Photo by AP, courtesy The Hindu
The other day, killing time in the airport lounge, I picked up the Sunday Observer. Not something I do on a regular basis, never having been able to reciprocate the attention the state controlled media has paid to me over the years. On the front page was an article – this was the 13 April issue- titled “Lanka tops Child –Friendliness Index in South Asia” by Ranil Wijayapala. Mr Wijayapala’s article was devoted to remarks made by the Child Development and Women’s Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadda on this achievement, which according to the minister – no surprise here – is due to government efforts and initiatives. Clearly no one asked Vibooshika for her views or Sharmila who recently miscarried in detention, her views, either. What caught my eye in particular was the stunning revelation by the minister about His Excellency the President. In Wijeyapala’s words:
He (the minister) said children in Sri Lanka are fortunate to have a leader such as President Mahinda Rajapaksa who loves children more than any other world leader. (Emphasis mine)
Now, how does he know? How many other world leaders does he know and know well enough to make this claim? Does he know Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, who despite international reports of children in his country starving, must surely be incensed by the sheer chutzpah of Karaliyadda’s statement! No Pyongyang for him, surely, but no doubt grace and favour in large and steady doses from our most child-loving chief executive! Kim outdoes him, perhaps only just, in the scale and frequency of personal posters, banners and hoardings. When it comes to flattery and compliments, again Kim has the decided advantage, but, as it is fast becoming clear, only just!
Karaliyadda’s statement is not the first by a politician in this country ridiculously, obsequiously flattering his leader – it may though be the first of this kind – so very up close and personal – that has been given front page coverage in a media organ that was taken over by the state to be broad-based in terms of ownership, but continues for decades to be abused as a propaganda organ. Has Karaliyadda no shame? Actually it is difficult to understand the nature of the beast as it were, since he, Karaliyadda, reportedly advocates legislation to allow rapists to marry their victims!
More importantly, as a reflection of governance and political culture in this country, we have regressed into the surreal – fantastically farcical at one level; chillingly frightening at another. Does Mahinda Rajapaksa acknowledge this bilge and buffoonery, nurture, nourish and reward it? How can this man be a minister? How can this regime even contemplate laws that will provide for rapists marrying their victims? What perverted “child development” is that? Is Mahinda Rajapksa listening, does he care? I think not. This is his creation. The dynastic project over which he presides and of which he is the crucial element requires this over- the –top and absurd rhetoric, repressive and pre-historic legislation.
And there is more…
Consider what happened to the UNP MPs who visited Hambantota, home turf of the dynasty. His Lordship the Mayor, an apparatchik of the dynasty was there to meet and greet and beat and even shoot at them (?) along with a chunk of loyal locals. And with a toy gun, he says. Toy guns are standard issue for local government and governance these days? Let us not forget the ongoing Khuram Shaikh case. No, it is not toy guns that are widely used – rather it is more of a case of guns, real guns as toys for the “nasties” of the regime! And the police look on as if their primary function in contemporary Sri Lanka is not the protection of civilians and the rule of law but the encouragement and observation of their destruction. Let us not forget that vicious vignette of violence at Hotel Nippon and the countless other instances of the police looking on – passive witnesses rather than active watchdogs and guardians of law and order and the rule of law.
The culture of governance spawned by the regime is such that the international profile of the country is being ruined. International investigation into allegations of war crimes and hagiographic personality cult type propaganda around the president and his family, give Kim Jong-un a run for his money. Gun-toting local politicians and thuggish monks visiting violence on their own and others with relative impunity, reports of increased sexual harassment of female foreign tourists, an apparently resurgent LTTE now apparently nipped in the bud, but with spin-offs in cordon and search operations and detentions, cumulatively make for adverse travel advisories, which in turn have obvious economic consequences. Does the regime have a plan to reverse all or any of this? Does it have a purpose beyond its entrenchment in power for posterity? Or, is this the plan? Who is in charge and of what, for what?
I suspect there is a coterie within the regime, which believes that a certain discipline will have to be restored, control asserted and the unseemly, untidy instances of Hambantota and Hotel Nippon, the ludicrous excesses of the likes of Karaliyadda and the advertent or inadvertent penchant for keeping up with the Kims, must all be reined in. For them the regime is on the soundest footing when it is lean and mean, neat and tidy.
For those who believe – God help us. There are signs that the worst is yet to come if like the police, we just watch – as instructed?