By Harsha Gunasena –
Collective consciousness is a fundamental sociological concept which refers to a set of shared ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge which are common to a social group or society. The political leaders, whether they are democratic or autocratic, try to influence the collective consciousness of the society, some in order to uplift the society in a constructive way such as Nelson Mandela and some in destructive way such as Hitler. The people should be vigilant whether these influences on collective consciousness would be in the best interests of the nation.
President Joe Biden took his oath as 46th President of USA recently. Unlike previous Presidential Elections of US, there was a degree of uncertainty until such time he took oath. The reason was that the former President Donald Trump hatched a constitutional coup which was the first of this type in the American history. Trump started to express his doubts in the election process during the early stages of the campaign. Trump who had a loose tongue was bold enough to say that he would not accept the election results if he was defeated. He repeatedly created a doubt in the minds of his supporters of the counting of postal votes. Once the election was over and Biden got a clear majority, he falsely said that he won the election. His Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Trump would start his second term in January 2021. His team filed cases in the states where Biden won marginally against the election results. Those were thrown away.
I was suspicious whether he would try to meddle with the representatives of the states at the time of the Electoral College decision. It did not happen, and Electoral College decisively confirmed the presidency of Joe Biden. Finally, at a rally he persuaded his supporters to raid Capitol Hill at the time the Congress was ratifying the decision of the Electoral College. Congress ratified the decision, but the tragedy was that there were 147 Republicans in both houses who voted to overturn the election results which was unbelievable. Ultimately Mike Pence, Vice President and the President of the Senate, became a hero for merely fulfilling his duty. I can understand that one mad person working against the democratic norms of the greatest democracy of the world and rallying his supporters to get his mad idea fulfilled, but considering the US norms, I cannot understand that such a number of his party representatives of the Congress were mesmerized by his mad idea. Trumpism should not have been Republicanism.
Trump mislead the collective consciousness of the Americans to a level that it was destructive. His supporters were carried away and he was able to convince a considerable number of Republican Senators and House Representatives. Over a period of time, he was addressing the rural Americans and promoting American white supremacy which was against the American liberal ideals developed over centuries. Eventually he worked to divide America.
In Sri Lanka, the promotion of destructive collective consciousness in order to gain power by the politicians was going on over decades. Prime Minister Bandaranaike created a false patriotism by nationalizing privately held assets and businesses. This patriotism was reduced to providing employment in these businesses to the political supporters of the successive political parties. Eventually the government budget had to finance these loss-making institutions. Still, this false patriotism is powerful enough to create a public opinion that we should continue with the state ownership of those entities. It is beneficial to the rulers, therefore they promote this false patriotism by promoting destructive collective consciousness of the people. Then the people request the continuation of the entities with state ownership although they themselves are at the receiving end of this whole game. No one is requesting the government or forcing it by demonstrations to run those institutions profitably.
Prime Minister Bandaranaike politicized the ethnocentrism in Sri Lanka. It was once again promoting destructive collective consciousness for political gains. It was true that the power which was held by the elite should be given to the ordinary people and it should be done across the island without ethnocentric biases so that when the state started communicating with the people in their language, English should have been replaced not only by Sinhala but also by Tamil as well.
These two points, false patriotism and ethnocentrism was used by the wife and the political children of Bandaranaike to come to power by promoting destructive collective consciousness of the people. Mrs. Bandaranaike did it and failed miserably. Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa also did it. The irony is that they cannot sustain it when they come to power.
That is the dilemma faced by the President today.
In respect of false patriotism, which was spearheaded by him during his campaign, there were three main points which would work against his premise.
Firstly, he himself contributed to sell the national assets during the regime of his brother. The premises of the Shangri-la hotel was sold to China outright. Colombo International Container Terminal was built by the Chinese and the Chinese management company owns 85%, which is an excessive percentage and only 15% was held by the Port Authority. Ownership of the Chinese built Port City was given to China and later it was reversed to a long-term lease by the previous government. Hambantota port was built on a high interest loan from China and the previous government had to give to China on a long-term lease since it could not service the loan.
Secondly, the economic situation of the country was very bad due to bad financial management of the successive governments. From day one of the independence the governments spent more than they earn except for two years where M.D.H Jayawardana was the Finance Minister, hence the country is trapped in debt since the borrowed money did not contribute to the economic growth effectively. We have an unproductive public service and the successive governments continued to enlarge it for political gains except for two years when Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister in 2001.
