Rajpal's Column15th April 2001
Kandy – the autonomous political goonda outpostBy Rajpal Abeynayake
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|Kandy is not supposed to be a world
The city is 72 miles away, even though nestled in the hills. Therefore, in modern times, Kandy should technically be less than an hour away, by high-speed train.
But, about five days in Kandy last week, was enough to convince me that Kandy is not just physically cut away, there being no high speed train, but also socially disconnected from the capital, and politically remote.
This is not to suggest in any way that the Colombo cauldron should be exported to Kandy. That will be a disaster, as Kandy is a relatively romantic outpost whose sleepiness is probably its most charming asset.
But, the political - disconnect that is seen these days in Kandy is not charming at all.
Everybody in Kandy harbours a latent fear psychosis. Certain political gangs are talked about in hushed tones. People literally glance over their shoulders before mentioning some hefty names. Then, there are the other political mafiaso as well, on their way to establishing petty-fifedoms.
The Peradeniya Botanical gardens these days sport more gun-toting cops and metallic navy-blue police jeeps, than flowers in full bloom. Minister D. M. Jayaratne has decided that politicking should not keep him from stopping to smell the flowers.
So what does he do? Establish his office right inside the botanical gardens, which explains the security detail that is careening about the garden pathways. Cars are not allowed beyond the garden gates, which means that covering the length and breath of the garden is an impossibility these days for whistle stop tourists.
More significantly though, it is obscene that a politician is allowed to establish his command center in a pleasant botanical garden, bringing along all the jarring baggage that goes long with the political life – the guns, the security detail, and the attendant all-pervading feeling of insecurity.
But, the garden being made into a garrison is not the malaise in Kandy, it is only a symptom. The problem with Kandy is that it is along with the rest of the Central Province, becoming an outpost for political banditry, quite self contained and set apart from the political intrigue that goes on in Colombo and the Western Province.
This verdict is not just mine, after a short visit to Kandy. It is of course the judgement of the Supreme Court too.
Court held just two weeks ago that the 1999 Provincial Council election amounted to a gross poll robbery, and therefore effectively was a disenfranchisement of the Central Province voter.
But, of course it is not the courts job to dissect the political culture behind this sort of pronounced political hegemony, that is developing in Kandy and the province.
It is the presence of this culture that is palpable to the visitor, which is one reason the technocratic idea about the high-speed train should perhaps be taken seriously too, even though that's beside the point.
If people elsewhere see more of Kandy these days, they will have a better idea of what I'm talking about. Kandy's political mafiosi are more opaque than in any other part of the country. They are not just seen; they compete to be seen and be conspicuous.
They are almost defined by the number of acts of gross misconduct committed by them. This is not just at election time. Anytime is thug time in Kandy.
But, what's sadder is the way the ordinary citizen of Kandy has been cowed by all of this. Everybody says a fear psychosis was present in this country during 89-90, and maybe lingered on for a while thereafter. But, there is still a fear psychosis in this country, and I'm not talking of Batticaloa or Vavuniya either.
Of course it is very latent too, which is to say that people are not taken out of their houses in Kandy and battered on a daily basis. But, the underlying political tension is palpable, because the citizens of Kandy are not in a position to challenge or contend with the acts of certain political mafiaso, who hover around displaying their hegemony is certain dollops and doses of political high-handedness.
In election time these elements work-over time, but the fact is that they are always at work. In other words, Kandy is fast becoming an autonomous political goonda outpost, which is probably why Colombo should think of "forging closer times'' with this emerging entity, maybe setting apart of couple of million infrastructure funds for a high speed train track.
This will also bridge the disconnect between the hills and the capital, which was not quite bridged by the British even after they constructed their roads and railways. Maybe a high speed train should be a priority item once the government gets to (one fine day) prune down its defense expenditure.
But, meanwhile in Kandy, the sleepiness is being tortured every now and then, not only by the random acts of high-handedness, but also by the discomfort of people unwilling to openly talk about it.
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