Sweet are the uses of adversity — but not when it happens on a daily basis, my form master long years ago who resorted to Shakespearean quips at the drop of a hat, said while refusing to accept my usual excuse for being late for roll-call — ‘my bicycle chain kept jumping out as I cycled my way to school.’ He detained me for one hour after school.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in contrast to that unfortunate schoolboy, is a master in the use of adversity. He has used adversity to advance his opportunities against seemingly insurmountable odds, as is evident from his political progress and its continuity.
Master of exploiting adversity
When Rajapaksa won by the skin of his teeth in his first presidential bid he did not have a majority in parliament. But this crippling adverse condition did not deter him. When his boat steadied, he kicked out his allies like Mangala Samaraweera who chartered his way to presidency and later kicked out the JVP from his alliance. When he still did not have a comfortable majority he invited the UNP to join him. He then split up the UNP by enticing 17 of them with cabinet portfolios! That’s a stunning demonstration of the uses of adversity.
Even better example was his governance during his first term. War is a near insurmountable barrier to successful governance but it became a positive advantage for governance to our master. Anything and everything the people suffered from during that time was said to be: ‘because of the war’. For the sake of the security of the nation and sovereignty of the nation the demands of ‘The War’ had to be given priority. So the people had to tighten their belts and even get into debt while Cabinet Ministers including President Rajapaksa and his family members were not subject to such frugal and depressing standards. The ‘War’ made the people purblind to such developments. Besides, all those who were against the Rajapaksas automatically fell into the category of ‘traitors’ while the supporters became instant ‘patriots’.
‘The War’ ended 15 months ago but now Rajapaksa has to fight more serious ‘wars’ against ‘enemies of Sri Lanka’ and also against him. It is Rajapaksa Vs Britain and the EU jointly and severally, Rajapaksa Vs America and Rajapaksa Vs United Nations’ Secretary General. It is virtually Rajapaksa Vs the Rest of the World in the eyes many Sinhalese who see him as a Superman of our times.
For the past many weeks this nation was not obsessed with the Asia Cup in cricket — as they usually do — or the World Cup in soccer but it was Rajapaksa Vs Ban Ki Moon. The entire nation was collectively barking at Moon — quite rightly because no nation however small will want any outsider to poke their finger into our affairs. But it was like a pack of dogs howling at the moon because Moon seems quite unaffected and has sworn that he would go ahead with investigation by the panel appointed by him to look into alleged war crimes committed by Sri Lankan armed forces.
Meanwhile, all other problems and issues in Sri Lanka have been swept under the mat. People of this country who usually wait anxiously for the presentation of the annual budget appear to have forgotten the budget this year! A writer confessed that he was rudely awakened, when he read the day after the budget, after it had been presented by Acting Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama. A part of the budget had already been presented, and what Amunugama presented would last only till Rajapaksa has taken his oaths for the second term as President and another part is likely to follow later in the year.
Whatever has happened to promises made during elections? Public servants and even those in the private sector, during the election campaign, were promised salary hikes but now they are told to wait for a later date. Meanwhile, even before the budget, bread and many other essential things have been upped in price by order of the Gazette while gas is supposed to be brought down by the Johnny come lately Johnston Fernando because the prices in the international market have come down.
Meanwhile taxes on import of vehicles have come down! It is the natural order of things in Mother Lanka that booze and fags have to go up — items which many ordinary mortals consider essential in their painful struggle for existence but according to the highfalutin precepts of Mahinda Chinthanaya these are taboo. But the ‘sinners’ do help to bridge the budget deficit substantially. This is another instance of the sweet uses of adversity.
The public does not seem to be much concerned about bread, meat and vegetables. Patriotism seems to be a good substitute but for how long? The state media and the servile privately owned media, some of whose barons have turned out to be political appointees are cranking up public opinion against Ban Ki Moon who continues to maintain a picture of unconcerned composure while our Rajapaksa cheer squads are in a frenzy calling him all kinds of names. Last week we heard over TV Ban Ki Moon being called a ‘Kewattaya’ — an unsavoury character who had plotted against the Buddha in a previous birth!
What we find objectionable is not the attacks on Ban Ki Moon on the Sri Lankan issue but the fact that his stupidity on the Sri Lankan issue is providing a wonderful cover for Rajapaksa’s failure to provide necessary amenities for the people even after 15 months of peace. Earlier too Rajapaksa has been helped quite unwittingly by ‘western international conspirators’ in his quest for power.
Criticism by American and European leaders about violations of human rights in Sri Lanka while the election campaigns and the military offensive against terrorism was going on boosted him as a David standing up to the mighty Western Goliath. ‘Appe Man’ became the David of Lanka’s South.
The super pundits (Baka Pundithayo) in foreign Affairs and diplomacy to this government should by now have realised that barking at Moon will not help Lanka. What has to be done is to take the wind off the sails of the critics of the armed forces. For that to happen the rights and privileges asked for by the Tamil minority have to be offered immediately. Rajapaksa’s ‘Lessons Learnt Commission’ is not acceptable to the UN and Western nations for obvious reasons and he simply cannot force it down their throats.
Much time and money has been spent on the All Party Conference chaired by Prof. Tissa Vitharana and it appears that it has retained much credibility with Lanka’s critics. The APC proposals could blunt mounting criticisms about the Rajapaksa government having done sweet nothing for 15 months after the end of the conflict, to bring the two communities together.
Even the daily newspapers are carrying erudite articles by political scientists and conflict resolution specialists on a possible solution to the ethnic issue through devolution of power. But the billion dollar question is whether the Rajapaksa clan desires such devolution to the minorities which could endanger their solid Sinhala vote base in the South?
Instead of playing about with devolution of power, how joyful it would be to continue blackguarding Ban Ki Moon, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Britain and the EU till Mahinda Rajapaksa is sworn in as president for the second term, muster the required two-third majority, extend the Mahinda Rajapaksa term of presidency ad infinitum (President for Life) and thereafter till…