8 August, 2022


The Phenomenon Of Mahinda Rajapaksa

By Sarath De Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from – John Still – The Jungle Tide

Deciding whether politicians are nice or nasty is neither here nor there. To understand politicians, we must attempt to understand the activity of politics. The epochal change of 8th January has taught us a lesson. When people remember together, they recall less than what they would remember individually.

Our construction and deductions of recent events such as the Central Bank bond scam, failure of transparency advocates to declare their professional fees, winner of the commonwealth rule of law award, allegedly engaged in land grabbing in his new incarnation, selection of obscure party loyalists as the country’s new envoys are not propitious signs of good governance. In fact they make a significant impact on our collaborative inhibitions. It reaffirms the conventional wisdom that “few things are more destructive than political dreams of perfection.”

Seen through this looking glass we seem to have exchanged a despotic President Tweedledee for a condescending Tweedledum as Prime Minister.

MahindaThe Presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa was sharply compartmentalized between the formal and the informal. The formal governance was through the bureaucracy of handpicked apparatchiks. They were nominally accountable to the legislature but effectively insulated by the overarching mastery of the executive presidency.

The informal and therefore the more decisive control was through the family politbureau consisting of the brotherhood and their brood.

The brotherhood and the brood outsourced day to day operations to a new class of entrepreneurs who excelled in turning indigenous knowledge and customs in to a tradable commodity. Their creative genius made them near extraterrestrial to the cosmopolitan and complaisant business class cocooned in their elite chambers of humdrum commerce. In the post war stampede to catch up with progress, this new entrepreneurial class morphed in to a peripheral plutocracy and an integral component of the Mahinda machine. While the hide bound business class sought relief in exchange for servility, the new class demanded quid pro quo for services rendered in lyrical excellence making the heavenly sky kiss mother earth. It was a public relations triumph that propelled the regime for a near decade.

Mahinda is the archetypal team player. In sharp contrast to all his predecessors who preferred to keep their own counsel he relied on a ‘caucus at the top’. The phrase was first used by the founder of the SLFP SWRD Bandaranaike to describe the UNP.

As Hannah Arndt points out so elliptically power is proportionate to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. “Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.”

Team players are also good tribal leaders. It is this allure of Mahinda that enabled him to manipulate the evenly balanced legislature, he inherited in 2005. He deftly introduced a new political ploy. Strengthening the hands of the redeemer became a patriotic imperative. Significantly, he did not call a general election until his triumph over the other tribal leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. He deftly introduced a novel political ploy. Strengthening the hands of the redeemer was a patriotic imperative.

Rivals often differ in nuances but agree on substance. Both Prabhakaran and Mahinda are warrior leaders who used personal relations as instruments of exercising power. The provincial councilor threatening to execute investigators by stoning relies on the same strategic logic of the suicide bomber – the demonstrative destruction of life.

Just as the Velvetethurai terrorist movement it vanquished, the Medamulana patriotic movement developed an authentic code of loyalty, honour and discipline. The closely knit power hierarchy remained constantly alert against intruders. As common to all tribes it found it necessary to be constantly at war with those who did not belong.

Mahinda Rajapaksa encouraged the organizational independence of the individual members of parliament and reduced party affiliation to a mere formality to be observed during elections. Allegiance to the leader replaced party loyalty. It explains Mahinda’s sway over his ‘herd’ in contrast to Maithri’s hesitant steps to bring his ‘flock’ to pasture.

Mahinda did not undermine the rule of law. Instead, he made his own rules. He translated complex legalese in to easy-peasy irrelevancies. He made laws that intimidated him user friendly. It made him relax.

He infused his management style with a moral content. He assiduously promoted a monastic nationalism. He developed a trust network of Monks and temples. Today he has demonstrated his ability to activate the saffron rhetoric of this network in any corner of the island except the north.

Charles Tilley in his seminal work on trust networks explains how they work. “How will we recognize a trust network when we encounter or enter one? First, we will notice a number of people who are connected, directly or indirectly, by similar ties; they form a network. Second, we will see that the sheer existence of such a tie gives one member significant claims on the attention or aid of another; the network consists of strong ties. Third, we will discover that members of the network are collectively carrying on major long-term enterprises”

When Udaya Gammanpila claimed that ‘Abayaramaya’ is the temporary sanctuary of the exiled ‘King’ he was claiming proprietary rights of that network. The substitution of the sublime cry of ‘Sadhu’ with the more militant ‘Jayawewa’ is a natural product of the new insurgency in the urban temple.

President Maithripala Sirisena has arrived at a vital fork in his journey. His choice of turn will lead him to either fame or failure. He cannot hold the UPFA together. He can only hope to retrieve what is left of the SLFP. It is incumbent upon him to lead a credible alternative to the UNP that introduced the executive presidency, conducted the fraudulent referendum and set the country ablaze in the north and the south. The UNP did help in the presidential stakes. Ranil Wickremesinghe did not forswear the presidency. He opted for the only feasible alternative to escape the Cyclops’s cave. The UNP has seized the post January 8th narrative. That is natural. Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.

