By Lakmali Hemachandra –
“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.” ― Emma Goldman
Elections do not change anything. As a nation we should have known it all along, we should have predicted the present moment all along, but against all odds, against every piece of history turning their back to us, we hope. We hope that this time will be it, this time we might make a change and this time will be the time for us. But look what we have done. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the evil leader everyone wanted out, is going to be a Patron of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, his sons’ political futures remain intact and the crimes they committed together will be secretly pardoned, in meetings we do not even know about. What about all the money they stole? What about all the people they killed?
Let’s go back in time to 20 years ago, when another leader who inspired was born, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was elected the 4th President of the Sri Lanka in November 1994 and she carried so many hopes on her shoulder. Hopes of peace, hopes of non-violence, and hopes of a people’s economy, of a people’s politics. Chandrika was supposed to punish the people who killed more than 60000 youth, who tortured them to their untimely deaths. Chandrika was supposed to wipe this country clean off the blood that was shed, to establish the rule of law and punish the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings, culprits who did not just kill youth from North and South, but slaughtered the political imagination of a country, that resisted and resisted. Chandrika was supposed to breathe life back into that political imagination.
When Chandrika Bandaranaike was elected the President of the country, she appointed three Presidential Commissions, known as the Zonal Commissions of Inquiry into Involuntary Removals and Disappearances, invested with the mandate of looking into the incidents of enforced disappearances reported from 1988 onwards. At the end of its prolonged timeframe, after investigating 27000 complaints the zonal commissions established 15000 cases of involuntary disappearances. The All Island report established evidence for 4473 cases of disappearances in addition to the Zonal commissions. What is even more significant to the present context is the finding of the commissions that excessive state power was used and the claim that all dissenters are traitors, contributed to the emergence of violent anti-government movements.’
What became of those commissions ‘findings? It is safe to sum up the outcome in one word, ‘nothing’, nothing happened. The victims remain unknown and the perpetrators remain free and their political futures that should have been ruined by the crimes they committed, flourished in the years that passed. They became Ministers and Prime Ministers. Among them, among these perpetrators, is Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was separately investigated under the Batalanda Commission for the crimes of systematic torture committed in the Batalanda Torture Chamber. Twenty years later, after a betrayal of a nation’s hopes by a government elected with the mandate to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes of torture and enforced disappearances, all of it has become an urban legend now. The “Bheeshanaya” that put a permanent dent in a country’s political imagination became a myth. That was only 20 years ago.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, at one point in the history was Namal Rajapaksa, there was a trail of blood behind his political career, but he lived to fight another day and won in 2002, he lived to talk about democracy and good governance when he was a Minister of the most brutal and undemocratic government this country has witnessed. What happened to that woman who inspired the nation in 1994? She was ousted by a court decision when she was trying to hold on to another year of the Executive Presidency, which she promised to abolish in 1994.
Ironically, Chandrika did breathe back the life into the political imagination of the country, at least she was part of a movement that did so. The Common Candidate movement that was initiated by Sobhitha Thero, was the beginning of something that could have been greater than what it ultimately became. Nevertheless it managed to do one thing. Mahinda Rajapaksa, is not the President of this country anymore, the iron grip of political power that ruled over every aspect of civil life is no longer there. Maithirpala Sirisena is the new President of Sri Lanka, which is almost unthinkable because Mahinda looked so formidable, unshakeable and eternal. He was set on the route towards a dynastical rule, he would have if not for the awakening of the political imagination of the people, which had been dead for the past 20 years.
Maithri is not meant to be Mandela or Ghandi, or maybe he is meant to be exactly like Mandela and Gandhi, just not the versions of them portrayed by popular media. The other Gandhi and Mandela, the Ghandi who steered the power of Independent India right into the hands of the Indian elite, the Ghandi who sexually molested young girls, the Ghandi who refused to sit with the “Black” people or the Mandela who betrayed a revolutionary movement against apartheid to take South Africa down the road of brutal neoliberal reforms. Like all those historic figures, who are blown out of proportion, Maithri is bound to fail the people who trusted him.
Maithripala Sirisena was the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, during the whole of Rajapaksa regime save for the last few weeks. He was a Cabinet Minister of a regime that committed horrendous crimes against people. All the crimes that the Rajapakse regime committed, were committed with the full knowledge of Ministers and Party officials, like Maithripala Sirisena. However, once he crossed over to the opposition to become none other than the Opposition Common Candidate of the Presidential election, Maithripala Sirisena assumed a personality, that was brand new. He was now against corruption, human rights violations and he believed in democracy and good governance. He too had changed, like Ranil the undemocratic who talks democracy, Chandrika the corrupted who talks good governance and Mahinda the dictator, who is now a Patron of the SLFP. Politicians are good at assuming fresh and new personalities overnight. Maithripala too pulled a great stunt and he won.
But behind all of these political games and stunts, lies the hope of a nation. A hope that gets dimmer every day with every act of betrayal by the Maithri government. It started with Somarathne Dissnayake being appointed as the Head of the Rupavahii Corporation and it peaked with, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithriapala Sirisena coming into an undisclosed understanding (transparency is a criterion of good governance). The people who voted not just for a regime change, but a more revolutionary change of the way politics is done in this country are left with nothing now.
However, it does not have to be the case. Karl Marx said that “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”. We have a history transmitted to us from the past, a history that made people desperate enough to make unlikely heroes of people like Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maithripala Sirisena and Chandrika Bandaranaike, a history where people we looked up to fail again and again to create people’s movements and opinions strong enough to push a people’s agenda, a history where villains turn into heroes, and heroes fall because of their weak knees. However, that does not spell the end of everything.
Elections do not change anything, but elections can be the start of everything. Now that the drama is done and the devils are exposed from all camps, we the people have a long mile to walk. There is no point in believing that Maithri can bring about change if we do not politically act towards creating that change. Maithri is the mere symbol of the aspirations of a nation. He is nothing if not for the courage of the Tamil and Muslim people who wanted an end to their oppression, he is nothing if not for the political will of a nation who wanted to end despotism and Executive Presidency. Maithri is not the former Health Minister who made a calculated move to crossover to the opposition for his own benefit, MAITHRI is the people who breathed life into a movement for democracy.
Against all the political games, behind closed doors that will dishearten the political will of the people and mar their political imagination, it is important that these people will remain political and demand participation in the political process. We must demand the fulfilment of every promise and all perpetrators of corruption and violence should be prosecuted. All the enthusiasts who talk politics on Facebook and Twitter, you need to mobilize, organize and create forums of political activism, schedule dates and meet each other, write your demands individually and together. Trade Unions, Student Unions, every kind of grassroots political movement that exist in the country, whether you are speaking up for farmers’ rights, workers’ rights, fishermen’s rights or students’ rights or minority rights, this is the time that you need to speak up louder and clearer. This is not our revolution, we need not dance for it, but this is the time to take steps towards our revolution. We do not have to live by the terms of the history transmitted to us. History is created by ordinary men and women and this is the time to start a new project, a history making project, with people’s acts of politics and voting is only the beginning.