Seeing the wood for the trees | Daily News

Seeing the wood for the trees

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in one of his rare appearances in parliament, the other day, participating in the debate on the steering committee report of the constitutional assembly, said there was an immediate and dramatic improvement in the quality of life, the availability of employment and education, in the north, in the wake of the development projects launched by his government in that area, after the war ended. Speaking at a function in Embilipitiya, he also said that soon after the war ended he invited Tamil politicians for a discussion to work out a solution to the national question but they failed to respond, at the instance of the western powers and the Tamil diaspora, who were clamouring for his ouster.

Rajapaksa may have launched development programmes in the north and showered other largesse on the northerners. But this was not what the people of the north clamoured for. They wanted to live with dignity and respect, and, as equal partners with their southern brethren. This salient factor eluded Rajapaksa, who, overtaken by the euphoria of the war victory, sought to make political capital, every inch of the way, by wallowing in nationalism.

The Tamils were made to feel a conquered race, with ‘victory parades’ held ad nausm. Patriotic songs were manufactured by the hour, with Rajapaksa as the centerpiece. The message of ‘us’ and ‘them’ was conveyed to the Tamil community in not so subtle ways. Lackeys of the Rajapaksas came on television to heap fawning accolades on MR, who was hailed as the next thing after Dutugemunu.

Soon after the war victory, Rajapaksa summoned parliament and made a hectoring speech, from the ‘throne’, that made the Tamils feel excluded, nay cornered. The allegation by many a Tamil politician that their community had been treated as second class citizens was made to look justified, to some degree. Rajapaksa, who had earlier said he was willing to go beyond the 13th amendment and grant 13 plus, in his victory speech in parliament said he would only be amenable to a home grown solution to the Tamil question and will not permit solutions thrust on the country by others, meaning India and the west. He also famously said that there were no more twin races called Sinhalese and Tamils in the country but those who support terrorism and those who don’t. This may have been pure rhetoric, but it also conveyed the impression that he was singling out the Tamil community, as a whole, to be terrorists. This was clearly borne out by the remark he made the day following his defeat. Speaking to supporters outside his ‘Carlton’ residence, in Tangalle, Rajapaksa said he did not consider his defeat as a defeat, since he was done in by the vote of the Tigers, koti thamai mawa peredduwe. This, after campaigning earnestly in the north and even distributing jewellery items to the Tamils. Wasn’t he too canvassing the vote of the Tigers?

Rajapaksa also alienated the Tamil community in other ways, such as when he banned the singing of the national anthem, at functions, in schools and public institutions in the north. This was seen as an act of revenge following his Oxford Union debacle - a lecture Rajapaksa was to deliver at the OU being cancelled at the eleventh hour, following demonstrations by the Tamil community, in London.

The Tamils in the north could not be appeased by development alone, as was seen by their response at the polls. The jingoism of Rajapaksa, naturally, made the community retaliate via the ballot. What is more, MR is still in this entrenched position, judging by his speech, the other day, at the debate on the new constitution. He has requested the government to permit a conscience vote to MPs on the new constitution. Did he permit a conscience vote when he got the 18th amendment passed, to be President for life?

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga did much to redeem the SLFP from the racist label attached to the party, when she was leader. President Maithripala Sirisena too is taking great pains to build amity between the two communities. However a faction of the party, greedy for power, appears to be putting paid to these efforts. It is regrettable, indeed, that Rajapaksa has failed to conduct himself as a former head of state and is travelling the same racist path, that brought about his downfall.

To the aid of Geetha

Geetha Kumarasinghe, who lost her seat in parliament, it is reported, has to pay back all the expenses incurred on her behalf, while she was an MP. This includes her salary, allowances phone bills and even the attendance allowance. It is not clear if the meals she partook of in the parliament canteen is included, and, how this will be quantified. The grand sum, it is reported, will run into several million rupees. Are we going to see our bikkhus doing another round of pindapatha, on behalf of the glamouros film star? 


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