While I have tried to resist the temptation to analyse the behaviour of a government that appears increasingly irrational, some of the chickens that are now coming home to roost present me with an irresistible urge to do so one more time!
While seeking to analyse the behavior of a government that bears a striking resemblance to that of the Emperor Caligula, with a certain ‘Doctor’ replacing that Emperor’s horse, might well be an exercise in futility, here goes.
The theatre of the absurd that is Sri Lanka politics can be viewed through two prisms: those of cupidity or stupidity. The first is particularly applicable to the manner in which the internal affairs of the nation are run, while the second applies, in spades, to ‘defence against foreign threats.’
In the matter of cupidity, in the matter of governance of this country, I will refer, again, to that respected journalist and writer, Naomi Klein. In her eloquent critique of the behavior of Dubya Bush and his minions in Iraq, she said that trying to measure them against a framework of economic, political or philosophical theory was a monumental waste of time. The Bush/Cheney regime was about self-aggrandizement practiced under the cover of the fiction that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. It was about a ‘connected’ elite making themselves very rich indeed while employing the resources of the world’s biggest economy to do so, actively (and unwittingly) supported by a U.S. population panicked into waging a War Against Terror. Sound familiar?
Maybe, the opportunities for self-aggrandizement in Sri Lanka do not approach those of Iraq in the Bush/Cheney years. However, by our standards, with so-called infrastructure development aid coming in at a brisk pace from several sources that have nothing in their legal systems to preclude massive bribery and corruption in the provision of that ‘aid,’ the opportunities to leverage ‘aid’ to provide ‘commissions’ and the like are seemingly endless. China and India, in particular, have not hesitated to ‘do business’ with the most corrupt elements in places such as Myanmar and Sudan. Therefore, it has really been ‘open season’ for those ‘on the take’ in Sri Lanka and I am sure that not even J.R. Jayewardene could have anticipated what his invitation to ‘Let the robber barons come!’ would result in!
A businessman who moves in the upper echelons of our system once told me that all that differentiated the Indians from the Chinese in this matter was the fact that the former went around complaining about how much ‘baksheesh’ they had had to proffer while the latter lived up to the stereotype of ‘inscrutable orientals’ and merely counted such ‘donations’ as a ‘cost of doing business,’ deducting the amounts paid from what was ultimately delivered. In the circumstances, it isn’t hard to guess why the Chinese ‘donors’ are significantly more popular than their Indian counterparts though India has recently begun to peel off the velvet glove from its fist of steel, in an effort to correct this imbalance, proves that this theory is more than simple conjecture.
What has been of immeasurable help to those raping, pillaging and selling off large chunks of our finite resources has been the fact that people in this country, for one reason or another, have accepted this wholesale theft as a reality of life in our resplendent isle. This is truly tragic because it removes the basic check of, at least, indignation about unacceptable behavior by our rulers.
What is even more reprehensible is the fact that this attitude extends to sections of the media as well. I recall one senior journalist’s interview with Mr. V. Anandasangaree, the Tamil politician. The journalist expressed absolute surprise at the fact that Mr. A felt that, alleged economic development of his (Tamil) community did not justify bribe-taking and corruption. When those who, traditionally, set the standards for public conduct, no matter how hypocritically, are so cynical as to place the seal of approval on blatantly crooked behavior, I would suggest we are in deep doo-doo!
And what about the other arbiters of moral standards in a country which lays claims to unparalleled religiosity of many varieties? They could well be auditioning for Horatio Nelson’s role on the bridge of HMS Victory with his now-famous telescope attached to that equally-famous (blind) eye!
It is rank dishonesty, tolerated by a jaded public and ‘commentariat’ that can explain the behaviour of our current rulers in the matter of plundering what resources are available or made available to us.
Now to stupidity.
In our relations with the international community – and I include all the countries outside of our shores – we have developed an approach that approaches, if it doesn’t exceed, one of downright buffoonery.
The primary policy has been, for a considerable time, to permit pretty much the entire polyglot mass of this coalition government to issue statements, conduct fasts-unto-death and perform various other contortions that would put any self-respecting circus to shame. I need hardly document the insults, abuse and idiocies that have been performed in the name of ‘defending Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.’ Suffice to say that, over the years of the Rajapaksa dispensation, we have had everything from soup to nuts, with an emphasis on the latter if one were to describe the government’s ‘spokespersons.’
The strategy appears to be to use all of these emanations like the metaphorical whetted finger held up to check the wind, and acting according to the direction of the current zephyr!
It doesn’t require Einstein to deduce that this kind of thing has a limited shelf life and would only survive as long as those who mattered weren’t paying particular attention to what was being said. Now that the spotlight has been directed on us by a series of events culminating in the report of the three-person committee appointed by Ban Ki- moon, we have to extricate ourselves from the farrago of nonsense that has already had the seal of approval of those who run this country. And they are failing, in spades, while running around like a bunch of decapitated chickens.
In addition they have made the cardinal and inevitable error of believing their own propaganda spread under cover of repression and information manipulation locally. Because you can shove this stuff down the throats of those that live in a Sri Lankan information well, the protective walls of which go up higher and higher by the day, doesn’t mean that ‘it will sell in Peoria.’ The fact that those that need to be convinced live outside our country continues to elude our geniuses. Having 110% of Southern Sri Lanka convinced of the perfection of the Rajapaksa Regime serves no real purpose in a situation where the real challenge is convincing a foreign audience of the truth of our claims.
While the current regime has succeeded in silencing their opponents within the boundaries of Sri Lanka, they have not and cannot repeat that success outside the places where it can unleash its Mervin Silvas. They cannot control the international human rights organisations because entities such as Amnesty International are not controlled by the governments of the (western) countries in which they are head-quartered. Amnesty International and its other cousins cannot be made to alter course when it suits the convenience of those currently critical of Sri Lanka when those critics choose to kiss and make up with our current rulers.The tragedy is not that the current regime will soon lose whatever traces of credibility it still possesses. The tragedy, with its huge financial and human costs, will be that a population that has desired little but peace and reasonable honesty in the conduct of its affairs is going to pay the price for a corrupt and incompetent government.