By Vishwamithra –
To put it mildly, the country’s situation is murky at best. The government’s popularity is being measured in days and weeks, not months or years. The declining economic conditions and increasing cost of living have become the order of the day. It does appear to be much darker than during the period we suffered under the leadership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Felix Dias in the ’70 to ’77 era.
Yet there is a stark and inescapable difference in that the status of the then Opposition and what is present or, in fact, absent today- leadership! JR Jayewardene was a unique leader. His engagement in politics was not another pastime as it is for the present-day tricksters. He brought the grassroots of the United National Party (UNP) to the streets. Not in a haphazard way like the present day Opposition leaders do, but in a carefully thought-out way, in accordance with a clearly planned out strategy; he unleashed the yet unforeseen forces of the mass-hysteria in a sustained and controlled aggression. Each and every demonstration he organized, from the Attanagalle protest march to the one organized in the vicinity of Ruwanveli Seya and Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura, to the one hundred political meetings on the same day and the boycott of the Lakehouse newspapers, were all tremendously consequential events of a well-crafted strategy and planing.
The events and planning tools are still there in our midst, yet no political leader of the present lot has made use of them. Political and its drastic consequences and contexts have changed, yet the fundamentals remain the same. It is, in short, a marketing exercise that attempts to sell one’s point of view to a market that is eve-ready to buy it if the substance and coating appear pleasant and consumable.
J R did not do these things by himself; his planning and strategizing was not a result of a one-man show. Great minds such as G V P Samarasinghe, N G P Panditharatne, Daham Wimalasena, R Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake, Ronnie de Mel, Nissanka Wijeratne and Lalith Athulathmudali were all working overtime to produce such an efficient and a productive agenda. The United National Party, which was branded by its opponents such as Dr N M Perera, Colvin R de Silva and of course, the Bandaranaikes, as a tool of the ‘rich man’s party saw its dramatic transformation into a serious school of political thought of the rural masses.
But such indulgence in the past glory is futile and mind-destroying now. As was stated above, the context has changed dramatically and the speed at which news and information travels has made it almost mandatory that those who seek political power need to be tech-educated to keep abreast of all what is taking place around them.
Yet being tech-savvy alone would not deliver the desired results for the politicos. Identifying the current issues that drive the electorate towards the polling booth on election day and vote for the policies and principles as declared in their respective manifestos becomes increasingly complicated. In this particular context what matters almost everywhere democracy exists, where the electoral representative system and its brutal machinations work, a clever politician would be able to be micro-strategic and plan and execute a campaign in order to polarize the electorate along simple and tangible thresholds so that that particular segment of the electorate forms a majority whose interests are not only identifiable with their manifesto, but also make sure that they are the ones who constitute the larger part of the line at the polling booth on D-day, so to speak.
This process is bound to be engaged by the current ruling family; their manipulations and crafty methods do not need any introductions; only fine-tuning and finessing need to be attended to. A clumsy set of rulers whose sole aim and purpose is to bleed the country white and ransack its coffers must be getting busy in their most cruel and wicked ways now. However, time does not seem to be on their side of the fence. Material conditions of the country is spiraling down the drain; its economic life is at its last gasp; their parliamentarians cannot go back to their electorates and the wrath of the masses is awaiting them like a pack of angry wolves.
In a country where the average housewife’s daily routine does not deviate from her morning prayers in the in-house shrine room, where physical injury to their worst enemy is not in their thought process come what may, where the children’s hunger is satiated and clothing up to satisfactory standards, a foreboding sense of hopelessness has descended across the landscape. All avenues seem to fade into a blur; the only greeting waiting for the arrival of government parliamentarians and their henchmen seems not very far from where the broomstick is stacked in their household.
