Leadership in the right hands is the only way out
Posted on August 1st, 2020

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Two news items published in the prestigious New York Times tell the harrowing tale of what has happened to the USA in the ceaseless deterioration of conditions under the Covid-19 pandemic.  News item 1: The U.S. coronavirus caseload, the world’s biggest, passed four million on Thursday. (23/7). The numbers of daily hospitalizations and deaths were also on the rise.  
Public health experts have warned that the actual number of people infected is far higher than the number of reported cases, and could be up to 13 times as high in some regions.
California and Texas are among the states setting daily records for new infections. More than 143,000 people have died in the U.S., according to a Times database.” (NYT – July 24th,  2020)   News item 2: After a survey of the global reaction to the way America has handled the pandemic, NYT reported:

A Singaporean is in disbelief to learn of the number of Americans who lost their jobs to the pandemic. His government, by comparison, subsidized up to 75 percent of citizens’ lost wages. A German woman, who could have been slapped with a hefty fine had she violated social distancing mandates, is astonished to see photos of Florida’s beach parties. A South Korean woman compares her nation’s phone booth testing sites to America’s bungling version. What does a Senegalese man feel when he sees mass graves in the States?”

These two reports highlight the abysmal mismanagement of the pandemic in USA. Sri Lanka, on the contrary, has won plaudits from WHO and leading lights of the international community for the way it has managed the pandemic without letting it run wild.

Why has the pandemic in the world’s greatest power ended in colossal avoidable tragedies? And why has Sri Lanka succeeded in controlling it? What has caused the difference?

Answer: Leadership.

It is the quality of leadership that makes all the difference in a crisis situation. The pandemic has proved that President Donald Trump is not only a danger to humanity but a fraud. It is his quackery and refusal to face the grim and scientific realities that are a threat to American lives and the global economy. The only silver lining is that the rise of the victims of the pandemic has resulted in a commensurate plummeting of Trump’s popularity ratings.

As opposed to this misguided disaster, the leadership of the Rajapaksas, despite all the drawbacks, has risen to meet the great challenges of our times rescuing it from the jaws of defeat. Leadership must be judged by the victories scored at a nation’s most perilous moments. It is the Rajapaksas quality of leadership that made all the difference at Nandikadal. It is the quality of leadership that saved the nation from the brink of being sold out to the combined anti-Sinhala-Buddhist forces on November 19, 2019. It is the determined and dynamic leadership that fought the invisible virus and saved the nation from the pandemic. It is their overwhelming and convincing victories that has forced their detractors to bat on the back foot.

The Rajapaksas’ grip on the nation was demonstrated when the Rajapakses lost to Yahapalanaya in 2015. They lost the polls but bus loads streaming from

all corners of the nation flooded the precincts of Medamulana. The Rajapaksas lost in January but the Mahinda Sulanga” held in Nugegoda in February was packed with the

loyalists flocking to ensure the return of the Rajapaksas. This was a unique political experience for a party that had lost. Though they lost to the organised force of the anti-national front – the minorities, NGOs, alienated civil society, Western agencies, etc., all of which were spearheaded by the symbolic Buddhist icon, Madoluwawe Sobitha Thero — the people never abandoned the Rajapaksas. They never forgot that it was their leadership that paved the way to defeat the invincible” Tamil fascist terror.

On this issue of leadership, the obvious is to compare the response of the electorate to the leadership of the Yahapalanaya. Neither the people nor the party loyalists have shown a similar attachment to the leaders of the discredited Yahapalanaya. It is the failure of the Yahapalanaya leadership that brought the regime right down to rock bottom. They had not left behind any memorable victories for the people to energise their political passions and yearn for their return. Every big move they made boomeranged on them. Whether in foreign policy (Resolution 30/1 betraying the soldiers at Geneva), or whether in making R. Sampanthan the leader of a party with 16 MPs the Leader of the opposition in a House of 225, whether in importing a foreigner from Singapore to rob the nation’s Central Bank, or whether in manipulating the Parliament to change the constitution – a demand to satisfy only the minorities – the Yahapalana regime failed to provide a leadership that could win the nation’s gratitude.

On top of all these, the divided leadership in the Yahapalanaya regime, with the President and the Prime Minister pulling in two different directions, could never have given a united and constructive leadership. After the Yahapalanaya regime hit nadir there was no space to go down any further.  After the fall of the kakistocracy of the Yahapalana manipulators, their successors can only go up. The success of the battle against Coronavid-19 is indicative of the leaders in power to grapple with crises with the least fuss or mess.

