By Vishwamithra –
“It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.” ~ Joseph Conrad
The macro statistics are supposed to be good, that is after the IMF rescue; if not good, at least no worse that it was in April 2020. But the ailment is far from being cured; its stagnant nature, poisoned by actual cost of living is still beyond management levels for the middle class and the lower middle class. For the poor, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It’s exorbitant character has been domineering the economic paradigm. Those who were forced to forfeit one or two meals a day are yet in the same routine of the tightening-of-the-belt plane.
The Governor of the Central Bank, the Secretary of the Treasury, the State Minister of Finance and the Minister of Finance who happens to the President himself never talk about the rising cost of living, their reference to the improving economy is being confined to those vital statistics whose comprehension by the general masses is close to zero. Yet Colombo has once again become the hub of spending. Lavish parties, celebrations of all and sundry mixtures that matter to the upper classes, luxury vehicles that commute not only the privileged few but more so the assumed glamour of those who own them with enviable exclusivity and most of all sheer apathy towards those who suffer under mounting pressures of want and economic prosperity continue to characterize this island nation’s meandering journey towards another crisis.
Sri Lanka has not learned enough. Despite a near apocalypse just eighteen months ago has not opened her mind, eyes or ears. It shall never do. Countries such as Venezuela, Libya, Sudan, Haiti and others who occupy the lowest stratum of the economic ladder, countries whose place in the global socioeconomic activity that hardly is a matter to be proud of, have preceded Sri Lanka. The irony is that all those countries do not enjoy the sociopolitical culture that our nation is blessed with: a democratic way of life. When dictatorships, oligarchies, military rules and out-and-out anarchism predominantly roam the planes and hills of those countries, Sri Lanka is, at least up to the present day, can boast about democracy, not only in our political system but more so in our way of life.
That democratic system of governance has sustained our collective life as a society however much the values of that system have been hurled, every now and then, with cruel and uninvited attacks from impatient segments of our society. To withstand such intermittent onslaughts on our institutional arrangements, a deeply rooted allegiance to those institutions is an indispensable quality of our people. We have been used to monarchical rule for two and a half millennia. During that long span of history we have had, a broad canvass has been painted on and as our chronicles tell us, ‘the good the bad and the ugly’ have ruled us. Yet, as a matter of recorded fact, the good have overwhelmingly dominated the scene. If not, we would not have been able to see such vast monuments of man’s unmitigated commitment to art and culture as attested by massive irrigation schemes and stupendous architectural wonders commonly known as stupas and dagobas. Such a continuing civilization founded on irrigation and devotion to Buddhism is unparalleled in the story of man which we call history.
Yet the irony does not dwell in these structures and engineering marvels but in the very denial of the very essence of what one learns from those grand accomplishments. The devotion and discipline which one has to possess in order to create such incomparable wonders is sadly missing from our men and women today. The advent of capitalism, the market economy and centuries-old practice of being slavishly loyal to their leaders have had their basal consequences; while one can be content with the ‘devotion’ part of affairs, one certainly cannot live with the destructive nature of the same, which is sacrificing their soul and lives for the primary elements of life, the other side of that coin.
Viewed in that historical context, the IMF review of the latest rescue components offered to Sri Lanka becomes even more significant and game-changing. Any economic recovery, real or attempted, without a corresponding easing of the political stranglehold the current government has on its subject citizens, would be very short-lived and may be even be destructive in the long-run. That stranglehold consists of banning of all sorts of protests and free expression of the masses, pursuit of journalists who dare criticize the shortcomings of the government and expose those Ministers, Prime Minister and the President whose corruption and double-lives continue on.
Furthermore, demanding an extraction from the government a more meaningful commitment to accountability and transparency in the management of state affairs, not only in the present and future, but also in the past so that those who are alleged to have committed unpardonable sins in regard to the emptying of the national coffers is not so much to ask for. It is in that sphere of government business the people are angry about. Their agitation and propensity to riotous behavior is co-related to the absence of accountability from the Rajapaksas and their parliamentary henchmen as to the financial misdeeds they have been alleged to have engaged in.
On the other hand, it might be too much to ask of the IMF to be our omniscient arbiter in matters of sociopolitical affairs. The sovereignty of the nation and its undisturbed continuance would certainly will be an issue; the so-called legal luminaries would argue till the proverbial cows come home should we place dependence of our sociopolitical integrity on an alien organization; because such dependence would certainly be tied up with the final release of assistance.
Nevertheless, if we are to succeed in recovering from the mess we are already in, the character and action of our Chief Executive becomes a critical issue. Whether Ranil Wickremasinghe could be classified as a successful politician or not, whether he would be accommodated in the annals of our history as a remarkable leader, whether he exhibited that rare quality of courage- grace under pressure- in tough situations, history passes judgment, particularly one of positive and favorable, on whose tenure fell within the boundaries of honesty and stoicism. While ascertaining his stature, leadership falling on him by accident of parliamentary and constitutional loopholes would disqualify him from those who have been elected by the people. Yet, after assuming that mantle of power through the said loopholes, how did he respond to a crisis situation?
A country’s success or failure is unmistakably entangled with the success or failures of her leaders. Being crafty and cunning in betraying the trust and aspirations of millions of the ordinary masses would not qualify any leader to be placed in that lofty layer reserved for superior men and women. Ranil Wickremesinghe may have set ultimate leadership of the country as his personal goal. By hook or by crook he has achieved that goal. Does that qualify him as a successful leader. In attainment of his personal goals, he is undoubtedly successful. In terms of that narrow definition of success, Ranil is a successful man. But by arriving at that personal goal, has he delivered the national goals (not just economic statistics) set upon themselves by the millions of our masses?
Realization of the limited purpose of the IMF economic rescue cannot be the final answer for all our ills; in the same dimension, hurling mere attacks on Ranil Wickremesinghe and his cohorts would not help us achieve our collective goal of social peace, economic justice and national calm that come with a satisfied people. National prosperity is not economic statistics; neither is it the apathy of a majority nor an expression of fear-laden loyalty to a murderous leader. Sri Lanka has passed all these stages. If one is forced to surrender his or her birthrights in order to find petrol or diesel at the gas pump, one had better be ready to lead a subjugated life forever. The IMF does not open our eyes to such harsh realities. It is not their mandate. It is not their function and we must realize that. Our leaders must also understand that these new realities have come into being by courtesy of the Aragalaya-22. Aragalaya-22 is not an end in itself; but it certainly is a beginning, a new beginning and most of all a continuing journey.
The IMF is apparently unhappy about our progress on the eradication of corruption front. But they are not teethed to force us to do anything else other than including such dissatisfaction in their reports. The ultimate arbiters are the people and their verdict shall decide to exonerate or imprison the present lot .
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org