By Sarath De Alwis –
These are days when the Russian novel is compulsory reading. The three principal works that come to mind are War & Peace followed by Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.
This essay is about a ‘Cherry Orchard’ where many trees were felled and no one talks about it even in these enlightened days of good governance.
To begin with I must inform the readers something immensely important and rivetingly relevant to our current concerns on reforms in public life and governance. ‘The greatest trick the Devil pulled was convincing the world there was only one of him.’ Mahinda Rajapaksa is not the only villain in town.
The aphorism “the pot calling the kettle black” is found in many languages and many cultures. It targets those who accuse others of a failing that they themselves are also guilty of. The Chinese use a different idiom to stress the same truism – A chicken can’t see its own back.
I crave the indulgence of the readers. Gallantry compels me to assign the kettle to the lady and the pot to the gentleman. However the Chicken in the Chinese equivalent pauses no such problem.
The daughter of President Premadasa Ms. Dulanjalee Jayakody addressing her latest missive under her maiden name informs former President Mahinda Rajapaksa that she and her brother never even imagined of abusing their positions when their father was the executive president. With remarkable self-possession she informs the former President and the general public how the two siblings conducted themselves when their father was the supreme law giver of our then dysfunctional democracy.
“My brother and I were also a Prime Minister’s children and an Executive President’s children who never even imagined abusing our positions. Young as we were, our mother always reminded us that our father was a public servant while holding the offices of Prime Minister and President.”
Hypocrisy seems to live and parade among us in these turbulent days of reforms promised, denied and grudgingly delivered. Mahinda Rajapaksa did many things wrong. But he did not do what President Premadasa did. He did not assume the role of Moral Arbiter.
True. He had a brother hell bent on subverting our freedoms and quietly veering towards a ‘deep state’. That said, we owe it to history to record that Mahinda Rajapaksa did not have a ‘Lawrence Mafia’ in the palace. The first act of President D.B. Wijetunge in office was the disbanding of that outfit of dreaded enforcers then known as the Lawrence outfit. One of the sickening sights I can never erase from my memory is the sight of two of those goons of the Lawrence Mafia physically beating two young girls stripped naked who were working either for the Airport or the Airline. It was in a room at the Airport. I had arrived on midnight flight. It was a fleeting glimpse but my great misfortune to experience. In a hushed whisper someone told me that the two girls were suspected of helping passengers with forged Visas. Impunity is not new.
Personally I can recite many instances of how your brother, your husband, your father-in-law used the national airline -, Air Lanka as a personal fiefdom.
The fact that nobody wants to unearth the misdeeds under your father’s presidency does not canonize your father. Even if nobody does, I would. Your fathers financial Purohitha is now an aging Kautilya to the present dispensation.
Dear Ms. Dulanjalee Premadasa, I don’t blame you. Nobody told you that the demands you made when your father was in power were wrong. I don’t blame you. You did what you did because nobody told you that what you did was wrong. There were those whose Pavlovian instincts told them what you either desired or would desire. You lived in a make believe world.
I suppose the same is true of the Rajapaksa offspring. Their problem is that their father is not only around but is in that unenviable position of being out of power but very much in the game.
You never had to reimburse the national carrier for those services. Nobody told you that there was no such thing as a free lunch. That is how public institutions functioned. The Airline had its supply of Pavlovian practitioners. Lakshman de Mel a down to earth Chairman of the Airline bought himself briefcase because he feared the possibility of him being physically carried into the aircraft by one of those exceptional Trapeze artists. The sycophant was appeased and was content to carry the empty briefcase. A tranquil Mr.De Mel boarded the aircraft on his own!
Do you remember how your father rewarded the gentleman who looked after your brother and you with the General Sales Agency of Air Lanka for the city of Manchester? I am sure even to this day you do not know how much it cost the Airline to pander to your esteemed father’s notion of gratitude.
I can only speak of my own experiences working for a state owned enterprise under the enlightened Presidency of your father. You say that you and your brother never abused your positions. I believe you. You did not abuse your position. You did not have to. Your father made sure that we were adequately intimidated to serve the whims and fancies of his household. Thus I was witness to a pathetic sight of a station manager of Air Lanka crawling in to the cargo hold of an aircraft to appease the thirst of a pedigreed pup that was carried either for you or your husband from London.
As Ronald Syme observes in his seminal work The Roman Revolution “In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the facade.” The indispensability of the sage counsel of Mr. R. Paskeralingam to the present regime, confirms that there is no exceptions to this rule.
It was only yesterday that I watched the excellent film ‘Truth’ based on the book “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power” by Mary Mapes. Mary Mapes wrote the book after she got fired by CBS news for exposing the false Military record of George W Bush. Whether in Washington or Colombo, injustices perpetrated by the privileged and the powerful remain unpunished. Hoping for restitution is like pissing against the wind.