By Mohamed Harees –
‘Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains’~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The social contract, as theorized by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, is an agreement between citizens to form an organized society which relies on the right to secure mutual protection and security. This agreement legitimizes the authority of national governments over certain aspects of citizen’s lives. A key condition of a functioning social contract is that citizens partially surrender their individual rights and adhere to said contract to maintain social order. This social order allows individuals to obtain prosperity, one that is possible with others rather than alone. Furthermore, security refers both to physical security as well as identity security. When a government can successfully provide both prosperity and security to a citizen, the social contract is fulfilled. However, if these two factors are not met, then it opens the door to potentially troubling consequences. A government which fails to meet its side of the bargain loses its moral authority to govern although they were elected on a ‘democratic’ mandate.
In Sri Lanka. declining faith in government over the years since Independence has been negatively affecting the legitimacy of its rulers, and weakening its ability to carry out its functions such as maintaining order, defending national sovereignty, and managing economic conditions, and can eventually lead to the deterioration of social cohesion, justice, and solidarity. The present regime elected on a majoritarian populist platform, openly making the minorities to feel as aliens, stands guilty for making people to question : Is Sri Lanka almost a pariah State? What will be therefore needed immediatelyis, for a new social contract to emerge, one in which a majority of our citizens across all communities, feel they are getting a fair share of the opportunities and prosperity generated in our societies. Citizens can no longer be bystanders, as the rulers continue abusing their mandate given at the elections, despite much hype created in the run-up, giving credence to the meme; ‘Unuth Ekay – Munuth Ekay’.
Close to a year and a half after the election of an ultra-nationalist government, just look at the dismal state of the balance sheet of Sri Lanka’s local and global credibility and image! Globally, Sri Lanka is being crucified as a racist, violent and an unprincipled nation. Locally, the nation is facing many grave crises- rule of law, impunity, chronic corruption at all levels of governance, widening inequality, haphazard sale of national assets, mounting debt, as well as fragile social relations, uncontrolled deforestation, in addition to gross mismanagement of the economy. Today, a desperate set of rulers, hell-bent on their political survival, appears to be going for the fulfilment of the appetite of a slavish electorate by providing them with a workable diversion tactic- a palatable anti-Muslim hate diet. Yes! Looking at the oft-quoted ‘69 Lakhs’ (who fell for the ploy of electing a true Sinhala Buddhist leader/ government to cure all ills besetting the nation), it reminds us of a Turkish Proverb ‘The trees kept voting for the Axe as the Axe convinced the Trees that, ‘he’ was one of them because his handle was made of wood.” Today, Rakwana’s Bhagya Abeyrathne and Gampaha’s Devani Jayathilaka are leading the way – to make activists emerge to expose the uncontrolled deforestation in all natural sanctuaries; not just in Wilpattu as some racists tried to project those days.
The so-called saviour Gotabaya’s rule itself started off was on a wrong footing, dividing the people he was elected to serve. Due to the serious intelligence oversights which enabled the Easter Attacks in April 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was able to seize on ethnic divisions and highlight his own credentials as the efficient Defence Secretary and was elected on a racist / majoritarian mandate. It was no coincidence that his inauguration ceremony occurred near Ruwan weli-seya, reportedly built by King Dutugemenu—who was best known for defeating ‘Tamil’ Elara. Though the president later wrote on Twitter that he was “now the President of all Sri Lankans, whether they voted for [him] or not and irrespective of their ethnicity or religious beliefs”, the swearing-in ceremony indicated that the president wanted to interpret his win as a mandate for reinforcing Sinhalese Buddhist hegemony. He reinforced this view at the 2021 Independence speech as well. This interpretation advanced the view that Sri Lankan minorities are invaders or guests permitted citizenry only by the grace of Sri Lanka’s rightful Sinhalese Buddhist guardians. As the old adage goes, the minorities feel ‘democracy is (thus) two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner’. However, as the Divine justice have it, as the events later proved, his accursed divisive approach alienated not only the Tamils and Muslims, but also in the process, even his slavish electorate – the Sinhala-Buddhist voters as well, as stated before. Even his SLPP is polarized and breaking up. Who’s having the last laugh?
Almost fifty years ago, we lived in a world of greater political apathy and yet greater trust in politics. Now comparatively, there is passion and distrust, as the events of the two decades demonstrated all too clearly. In today’s context, the primary game of politics in a democracy is one of vote winning. As a result, many politicians make this Faustian bargain; they sell their soul in order to prolong their political careers. In an era where the winner takes all, the cardinal rule in politics has become either lie or lose.
