That old aphorism ‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make them mad’ which has come down from classical Greek times through past western civilisations to the present day, took a humorous twist in our mind when we peeked into a TV programme showing a cricket match between the touring Australian team and [...]

Sunday Times 2

Gods have made Lankans cricket mad but should not prolong national crisis


That old aphorism ‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make them mad’ which has come down from classical Greek times through past western civilisations to the present day, took a humorous twist in our mind when we peeked into a TV programme showing a cricket match between the touring Australian team and the Sri Lankan team.

The gods who wish to destroy Sri Lanka have made them cricket mad, was the thought that came to our mind.

The Pallekelle cricket stadium in Kandy was lit up at night as bright as during the day with floodlights. Men and women, young and old, boys and girls in ecstasy and young mothers with babes in their arms were exposing the kids to the chilly winds blowing across and jumping up and down in a joyous mood as the Sri Lanka cricket captain Dasun Chanaka walloped the world-class Australian cricketers out of the grounds to win the match in the last ball of the T-20 match.

This was happening in a country threatened with starvation, people were queuing up for miles to collect cooking gas cylinders, and motorists for petrol and diesel while the inflation prices were breaking world records.

The president resists countrywide calls to resign and go home while his newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe issues dire warnings of the grim times ahead. But the Pallekelle revellers were oblivious to all that. Cricket was king. The scene was something similar to a rock concert of famed western stars.

More surprising was that there was not even a whimper of protest from any political party, nationalist organisations or conscientious objectors—Sri Lanka not being in short supply of that variety — or even religious leaders.

The reasons were obvious. This Australian cricket tour had the blessings of all — leaders in power even shaky in their position and the people at large, though it simply defied all logic.

It could be because more than 90 percent of the Sri Lankan cricketers hailed from distant and poor villages and poverty-stricken suburbs. They were from very humble families and had fought their way to the top the long and hard way. Their stores of success could beat many legendary stories in magazines of English schoolboys of the last century. Cricket was no longer a game of the Pukka Sahibs of big schools.

Maybe the Sri Lankan boys were infusing a fighting spirit into a very despondent people. But they also seem to give stability to political leaders whom the great majority of the people are demanding stridently and vociferously be kicked out for causing the worst financial and political crises since Independence 72 years ago.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has admitted to having committed two mistakes — financial mismanagement and the decision on fertiliser imports—that have brought the country to this pitiable state. The country is now bankrupt and there is no money to pay for shipments sent from India even on loans or terms which Sri Lankan people are not aware of. But he has said that he does not want to go as a ‘failed president’ and will complete his presidential mandate that goes on for two more years. That means he wants to stay for another two years but he has no solutions to offer to resolve the crises. What would happen to Lanka in the next two years if he hangs on?

China, the all-weather friend of the Rajapaksa regime that helped financially and with armaments to overcome a 30-year-long separatist racist war with the backing of India, it appears, has fallen out with the Rajapaksa regime even though Beijing maintains that its international relations are based on relations with sovereign states and not political parties. Beijing which played the role of the IMF to Lanka is now refusing even to release funds agreed upon.

This is the result of being rebuffed by the Rajapaksa regime on international loans that violated protocol. But now Gotabaya Rajapaksa is dependent on India for emergency financial assistance even though Mahinda Rajapaksa had publicly accused India’s intelligence agency RAW of staging a coup to oust his government in 2015.

According to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, it will take months for IMF assistance to come through and stabilise Lanka. The Indian assistance is slow in reaching a desperate people and doubts are being voiced on whether this flow of assistance is being fine-tuned to Indian geopolitical demands.

Meanwhile, the people are desperately awaiting the arrival of their basic requirements. Some have died in queues awaiting the arrival of cooking gas. A child died because the father could not find petrol for his three-wheeler in time to take him to hospital.

It is manifestly clear that the Rajapaksa family which has been entrenched in power by their family political patriarch Mahinda Rajapaksa will not ‘go home’ as demanded by the people. They have been building up the dynasty for over two decades and, even if thrown out by the people, hope to come back as they did following their defeat in 2015.

Now, the people are being told by some politicians that they are to blame for electing representatives to parliament even though they now want the entire lot removed!

Some others are attempting to go back in history and blame all governments since Independence for the present crises.

This is an attempt to ignore what has been achieved here for 74 years. It will be recalled that during the time of Independence and even before when the population was around 7 million, rice had to be imported to feed the population. D.S Senanayake, from British days commenced opening up the abandoned lands of the dry zone, establishing colonies and paddy lands.

This was continued by his son Dudley and later to some extent by Sirima Bandaranaike and finally by J.R. Jayewardene with the implementation of the Accelerated Mahaveli Diversion Scheme which not only opened up thousands of acres for paddy cultivation but also the mass-scale generation of electrical power. All this resulted in the country producing enough rice to feed its people but President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with one gazette notification banned the importation of chemical fertiliser which destroyed not only the system of paddy cultivation but almost all other agricultural produce, including tea.

The other achievement since Independence was the establishment of Sri Lankan democracy.  Sri Lanka changed more governments among Asian countries through the ballot — except Japan. Democracy survived a coup attempt, two Southern insurrections and a three-decade-old separatist, racist civil war backed by a powerful foreign country. Now democratic forces have brought the autocratic rule of Gotabaya Rajapaksa to his knees and made him confess to his errors.

It’s the respect for democracy and the constitutional process that is halting the quick resolution of the current crises.

The gods may have made Sri Lankans Cricket Mad but not destroyed the country. But cricket should not help unwanted lewwaders to buy time to stay in power and prolong the people’s agony.


(The writer is a former editor of The Sunday Island,
The Island and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader)

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