MAHINDA Rajapaksa is pulling out the big guns in Sri Lanka. Faced with the possibility that he may just lose his bid for an unprecedented third term as President of the country, he has decided to add some Bhai power to his arsenal by bringing in Salman Khan to campaign for him.
This is hardly the first time that bhai has been called on to lend some glamour to politics. The star also flew kites in his customary Dabangg style with Candidate Narendra Modi in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls. Never mind that he told the assembled crowd that they were free to vote for whom they wanted since he personally planned to vote for Baba Siddiqui.
As with the kite flying photo-op, the Sri Lanka visit too has been staged to look non-political. According to the Indian Express, the President’s son Namal Rajapaksa invited “his â€œfriendâ€, Bollywood actor Salman Khan and Sri Lankan-born Jacqueline Fernandez, to participate in a health camp organised by the Sri Lankan ruling partyâ€™s youth wing, headed by Namal, and Being Human Foundation, a charity promoted by Salman Khan.”
But as the paper notes, there is no doubt about the political mileage Rajapaksa hopes to gain from his presence. It is also not a coincidence that Khan made it a point to praise him at length.
“The President is an amazing man and he is one of the most humble people that I have met. Four years ago when I came here, it took me one and half hours to go to the hotel that I was staying. But today, it took me only twenty minutes to reach here. It appears a lot peaceful today unlike those days where there was a lot of turmoil. There is a drastic change. I think the president is a man of compassion, a man of will”, he was quoted as saying in Sri Lankan newspaper the Daily Mirror.
Modi didn’t really need Khan’s endorsement since he could rely on the ham-handed Gandhis and ride a huge anti-Congress wave into office. Rajapaksa, unfortunately, is in the same position as the UPA.
A shock defection by Rajapaksa’s health minister Maithripala Sirisena to a ‘joint opposition’ in Sri Lanka has done what many thought impossible when elections were first announced – which is to throw the race wide open. Sirisena has shored up a largely ineffective and toothless opposition and has been drawing massive crowds to his rallies across the country.
Rajapaksa, in stark contrast has even been booed at some of his rallies including in a previous stronghold, Dambulla, where he had to cut short a rally because of jeering protestors. In another incident in Kandy, an electronic advertisement for the President’s campaign that was being screened during the live telecast of an England – Sri Lanka cricket match had to be removed because the crowd would not stop booing it.
Although Rajapaksa ended the 25-year-old war with the LTTE and has overseen the construction of a number of expressways that have drastically cut distances between key cities and towns in the country, a cripplingly high cost of living, an authoritarian style of governance and unabashed corruption has led to mass disgruntlement against him.
In terms of corruption, the Rajapaksa family also has a reputation for acting with complete impunity. Amid the high cost of living, the President’s motor racing enthusiast elder son carried out a series of ‘night races’ which involved racing expensive cars along several of Colombo’s arterial roads, and it was also revealed by Sirisena that a racehorse was imported from Buckingham Palace mews for his youngest son.
All this has culminated in an outpouring of support against the current government, which has led to more and more outlandish campaign gimmicks by the Rajapaksas who are sparing no expense. And Salman Khan is only their latest party trick. Cricket star Tillekarathna Dilshan appears in advertisements for Rajapaksa’s campaign, Olympic medalist Susanthika Jayasingha has made public speeches, while Kumar Sangakkara recently denied that he had been offered a large sum of money to also endorse the President.
As Khan’s pictures with Rajapaksa and his son went viral on social and Sri Lankan media throughout Monday, his visit drew a a lot of flak. “Take him back to India with you” read one comment on the Mirror website, while on Facebook and Twitter a lot of Sri Lankans exhorted Salman Khan to “go back to India” because he did not know what he was talking about.
“Yuck! one more reason to hate salman khan!” read a status on Facebook, while another said “While thousands of Sri Lankans are flooded out of their homes, it is disgusting that this is what we spend our tax money on”. Many others wondered aloud how much the Bollywood star had been paid. – F. Entertainment