09 July 2015

Will the real Sirisena stand up please?

Nalaka Gunawardena, social media guru, recently tweeted about a monumental gaffe by ‘The Hindu’ which carried a picture of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in the company of fellow presidential candidate Arachchige Rathnayake Sirisena.

The picture had been used to decorate a story titled ‘President Sirisena’s position on Rajapaksa’s nomination remains unclear’.  It is well-known that A.R. Sirisena contested or was persuaded to contest (for whatever consideration) to confuse would be voters for the eventual winner, Maithripala Sirisena.  The Sirisena camp for its part ‘fielded’ a Namal Rajapaksa probably for the same reason (for whatever consideration).  

‘The Hindu’ ought to have known better, but we all err, so this slip is understandable.  The image was subsequently removed from the story.  

What’s interesting about this mix-up is Nalaka’s comments.  The wording tells a story but misses a bigger story.

Here’s one comment: 'Having mixed up @MaithripalaS with a cheap imitation @TheHindu quietly removes image frm story'. Some of the retweets, shares and comments have used the word ‘fake’ instead of ‘cheap’.  The use of the word ‘imitation’ is legitimate obviously but that’s where the it stops.  Nalaka implies that Maithripala Sirisena is somehow of greater worth than A.R. Sirisena.  If ARS is ‘cheap’, then MS is ‘valuable’, constitutes value for money or ‘rich,’ Nalaka would have us believe.  It’s all relative of course.  MS is no doubt more important and powerful than ARS, but is he of greater worth simply on account of power and position or rather position of power?  

If it was all about rhetoric and promises, if it was about winning and losing, if it was about the reasons for contesting, then of course it can be argued that MS stands a few inches taller than ARS.  On the other hand, has MS covered himself in glory in the first six months of his presidency?  There’s nothing to brag about, really.  

Winning itself can be called an achievement considering how powerful his key opponent was and if one subscribed to the view that Mahinda Rajapaksa had become intolerably arrogant and surrounded himself with so many unsavory characters that his savory-claims had to be taken with a cartload of salt.  

Yes, the 19th Amendment was passed.  But then again, the 20th was scuttled.  The Right to Information Act was dumped.  There was talk of a Code of Conduct for MPs.  Just talk.   Then came the bond scam.  MS’s ‘running-mate’ Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed friends to ‘investigate’ his friend, the Governor of the Central Bank.  Apparently things were so rotten that even these friends couldn’t say ‘all’s well’.  They recommended further investigations.  Nothing happened.  Then came the COPE investigation.  Coincidentally, just before the relevant report came out, MS dissolved parliament. That’s almost like orchestrating a jail break.  Nalaka has tweeted about this too: "Meet 's new Own-Goal team: & Arjuna Mahendran will lose lots of votes defending scam ".

Over and above that is his identity crisis; even as he is the Leader of the SLFP, he lets that party’s arch rival, the UNP to use his image to go with the color green and the elephant symbol in the middle of elections!  That’s ‘rich’, sure.  Cheap too, ironically!

If this is what MS could do or ‘oversee being done’ in just six months, one trembles at what kind of monster he could turn into if he were to rule for 9 years!  ARS, perhaps thanks to being ‘untried’, does seem benign.  ‘Cheap’ cannot be IRS’s preserve.  Neither is MS untainted by ‘cheapness’.

The real-fake dichotomy is also interesting.  We know who IRS is.  Do we know who MS is?  MS is now blue, not green, now the Leader of the SLFP and now (as pointed above) pin-up boy of the UNP.  One day he talks of මෛත්‍රිය (maithree or compassion) the next he is all වෛරය (vairaya or hatred).  One day it’s about clean-up the next it’s about cover-up.  If all this doesn’t describe ‘fake,’ what does?  IRS, in comparison, looks quite the real deal.  

All things considered Nalaka, in hi ’cheap’ shot, undresses himself in ways that gives ‘The Hindu,’ MS and the MS-is-the-real-thing bandwagon a good run for their money.  Nalaka doesn’t exactly redeem himself in a subsequent tweet: ‘WHAT IF…real @MaithripaaS & dummy Sirisena have been switched? Might explain bizarre recent actions. Suba & Yasa?’ 

Note, once again, the derogatory term tagged on ARS, ‘dummy’.  Speaking of dummies, though, hasn’t MS operated as though he’s a dummy and much more for Ranil, the UNP, the LTTE rump and lots of other entities besides?  We’ve covered a lot of that already.

We don’t know what Nalaka thinks was/is ‘bizarre’.  The re-embrace of Mahinda, perhaps?  Yes, that is bizarre except that Nalaka knows about the permanency or otherwise of political friends and enemies.  Perhaps he’s thinking of MS’s identity crisis and how UNP candidates are using the leader of the ‘enemy-party’ to prop their respective campaigns.  We don’t know.  What we do now is that had ARS and MS exchanged places, things could not get worse.  

So there are many Sirisenas.  There’s MS and there’s ARS.  And there are the many versions of Maithripala Sirisena.  Now that is bizarre.  So bizarre that the question we have posed cannot really be answered.  Too many ‘reals’ and too many ‘fakes’ around.  Some even contain both fake and real.  So bizarre that one cannot blame ‘The Hindu’. Really.