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Who is the Real Mahinda?

by Malinda Seneviratne

(November 07, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mahinda Rajapaksa is a dictator. The Rajapaksas are running the country as a family business. They are a clan. They are into dynasty-building. They are robbing the treasury. They are ruining the economy. They’ve turned Sri Lanka into a ‘failed state’. The Rajapaksas, led by Mahinda, are the worst news that Sri Lanka has heard post-Independence. He is a disaster when it comes to foreign relations and has angered the big players in the international community, the USA, Britain and the rest of the European Union. He is vindictive; incarcerating his political opponent and one time Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka while befriending those who are guilty of massacring hundreds of people (Karuna, Pilliyan) or else creating conditions for such blood-letting (KP) as well as known racketeers preying on people’s helplessness (Devananda). He’s a racist, anti-Tamil and is not interested in resettling the IDPs, who by the way he’s treated very shabbily. He stole an election. There is wide-spread discontent. He will be ousted soon - That’s one school of thought.

Vanquished terrorism

Mahinda Rajapaksa is the best thing that happened to Sri Lanka post-Independence. He ended a 30 year war and vanquished terrorism without conceding one square inch of territory, ideological or otherwise, to Eelamists, tiger-striped or otherwise including the devolution-fixated slaves of the worst elements of Indian hegemony. He has given Sri Lankans back their dignity, a sense of purpose and created the conditions for people to better themselves in spite of the machinations of politicians.

He has a close-knit set of advisors, chief among whom are his brothers Basil and Gotabhaya, this is true, but given history of betrayal and pursuing of self-interest to the detriment of national-interest, it was imperative that he surrounds himself with people he could trust in order to fight the war to a finish. Moreover, they are competent.

The economy is on a sound footing. There’s development, mega and otherwise. Infrastructure is coming up. Inflation is under control. State enterprises have not been sold, asset bases have expanded and those who make wild claims about sell-outs are hard pressed to substantiate allegation. As for foreign relations, he seems to have unshackled himself from the myth that the Long American Century is not yet done. He understands that the balance of global power has shifted and his thinking on international affairs has taken this into account.

During his tenure, he saved hundreds of thousands of Tamils from the grip of a terrorist, oversaw the greatest ever hostage rescuing operation in history and although not keeping to self-set deadlines, has treated the IDPs in ways that no other nation or leader has treated people in similar situation and has ensured that resettlement is as swift and as smooth as is humanly possible. He won an election, fair and square. He is secure in power. - That’s another school of thought.

I believe that Mahinda is no saint. I don’t believe he’s a devil either. He’s just a politician being political, doing what is necessary to retain power, twisting the rules when he has to using what powers are at his disposal. He is not subtle and he’s not crass. He’s a middle-ground player. He can unite polar-opposites. He is a pragmatist.

The Rajapaksas are having a good time, of this there’s no doubt. Are they making money? Well, considering what people in power usually do, one would be persuaded to say ‘yes’ or at least ‘probably’. Are they dynasty-fixated? Yes and let’s add here that so too are the other ‘political’ families, the Senanayakes, Bandaranaikes and Wijewardenas; all Colomboan in mind-set and acculturation whereas the Rajapaksas are distinctly village-born and rural.

I doubt the figures trotted out by Ajith Nivard Cabraal but don’t subscribe to the horror-scenarios articulated by his detractors in the UNP. I don’t think the UNP’s traditional power-base, the business community, is unhappy with him because no regime has been this friendly to the private sector. I have no doubt that if Ranil Wickremesinghe were in Rajapaksa’s shoes, we would have lost the People’s Bank, Bank of Ceylon and the National Savings Bank. As things stand, we still have these entities, got back the Insurance Corporation, Sri Lankan Airlines and control of gas. Could be better run, yes, but we are now less susceptible to being screwed. I am thankful.

I don’t think he’s anti-Tamil, but I think decent as his treatment of IDPs has been, he could have done better. He’s not a democrat in spirit and neither is he a statesman; he’s just a politician who is using to good effect to further his interests a constitution made for someone else. He didn’t steal any elections but neither did he win fair and square. The outcome, however, was not changed by the unfairness.

Is he about to be kicked out of power or is this impossible? Neither. I don’t believe in ‘forever’ and neither do I believe, given realities, in ‘imminent’. There is dissent, some discontent, but there is also huge popularity, a distinctive and disturbing absence of credible opposition and a bunch of objectors so despicable on so many counts that make the man look positively benign.

As for those who are salivating about the story that Mahinda didn’t go to London because he was scared he would be arrested for war-crimes, they should do a re-think. That’s the kind of thing that helps boost the man’s popularity at home and helps him consolidate power-hold.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malinsene@gmail.com Tell a Friend

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