By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
Last week Sri Lanka won her first Paralympic Medal. Sooner, or later, the credit for that triumph would be laid at some Rajapaksa-door, though Lankan Paralympic-entrants were left to fend for themselves even more than Lankan Olympic-entrants. As the winner of that lonely Bronze told the BBC, “I have to buy all the equipment, shoes and clothes, everything from my own salary. I did not get sponsorship for my training…” (Colombo Telegraph – 4.9.2012).
That unpalatable truth would be lost in a country where official propaganda labours with Herculean effort to credit the Ruling Siblings with every triumph; and to advance the counterfactual claim that the Rajapaksas (and the Rajapaksas alone) hold the wellbeing of the land and the happiness of the people in their mightily competent grip. True, there are a few problems in this near paradisiacal land: inflation, a crumbling education system, child rape, disappearances… But we must not harp much on these issues, according to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, because “improper reporting of crime related reports would have a negative impact on tourism and investments to the country…” (Colombo Page – 23.8.2012). Our patriotic task is to believe that life is good and getting better, all thanks to the Rajapaksas.
Those who fail to embrace this ‘correct perspective’ are pawns of national and international conspirators who lurk under every stone and behind every bush, eternally plotting to destroy Lankan security and happiness. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes, only patriots can see this Perennial Threat; and only the Rajapaksas, as the Sole Patriotic Leaders, can deal with it, Adolf Hitler observed, “If popularity and force are combined, and if…they are able to survive for a certain time, an authority on an even firmer basis can arise, the authority of tradition. If finally, popularity, force and tradition combine, an authority may be regarded as unshakable” (Mein Kampf). A tradition of Rajapaksa Rule cannot be created without implanting the mythical image of the Ruling Siblings as a Trinity of Supermen capable of any feat and essential for our wellbeing.
It is a belief which is counter to provable facts. And it vitiates our sense of self as citizens and as human beings. A Übermensch cannot be, without countless Untermenschen; a Superman to be a superman needs his fellow men to be less than men. Super-leaders do not need intelligent and responsible citizens with critical faculties. Super-leaders need an infantile-populace which can be taught to embrace its inequality and love its subjugation. The Rajapaksas cannot become Supermen unless they can make us believe that we are a nation of political-minors in need of their wise counsel and vigilant protection. The Rajapaksas cannot dominate the SLFP without downgrading fellow SLFP leaders (their peers or superiors of not so long ago) into servile acolytes.
The Rajapaksas can ennoble themselves only by diminishing the rest of us.
The Labours of the Rajapaksas
When announcing Kim Jong Il’s death, the North Korean official news agency claimed that the ‘Dear Leader’ died of a heart attack caused by “physical and mental overwork”, while on an “onsite guidance tour” to provide “field guidance” to some farm or factory.‘The Labouring Leader’ is a perennial despotic-myth; the Leader as the Supreme Fixer of everything and the Sleepless Watcher of everyone is a key raison d’être of any tyranny.
According to the Daily News, a typical Rajapaksa Day in this election season is busy with Kim-like activities. The President, while engaging in his daily exercises, chatted to Grade 5 scholarship students; toured the Embilipitiya Sathi Pola and instructed the UDA (now under Brother Gotabaya) to remake it; went to the bus-stand and conversed with the commuters; visited the Uda Walawe National Park and charmed the elephants; checked out the Chandrika Tank and gave instructions for its renovation; inspected the Embilipitiya water supply plant currently under construction.
One can almost visualise the President telling Bronze Medallist Pradeep Sanjaya how to win a Gold at the next Paralympic Games; or visiting the Space Training Academy and advising scientists on how best to conquer space.
Winning the war gave the Rajapaksa Familial project enormous traction and credibility; but this claim is subject to diminishing marginal utility. The Siblings would know that the ‘gratitude’ argument has only a limited shelf-life. A replacement myth is thus needed, depicting Generals Mahinda, Basil and Gotabaya as the only leaders capable of winning the developmental war.
Except that development is not a war; it is not about charging ahead single-mindedly, ignoring all consequences but about balancing, reappraising and compromising. The Rajapaksas’ ‘Total War’ approach to development can create cement monstrosities of doubtful quality but cannot build a solid economic foundation nor cause a real improvement in the day to day lives of ordinary people. It can create delusions of grandeur but is abysmal at managing even the simplest of everyday ordinary tasks (such as buying uncontaminated fuel or conducting an error-free exam). It can create islands of prosperity but only amidst seas of want.
That is the reality the Rajapaksa Supermen myth aims at effacing and concealing.
The Siblings want a nation brainwashed into trusting Rajapaksa claims implicitly. They want a nation incapable of seeing any anomaly in a regime willing to spend billions on facilitating space-jaunts for a First Son while refusing to pay the lawyers fighting for the life of Rizana Nafeek, the Lankan housemaid sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia. They want a nation which does not see a contradiction in the hype about moral regeneration and the statement by the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thero that his opposition to monks in politics is likely to “antagonise some people and they would send him abusive letters” (Daily Mirror – 13.6.2012).
Like Walter Mitty, the James Thurber character who leavened his banal existence by daydreaming of heroic adventures, the Siblings want us to cling to delusions of grandeur, even as we sink ever lower into depths of indignity.
The militarization of society is a vital component in this psycho-political project. In the military the Rajapaksas have an ideal weapon, an uncritical, unthinking mass whose only credo is obedience; and a militarised society is a society unaccustomed to thinking for itself, a society of ‘patriotic’ Chinese Monkeys. As Charles Simic, in reminiscing about his days as a conscript, stated, “being in a military is like being in a totalitarian state” because military ethos teaches that the “true sense of the self can only come from obedience, from submitting to an organisation like the army which works for greater good…” (The New York Review of Books – 3.7.2012). That is why in Rajapaksa eyes, ‘Leadership Training’ in military camps is more relevant for undergraduates than English or IT lessons. (Plus in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, educational attainments are handicaps, unnecessary baggage in life’s journey towards the stars; the phenomenal success of the Family is living-proof of this). The Rajapaksa goal is a nation manipulated into accepting the Myth of a Family of Supermen without whom it is lost economically and damned politically; a nation which can be choreographed into supporting any absurdity. Like those North Koreans who hailed the twenty-something son of their late president as the ‘Great Successor’.