By Ameer Ali –
The Gintota racist eruption is the latest, but not certainly the last, in a sordid political match series played between two coalition teams, a UNP-SLFP coalition government, which describes itself as Yahapalanaya or good governance, and a coalition of opposition which is yet to discover a politically saleable slogan to counter Yahapalanaya.
Under normal circumstances and in real team sports when two sides are equally matched and neither shows any detectable weakness to exploit by the other one way to achieve victory is to indulge in some foul play expecting that the referee would not notice it. This in essence is what is happening in current Sri Lankan politics. Both coalition teams play the racist card rather subtly and each of them expect the referee, the masses, to blame the other for instigating it. A minority of saffron-clad thugs and their hirelings who went on a bloodletting rampage in Gintota would not have done so without the backing from powerful political personalities. Yahapalanaya is good at blaming the opposition for the mayhem but why does it not take stern action and bring the culprits to the court? By not doing this the government is also supporting racism from behind the scene.
Where does one place Sri Lankan racist politics in the global context?
It is a pity that with the death of the traditional left in Sri Lanka, as in many other countries, and along with that the disappearance of contrasting policy packages for people to choose when voting at general elections the democratic populace is now being asked to pick from empty but catchy slogans and between personalities who are more the products of professional beauticians than of cerebral training. The policy differences between the contestants are so marginal that choosing between them is like choosing between Coca-cola and Pepsi-cola. The current contest between the ruling MS camp and the opposing MR camp offers the electorates a choice between form and not substance.
With the victory of neoliberalism over socialism as the ruling global politico-economic paradigm both the right and left sides of politics have come to embrace the precepts and practices of turbo capitalism. Even the so called Third Way of the former British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was a sinister move to drag his party to the right of centre. Thus, in many Western democracies also electioneering is dominated more by emotional issues like immigration, multiculturalism and terrorism than the day to day economic problems faced by the majority of people. It is therefore not surprising that in Sri Lanka also both camps have realised that it is racism that will offer the winning trump in their political contest.
So far no party in Sri Lanka has put forward any policy package to tackle real issues such as the spiralling cost of living that is immiserizing millions of families, rampant corruption, cronyism and nepotism that is hollowing democracy of its substance, unregulated foreign private and public investments that is recolonizing the national economy and nibbling away the country’s sovereignty, an ever-widening economic disparity that is feeding a class war, and a decaying natural environment that is jeopardising the lives of future generations. Policies and plans to tackle these issues will certainly impinge on the neoliberal order which is closely being guarded and monitored by its global managers like the IMF and World Bank. Trapped by the system and unable to liberate from the control of its guardians and devise an alternative path for development the government and the opposition are both looking for match winning trumps, and the only one left for them is racism. This has been the sad story of Sri Lankan politics at least since 1977.
In the course of plodding along the racist track tens of thousands of human lives have been lost, billions of dollar worth of properties have been destroyed, an unwanted civil war had been fought and above all the historic religious and ethnic tranquillity that Sri Lanka demonstrated to the world for millennia has been wantonly damaged. Under the cover of championing majoritarian values successive waves of megalomaniac and kleptomaniac politicians have driven this beautiful country towards a kakistocracy. Who or what and when will this drive to the bottom be reversed? Will the silenced speak up?
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia