“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” ~ From “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats
Sri Lanka finds herself swirling in a whirlpool of woes, counting down until, unable to withstand the overwhelming waves, she may succumb and be swallowed up. You, on the contrary, dear brother, soar in your career reaching unforeseen heights. We congratulate you on your rare achievements. Meanwhile, you amaze us with your acrobatic leaps in and out of prominent positions of power. Not unlike a circus audience, therefore, we anxiously look on as you perform on the precarious political tightrope, balancing the insane calls of your masters, on the one hand, and the agonized cries of an infuriated public, on the other.
You have occupied a unique and unenviable place: it is not easy to be the Minister of Justice when lawlessness is the norm; it is almost impossible to function as the Minister of Finance when the state coffers have hit rock bottom. And yet, here you are, bracing yourself for the feat! While we admire your undaunted spirit, the impression you make on our minds is that you are in a sort of daze, and that if you were to awaken to the reality, you would not maintain your present alliance. Yes, as you claim, you are ready to go any length in the service of the country. In itself this is, indisputably, a noble sentiment. However, you seem to have taken “country” to mean the rulers, your masters! Rather, it is the people who deserve that name, it is them that the word “country” primarily signifies. Should we forget this vital fact, there is a great chance that we would end up committing or abetting irreversible blunders.
You represent the mind-set of all those who share your stance of siding with an oppressive regime. Even last week in parliament you presented a quotation by John C. Maxwell describing how a good leader shares credit for good outcomes while taking full responsibility for failure. Compared to these standards, what we see in our country is the opposite: the top claims full credit for the slightest achievement while completely denying responsibility for its grave blunders! Or dare I hope that you are trying to be subtly sarcastic?
I wrote to you during the run-up to the 2019 Presidential Election asking you what you meant by campaigning for those, to put it mildly, with a dubious track record. My request to you was that if you felt your loyalty had to be, understandably, for your “client” in your professional capacity, then could you please refrain from influencing others, who have no such obligation, to follow suit. Even in a classroom competition the judge has to be neutral. What fair play could be expected when a President appoints his personal lawyer as the Minister of Justice? Would it not have been more appropriate, on principle, to have refused such an appointment as it is very unlikely that you could discharge your duties without leniency? Besides, on how many different occasions has your authority been slighted by the current system? Every time you manage to display some pluck, we sigh with relief, only to be doubly disappointed when you slide back into your groove of a blind loyalist! For instance, you resigned from the post of Minister of Justice to remonstrate against the appointment of Gnanasara Thero as the Head of the Presidential Task Force for One Country One Law. We believe that such a step was a sincere protest on your part. But the ease with which you resume office on the grounds that your resignation was turned down, sadly raises speculation about whether it was only an outward gesture calculated to appease the targeted people who, ironically, happen to be your own people. Your recent vacillation seen in resigning and resuming duties once again is even more puzzling given the crisis situation in the country. Your intentions, no doubt, are sincere. However, it is regrettable that you seem to have confused your loyalty to an insensitive rule with loyalty to the masses of our country.
In a recent talk, Bharatha Tennakoon,, the popular political critic and journalist, made the appalling statement that Ali Sabry and the present President are not two different people, but one and the same! It is painful to palate such a pairing: you, as a professional with great potential and popularity should not blend in with any exponent of falsehood even if that person is your most prized client. Although you are able to cast him as innocent of all the grave allegations of the past, and it is the correct legal approach to assume someone innocent until proven guilty, the investigations and trials shall reveal and establish the truth behind the alleged crimes. You need nothing more than his own shocking reply, “Who is Lasantha?” in the BBC interview, when he was asked about the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, to realize the callous, audacious and arrogant attitude belittling the tremendous achievements and excellence of a courageous journalist. Are we not repulsed by this as it also exposes the speaker’s utter disregard for the minimum respect and polite deference to be observed at the loss of human life? Besides, in last week’s interview by Tharindhu Uduwaragedera, the wife of Prageeth Ekneligoda, Sandhya, stated that there are witnesses to confirm that the abduction and disappearance of her husband was carried out on orders from the then Secretary of the Ministry of Defence. All this could be rightfully and vehemently denied as no verdict has yet been passed. One has to admit, though, that the sordid and shady events could not have originated out of thin air. The highly-condemned Rathupaswela shooting, for instance, aimed at silencing the innocent demand for nothing more than clean drinking water by the public, could not take place without a command from above.
Even if we shrug our shoulders and dismiss these as unsolved mysteries of a forgotten and foul era, can we continue to turn a blind eye on the recent gross mismanagement of almost all facets of governance? Every single parliamentarian who voted for the 20th Amendment has betrayed the cause of democracy in our country and is answerable to the wheel of destruction that was set in motion thereby. What blinded them to this unnatural obsession with power? Having catered to this unholy craving, it has now become easy to evade accountability for the injustices pervading civilian life in Sri Lanka. As long as you hide behind the protective cloak of the autocrat you remain untouchable. This is why there is not even disciplinary action against MPs in spite of their objectionable behaviour such as threatening prison inmates, leading parasitic luxury lives with decade-long unpaid utility bills, or even verbally abusing women MPs. We are still awaiting remedial measures for the unempathetic and inhuman practice of forced cremation of the Covid dead. Will the perpetrators at least be warned for this heinous crime, or allowed to go unpunished as usual? Even yesterday a relatively young man, exhausted by waiting in the fuel queue, dropped dead and still no sympathy or apology is heard from any seat of responsibility. Is this moral degeneration any different from the law of the jungle where the predator attacks its prey without a trace of scrupulousness and is exempt from all accountability? But we are not beasts, or are we?
