From the Sun God to the High King?http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2009/07/from-sun-god-to-high-king.html
by Tisaranee Gunasekara
“President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Rajapakses will rule this country for a long time…. The Rajapakses will become beloved leaders of this country…. The next chapter in Sri Lanka is reserved for the Rajapakses…”
(An Astrological prediction published in the state-owned Silumina – 7.6.2009).
(July 06, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The singer is young and pretty. Her pose is one of veneration and her words worshipful. Around her, traditional dancers in colourful garb gyrate rhythmically. The ensemble seems apposite for a Pongu Tamil celebration with its overtones of leader deification. But this singer is Sinhala and the subject matter of her symbolism laden song is President Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka.
The message embedded in the lyrics will be fully comprehensible only to those familiar with the theology and the myths of Sinhala Buddhism. Rajapakse is hailed as the ‘High King’ (Maha Raju) who has received his royal mandate from the four Great Brahmas (superior heavenly beings believed to have been present at the birth of Prince Siddhartha). He is praised for reuniting this country with his miraculous feats (pelahara – a term usually reserved for the miracles of Prince Siddhartha and the Buddha). In a final flourish he is called ‘the god who won the land’ (derana dinu devidun).
The Tigers and a segment of the Tamil community hailed Vellupillai Pirapaharan as ‘Sarvadesh Thalevar’ (Leader of all lands) and venerated him as Surya Thevan (Sun God). At some of the Pongu Thamil celebrations, worshippers rolled on the floor in front of a vehicle carrying Pirapaharan’s picture. During the final peace process, this leadership deification assumed a life of its own, with Tamil identity totally subsumed in Pirapaharan’s personal identity. But, despite the sycophantic outpourings and mindless veneration of genuine believers and opportunists, Pirapaharan remained what he was, a fallible and destructible mortal. The manner of his death bears a striking resemblance to the ultimate fate of many a hubris-infested hero/leader in Greek tragedies.
Pirapaharan’s refusal to surrender either to the Lankan government or to a third party is understandable; not so his refusal to leave the battle zone when he could have done so and move into the familiar jungle from which he could have continued his struggle. Here was a man who, blinded by hubris, believed he could not loose and thought he could work out a miracle whenever necessary. This is almost identical to the mindset that enveloped Adolf Hitler when the empire he won was crumbling from his own hubristic errors. Even as Berlin was being surrounded on all sides and the once invincible German military machine was disintegrating, Hitler continued to make plans and give orders for counteroffensives to be launched by non-existing armies.
When Hitler indulged in his delusive plans for a coup de main in a Germany going down to a historic defeat, none dared to tell him the reality. The Nazi subculture was one in which the leader ordered and the followers obeyed, unquestioningly. That the Führer was always right was an axiom, the most fundamental article of faith in Nazism. Similarly even if Pirapaharan’s senior lieutenants (and most of them remained loyal to him and the organisation until the bitter end, unlike the top Nazis) saw way the wind was blowing, they may not have dared to impress this unpalatable reality on the Tiger leader too strenuously, because, of the habit of unquestioning obedience. This lack of space for debate and dissension, for alternate opinions and different viewpoints, prevented the LTTE from averting decimation and propelled Pirapaharan into an avoidable death. Is this the path Sri Lanka has chosen, post-war?
Mahinda Rajapakse, the scion of a minor aristocratic family from Hambantota, named his Presidential Election manifesto Mahinda Chinthanaya (The Philosophy of Mahinda) after himself. This move, unprecedented in Lankan politics, seems portentous with hindsight. Once elected, Rajapakse worked diligently at creating a personality cult. The regime’s budget airline (Mihin Air), its housing programme (Mihindu Sevana) and its infrastructure programme (Mahinda Randora) were named after him (a plan to build a massive religious edifice, similarly named, was abandoned, for the time being). Colombo and its environs are dotted with cut-outs adorned with Rajapakse’s picture, many of them hailing him as the ‘High King’ of Sri Lanka.
With siblings, cousins and nephews ubiquitous, the administration has a distinct Rajapakse flavour. President Rajapakse is Minister of Defence, Public Security and Law and Order, Finance, Religious Affairs and Moral Upliftment and Highways and Road Development. Older brother Chamal is Minister of Irrigation and Water Management and Ports and Aviation. Two younger brothers function as Presidential alter egos, controlling key swathes of the state structure. Gotabhaya is effectively in charge of the country’s defence and its powerful and growing military machine. Basil, believed to be the brains of the family, is Senior Presidential Advisor and an appointed member of the legislature. As the ‘Development Czar’ he presides over mammoth infrastructure projects. Though only a junior parliamentarian, he dictates even to senior ministers and acts as his brother’s trouble shooter with fractious local allies and key international players. Together the siblings control 67.6% of the national budget.
