The Rajapaksha government’s current status is economically captured by this billboard, where the conquest of the board space by posters of the President (posters pasted without leaving an inch for another to stick a bill) is overlepped by a Dharmapriya Dias drama notice on the side: සාදය මාරයි, සල්ලි හමාරයි (“The Party was Cool. Now We’re Bust”).
Even before the Presidential Election was announced, what has been happening to lamp posts in Colombo and some other major cities (specially in the South) is unfathomable. We see cutouts and billboards of the President literally beaming out of every lamp post, tree, concrete pillar etc: technically, from any kind of hanging space available for a piece of board to be hung.
This kind of gross display of the same face and duplicated copies of the same picture at such a feverish frequency is a symptom of a dangerous megalomania. This kind of show is not even heard in a Geroge Orwell novel, because even Orwell’s Big Brother (in 1984) was known to have some refinement and finesse in the way he made his presence filter into the common consciousness. The kind of advertising of the President — as it happens here — is both vulgar and uncouth. It is, in fact done, in the same spirit and with the same uncultured arrogance in which the regime has been invading public spaces and the spirit of civil society in the militarized aftermath of “2009”.
Over the past five years or so, the regime has been on a party spree: a continuous party for its inner wheel and proxies, where absolutely anything and everything that comes within its grasp has been bent for narrow partisan ends. This is a party where anything is possible and anyone is redeemed, as long as that person belonged to the inner wheel of the regime. The party bill, on the otehr hand, had been loaded on a failing economy, which, with ever-bending knees, has been struggling to keep that assignment aloft. The Dharmapriya Dias poster, therefore, has much relevant meaning; as, indeed, this is one hell of a “cool party” we’re talking about, at the expense of a “busted” balance sheet.
The “ending of the party” would, indeed, take a different light in the case where the President is defeated at the forthcoming elections. This is very much an unlikely scenario, as blatant violations to the election law and uncouth and uncultured manipulation of public property is seldom heeded in a country like ours, with low political literacy and a twisted sense of democrcy (in a broad sense). However, the sense of humour and the sense of creativity in the person who pasted the drama poster over the Rajapaksha monopoly of the billboard, too, has to be praised. The unknown poster-paster has made a very true point if it is heeded carefully: that getting a message across is in fact a subtle operation. Something that the Rajapaksha propaganda machine would not understand even if they run out of glue.