Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, on January 9, you would have seen a mirror image of yourself in the hearts and minds of the people. Sometimes, it is necessary for life to change to think and reflect on the past actions and the folly of such actions. Reflect on your victory speech in the august assembly of [...]

Sunday Times 2

Time for reflection: No racism in Sirisena victory


Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, on January 9, you would have seen a mirror image of yourself in the hearts and minds of the people. Sometimes, it is necessary for life to change to think and reflect on the past actions and the folly of such actions.

Reflect on your victory speech in the august assembly of the nation, the Parliament on 19 May 2009.
“We should live in this country as children of one mother
No differences of race, caste and religion should prevail here
All the people of this country should live in safety without fear and suspicion
All should live with equal rights
That is my aim ………..

This is the objective of the Mahinda Chinthana.”
You would never have anticipated the triumphant speech you delivered to dangle like the Sword of Damocles over you. Is it not an irony that your own victory speech turned out to be your own enemy? What is stated at moments of exhilaration has to be measured and then meticulously followed, as others take serious note of it.

The nation, be it Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay or Burgher, in absolute unison saluted you for uniting our country. The nation named you “Dutugemunu” and sometimes as “Raja”. Each of these communities contributed, in varying degrees towards the victory.

What went wrong?

Legally, unbounded executive powers. Militarily, a successful Commander in Chief. Nationally, a contagious approbation as “Hero”. Politically, the 2/3rd majority in Parliament. All these metamorphosed you into thinking that you were indeed a “King”. One powerful individual at the command of everything. A great lesson many a folk let go at a time like this is what Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” These are times when blindness to reality sets in and actions deliver unintended consequences.

The most damaging to this status quo in my view was the symbiotic relationship others desired to have with the “Raja”. The ulterior motive of the submissive politicos, unctuous alleged criminals and obsequious mobsters was to exchange sycophancy in return for power, promises and privileges. Include to this list the family, extended family and the polity of sycophants. Good governance, human rights, the media and the rule of law were queuing up to the guillotine.

So one sees the wisdom of Lord Acton’s statement that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The erosion had set in unnoticed while the revelry was continuing unabated.

You apparently had only two factions with you. Those who traded off their self respect in exchange for mutual benefits and those who did not condescend themselves to such levels. The latter were in minority. They neither had the voice nor left with any choice. Endurance with patience was their lot. Unfortunately, even the three chief prelates were in the minority. Everyone decent and with integrity was in a state of stress and incapacitated.

Wrong strategy?

Sensing the power waning you had to strategise to lengthen your “reign”. Were you influenced by the Modi factor — relying on racio-religious politics? Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat was the alleged architect of the infamous anti-Muslim riots in 2002 in Gujarat. The voters nevertheless elected him in 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2012. It was an electoral hat-trick.

Before long, here in Sri Lanka, stereotypes of the nature of ‘Sinhala Jathiya’, ‘Buddha Sasana arakshawa’ , were regurgitated by extremist organisations like the Bodu Bala Sena. The objective: to woo the majority Sinhala voters for a perceived clear mandate. The Government and Gotabaya Rajapaksa are alleged to have nurtured these organisations.

The Muslim community was the principal target. The racist intent became clearer when even statements like, “we do not need Muslim votes” were uttered insensitively. The Muslims remembered the Victory Speech and the gross contradiction in reality. They were questioning if this is a Janus faced “Raja”.

The rabble-rousing hate speeches were followed up by coordinated sporadic attacks on Muslim business and places of worship. The continuing acts of violence and arson went unchecked. The country for the first time witnessed post-war mob violence in Aluthgama and Beruwala against the Muslims in June 2014.

The culture of threat, abusive speech and violence became endemic penetrating all walks of life. The BBS and Ravaya were a law unto themselves. They trespassed into both private and government properties with impunity.

The law was paralysed. An unwilling spectator to the crimes committed. The peace loving and law abiding citizens stood agape in shock and speechless.

Sigh of relief

The erosion precipitated into a landslide when the Jathika Hela Urumaya walked out of the Government. The architects, among many others, were Venerable Athuruliye Rathana Thera and former Minister Champika Ranawaka. They could not endure the corruption any further.Maithripala Sirisena who later crossed over said that there were many senior ministers who feared to even express their thoughts.

On January 8, the Muslims overwhelmingly supported a devout Sinhala Buddhist candidate, Maithripala Sirisena: An unequivocal statement that the Muslims are not racists. Further, the Muslims joined with their Sinhala and Tamil brethren to eliminate corruption, establish the rule of law and good governance.

Today, the media are breathing fresh oxygen. The Police are policing with dignity. The humble “hopper” has shot into stardom. “Rata beragath kema” (the food that saved the nation), with a sign of a hopper. In general, a sigh of relief to the entire nation of right minded people.

Therefore, for anyone to parochially interpret this defeat of Mr. Rajapaksa, as a defeat of Sinhala Buddhism is a supremely idiotic statement. I would like to ask them: Is President Sirisena a Muslim? Let those who harbour racist views bury their hatchet and direct their energy for the good of all human beings living in this country.

Sabbe satta sukhi hontu — “May all beings be well, happy”.

(The writer was one of those who responded to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s call asking professionals to return to serve the country)

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