By Malinda Seneviratne –
Once the final CHOGM document is released we will be in post-CHOGM Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth hasn’t changed much since it was formed and given realities it is unlikely that the Colombo Summit would see change in color, tone or substance. That’s no fault of the host or the participants; it is, as a wit put it, akin to an Alumni Association meeting up several decades after the particular school ceased to exist. It has been, is and will likely be a platform for moral posturing and affirmation of principles and values that few if any abide by, least of all those who swear by them.
This CHOGM has been about off-summit antics as much as the summit itself. Channel 4 clearly found the proceedings too boring to cover. The Bodu Bala Sena had to get into the action too. The NGO circus, as expected, came to town. The UNP was reduced to a rent-a-premises outfit, a come-down that puts it on par with the Communist Party. Good entertainment all around.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was making a pitch for expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil votes. He issued a warning about calling for an ‘international investigation’ into allegations regurgitated by people who really don’t care about reliability of source or the principles of proportion. He did not let anyone utter a word about the Chilcott Report. Instead he played the old colonial tune called ‘Divide and Rule’ to which, sadly, judge-turned-politico Wigneswaran was only too happy to dance.
Not wanting to be quite the fish out of water at his media conference, the man watered his surroundings with friendly foreign media. He fielded scripted questions and shied away from the local media. That choreographed exercise made his somber pronouncements about freedom and democracy sound rather incongruous. He looked quite a hero on turf deliberately made soft for his tender feet giving the impression that had he ventured from comfort zone he would have ended with bloodied nose.
His Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, had already done what he could in this regard. He sent a minion to get a photograph that could be used as proof of support for that vociferous vote bank whose key movers and shakers have given an extra oomph to criminality in that country.
Then there has been the foreign media. Selective, prejudicial and kept. Wait, quite happy to utter falsehood, we could add. Australia’s ABC reported that the Indian Prime Minister was not attending because of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Neither Singh nor any of his emissaries has stated anything of the kind. BBC and other Cameron-friendly media stations carefully edited out anything and everything that might embarrass those who are virulently anti-Sri Lanka.
The Youth and People’s forums deliberated, debated and finalized position-documents on their relevant subjects. In a context where the main forum yields little, the only positive remains the energy and enthusiasm shown, not that which was expended. The Business Forum was different. Well-attended, this forum of pragmatic people focused on costs and benefits, might prove to yield something tangible and substantial, unlike the main event and the other two side shows.
By and large, the circus stole the thunder from the event it was supposed to frill. Colombo got more than a facelift. That’s something to cheer. The question that will continue to be asked is ‘was it all worth it?’ Well, there’s one positive that will stay: if there’s a will, things can be done and done fast too.
Tomorrow, Monday, we will be in post-CHOGM land. The allegations that were voiced pre-CHOGM and tossed around during CHOGM will be heard again and again. Counter-allegations will not be picked by the anti-Sri Lanka media circus. Nothing will satisfy the likes of Cameron and anyway there’s nothing in Sri Lanka’s Constitution about having to adjust policy, law and ways of being to suit the whims and fancies of a colonial has-been.
The only thing they’ve achieved by their antics is to strengthen the hand of the government, not because the government is made of saints, but the devilry of Cameron’s ilk makes the government look good in comparison. Cameron and others must understand that when they attack the government, the people will not forget that it is the entire country that is threatened. That plays into the hands of the regime. It doesn’t make it any easier for those who want to expand the territories of democracy (and we are not talking here about the pet poodles of the West in the NGO sector). Cameron would not care less of course.
Post-CHOGM, we live in the same Sri Lanka, pretty much. With much less clamor and squalor. Let us to our familiar pace and ways return. We could do worse.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com