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Latest comments

  • 9

    I think the only bit that the writer omitted to mention was, that Mahinda’s regime is equivalent to that of Godfather; live if you creep, die if you challenge.
    Sri Lankans that have not escaped the life there prefer to live in the old fashioned feudal system. For them total freedom is a threat, but assurance of the security of the tummy is the No: 1 Priority, and who cares if it comes from the feudal king or not. Do as the monks say, or do, is a good excuse because they could always deny responsibility for success or failure, attributing it to the monks. Wily fox Mahinda knows this that is why he creeps to all the temples at 8 directions of the compass, like Sigala worshipping the eight directions.
    Ranil and Mangala could soon run out of public accusations, and lose their credibility (like the boy who cried wolf) unless they act on their accusations and show the public that the accused could be incarcerated for their crimes. If not, soon RW and MS+MS could end up in jail themselves, with the feudal King being re-coronated as the champion of the corrupt and criminals!

  • 0

    Sarath De Alwis –

    RE: The Phenomenon Of Mahinda Rajapaksa

    It is The Phenomenon Of Raja Raja Chanda Raja

    Raja Raja Chatu Mara

    Raja Raja Amana Mara

    Mahinda Rajapaksha 2015 Election official theme song


  • 7

    There is no need to go in to highbrow theory to understsnd the uniquely Sri Lankan phenomenon called Mahinda. Stated very simply, the voters of Sri Lanka consist mainly of two categories:

    1- People who eat grass
    2- Cattle who eat rice

    Mahinda was sucessful because he provided the grass eaters with grass and rice eaters with rice. That kept them busy and happy until the younger generation realized what was going on and turned tables on him.

  • 4

    Not only is this a superb analysis of the ‘phenomenon’, it also incisively describes in a nutshell what we have to deal with in the present context as “…. we seem to have exchanged a despotic President Tweedledee for a condescending Tweedledum as Prime Minister.”

    He then ends with another truism when he states that Maithripala “…can only hope to retrieve what is left of the SLFP. It is incumbent upon him to lead a credible alternative to the UNP that introduced the executive presidency, conducted the fraudulent referendum and set the country ablaze in the north and the south”.

  • 0

    [Edited out]

  • 1

    Mr De Alvis,
    Is it possible for you to translate your Article to English
    What you have written is like the English Kurutu Gee of Sigiriya

    • 1

      True indeed, the author’s atom of ideology is completely lost in his verbal profundity.

      Big words and medieval English does not necessarily endear you to your readers, neither does it make you look smarter than you are.

  • 3

    Mr Sarath de Alwis

    There is a fatal error in your understanding of Mahinda Rajapaksa Governance. You say: “The formal governance was through the bureaucracy of handpicked apparatchiks. They were nominally accountable to the legislature but effectively insulated by the overarching mastery of the executive presidency.”

    Governance was through the bureaucracy of handpicked Rat Chiks (your term: apparatchiks) who were forced through fear by the marauding Gotabaya to do as they were told. Punishment for refusal or non-compliance was loss of bread or loss of head. The other techniques mentioned by you are mere cosmetics compared to mortal fear.

    Have you pondered why the last three Chief Justices behaved like the slaves of MaRa?

    Your implied comparison of Maithripala as a Bayagulla is unfair; he is compelled by circumstances to work in fetters. The unintended but resulting exaltation of MaRa is unjustified.

    If you understand this error you may wish to rewrite your Article.

  • 2

    Excellent, Excellent……….

    All true when you think about it without taking the personalities into consideration.

    The compromising that has taken place by the powers-that-be are unprecedented in every walk, road, street or path. So much so, the the current powers-that-be had to compromise themselves to be what they are today!

    Nothing lasts for ever, so we had a change and the powers-that-be are in a situation where they either come clean and apologize ( this is rather doubtful as they dont have the GUTS to accept their lowliness in have done what they did) OR they have to cry fowl of the current need-for-change and justify their actions – the easiest way is to go back to the way things were a la the Rogue President.

    As most of our current parliamentarians belong to the lowly set of the compromised – they dont even know what to do – to bring back the Rogue.

    Their behavior is frightening the average voter! After all, having done such a good job in winning the war ( voter perception) why would he want to cling on to power with a third term ?

    The voter perception has changed – Goodbye for ever – Mr Rogue President and your band of merry thieves – the compromised will follow soon enough.

    Looking forward to a parliament which follows the integrity code.

  • 3

    Dear Sarath de Alwis: The PHENOMENON I saw in Rajapaksa regime was, from 2010 onwards Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse wanted in un-no certain terms to “Establish” an unshakable “DYNASTY” in the political field of Sri Lanka. To do that he knew very well the NEED to get the involvement of the FAMILY at every level of the Governing machinery – no matter how they would fit into positions or carry on the work. Then he knew where to strike and how hard to strike if his moves are challenged or confronted. Next he also knew to form an INNER CIRCLE that can withstand any type of pressure building within and also to establish another MAFIA type class to suppress any type of outside rumblings. Lastly he knew the need to mend and amend the legal and Constitutional requirement to favour his ascendancy to the throne. All these he did and with the sole idea of establishing his KINGHOOD in the country, declared an election with the full confidence of winning and ascending the throne. Having done all that were necessary, he miserably failed to assess his own STANDINGS in the eye of the PUBLIC and on January 8th 2015 he FELL.

    Now in the present context of this DYNASTIC mentality a FALL is NOT ACCEPTABLE. In any DYNASTY, Lee Iacocca wrote : ” the first instinct is self-protection. Anything good, bad or indifferent – that might affect the dynasty becomes potential problem in the mind of the man who heads it”. Mr.MR’s present day behaviour explains all that.

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