“Was there then no essential difference between the ruler and the ruled?” Salman Rushdie (The Enchantress of Florence)>
Sri Lanka, unravelled and unravelling, is mesmerised by a new wonder: the Lotus Tower. When that monumental symbol of Rajapaksa folly was opened to the public last week, people thronged to pay the entrance fee, ride to the top and gaze down. A monk enthused that he felt close to the highest of Buddhist heavens. Women thanked Mahinda Rajapaksa for enabling them to have this wondrous experience.
It was as if economic ruin and social collapse was happening in another country, to another people.
According to a survey conducted by a group of doctors, 80% of children in Sooriyawewa in the Rajapaksa home district of Hambantota are malnourished (unlike the international cricket stadium the Rajapaksas built in that water-starved locality that gets the water the people are denied). That distressing statistic alone suffices to bare the vacuity of the Rajapaksa brand of infrastructure-led development. In a 2007 cable, American ambassador, Robert Blake, wrote, “An empty port, an empty airport, and an empty vast convention centre would not generate the benefits that Hambantota needs…” One percent of the money spent on these vanity projects could have provided the people of Hambantota with every possible creature comfort for generations to come. Hambantota was poor when Mahinda Rajapaksa first became president in 2005 and is still poor 17 years later.
Untouched by Rajapaksa development, yet solidly pro-Rajapaksa at every election.
Infrastructure-led development was a key pillar of Rajapaksa economics. Build airports, ports, stadia, expressways, and prosperity will follow. The strategy enabled corruption on unprecedented scale, satisfied Mahinda Rajapaksa’s colossal vanity and, against all reason, increased the family’s popularity. The projects, productive or not, often not, were tabula rasa on which dreams of national glory and illusions of popular prosperity could be inscribed.
An actor playing the role of historian once created for the Rajapaksas a lineage going back to the Buddha via King Dutugemunu. The massive physical infrastructure projects were depicted as modern variants of the infrastructure projects of ancient kings, a historical continuum, Sandahiru Seya the descendent of Runwanweli Seya and Hambantota Port the descendent of Parakrama Samudraya. People were invited to come and admire a breakwater, a runway and a walking path masquerading as a marina.
In that way, an illusion of ownership was created. People came, they admired and they voted.
Continue reading ‘While President Wickremesinghe blunders and the opposition exists in a parallel universe where their electoral victory is written in the stars, the Rajapaksas are back to weaving their web of lies and deception.’ »