20 April, 2024


Looking Back Without Anger

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

“Aujourd’hui, rien- Today nothing” That’s what the haughty and foolish Louis XVI king of France wrote in his diary on the day the Bastille was stormed.

Either the man was speechless or too shocked by the demonstration of the common people’s resolve to challenge state tyranny.

Watching parliamentary proceedings on the first day after the mass deluge I couldn’t help but recall the words of Louis XVI who may have fully comprehended the cries of the commoners only when he had to climb the steps to the guillotine.

There appears to be a sizable number of moral paupers still ready, loyal, and committed to support this circus.

Apparently, these moral paupers have not heard the young man who addressed the Khakied law enforcers minutes before the dam burst in Mirihana.

This anonymous young man explained passionately painstakingly why he was participating in the protest. He was brave. Watching him on tv, a nation was mesmerized. I thought that it was our Tiananmen square moment. I was nearly right.

No tank rolled over him. But some human hands had done what a tank would do with the cruel precession that only human cruelty could command.

The authoritarian state and morality cannot coexist. The young man had the audacity to show that he had a spine. So, his spine naturally needed some attention from the pretorian guard.

Next, we see his prostrate body lying in hospital with his neck heavily bandaged or in a neck brace.

A reconstituted cabinet will not mend that young man’s neck. I hope he will recover. But should it surprise us? It shouldn’t. The supreme lawgiver of the land pardons convicted murderers. This is Shangri-La with no shame.

The sheer brutality of the state’s response to the Mirihana protest served a very salutary purpose.

Since May 2009 we have lived with the world’s most rapacious looters who insisted that their privilege of looting the nations coffers was the price, we had to pay for being saved from the world’s most vicious terrorist outfit.

Mirihana was a turning point. People decided to rescue themselves from the rescuers.

On television I watched an ordinary lady in Anuradhapura lamenting “Yudde dinuwa kiyala me wage deval karanta puluwanda.” Can they do these things because they won the war?

The poor woman was flummoxed by the strange logic that a war winning hero should be excused for falling under spell of a sorceress in her town.

A Crisis offers opportunity wrapped in peril. I fervently hope that this popular uprising we have witnessed on the streets through the length and breadth of our forsaken land will mark the end of patronage politics.

The street protests are nuanced. They demand to be unshackled in this freakish ‘Shangri-La where the rulers are shamelessly tasteless.

A crisis offers an opportunity. But the opportunity comes wrapped in danger. It must be unwrapped with great care.

The broad national consensus that is yet to emerge is a radical democratic vision of accountable governance which demands deterrent punishment to those who plundered the commonwealth.

The people demand creative proposals on how to drain the ‘Diyawanna Swamp’.

The solution that needs to be worked out is not confined to solving the balance of payment crisis.

Naturally we are in for hard times. There needs to be a social safety net for the poor. Such measures need mass approval which can come only with greater transparency combined with effective citizen’s oversight.

Our systems are broken. They cannot be mended. They must be replaced. It must begin with the dismantling of the presidential system that was introduced in 1978.

The presidential system which was tailored to suit President J.R. Jayawardene’s Bonapartist ambitions paved way for an elitist capture of the state. As columnist S.P. Amarasingham remarked wryly the Mahaweli flowed to Trinco through FINCO.

Over the years, the system deteriorated with successive regimes focused not on good policy but on   getting ‘our people’ in to key positions. Arjun Mahendran and Nivard Cabral belonged to that magic circle of being in the list of ‘our people’ of two rival regimes.

‘Gota go home’ is an anguished cry for democratic integrity.

When I watched the startling events in Mirihana I recalled a prophecy made by the late Pieter Keuneman the flamboyant Burgher general secretary of the Ceylon Communist party.

As a reporter I had the great good fortune of knowing him well enough to be advised that a journalist cultivating a politician must remember that ‘you are the moth, and the politician is the lamp’.   ‘Get too close. You get burnt’.

The Ceylon Daily News published a special souvenir on Thursday April 29th, 1982, to commemorate the ceremonial opening of the new parliament at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte.

Pieter Keuneman defeated at the polls in 1977 was invited to write a piece for the souvenir. He penned a brilliant essay ‘Looking back without anger.’

His concluding observations will immensely benefit all members of the present parliament and DEW Gunasekera the old fossil and my good friend who has reneged on mass struggle.

Pieter Keuneman concludes his essay with these words.

The ‘Executive President’ system and the new electoral process that masquerades as proportional representation has to my mind, effectively devalued parliament, deprived it of many of the limited powers it had, and made it more difficult for it to reflect the real and shifting trends of opinion among the people.

In this respect, the new parliamentary complex at Sri Jayewardenepura, with its sumptuousness and forbidding majesty, seems to me to typify and symbolize architecturally regrettable processes that are going on politically and socially.

The task of bringing Parliament back to the people and of making it a real instrument of the peoples will   is likely, therefore, to be settled elsewhere.”  

