Hambantota has been a miserable development failure and Mahinda wouldn’t deliver anything better for Sri Lanka either. His coterie of ‘advisers’ is additional proof of that. An aspiring leader today, should be able to boast of a very efficient and a knowledgeable group of experts, not a bunch of political ticks and fleas. Therefore today, I have a feeling of remorse for the man I expected would grow as a leader for the next generation. People do make mistakes and I have, in Mahinda.”
— Candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa / The Sunday Leader – September 4, 2005
On a trip of bubbling confidence the next regime would be a UNP regime, Lasantha called me casually one evening, as he did on and off in those old days and asked, if I would write an article on Mahinda Rajapaksa. The SLFP had officially declared Mahinda as their candidate for the presidential elections 2005, for which the dates were not officially fixed by then. Mahinda was busy getting his alliance ready, with the JVP and the JHU in too. Mangala was playing the hors-d’oeuvre for a pickle that had more Sinhala and South than anything else, easily the best for Mahinda’s political palate.
I obliged Lasantha with the article and in response to all that was taking place, concluded it with the quote above. After President Rajapaksa’s second grandioso swearing in this November 19, hoardings and posters at public expense often calling it a coronation, I would not comment on my prediction or my predicament, half a decade old by now. This short note would be an assessment of the future instead, after those five turbulent years.
Between then and now, the world is different, our region is different, Sri Lanka is different and so will the Rajapaksa regime be, on the assurances given at the swearing in.
Internationally, Obama is holding the fort though held responsible for continued crimes in theatres of war, and with much less glitter. The possibility of big powers who back US, calling for democratic rule and respect for human rights from other smaller fry, is now much less appealing with massive WikiLeaks on Afghanistan first and then Iraq. British PM Cameron was compelled to promise Israel he would amend the British law that allowed a London Court to issue an arrest warrant on Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Levni on her arrival at the Heathrow Airport, for her part in the Gaza massacres.
With the Burmese military junta shifting its hold to a parliament without uniforms and Aung San Suu Kyi now out of house arrest after nine years, covert players China and India have an open arena henceforth in playing politics in the region.
It seems therefore, Mahinda would not be starting his second term with any tough international pressure from any of the big powers, even on war crimes accusations, though international human rights organisations would keep calling for independent investigations. Ban the Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka that provoked fasts as fake as Weerawansa’s which has been in limbo for too long, to be taken seriously. In Delhi, yes, there would be many a schema. The Delhi administration has already let loose an old flogged horse in the ENDLF from Bangalore instead from Chennai, calling for direct Indian intervention, IPKF style. That certainly sounds awfully fictional, but for a Tamil Nadu lobby on “13 Plus” for Sri Lankan Tamils and state elections scheduled for April next year, it would make sense for manipulations from the South Bloc, with a reminder to Rajapaksa on devolution.
Yet Mahinda is back with a stronger parliament and with no war and no LTTE as before. He has no dependency on JVP largesse in parliament any more, with the JVP chopped to a meagre seven seats, from 37 earlier. He does not have to violate the 17th Amendment to the Constitution any more in appointing Independent Commissions that would otherwise hold high positions, independent from him. HE now has the 18th Amendment that leaves no restrictions on his terms in office. The best is, he has an “opposition” but no “challenge” that yet proves the system is democratic.
President Rajapaksa is nevertheless in a hurry to have all pawns arranged to his liking. The Casino Business (Regulation) Bill pushed through with the JHU boss too saying “Aye”, provides the flavour and aroma of “tourist” development to come, a major development platform of this government. But that bill would not bring any “Las Vegas” here into remote towns for “dollar billionaires” to come and play games. With just 14,000 middle and low grade rooms in the whole island, the gaming bill would instead turn this “land of Gauthama Buddha” into a “laundrette” for black money with all its attendant vices that follow.
All heavy cracking on internet porn and drug peddling are no contradictions, but cover ups for things that are in the offing. There is another side to this “Rajapaksa” development. HE the President said we’ve got to hurry and catch up with other giants like India and China, to walk in tandem with them, at the commissioning of the first stage of the Magampura port on the day before his “coronation”. Good if he can, but for what, one of the Deputy Ministers for Economic Development, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene claimed the previous day. The first tenure of President Rajapaksa, he said, had 54,600 development projects completed and handed over to the people. We should be walking not in tandem, but way ahead of the two giants, if that is not crude rhetoric.
I simply don’t think the two biggest nations on this planet Earth, India and China put together, had that giant figure in development projects, during their most successful economic growth period in the past five years. That number certainly should make Sri Lanka the “Miracle of Asia” or perhaps the world.
These development projects already lined up, are all “de-peoplising” projects. The “Clean up Colombo” project would have over 66,000 families displaced from the city. The Negombo Lagoon Seaplane Project that intrudes into this Coastal Zone Management area, would not only displace, but dislodge over 12,000 families from their traditional fishery related livelihood. With tourism also coming under the President, overseen by the Minister brother, the gangster style casino tourism could displace and dislodge more people from coastal areas like Arugambay, Kalametiya and Kalpitiya even before the proposed 10 year “Tourism Master Plan” is designed.
That apart, this development includes highways, bridges, airports, seaports and plenty of construction projects that leave empty structures for people and commissions backhoed for givers and takers of contracts, as a norm. We therefore would have highways sans convenient and affordable commuter transport, hospitals sans required drugs and services, school buildings without facilities and quality teaching.
One other thing missing in all this “development” will be, improvement in the quality of life for the majority of Sri Lankans. We are through a heavily centralised, Colombo anchored unitary state that in our post independent 62 year history, could not answer the question of “how rural poverty could be alleviated”. This Rajapaksa regime is centralising the Sinhalised State to strangulation, in the hands of a single individual. The much boasted, over 2,000 US dollar per capita, which is roughly LKR 18,670 per month, would leave more than 65% of the population and 23 of the 25 districts outside development. If this regime is talking of a 4,000 US dollar per capita in the next few years, it would only mean another lot getting vomited out of economic growth and all national wealth accruing in Colombo and Gampaha districts, with few provincial cities getting linked.
I thus asked myself, “what would make the new crowned Mahinda an unchecked law unto himself, a kleptocrat and a tyrant?” This possibly is the answer. His own bloated ego with which he would now get about, with no restrictions on presidential terms, his family clan and advisers into uncontrolled big business with state power at their hands, a mediocre, politicalised bureaucracy that lacks efficiency in administration and intellect in negotiating regional and international deals for the benefit of the country, a large urban middle class that has academics, professionals and technocrats, all submerged in “patriotism” and giving no heed to ethics, social values and new development, a poverty strapped rural peasantry that is wholly depended on heavily politicised local systems and a media that finds comfort in avoiding “dissent” in society, all bundled together and called the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” left as his delicious menu for chronic indigestion with colic, in time to come. Well, Eugene Ionesco said, “living is abnormal”. So it would be, for the regime and all people. For those who opposed it and for those who opted for it.