Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Reforms, my foot!

Power resists delegation. Whenever there’s concentration of authority in one person, there’s usually pandering to individuals, aid showered on whoever’s (more) willing to backbend before those same individuals, and of course nepotism based on family-and-friend structures which pile up one by one and never seem to go away. Particularly in Sri Lanka, this is a truism as persistent as it is timeless.

Daham Sirisena came under a lot of flak. Rightly. He offered justification for what he did but then went on a tangent and countered “My family is not like the Rajapaksas!” If he or those who support(ed) his argument really thought that deviation from the present regime is enough, they are mistaken. There are different shades to nepotism and for this reason “We are not the Rajapaksas” never was nor will be enough as justification. Period.

That’s done and dusted though. Daham Sirisena can heave a sigh of relief hence, not because of the time factor but because of other (more serious) issues which have cropped up. Badly.

Sri Lanka and South Asia for that matter are not unknown for their lavish displays of worshipping and kowtowing to power-figures. Put simply, that’s patronage. That this was rampant in Rajapaksa’s time is all too obvious. Does this mean the current government is any better? Well, yes and no. Going by recent events however, we’d be personally inclined towards “no”, not only because “deviation from the Rajapaksas” is not enough here too, but because those surrounding Maithripala Sirisena are going on with a (despicably) good job of “doing” a Rajapaksa. Again.

Do we really need banners and cutouts praising Sirisena for “saving the nation from the imperialist's trap”? Does this year’s conduct on Sri Lanka’s part at the UN General Assembly warrant anything other than moderate praise, moderate not because what was done was inadequate but because the president himself argued that he need not be accorded excessive praise? But what do we see instead? Minister after minister kowtowing to the president, the same president in fact who defected from his predecessor because of how HIS government was paying obeisance to him and his family.

This isn't all. As has been reported, not even the United National Party (UNP) has freed itself from nepotism-taint. Well yes, putting in qualified people with credentials isn't really favouritism. But the fact that these appointments were made after highly suspicious processes that had been implemented in ways which call for further investigation should move everyone into asking, "More of the same old?"

There are questions here that will and won't get asked. Naturally. Rhetoricising improvement is what politicians are known for, and not just here. "Yahapalanaya" however is not an end in itself, especially not when it's paraded about as a word used by those with an axe to grind with Rajapaksa. There's more to be done here. Much more.

First and foremost, perhaps the same people who hooted Rajapaksa when he claimed (unjustifiably, we note) that the government should foot his election bill should hoot louder when THEIR boss is being paraded about to the tune of 10 million rupees! Perhaps these hypocrites should be grilled on how they'll react to other excesses which we will or might see in the coming weeks. There's no saying when this will stop, after all.

For now, here's something to think about. No amount of allegations against predecessor can hide power-abuses in place currently. No amount of feel-good rhetoric aimed against Rajapaksa and his gang can fool people for long. If at all, what this government will be doing will be to play into that same gang's hand, by raising up issue after issue which leaves just one idea in the voter's head: "The present is not necessarily better than the past". Sad, yes. But if things go as they've gone these past few days, that'll be the only inevitability.

Moreover, the president must realise that for all their cheers over his New York "moment", those who fawn on him were, once upon a time, Rajapaksa's sycophants. Doesn't take much to conclude that they will probably ditch incumbent when his popularity starts to wane, just as they did to Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa.

President Sirisena should tame the sycophants, therefore. Especially when 10 million rupees have been spent. And especially when the rupee's down, prices are up, and everyone is wondering as to why New York warrants hurrah-boys and their concerns as citizens are being shown the door.

Written for: The Nation INSIGHT, October 10 2015