A Reading of Power in “Power of the People” (SLBC)

It was by chance that I came across a programme called “Power of the People” (as later learned, broadcast every week day from 7-8 AM on SLBC) while turning channels this morning. The show is hosted by Mr. Rajpal Abeynayake (now the editor of the Daily News) and is, from what I figured, a Mulpituva-type affair, if only decidedly pro-governmental and stoogist. As I tuned in the show was in its final quarter and the host was critiquing the crime rate of London. Then, Mr. Lakshman Hulugalle – who launched a biographical book yesterday (aptly titled Lakshma) – was connected and was queried about his new publication.

Not a John Lennon song

Not a John Lennon song

Minutes into the conversation, the angle of the Rajpal-Hulugalle dialogue effortlessly takes an anti-Chandrika Kumaratunga line. In fact, the promotional line of Lakshman, too, is the promise of corruption and arbitration by the Kumaratunga regime (1994-2004); specially, the “underbelly” of the “Channel 9 Deal”, where Hulugalle agrees he was mistreated and even pressurized by the use of political goonism. The conversation between Rajpal and Hulugalle showed open signs which reflect a “freedom of expression”, for names of former political bigwigs as recent as ten years ago were being bashed for the abuse of power. Chandrika Kumaratunga, Sanath Gunathilake (whom Rajpal referred to as “an actor” who was the presidential media adviser of that time) and Baddegana Sanjeewa were referred to without any blushes – highlighting how the trinity with intimidation controlled and silenced voices opposed to the regime. Hulugalle re-affirmed the Rohana Kumara murder to be a state project (which has previously been charged by Victor Ivan) and pointed out how he, too, would have been a similar victim to Baddegana Sanjeewa’s hit squad had he not been prudent.

Hulugalle further pointed out that perpetrators such as Kumaratunga (and by extension others) should be exposed and parties that are still within the purview of the law should be brought to justice. Hulugalle’s repeated claim was that there is no good in leveling accusations once a person is dead and gone; justice should be put in place while the chance is still there. Rajpal, too, agreed, pointing out how Kumaratunga is now a “globe trotter” for “good governance” etc while her ten year tenure is marred by allegations of the sort under scrutiny.

CBK at the height of her powers

CBK at the height of her powers

Lakshman Hulugalle is the Director for the Media Center for National Security – a regimental organ – and Rajpal is the editor of the government’s trumpet in daily English media. Both are noted functionaries of the Rajapakshe regime – by gut or by office. The medium of “Power of the People”, the SLBC, is yet again an arm of the government. Kumaratunga et al, who no doubt have their fair share of abusage and misgovernment, signify a political opposition of the current regime. Kumaratunga was known to have “bad blood” with the current head of state – some even accuse that the appointment of Rajapakshe as Presidential Candidate in 2005 was to ensure his loss and eviction from public favour.  Therefore, this expressed need to book these “perpetrators” for offences committed and allegations of misappropriation of state media and funds are all too predictable. What you cannot do, however, is to grade these “misappropriations” as greater or as lesser to the “abusage of politics” of other times: including the current regime. Malpractices cannot be gauged and measured, so when Hulugalle insists that Kumaratunga was the “worst head of state” we have ever had (in terms of government, perhaps?) he should be more meditated, as there are ample biographies yet to come contending for contrary positions.

What concerns me is not Kumaratunga’s integrity: such considerations are not worth our time. But, the semiotics and the implications of the “Power of the People” programme is of a more relevant reading. At one level, we have a regimental organ, expressing a regimental view, in conversation with a regimental show host over a regiment-funded channel. This expression is titled “Power of the People” and similar deliveries are splattered out five days a week, for a full hour. In fact, other channels, too, have their own regime-friendly stoogecraft of this format. A classic example is “Hathveni Peya” on ITN. The “People” – whose “power” is hinted to be discharged by the programme – therefore is a regimental assignment. The “people” are, in other words, the regime. The sustaining of one regime is sought by the annihilation of another regime, who, in their time of office, thought no different from her successors regarding matters of power and hegemony. Oppositional voices, alternative views with different concerns were equally thwarted, coerced or destroyed. What we see in Hulugalle’s assurance of one form over the other is the numbness created by power and authority. Such numbness, I argue, is felt by all regimental VIPs of all time.

The role played by Rajpal Abeynayake, too, is critical. How is it that a “progressive journalist” of yesterday has come to play the mediatory role which he plays in the show under study? Is it merely the “anus of office” (of being the editor of a Lakehouse publication), or is it a total change of faith regarding where, as a media person, he should stand? Is it an opportunistic ploy or a far-sighted conviction in a country that is destined to be one tracked over the next few years? As human nature by itself is copious and boundless we seek no clear cut answer.

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