18 May 2018

Gota and the existentialist threat he poses

Colombo, or rather certain powerdered, lipsticked and groomed part of the political space it is taken to be, is uneasy. The unease of those who’ve seldom experienced anything but ease comes from a spectre that has haunted them for quite a while but has, since last Sunday (May 14th) become too flesh-and-blood-real for comfort.  In a word (or name), Gota. That’s Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. 

They might think that Gota trespassed, for prime properties in Colombo are not exactly considered the ‘home turf’ of anyone who has roots elsewhere and moreover is not seen by masses as having roots in Colombo. They even believed that Galle Face Green was theirs and thought the Joint Opposition doesn’t have the support needed to fill it on a May Day. One year later, th Kolombians, if you will, have essentially conceded that they don’t have the numbers.  

Galle Face Green, however is ‘public’ and not considered Kolombian; it doesn’t really have the exclusivity flavor that, say, the Colombo Golf Club is endowed with.  Shangri-La is different.  That’s what hurts, obviously.  

On Sunday Gota, who is speculated to be a presidential candidate, unveiled ‘Vision 2030’ for Sri Lanka, a policy statement and a manifesto if ever there was one.  

A shocked Kolombian community has already indulged in fear-mongering. They talk of imminent dictatorship. The more politically aware sections of the Kolombians are careful enough to interject that the present regime is marked by the lack of a program, absence of political will and incompetency. They don’t talk of the nepotism, embezzlement of public funds, abuse of state resources, wastage and all those other things they accused the previous regime of. 

It’s understandable. It was never about cleaning up; it was always a case of having ‘our people running things’.  It would be interesting to revisit ‘the case for regime change’ that was made back in late 2014. Here’s a common enough conversation:

‘We need change, man!’

‘Do you think those who stood with the Rajapaksas or who did Rajapaksa-like things when they were in power can bring about change?’

A few moments of silence and then this: ‘True, but first things first, this lot is bad and we need to get rid of them first!’

That same logic can be applied to any critical political moment, but it is always selectively applied.  Understandable because integrity is not the strongest suit and anyway it was never about theft, mismanagement and being dictatorial. If there are doubts about dictatorship-credentials among the preferred candidate of the Kolombians, that’s Ranil Wickremesinghe, then a close look at the party history, party constitution and relevant political machinations pertaining to the United National Party (UNP) would help dispel them. Add complicity in and deafening silence on the 88-89 bheeshanaya and you get the picture. 

The ‘dictator’ story is not politically innocent. The 1978 constitution was made to make dictators out of those who were elected President.  The 19th Amendment did little to take away the dictatorial powers.  Anyway, if Gota’s track record makes such fears legitimate, then so does Ranil’s and most certainly the Kolombians preferred presidential choice in 2010, Sarath Fonseka.  

It is therefore not about fearing what Gota might to do democracy, for such things were never the concern of the Kolombians who used the related words as and when convenient and dropped them as easily when they became inconvenient.

Here’s a paragraph from something I wrote in December 2017 (‘So who is afraid of Gotabhaya and why’) when Colombo was hit by a spate of anti-Gota posters:

‘There’s another ‘fear-element’ here.  Fear of the man, not for the kind of thuggery he may unleash on the country, but the existentialist threat to those currently in power.  In attacking Gota, the attackers (obviously those currently in power) betray a strong sense of unease.  If Gota was not a threat, then why bother?’  

Here are some facts worth reflecting on. a) We have moved from Family Rule to Royal Family Rule, b) this lot kicked good governance in the teeth less than a week after disposing of Mahinda Rajapaksa, c) it took these people less than two months to rob the Central Bank, d) this government is moving heaven and earth to defend the corrupt judicial system, going to the extent of harassing the one man who has stood up and pointed out the system’s many flaws, Nagananda Kodituwakku, d) this government baton charges, splits skulls and squashes protests the same way the Rajapaksas did but very much earlier into its term comparatively, e) this government has made a mockery of constitutional reform and reconciliation, f) this government has not got into white-vanning mode (yet) but the big bosses aren’t at all uncomfortable with the phenomenon, only back then they used the term ‘vigilantes’ (kalu balallu, kaha balallu, ukusso, People’s Revolutionary Red Army or PRAA, etc etc).   

Does this make Gota a legitimate choice? Well, If he’s as bad as anyone, then he is also as good as anyone. The anxieties of the Kolombians don’t make me lose any sleep, but the key question here is are we so poor, politically, that we can’t think outside of various sections of the ruling class (yes, there are non-Kolombians in it too).  

 ‘We need a strong man’ is a call for a pied-piper.  If ‘strength’ was all that was needed, then Mr Sri Lanka would be good enough. A visionary? Not necessarily.  JR had ‘vision’ didn’t he, and didn’t he orchestrate things to push the country to the bloodbath it suffered at the end of the eighties? 

There’s a criteria that is being ignored: untainted.  This then is a call for supporting two people who are being ignored by the mainstream media for the most part: Naganand Kodituwakku and Rohan Pallewatte.  ‘Gota’ as well as his detractors are indulging in a grand distraction whether they are aware of it or not.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com.