Rajapaksa-Wamsa: History As Their Story
“…by clever and persevering use of propaganda, even heaven can be represented as hell to the people, and conversely the most wretched life as paradise”.
Hitler (Mein Kampf)
By Tisaranee Gunasekara
Impunity is illimitable.
If the law was allowed to take its normal course after the Kolonnawa mini-war, the Christmas Eve murder of a British tourist in Tangalle may not have happened. If the regime did not protect parliamentarian Duminda Silva so blatantly, Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Sampath Chandrapushpa may not have thought that he too could get away with murder.
If not for the message of impunity sent by l’affaire Kolonnawa, Khuram Shaikh, a prosthetic-limb expert who managed the ICRC’s physical rehabilitation programme in the embattled Gaza, might still be alive.
News reports point to an attempted cover-up, especially of Mr. Chandrapushpa’s lead-role in the loathsome incident. “Journalists in…Tangalle have received death threats following their coverage of an attack on a tourist couple” (BBC – 25.12.2011). Perhaps the trigger-happy local SLFP leader’s real mistake was that his victim was a Western tourist. A Westerner is more likely to have something most Lankans lack – a government interested in seeing that justice is done – and an embassy unafraid to push, prod and ask awkward questions.
Harming Sri Lanka’s reputation is a charge the regime loves to hurl at its opponents. But one T56-toting political thug doing a Rambo on tourists can do more damage to the country’s reputation than all the anti-Rajapaksa tracts put together. As the head of the Tourist Hotels Association said, “Even during the 30-year conflict we told the world that not a single tourist was harmed. However, it is of serious concern that the first murder of a tourist took place in peaceful times… Swift action against those responsible will prove that the Government does not condone such violent acts” (Financial Times – 27.12.2011)
So will there be swift action? Will justice be done? Or will one more Rajapaksa acolyte get away with murder? “A group of persons identifying themselves as law abiding citizens of Tangalle, have complained to the…IGP in writing that there are attempts by some elements with vested interests to undermine investigations… ‘It is learnt that the hotel management is under pressure to withdraw the statements made,’ the organisation says…. Besides, the organisation says that the main suspect’s name was connected with numerous other crimes in the recent past” (Daily Mirror – 29.12.2011).
A country which is placing so many of its development-eggs in the tourism basket cannot afford to condone lawlessness. The initial lackadaisical official response compelled many tourists to leave Tangalle and prompted the President of the Tangalle Tourist Hoteliers Association to criticise “the authorities for not initiating legal action against the culprits immediately” (Colombo Page – 27.12.2011). This is an early warning of the immeasurable harm lawless Rajapaksa acolytes can do to the economy.
The road to a gargantuan disaster is often paved with smaller acts of impunity. Had Mervyn Silva been punished for tying a public official to a tree, publicly, Duminda Silva may have conducted his political turf-war with less violence. Had the AG’s Department (which functions under President Rajapaksa) honoured the Acting Magistrate’s order and instructed the CID to arrest Duminda Silva, Sampath Chandrapushpa may not have used a lethal weapon against a tourist. If Sampath Chandrapushpa gets away with this crime, other Rajapaksa minions will feel emboldened to treat Sri Lanka as their very own ‘Land of Do As You Please’ and the resultant empowerment of trigger-happy thugs will turn this country into an unliveable place for the rest of us.
Denying Reality; Evading Accountability
Days after the 2010 Presidential election, the ITN held a musical show, titled ‘Jaya Jayawe’, consisting of panegyrics to Rajapaksa Rule. The first song of the evening was billed as a lullaby Lankan mothers will sing to their sons a century from now. The lullaby celebrated the ‘heroic saga’ of ‘King Mihindu’ and his ‘Chief General Gotabhaya’ who defeated the ‘demons’ threatening the motherland.
The Rajapaksa-centric narrative of the Eelam War contained in that paean is to become official history of Sri Lanka. A new volume of Mahawamsa will contain three chapters on President Rajapaksa but nary a mention of Gen. Sarath Fonseka, as The Sunday Leader reported last week. The new Mahawamsa will thus be a Rajapaksa-wamsa, a twisted historical narrative written to extol the Rajapaksas and bolster their rule. Perhaps that is not all that inapposite, since the original Mahawamsa’s original hero was Vijyaya, described by the Chronicles themselves as “of evil conduct and his followers, were even (like himself) and many intolerable deeds of violence were done by them…”
Rearranging the past is a necessary precondition for the success of the Rajapaksa project, but not a sufficient one. It is equally necessary to rearrange the present, since a phenomenally successful present is a sine-qua-non for the paradisiacal future the regime promises the nation. Mistakes are fundamentally incompatible with the claims of infallibility the Ruling Siblings make for themselves. If errors and misdeeds are impossible, accountability becomes unnecessary. This approach, which premiered via the Fourth Eelam War, is now becoming a fundament of Rajapaksa governance, as the sorry saga about examination results demonstrates. To admit that the A’Level results are flawed is to admit to a level of unprecedented inefficiency and incapacity totally at variance with the constant boast about development miracles. So the regime must deny reality, even though claims of flawless A’Level results or decreasing cost of living sound as unconvincing to Southern ears as the zero-civilian casualty claim does to Northern/international ears.
The cancer of Familial Rule is leading to a general systemic dysfunction, as the disastrous performance of the hitherto successful Examinations Department indicates. This fiasco has destroyed the implicit trust Lankan people had in the A’Level exam as an accurate depiction of a student’s educational attainments. The resultant loss of credibility matters little to the Rajapaksas who tend to retreat increasingly to a world of their own, in which nothing goes wrong except as a result of ‘enemy action’ (and organising Leadership Training is more important than giving accurate A’Level results). As years go by and problems mount, reality will be excluded totally from this make-believe world. The infantile response of the Central Bank Governor to a warning by Fitch Ratings (about the vulnerability of the Lankan financial system to global financial contagion) is totally compatible with this illusion-mongering and reality-denying form of governance.
As Robert Trivers points out, in ‘The Folly of Fools’, self-deception is costly “because it drains energy from our immune system”; this diagnosis is equally applicable to countries which embrace ‘false historical narratives’. Denying reality prevents a country from solving existing problems, forestalling future missteps or undertaking course corrections; all its energy is wasted on maintaining appearances. When Kim Jong Il died, official accounts claimed that “the skies glowed red above sacred Mount Paektu and the impenetrable sheet of ice at the heart of the mystical volcano cracked with a deafening roar” (AP – 22.12.2011). Behind the tinsel-façade, the ‘Dear Leader’ left a starving nation (armed with nuclear weapons) and a successor-son. That is one way a country, which allows its leaders to shun reality and embrace illusions, can end.