By Vishwamithra –
“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” ~ Aristotle
History bears witness that on each and every occasion our nation was confronted by an unprecedented conundrum, a unique kind of ‘come or go, Chicago’ situation, whenever she was challenged by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, either on the socioeconomic front or in the political sphere, she always tapped into her inner strength, garnered support for herself by rallying the masses, may not be around an alien ideology, but around a set of tangible goals and purposes. The people may not have really followed a set of ideas and ideals. They followed those who were so skillful in articulating such easily understandable and relatable ideas and ideals.
Architecture of an ideology comprises of the very foundation on which the basic structures of that ideology stands. Each stratum of the structure needs to be buttressed and any extra ounce of strength that is inserted into the bones and marrow of that structure needs to be based on science and science alone. And never on superstition and religious mayhem.
Yet we Ceylonese, as human beings scattered all over this green globe, are very susceptible and prone to acceptance of quick solutions. Our adaptation to superstitious fidelities, just as much we swear allegiance to the existence of unseen and inscrutable gods that seem not to mind ill-gotten wealth and comforts of all those impostors cum swindlers, compels us to pursue the same faulty paths that have been trodden by our forefathers.
Indian writer, Sarojini Naidu wrote: “When there is oppression, the only self-respecting thing is to rise and say this shall cease today, because my right is justice…” Why the current stream of Sri Lankan men and women who had been exposed to such sublime teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha on Enlightenment and supreme velour of mind, have apparently chosen to be comfortable with mere placidity and apathy in the face of injustice, corruption and nepotism is just mind-boggling. Of Sarojini Naidu wrote our own D B Dhanapala: ‘She has fought for woman’s right for room of her own as for the nation’s right for a kingdom of her own. And she fought with charm, laughter, tears and flights of poetry’. (Source: Eminent Indians, page 60). Where do such women and men come from? They certainly have not come from Ceylon.
That is precisely where our current leadership and the preceding ones have failed so miserably. Their collective blindness to reality coupled with stoical commitment to power and fame have taken the country to an abyss of ruin and social debauchery. Their pursuits have been undeterred and unopposed by the circumstance they themselves had been instrumental in creating with wicked intentions. “The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.” So wrote Herodotus, the father of History. In the absence of the usual infrastructure and teachers in our system, education and knowledge being made available to those who wielded power and money, the general populace is literally kept in illiteracy. As a cruel consequence of this warped system of education, we have been producing bookworms with degrees instead of men and women of wisdom and intellectual stature.
The leaders that this flawed system threw out were the same. Lacking in empathetic values, heavily pregnant with their own egoistical superiority, these leaders led all of us into corners from which we find hard to extricate ourselves from. The so-called leaders have failed the country, their ideals and themselves, lock, stock and barrel, to use the much abused cliché!
They clung on to dated theories of Indian expansionism into Ceylon; to notions of hill country Tamils devouring the rest of the hinterland from the center; to their perennial fear of being squeezed by Tamil Nadu, the Tamilian State of India. The term Kalla-Toni became an attractive slander against a much depressed class of people whose lifestyles were more akin to those of refugees in a foreign land expending their labor for a meager wage of less than a domestic in a Sinhalese household, or for that matter, Tamil dwellings in the Northern peninsula.
From D S Senanayake up to the present guy who’s occupying the seat of governing powers today, all Sri Lankan politicians, perhaps except Dudley Senanayake and to a lesser degree J R Jayewardene, continued to pay puja to the large Sinhalese majority. Tamils became the common enemy and not a single Sinhalese politician including Dudley and J R, had the guts to declare in public that Tamils were our equals and in no uncertain form or shape inferior to majority Sinhalese. In fact, this propensity accelerated the fear and suspicion of a mindset founded on and later reinforced by a mythical ‘Sinhalese Buddhism’.
India, after gaining Independence from the British Raj gave the most important task of drafting a national Constitution to B R Ambedkar, jurist, economist, politician and social reformer, who inspired the Dalit (untouchables) Buddhist movement and campaigned against social discrimination. We Ceylonese handed that responsibility to Ivor Jennings, a fully-fledged prince of the British Raj! The contrast could not have been starker. Scholarly Buddhist Monk, Venerable Walpola Rahula, according to D B Dhanapala’s Eminent Indians book, page 173, declared at the Indo-Ceylon Cultural Conference held in Colombo in 1947 thus: “At a time when even a hundred percent Indian like Mr. Jinnah has denied that he is an Indian, I stand before you to proclaim that we Sinhalese and Tamils in this Island are blood of the Indian blood, flesh of the Indian flesh”. Had Venerable Rahula uttered those words today, he would have been stoned by our own Buddhist Monks who parade the streets like petty thugs in saffron robes. In the same vein, I’m not surprised that Dhanapala included Venerable Rahula amongst eminent Indians!
We surely cannot expect our current leaders, including President, Prime Minister and the rest of the gang in parliament to adopt India as our ‘Big Brother’ now. One cannot expect that crop of leaders to do an about turn. It’s not only highly unrealistic to even dream of such magnanimity to be displayed by these half-past-two-thirty impostors, it is exceedingly naive on our part to adduce such nobility to them.
Howsoever we try to analyze and dissect the current stalemate, the sheer incapacity of the leaders we have elected to salvage us from the present socio-economic-political impasse has been bared open many a wound that has been festering in our body politic. When the cure and therapy looks even more unpleasant than the ailment itself, one must realize that time has long passed us bye.
‘Indophobia’, so created by successive streams of political leaders have caused some irreversible estrangement between Sri Lanka and India. While this estrangement between the two neighbors was in the making, it was China who stood to gain the most in geopolitical terms. India sent her most senior diplomat as her Ambassador to Colombo while Sri Lanka did not reciprocate in the same way. Even if we did send some high-class foreign service personnel, given the manifest absence of a strategic approach to our geopolitical issues stymied even the best minds we managed to send to India.
Patriotism was expressed in terms of hatred of India; the bizarre interpretations enunciated by our local politicians bordered on delusionary statements in parliament and the slightest tribute paid to Indians, specifically to those of Tamilian origin, was not welcome. A gradual widening of the two peoples reached a crescendo when Rajiv Gandhi was attacked by one of our Naval ratings at the guard of honor ceremony on his visit to Sri Lanka in 1987.
It appears extremely unlikely that any reconciliation could be brought about between these schools of thought. The gulf is two wide to bridge and the mindsets too rigid to bend. Aristotle’s observation that man could be the worst animal when he is divorced from law and justice holds true even today. Passage of time since Aristotle has not shown any sign of comfort to any ordinary man. When that commoner is led by another commoner whose measurement of success is how loudly he could shout at his enslaved peons and podians, the consequences can be truly disastrous.
The effects of how Sri Lanka could be a satellite of China and at the expense of India with whose history we share very close links cannot be understated. Determined and bold leadership is the need of the hour, unfortunately that is precisely what has been evading us for so long.
As Venerable Rahula said, Jinnah was no Pakistani, he was all Indian but narrow pursuit of power made him go after the creation of a secluded country and Pakistan was born. In fact, to date, there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. Segmentation of the Indian subcontinent has produced three separate countries: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. One day history will pass its cruel judgment on this crueler separation of the same people along ethno-religious lines. A land so rich in cultural values is being punished not for its vast richness but for its narrow sense of seclusion. Aristotle is right. Man is the worst animal when separated from law and justice.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org