Sarath de Alwis
Nationalism: the love of tribal fictions inspired by the hatred of social realities.”
– Author unknown
The Viyath Maga National Conference at the Shangri-La placed the former Defence Secretary positively and undoubtedly in the presidential race in 2019. It did something else as well. He demonstrated that he was different from other conventional alternatives. His braggadocio has no competition.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa is different. He lives in an Orwellian world. He is hell bent on setting himself as the ‘big brother’ – the character George Orwell created in his novel ‘1984’ – the classic literary unravel of ‘tyranny’. To him war is peace. Efficiency is control. Chauvinist insanity is the opiate that he relies on to build consensus.
The kingpins of the corporate world who adorned the front rows send out a pathetic signal to students of 20th century history. Their presence is evidence of the man’s mesmeric hold on the propertied class and the establishment. Gotabaya has delivered an oracular assault on the party that by tradition claimed a prescriptive right on the loyalty of the capitalist class. Seen from the demeanor of the doyens of commerce and industry it was a clear signal of their anticipatory acquiescence and obedience to the ‘strongman’ and his agenda.
Packing a huge hall, especially, in the newest six-star hotel was no big deal. The claim that it was the largest single gathering of professionals, academics and entrepreneurs is a journey into exaggeration beyond reason.
That said, we must admit that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a man who not only understands ‘power’ but has mastered the art of conveying its subtleties and shades with unmistakable accuracy – or should I say – authority. With the Shangri-La shindig he has assuredly demonstrated that he is far removed and far ahead of other conventional alternatives, presently in the scene.
His measured delivery and meticulously arranged text in Sinhala was reminiscent of the nasty corporal who was also a dual citizen. I refer to Adolf Hitler, who was both Austrian and German. Gotabaya Rajapaksa excels in managing terror. It is this versatility in managing terror that made him the most feared man under his brother’s presidency. Now he looks forward to managing terror in his own right.
He promises to deliver many things. That explains his discovery of economics. It is a wide-ranging discipline that transcends his known competencies.
To the middle class he offers law and order. To the upper classes – the tycoons conspicuous in the front row at the Shangri-La pow-wow he offers strong leadership.
To the industrialists and entrepreneurs who are on the take, he offers disciplined trade unions, streets devoid of protest marches and a bureaucracy eager to comply.
He promises a high moral code to the traditional and the hide bound.
He promises to be a munificent patron of the Sangha. The soldier class will be endowed with exploitative opportunities that are yet unheard of.
The retired Lieutenant Colonel, erstwhile émigré, and former Defence Secretary aims at the top job in the guise of an intellectually inspired visionary. He is advancing a political theology that needs to be debunked.
Dr. Rohan Gunaratne, who addressed the affair, was confident that the conclave would produce the seventh Executive President of Sri Lanka. That is according to the script. Some Mossad agents are known to entertain grandiose dreams.
When we separate the pseudo – profundities from the underpinning thesis, we realize what we are up against.
Should our society be ruled by a system of agreed and accepted laws – which also means that our rulers too have to comply with the law? Or should we instal a leader who will control the system, who may even override the system or disable the system for ‘the greater good’ that he may decide to reach?
In his ‘Theses on the philosophy of History’’ Walter Benjamin has said it for all time. “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”
This missive is focused only on the pulpit oratory of the would-be presidential candidate as reported in the press. With characteristic swagger he lays claim to both, knowledge and percipience and denies it in his detractors. Knowledge is not all embracing. Knowledge is always expressed in relation to something – another activity. Knowledge does not exist in the abstract. It always must be in relation to a practice.
Socrates identified the problem. A painter will paint a cobbler, carpenter, or any other artist, though he knows nothing of their arts; and, if he is a good artist, he may deceive children or simple persons, when he shows them his picture of a carpenter from a distance, and they would fancy they are looking at a real carpenter!
