Dramatics in Delhi | Sunday Observer

Dramatics in Delhi

When he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mahinda Rajapaksa chose to be accompanied only by his son. This was despite the fact that the Rajapaksa delegation to India included senior members of his political faction, including Rhodes Scholar Prof. G.L. Pieris. Pieris, who appeared to be playing the role of shadow Foreign Minister at all the former President’s other meetings, was left out of the most crucial meeting of them all
When he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mahinda Rajapaksa chose to be accompanied only by his son. This was despite the fact that the Rajapaksa delegation to India included senior members of his political faction, including Rhodes Scholar Prof. G.L. Pieris. Pieris, who appeared to be playing the role of shadow Foreign Minister at all the former President’s other meetings, was left out of the most crucial meeting of them all

Truth in the modern world has different shades and different facets. Our former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a proven practitioner of using these different shades and facets according to situational context and climatic ecology. In New Delhi he excelled in authoritative truth with the press. He was charmingly flexible with esoteric truths in his dealings with New Delhi’s political elite. In his lecture on ‘India Sri Lanka relations: The Way Forward’, he relied on creative truths with a sprinkling of relative truths.

All told, the New Delhi visit was a great success for Mahinda Rajapaksa. His quiet entry into Delhi was intended to make the loudest impact as it coincided with an official visit by a 10-member Parliamentary delegation led by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. One Indian newspaper, the Deccan Chronicle described Mahinda Rajapaksa as the ‘former President, current leader of the joint opposition and the near -certain winner of the next election in 2020’. An opinion piece in the paper described the current Government in Colombo as a tottering coalition torn asunder by a squabbling Prime Minister and a President.

That India looks on the subcontinent as a single ‘geopolitical and ecological space’ needs no reiteration. That we have a shared history and our economic interdependence is irretrievably interwoven is something that we chose to ignore for political expediency at home. In New Delhi, Mahinda Rajapaksa suavely and shamelessly demonstrated this opportunistic double-speak when he insisted that we in Sri Lanka and they in India are equal stakeholders of a shared history, proximate geography and stubbornly stoic anthropology.

But back home, Mahinda Rajapaksa rails against the Indo-Lanka joint venture proposal to run the world’s emptiest airport in Mattala, another one of his vanity projects built using loans from China. His son and heir Namal Rajapaksa was arrested last year for storming the Indian Consulate in Hambantota, to protest against moves to ‘hand over Mattala airport to the Indians.’

For three years Mahinda Rajapaksa has publicly claimed that India and its famous intelligence unit RAW conspired to defeat him in the 2015 presidential elections.

But during the visit to Delhi last week, if the Indians remembered how Little Lord Fauntleroy Namal stormed their consulate in Hambantota over India’s Mattala motives, they chose to ignore it.

When he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, posing for pictures on the corridors of the stately prime ministerial residence, that were later posted on social media, Mahinda Rajapaksa only chose to be accompanied by his son. This was despite the fact that the Rajapaksa delegation to India included senior members of his political faction, including Rhodes Scholar Prof. G.L. Peiris. The learned academic, who appeared to be playing the role of shadow Foreign Minister at all the former President’s other meetings, was left out of the most crucial meeting of all. Only the 33 year old eldest son was privy to that meeting – as though the honour was reserved for the inner sanctum of the Rajapaksa political universe.

Namal, accompanying papa Mahinda made eminent sense to the Indians. The Brahmins of the Indian foreign office and its national security outfit did not seem to mind missing the professorial inputs of Prof. Peiris, the inevitable tail wagging Talleyrand in Rajapaksa’s foreign relations desk.

The Indians knew their visitor. If the Chinese did not mind doing business with the potentate and his extended family, why should they?

As a matter of fact, dynastic succession is institutionalised in the Indian democratic discourse. Politicians of India have learnt to rely on a meritocratic bureaucracy for policy continuity and dynastic succession for political continuity.

To most Indians, dynastic succession is a natural corollary of representative democracy. Just as caste determined the vocation in pre-Ambedkar days, in post-Ambedkar history Indian politicians have become a caste of its own passing the political mantle on the principle of primogenitor- a point that our former President would find appealing and accomplishable.

The ostensible purpose of the visit was to deliver a lecture on ‘Indo Sri Lanka Relations and the Way Forward’ at the invitation of an organization called ‘Virat Hindustan Sangam’ dedicated to usher in a new ‘Hindu renaissance’ in the secular Republic of India. It is the political front of Hindu hardliner Subramaniam Swamy that allows him the entrée into the current BJP administration.

