The painful atonement begins, the political cleansing starts as the man for all reasons and for all seasons promises the sun, moon and stars to all MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA: There’s a kind of hush all over Lanka as remolding the Rajapaksa image begins in earnest (File photo courtesy AP.)   The scarlet satakaya is still there [...]


The rebranding of Mahinda as the born again ultimate liberal


The painful atonement begins, the political cleansing starts as the man for all reasons and for all seasons promises the sun, moon and stars to all

MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA: There’s a kind of hush all over Lanka as remolding the Rajapaksa image begins in earnest
(File photo courtesy AP.)


The scarlet satakaya is still there but gone is the strident oratory, the purpled emotive prose that made 5 million people worship at his altar last year, as the liberator of the nation, Dutugamunu style.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has at long last come to realise that beating the hackneyed drum of Sinhala chauvinism will no longer suffice to ensure a return to power without the support and vote of all sections of the Great Lankan public. No doubt he has come a long way to arrive at this milepost. But he still has a long way to go. But for starters, it will do.

Even as Oscar Wilde discovered in his prison cell at Reading Gaol while staring at his little tent of blue prisoners call the sky, how he had been the spendthrift of his genius, and how its squander had brought him to that horrible pass; so it seems has Mahinda Rajapaksa learnt, from his internment in the political wilderness, how he had been driven by fates and by his acolytes to become the spendthrift of the goodwill a grateful nation bestowed on him on 19th May 2009; and how its reckless squander had landed him beyond the people’s pale.

Surveying the Lankan landscape he once held as his fiefdom, and finding on it the patch of blue Wilde found in the sky, Rajapaksa has voyaged purgatory to soul search his sins and hit upon de Profoundis and realised, if there ever were to be a reincarnation for him, a place of heaven at the helm of Lanka’s tower of power, first he must wear the coarse sack cloth of the penitent, and perform penance on crawling knees and beg forgiveness before those whom he had scalded at the heights of his presidency.

First it was to the Tamils, he said Vannakkam.
When his government’s policy towards this minority race of Lankan citizens had been to wave the Lion Flag in the face of their just demands; when his government’s defence stance, answering claims that innocent Tamil civilians were killed in the last stages of the Eelam war, had been to say, ‘there were zero civilian casualties’; to reach out now to the Tamils at this late hour of reckoning and seek their hand in mutual friendship when they had suffered so much at his; would seem to be the actions of a desperate man possessed with a blind faith in hope against all hope.

Holding a special press conference exclusively to Tamil journalists last Monday, an audience he has still not granted to Sinhala journalists for the last few years, Rajapaksa signaled, by that patronising gesture alone, that he intended to shop at the Tamil mall, earn their goodwill and trust on credit first and, thereafter, sell his reconditioned and customised second hand wares at discounted rates to Tamil shoppers.
No doubt it must have been sheer penance for him to first begin his soapy sermon. But once he had got into his stride, the born politician in him took overall command and didn’t seem unduly lathered over the atonement process. Well, not half as much as the Weerawansas, the Gammanpilas and the whole battalion of southern die-hards who took their chauvinist cues from him, would certainly have been, had they been but flies on the wall at the Battaramulla office; and heard the unfamiliar, strange sounds resounding in the citadel of Lanka’s self proclaimed King of the Sinhalese.

But this time it was not to the Sinhala gallery he was playing his racist song and thumping his communalistic rabana which won cries of encore down South whenever he struck a beat. This time he was the balladeer, serenading the minority Tamil audience, those who had given him unsympathetic ear at the 2010 presidential election and the thumbs down ever since.

Now, having realised the folly of ignoring the lot and casting them to the northern bin of history, he had been reduced by his pitiful circumstances, to finally recognise them as being citizens of this country, too, who also held in their hands not the gun which could be disarmed but the sovereign ballot which could not be disenfranchised. Hence last Monday’s baptism before the exclusive Tamil band of journalists was to whitewash himself in a tub of liberalism and emerge as the new enlightened Rajapaksa, the Avatar of Humanity.

While the southern front was all afire, and justifiably at that, over Northern Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s Eluha call last month (as contained in his letter to the Tamil speaking people which, stated as it was in black and white, did not leave any room for misinterpretation, as claimed by him after the storm broke) to merge the north and east under a federal setup, to stop Sinhalese from colonising the areas demarcated for a future Tamil Eelam and to ban the erection of a single Buddha statue in those areas, Rajapaksa surprised all by elevating Wigneswaran to his own new found non communalist pedestal and, sharing with the errant northern chief minister not only the space at the top of his plinth but also the self made halo atop his head, sainted him as not being a racist at all but only a politician, albeit a failed one.

