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A place in ports, policies and pockets

world Updated: Nov 24, 2010 01:10 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Hambantota is a small, arid town in the south where some citizens were fuming last year that by closing a busy road to build a port, the government had sacrificed their livelihoods.

But last week, it became "the golden gateway of marvel to the new world,'' after the partly completed Chinese project named, with moderation, the 'Magam Ruhunupura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port', was inaugurated.

I am skeptical about the "new world'' bit but the 'new Sri Lanka' has President Mahinda Rajapaksa all over it. In names and cutouts, and in pictures, posters and policies; and as the government keeps reminding us, in people's minds and hearts.

He is also in people's pockets. Fresh as mint from a famous war victory last year, the Central Bank issued a commemorative Rs 1,000 note with Rajapaksa's picture on one side and soldiers hoisting the Sri Lankan flag - like five US marines did at Iwo Jima in Japan in World War II - on the reverse.

Misty-eyed with pleasure, I occasionally boast a couple of the widely circulated notes in my thin purse. If it was meant to put Rajapaksa's stamp of authority on the country's post-war developments, it's done more than its worth.

A minister put it eloquently when he sulked and asked why, should a legend not be honoured in his lifetime. Exactly. What's wrong with being honoured unlike many leaders bestowed currency only after death? Why, Rajapaksa could have added the names of his family members to the port's name or their pictures on other currency notes. He didn't. With great power comes great responsibility and greater restraint. As we know by now.

A news report suggested that the health ministry would soon implement a scheme under which children born on November 18 - Rajapaksa's birthday - will be given gifts, rewards and cash (could be in bundles of commemorative Rs 1,000 notes.) The government's policies, incidentally, are bunched under the title 'Mahinda Chintana.'

While Rajapaksa got himself a 21-gun salute at the inauguration of his second term, India maintained a low-key presence at the function. Minister of state for external affairs, Preneet Kaur's visit was a quiet one. Clearly, the thunder belonged to someone else.