By Emil van der Poorten –
For a long time now, writers focusing on Sri Lankan ethics or morality of some description have described, often at great length, what ails the body politic in this country. I cannot, in all conscience, exclude myself from this lot.
However, now that we’ve seemingly plumbed the depths of the ocean of corruption and violence that is Sri Lanka today, isn’t it time that we sought solutions, no matter how minor or temporary, to our homeland’s predicament?
Let me take a preliminary stab at this task, as overwhelming as the issues facing us might seem.
Those who believe in the need for and, therefore, seek change to the status quo have, first, to escape from the brain-washing that has resulted in a belief that the other side of the current political coin, totally debased as it is, presents a means of purchasing our way out of the morass that it has bought us. Suffice it to say that I believe that suggesting that the UNP of Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa is a real alternative to what the Rajapaksa Regime (RR) has visited upon us is to pay pooja to something that has already proved its value, or lack thereof, in spades. After all, it was the J. R. Jayewardene regime that started the ball of massive corruption and impunity rolling and these, his unapologetic successors, have not, in any way, sought to distance themselves from that legacy.
For starters, we need leaders who are not already discredited by opportunistic political behaviour or who do not already have a track record of previous, current or sporadic collaboration of any kind with the RR. If that sounds like some absolutist dictum, so be it. To modify an aphorism that the RR is particularly fond of, “You are either for democracy or against it.” There can be no half measures in that calculation and to seek salvation through those who’ve either ignored or equivocated on that score is just plain stupid.
We not only need people of principle but those prepared to place their physical mental and psychological well-being on the line. Recently, an acquaintance who had observed the demonstrations in Thailand made a very simple observation to me: that the public protests against Yingluck Shinawatra were going nowhere because the educated Thai middle classes, supposedly in the vanguard of those demonstrations, chose, literally, to go home to look after their very comfortable places of abode after their nine-to-five demonstrations and could not conceive of inconveniencing themselves to the extent necessary to remove a government that they proclaimed to be incompetent and corrupt. That enterprise was saved, if that is the word, by the intervention of the armed forces who, according to them at least, were bringing law, order and good governance to the Thai nation. The conduct of the Thai middle class was typical of their counterparts all over the world, Sri Lanka included, and constituted a refusal to so much as consider “short term pain for long term gain.” Incidentally, even if one accepts as legitimate in some way the armed forces’ complete control of a nation’s affairs, and I certainly do not, this has historically not provided anything resembling an answer to dilemmas of this kind in democratic states. “Taking over a country, putting its affairs in order and then handing power back to a democratically-elected government” has never happened in the past and, particularly given the total subservience of the armed forces of this country to the Rajapaksa family is as likely as an Inuit buying a refrigerator from me! That said, our locally “comfortably-off” are not able to get off their duffs to even do the “nine-to-five thing” because, if truth be told, the current economic chaos and corruption hasn’t hit them, literally, in their collective breadbasket. YET. When it does, and it surely will as night follows day, it will be too late because they’ll then be so cowed into a paralysis of inaction, not by indifference but by a deep and absolute cowardice as befits those who proclaim the bravery of the Lion Race while practicing a political culture better suited to those long- and short-tailed scavengers that have traditionally tagged along behind the King of the Jungle!
Though the proverbial wisdom, at least in the western world, appears to be that social change can only be initiated by the educated middle class, 20th Century Sri Lankan history seems to suggest something different in that both JVP insurrections and that conducted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were led by the lower middle classes of the two communities and their mass was made up from the peasant and what could pass for the working class of a pre-industrial society. Do we have to wait for history to repeat itself and wait on those same segments of the Sri Lankan population to provide leadership to any effort to kick out the current banditry that tries to pass for some kind of elected, populist government?
Narrowly applying political theories of any kind in an effort to analyse the current Sri Lankan predicament and then seeking a solution to it through application of those classic theoretical concepts will not provide the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” We need people who are prepared to inconvenience themselves, nay, even, make some significant sacrifices in the areas of purse and person to shake the population-at-large out of its current torpor bred of fear and a “I’m all right, Jack” attitude based on a totally false foundation. The specifics of such an attempt at change within a democratic framework needs to be determined and determined soon. The efforts to find a “Common Candidate” to run against Mahinda Rajapaksa in the next Presidential election is a logical first step that Dr. Kumar David, much to his credit, has spearheaded and persisted with. However, even if that is determined to be the logical first step to rid this land of the pestilential parasites that have governed us for too long, the next step(s) must be determined and worked on as well. Remember what Margaret Mead said (and I will never tire of repeating!): “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”