“I don’t believe the Chief Minister is a racist. He is a politician,” the former president said. “He cannot show results. He has no answers. So to make people forget their problems, he is trumping up nationalism.”

Perhaps it was Mahinda’s anointment of Wigneswaran as a non racist, even after the former supreme court justice turned rabid maverick had used the word ‘Sinhala Buddhisisation of the north and east to describe the Sinhala people erecting a Buddha statue to pay homage to the founder of one of the world’s major religions with a following of over 500 million adherents, including Tamils; perhaps it was Mahinda’s insistence that it was politically correct of Wigneswaran to have ‘denounced the erection of Buddha statues’ and his issuance of a non racist good conduct certificate to the rabble rousing chief minister of the north, that made Bodu Bala chief, Gnanasara Thera call his Sinhala troops to sheath their swords which he said should be raised over Wigneswaran’s communal message. It would also have made the other ultra racists to surprisingly change their tune as well and soft pedal the issue though the majority of moderates resented Wigneswaran’s hate speech and held it had racial overtones.

Many things also appeared to the wooing Rajapaksa to be different to what he had seen as the authoritative president. For instance, referring to the Tamils who had been rounded up and held in the aftermath of the war, he said his intention was to send them to rehab camps but lawyers in the Attorney General’s Department – the same department he had brought under his own direct purview through the now repealed infamous 18th Amendment in 2010 – had objected. The request had come from the lawyers, he said. It was they who wanted them to be produced in court and so they were produced in court. Else they would have been sent to the rehab camps and possibly they may have been freed at that time itself.

“They were facing criminal charges’, he told the Tamil journalists, “and the government could not interfere with the due process. It is wrong to do that. But if the Attorney General’s Department wishes to withdraw the charges or expedite the cases they can do so. The fault we made then was that we did not have a dialogue with those people and our political leaders should have gone there and interacted with them.
Looking through his coloured glass, the ‘Eluha Thamil’, or ‘Rise Tamils’, march held last month was not communal in character at all. The Tamil youth who participated was not raising any communal issues but their own personal ones. The farmer came out because he cannot sell his rice. The fisherman came because he is not allowed to fish, the youth came because they have no jobs, government servants came out because they have no means to live. Apparently, none came to raise communalism.

And perhaps, the chief minister who is not a ‘racist’ by Mahinda’s new word book came out to join the march because he, as their leader, had to follow the crowd; and end up, even as he had done before the march had begun, by demanding not a single Buddha statue to be built not only in the north where there are 30,000 Buddhist but also in the east where 354,000 Buddhist live together with 539,000 Hindus and 575,000 Muslims live according to the last count in 2012.

But then moments later Rajapaksa told the journalists that had he been the president he would not have banned the march since he would not have permitted anyone to hold marches and raise racial sentiments anywhere in the country.”There must be one law for all,” he added.
Then on Wednesday, the 5th of October, it was the turn of the Muslims to be greeted by him at this same Battaramulla office with an As-salamu alaikum. This time it was not a Tamil only press conference but a heart to heart chat with representatives of the Muslim community. Borrowing a leaf from Weerawansa’ script and a page from World War Two history, Rajapaksa took on the role of old King Lear in Shakespeare’s tragedies and presented himself as ‘a man more sinned against than sinning.’

The trust the Muslims had placed on him had been shattered and it was all due to a sinister foreign conspiracy waged against him during the last presidential election. Even World War Two Hitler’s propaganda minister was brought into the picture to illustrate the’ Goebbels’ styled propaganda campaign that had been conducted to drive a wedge between him and the Muslims. How could he, he asked the Muslim representatives gathered at his office, be called a communalist when he had never been one in the past and will never be one in the future. And, for good measure to consolidate his claim, he said his father and even his forefathers had greatly helped the Muslims to settle down in Hambantota and provided them with all facilities. “The Muslims’, he declared, “can be assured they will be protected and given all their rights, just as much as the Tamils and the Sinhalese”. And even as a woman knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, he said “Hunger is common to all people of all communities,” though he forgot to add the corollary, that blood, too, is common to all and ‘sinha le’ is no different to the blood of all other races.

