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Making Of History In Historic Times

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 21 November 2010 09:36 No Comment]

These are historic times. Pages and pages of ‘history’ are being written — at times ‘in letters of gold’ — and chapters of history are being flicked over as new chapters are added on. We live in interesting times no doubt, but should also keep in mind what is called the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. Modern day ‘historians’ in state propaganda organs should remember the saying that the true history of the lion hunt will only be revealed when the lions have their own historians or that chickens do not praise their own soup.

Critics or fawners?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is being built up to the status of a superman by his well wishers as well as sycophants. Today’s state owned media and privately owned media, picking up the crumbs fallen from the table, have reams and reams of his pictures in colour; streets are decorated with his cut-outs and posters (only of himself by order of a special cabinet committee). In these euphoric times it would be in his best interests to keep in mind the words of the great Greek sage Socrates: Think not of the faithful who praise thy words and acts but those who kindly reprove thy faults.

Celebrations

Of course Rajapaksa has causes to celebrate: His leadership in the victory in the near three decade old war on terrorism, sweeping electoral victories in the presidential and parliamentary polls and infrastructure projects during his first six years in office. There will be detractors like the former Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka who has staked a claim in the war against the LTTE. Objections have been made on alleged abuse of state power in the conduct of the two elections. Much of the infrastructure projects he has staked claims on are not yet complete. Stage one of the Hambantota project was said to have been completed last week, but the success of it all can be judged only when commercial shipping lines begin to call in at the port and its commercial viability will be known. Nonetheless, he is a politician and the temptation to celebrate his second coming will be great.

One objection is the gaudy ostentation that is evident in the celebrations. Sri Lankans have a penchant to celebrate but there should be limits. One full week of celebrations is uncalled for, particularly after continuous celebrations since the victory at the polls and the triumph in the war against the LTTE. People who were demanding relief in the cost of living were told down the years: Wait till the war is over. But it has still to come even after 18 months of victory. The people are demanding wage hikes, but instead of assuring them any relief the President is engaged in a bout of islandwide celebrations — all at state expense. The people should be entitled to know the cost of this seven days of self congratulatory orgy, although it will be projected as one of the people’s. The UNP is justified in boycotting the swearing in celebrations on the grounds of excessive expenditure.

Ostentation or austerity

Swearing in of a president is strictly an official function and parades, songs and dances are not called for. It has been reported that even the royal marriage of Prince William, second in line to the British throne will be shorn of much the traditional trappings of royal weddings because of the austerity measures forced upon the British government and people by the prevalent financial crisis. Sri Lanka has had swearing in ceremonies of prime ministers and presidents, but rarely descended into gaudy ostentation. Like most Sri Lankan leaders of the past, President Rajapaksa appears to be lacking in advisers who can tell him when he is heading in the wrong direction.

On the subject of history, it can be said that Sri Lankan history is replete with examples of leaders being led into disasters by sycophants and fawners. Dudley Senanayake, perhaps the most lovable of leaders, was led into a crushing defeat by the group of advisers, particularly journalists, surrounding him with assurances that the countryside was flourishing consequent to his agricultural policies. Sirima Bandaranaike was led by her nose by her close advisers and even by redoubtable Marxists for a part of her period in office from 1970 to ’77.

The triumph of Socialism was inevitable she was told, only to be ground to dust by that inveterate Capitalist J.R. Jayewardene. Socialism was collapsing around the world even in China when Deng Xiao Ping threw out the Gang of Four and switched on to a market oriented economy, but the government here went on extolling the virtues of Chinese Communism.

Credibility

Rajapaksa’s propagandists must be credible. When they blare out in headlines that 54,600 completed development projects are to be vested with the people in ten days, they must at least be given an inkling to what they are. The 15,000 kilo dish of milk rice (kiribath) cooked by 350 chefs from 50 hotels to be served to 65,000 people may enter the Guinness Book of Records as intended, but not for kiribath cooking. It will probably go down as a record waste of food by a third world country — a country where people can’t afford to buy a loaf of bread.

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