By Emil van der Poorten –
We continue to be assailed with what can charitably called “bilge” from the so-called mainline media of this country. If one is to believe what our newspapers have to say, all’s well in the kingdom in which our own particular brand of Buddhism is ensconced.
A Dickensian, “Bah. Humbug!” is truly the most appropriate response to this given the fact that it’s so divorced from the reality that the average Sri Lankan experiences.
Among the issues that one cannot but view with cynicism, is the refusal to prosecute any of those from the last marauding horde against whom there is more than a prima facie case. Most see this issue as being at the top of that particular list.
In a previous column I made reference to one business magnate whose reach now covers even the manufacture of automobiles with the overt blessing of Ranil Wickremesinghe who laid the foundation stone for his new plant. If this is, in fact, the biggest display of political naivety in recent Sri Lankan history, the man guilty of such an oversight has no business deciding the fate of every Sri Lankan man, woman or child, either alone or in tandem with Maithripala Sirisena.
I have had personal experience and observed the behaviour of at least one of these leading lights of the current regime which I described at the time as “genuflectory” insofar as the Rajapaksas and their acolytes were concerned. I have been given no reason to revise that opinion since. Some things never change even if the locations and backdrops do. Once a sycophant, always a sycophant, particularly when there is financial benefit to be reaped irrespective of who has their hands on the levers of power.
However, the great unwashed of this country have neither the capacity nor the desire to be subjected to financial chaos which we and our descendants will be paying for through the generations.
I remember asking an old friend with significant media connections how Ranil Wickremesinghe, then only the leader of the UNP and not co-leader of the government, could overlook the behaviour of some of those closest to him who were materially assisting the MR1 (Mahinda Rajapaksa) lot while still, supposedly and officially, opposing them and was told that Mr. Wickremesinghe “had no problem” with such behaviour. I found that hard to swallow then and find it harder to digest today. How on earth can anyone identifying officially with a broad coalition of Sri Lankans trying to restore democratic practice in our country countenance the very opposite? This is simply hunting with the hounds of that time and running with the hares of today.
I didn’t then appreciate what this kind of permissive philosophy ultimately meant but an increasing number of citizens of this land are being afforded the opportunity, “up close and personal,” if you will, of seeing that philosophy in action and what it means to everyone who calls this land home sans the benefit of the not-inconsiderable financial rewards for such unprincipled, unethical and undemocratic practices.
I will make no apology for the fact that I am back to my old message: “there can be no viable democratic governance without an adherence to a code of principles, ethics and morality that leaves no space for self-seeking equivocation.”
Let’s see this government prosecute even ONE of the last gang of bandits who robbed us in every known manner, and then some. Even if our courts are full up to the gunwales with wrong-doers of various varieties, there is no excuse for not launching even a SINGLE prosecution against a SINGLE of the major miscreants.
However, perhaps the response of one of Ranil’s leading lights to the question of why no action whatsoever has been taken against, probably, the biggest thug to lend his muscle in support of the MR1 gang in the hill country provides appropriate illumination. He told me, with a straight face no less, that this individual had “done no wrong!”
Apart from anything else, one thing the emergence of the MR2 (Maithripala-Ranil) coalition had done was give some in their ranks the capacity to spout this kind of blatant nonsense with a straight face.
But then this is the same government that contains, in its topmost echelon a Minister with responsibility for Buddhism and Justice whose defence of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s marine enterprise spoke for itself and who did not express anything resembling condemnation while a mosque in probably the largest single Muslim community in Sri Lanka was desecrated and worshippers murdered there. Given that track record, one might as well have been whistling “Dixie” as expecting some concrete action from him with regard to the very recent violence against mosques and those who worship in them in the North Western Province.
Perhaps, a step back in time would not be inappropriate at this point with regard to the conduct of this same Minister when he was head of the apex organization representing his profession.
The fact that the organization he headed at the time had displayed token opposition to the MR1 government resulted in a, almost literal, shot across his bow: the outside of his house being shot up by (as always at the time) “unknown gunmen.”
This much-publicized event which didn’t appear to have put this particular individual, his family or anyone else on the premises in any significant danger, was followed by a much-publicised visit from the President of the day. A suitable display of whatever MR displayed on such occasions, was followed by a quiet exit by this legal luminary from the leadership of the afore-mentioned professional organization, leaving that organization rudderless at a rather critical time, even if that rudder was simply nominal.
This kind of tail-between-the-legs exit and this man’s subsequent behaviour when the then-Chief Justice was dragged before a MR1 Kangaroo court seemed only to enhance his stature with our current Prime Minister who had no hesitation whatsoever in putting him in charge of a pivotal Ministry – Justice – when his buddies across the aisle in parliament were eminently qualified to be targets of that same ministry.
Just in case the man couldn’t damage the public interest adequately from that particular vantage point, he was also put in charge of the Ministry tasked with ensuring that Buddhism was practiced as it was supposed to in this land and that amity among the adherents of the four major religions prevailed in the country. Instead, what resulted has been a resurgence of violent behaviour towards Muslims, their businesses and their places of worship. Not unexpectedly, this was followed by a protracted silence on the part of those elected to provide us with “Yahapalanaya.” Of course, our worthy, given his track record, acted true to type and maintained a deafening silence which ensured his ranking at the highest level in the “see no evil and hear no evil” stakes. You have to grant him one virtue, though: he will always perform in such a manner that he will, in no way, besmirch his record for passivity when quick action should have been the order of the day. We didn’t even see token leadership in the matter of mouthing platitudes about being opposed to racism and religious intolerance. The totality of evidence would suggest that the Bodu Bala Sena could be a logical official appendage of the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and/or the Ministry of Justice. That would, at least, have been a recognition of reality in respect of those two areas of our governance!
One didn’t have to be a seer in the historical sense to see where this rejection of principle, ethics and any semblance of morality would take us. That many of us were right in identifying this path that the MR2 government was treading, jeopardizing any semblance of true democratic governance, is cold comfort given the alternative: the MR1 lot.
It is time to gird our loins and prepare for another (long and painful) struggle to take this country back to decency and democratic conduct. There is no other choice. The only light at the end of that particular tunnel is the fact that the people of this country have already demonstrated a readiness and capacity to do exactly that in turfing the MR1 monarchy-in-the-making.