In a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, a woman survivor of the Holocaust is having coffee at a roadside café many years after the war when she sees Adolf Hitler crossing the street. Terrified, she flees the scene.
Ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been relegated to the dustbin of history by a massive, unprecedented social upheaval. But this international outcast has no place to call home except the island that he ruined so casually. He isn’t welcome anywhere in the world, and the ground is being prepared for his return.
Even if it’s hard to imagine any kind of political future for him, many people are uneasy at the idea of his return.
Comparing Gotabaya (or Gota) to Hitler may seem a little too much. But it’s the principle that counts – in 2019, 6.9 million people yearned for a strongman, and many vocal exponents of that school of thought, from intellectuals to the clergy, said it in so many words – that only a “Hitler’ can make Sri Lanka great again.
So we had a Hitler by proxy, someone who didn’t need to start a world war to leave the entire population facing a socio-economic holocaust of monumental proportions.
Now with Ranil Wickremesinghe proving myopic to the actual needs of a traumatised nation, believing like an old schoolmaster that the stick is the best way to keep an ‘errant’ population in line, the Rajapaksa loyalists are raising their heads again.
“The government, on the other hand, should not interfere with the legal quagmire that awaits Gota in Sri Lanka. Many cases have been filed against him, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe should not meddle with that”
They kept a low profile from April to June, but they could be identified easily from the way they reacted to the Aragalaya (the Struggle).
Their complacent world turned upside down, and they too were victims of Gota’s holocaust as much as anyone else. But it’s all in the mind. I’d have used the term ‘fans’ to describe them, but fans are by definition associated with entertainment – sports, music and hobbies. Loyalist would be more appropriate to describe this largely brain-dead lot, for whom minority bashing amounted to a sport, anti-Western rhetoric sweet music to the ear, and the commission taking amounting to pillage practised by their ‘strongmen’ peers no more than the birthright of those privileged to be above the law (or to rewrite the laws).
This doesn’t mean that back in 2019, 6.9 million Sri Lankans were brain-dead or lusting after the blood of minorities. Many voters had different agendas, but the purse was a key factor as the Yahapalanaya regime was seen as bad for business. Gota with his mixed bag – anti-Western rhetoric plus a hint of becoming the sole agent of a local version of the American Dream, his dreaded ‘no nonsense’ history of dealing with opponents (packaged with sadistic glee as ‘Gota Bhaya’ or fear of Gota), and with the formidable Rajapaksa dynasty backing him (including the sinister puppet master Basil with his ‘seven brains’) provided the right adrenalin rush to people desperately in need of a new fairy tale.
But history isn’t made at the ballot box alone. There comes to mind a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, about the trouble being not in the stars but in ourselves. This is as true of Gotabaya Rajapaksa today as it was about Caesar and his enemies. In this case, he was his own worst enemy.
Back to the point – there’s nothing to say that Gota can’t return home. He’s entitled to the official protection due to an ex-president, not less, not more. His presence will be unsettling to millions of broken homes because of his ‘legacy,’ and hopefully, he will have the good sense to keep a low profile, without being drawn into devious backstage political games following the example of the odious Basil.
“So we had a Hitler by proxy, someone who didn’t need to start a world war to leave the entire population facing a socio-economic holocaust of monumental proportions”
The government, on the other hand, should not interfere with the legal quagmire that awaits Gota in Sri Lanka. Many cases have been filed against him, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe should not meddle with that. This isn’t that Yahapalanaya time, our Weimar Republic days. If the cases can’t be proven, Gotabaya has nothing to fear and he will go a free man. If not, he must face the consequences like many other ‘strongmen’ before him (many who were stronger are now in jail from Africa, eastern Europe to Latin America). It’s as simple as that.
This is not a call for revenge. But it is also too late to forgive everything in the name of national reconciliation. Too many lives have been derailed and ruined during Gota’s all too brief presidency. Certainly, it isn’t fair to blame everything on him. He gave 60,000 unproductive government jobs to graduates, many of whom worked hard to bring him to power. But he isn’t the first to start this ruinous policy. It has been done by every government since independence.
But ’74 years of misrule and corruption’ was the favourite slogan of many Rajapaksa loyalists and apologists, including the GMOA. There was misrule and some corruption before 1977, especially during 1970-77, but nothing compared to what followed, and the scale of misrule and corruption during the Rajapaksa era dwarfs everything else. Also, while one can accuse the two preceding political dynasties (the houses of Senanayake and Bandaranaike) of mismanagement and some disastrous political decisions, no one can say they enriched themselves at our expense.
There is also an argument now that the 2022 collapse was inevitable given the past profligacy of our governments. However, that might be, there is no doubt that it’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family (including Mahinda Rajapaksa as the former president and prime minister) and Basil Rajapaksa as finance minister who are directly responsible for reducing Sri Lanka to one of the poorest countries in the world in two short years. One can add other names to this list, including that of the former Central Bank governor, but it’s these three who held actual power.
“There is no doubt that it’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family (including Mahinda Rajapaksa as the former president and prime minister) and Basil Rajapaksa as finance minister who are directly responsible for reducing Sri Lanka to one of the poorest countries in the world in two short years”
Millions have lost their livelihoods and savings, and millions more are going hungry. That isn’t all. The country’s wildlife is endangered. Images of skeletal elephants and dead calves evoke the worst droughts and famines in Africa decades ago. All creatures from cats and dogs to crows are going hungry. Anti-rabies campaigns are slack or not done at all, and there are reports of rabies outbreaks in places. Inevitably, the next step would be the slaughter of stray dogs. Gotabaya Rajapaksa condemned hundreds of stray dogs from Colombo to death by starvation when he had them deported from Colombo during CHOGM to remote places without food. He’s no longer in power but it looks as if his ‘legacy’ could well complete that nasty job.
Life isn’t just about voters. It has many levels, and a civilized country must care for all forms of life. There is also the problem of more and more trees being felled as firewood, as many can’t afford gas. We are facing an ecological disaster.
There was an article in a Sinhala newspaper as the degree of the calamity dawned upon everyone a few months ago. As meat and fish were becoming unaffordable, the writer said, we must turn to wildlife as an alternative source of protein, and the hunting of certain species such as monitor lizards and wild boar should be made legal. We are already facing a wildlife crisis. If this is done, these species would be hunted to extinction. Already, illegal killing of large lizards, wild boar, deer, rabbits and tortoises is going on. A case may be made for wild boar but legalizing the killing (even on a limited scale) could be problematic as our law enforcement is weak.
Mr. Rajapaksa, as a retired president you should have some free time to think. Please think of the consequences of your actions, and learn a little compassion and humility.
Disclaimer: Gota’s legacy and the ecological damage: This disaster is environmental as well as economic - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view