Petty tyranny is not unique to political rulers afflicted with severe inferiority complexes. When rules of collective functioning are abandoned within a country, system or an institution, foolhardy and arrogant leadership becomes a dangerous and ultimately fatal combustion.
This can happen at the highest levels of political leadership in the government, in the opposition, in the judiciary or down the ranks to a village council leader and for that matter, a head of an institution. A once coherent and reasonably functional entity can implode or wither away quietly without much ado.
A caricature of a May Day
As May Day went by this year, marked with the ultimate insult of a devastating electricity hike aimed to hit the poorer segments of our society, a singular amusing sight was when leaders of leftist parties were caught literally napping on camera at the precise point of the celebrations. Undoubtedly this was a most appropriate reflection of the ridiculous antiquities that they and their parties have reduced themselves to.
The May Day rallies of two formerly major political parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) were themselves mere caricatures of once stirring marches. Both suffering from equally authoritarian and dysfunctional leadership, these two political parties have been reduced to nonentities. In a year where the May Day has become a mockery, the people have no respite for their misery either from the government or from the opposition who remain supremely unconcerned, joined as they appear to be at the hip, to further their own self interest.
We can look back yearningly to the time when public dissatisfaction with the performance of a government could be satisfyingly reflected in the periodic electoral process leading to change in political leadership. Now, those notions seem quaint and antiquated, as if they belonged to a different era.
Self-destruction through extreme self-interest
Political parties have not been the only victims of these twin self-destructive forces of arrogance and insecurity. On the contrary, we see this constantly in a variety of scenarios, systemic and institutional. So when we point one finger at the government for its vicious pursuing of dissenters such as a former Army Commander or a Chief Justice, two fingers must be pointed back at ourselves. Dictatorial rule coupled with non-governance which we see so clearly today in government is only a reflection of what is wrong in ourselves, in our society and in our systems.
Indeed, this rationale is specifically applicable to Sri Lanka’s justice system which, one can safely say, has not withered away quietly but on the contrary, imploded with astonishing violence. And as much as the political party process in this country has self-destructed through the greed of a few and the lack of courage of the many, our justice system has been subjected to similar travails.
As reiterated many times in these column spaces, a courageous reaction by the Bar, by judges (retired and sitting) by legal intellects of the day and by the citizenry at large including the media, who should have understood that the judicial system of Sri Lanka was being disemboweled before their very eyes during 1999-2009 may have prevented the worst of the excesses during that time. However, what prevailed was a deafening silence by and large. The result was a crippled judicial system which had deprived itself of its integrity and independence.
The years thereafter was a suspenseful waiting period with judicial mediocrity being predominant and civil society sleeping much in the style of our erstwhile leftist leaders when the 18th Amendment was passed. Not long thereafter, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court was dealt its final devastating blow when in late 2012, a sitting Chief Justice was taken before Parliament, insulted, humiliated and then run out of office.
Profound unequal treatment meted out
If that farcical impeachment of the 43rd Chief Justice did not teach us that Sri Lanka’s justice system is well and truly buried, last week’s granting of bail to the Rajapaksa administration’s favourite politician Duminda Silva, should surely hammer home this salutary lesson. Implicated in the death of a senior politician of his own party and three others, Silva was let out on bail, (with no objection incidentally being lodged by the Attorney General’s Department), on the basis that he had suffered serious injuries. Yet he was seen soon after, cavorting in public prior to being effusively welcomed at the Presidential Palace. Not content with that, we were then treated to the nauseating sight of police officers saluting Silva.
Just days later and with the Government significantly refraining using provisions prohibiting communal hatred in the anti terrorism laws against the militantly anti-Muslim Bodu Bala Sena despite its usage of inflammatory rhetoric, these same provisions were used to arrest a well known Muslim politician when he made public statements critical of the arousal of anti-Muslim hatred. Where is the equality here?
Why is the law operative?
This begs certain fundamental questions. Why are the Constitution, statutes and courts of law still in force? Why not have the Executive President clothe himself in the garb of the most supreme and omnipotent Justice and hear all cases before pronouncing judgment? After all, is this not what is happening already? Why not dispense with the farce and do away with this mockery? It will certainly be more honest.
In advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting being held in Sri Lanka this year, such honesty would be only be exquisitely appropriate. Such a transformation by us would, in all probability, invite no more than bland injunctions by the Commonwealth to behave ourselves. That most estimable gathering which solemnly pledges to uphold shared democratic values and ideals while at the same time, ignoring its most blatant violators, would be pleased to host yet another ‘talk-shop’ this time on the virtues of equality of the law, no doubt.
The contrast is clear. The Commonwealth only acts against overt dictatorships such as Fiji. On the other hand, it is quite happy to tolerate and preach to covert dictatorships such as Sri Lanka in its own political interests, as hypocritical as this may be.
The people of Sri Lanka can expect no help from the monumental hypocrisy of the Commonwealth. We can only suffer through these insanities.