Quoted above are Mark Antony’s words to the citizens of Rome at the fall of the mighty Caesar. And the citizenry shed copious tears. If the citizens of Sri Lanka, particularly those who joined the “Aragalaya” protesters islandwide and stood in queues to obtain their essentials, shed copious tears at the fall of their ‘pocket’ [...]


Oh, what a fall was there my countrymen!


Quoted above are Mark Antony’s words to the citizens of Rome at the fall of the mighty Caesar. And the citizenry shed copious tears. If the citizens of Sri Lanka, particularly those who joined the “Aragalaya” protesters islandwide and stood in queues to obtain their essentials, shed copious tears at the fall of their ‘pocket’ Caesar, they were mostly tears of joy than of sadness.

How a person who was adulated by vast numbers of Sri Lankans as the architect of Sri Lanka’s military victory over the separatist LTTE (an exaggerated accolade fathered by some writers turning him into a heroic Nelson) and later turned president had to flee the country, to escape the people’s mounting wrath is a historic and unforgettable lesson that would be wrought in the country’s present day Mahavamsa.

Some might well contest the notion propagated by his propagandists that the man later elevated to the presidency, single-handedly as it were, won the war, forgetting the many others who contributed to victory even sacrificing their lives for the integrity of the nation and for defending the unitary state.

True enough Gotabaya Rajapaksa played an important role as defence secretary to defeat a secessionist enemy and end the war. But he lost the biggest war of his political career. That was the war against his own people, including the 6.9 million citizens who voted to bring into power believing that he is the new messiah.

it is what he did in his life span as president that matters right now. It is his policies and those of his close cronies some passing off as experts in one field or another, that tipped Sri Lanka into the abyss of economic collapse as experienced in the last several months by almost all Sri Lankans bar the coterie in the inner circle who had amassed wealth and opportunity with the help of political patronage.

Among many epitaphs that would surely be written about Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s brief presidency one could well be “From grace to disgrace”. No Sri Lankan leader, elected by the people, has in such a short period, fled from the country surreptitiously and to an undisclosed destination leaving such a dreadful and obnoxious legacy.

If his destination — temporarily at least — is an oil kingdom in the Arab Gulf as speculated then the least he could do is pay back the people of the country he and his cronies reduced to economic rubble by shipping back some petroleum for which thousands upon thousands of citizens queued for and even died for and were also assaulted by uniformed thugs for seeking what was their due.

If Gotabaya Rajapaksa by building a stupa in Lanka’s first capital Anuradhapura where King Dutugemunu had constructed the Ruwanvelisaya, thought he could become, in mind at least, an intrinsic link in the country’s monarchic tradition and so leave a permanent mark in its more than 2500-year-old history, he succeeded.

But it is a mark that today’s citizens and surely future generations would best like to erase from their minds along with his futile attempts to carve a place for himself in the history of Anuradhapura by holding his presidential inauguration in the ancient capital.

When JR Jayewardene introduced the executive presidency in 1978 and crafted for himself unprecedented powers he imagined he was restoring the country’s kingly tradition ruptured almost 500 years earlier by the advent of western colonialism.

One can hardly forget President Junius Richard Jayewardene’s memorable words that the only thing his extensive power would not allow him do was to turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man. Had he been able to do so, it would come as no surprise to hear of many transformed citizens applying for new passports.

Rajapaksa wanted to go one better. He wanted to be a local Napoleon (a historical figure that Junius Richard greatly admired) and surround himself with military officers who were planted in the civilian administration in the mistaken belief a disciplined military could perform better as civil administrators or to provide him with trained and faithful high- ranking military men who could be mobilised if and when required, or both.

Dismantling the civil administration manned civilians and replacing them with retired and serving military to run a country with a parliamentary democracy was hardly a vertical exercise like running an army.

His military appointees might have been good soldiers in the battlefields of the Wanni. But most were out of their depths in the paddy fields of Polonnaruwa. That was a drawback he did not understand or would not accept.

The slew of promises he made about eschewing nepotism, cronyism and injecting meritocracy as a major criterion in selecting appointees to high positions were all abandoned in the two and a half years in office, defiling the Temple of Justice in the process.

Surely over the coming weeks and months much will not only be written of Gotabaya Rajapaksa but many questions will be raised in foreign parliaments and academic and human rights institutions.

Already here in London, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party has asked the Tory administration to join hands with others to launch a process to bring an international arrest warrant against the former president and his unnamed “cronies”.

Perhaps that possibility will be raised at the September sessions of the UN Human Rights Council.

While the “Aragalaya” not only campaigned for the ousting of the Rajapaksas but holding them to account for the misuse and abuse of power but widespread corruption they are allegedly guilty of.

But accountability is not a one way street; it is not a weapon that only the victors have the right to wield against the vanquished. Those who initially launched the people’s struggle tempered their political and social goals with a sense of justice, fair play and non- violence.

Yet somewhere along the way, especially towards the tail end of the struggle it seemed to have lost its sense of direction and need to be answerable for their actions. To some of those who viewed the unrolling scenario from some distance and more objectively it would appear that violence had become an essential ingredient in the struggle for justice and fair play for all.

The people’s movement that had won the imagination of much of the world for its non-violent approach to ousting of despised leaders, appeared to have been hijacked by more radical and violence prone elements with destructive intent and capability. Or maybe it was infiltrated by some with malign intent of aligned to forces supporting the Rajapaksas.

If the aragalaya wishes to retain the orderly, non-violent philosophy it preached at the inception, it should learn to separate the sheep from the goats as it were and cleanse the movement of those who preach violence as the way to political change. The people have suffered long enough. They do not need the desire for political change and a new political cultured to be tainted by internal dissension, instability and chaos.

Those who clamour for economic recovery soonest must also remember that financial and humanitarian help, be it from international lending institutions or donor nations will only be available if Sri Lanka proves it is capable of establishing stable government and a political system that respects and adheres to international laws we are signatories to, especially at a time when the global economy is facing hard times and could turn worse before long.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran
Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)


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