It was the Oxford Debacle all over again.
The events were drearily predicable. Sri Lanka, like every Commonwealth nation, received an invitation for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II. President Rajapaksa, unlike most Commonwealth leaders, decided to go himself. The pro-Tiger extremists of the Tamil Diaspora went into high-gear, delighted with this new opportunity to display their brawn. Their raucous opposition compelled the Commonwealth Business Council imitate the Oxford Union and cancel President Rajapaksa’s keynote speech to the Commonwealth Economic Forum.
So the main beneficiaries of the ill-advised Presidential visit to London were Tiger supporters in the Tamil Diaspora. The Rajapaksas, having annihilated the LTTE, are keeping the Tiger memory and aura alive not just by refusing to resolve the ethnic problem and alienating Lankan Tamils but also by providing the Diaspora-fanatics with avoidable triumphs.
All Commonwealth leaders were invited to attend the Jubilee-celebration. It was not a special honour or mark of recognition bestowed on Mahinda Rajapaksa, as his propagandists claimed. Most Commonwealth leaders chose not to, probably because they had other things to do, such as governing their countries (hopefully some of them also found this gaudy monarchist spectacle unpalatable to their republican political-sensibilities). The London visit would have been worth it, if the President could meet key British leaders on the sidelines. But Mr. Rajapaksa met just a few unknown members of the House of Lords. And as British papers were at pains to point out, their monarch spent only ‘a brief moment’ with President Rajapaksa, just shaking hands with him ‘fleetingly’. Surely that brief royal handshake was not worth the humiliation of a cancelled talk and other snubs. As for the Brie and avocado terrine, wild sea bass and apple crumble soufflé, that repast could have been cooked to satisfaction in the Presidential-kitchen.
What makes the sorry saga even more galling from a Lankan perspective is that even though President Rajapaksa hastened to attend the monarchical gala, the Windsors did not see it fit to include Colombo on a round of visits they are making to mark the Jubilee. For instance, though India sent neither her President nor her PM to London, a Royal Duke will be visiting Delhi. That snub in itself should have sufficed to compel the President to deputise the task of representing Sri Lanka to a suitable minion (Minister Weerawansa?). He did not, because despite the anti-Western and anti-imperialist rhetoric, the abiding desire of the Rajapaksas is to hobnob with the powerful and the titled in Washington and London.
The London debacle stems from and illuminates a particular Rajapaksa psychosis. On the one hand the Siblings need to keep suspicion, fear and hate of ‘national-enemies’ alive in the South, in order to justify their Familial Rule. On the other hand, the Rajapaksas badly want to shine in those very same Western countries they often castigate as ‘national enemies’.
These contradictory impulses cannot but result in pageants of ludicracy.
Last week Minister Wimal Weerawansa ‘accused the United States of aligning with separatist forces in order to de-stabilise and take over the country’ and charged that the US and the UK desire the resurrection of the Tiger because that would enable “Western forces to infiltrate the Indian Ocean region” (Colombo Page – 4.6.2012). While a senior Lankan Minister was levelling these serious accusations, the Lankan President was visiting London and his Defence Secretary-Sibling was soliciting Washington’s military assistance. Following a request by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the US (together with that other frequent target of Rajapaksa-hysterics, India) “agreed to provide enhanced training opportunities for Navy personnel from Sri Lanka” (Deccan Chronicle – 7.6.2012).
Obviously a substantial part of the world does not take us seriously.
Spectacles of Deception
When it comes to the art of weaving apocryphal-tales, Scheherazade is nothing to the Rajapaksa Siblings – and their acolytes. Blessed with a fertile imagination, the regime can rise up to any challenge with a lie, face any crisis with a deception and solve any problem with a denial.
When the former Attorney General Mohan Peiris was asked about the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda at the 2011 November session of the UN Committee Against Torture, he replied, “Our current information is that Mr. Ekneligoda has taken refuge in a foreign country…. I am not saying this with the tongue in my cheek. It is something we can be reasonably certain of” (BBC- 25.11.2011). That mendacious story may have remained unexposed, had Mr. Ekneligoda’s wife not sought judicial intervention. The former AG tried every trick in the book to avoid giving evidence under oath. Compelled to appear before court, Mr. Peiris came up with a string of denials which would have done a congenital amnesiac proud. He rejected “the transcript of the statement he made in Geneva last year…” and said “he could not remember the source that revealed to him the whereabouts of….Prageeth Eknaligoda” (Ceylon Today – 6.6.2012). He then stated, “it is only God who knows” Mr. Ekneligoda’s whereabouts (Is Mr. Peiris’ King then his God?).
Mr. Peiris is not alone in his penchant for the absurd. Explaining why the AG’s Department failed to implement the six-month-old judicial order to arrest parliamentarian Duminda Silva, the current AG informed the court that “she was not in a position to take a decision (because) …..obtaining a statement from the ailing MP was difficult (Sri Lanka mirror – 5.6.2012). Going by this logic, the police cannot arrest a suspect until and unless he/she volunteers to tell the police his/her side of the story! (Incidentally what will happen when Duminda Silva returns to the land of his protectors?)
When it comes to lying to the nation, the Rajapaksas seem to think that more brazen the imagined-narrative, the greater the chance of it being believed. A recent official communiqué lauds the Rajapaksa economic miracle, though the regime is about to ask for another IMF facility. As the IMF Fact-sheet explains, “a member country may request IMF financial assistance if it has a balance of payments need…that is, if it cannot find sufficient financing on affordable terms to meet its net international payments…..” Seeking another IMF loan even before the previous one is complete is thus a sign not of economic health but of chronic economic ill-health.
The communiqué also accuses the Opposition of trying to destabilise the economy by criticising the Central Bank, the NSB and the EPF. The perilous state of the Lankan rupee is an adequate reflection of the efficacy of the Central Bank. The scandal surrounding the NSB needs no belabouring. According to media reports, the less than salubrious deeds of the EPF include purchasing a large chunk of the infamous ‘The Finance Company’. But, according to the Rajapaksas, any exposure/criticism of these misdeeds is an anti-national conspiracy. This equation enshrines opacity and impunity as patriotic virtues and condemns transparency and accountability as anti-patriotic vices.
The Rajapaksa demand for impunity and rejection of accountability, which began with the Fourth Eelam War, is thus extended to the economic realm. It will not end there, because intolerance of dissent and criticism is part of the Rajapaksa psychosis.
Anti-democracy is in their political-blood.