Colombo Telegraph

The Illusionist

By Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

Manipulation, fuelled with good intent, can be a blessing. But when used wickedly, it is the beginning of a magician’s karmic calamity.”  ― T.F. Hodge, From Within I Rise

Watch him closely and with circumspection. Our former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, never goes and comes; he appears and disappears. It is the sorcerer’s or magician’s skill that he employs to good effect.Like the sorcerer, he concentrates on effect. Hirunika Premachandra, promising young female MP, in a recent Satana TV program perceptively characterised Mahinda Rajapaksa as an actor par excellence. She is dead right.

Throughout his rule Mahinda exhibited this characteristic and even now, while in opposition, he shows how adept he is at this magician’s game. Recall the images where Mahinda appeared in many public places with several shining gold rings on his fingers and the concealed hypnotising device known as the washee bole? On such occasions, Mahinda used to wave his hand in a spell-like fashion. Like Sai Baba, Mahinda Rajapaksa materialises.

Well, that defines the essence of the man who ruled Sri Lanka for ten long years and is now scheming a come-back to taste power, again. He never, ever took the real responsibilities of governance seriously. Mahinda had been a playboy in his youth running around, like his son Namal now, in cars. He found his way to be President of the country also in a pretty magical way, turning defeat by Ranil Wickremesinghe into victory for himself allegedly by winning over Prabhakran with a bribe. That he never governed with any professionalism is obvious to the plainest mind. Never caring about the quality of the men he chose as Ministers and about their capability in managing the portfolios he gave them, he rather preferred only their loyalty obtaining that voluntarily or by hook and crook. Unlike the less opulent authoritarian Premadasa before him, Mahinda cared little about monitoring his Ministers’ progress. Premadasa over-monitored and got into hot water. Not so, Rajapaksa; he didn’t give a damn about the progress and performance of his Ministers. Never spoke a word against corruption and waste.

Mahinda’s style of living as a ruler was flamboyant and extravagant. He went overseas with huge retinues who were fed in Five Star hotels -just to do nothing. He had a countless number of cars and vehicles at his disposal and he is said to have built palaces in many places for him to stay while on circuit. He had an air-conditioned swimming pool at Temple Trees. All this is also in keeping with the image of an illusionist. Maitripala spends less than one -tenth of what Mahinda did.

The former President’s political manifesto, Mahinda Chinthanaya, was a pickle of pragmatic, populist measures with no underlying vision or direction for the country other than short term effect.There was no national reconciliation, no equivalent of the Mahaweli Development Scheme, no equivalent of the Free Trade zone, no educational reform,no rural development, no agricultural plan and no employment program embedded in that document. In short, there was no ‘chinthanaya,’(thinking) in Mahinda Chinthanaya. In the same way, did Rajapaksa rule-putting out fires as they arose, and living for the day. Trying to win over by effect than by substance. His modus operandi was to “shape up” crises. Illusionists are shapers and Mahinda had been one.

Magicians may pull a rabbit from an empty hat, make something seem to disappear, or transform a red silk handkerchief into a white handkerchief. Magicians may also destroy something, like cutting a rope, and then “restore” it, make something appear to move from one place to another, or they may escape from a restraining device.

The captured audience stay aghast with mouths open,watching the antics. Despite about seventy years of free education and universal franchise Sri Lanka has been unable to gather up a sizeable politically literate population. The bring-back campaign led by politically displaced persons, although its achievements have been awfully exaggerated, has been able to get further mileage off this gullible population that has been brainwashed over a ten-year period to remain stupid; not to ask obvious questions.

Such is the power of the Rajapaksa illusion! The illusion -creation was backed by ancillary supports such as the heavy use of propaganda reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels in Hitler’s time. It was also bolstered by repressive measures led by Mahinda’s powerful brother, Gota, and Mahinda himself. Mahinda camouflaged repression with a smile of innocence and media-exposed visits to temples and the kissing of babes who were dressed, powdered and made ready for him at every public occasion that the High King attended.

The central illusion that the regime successfully created was a still generally-held belief that it was he, alone, who had won the war. “Rata dinawala dunna,” (He won the country back) was the established propaganda pitch. This public myth was dramatically broadcast by his act of kissing the tarmac, upon his return from overseas. He didn’t realise that he was kissing tar and not the raw earth of our land.Yet, it electrified the masses. The scene had been played over and over again on TV during the many elections that The Mahinda Rajapaksa regime had conducted after the war. Mahinda won ten long years of ruling life over the myth and is trying a go again for Prime Minister on the basis of that illusion.

Why was it an illusion, dear readers? Primarily, unlike in any other public project the success of a war depends crucially on the man in charge of the operating command,namely the army commander along with his men on the battlefield. The commander has to display military strategic skills, courage, and resilience. The commander has to trust his own judgement with regard to the myriad of moves played out on the battleground moment to moment; he cannot act on commands of anybody in Colombo and that includes the President. From the point where the president gives the go -ahead the job is all that of the commander; if he fails, the battlefield game is lost. He has to get his men to keep awake morning, noon and night-in hot sun or in the pouring rain;in mud or on firm ground;in deep forest or in open field. The army commander has to keep varying his moves depending on the counter moves of the enemy and this variation occurs moment to moment. A big chess game it is.

