By Vishwamithra –
Ranil may have already settled in. If not, the optics are such that he seems to have. Because the time has come for relative economic stability, which is one of the factors that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is looking for, if a favorable outcome is the wish. However, parliamentary Opposition and the rest of the country’s agitation against the continuation of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government would have to come to terms with the reality of new political paradigms that seem to haunt the collective mindset of the land. Ember beneath the ashes is simmering, not knowing when it will catch a spark and burst asunder. Political stability or instability is as uncertain as the life of a dew-drop at sunrise, which would wither away in a nanosecond.
Against such an ambiguous political backdrop, today’s players seem to be engaged in an orgy of indeterminate hang-over. Instead of creative introspection, they have allowed their maddening indulgences to dictate their own conduct; not necessarily their personal conduct in which the writer is not interested at all; but their political strategizing or lack thereof is engaging my scrutiny, however trivial it might be, in the larger context of planning and execution of a political comeback.
The current crop of politicians who occupy the Opposition benches in Parliament is relatively young. They happen to be born to the children or even grandchildren of the ’56 Revolution- the ‘Common Man’s’ generation. The ‘Common Man’, vibrant in denial of raw and cruel reality of the growing gulf between the haves and have-nots, but exceedingly lethargic in embracing the aggressively developing science and technology as a dynamic tool in modern society, has been voting in and out politicians whose only ambition seemed to be protection and advancement of their own avaricious ambitions and cheap goals.
The ‘Common Man’ closed his eyes when corruption began its early inroads into an otherwise incorruptible world of governance and economic management. He opted to ignore the early warnings; when such warnings manifested themselves infrequently amongst those who were elected, he willy nilly rendered assistance by submitting to such social malignancies because they did not identify the precursors of a much more severe cancerous malady. On the other hand, social scientists and serious students of history and political science failed in their social responsibility. What they learnt in the Universities as post graduate degree-students was constrained to the gloomy lecture halls. Moreover their own vulnerabilities as a dependent-generation, as a generation whose expenses and incidental overheads were the responsibility of their parents, grew exponentially. Slowly but surely an utterly destructive ‘entitlement syndrome’ set in and they never looked beyond it.
That generation in turn gave birth to the current youth generation- Gen Z. Michael Dimock, President of Pew Research Center in an update of a post that was originally published March 1, 2018, explains thus: ‘In order to keep the Millennial generation analytically meaningful, and to begin looking at what might be unique about the next cohort, Pew Research Center decided a year ago to use 1996 as the last birth year for Millennials for our future work. Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 23 to 38 in 2019) is considered a Millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward is part of a new generation’.
In Sri Lanka, the ‘Common Man’ took for granted the guidance received from the leaders of our society: Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) which replaced the old Ceylon Civil Service (CCS), a growing private corporate sector, Academia, private business leaders, other professionals such as doctors (both western and Ayurvedic), lawyers, engineers, accountants and so forth. With rotting at the very top, the politicians more or less decreed to their officials in the administrative ladder, the methodology of awarding government contracts to their friends and relatives. These contracts became a vital source of additional income for them.
This process of corruption was buttressed by nepotism, so surreptitiously injected into the system, played an integral role in the establishment of a sociopolitical and economic system that became so patently unacceptable as a growth-tool for a developing democracy. Educated in the vernacular and veneered by a pseudo-patriotism born especially during and post-LTTE war era, the rural masses who once were totally detached from the urban detractions became willful victims of this sociopolitical process. The evidence of that corruption process was visible in all strata of rural life.
Government employment became so attractive to the younger generation; they inherited all the ill-effects of its entitlement-oriented parent generation, a generation that treated government employment as the sole source of income for their children. Educating their children in the most traditional way, when they managed to secure university admission, a great majority of the University entrants learnt subjects that did not serve any significant purpose for lucrative jobs in the developing market system that came into operation with the opening of our economy in 1977.
What’s most apparent today is the classic clash between generations. The children of the ’56 Revolution are clashing with the Millennials and the Gen Z. The clash is total; it is cultural, political and social, and encompassing the whole gamut of human social fabric. It is a clash between apathy of the old and aggression of the youth; between appeasement and fight and above all, between a comfort zone and immediacy and urgency. The youth is pushing its senior generations to the threshold of patience and discomfort. What could be attained now simply cannot be procrastinated to tomorrow or the day after.
The inevitability the immediacy is staring in your face. The older generations, fully supported by the political leaders of the time, are trying to apply brakes to a fast-running locomotive of youth and if one does not get away one is bound to get crushed by the machine.
Whichever way you look and however much you wait, the picture does not seem to get any clearer than what it depicts now. A change in every sense of the word, a total, complete and absolute change in the system is the only way out. If one makes any attempt at half measures, if one makes even the slightest of compromises, one is certain to lose and give way to failure. This failure is not one you will attain after writing for an examination; it’s a generational failure, rhetorically as well as literally. The depth and breadth of the issues that confront a new generation, the ‘Gen Z’ is far too wide and long and its scope is far too incomprehensible for the old who have been stagnating for decades to grapple with it.
It is this context in which the current leaders such as Ranil Wickremesinghe and Dinesh Gunawardena both of whom are over seventy two years old and hailing from that intermediate generation (one born before the ’56 Revolution yet not mature (in all aspects of political wisdom and basic common sense) are trying to resolve irksome issues of a brand new generation. Both Ranil and Dinesh have a past; however much that past is pleasant or unpleasant, it is the past. Today’s generations have a future and they know that those who are entrenched in the past cannot see the future, leave alone finding solutions to future problems.
Ranil and Dinesh put together are not pillars of success, they, in fact are successive and successful pillars of failure. What irks most of us is not that these guys who have chosen to mortgage the country’s most precious asset- its youth- have got back to running our show; our older generation has shown some faith in them, time after time, decade after decade and year after year. In such a tragic circumstance, those who display character and courage are being shown the door, that of the jail and prison, to go inside not outside. The leaders of those who choose to stand up to their convictions are being punished for their conviction. The solution does not lie in the continuation of the faith; it is in the rejection of that faith the solution resides. But if one is afraid of what lies beneath the solution, one will be eternally doomed to be crushed and devastated by the problem.
More than four decades ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered a shocking commencement address at Harvard University. The Nobel-prize winning Russian novelist’s shed light on a glaring aspect of societal development at the time. He said thus: ‘We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. It is trampled by the party mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West’.
What Solzhenitsyn said is valid even today. A highly intense pursuit of material wealth and faster solutions, man is stagnating in the present with no end in view. Caught in such an impasse, man tends to look for the easiest way out and what the charlatans of the Pohottuwa-Mafia led by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Dinesh Gunawardena are offering is mere procrastination of the already stagnant dirt and debris. We must look beyond such dirt and debris.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org