Monday, January 02, 2012

A President with a jumbo ego

By Imaad Majeed | The Sunday Leader

In a country which prides itself on being ‘A Land Like No Other’ Sri Lanka has set yet another precedent. By passing local council rules and regulations, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has seen fit to name buildings, a cricket stadium, a school and a port after him showing scant regard for local authorities to actually approve these name changes.

More recently the impressive new performing arts theatre has been named after the President – and if that is not bad enough, at the entrance you find a large mugshot of Rajapaksa. On the foundation stone, of which there are two, his name is found, not just once but four times, in English, Tamil, Sinhala and even Chinese! Making sure it is shoved down the throats of this nation irrespective of whether we find it offensive or not.

In the instance of the naming roads etc., after individuals, there is due procedure to be followed. First a proposal is made by a counselor, if it is seconded it must then go before the local council committee, and subsequently brought to the attention of the departments concerned. If all parties agree it will then be published in the local media for anyone who sees fit to object. None of these procedures was observed in the cases mentioned above, with each instance being handled by their respective ministries, ignoring all accepted procedures.

The following of due procedure and naming convention is a matter of principle. It is when the masses come to a consensual agreement to remember the services rendered to the country by an individual, that anything of this sort should take place. Homage is not the pet ego of any individual, but is expected to be paid to show respect, usually after the person concerned is dead.

In Colombo it is not uncommon to find streets named after individuals who have made a significant contribution to the country. From Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, to De Soysa Circus, many of the more commonly used roadways have been named after such persons to pay homage to their memory. D. S. Senanayake College, named after the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, was named so after his death. Looking back at past presidents, there have been many instances where buildings were to be named during their tenure. In the case of the Keththarama cricket stadium, Ranasinghe Premadasa vehemently opposed the use of his name. It was named after him following his assasination. Both J. R. Jayawardane and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge refused to have buildings named after them during their time in power, ignoring requests of those around them who wished to glorify their names, although there is a road named after Kumaratunge in Battaramulla.

However, though this is the norm there have been exceptions. Tyronne Fernando had the De Soysa Park cricket stadium named after him while he was still alive, as was done by Stanley Tillekeratne when a connecting road in Nugegoda was named Stanley Tillekeratne Mawatha.

When it comes to Mahinda Rajapaksa, since his re-election in 2010, the President has gone on to write his name into the Mahawamsa, and subsequently make sure his name is flouted freely in the South. In his hometown in Hambantota there is the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Harbour. While there has been much criticism over the actual usefulness of the port, the fact remains that it serves the purpose of glorifying Rajapaksa’s name. One does not have to look far to find another. The Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, also in Hambantota, is yet another instance where the President decided (a decision entirely at his discretion) that his name must be inscribed on stone. There is more. Post tsunami, a pavilion at the Galle International Stadium was also named after him and called the Mahinda Rajapaksa Pavilion. Then there is the Mahinda Rajapaksa National School in Homagama.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has also succeeded in stifling dissent on the issue. When The Sunday Leader tried to speak with numerous people in relevant Authorities and obtain their comments on the issue they all steadfastly refused. Colombo Mayor A. J. M. Muzammil, and Chairman of the Urban Development Authority, Janaka Kurukulasuriya, both shied away from commenting.

© The Sunday Leader

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