o matter his excesses, ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be remembered as the political leader who defeated terrorism that blighted this country for three decades. His predecessors failed in doing that for many reasons: All of them were constrained by geo-political reasons, but, the earlier leaders -- especially J.R. Jayewardene, whose efforts to fight back terrorism were stifled by an insular India in the 80s -- were hamstrung by geo-political constraints more than their successors. R. Premadasa was hindered by short-sighted domestic opposition that forced him to expel the Indian Peace Keeping Force when it was waging a decisive war against the Tamil Tigers.
His Defence Minister, Ranjan Wijeratne, who could have done the job, was bumped off by the terrorists.
"Filial piety is noble, however, spending tax payers money to pay homage to one’s father is certainly not"
Chandrika Kumaratunga was let down by her own generals, who may be gentlemen in the high society cocktail circuits, but were not a patch on the man who finally gave military leadership, with a ruthless efficiency to defeat the LTTE. That was Sarath Fonseka. From J.R to MR, every political leader talked peace with terrorists, who used periodic ceasefires to regroup, rearm and attack with a greater monstrosity at the collapse of each failed peace effort.
MR inherited an accumulated rot, a terrorist group that appeared invincible, a political leadership that cowed in and an economy held hostage by runaway terrorism. He, somehow, finished off that threat. How he did that may be controversial, but the magnitude of the threat and the monstrosity of terrorists we were pitted against called for the decisive action, failing which we would have been condemned to live in the shadow of terrorism for many decades to come. He will be remembered for that singular feat, something that no other leader could accomplish.
However, he thought that was not enough. He wanted his immortality curved out in concrete, iron and steel.
So he named every new construction undertaken by his regime after him. Thus we have Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport in Mattala; Mahinda Rajapaksa Port in Hambantota; Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Performing Arts Theatre in Colombo; Mahinda Rajapaksa Cricket Stadium in Suriyawewa; Mahinda Rajapaksa Pavilion in the Galle International Cricket Stadium; Mahinda Rajapaksa National Tele Cinema Park (also called Ranminithenna) in Tissamaharamaya; Mahinda Rajapaksa International Sports Complex in Maharagama and the list goes on. (He even named a school in Homagama after him).
Countries such as the West Indies name their stadiums after their cricketing greats. Our Sportsmen like Murali and world cup winning captain Arjuna, who are also gentlemen, deserve such accolades. Instead, we named our grounds after divisive politicos.
MR easily wins the cup for cult-building. His nearest competitor would be the Bandranaikas. Late Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike erected a Soviet-gifted monument of her late husband and slain Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and named a Chinese-donated International Conference Hall and the country’s airport after him. However, even with their inflated sense of entitlement to the national glory, the Bandaranaikes fall far behind their disciple, Rajapaksa.
Interestingly, the ex-President named many of the Chinese-funded constructions after him. The Chinese who have, at least officially, shunned personal aggrandizement of their leaders -- since their late Helsman and demagogue Mao drove the nation into carnage, mayhem and starvation with the help of his little Red book -- might have felt a sense of déjà vu.
MR is not the only leader who has named State infrastructure after him. However, except for a few, such as Tyronne Fernando who named after him a cricket stadium in Moratuwa built on a land gifted by a philanthropist, most such edifices are named after the death of the individual, by his/her successors. So the Kettharama Stadium, which was built by former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, was later renamed R.Premadasa stadium after his death. A State think tank in Colombo was renamed as Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies after the demise of the late Foreign Minister.
Interestingly though, J.R. Jayewardene, the first Executive President whom lefties and SLFPers accuse of many forms of authoritarianism, had none in his name -- except of course, the modest J.R. Jayewardene Centre which was his childhood home. President Chandrika Kumaratunga also broke away from her family tradition.
Former President MR, on his part, did not bequeath that task to his successors; he himself named as many as a dozen high-profile projects after him during his ten-year reign. Some of them later proved to be white elephants. The warehouse at the Mattala airport was turned into a paddy storage. It has been a long wait for ships in Magampura.
His drive for immorality caused a large-scale waste and mismanagement of public money. His high-profile investments, though would be useful one day, got the national development priorities skewed; certain others were simply meant to give him an ego boost. Now the Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID) is investigating the misuse of 90 million rupees of State funds at the D.R.Rajapaksa museum in Weeraketiya. The museum was declared open in September last year by MR on the eve of the 47th death anniversary of his father. Filial piety is noble, however, spending tax payers money to pay homage to one’s father is certainly not. That is nepotism. If those State funds were invested properly (say for instance in English language teaching and IT labs), the ex-President could have opened the eyes of many a thousand kids in his pocket borough of Hambantota. That would have unshackled them from traditional constraints in the form of soft skills that hold them back. Instead, he invested on fostering his dynastic legacy. That is a shameless squandering of limited resources.
The legal position on naming or renaming a State asset is simple: It is decided by the Cabinet or provincial authorities, depending on under whose purview the property falls, and announced in a gazette notification. However, when the other politicians pride themselves on being the sycophants of the leader, it causes a problem. That explains why we were bombarded with too many Rajapaksa edifices.
At one point, it became sickening and disgusting. For ten years, MR built a cult that made him synonymous with the State. The continuation of that status quo did not do justice to the millions of self-respecting Sri Lankans. Now that the majority of Sri Lankans have rejected him and his personality cult; it is time for the new government to undo the manifestations of that cult. That does not mean expunging the legacy of the ex-President, but to cut it down to size.
The government can begin that with renaming those numerous Rajapaksa edifices. Why not have a Muttiah Muralitharan International Cricket Stadium, instead?
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