President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa are to be given honorary doctorates by the University of Colombo in recognition of their service to the country. They, no doubt, deserve such honours, where defeating terrorism is concerned, but the problem is that even ace racketeers responsible for bilking the gullible public out of billions of rupees have been honoured in the same manner. Before doctorates are conferred on the President and his brother, we think, fraudsters have to be stripped of theirs. Acupuncture joints are also busy conferring doctorates on every scoundrel. Worse, crooks have taken their pina doctorates seriously and are flaunting them!
President Rajapaksa and the first lady were given doctorates in karate by a martial arts outfit some years ago, we are told. Now that the President has proved his mettle as the Commander-in-Chief, he may use his karate doctorate. (If he needs a red belt, he only has to wear saataka round his waist!)
Some sycophants are trying to crown President Rajapaksa as Sri Lanka's king. They view him as the reincarnation of the legendary warrior king Dutugemunu, who defeated an occupation army and liberated the country. But, King Dutugemunu was lucky that the country was self-sufficient at that time and there was no meddlesome international community to throw a monkey wrench in the works. King Elara, whom Dutugemunu defeated, got help only from a part of South India unlike the LTTE which was backed by the entire west save a few countries besides Tamil Nadu. Dutugemunu also did not have INGOs working for Elara, did he?
Trying to elevate presidents to monarchs is a very dangerous sport. For, when such crazy ideas are drilled into presidents' heads repeatedly, they begin to act like real kings or queens! This we have seen in the past. There must be a limit to inflating political egos, as in every politician there live a narcissist and a Nazi.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is no king and never can he be one. He is an elected president, whose popularity is at its zenith. His election campaign commenced months ago albeit unofficially and his problem will be to maintain its momentum in the coming months. Prabhakaran is now dead and Sri Lankans are notorious for their short memory. (Ask any of them when Kilinochchi fell and we bet our bottom dollar that many cannot remember the date.) The government is cleverly organising victory celebrations one after the other and seems confident that it can go on basking in military glories until the next presidential election.
But, President Rajapaksa will have to factor in many other issues if he is to arrest a possible decline in his popularity. The economy is in bad shape and needs to be drip-fed with foreign aid, which is not apparently forthcoming. Reeling from an ignominious defeat in Geneva the other day, powerful western governments are hell bent on making Sri Lanka's economy scream by blocking foreign loans. Whether they will succeed in that endeavour is doubtful, given the emerging global forces against neo colonialism, as was evident from the coming together of many countries in support of Sri Lanka at the recent UNHRC special sessions. On the other hand, the western politicians and diplomats, like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Foreign Secretary David Miliband, all out to condemn Sri Lanka to the stake, are in trouble at home. Soon they will be too busy fighting their own political battles to concentrate on Sri Lanka. It is believed that Hillary Clinton, too, is not in the good books of President Obama. However, Sri Lanka has to remain vigilant and prepare itself to face any eventuality.
Paradoxically, the economic fallout of the west's retaliatory measures notwithstanding, its witch hunt against Sri Lanka has stood the Rajapaksa government in good stead to some extent. The harder the west tries to confer pariah status on this country, the more people who bore the brunt of LTTE terror will back President Rajapaksa. Even the UNP, considered a darling of the international community, had to pass a resolution recently that it would oppose any move to bring war crime charges against Sri Lankan leaders.
However, the government is in an unenviable position where the war displaced are concerned. They need to be rehabilitated and resettled if the government is to avert a crisis––both humanitarian and political.
Now that the LTTE is not there, Tamil political parties are not dependent on the government; therefore they can afford to break ranks and be on their own. Their concern for the war affected men, women and children may be genuine but they are also viewing the displaced as a massive block vote to be tapped. The government has a formidable contender!
The government managed to gain access to the Eastern Province vote bank after a successful military campaign and a rebuilding drive. But,whether it will succeed in doing so in the North remains to be seen. Its success will hinge on how it handles the war victims. If the situation in the welfare centres is allowed to deteriorate and get out of hand, there will be an unmanageable crisis. There are also over 100,000 displaced Muslims chased away from the North by the LTTE in 1990 and thousands of displaced Sinhala civilians. They, too, need to be resettled.
Thus, what this country needs at this juncture is not President Rajapaksa's coronation as King of Sri Lanka but hard work by one and all to build the economy and help the war displaced.
Instead of singing hosannas and making emperor's clothes for the President, sycophants must be told to put their shoulder to the wheel.