The Great Dictator Must Not Return
by Wimalanath Weeraratne
Socrates (470/469 – 399 BC) credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy was one in many who had to pay with his life for standing up for what he believed was right.
“If I am to live longer, perhaps I must live out my old age, seeing and hearing less, understanding worse, coming to learn with more difficulty and to be more forgetful, and growing worse than those to whom I was once superior. Indeed, life would be unlivable, even if I did not notice the change. And if I see the change, how could life not be even more wretched and unpleasant?”
It is said that his fellow Athenians accused Socrates of “refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the State” and of “corrupting the youth”, crimes which carried the penalty of death. He could have recanted his words- Socratic philosophy, accepted falsehood as the truth and saved his life.
Similarly, Catholic priest, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and astrologer Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600) backed the Copernican view – the view that the earth orbits the sun, and that the earth is not the center of the universe. He also had to pay with his own life. He held the thoroughly modern view that distant stars are orbited by their own planets. He stated that the universe is infinite in size and has no center thereby challenging heliocentrism, which was a dogma then held by the Roman Catholic Church. He was imprisoned for seven years during his trial was taking place.
Bruno defended himself insisting that although he accepted the Church’s dogmatic teachings, he could not accept heliocentrism and plurality of worlds. Although he was admonished to abandon his claim and was demanded a full recantation, Bruno refused. On 20 January 1600, Pope Clement VIII declared Bruno a heretic and was burned at the stake in Rome.
Changing colour and tune
Minister S. B. Dissanayake who in the run up to 2015 Presidential Election called his incumbent Party Leader President Maithripala Sirisena as ‘namby-pamby master’ and later on switched camp and once having obtained a ministerial portfolio from the National Government, started attacking Sirisena’s antagonists (hinting at former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as ‘Kala vedda’ (Civet)). However, again he has come to limelight saying that it was not Mahinda Rajapaksa who should take the blame for the defeat, but his sibling,once powerful Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is slated to become the party leader of the new party to be formed by the Joint Opposition.
“Honourable’ (emphasis intended) MP Namal Rajapaksa too says it is Basil Rajapaksa who hastened Rajapaksa’s defeat. Even our MPs who sit in the opposition accept this claim. His conduct created wrong impression of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the hearts of the people and led to his defeat. Organizers, provincial councilors, and ministers were frustrated with Basil, not with Mahinda Rajapaksa. His challenge to break the party is a joke,” retorted Dissanayake.
Although Basil Rajapaksa deserves such criticism, we are in no position to cheer Dissanayake. Why did the MP stay silent whilst enjoying all the perks and benefits during the Rajapaksa regime and coming out with criticism only now? Could he, if he was really genuine worked in tandem with several other progressive MPs and urged the Rajapaksas to walk the path of reforms?
Neither Socrates nor Bruno ever thought about the consequences when they stood for what they thought was right. A true intellectual or a genuine patriot would fight to win not his argument but the truth.
No permanent enemies or friends
‘No Permanent Allies, No Permanent Enemies. Only Permanent Interests’ was the title of a book authored by renowned Israeli diplomat Avi Primors and it is a popular saying in the Western world now. It can be applied to Sri Lankan politicos as well. Majority of politicians are henchmen and yesmen of the dynasty in power, be it of the Senanayakes, Jayawardenes, Bandaranaikes or Rajapaksas.
Not only S. B. Dissanayake but also Dilan Perera, Vijith Vijayamuni Soysa and scores of others too safeguard Sirisena purely because they were able to obtain ministerial concessions from the Sirisena administration.
For many of us Sri Lankans who struggled to defeat nepotism, family bandism, fascism and hegemony unleashed by the Rajapaksa regime, it is nothing but surprise to see relicts of the previous regime still sitting amongst an administration that fought hard for good governance.
Feudal serf mentality
Although the local version of feudalism – ‘Rajakariya’ was abolished in 1833 by Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms, it seems that it is hard for Sri Lankans to get rid of the feudal serf mentality. During days of the monarchy, the two main dynasties – Moriya and Lambakarna – took turns in ruling Sri Lanka like today; it is no different, except for the fact that at present we have a hybrid of the two main parties.