Right now, President Gotabaya is in the middle of his fourth war. First ended in Nandikadal. Second, on November 19th 2019 by saving the nation from the anti-national and alien forces. Third, was in Covid-19 battlefield – and still advancing. Fourth, is the war on underworld drug dealers.  The reports indicate that he is winning that too. Compared to that of President Dutarte’s battle with the underworld to eliminate the drug menace President Gotabaya’s methodology is progressing with a smooth efficiency, using the appropriate dose of force, to apprehend the drug dealers without the shoot-at-sight tactics of Dutarte. The fifth, undoubtedly the most menacing, is coming over the global horizon and it is looming large. It’s, of course, the dark clouds of the economy. That battle will begin in all its complexities and challenges after August 5th when the new Parliament assembles to define the next phase of our time.

There is another distinguishing factor. President Gotabaya is a result-oriented, hands-on activist determined to make a difference. He does not govern by passing the buck to committees whose findings are never read by the leaders who appoint them. In the meantime, he is waging a war against an obstructive and lethargic bureaucracy. Every failure of the bureaucracy is reflected on the regime wielding power. Refining the bureaucracy to serve the needs of the people particularly in developing countries is a massive task. There are plenty of theories on how to make the bureaucratic Leviathan work but none has worked so meaningfully as President Ranasinghe Premadasa taking the state machinery to the people instead of the people coming to the fat cats, or President Gotabaya going down to the basement to make the system deliver the services to the neglected people.

These are some of the distinguishing characteristics of President Gotabaya’s style of governance. In the main, he has run the state so far almost single-handedly without a Parliament to either back him or oppose him. The coming election will clear this anomaly, one way or another. With a fragmented and disoriented Opposition in total disarray the prediction is that he will win that battle at the polls too. Then he will be well entrenched in power to govern with an iron fist covered in a velvet glove. There is no alternative to it.

The path ahead for President Gotabaya is cut out for him in the economic and political success stories of South East Asia history. Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and even China and Japan tell the same story: success came out of a little bit of dictatorship. Forging consensus with a touch of dictatorship – mark you, only with a touch of dictatorship a la the much-admired Lee Kwan Yew – has proved to be a prime condition for growth and stability. Both go hand in hand.

Sri Lanka right now is positioned at this critical intersection to go down the Singaporean path if it is to achieve success. The time has come for a leader to take the monster by the scruff of its neck and give it a good shake-up. A good example is the unwinnable war” declared by the Tamil leadership at Vadukoddai in May 1976. It ended in May 2009 only because there was a leadership to tackle it head-on. Otherwise we would be still listening to our political pun(k)dits preaching to us on what should be done to appease the monster to end the war.

The inevitability of reinforcing and consolidating the Centre – there is nothing left in the Left, Right or North as an alternative — the anti-national pun(k)dits are reduced to fear-mongering. Not knowing what to do, particularly with the disillusioned electorate rebelling and rejecting their analyses and remedies, they have withdrawn into their intellectual cubicles predicting doom and gloom. Unable to find solid arguments against the most effective Centrist leadership that has produced tangible results they have been reduced to the mean role of doubting Thomases. They are screaming that the dictatorship has come already. However, they are not even sure of that. They end up by saying that time will tell”.

Take just three of them who project themselves as well informed pundits: Prof. Kumar David, Prof. Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan, and my colleague, Sarath de Alwis. The first two are obsessed, as usual, with the yellow robes”. Sarath is obsessed with a yellow jacket” worn by a female canvasser who is pleading the cause of the Sinhala-Buddhists and Catholics.  All three of them are blind to the yellow shawl that covers Modi’s India from the top of Himalayas to the tip end of the Southern coast, or his counterpart in Sri Lanka, C. V. Wigneswaran. Jaffna too is covered in the yellow manufactured, marketed, and distributed by Wigneswaran. They accept the Tamil yellow as a fundamental right of the minority. They are worried only when the  majority uses it. They are agitated only when the Sinhala-Buddhists wear it. Then the yellow to them becomes what a red rag is to a bull. They come charging like wounded bulls in a ring.

In ranting against the lady in a yellow jacket, my friend Sarath seems to be unaware that our women have been doing what the yellow-jacketed canvasser had been doing down the ages wearing not a yellow but a white jacket. What’s the difference in colour if the message is the same? Does toothpaste wrapped in different colours loose its essence, eh Sarath? He concludes, somewhat sorrowfully, saying: And we must live with the lady in the saffron blouse in the video clip and her candidate.” Why is he so upset about the lady in yellow only now? Haven’t we been living with these ladies from the time Mahinda Thero landed at Mihintale, eh Sarath?

