By Vishwamithra1984 –
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” ~ Muhammad Ali
When liberal values are under attack, the first to react to the attack almost always happens to be the intellectuals, academics and artistes; they are the ones who have the time and some sense of financial flexibility to react to those attacks; they are the ones who always speak against the onslaught on their perceived values; they are the ones who, more often than not, feel most hurt and injured by the erosion of liberal values. There is a reason for it and it is a very legitimate one. One of the first liberal values that come under the bayonet of oppression is the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is the oxygen that artistes and intellectuals breathe; their very professional livelihoods are greatly reliant on the degree to which they could express their free emotions, feelings and thoughts.
For a worthy singer, a classical rendition is not a verse put into musical notes but an artistic and cultural expression; for an accomplished musician, a symphony of music is not just a collection of instruments and players who happen to have some proficiency in playing notes of music but is a vivid expression of his cultural and professional persona, with the music that flows out being a cascade of feelings that were let go. Such men and women cannot have restrictions unless they are half-bred professionals pretending to be masters but hardly measuring up even to be a serf of the system and those who control the system.
Intellectuals and academics also fall into the same classification of humans who have burnt lots of midnight oil in their research and studies. This is a breed that keeps learning after they had passed their final examinations. They know no boundaries when it comes to the plausibility of their theories and assumptions and in order to express their scholarship and wisdom, they need unbounded freedom and independence. World history in general and our own recent history in particular, display ample examples of those whose livelihoods are not reliant on material wealth but on spiritual, artistic, and intellectual affluence and who took an uncompromising stand on matters relating to societal needs and demands and challenged the powers that be.
Let’s not jump the gun and classify all artistes, intellectuals, academics and men and women of letters as too pure, incorrupt and incorruptible. Some of these men and women could be even more corrupting than some of the politicians who crowd our legislative and law-enforcing chambers. Those half-baked artistes and intellectuals in fact appeared on the platform with the ‘King’ of the country at a rally purported to have been held as a tribute to the ‘war-victory’ in Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte soon after the war was ended. Those lackeys who appeared on that infamous stage paid tribute to everyone but those who really fought the war, the foot soldiers and infantrymen, those hapless citizens who happened to have been living along the so-called ‘border villages’ and many others who lost their lives and livelihoods because they had become victims to ‘suicide bombs’.
But now, in the year 2014, after five years of the cessation of the war, the Government is still harping on the same old hackneyed melody of patriotism and anti-LTTE mantras, labeling opposition leaders as less patriotic and more treasonous in the conduct of their politics. Every word that comes out of these Government politicos, including that which comes from the very top, is a lie.
This Government is a living lie. But no one wants to call it, except perhaps the speakers of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Karu Jayasuriya, Chairman of the Leadership Council of the United National Party and General Sarath Fonseka, the leader of the Democratic Party. Whatever the shortcomings both Karu Jayasuriya and Sarath Fonseka have as a politicians, they are not scared of criticizing the first family and other corrupt politicians of the Government, by naming names and shaming them in the same process. This fearlessness is particularly lacking in most of the rest of the UNP leadership and especially among those who aspire to be future leaders. This ambivalent approach to politics, some showing sheer ineptness and others harboring some ‘entitlement syndromes’ has contributed considerably to the stagnancy in the main opposition political party in Sri Lanka. The stalemate so created has turned these politicians into a pulp of stale and rotten muck, salivating for the ‘good times’ that the Government backers are enjoying. Without suggesting a single alternative solution, without declaring whether the Executive residency is either good or bad, without pointing the accusing finger at those who are engaged in selling this country cheap to Chinese contractors or without calling for a halt to naked nepotism that is consuming this country’s assets and resources, how can these pretenders claim that they are the ones who are popular with the grassroots? The strangest irony in the United National Party is that when elected representatives like Sajith Premadasa, Buddika Pathirana, Thalatha Athukorale, Rosy Senanayake etc. are hibernating in the political woods, it is guys like Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne, two MPs who got into Parliament through the National List, who are making some noise through the Gaveshana Charika.
The entire situation is one of chaos and undeciphered order. It is gloomy and unappetizing.
It is into this morass that over one hundred artistes, intellectuals and social activists have made an entry and made a public appeal calling upon the government as well as opposition political parties to make a change in the prevalent governance system. Among those who have signed the appeal are some distinguished names such as Dr. Dharmasena Pathiraja, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, Professor Kumar David, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, Gamini Viyangoda and Prasanna Vithanage. Pointing out the dangers of the direction in which the country is presently heading, they have called for a change in the prevalent system.
The petition has listed out the following points to elaborate on the worrisome state of the country:
- Despite rapid development, the high interest loans that fund such projects have heavily burdened the public and its detrimental impact has been incurred by the economic progress of the country
- Problematic state of the inter-racial and inter-religious relations
- Although five years have passed since the end of the war, residents of the North and East are still deprived of their fundamental rights and are instead pushed into a heavily militarized society
- Rising anti-Muslim sentiments in the country resulting in the tragedy of Aluthgama
- Deteriorating state of the public health and education systems
- Sorry state of the rule of law in Sri Lanka that has resulted in the country transforming itself into a state rampant with crimes
- Human rights situation falling to new lows
- Contortion of the constitution and the governance system of the country
In their appeal these intellectuals, artistes and civil organization leaders have stated the following:
“As a group keen to see a better tomorrow for this country, we request the government, its allied parties as well as the opposition parties to oust the corrupt, irregular and complicated societal structure and governance system and ensure it is transformed into a system that is accepted by the public where the Executive Presidency is replaced by a new democratic governance system that would reinstate the public confidence in the governance structure.”
The question is, whether any political party in the Opposition is willing and ready to recruit this group and ask them, to show its real commitment by actively taking part at the Uva Provincial Council elections. Go canvass the votes against the incumbent. That will make you as Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘men of the arena’. If not, you too are just men of straw.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org