And what did he promise the Sinhalese? Last Saturday, on the day the launch of his new party was to be declared but which did not materialise since, as he said, ‘the people must decide when the time is opportune’, Rajapaksa addressed the Joint Opposition rally at Ratnapura.
Here he was on home ground, preaching to the converted. Here, as the canned music played greeted him with ‘our appachchi has come’, there was no need to make amends, to mend fences, not even the need to assure the largely Sinhala crowd that he will give them the protection they need and will safeguard the rights they already have. A simple ayubowan was all that was necessary to whip the crowds to a frenzy of adulation.
There was only the same rhetoric, the same tirades against the government, the usual boast that getting a few MPs to cross over was a trifle and that the joint opposition of today will not have to wait three or four years but will be the government sooner than thought but not a hum on the Tamil issue or how he saved the country from Tamil terrorism. And through the cheers of the Rajapaksa congregation, he asked the faithful flock, “What are you asking for? What do you want? I will give it to you.” But, after promising to give the sun, moon and stars, in the din of applause that greeted his invitation, “All you have to do is ask”, he was quick to add a hardly audible qualifier, “provided I think you need it”, probably aware of the problems Mrs. Bandaranaike faced in the 70’s when she promised free rice even from the moon and came a cropper when ration books and long queues became a way of life to the common man.

Thus in that week that was, in his whirlwind shuttle diplomacy to restore lost credibility amongst the minority races and to reaffirm his pledges to the majority, he had reached out to the Tamils and, instead of castigating Wigneswaran for the racism expressed, he had condoned his bigotry; he had embraced the Muslims and absolved himself of any responsibility for racist attacks carried out under his regime when he was president but blamed it all on western conspiracies and a Goebbels propaganda machine; and finally at Ratnapura he had returned to the Sinhala heart and sought to make it beat faster for his return to power. It was a suave performance to rebrand himself as the ultimate liberal in Tamil and Muslim eyes; and, once again, as the kapruk tree where the Sinhalese could lay their wishes for all their wants at the root and have them all granted, provided they needed them in his paternalistic eyes . If they didn’t, tough luck.

All very well and all very welcome to see that Mahinda Rajapaksa, from the nadir of his present plight, had found in himself the humbleness to admit the folly of his ways and seek a new beginning by rebuilding the bridges of trust between all communities and accepting all as citizens of one Lanka.

No doubt it will be hard and painful to swallow the arrogance of power and, like a toothless lion shorn of mane and deprived of pride, to kiss the hand he sought to spurn, the hand he once brushed aside in his triumphant hour of the Tiger kill. But expressions of regret and remorse are the first steps toward atonement and now, with this done, it bodes well for Lanka, whether the minority races take the bait or no, that the racist drums that sounded for so long and helped to collectively brand the Sinhalese as racist will hopefully start to fade and fall.

The rebranding of Mahinda Rajapaksa, as a better man for having learnt from his mistakes, is a positive step towards making ‘racism’ and ‘religious bigotry’ dirty words both in the Sinhala and Tamil vocabularies; and hopefully, one that will make political pariahs of those, be they in the south or north of Lanka, who espouse racial hatred as their gospel of faith to gain power.

Wimal’s rule of anarchy
When Wimal Weerawansa was asked by a daily English newspaper on Wednesday, whether it had slipped his memory that no action had been taken by the then President Rajapaksa when maverick Mervyn of the last regime committed various acts of intimidation and terror, including the storming of Rupavahini and Sirasa TV stations, his answer gave an insight to his own concept of the rule of law and how best law and order could be maintained and justice meted to the deserving, measure for measure.

He said that there had been no need for President Rajapaksa to have taken any action against Mervyn Silva for Mervyn ‘got his just deserts’ at the hands of the Rupavahini employees who had assaulted him on the premises itself.

In other words, if people take the law into their own hands and thrash an assailant or kill a murderer they would have executed summary justice; and resort by the law enforcing authorities to the expensive and time consuming due process to bring the guilty to justice would be redundant.

The rule of law may have been replaced by the law of anarchy but justice would still have been done; and in the case of Mervyn Silva, from the raw TV footage aired showing his blood soaked shirt and bleeding face as he was bundled out of the Rupavahini Corporation premises on 18 February 2014, justice was not only done but had ‘been manifestly and undoubtedly seen as having been done’. And for Wimal Weerawansa, the legal dictum of Lord Chief Justice Hewart of England had been amply satisfied. Case closed.

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