The partial and lackadaisical participation on the part of the official Opposition is an unmistakable shame. Leadership is absent; motivation is non-existent and still the voluntary involution of the masses seems to have overtaken the so-called political leaders. In such a barren field where principled engagement of the people at large is occurring due to some ordinary yet extraordinary private individuals, the collective effort might pose a dangerous threat to the ‘Family’. Against such an unpredictable backdrop, in the light of such a looming catastrophic scenario, where does the nation’s conscience reside? Will the voice of the masses be articulated and heard?
In a desolate rural landscape, Surangani, studying for her final year Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree, has decided to suspend her studies and is entertaining ideas of forming her own group of like-minded men and women to give leadership to a hapless community of ‘Pohottuwa’ supporters against the current ‘First Family’ whose priorities are much more akin to the Borgias and Neros and Caligulas of ancient Rome.
Somadasa came to occupy the Mahaweli land in the early nineteen eighties when he was in his early thirties. Now he is a grandfather of two beautiful children whose secondary school is located in the township that was built around the same time. His son went to Italy in search of better employment and continued to send a meager amount of foreign money to his wife. Now that remittance has come to a halt after the Covid pandemic hit worldwide. Two families are now dependent on the Mahaweli land but the fertilizer fracas managed to disturb the regular cultivation pattern which Somadasa was used to since he obtained the land. Somadasa worked for the election campaign of the sitting MP who has now become a Minister. His access to the Minister is no more. And Somadasa is sad and angry.
Yamuna who was recruited to government service through the graduate scheme has got bogged down in a Development Officer’s job which has nothing to do with development of any kind; her pay is paltry, hardly sufficient to provide her with three meals a day after paying boarding fees to an unpleasant landlady in the suburbs of Colombo. Yamuna’s entertainment has come down to naught and it’s even more heart-wrenching to find out that her boarding partner is now coming home quite late at night heralding even stranger and unbelievable stories of she becoming a lady of the evening!
Wherever one looks, one sees loss of access to basic amenities; one sees empty landscapes and under-watered paddy fields; a people nostalgic of the past, confused of the present and hopeless about their future. Those who have some savings are more frightened about their meager savings disappearing than the advent of a third or fourth variant of the Covid kind.
The story of Surangani is much more akin to the tale of Vasanthi in Jaffna; the hopelessness of Somadasa is even more greatly felt by Kadiresan in Point Pedro and Kamalawathi, a resident in Chavakachcheri, is angrier and her desolation sharper than that of Yamuna. It doesn’t matter whether one lives in which part of the land, North, South, East or West, anger and loss of hope have found dwelling in all citizenry of Sri Lanka.
Political leadership has failed and it has failed so thoroughly and completely. The country’s national coffers has become a smorgasbord for the filthy rich and their political masters. However much they consume does not seem to have any effect on their maddeningly insatiable greed and hunger and thirst.
The alternatives do exist but their premise of leadership is as bad as that of the present lot. They are a mere substitute, not really an alternative. It was proven beyond any reasonable doubt when the predecessor of the present Rajapaksa took control or lost control of the navigation process. From Bond-scam to the Easter Sunday bombings, proper, moral and ethical governance presented itself as an unachievable mirage.
Generations to come will scarce remember the first quarter of the twenty first century as one to reminisce and fondly tell tales about. An utterly forgettable cascade of dishonorable leaders has come and gone but no stories to write home about. Henchmen, thugs in Saffron or just civil, plain serfs of power, religiously loyal to the masters, for the masters have brought them goodies and comfort and luxuries would commit the same indescribable atrocities during the next election campaign. Death of their power is death of their corrupt and corrupting lifestyles. So what else could they do other than cling on to a fast moving political extravaganza and degenerate living?
The Rajapaksas did not create this mess. But they neatly organized the finishing lines of the total riot of corruption and political debauchery. The degree of the destruction of our simple and honorable lifestyles is different only in decimals. From the leaders of the UNP to the SLFP to the Pohottuwa have eaten up our values; they have consumed our traditions and hopefully the last leg of the crazy circus is on the weak and stooping shoulders of the Rajapaksa family.
Let them go to hell, and our country forward!