The Presidential aspirant has become a great artist. The rise of Asia, he informs us, will open economic corridors with new opportunities for Sri Lanka. We require strategic planning. The purpose of the Viyath Maga conclave, it was claimed, was to assemble like-minded professionals, to share ideas and recommendations for the development of policies and proposals on topics of national importance.
What is of more national importance than getting our man, who reared sharks in his private aquarium and fed baby elephants in his garage – all on the salary of a Ministry Secretary – to the top slot of our Republic?
‘An Intellectually Inspired Sri Lanka’ was the theme.
Other than its connotation of being cerebral, an intellectual is a person endowed with an unhindered capacity to think and understand complex ideas. To be inspired is to be aroused to a new sense of creativity.
‘Intellectually-inspired’ is an oxymoron – a gaffe of a blurb writer or a witless marketing expert. Remember, the adage marketing without strategy is the noise before madness sets in.
Will the ‘intellectually-inspired’ leader entertain other points of view or other opinions? Will an ‘intellectually-inspired’ leader need enforcers and shadow operatives to advance ideas or implement policy?
Intellectually-equipped leaders do not build political fiefdoms.
Intellectually strong leaders promote open discourse. Intellectually competent leaders embrace good ideas irrespective of where they come from.
His Shangri-La sham was more than shameless. It was baloney of the most brazen kind.
Corruption in the state sector was a curse, Gotabaya Rajapaksa waxed. Corruption hindered economic progress, he averred. Ironic remarks for a man at the centre of corruption investigations by law enforcement authorities for allegedly building mausoleums for his father using state funds and approving the purchase of aging MiG-27 fighters from a Ukrainian firm and making the Government pay for the aircraft to offshore shell companies.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa told attendees at the Shangri-La Viyath Maga Conference that “systems and processes should be introduced to prevent officials indulging in corruption.”
But it is equally important that these errant officers have recourse to the court of appeal for writs, one might add. The former Defence Secretary said it was of paramount importance that we have officials of high calibre in our institutions.
Dear cousins, Udayanga and Jaliya in Abu Dhabi and Washington, please take note and polish up your calibres and whatever else for the next merry-go-round.
“We need Direct Foreign Investment. We must encourage direct foreign investments.
Our foremost priority is economic growth to ensure the sustained prosperity and well-being of our people. This can be achieved by encouraging economic growth and transforming the economic structure. What do we need as a society?”
The Intellectually inspired messianic leader provided the answer.
“We need a socialist democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice, safety and security and a conducive and sustainable environment.”
Now mind you. We will have a socialist democracy. We should now look for global investors and multinational investors who will want to experience the outlandish excitement of a socialist democracy.
In Gotabaya’s vision 2030, international investors are being promised a conducive climate for investment. He will promise them his version of the rule of law. It would just be too bad if his idea of the rule of law differs from that practised by western imperialists.
There are many versions of the rule of law, as we have seen in the past. According to one version, inexplicable disappearances, abductions that defy common sense and murders committed by phantom assassins should not be investigated. Such snooping is patently unpatriotic.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was at the epicenter of state power for a decade. He offers no apology for those dark years of state terror and abuse of power.
Instead, he has shifted gear and got on to a new track – development economics.
“Corruption is bad. Bureaucrats and politicians should be clean. Now, look at me! I’m so much better. I am above the pack of jackals. And I judge you! I condemn you! Shame! Shame! See how truly and passionately offended I am before this august gathering! That means I am presidential quality. Am I not?”
Over three years, in its quest to woo ultra-nationalists, the Yahapalanaya Government has engaged in the self-sabotaging action of undermining liberal forces and squandering an unprecedented democratic space for reform that opened up in January 2015. These actions, coupled with the failure to expedite corruption probes and prosecutions, more than anything else, have enabled the Rise of the Fascist.
Pseudo-profundity that flooded the Ballroom of the Shangri-La would have been funny, if not for the disquieting realisation that it has brought us to the cheerless frontier of a terrifying political theology.