared contempt for values. Now the challenger – Maithripala has begun to share the same contempt for values in the public discourse.
Maithri had an option. He could have developed a new set of values. He was well placed to bring together a diverse set of social, political and intellectual forces to build a progressive historical bloc. He could have carved out a space for a new political value chain.
Time will tell us sooner than later where the SLFP is headed.
It began in 2012 – ‘Maha Heneya Paradawamu’
Maithripala Sirisena’s presidency is not the result of a miraculous phenomenon. The New Town Hall on 21st November 2014 was not our Tahrir Square. His common candidacy did not in just under 47 days between 21st November 2014 and 8th January 2015, produce a Maithri for President miracle. That is the stuff of blurb writers, including yours truly.
The recorded origin for the search for a common candidate can be traced to 29th May 2012. On that day Sobitha Hamuduruwo, launched his offensive to demolish the Mahinda Rajapaksa monolith.
A group of disciples, followers and well-wishers organized a symposium at the BMICH on 22nd May 2012 to pay tribute to Sobitha Hamuduruwo on his 70th Birthday. There he made his call to end the Mahinda monolith, rid the country of Gauleiters of Gotabaya and break Basils barriers of rent collection.
The call made by Sobaitha Hamuduruwo on that historic gathering of a determined few was excitingly expressive. ‘Maha Henaya Paradawamu’ was his anguished cry. The Sinhala word ‘Henaya’ is expressive of unfathomable calamity, an unimaginable atrocity. He likened the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime to a ‘Maha Henaya’ that was devouring the land and its people.
A weary wanderer
The focus of this missive is to recap the three years of the Maithripala Presidency and the detour from the promised path of the common candidate. “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present” said Niccolo Machiavelli
When the new regime that promised reform took over, the mentor Sobitha Hamuduruwo was a weary wanderer and an alert beholder of unfolding events. He was not content with the dismantling of a regime that was a moral monstrosity. He well knew the monster lurking in every one of us.
Maithripala Sirisena mistakenly believes that his 47 days messianism made the change. He speaks about the risk he endured. He speaks of the international good will he earned. He has to date, not uttered one syllable on the Sobhitha effect on his presidency. We are all entitled to our opinions in our deformed democracy.
On 29th May 2015, five months before boarding the ferry across Samsara, Sobhitha Hamuduruwo presided over a public forum. It was attended by the President, Prime Minister and Former President Chandrika.
The President and Prime Minster were reminded of the ten points program that they were committed to implement.
“We will not slacken our vigilance’ Sobitha Hamuduruwo pledged.
Failing health prevented Sobitha Hamuduruwo from an engaged contribution. Instead, he assigned Professor Sarath Wijesuriya to present the ten-point covenant on good governance and a just society. The good Professor qualified it as the Past, Present and Future perspectives of a Rishi. ‘Isiwara Manasaka Thun Kal Dekma’
Life of Sobitha Hamuduruwo is epic poetry. History will not forgive either President Sirisena or Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesighe for pilfering such epic poetry.
Bertolt Brecht’s short poem on the Berlin uprising in 1953 is a compelling post script.
After the uprising of June 17th
The Secretary of the Authors’ Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Which said that the people
Had forfeited the government’s confidence
And could only win it back
By redoubled labour. Wouldn’t it
Be simpler in that case if the government
Dissolved the people and