Probably the main reason for politicians to engage in deception and false promises may be how our party system works. Supporters are totally blind and act slavish to the drum beats of their political leaders and very likely not know what their vision is or what’s their ideology is. Both blues and greens which ruled this nation since Independence actually did not have a political ideology, or a long term vision for the country although they dabble in words and do not take it seriously when they issue election manifestos. They don’t have values they share and therefore how can they support a common goal?. Do people know why the politicians do what they do? Do they know their ideology; therefore they blindly support the ones that gives them the most benefits individually, which is incredibly selfish. None of the major current parties do not have a proper ideology or a vision. What they have is a leader. And whatever that leader think is right, the party cadres think is right which qualifies them as slaves rather than colleagues on one mission. The politicians will always abuse the system as long as such a stupid electorate exists. Unscrupulous politicians make use of the hope that springs in voters’ breasts at times of elections and lure the voters with false promises. Sri Lanka’s elections – and for that matter elections in most democratic countries – are therefore won by false promises. In other words, promises make the difference at elections.
It is thus a shame how the stupid electorate has been allowing the two major parties to go off the hook, by duping the electorate since Independence, using many attractive catchphrases /slogans and promises. If we do not learn lessons from history, and fail to hold our rulers to account and display civic activism even now, our present lot too will take our inaction as approval and continue their age old tricks. People boarded a popular bandwagon this time too – to elect a Sinhala Buddhist ruler-, not learning lessons from a previous political catchphrase Yahapalanaya which was another disaster. Nepotism, cronyism, abuse of financial transactions and conducting government business as if it were a “family company” thus continues allowing the present rulers to once again take the electorate along the garden path.
Further, for too long, politicians have used the racism and nationalism cards to divide the electorate along racial and religious lines for their petty gains. Gotabaya’s Government has been feeding a diet of anti-Muslim hate to a slavish electorate for political survival. Forced cremation was a clearly racist ploy which they were compelled to reverse after much damage. Now, it is contemplating a range of further socially harmful, anti-Muslim measures such as the Burqa ban, closing of Madrasas, de-radicalisation programmes as well as arrest of Islamic scholars/activists under ICCPR. Drumming up anti-Muslim sentiments has unfortunately become the norm particularly under the present rulers purportedly under ‘The One-Country-One-Law’ slogan, using stigmatisation as a state policy, with the support of some rogue sections of the Media. Right now, the rulers are playing with time, with the country facing a stern test at the UN Human Rights Council, and finding itself in a vulnerable spot. However, especially judging by the inflammatory speeches given by the Public Security Minister, after the UNHRC vote, clear signs are in the horizon, to continue with these punitive measures against the Muslims. This is a dangerous development, which if not arrested may lead to extremely disastrous consequences including aggravating already fragile ethnic fault-lines.
Further, for too long corruption has been tolerated. For too long, Sri Lankan voters have moved along two party continuum. For long, they have opted for a personality based politics and moved away from policy based politics. Seven decades later, Sri Lanka is in the cesspits of history as a result of this self-centered political class of both sides of the divide. Far too long inequality and poverty are tolerated. Sri Lanka continues to be an eternal developing country!
Government must be held accountable to the principles of good governance and impunity should be condemned and eliminated. Rule of law should be upheld at all costs and those who appeal to racism should be rejected. Majoritarianism should not be the State policy. Policy based politics should be the guiding light for Sri Lanka’s future rulers. Good governance – addresses the allocation and management of resources to respond to collective problems; it is characterized by participation, “transparency, and accountability, rule of law, effectiveness and equity”. The implementation of the principles of good governance in a country would be futile unless and until the principles of this ideology cascades to all units of the economy. Moreover, the thinking of the people should change qualitatively. In the context of high political polarization and the deterioration of trust in the political system, continuing people apathy will prove suicidal to the future. Mature thinking of the electorate to elect those suitable and public activism to keep the rulers to account is therefore a must. But the first component was missed.
In Sri Lanka, ‘stupidity’ of the people at elections has thus been creating dictators, narcissists, crackpots and corrupts in the past. Electorate unfortunately decided once again who will rule them. As if ‘providing ladders to jumping monkeys’, the present incumbent has also been given dictatorial powers under the 20A too. Lessons are thus not learnt that too much of power in the hand of a person at the top will be suicidal. At a challenging time when the nation is crying out for an enlightened leadership that believes in the plural nature of Sri Lankan society, it is imperative that at least the intellectuals across all racial and religious divides, lead the way for a well-organized campaign to fight against all forms of racism, demonisation, oppression as well as injustice against minority sections among them. Are the people of Sri Lanka ready to think and act afresh even now as a mitigating factor? Further, in the context of globalization, the international community too has a role- to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government do not attempt to justify their divisive approaches against minorities as a domestic matter. Did not Martin Luther King Jr, once say ‘we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of identity. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly’.