[The two deputies are now together]
by Vishwamithra 1984
“I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
Maithripala Sirisena’s landmark crossover to the Opposition just weeks before the nomination day of the Presidential Elections captured the imagination of the country. However, Maithree’s crossover does not stand alone in the realm of political crossovers in the last fifty years. But it clearly signifies a real problem Mahinda Rajapaksa has. That is, those who fall out with the President are not in just ‘also-ran’ category or second-tier or third-tier personalities.
In the 2010 Presidential Elections it was his Army Commander who had earlier delivered the country from the throes of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam. This time it’s his own party’s (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) General Secretary. What is this aversion that the President shows to his de facto second-in-command?
On the military front, General Sarath Fonseka was his second-in-command and on the political front it was Maithripala Sirisena who was his second-in-command. The only answer, whichever way one looks, is that President cannot but look to his immediate family and nowhere else. The typical mentality of those who are intoxicated with power and driven by its irrational parodies seems to have seized the psyche of the Rajapaksas.
In the nineteen hundred and sixties and seventies, this syndrome of family rule was dominant, especially among those countries that were freed after colonial rule. Power was transferred from one family member to another. Whether it was a dictatorship-run administration or one elected by the people, this Familiocracy overruled all other considerations. The Third World remained at the bottom of socio-economic development order not only because all doors and windows were closed to professionals and other qualified experts who did not belong to the ruling families, it did so because the people who either elected these leaders or were suppressed with all military means were made robotic serfs by the whims and fancies of the ruling clans.
Not a scenario conducive to nation-building!
The current status of the Ministry of External Affairs and their diplomat postings are laughable. An ex-University Vice Chancellor cum Law Professor has been turned into a peon boy while a helicopter-owning MP, allegedly close to the throne, is marauding the corridors of the Ministry with impunity and arrogance. The infamous flare-up between this MP and the eminent doctor/Sri Lankan High Commissioner in the United Kingdom added more spice to this bad-tasting soup which is mistakenly called the Ministry of External Affairs. However much high and mighty you may be in your profession and past accomplishments, but still if you are not related by blood to the court, you stand no chance at getting anywhere close to the inner circles of unlimited power, money and pleasure.
These enchanted circles of pleasure are exclusively reserved for the family and there is no bargaining left to be done by those who pretend to be the ‘family’. Both General Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena suffered the humiliation of being kept out of that circle, although they were in effect second only to the President at the time in their respective positions. Avarice knows no boundary with these rulers; it has engulfed this victim-family with a sense of invincibility; the immediate family members simply cannot visualize their lives outside of the security and comfort of the cocoon of power.
Intoxicated to the brim with the narcotic of power, these merchants of corruption and nepotism have simply refused to acknowledge the obvious. The unbridled and unfettered manner in which they have been brandishing executive powers so vested in the Executive Presidency, the family decreed unto itself and the country that the family and family alone could reap the benefits of all lucrative jobs, massive contracts, alluring furloughs and bullet-proof security.
They were so enmeshed in this comfort zone that hardly did they realize that there is another side to the coin. No person claiming closeness to the family dared open their mouth about the unfolding disenchantment with the corrupt practices of the family. Having control over 60% of the nation’s coffers, they, instead of charting a reasonable and modest course of politicization of the affairs of the country, they went berserk like drunken sailors who have reached a paradise island. Otherwise, who is the idiot who brags about his pair of shoes and says it is worth one hundred and fifty thousand rupees? Who is the imbecile who indulges in high-fi car races in front of the Temple of the Tooth relic in Maha Nuwara? That insensitivity ultimately caught up with them when Maithripala Sirisena, the Minister of Health and General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) decided that enough was enough.
With another member of the family sitting at the helm of the Defense Establishment and the Police department with all its intelligence services and National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), they did not see the coming disaster. That speaks volumes for not only their insensitivity to what they consider ‘mundane and ordinary’, it also talks about a gross lack of competence. Unlimited access to unlimited resources has not delivered the goods for the Rajapaksas.
These grave aspects of insensitivity and incompetence are further compounded by the fact that the Rajapaksas have underestimated their influence and weight that the Bandaranaikes bear on the SLFP. After all, the SLFP is not the Rajapaksa Party; it was, has been and still is the political power of the Bandaranaikes. The country at large may have rejected the Chandrika Bandaranaike years from 1994 – 2005 regime as one of the most lackluster eras in the country’s history, but for the diehard SLFP supporter, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is the common man’s party. It should not be made into a crony-capitalist party which the Rajapaksas have most successfully accomplished.
It is rather premature to write the obituary of the projected ‘Rajapaksa Dynasty’. Whether Maithripala Sirisena and the ‘Common Opposition’ could employ a reasonably competent election campaign is yet to be seen. But the pent up anger and emotional disillusionment of the people are obvious. However, some utterances of both the JVP and JHU leaders are not so complementary. The writer in the past has written very kindly, especially about, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, although I would be uttering a falsehood to say the same about Champika Ranawaka.
Yet it is beyond dispute that both Anura K and Champika R are extremely clever political operatives. But they seem to be missing the bus here. Allow me to bring in a Cricket simile. Anura Kumara and Champika are like captains of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe Cricket teams. As cricket teams, both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would be soundly defeated each time they play against the modern cricketing giants such as Australia, England, India and Sri Lanka. But both these teams have some brilliant players in the caliber of Anura K and Champika R. But they alone can’t win a match. And to defeat the Rajapaksa eleven, they need to join something like a ‘World Eleven’ or the ‘Rest’ team, which is today’s Common Opposition.
When playing for that World eleven or the ‘Rest’, they must learn to play as a team. Cricket is a team-game and with abundant talent available in the Common Opposition, they can not only give a very good game, it would be their match to lose. Don’t spoil the chances of a recovery for the country. What is at stake is much more than Premiership for Ranil Wickremesinghe and another job for someone else.
A man who could not contain his own deputy on two occasions is certainly vulnerable. And it shows in every corner of the Island. It’s time both Anura Kumara and Champika understood this truth.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org