Dear brother, are you going to opt not to see the havoc wreaked by the arbitrary and abrupt policy of ‘organic fertilizer only?’ Can you justify the Presidential pardon extended to criminals? Can you support the most ethically inappropriate appointments of persons to positions of authority? Will you not question the blatant abuse of the PTA even if your own colleague, Hejaaz Hizbullah, falsely accused and detained, suffered for twenty-two months? Will you not comment on the saga of Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen, a victim of racist fabrication by the political fraternity of your choice? What about the harmless young poet who was detained? Have you nothing to say about the present pussy-footing visible in the investigations into the April 21st massacre? What about the notorious “Pissu Poosa” and his “Kakille commission” derided so openly in the media? Did you not wonder why filed cases against the high-ups are withdrawn owing to so-called technical deficiencies, while innocent people are imprisoned? Surely, these are matters that seriously undermine the office you held until very recently. Do you expect that the report of the Presidential Commission on the Pandora papers is conveniently forgotten by all, merely because the masters chose it to be swept aside? I fear to even begin bringing up the prevalence of fraud here, as it would require lengthy and detailed scrutiny. Suffice it to say, it would range from the infamous tax cut of pre-Covid Sri Lanka to the outrageous and odious financial manipulations involving basics such as sugar, garlic, oil and even Covid vaccination and test kits, to the drastic depletion of the country’s gold reserves! As a nation, can we ignore the numerous irregularities around us so simply? No one is held accountable for Sri Lanka’s biggest maritime catastrophe that occurred when the X-Press Pearl went down in flames. Environmentalists point out that in the past two years unprecedented damage was caused through deforestation and other harmful economic activities that even the invaluable Sinharaja Forest Reserve is now adversely affected. The treacherous tampering with the chemical constitution of the contents of the LPG cans and the consequent explosions leading to loss of life and property have also not been satisfactorily investigated into or compensated for.
It is not surprising but inevitable, then, that the people now rise up protesting vociferously that this leadership must step down. Overcome by unheard of unavailability of food, fuel, medicine, fertilizer, cement, electricity and even paper coupled with unbearable price hikes and a record-breaking inflation rate, they take to the streets out of sheer desperation. Their suffering is real; their grievances are true; their call is just; their frustration has found a legitimate vent and deserves to be addressed with immediate and adequate attention. We sincerely salute each and every individual who boldly acts or speaks up for the worthy cause of truth and justice. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, men and women, have all put aside their ethnic differences and unanimously demand a decisive change in the political mechanism beginning from the Executive. There is no way that any reasonably concerned citizen can claim any longer that they are unaware or unaffected by the vocal remonstrations, on home and foreign soil, against the iron-fisted, virtual dictatorship in Sri Lanka. At the same time, we unequivocally condemn the petty, cunning, and cowardly attempts by those in power to sabotage the peaceful and exemplary Gandhi-style protest by the people that is gaining strength by the day. The inclination to repress and threaten subjects by means of the State of Emergency law, the imposition of a Police Curfew, etc., and worse, by physical abuse of innocent participants at the spontaneous protest in Mirihana on the pretext that it was a preplanned extremist venture are all ugly manifestations of an anti-democratic government with ulterior methods of self-preservation.
Therefore, in a political culture where even Machiavelli is likely to learn a few mean strategies in craftily clinging on to power, my humble request to you is to please set the correct example and persuade your master that a dignified departure is best in the face of public outcry against his failed leadership. You owe it first to yourself and then to all Sri Lankans to refuse any more complicity with a hawkish state and to fearlessly stand up, with unswerving determination, for what is RIGHT in order to finally usher in true prosperity and equality that the people are urgently pressing for.
You are a lifeboat in a sinking ship. As long as you remain in it, it will drag you down into the depths. You were meant for much better prospects. Your role is to carry the passengers, NOT the captain, to the safe shores of hope and salubrity. Paradoxically, in this case, the captain himself has caused the ship to sink! Sever, therefore, the unwholesome ties that fetter you to where you do not belong. Having thus freed yourself of all toxic cargo, channel anew your good reputation, your potential for dedicated service and your sanguine outlook into proud participation in the revival of vigorous nation-building. We shall always wish you success in all the efforts you make in the right direction so that all Sri Lankans would be able to breathe fresh air once more, in a cleansed atmosphere devoid of corruption, oppression, poverty, and injustice.
*Haaniya Jiffrey Shiyam specialized in English at the University of Peradeniya and thus holds a B.A. (Hons) Degree. She taught English and English Literature at tertiary and secondary levels.