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Dear Sarath,
    Some of the articles on CT to which I have responded will have to be read by me later.
    Will you be gracious enough to allow me to link you to some good news for a change?
    This is bad news for the Rajapaksas:
    That’s 50 minutes of Wion; the opening five minutes are about us. I’m human enough to find bad news for the Rajapaksas, to be good news for us. I’m sill listening to Palki Sharma; she’s got back to our problems.
    Lastly, Sarath, please take a look at the comments here:
    May I also ask if Indral is doing all right?
    Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 48 3111 444V)

    • 0

      Even German media is highlighting the situation here:
      Of course, our own “misbehaviour” will mean that “those countries” (i.e the countries that our people want to creep in to) will stop saying that they will help.
      AND the global arms race is getting more intense. Who will give us succour?
      None, I fear.
      Panini Edirisinhe

  • 6

    Looking back with out anger , I tell that lady from Anuradhapura DHAN SEPHADA .

    • 6

      I’m a big fan of Sanath. J , but not his politics. Still I admire his decency in thanking India for their timely help. In past 24 hours, India sent one consignment each of 36,000 MT petrol and 40,000 MT diesel. On April 1 IOC supplied 6,000 MT fuel to CEB. In total India has supplied 270,000 MT fuel up to now. A shipment of rice is on it’s way. Reportedly New Delhi announced another $ one Billion as credit (not confirmed).

      • 6

        National eye hospital Director Dr. Dammika expressed his gratitude to India for providing emergency medicines. He further said ” most of the medicines are coming from India under credit line, it’s a great help and I thank India for that”.

    • 2

      Mara is blushing

  • 4

    Good reporters state what took place; good correspondents discuss the topic; good journalists capture the mood. Sarath de Alwis has immortalised the emotion.

  • 3

    …privilege of looting the nations coffers was the price, we had to pay for being saved from the world’s most vicious terrorist outfit…..
    Certainly some credit for the political will to them, but not to the extent that they claim in the final result. The Tri Forces commitment was the major reason with more credit to the Army.
    Fonsekala Yuddha kala, Gotala rata suddha kala.

  • 3

    “In this respect, the new parliamentary complex at Sri Jayewardenepura, with its sumptuousness and forbidding majesty, seems to me to typify and symbolize architecturally regrettable processes that are going on politically and socially.”
    I was thinking just this the other day. I happened to be watching proceedings in our House, with much shouting and heckling by MP’s in spotlessly expensive smart/ kapati suits, in a sumptuous building, and a few minutes later the Indian Lok Sabha, with luminaries like Shashi Tharoor and S.Jaishankar. The dress code was “scruffy formal”, and the facilities seemed basic. But the debate was so orderly and well- mannered. Perhaps it isn’t always so, but is there a single day in our Parliament without insults and shouting?
    The Diyawanna Parliament is just like our national psyche. Clean suit, empty pocket.

    • 2

      Old Codger.
      ……..The Diyawanna Parliament is just like our national psyche. Clean suit,empty pocket………….
      Champagne tastes with Toddy incomes is also our national psyche……….

  • 1

    (Part I)
    Appreciate your sentiment expressed therein.
    Reference, especially to the question by the lady in Anuradhapura rally,
    “Yudde dinuwa kiyala me wage deval karanta puluwanda”
    My take is, it is indeed a belated ‘reawakening moment’ in Sri Lankan history!
    Moments of excessive indiscretions, by those self-proclaimed patriotic leaders and their acolytes have been given tacit, “authorisation and approval”, the sovereign Sri Lankan people – on innumerable and multitude of instances since November 2006 and reinforced after May 2009 under the ‘shield’ – Ranaviruwo!!
    A short respite with limitations since 2015 to November 2019!
    Thereafter, deemed fit to elected the self-acclaimed chief of the war-winning Ranaviruwo, in November 2019, as the Executive president. Enlightened voters of Sri Lanka were unable to rationally discern, evaluate and identify the good, bad and ugly (if any) attributes of this persona in the period of his service, up to 2014 as the chief-of-chief calamities (CoC) of the Ranaviruwo and acquiesced his request of 2/3rd majority in parliament in August 2020. The newly elected president like a stubborn child, demanding his favourite, stating he cannot govern without the 20th amendment to the constitution!!

  • 2

    (Part II)
    The voters, inability to identify another individual, (when there were many and in abundance), to that exalted position of Commander-in-Chief (CiC) and head of State, Government and Cabinet is in itself a “telling story” beats my intelligence!!
    Only thing I could attribute, in defence of the electors, is the craftiness of the authors of the 1978 constitution and subsequent corruption oriented aggrandisement seeking legislators, which favours corrupt party leaders to decide who is who? And will become who?!
    6.9 Million are only responsible partly (insignificantly) and innocent of what was being perpetrated on Lanka.
    Silly Lankans with their uncouth legislators, deriding the august assembly and reducing the ‘Primary Law Enactment’ to a mere joke and exalted Gazette notification, each time they decide to go to the toilets and as frequently, I would dare say!!!

  • 0

    Suppose there was no president – a Prime Minister with a two third in the House.
    What’s the difference,?
    Our representatives are slavish sycophants whose nomination at the election was granted by the leader and who are allowed to make a buck and jobs for supporters. And whose nomination at the next election will be decided by the leader.
    Place Gota in PM’s position.
    If he presented his fertiliser policy or a proposal to print trillion rupees to the Parliament they would pass through as easily as the 20th amendment did. After all who made autocrats like JR or GR? It is our perfectly democratic Parliament, isn’t it?. Not any military coup.
    Problem will remain unsolved until we come up with a mechanism to free our representatives to express their opinion as they please such as confidential voting in the House for a bill. If that was the case would 18A or 20A have ever seen the light of day?


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