But more telling is his admission that there is no alternative to President Gotabaya. In making a rational assessment” he concedes: Gotabaya is a very popular product.

There is a strong conviction amongst a large swathe of the populace that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will take the right call for the country.” He also dismisses the Right-wing of Sajith and the Left-wingers too confirming that there is no alternative to President Gotabaya.

However, in the same breath he moans: I think they (the people) are wrong. That is my opinion. I cannot prove them wrong. Only time will tell.” Even the other two pun(k)dits are in the same boat. They can’t prove that they are right. But they think that the end of the world is about to happen though they are not sure. In the end they conclude with the their refrain: only time will tell.”

They are worried about the militarisation” and the nation heading towards a dictatorship. The two professors are most concerned about the Rajapaksa regime ending in a dictatorship. Take the case of academic Sarvan who has been a consistent Tamil chauvinist pretending to be a defender of human rights when, in his spare time, he has been manufacturing justifications to protect and perpetuate the Tamil fascist de facto state of Prabhakaran. What are his academic credentials worth when he churns out threadbare concoctions like this: At present, Sri Lanka has a democratic, more precisely and honestly, a majoritarian form of government.” Which democracy is not a majoritarian (meaning ethnic) form of government? Is France formed by Occitanians or Corsicans? Is England formed by a majority of Scots and Welsh? Was Barack Obama elected because he was a black or because he was whiter than the whites? Would he have been elected if he like Louis Farrakhan, the Black separatist, demanded a separate state for the blacks?

I will stop with one more quote: Socialism forms links, makes common cause, with workers from other groups, both within and outside the country.” Tut! Tut, Professori! Can you tell us how many links the Union of Soviet Socialist Russia made under Stalin with his fellow Slavs, let alone the workers of the world?  And where are they now?

Prof. Kumar David is an outdated, old fashioned Marxist who comes out with some gems from time to time. However, I am sad to say that from time to time he too falls into the category he has condemned: the Tamil leadership he branded as congenital idiots”. Now he is most concerned about the Rajapaksa state trending, according to him, towards an authoritarian regime. And he cites a string of militarised states that had gone to pot. Like all pun(k)dits pontificating in the commentariat he skips the most relevant example created by the  Tamils: the de facto state of the Tamil Pol Pot.

The most relevant example for comparison should have been a relativistic assessment of the only state created by the Tamils in the post-colonial period with that of the Sinhaltistsa state”, as branded by the Tamil federalists / separatists. The pro-Tamil pun(k)dits avoid that because it negates all their arguments about the Sinhala majoritarian state” which has been a democracy with all its infirmities. The failure of the Tamil federalists / separatists to establish a democratic state, respecting human rights in any form, at least to their own people, condemns the Tamil political culture as an extension of its past subhuman Vellala culture that dominated the peninsula from feudal times. It is not in the nature of traditional history for the Vellala oppressors, suppressors and persecutors to produce benign and compassionate adherents of human rights. Velupillai Prabahakaran belongs to the fascist Vellala culture. He was the first born child  of the Tamil Vellala ideology that was enshrined in the Vadukoddai Resolution.

Prof. Kumar David should know that the Sinhala state” fought the longest barbaric war unleased by the Tamil leadership within a democratic framework (1) providing food and essentials to a rebel-held territory – the only of its kind according to David Feng of UNICEF – and (2) even giving protection to those Tamils persecuted and hunted by the de facto Tamil state. Besides, he should know that it was the Rajapaksas who liberated the Tamils from their Pol Pot. And the whole nation, like any other nation, has the right to celebrate the ending of the curse of a 33-year-old war that leads naturally to stability, peace and democracy which the Tamil state could not provide its own people. Frustrated by the defeat the pro-Tamil pun(k)dits called it triumphalism”. What would Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu and his ilk done if the boot was on the other foot? Would they have gone into mourning and apologising for the crimes they committed to their own people let alone the Muslims and the Sinhalese?

Based on the available evidence the choice for the nation  is between leaders who have proved their worth and those who have failed to deliver peace, stability and progress. The argument that militarisation” would lead to dictatorship deserves another chapter. But the record so far proves that the fascist forces of the Right and the Left that ventured to impose their dictatorial regimes have failed. Rohana Wijeweera, Prabhakaran, Zaharan and the Right-wingers that  that came from the barracks ended in disaster. Democracy is well rooted in the soil. And no mature political leader will ever dare to do what Prabhakaran did to the Tamil people.

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