Wickremesinghe’s farsighted act was condemned by many politicians including his supporters who placed themselves ahead of the country. Our rule of law is not trusted, wage rates are not attractive, and the government policies are not consistent. Hence the foreign private investors do not come. On top of that the present government reduced its revenue by way of massive reduction of the income taxes with the blessings of the self-centered Private Sector. Therefore, the country will have to take drastic economic reforms including privatization of government assets and businesses, enabling them to run more effectively and reduction of size of the unproductive and mostly arrogant public sector. Problems cannot be solved by merely printing money. The Government will have to tell the truth to the people and the people also should understand the truth ahead of the government.
Thirdly, it is the tug of war between the US block and China. The Government has already antagonized the US block comprising of US, Japan, and India. The MCC agreement was not accepted by the Government and the US ambassador claims a level playing field in Sri Lanka without favoritism to Chinese companies in Sri Lankan projects. This government rejected the Light Rail Transit project funded by Japan. India was of the view that current protests against the East Container Terminal (ECT) of Colombo Port is supported by the Chinese. The previous government had given India and Japan the right to develop ECT in order to counter the Chinese influence which was a creation of the previous Rajapaksa regime.
People by and large do not get a benefit if the assets are kept with the government and mismanaged. Instead, they will get a benefit only if the assets are managed profitably. Venezuela owns their oil fields which amounts to 20% of the world oil reserves and at present the country is having a hyper-inflation. The problem of the country is bad and corrupt governance. Only imbeciles can shout against selling national assets while keeping mum on corrupt and inefficient governance and economic management of the country and colossal losses of the public institutions which is the root cause of selling of national assets. No one can manage or influence an effect. The cause should be managed and influenced not the effect. Ethnocentric, by heart non- Buddhist, political Bhikkus are trying to manage the effect and wants to be the heroes in the collective consciousness of the masses.
It was reported that the Government decided to sell 49% of the shares of the operation company of ECT to Indian and Japanese investors while retaining the majority shares 51% of the operation company and the ownership of the asset. It should be noted that 65% of our reexports are coming from India and it is advantageous to get them connected here. None of these demonstrators who are against the selling of 49% of ECT, including Bhikkus and the JVP, did effective demonstrate such as the current one against Chinese acquisitions of state assets which were far greater than this acquisition. This imposes the question whether all of them are Chinese puppets and the question is posed on the basis that the country should not get aligned to any super-power. If the Government antagonizes India the country should be ready to face the political ramifications of which the country is having bitter memories in the 1980s. However, the unions of the Port Authority are suggesting offering Western Terminal to the Indians rather than the Eastern Terminal.
In respect of ethnocentrism which is the other premise of the President’s election campaign, the government is going to get blocked soon. Submitting her report to United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the HR Commissioner Michelle Bachelet came down hard on the Government of its failure to fulfil the commitments made. She proposed that the member states of the Human Rights Council to consider invocation of universal jurisdiction, referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and sanctions against targeted individuals such as asset freezes and travel bans. These are far reaching proposals.
In addition to that Tamil parties along with the Tamil civil society members and the religious leaders have written to the member states of the UNHRC that the President of UNHRC should refer the matters on accountability in Sri Lanka back to the Secretary General for action which includes reference to the ICC. US which would most probably reengage with UNHRC and EU of which the major countries are in UNHRC, accounts for 25% each of the Sri Lanka exports market. Moreover, EU in 2015 re-granted GSP+ facility for our exports which promoted much needed exports to the economy. Government policy of forceful cremation of the Covid-19 affected bodies of the Muslims is widely criticized in the international arena.
There is a strong resistance from within and from outside to implement two main rhetorical pronouncements of the government. The prevalent collective consciousness of the people of false patriotism and ethnocentrism is not sustainable and destructive. It dragged the minorities also towards ethnocentrism and now all are in the same soup enjoying it like crabs in the pan.
The basic requirement to develop a country is to get the wholehearted support of all the citizens. If a group of people think that this country can be developed by the majority community by suppressing the minorities, they are imbeciles. Let alone a country, even a factory cannot be run in this manner.
We have noted the actions of Donald Trump. Being an undeveloped democracy with weak institutions, we should be proud that we did not have such an anti-democratic person as our Head of State. USA could afford it with its strong traditions and institutions who are not afraid to challenge anybody within the framework of the law. Sri Lanka is not like that especially after the 20th amendment to the constitution. We can observe the changed behavior of the judicial system. We should not forget the scenario in the night of the January 8, 2015. According to the newspaper reports there was a plan to grab the power forcibly. After the resistance of the senior government officials then President, who was a seasoned politician, decided to relinquish the power. It is imperative that we all manage our collective consciousness against such acts.