The formal introduction of the next generation of Rajapakses into the political arena is already on, with the elevation of Presidential nephew Shashindra Rajapakse as the de facto Chief Ministerial candidate of Uva, over and above senior party men (young Shashindra is a son of Chamal Rajapakse; he is also the President’s Private Secretary and the Basnayake Nilame of the Kataragama Devalaya). The President’s oldest son, Namal is the head of his own organisation, Tharunyata Hetak (Aspiring Youth), which he founded after his father became the Presidential candidate; though not a statal or a para-statal entity, it receives massive state patronage. Namal, who holds no official position, plays the role of a high official unofficially. For instance the para JVP website, Lanka Truth reported that Namal Rajapakse made an uninvited visit to the police headquarters in Kandy on 7 September 2008 and advised the officers on the importance of public relations. He was also a keynote speaker at the official 61st Independence Day ceremony at the Lankan Embassy in Washington, together with the Ambassador Jaliya Wickremesuriya (A son of President Rajapakse’s first cousin, Wickramausiya managed his tea company in the US, before being made the Consul General for Los Angeles and the Ambassador to Washington by his uncle).
The necessary line of demarcation between state and First Family is steadily evaporating, as the First Family proceed to occupy larger and larger swathes of the state, thereby tightening its stranglehold on power. A case in point is the awarding of a licence for WiMax broadband frequencies to Sky Network, a company incorporated on 6 May 2006 with a share capital of Rs.20/- and owned by a nephew of the President, Himal Laleendra Hettiacrachchi (his mother is a sister of the President). According to a detailed report in The Sunday Leader of 24 February 2008, once Sky Network obtained three WiMax frequencies from the Telecom Regulatory Commission (headed by a handpicked nominee of the President), it issued 950,000 shares to Hastings Trading E Services of Portugal, a subsidiary of Lycatel, a UK based prepaid international calling card company. Two weeks later, on 30 March 2007, one of the two original shareholder-directors of Sky Network resigned and Hettiarachchi was appointed in his stead as a director. Interestingly the former director and the new one share an address (175/2, Old Kottawa Road, Mirihana, Nugegoda), which is also the address of Sky Network. In the meantime, after an unsuccessful application to the Telecom Regulatory Commission for a WiMax frequency, the part state-owned giant, Sri Lanka Telecom purchased a 40% stake in Sky Network to obtain a Wimax frequency without which its competitive edge would have been blunted. The Rajapakse Family has become an octopus, with its tentacles reaching into the far corners of the Lankan state, polity and economy.
ONE LEADER, ONE PEOPLE, ONE COUNTRY
The politico-psychological landscape of the LTTE was based on the nexus between the leader, the organisation and the people; Tamils, the Tigers and Vellupillai Pirapaharan were believed to be bound to each other with unbreakable links, with identical goals and interests - One People, One Organisation, One Leader. Any Tamil who ventured out of this hermitically sealed world was seen as a traitor. Currently a similar identification between the Rajapakses, the people and Sri Lanka is in the making. Just as the successes scored by the LTTE and the seminal role played by Pirapaharan in ensuring these enabled the creation and maintenance of the axiomatic identification between the Leader, the organisation and the people, the victory over the LTTE has enabled the Rajapakes to link their future to the future of the country.
A familial project is not viable unless it is placed within a certain ideological framework which legitimises the rule of one family by making its interests coterminous with the interests of a key segment of the populace. The ideological framework for the Rajapakse dynasty is being provided by Sinhala supremacism. The Rajapakse regime is linked to the restoration of Sinhala dominance in Sri Lanka and its continuance is depicted as a sine qua non for the existence of Sri Lanka as a hierarchically pluralist country. These claims have been enormously strengthened by the spectacular victory over the LTTE; the next step would be to pacify the North and the East, without making major political concessions to the Tamils. The consent of the majority Sinhala community to the transformation of Sri Lanka from a flawed, albeit vibrant democracy, to a family oligarchy, in return for the restoration of Sinhala supremacism, geographically, politically and psychologically: that seems to be the quid pro quo the Rajapakses are aiming at.
The identification between the Rajapakse familial project and the Sinhala Supremacist interests makes sense from two angles. Firstly the war is the only success story of the Rajapakse regime. Secondly the Sinhalese form the core-constituency of the Rajapakses. As the President himself stated, he regards himself, first and foremost, as the President of those Sinhalese who voted for him rather than of all Sri Lankans, equally: “You must remember my political legacy and constraints. During my election I received few Tamil votes because of the LTTE-enforced boycott. I was elected primarily by a Sinhala constituency on an election manifesto which made it clear that an ultimate solution to the ethnic crisis could be evolved only on the basis of a unitary state” (Friday – 13.9.2007). In short Rajapakse believes that he owes a special duty to the majority community – because they voted for him – and that he is justified in treating the minority communities somewhat unequally - because they did not vote for him. Rajapakse needs Sinhala supremacists as much as they need him; theirs is a symbiotic relationship. Who else would hail Rajapakse a King and provide the necessary patriotic cover for the familial project?
The current cult of veneration around Rajapakse will not turn him into a king (or Sri Lanka into a monarchy) let alone a god. The danger posed by such absurd practices is the psychological degeneration of both the worshipper and the worshipped. It creates a mindset which is profoundly anti-democratic and anti-civilisational, consisting of blind faith in the ability of the leader to overcome any challenge, unquestioning obedience to his orders and uncritical acceptance of his world view. It turns free men into mindless slaves and equal citizens into unequal subjects. That happened to Tamil polity and society with the dominance of the LTTE and the elevation of its Supremo to celestial heights. Perhaps it is our turn now.