‘Mad Maverick’ is the politest term used by Swamy’s many opponents. A brilliant Harvard educated mind he has since turned out to be a genius in being entertaining and exasperating simultaneously. With his extreme chauvinist Hindutva ideology, he is now variously described as a ‘bull in a china shop’ ‘loose cannon’ and anti-Muslim Bigot.

While the invitation was from Subramaniam Swamy’s Virat Hindu Sangam, its intent was unmistakably clear. The Indians were readying themselves for possible, probable and plausible changes in Colombo. It was a thinly disguised recognition of evolving ground realities in Sri Lanka.

‘At last, Delhi asks Mahinda Rajapaksa for a dance’ is how senior foreign correspondent Padma Rao Sundarji begins her opinion piece on the former President’s Delhi experience in the ‘Deccan Chronicle.’

She authored the book ‘Sri Lanka, The New Country’ a study of post war Sri Lanka published by Harper Collins. She launched the book in Colombo just after the new government was formed in 2015. So, she knows what she is talking about. Though an unabashed aficionado of Mahinda Rajapaksa [she called him a superb tactician] she knows her Sri Lanka terrain well.

She informs “A source in Mr Rajapaksa’s delegation in New Delhi told this writer that he is scheduled to meet PM Modi too. It will be at least the third meeting between the two leaders, whose personalities and decisiveness in tackling issues are uncannily similar. Of course, the official description will be a “courtesy call” during which “pleasantries were exchanged”. She then proceeds to predict that the Indian Prime Minister’s Office will seek answers to some hard-hitting questions.

“But the PMO will have some hard-hitting questions about how Mr Rajapaksa, should he return to power, intends to loosen China’s stranglehold over Sri Lanka, the most crucial turnpike of the Indian Ocean Region.”

A less flamboyant and more inquisitive commentator Maj-Gen Ashok K Mehta (retd) and former GOC in IPKF, Sri Lanka was more specific and diagnostic with his observations.

“With the outcome of the next set of central and provincial elections uncertain but advantage to the Rajapaksas, India, like Nepal, has decided to distribute its eggs in more than one basket.”

The old soldier shoots it straight: ‘Mahinda will deliver a talk on India-Sri Lanka relations: The way ahead, this week at Delhi. The fixture is an alibi for meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NSA Ajit Doval who played a key role in Mahinda losing the elections in 2015 in his third crack at the job.”

Introducing the former President to the Virat Hindustan Sangam audience his host Subramaniam Swamy described him as the front runner for the next government, saying, ‘hopefully he will be the President of Sri Lanka soon.”

In New Delhi, Mahinda Rajapaksa epitomized decorous duplicity in political doublespeak. “We did not at any time, wage an ethnic war: the military action was certainly not directed against the Tamil community. Eradication of terrorism was not for the benefit of one community, or even for one country. Not completing the military campaign that ended with the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, would have amounted to a betrayal of coming generations.”

Keeping faith with coming generations is an ennobling endeavour that must be commended. Eleven Tamil youths have evaporated into either thin air or heaven or Hades while in the custody of the Navy.

Thousands of our citizens demand explanations for their loved ones who are missing since the end of the war, many of them having surrendered to the security forces when the conflict ended and Rajapaksa was at the height of his power. They demand not retributive justice but pure explanations and closure.

The former President makes regular visits to Tirupati south of the Vindya range. His grand eloquence this time around has been in the more detached north on the Himalayan side of the Vindya range which cosmic gods lowered in order to facilitate the movement of the Sun. The north is hospitable country for Mahinda Rajapaksa where the saffron ‘parivar’ wants the Indian government to adopt ramrod straight no holds barred tactics to wipe out militant dissent in Kashmir.

While claiming credit for his total triumph over LTTE terrorism Mahinda Rajapaksa was meticulously prudent in not offering advice on how India should tackle terrorist infiltrators who taunt the Indian army from across the line of control in divided Kashmir.

Timothy Snyder the Yale University historian has captured the essence of reading history in this age of post-truth politics. In the politics of eternity, the past provides a trove of symbols of innocence exploited by rulers to illustrate the harmony of the homeland and the discord of the rest of the world.

The Rajapaksa family will continue to speak duplicitously at home and abroad. To appeal to their nationalist electorate at home, they lead trade unions and masses against proposed Indian ventures and PPPs. But they will bask in the glory of photo shoots and handshakes with Prime Minister Modi and Rahul Gandhi while in New Delhi.

In his own estimation, Mahinda Rajapaksa is truly the greatest ruler we had since independence. He has the clerical support of our majority religion and the profoundly insecure majority community, who are convinced that Mahinda Rajapaksa alone has the capacity to defend the ‘virginal organism’ of the Sinhala Buddhist people from ‘foreign penetration’.

The Chinese knew it from the beginning. Now the Indians have cottoned on to the idea. 

Comments