In conjunction with the 68th National Independence Day, Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said that steps would be immediately taken to regain economic independence too in the full sense of the word. He added that the country was saved from isolating itself thanks to the prudent foreign policy of President Maithripala Sirisena. Did the Minister ever oppose President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s move to isolate Sri Lanka when he was sitting in the Rajapaksa Cabinet of Ministers? Wasn’t there economic independence when he was Deputy Economic Development Minister under the watchful eyes of Minister Basil Rajapaksa, for whom he served faithfully till January 8, 2015? Does not the same Minister Abeywardena who praised Rajapaksa’s rigidity and unbowing attitude then, eulogize Sirisena’s flexibility and diplomacy now?
One may say Sirisena does not resort to political revenge. In fact one might say he is ‘too soft’ on his opponents. Prasanna Ranatunga, Dilum Amunugama, Kanthi Kodikara, Dhanasiri Amaratunga, Duminda Silva, and Senarath Jayasundera were removed from electoral organiser position of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) as the last resort. However, on the other hand, action is yet to be taken against politicos and military personnel who colluded with the Avant Garde debacle and the killings of The Sunday Leader Founder Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, rugby player Wasim Thajudeen.
Lacille de Silva debacle
However, sacking of the Secretary to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC), Lacille de Silva, has raised many an eyebrow as PRECIFAC had achieved much progress during his tenure. As an administration that truly believes in transparency and good governance, the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG), must explain to the public reasons for de Silva’s expulsion. The government must also explain the rationale behind ordering all news website operating in Sri Lanka to register with the Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media before March 31 and issuing a veiled threat that any news website that fails to register within the stipulated period would be considered ‘unlawful.’ It must also be explained to the public whether Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the son of a media mogul who won the prestigious Golden Pen Freedom Award, is following Rajapaksa’s draconian media policy of attacking journalists and media organizations that do not toe the government policy.
Wickremesinghe went to the extent of stating:
“… I am asking them to get in line with the new line of thinking, and I have given them sufficient time for it. If they fail to get in line, without writing lies, they have the opportunity to leave. We won’t tolerate this.”
He must explain whether his toleration of media is any different to the treatment meted out by the Rajapaksa regime.
In addition, Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella used unparliamentary language and accused a media person of biased reporting.
“Doesn’t the Minister have powers to write a letter? We did not use these powers after the Yahapalana government came into power. This is our fault. These powers were fully used during the Rajapaksa regime.”
If he’s truly committed to good governance, Kiriella must explain whether the Universities Act, No. 16 of 1978 really empowers him to issue letters to universities recommending persons for employment.
Ideally he should explain what he intends to do when fully using the powers vested by the Universities Act.
“In the run up to the Presidential Elections, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Kelaniya spoke against President Maithripala Sirisena. But we let them be. We did not chase them out. In fact, another foremost proponent of the Yahapalana government, former President of the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA), Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, claimed the very act of influencing the appointment of a lecturer breached a fundamental principle espoused by the National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG). This is a grave situation!”
The Great Dictator
In his most successful comedy – The Great Dictator - Charlie Chaplin plays both ‘Adenoid Hynkel’ (a satirized Adolf Hitler) and a Jewish barber who is Hynkel’s spitting image. The barber eventually replaces Hynkel, who has been arrested after having been mistaken for the barber. On nationwide radio, the barber, impersonating the dictator, declares an end to anti-semitism and a return to democracy.
Just as ‘The Great Dictator’, Mahinda Rajapaksa was replaced by Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo and his brand of fascism and totalitarianism were ended, they must not think of putting themselves in the dictatorial shoes and act as ‘The Great Dictator’.
Just as much as the right-thinking public of Sri Lanka should not allow Rajapaksa to make a comeback, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo and all the politicians truly committed towards good governance, must not let any other leader or party resumes the act of ‘The Great Dictator’.