By Malinda Seneviratne –
Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe has stated that if national unity is to be obtained then the primacy of the law has to be protected. He has made the further point that the collapse of law and order has not only caused anxiety among Muslims and Tamils but has impacted everyone.
He is correct. While Wickremesinghe has taken pains to cite specific instances where the behavior of law enforcement authorities have been suspicious and even downright scandalous necessitating finger-pointing at political figures, fear and apprehension are not the preserve of the opposition or Tamils and Muslims. There is a palpable lack of confidence among the general population about the efficacy and integrity of the entire legal edifice of the country, the judiciary and the police included.
There is a vast distance between politician and citizen with ruling party politicos holding sway over the police and, according to some, over judges too, to the point that ‘no one is above the law’ is a notion that would be laughed at. If it weren’t worrisome, that is.
There are countless instances where politicians have prevented police officers from doing their job. Countless too are instances where police officers have happily deferred to the will of politicians. Then there is highhandedness on the part of police officers. Police brutality followed by intimidation that forbids proper investigation is another issue that goes into the ‘countless’ column. Countless also are the number of times the Police Media Spokesman Ajith Rohana has had to twist and turn to defend police action and inaction. He’s been the butt end of countless jokes. But it’s not funny. He’s just a fall guy for a system that could only be called ineffective if it were not corrupt.
This state of affairs has served to exacerbate fears and anxieties, adding grist to the lie-mills of the most pernicious elements in the political firmament. Interestingly, we have a situation where all communities place the blame on the police for rising unrest, anxiety, mistrust and violence. However, as Wickremesinghe points out, it is not a communal issue alone; the breakdown of law and order affects everyone in multiple ways.
Not only does it pose severe challenges on efforts to reconcile communities and obtain national unity, it compromises the smooth functioning of all institutions including businesses, government agencies and religious organization. Indeed even the day-to-day of citizens going about their lives and their work are tinged with disconcert and unpredictability that speaks of an unhealthy social order, clearly a disappointing state of affairs in a country that was supposed to recover and flourish in the aftermath of putting behind a terrible three decades of death, despair, destruction and dismemberment.
Whatever the doomsday prophets may say, a country which boasts of more mobile connection than its population cannot be said to be suffering depravations that make for an insurrectionary moment. That aside, a polity which is adequately fed is not necessarily one that will suffer other shortcomings. Where justice is a privilege and where that privilege is the preserve of the powerful, where power is linked to wealth and where relative wealth implies relative poverty, the underclass thus described (naturally the majority) will not exactly salute the state of affairs. ‘State of affairs’ will necessarily be seen as the regime’s baby.
Sloth, foot-dragging and tacit and open encouragement of all elements that metaphorically drop pants and show all to ‘the law’ in defiance, arrogance and outright ridicule, has brought about a situation where things are less compromised than they are outrageously out of control. The question has to be asked, ‘does the government want to pull things back?’ There’s a second question, ‘can the government pull things back?’ Right now it looks as though rhetoric will not help and therefore ‘more of the same’ or worse is what the options for the regime have narrowed down to.
If anyone can turn things around, it is President Rajapaksa. If he does deliver on this, then indeed that much talked of and vilified word arshcharya or miracle would recover some respectability and thereby cover both president and regime with glory. If not? Well, the answer is single word that should sober one and all: scary.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com