It will now be clear that the war project is not anywhere like another project run by a government department or agency where the link from the President right down the line or from the relevant Minister is live all the time. In the latter instance, the flow of command from the top right down to the executing lower levels keeps flowing incessantly until successful completion; whereas in the case of war the flow of command from the President snaps and ceases at the point when and where the army commander takes over.

There were other external actors who had already won the war for Sri Lanka by draining Prabhakaran of his Diaspora fund -flows. These were the Western powers who acted passionately after their own victimisation by terrorists in Nine Eleven.

But the magician that is Mahinda Rajapaksa manoeuvred his way to make the public believe that he had won the war or won the country back. As a matter of fact, the JHU leader Revd Athuraliye Rathana went on TV during the Presidential election campaign to give an account of the events that led to the decision by the President to finally make war. According to that story, Mahinda Rajapaksa had been reluctant to go to war for sometime even after Mawil Aruru. Mahinda had asked whether it is not possible to “shape it up.” We all know that Mahinda, the illusionist, is an expert “shaper.” In fact the Mahinda Chinthanaya had expressly referred to winning an honourable “settlement,’ (gauravanvitha samayak) and not going to war. This is partly why he succeeded to get around Prabhakaran. This was also meant to be a back-handed attack on Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Peace accord.

In fact, it was Mahinda Rajapaksa who, as Prime Minister previously, brought up the PTOMS agreement in Parliament. The Peace accord was a joke compared to the hand -over that PTOMS promised to the LTTE. All this amply demonstrates that Mahinda Rajapaksa never had his heart on going to war. Revd Athuraliye’s story implied that he was pushed to war against his consent.

It followed that part of the agenda must be to shut General Sarath Fonseka. out of the picture. This became particularly imperative when a grateful public kept putting up cut-outs of the General and not of Mahinda all over the country. The first step was to kick the general upstairs by giving him a newly-created position that had an empty aura of importance. The General saw through that and resigned. What happened after that is tragic old story. Soon, we all saw only Mahinda’s cut-outs as the man who “won the country back.” General Sarath Fonseka became simply Sarath Fonseka. Even worse-a jailbird in jumpers!

The next big illusion was the “development miracle” (deventha sanvardana aascharyaya). Ordinary people who indirectly participated in the long conflict and war by suffering through it in patience, deserved the dividends of peace. But Mahinda decided against that course of action. Big projects were not only visual;they attracted big commissions to those involved. So they came in the way of highways and roads, an international airport and a harbour. The highways are doubtless useful infrastructure but they were built well above standard costs. Huge commercial- level loans were taken from Chinese Companies under the Beijing government. Big bucks passed. The International Airport, the International Sports Stadium, and the harbour bled huge money out of the public treasury but turned out to be burdensome White Elephants. The airport needs some 250 million a month for upkeep. No passengers. Chinese are prepared, unlike Western countries, to give loans even without feasibility studies. The country is brought to the brink of a serious debt trap. Our illusionist and his men shy away from these colossal failures and point to the successful aspects of infrastructure development.They are embarrassed about the airport and the harbour and the stadium and what-not. Like the magician, what the audience should not see is concealed under the cuff.

Mahinda Rajapaksa continues his magic even while in Opposition as he tries to make a come-back after his ignominious electoral defeat on January 8th 2015. He makes an attempt to let the widespread corruption allegations against him, his wife and his family “disappear.” He does this in a few steps. First he redefines the investigations as “witch-hunts,” that should never be carried out by a “decent” government. The public is organised to surround courts when Gota is taken for questioning. Basil was “in” all this time but now, thanks to Yahapalanaya, the judiciary has released Basil on bail and prevented Gota from arrest over serious allegations of fraudulent purchase and money-making. No threat has been issued by the government of Maithri and Wickremesinghe to impeach the Chief Justice. Social media is employed to cast a slur on the Maithri-Ranil government for carrying out these “outrageous” investigations.

Secondly, attempts are being made to make a joke out of Yahapalanaya,which is the declared purpose and forte of the new interim government. The solid achievements made in the cause of good governance within barely 100 days are ignored. The removal of Mahinda Rajapaksa was the first step in yahapanayana; freeing the judiciary from political control is the next. The passing of the 19th Amendment that curtails the executive president’s power handing them over to the Parliament and then to the Prime Minister is the next. The introduction of Independent Commissions that free key government agencies from political control is also part of the 19th amendment.Our illusionist and his men try to make such enormous achievements disappear.

The other strategy of the illusionist is the “bring-back “campaigns. The agenda here is also to throw dust in the eyes of the people by diverting attention and focus. The rallies are carefully conceived and meticulously executed. Mahinda never personally made appearance until the last one at Matara when he appeared dramatically from among stones near the rampart.

At these rallies one observes a revival of racially inciting slogans against the Tamils and minorities and the conjuring up of a fear of an LTTE takeover. Mahinda Rajapaksa openly lied that the new government had withdrawn 59 camps. He has been asked to mention just one such camp but is silent. The magician and his catchers like Wimal and and Vasu are trying to synthetically create a demand for “a fearless leader in these times of national danger.” Like the sorcerer who produces a rabbit out of an empty hat, our sorcerer tries hard to create a non-existent threat in order to induce public fear.

This is the last straw!

sjturaus@optusnet.com.au

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