By Vishwamithra –
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
When wheels of change begin to turn, it does not care who stands in between. The brashness and bluster, which is usually associated with change, alone could consume into oblivion those who dare challenge change. Or for that matter, a mere whisper of change could send intense ripples on a placid pool of civil service and those who pretend to be ‘servants’, but who in fact are masters of evil. Only those who have a discriminating mind could withstand the fury and fierceness of a socio-political change. That change has no mind, it has no heart and it certainly has no mercy. Guessing that such a change would grant small favors is incredibly naïve and foolish. Resting in a comfort zone without making any strategic or tactical adjustments to one’s journey’s goals is unacceptable. And meandering aimlessly along an already trekked road would result in being bereft of fresh opportunities leading to one’s material and spiritual stagnation.
When Sri Lankan voters elected this government in the last Presidential and General Elections in 2015, the hopes and expectations were unforgivingly high. They, the hopes and aspirations, are now being dashed to the ground. Corruption and nepotism, I have written many a time, over and over again, cannot be traced to the last regime alone. All politicians, especially in the so-called Third World, are unwisely clinging on to the belief that political power gives them unlimited supremacy over their subject. Whether it’s a democracy or a dictatorship, this frightening phenomenon of political power invested so much with power to impose any and everything on the masses is further augmented by populistic policies that these rulers advocate before they assume the mantle of power.
Lack of preparedness on the part of an overwhelming majority of the country to embrace democracy as a mode of government is being displayed each time such a populist rulers come to power. Sophisticated tools such as a well-educated civil service and a robust private sector that a modern democracy employs to facilitate governing mechanisms, albeit available to be followed to the letter, the excruciatingly slowness of the process in ‘getting things done’, tells on the entire system and impatience on the part of the masses is exploited to the hilt by the existing parliamentary opposition in a democracy or an underground one in a dictatorship. This impatience of the masses is easily made into a battle cry by the prevailing socio-political forces in the country. Social scientists may debate as to what precisely is the cause and effect of this convoluted process, yet would not conclude as to one single overall effect such a defaced system would eventually bear on the people. The burden of freeing this corrupt system of all its advocates and executives is too heavy to bear, for one man or one movement.
Revolutions may erupt in such conditions if the material circumstances conspire to produce such. Revolutions with all their optimistic promises have invariably met with limited results. Whether it’s the Russian, Chinese or Cuban kind, they have all produced an utterly enslaved people, servile to the power they desired. Undoing of the results that such revolutions entail is no easy task for the succeeding powers. Sri Lanka is far away from such revolutions. She has successfully thwarted any such attempts on all occasions. But the underlying force of simmering frustrations is taking deep root and the results could be either an explosive outcome or apathy. Whichever it is, a confrontation between two value-systems seems inevitable.
Ravi Karunanayake’s forced resignation from his portfolio is manifestly a result of the workings of an agitating democracy. Ravi Karunanayake was a witness in the case of the notorious ‘bond-scam’. Its main accused was Arjuna Mahendran, the then governor of the Central Bank. In the course of the examination of Ravi K, it was revealed that he was a recipient of a luxury apartment from a well-known businesswoman in Colombo. The resulting shame and accusation of corruption was too great for any politician to survive. In the past, Finance Ministers had resigned but never for corruption and other nefarious activities. Shameful acts of many a Minister in the governments of Chandrika Bandaranaike and Mahinda Rajapaksa have gone without suffering any punishment or injury. In the J R Jayewardene government Minister E L Senanayake, MPs of Anura Daniel and Sunil Ranjan Jayakody were removed overnight when they were alleged of some serious misdeeds. Court proceedings were initiated by the Attorney General’s department in cases of allegations against party supporters. But that era is gone. Transparency and accountability, the notion of ‘not only Caesar, Caesar’s wife too must be above suspicion’, open and frank discussion about governmental initiatives on all and any matters have all flown out the window.
It is a very tragic moment in the life of our Republic. As evidenced in all banana-republics’, those who hold power seem to be above the law. A culture that generates police officers who go the extra mile to stop a three-wheel driver who happens to take a wrong turn but invariably looks the other way when a more serious traffic violation is committed by a tie-wearing driver of a Mercedes Benz of 500 series is indeed not amusing. It is heart-rending. But the great number of the Colombo-elite is getting away with more serious crimes, white or blue-collar-kind.
The caliber which once produced exemplary politicians, classy elites, decent and kind rural leaders is no more. Where are the Wanninayakes and M D Bandas and M D H Jayewardenes today? Where are the top-notch businessmen who managed massive business empires yet looked after their employees with compassion and fairness? It is an amusing exercise even to talk about such a lofty past in the context of present day tragedies. Both Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena have been dealt a wonderful hand today. In the wake of the Ravi Karunanayake-fiasco, they can mercilessly go after the perpetrators of corruption and nepotism of the Rajapaksa regime. Any delay will be treated as connivance and condoning of those deadly dealers of political malpractice.
If such action is hastened, if accelerated pursuit of justice and fair-play is undertaken, then we can ask those Sri Lankan expatriates to come back and invest in a country relatively free of corruption. Otherwise we have no right to ask nor do those expats have any obligation to come back to a corruption-filled hellhole in the Indian subcontinent. They say, ‘strike while the iron is hot’. This is the chance, maybe the only chance the current rulers have, to restore their credibility; this may be the only opportunity that they would get to validate themselves as trustworthy rulers; it may be the only opportunity they get to display their much-heralded political slogan of accountability and transparency. They not only need to be accountable and transparent, they need to be speedy and efficient in their pursuit of corrupt dealers and catching them. Instead of being justifiable chasers after wrong-doers, if, on the contrary, they are perceived by the country as a mere substitute for a cabal of trendsetters of corruption and nepotism, this country is definitely heading for a more frightful end.
I have written many a column about the culture gap that is yawning in Sri Lanka’s landscape of politics. Continuing along the same path trekked by the Rajapaksas in the past would only lead to the fringe of chaotic absence of order and a cultural vacuum. Being merciless in the presence of corruption is not an unkind act. Being ruthless in pursuit after corrupt politicians is a noble conduct on the part of such pursuers. Detaching oneself from all political biases and prejudices is difficult and burdensome. But they have chosen to bear that burden. That is the burden they have to carry as long as they continue in their pursuit of their own personal goals.
The county cries for decency. The county demands fair-play for all. The country is poised for a fresh beginning yet the rulers seem to be lost in their own pursuit of power and money. That is the prevalent perception of the voters who elected them in January, 2015. It is a great error if one would take the Ravi Karunanayake ouster in isolation. His fate was decided by some bizarre evidence bordering on his own downright falsehoods. Eventually he was convicted by the public court. There is no conviction by a judicial process. Yet the prevalent public opinion apparently found him guilty. Whether that kind of process is valid or not is another matter altogether. But the context matters. In politics, it’s all context. No politician can disregard context because it is real and the only dynamic that controls and influences events to follow.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org