By Emil van der Poorten –
When one begins to step back and try to analyse the issues and problems faced by Sudu Banda, Rasalingam or Cader Mohideen in this country, after a while the penny drops and one is left with a whole bunch of uncomfortable “realities,” the primary one being the massive corruption and violence that permeates every aspect of life in Sri Lanka and is going completely and absolutely unchecked.
While all of this continues to accelerate rapidly, their roots seemed to have really established themselves with the free-for-all that was the so-called “open economy” of J. R. Jayewardene which, literally, welcomed the robber barons with open arms.
By all accounts, there was a desperate need, for national psychological reasons if no other, to change course from the terrible broad stifling of society that Sirima Bandaranaike and her cohort of “pothay-guras,” with one or more doctorates affixed to their names, visited upon a country which, less than a quarter century before was predicted to have the brightest future of any nation having recently cast off the colonial yoke. Even though there might have been a case for some of the steps taken by Mrs. B in terms of import substitution and resistance to the strangulation of the Sri Lankan economy by the forces of neo-colonialism, the incompetence, malice and venality of the Kobbekaduwas, Ilangaratnes and Felix Dias Bandaranaikes led to unprecedented privation being visited upon the hoi polloi of the country while the elites continued to enjoy a relatively comfortable existence, inclusive of the Bandaranaike progeny being afforded education at elite European seats of learning while the poor of this country were rummaging in garbage dumps.
When J.R. Jayewardene capitalized on the massive discontent of Sri Lankans to sweep Mrs. B’s coalition out of power, he obviously did not have the vision to use that golden opportunity to put in place a constitution and system of governance that would restore the promise that Sri Lanka had once laid claim to. I am being generous to “Yankee Dick” in suggesting a certain lack of “smarts” rather that a gross lack of principle as the force that drove him to put in place a constitution that was alleged even then to be “More Gaullist than anything that Charles de Gaulle could have produced.” In all honesty, though, being as generous and charitable as I can, I cannot turn a Nelsonian eye on what was, very obviously, the combination of stupidity and cupidity that went into that document. Also, the historical Achilles Heel of the document and the manner in which it was immediately exercised was its racist underpinnings which, soon thereafter, spawned a communally-based insurgency. That said, in fairness to JRJ, it must be said that the foundation for that particular part of the edifice was laid by that monumental hypocrite S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who, with Greyhound on leash and briar or Meerschaum (pipe) clenched between his teeth provided Sri Lankans with “Sinhala Only in Twenty-Four Hours” a little more than two decades before.
While all of that might provide an explanation for the stage that was set for the monumental corruption and attendant violence of the Rajapaksa Regime, there were people in this country throughout its pre- and post-independence history that “knew better” than to tolerate and provide even tacit support to the precipitous decline of ethical and moral standards in this country. Every stream of “civilization” in Sri Lanka, be it from the European or Asian traditions set high and veritably impeccable moral and ethical standards for every man, woman and child in this country. Even if the J.R.Jayewardene Constitution of 1978 had provided the framework for the dog-eat-dog capitalist world that is the Sri Lankan reality today, there was still a critical mass of people that drew its numbers from those of every ethnicity, religion and class who believed in all of those precepts, religious and political, that could inject a modicum of justice and fairness into Sri Lankan society. Why have they been silent these many years? Was it because they thought that each erosion of the Rule of Law was merely a temporary phenomenon and fairness and justice would return to the body politic after a each hiccup? Was it because the stresses and strains attendant on survival during two pogroms, two insurgencies and a protracted civil war left them with little energy to raise their voices in protest? Was it abject fear of whichever government was in power that silenced their voices? It might well have been all of these and a few more factors thrown in. In any event, if any voices were raised in protest they were too few, too muted or weren’t committed enough to the cause of elementary decency to make a difference.
The cumulative violence beginning with Emergency ’58 and continuing through the racial pogroms , two insurgencies, and a protracted civil war appear to have beaten down the entire Sri Lanka population into a state of servility and subservience.
However, the unprincipled behavior of a government that has ruled by chaos and confusion is beginning to come home to haunt it!
The intertwined impunity, corruption, venality, viciousness and racism of the current regime have recently given evidence of their very nature causing internal conflicts difficult of resolution. Cumulatively it also appears to be causing enough grief to the population at large to create “critical mass” in opposition to its depredations. The cracks are beginning to show despite all the massive papering-over schemes of the government’s stooges. Even if the utterances of several of those seen as the “intellectual” glitterati of the Rajapaksa regime are seen as simply the donning of life jackets against the coming tsunami, they do constitute signs that principle is alive even if it is being voiced by the monumentally hypocritical!
Is the behavior of the departing pandankarayas a case of coming events casting their shadows? It’s hard to read those particular tea leaves as meaning anything else.