By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Unlike King Asoka, our King Mahinda lost the Kalinga moment that would have made him adorn the annals of Sri Lanka and even world history as one of those great men-even although he reigned in a tiny island. He would have been President for life and after life also.
One of the articles I have most enjoyed writing was under the caption,”How Mahinda Lost his Kalinga Moment.” That was written during the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa when I observed Mahinda fleeing away from a great historical opportunity. I wrote that for the Colombo Telegraph. I think it also appeared in one of the national print papers.
The Kalinga war (c.262-c.261BCE) had been the only war that Emperor Asoka fought since his accession to the throne. That was between the state of Kalinga, an independent feudal kingdom located in the East coastline in the present day state of Odisha, north of Andhra Pradesh. Says Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra in his book, Military History of Orissa “…no war has ended with so successful a mission of peace for the entire war-torn humanity, as the war of Kalinga.” This represents a great turning point for Indian history and for the personal life of the Maurya Emperor. It was one of the bloodiest wars in history. Emperor Asoka describes the situation thus in one of his famous rock edicts:
“Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, [reference to King Asoka] conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.”
The Moment for Emperor Asoka
The catalytic change was that Asoka transformed from ‘Chandasoka or violent Asoka to ‘Dharmasoka.’ And so he set out to create a peaceful and humane land through the length and breadth of his vast Empire. Every detail pertaining to the welfare and comfort of his people was attended to. There were even shady trees and water spouts by the roadside for travellers; there were hospitals for the sick; there was a flourishing agriculture. The transformation in both man and nation had been so impressive that historian HG Wells remarked in his ‘History of the World; “amidst the tens of thousands of columns of world history, the name of Asoka stands and stands alone- a star.”
Mahinda’s Kalinga Moment
It is easy to surmise that our own President Mahinda Rajapaksa, endowed with all that absolute power, had faced a fairly similar situation in Sri Lanka after the LTTE was downed in battle at the end of a thirty-year war. Probably a difference in the quality of the two men explained the different results. Mahinda obviously hadn’t the spiritual upliftment and moral fibre to effect a similarly wonderful metamorphosis in Sri Lanka. He had all the peoples’ goodwill. He had even the backing of Western powers for transformation and reconciliation efforts.
The fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa had no intention of going on the path of reconciliation was evident when he decide to celebrate the triumph on an annual basis. Triumphalism was his path and that was incompatible with reconciliation. He made this an occasion for celebration just for the sole reason of propelling his image so that he could consolidate himself in his position of power.
From day one of the victory, Mahinda and his powerful brother, Gotabaya, set out on a series of abuses of power and privilege. Many murders and disappearances of dissentients took place under their charge and no attempt was made to investigate them.
Mahinda invested himself with the powers of the Finance Minister, which was outrageous for a President to do. The very General who fought the war on ground was jailed under fake charges and his hard-won medals were taken away. We need not repeat ad nauseam the litany of misrule under Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The thing is that Mahinda lost the plot and failed to grasp the tide of the moment and bring peace, law and order and development to the country. Unlike King Asoka, our King Mahinda lost the Kalinga moment that would have made him adorn the annals of Sri Lanka and even world history as one of those great men-even although he reigned in a tiny island. He would have been President for life and after life also.
Maithripala Sirisena, too, may be regarded as having had his moment in history. That was when he was elected as common-candidate-President by the broad masses under the leadership of Sri Lanka’s largest single party, the United National Party. For the first time, Sri Lanka had a movement by civil society organisations that backed Maitri as the common candidate. That had been an extraordinary moment. The passionate call among the sixty- two lakhs of voters was for the re-establishment of normal governance procedures and systems that had been ingloriously uprooted by Mahinda Rajapaksa and his men. There was also a demand for making the criminals of the dispossessed regime face court and punished. The 8th of January, 2015 saw a silent revolution for a decent society where human dignity is preserved. A lot has been achieved by both the President and the Prime Minister and their teams. Maitripala Sirisena’s role at this historical moment is to continue that record and offer leadership to usher in the expected changes and restore the country to a normal development coarse. President Maithripala Sirisena has to be the great historical restorer. There has been some unfortunate developments during the local government election campaign that could undermine this role. The President must stand above the fray and lead everyone and not only a party.
The conspirators of the Opposition camp have utilised some of the cross-overs from the MR camp to poison the President’s mind and give him illusive baits. Sirisena has only got to see some of the videos going viral in social media where he is reviled, insulted and spat at by some of these cross-overs during the 2015 election campaign. Minister Susil Premjayanth (a sissy cross-over) outrageously says that, “the people have had enough of this government and that there has to be a change soon.” Susil Prem is obviously having worm problems in his stomach.
Ranil’s moment is more coming than having come. It has come already in the sense that he is required to play a formidable role as peacemaker in this unfortunate current crisis with the President. He is doing his job with considerable understanding, political sagacity and patience. He ensures the matter is not escalated. Ranil – the most underestimated political leader in our country – has exhibited gargantuan resilience against setbacks and he has come out triumphant in the end. Have we not witnessed how he kept his party together while in opposition for twenty long years and despite all the undermining. However, the Ranil moment may have yet to come in the sense he has plan B in case the crisis goes out of hand. Simultaneously, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has taken charge of the economic drive of the yahapalanaya government. He talks nothing but economics these days-except for Wifi the other day. Wifi is also important for development and it can be regarded as part of soft infrastructure that the island needs for rapid and efficient communication.