By Vishwamithra –
“Gather the flowers, but spare the buds.” ~ Andrew Marvell
Ranil Wickremesinghe was not elected as President. When he contested at the last General Elections in 2020, he could not get even one single member elected to Parliament from his Party. The United National Party (UNP), of which he is the leader, suffered the most humiliating defeat at the last General Elections. Not a single. The Rajapaksas achieved what SWRD Bandaranaike could not in 1956. When JR Jayewardene, the so-called brains behind the UNP at that time, was defeated by his nemesis RG Senanayake in the ’56 General Elections, the UNP managing to secure just eight (8) meager seats, everyone thought that the Grand Old Party (GOP) was dead. In fact, RG Senanayake crowed: ‘in the process of trying to extract a tooth, the patient died’. The last nail of the coffin was hammered down, so they thought.
A brand new sociopolitical reality was coming into being. With the dawn 1956, an era of the ‘common man’ began. An expectant electorate rose from its lazy, apathetic meandering. Life in all aspects of sociocultural context started another lap of a journey of which its tardy arrival was long overdue. In certain aspects of rural life in the country, a new awakening gave rise to new hopes, new realities and new life.
Medium of instruction in schools and government service was changed to Sinhalese. Thus was created a most deceptive ‘Sinhala-only in 24 hours’ slogan that in turn created an illusory and yet all-enveloping cocoon that engulfed a dangerously misleading stage of a thoroughly forgettable chapter in a nation’s life. Politics became an indispensible aspect that was exploited by its practitioners to the hilt. Politicians who had no business in managing affairs of the State were all of a sudden made integral parts of the average life of the average man and woman and child.
Civil Service, once the pinnacle of an ambitious government servant was opened to criticism and interference by politicians who could not understand the intricacies of the orderly flow of getting things done in a logical and systematic fashion. While ‘Sinhala only’ policy loaned recognition and respect to the indigenous population, the interest they had to pay was enormous in the long run. The adverse consequences are still being felt. Willfully sidelining the Tamil population made a lasting impact on the national conversation; its uses and abuses exceeded the norms and ultimately ended up in a brutal twenty seven year war that claimed many lives on both sides.
Apart from the material cost of war such as lives lost and structures destroyed, the sociocultural fissures and cracks that developed as natural consequences of the ‘Sinhala only’ policy continued to be open and ever-widening, making trust and confidence among communities, once broken, never to be reconciled nor repaired. A nation that was once noted for its united-family of diverse offspring became an utterly disunited, dysfunctional, flawed and debilitated flock of individuals pursuing their own selfish goals.
The governments that succeeded SWRD’s ’56-revolution were no better; they did not do much to restore the unity among the communities; when they tried, the insidious ambitions of politicians interfered with any commonsensical approaches attempted by more farsighted leaders. Such serious symptoms of an existing ailment were being displayed before the public in broad daylight. Tearing apart of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957 and later Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Agreement in 1965 are examples of the reprehensible fashion our Sinhalese leaders conducted themselves during those crisis-times.
Ever being keen disciples of the fairytales of the Mahavansa (The Great Chronicle), our leaders were in every decisive juncture of national significance dropped the proverbial ball except on one single occasion when, under the direct threat of Indian influence, with their armies directly pointing their war machines against Sri Lanka, J R Jayewardene implemented the 13th Amendment. Whether the motives behind its implementation were genuine or purely as a matter of political expediency, today the Thirteenth Amendment stands as the solitary consolation extended towards our brothers and sisters in the North and East. History has recorded nothing prior to or after the said amendment to our Constitution or any reconciliatory measure adopted by the Sinhalese-dominated central government in Sri Lanka.
In an erudite column dated Thursday, 17 November 2022, in Daily FT, Dayan Jayatilleke writes thus: ‘Tamil politics has been governed by a priori principles rather than a shrewd sense of time and place. Mainstream Tamil nationalism has tended to go with the Southern leader or party which offered them the most, rather than the ones who could actually deliver the most, which may have been significantly more modest than the empty promises of the higher bidder. No agreement between President Wickremesinghe and the Tamil politicians can stick in a context of economic contraction, austerity and polarizing economic policies’. Dayan couldn’t have been more correct. Identifying the neediest segments of the North and the South is as crucial and critical in the final offers that the Southern leaders could extend to our Tamil brethren.
Narrowing the problem down to one of fundamental issue, one of economic rather than cultural or sociopolitical has long been proven right by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and their dialectical analysis of the historical processes of civilizations. Yet more often than not, the solutions offered by those who engineered the dictatorship of the proletariat have been proven dead wrong or too one-sided as was shown in the development and collapse of the Soviet Union. Societal development is going through a phase in which the crude, self-centered and diabolical stakeholders of the collective economy is holding many a country to ransom in this maddeningly deceptive implementation of the current socioeconomic policies, all contributing to the fattening of profits and share prices.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka and its current President Ranil Wickremesinghe, he arrived at the helm when these global currents were already or on the verge of swallowing the whole country and its faltering economy. In order to facilitate this cruel act, the private sector players who had mastered the mechanics of this brutal economic reality had identified the first step- making the politicians who legislate and execute the very policies that act as the basic architects of this punishing process.
From whichever assembly it rises, whether from Parliament or the President’s Secretariat, the system is in place to exploit the most susceptible and benefit the wealthiest. Ranil Wickremesinghe, caught in the midst of this mindless cycle, instead of applying brakes or making an about turn, has chosen to worsen the crisis by creating another, more painful crisis by trying to silence those who saw the light of day during the Aragalaya days.
That is why, instead of becoming an answer to the crisis, Ranil became another crisis altogether in its most elusive and deceptive form. He decided to take those who are not content with Band-Aid solutions into custody in the most arbitrary of techniques. The crisis did not evaporate; nor did it come to the top and explode. The crisis, which had already assumed its own identity and characteristics, had gone under the ashes and is hiding beneath as ember. What’s visible to the naked eye is only the ash which is often recognized as dead and gone. What’s simmering beneath that ash is much more dangerous and could be totally out of control once the time arrives for the ember to inflame itself.
It’s not too late for President Wickremesinghe to take a step backwards. He should be made aware that his tenure is quite secure, at least for the next two and half years. Introspection is not a dangerous pastime. It could be very self-satisfying for a man of Ranil’s stature, given the pedigree, both politically and socially, to indulge in a wise and intellectual voyage of self-discovery. Therefore, this forlorn appeal to Ranil Wickremasinghe, as one of his most ardent critics, is a sincere one. Make your move in the right direction; make it count in all earnestness and put all what you have learnt under the tutelage of men such as Dudley Senanayake and JR Jayewardene to good use.
To feel humble and be in need of genuine advice and guidance is no weakness. On the contrary, it is the strong that seek advice and guidance because it tells the world that you are after all human and worthy of being advised and guided. Be an answer to the crisis rather than the crisis itself.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org