By Kumar David –
Everything depends on the people themselves. Tolerance and democracy of the State is predicated on tolerance between communities. A remark in the Colombo Telegraph comments section caught my eye “We need to modulate our nationalisms and tone down the rhetoric of identity politics”. True and that depends on the people. There’s a lot to say for the view: “It’s the leaders’ fault that things have gone awry”. It is common to eviscerate leaders, charging that they are the villains who mislead the people – even SWRD’s daughter calls her father’s Sinhala Only policy disastrous. Did not Trump incite White Supremacists, is not Modi much to blame for anti-Muslim pogroms in India? However this is only half the truth, in 1956 the Singhalese people had a choice between SWRD’s racist cry and a tolerant alternative offered by NM Perera; sixty million American’s, mostly rural, poorer or less educated whites and white workers enthusiastically voted for Trump despite his crudeness and ugly lies, and Hindutva is not Modi-made, it is mass populist communalism. The “People are good and decent but are misled by blackguard leaders” thesis is palpably incorrect, or to be a more exact it is one-sided.
A chap called Hegel talked about dialectics as the interaction of opposites and contradiction as the norm. This dynamic lies at the root of evolution/revolution. This is now taken for granted explicitly in science (evolution theory, quantum physics) since a century or more ago. Now it has crept in as a norm in the social sciences. To get back to my ‘good-people bad-leaders’, and its opposite ‘good-leaders bad-people’ (pardon the trivialisations) imagery, both are true; contradiction and interaction are real. The harsh language of CT commentators is one-sided: “The bloody leaders are to blame”. Many commentators gripe about 69 lakhs of fools who voted for Gota and or groan that the corrupt and power hungry Paksas have misled the masses. Or curse loathsome Tamils, or the diaspora, or kallathonis for giving succour to the LTTE and at the same time about the LTTE massacring more Tamils than Sinhalese. But go to India or the USA and the stories are parallel. Leaders are indeed responsible but they are in effective symbiosis with the dregs of the mases.
JR was without doubt the promoter-in-chief of the July 1983 race riots, his criminal lieutenants Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake. Lalith Athulathmudali provided side support while chorus boys Ranil Wickremesinghe and Ranasinghe Premedasa did nothing to help quench the flames. People choose their leaders, leaders misguide or guide the people and so the dialectic moves. It is Sri Lankan protocol after condemning Sinhala racists to balance it by punching Prabharan and the LTTE. Yes, yes, of course, but I am too old and bored to play this chorus. In either case do you think the masses were not equally responsible?
If things are all going wrong, then anyone who to do better has to break into this vicious circle. The good thing now is that there is so much anger and revulsion at the status quo that many are motivated. Trade unions, professional organisations and student societies have seen the urgency. Liberal democrats (Karu J’s discussion group, Mangala’s True Patriot Hub, the late Sobitha Thera’s society, to mention three as well as right-of-centre political formations (Sajith’s SJB), the TNA, and of course the left-cum-JVP organised in the NPP, are all active and agitated. This is excellent; more heartening of course is the movement on the streets.
In a recent column in CT Jehan Perera quotes from a Presidential Communique: “It is the policy of the Government to work with the United Nations and its agencies to ensure accountability and human resource development in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation . . (and) provide solutions . . . to ensure justice and reconciliation by institutional reforms.” JP then adds: “If the president is to address the problem he needs to broaden support at multiple levels – ruling party, civil society, ethnic minorities and the opposition. This will require patience, dialogue, self-sacrifice, a break from the past, and a statesmanlike course of action”. The previous paragraphs of this piece state the enormity of the task if it is to be undertaken comprehensively, that is build tolerance and trust between the country’s three communities. I don’t want to be negative all the time and say “Fat lot, Gota and his brigades are not cut out for that”. But as Jehan prays (I think he is a devout Christian) if at least they can implement institutional reforms it will be a useful first step.