By Emil van der Poorten –
Having just completed reviewing a children’s fairy tale containing equal parts of whimsy, kindness and the acceptance of “difference,” all underpinned by those traits that make humans that much better than the lower forms of life, I thought today’s column would afford me the opportunity to emerge from this flood of decency and enter the real world of Sri Lankan politics!
However, I thought I’d build what I have to say and surmise on a foundation of wishful thinking provoked by the review referred to earlier. What follows is based on an unrealistic, fairy-tale ending to the nightmare of a government that even some of their number admit as being the most inept and corrupt that this country has had to endure since independence in 1948.
Let me begin by defining and describing, by category, those who need attention in the unlikely event of the current junta being divested of its power. While their behavior has resulted in huge losses to the nation, it must be appreciated that the conduct of all of those referred to in what follows must be viewed in the context of a particular political culture for which they themselves might not be responsible.
1. The lowest on the totem pole of culpability are probably the monumentally ignorant who take pride in and encourage the “discipline” exerted on the people of Sri Lanka by our current rulers. These are true believers in the “mantram” of xenophobia, which chants that within the shores of Sri Lanka is a master race, incapable of so much as making a mistake and that the current regime epitomizes all that Sri Lanka should aspire to be. Their conduct would have a Hitler or Mussolini chuckle with glee (or, maybe, blush in embarrassment!). They have not only repeated their chants glorifying those they see as their leaders but have sought to thrust their beliefs down the throats of any unsuspecting soul who might have had the misfortune to have strayed across their path! So far, they’ve done very well, thank you, with the assistance of a government only too ready to shore up their sycophantic brigades whenever they believed that those brigades needed shoring up. Since the majority of these have already displayed their ability to transfer their allegiance from one political configuration to another, it would be unrealistic to ignore their capacity to provide a repeat performance when the next change occurs.
2. Then there are those who, it is said, use our lily-white and totally incorruptible rulers as their stalking horses for a range of white-collar criminal activities, ranging from money-laundering to stock market manipulation to smuggling in cash and items of real value for themselves and their friends and family. A note of caution might be indicated here because it is essential that the criminals operating in the shadow of the innocent dupes (our rulers) should be separated, stalking horse from hunter, so to speak. After all, it just won’t do to suggest that any of our leaders are engaged in anything even slightly dodgy, leave alone criminal. The only way to ensure this differentiation is to lay down the “facts” by simply declaring, “None of our rulers have ever defrauded the public in any shape, form or fashion and they are totally unaware of anyone skulking behind them while operating a whole range of crooked schemes.” Such a contention does not require substantiation but can be cast in stone by means of inclusion in one “Chinthanaya” or another.
3. What of those engaged in the marketing of non-prescription drugs (cocaine and opium in their many forms, cannabis, crystal methamphetamine etc.) and illicit and poisonous alcohol products (“kasippu”)? Again, certain “ground realities,” as government publicists love to phrase them, must be taken into account. Fact No. 1 is that these drug- and kasippu-barons have, over many years past, established themselves in the political mosaic of Sri Lanka. Because they are an established source of revenue for those who rule us, one shouldn’t consider killing the geese that lay these golden eggs, particularly if one is likely to be the new beneficiary of those birds’ production. Of course, as part of the 21st Century Mahavamsa, it is a “given” that those accepting largesse from these sources will continue in blissful ignorance of the manner in which such (copious) funds are generated which, in turn, permits our rulers to leave those generating such revenues un-interfered with. Apart from anything else, isn’t that a nice, neat little circle of protection?
4. How about the procurers of products varying from the traditional “flesh” items to the more pedestrian petty bribes and entertainment “goodies” and those seemingly in the business of organizing, literally, the cheering squads for those currently in the seats of power? Here again, one needs to take due cognizance of the culture of a country where “pandankarayas” are accepted as a part of the mosaic of Sri Lankan life.
5. Finally, there is the category of those nominally, though prominently and permanently, in the ranks of the political opposition, within formal party structures and in the so-called “backrooms” of those organizations. They are conspicuous by their absence if there is anything even vaguely resembling a confrontation with even the farthest reaches of our Sri Lankan Hegemony. Their primary interaction is with those who are able to keep their profit-making enterprises running as smoothly as possible. They will wear the official colours of either the United National Party or the so-called “left,” as a means of diverting any real criticism of or opposition to the governing party but that’s about as far as their ‘standing up to be counted’ goes! Their primary purpose in the scheme of things is to put out anything resembling a conflagration that might threaten their cozy relationship with the Royal Family. As they used to say, “It’s all about the money, honey!” These are but stalking horses of a different hue and their leaders in the opposition parties march in lockstep with them!
While it might be tempting to set up a complicated framework within which to deal with all those miscreants from the several categories that I have defined, I’d like to suggest a different approach and one that should fit in admirably with the “justice delayed is justice denied” model now firmly established to the eternal credit of Sri Lanka.
I’d suggest setting up a large “rehabilitation facility,” in which all those apprehended could be housed. Those would be from every one of the categories listed above, from the marginally criminal to the hard-core. This strategy would bring all those who support the incarcerated out of the woodwork and these, by virtue of the diversity of the alleged offenders, are quite capable of creating massive confusion while agitating on behalf of their friends or clients. The general public will share this confusion soon enough and lose interest in the whole business and adopt an attitude of, “Please go away, stop disturbing my day and don’t bother me with any more of your “facts!” This will enable those bearing responsibility for applying due process of law to let the miscreants return to their homes without there being the nuisance and expense of legal process. Those taken into custody will be glad enough of this outcome to show their gratitude by contributing in cash and kind to the new rulers of Sri Lanka.
Before the mass release, however, an appropriate selection of international agencies, members of the diplomatic community in Sri Lanka etc. can be invited and, after appropriate wining and dining, given conducted tours of the detention camp, or at least the better parts of it, watching the release of those previously taken in, proving the magnanimity of the government and the effectiveness of the policy adopted.
Finally, leaders of the new regime will be invited to ceremonies, with the usual pomp and pageantry invoking the memory of Sri Lankan kings out of the mists of history. Those incarcerated, having been held only for purposes of rehabilitation, will be released to resume their previous occupations with the (unspoken) proviso that they now serve their new masters in a manner similar to that in which they served their predecessors. It will be within the discretion of the new government to select the really big racketeers from among those being rehabilitated to give them VIP treatment and publicize their role as being that of building bridges between the new government they serve and the larger criminal fraternity which had previously been such a big problem. This will place the seal of official approval on the enterprises of substantial criminality without the irritation of some “civil society NGO wallah” pointing a finger at those now placed above criticism because they will now be among the “chosen.”
I trust that what I have described in the preceding paragraphs provides a blueprint for the future of Sri Lanka, ensuring an uninterrupted continuation of its 21st Century culture already in place.