Sarath de Alwis
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after, And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human folly like the back of his hand, And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.’ Epitaph on A Tyrant – W.H. Auden
When Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was remodelling the city of Colombo, he was guided by his own definition of perfection. It was a tyrannical perfection. He had his share of admirers. Affluent middle class matrons found the Independence Arcade delightfully dashing. The Dutch Hospital refurbished is à la mode to those who can afford it.
As the poet Auden tells us what is chic and elegant for the few can be terribly wrong for the many. Gotabhaya made many little children cry, when their families were forcibly ejected from their homes to fit their miserable souls into Gotabhaya’s grand design in urban renewal. He knows human folly as the back of his hand.
We have forgotten how we feared Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s invisible long arm moving levers of power before January 8 2015.
As Milan Kundera the novelist philosopher announces with lyrical elegance, ‘Our struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’
A few days ago, Dinesh Gunewardene was brushing off the Rathupaswela shooting as just another happenstance on a TV program. It was clever of him to treat slaughter with disdain.
That is our problem. We treat our pressing problems with disdain. Three years into ‘Yahapalanaya’ we have arrived at a political cul-de-sac. There is little or nothing to halt Gotabhaya’s ideology of Sinhala Buddhist exceptionalism gnawing into the primitive minds of a majority of our majority tribe.
Trapped in myth and legend, insisted upon as our impeccable heritage by a Sinhala Buddhist clerical mafia, we are deprived of a supportive culture either capable or equipped to embrace human progress in this day and age.
Thanks to the failures of the current leadership, the unthinkable now seems inevitable.
That is, unless, this Parliament succeeds in abolishing the executive presidency.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will surely end up the supreme law-giver of this blessed island. And worse, it will be in the guise of redeemer of the Sinhala Buddhist tribe.
We must get our facts straight. While many were repelled by the debauchery of his governance, Mahinda was and still is the one dominant leader in our midst. The absence of any credible competitors makes him much taller than he really is. The circus of the last three years demonstrates the point.
The historic coalition that ousted the Mahinda regime in 2015 was entirely energized by a collective fear of the deep state that functioned under his brother – then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Gotabhaya: An anatomy
The record shows Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to be less of a soldier and more of a manipulator. He left active service at the height of the war, migrated, renounced his nationality and never set foot on the land of his birth until the brother contested the Presidency.
Gotabhaya is Cleonymus – the Athenian general who dropped his shield in battle and fled. But then, he made up for his abandonment by carefully constructing a persona of achiever, go getter and warrior hero capping his rise with a sycophant profiler obligingly producing a tome titled Gota’s War.
He jailed the soldier who commanded the victorious army and claimed ownership of the victory with an obliging Buddhist clergy notarizing a concocted title deed. He epitomizes deceit wrapped in dignity.
He is the false hero with a crooked mind. In his crooked mind, even the right things got crooked. See how he fought Somali sea piracy! ‘I earned valuable foreign exchange’ he claims. We ask ‘Into whose pockets did this valuable foreign exchange go?’ But, it is unpatriotic to ask inconvenient questions from the war hero.
Today, he is well positioned to climb the greasy pole of power. He will do it with ease and relish. An obliging Sangha fraternity will wipe off the grease and tilt the pole to an easy, accessible angle.
Giving the devil his due
That said, it must be recognized that as Defence Secretary he conceptualized the campaign that made soldiering for the legitimate state a righteous and virtuous calling.
Post-war he made it a political project. The pride in the uniform and remembrance of the fallen were brilliantly used to capture the imagination of the nation.
That it produced a Sinhala Buddhist constituency for Gotabhaya is an accidental by-product. Gotabhaya cannot be blamed for that.
However, our common sense directs us to be alert to the danger. His gauleiters – General Kamal Gunaratne and Admiral Sarath Weerasekera have given us enough reason to be wary of a Gotabhaya Presidency.
The image of the heroic soldier was created at considerable moral cost. It totally rejected even the minutest empathy for the minorities whose genuine grievances were construed as an existential threat to the Sinhala people. Any empathy with the minorities – the Tamil people was identified with the coward, the malingerer and the deserter.
It was a deliberate strategy. The man’s brilliance lies in his capacity to reinvent truth according to his personal agenda.
Why Gotabhaya should be thwarted
A Gotabhaya Presidency promises a dreadful dystopia. It will bifurcate the Sinhala majority into the heroic and the anti-heroic. The minorities, needless to say would be the enemy.
His ascendancy to power must be thwarted. Why? Because he is a vicious, vindictive, racist, control-freak.
It is time to take stock of our predicament. We are a thinly disguised quasi-theocracy. We are covered in a strange mosaic that combines the dark green battle fatigue of the patriotic soldier and the saffron robe of the patriotic priest.
Gotabhaya has a finely tuned alliance with a section of the clergy who are either genuine Sinhala nationalists or pure and simple political operatives clad in robes.
Unravelling the Sangha
In Sri Lanka, the saffron robe is not a refuge from worldly affairs. On the contrary, it is but an entrée to social advancement.
In the Buddhist belief system, the ‘Sangha’ is the third factor of the ‘Triple Gem’. The Sangha are ‘worthy of gifts, hospitality, offerings and reverential salutations’. These reverential salutations the Sangha are entitled to have reached a new height in the Gotabhaya for President project.
‘Maha Sangha Rathnaya Parata Bahinawa- we are descending on to the road the partisan priests scream if our hero is touched they warn. Upasaka Gotabhaya certainly knows his refuge.
The ‘Sangha Order’ is considered one of the three jewels – the thrividharatna. Once ordained they develop peculiar hobbies such as, taming baby elephants, feeding them with tamarind pods. These clerics are elites and their temples are manorial enclaves of great prestige. They radiate fearsome shadowy power over believers and followers.
They have their own definitions and values of social justice and human rights. (If Ekneligoda had LTTE links or Lasantha had links with foreign NGOs they forfeit their human rights).
They are manipulative maestros in defining proper behaviour for themselves and their flock. They claim an inherent and natural prestige. They exert an unimaginable influence over a people held hostage to tradition and social norms. They are a pivotal breed of political players in Gotabhaya’s great game.
The autocrat seduces them with patronage. They return the favour by legitimizing the autocracy.
The dream candidate
Gotabhaya Rajapksa is the dream candidate of this cold and calculating class of the clergy.
Prince Siddhartha renounced once when he left his palace. Our soldier statesman will do better. He has once renounced his Sri Lankan citizenship. Now he has promised to renounce his US citizenship.
That is a double whammy in the business of renunciation. It qualifies as an ‘avantgarde’ redemption!
The abyss that awaits
The last three years have demonstrated the futility of converting a patrimonial state into a functional democracy.
In the patrimonial state, the sources of power, status and wealth are concentrated in the state. The political class and the priestly class are in a symbiotic compact sharing the spoils.
Gotabhaya has the capacity, the will and the skill to construct the perfect garrison state. In his Brave New World Aldous Huxley described the kind of state that Gotabhaya will preside over.
It will be an efficient totalitarian state. It will be one ‘in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.’