By Vishwamithra –
“Government can easily exist without laws, but law cannot exist without government.” ~Bertrand Russell
‘We are all in the gutter’, so said Oscar Wilde. It may well be a fact that Wilde has a lot of company from a great number of Sri Lankans surrounding him in that stinking gutter. The gutter is filled with snakes of deceit; its decrepit condition is a birthplace for all infectious diseases; its floor is crumbling under the very feet of those who dwell in it as their chosen abode; its walls are dilapidated and cringing and threatening to engulf its inhabitants. Whichever direction its inhabitants gaze, despair and depression reigns as the only reality. A comical display of a pathetic bunch of populace, one climbing over the other while others are too preoccupied with our national pastime, pulling the ones who appear to be gaining ground to real ground, is fast reaching its final Act. A catastrophic tragedy might well be that final Act, peaking to a crescendo of wailing and desperate pleading of a miserable assembly of men and women.
Such is a macabre manifestation of a people who have willingly chosen to substitute ‘the Rule of Law’ with ‘the Law of Rule’. An agonizing nation, attempting to rise from the ashes of a thirty-year old war, never trying to conceal their displeasure with the obvious, corruption to an uncontrollable extent, petty nationalism replacing genuine patriotism and pathological swindling being accepted as the standard procedure, invariably finds herself in a living hell such as the ‘First Circle’ as described in the novel of the same name, First Circle, by Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The inherent dignity in each human being living in the land was obliterated and shaded in unrecognizable colors so as to classify them as UNP, SLFP, and LSSP etc. Politicians, the demigods of the post-Independence era, have taken hold of the collective mindset of a people; their bigoted policy positions, their extreme social and cultural beliefs and their inexhaustible avarice for money and other mundane luxuries have subordinated the needs and necessities of a subject people.
This tragic transformation which has produced some drastic social and cultural consequences is as manifestly apparent as daylight on each morning. An ancient culture that boasted about the story of a damsel traversing from the Southern tip of the country to Northern peninsula without being subjected any form of waylay or harassment is now immersed in an obscene orgy of corruption and disobedience to traditional values. Politicians and, they alone, should bear the unpleasant burden of that truth. The truth that the politicians of all ages, barring a scarce few, from the dawn of the Twentieth Century to the present day, have never learnt the difficult skill of constraining the excesses of their own greed for more money and power and it is, for any generation, young or old, hard to live with that guilt in their conscience.
Yet, after all these reasonable reasoning, ‘the Law of Rule’ seems to have overwhelmed ‘the Rule of Law’. Subjugation of the values that have been passed down the generations of our ancestors coupled with worshipping at the ‘temples of commission agents and corruption-merchants’ should not be tolerated as the norm. The more apathetic a populace looks and behaves, the more hardships and anguish they will suffer. Such stark truths may not appeal to the already-subjugated, but ignorance of ‘the Rule of Law’ which is the most dynamic, fundamental and dispassionate principle that separates the human being from other animals, is no excuse for any politician to subject his voters to these abject levels of deceit and treachery.
As to exactly when this phenomenon of replacing ‘the Rule of Law by ‘the Law of Rule’ did begin to occur is as faint as the mist that is evaporating with each passing minute on a bright sunny morning. Opening of the economy and its attendant excesses surely have caused many an alien concepts to be born and the real goods and services that reached our shores have expanded not only the scope of development they promised, they created in our collective mindset a nagging desire for more and more at the least possible cost. Color television, three wheelers, and high-rise buildings, were among all these direct effects of the opening of the economy. Yet when we were slaves to a closed economy, the revolting hardships and sufferings that generation of Sri Lankans had to endure are no figments of imagination. Those hardships were real and excruciating, even to describe, leave alone suffer. At the time, from 1970 to 1970, what reigned was not only excessive dearth of goods and services, ‘the Law of Rule’, manned and exorcised by Felix Dias Bandaranaike with the full blessings of the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, also played more than a significant role in subjugating a people to exorbitant lengths and breadths in order for one single family to rule.
Concentration of political power in one person or one family is not only dangerous in the long run, it is even more so in corruption of the systems and processes of social and economic movement of the country. We witnessed the immensely injurious effects of that ‘Law of Rule’ in the ’70 to ’77 period and it was even more evident in the 2005 to 2014 period. Ironically in both these phases political development of Sri Lanka, she was ruled, although democratically elected, by one single family- Bandaranaikes and Rajapaksas respectively. Accumulation of wealth during these epochs was totally centered on the ‘Family’ and its closest henchmen and women. During the Bandaranaike period, ’70 to ’77, it was a closed economy and those who were close to the Family only gained any access to wealth-making projects and programs. The machinations of state-capitalism helped who were close to the ‘Family’.
However, during the ‘2005 to 2015 period, what was in the process was ‘crony capitalism’ during the operation of which, once again who were close to the ‘Family’ only gained access and ultimate ‘goodies’ from Family-sponsored projects and programs. Nevertheless, this state or ‘Family-sponsored capitalism’ generated sufficient wealth for the Family as well as its henchmen to boast of a growing economy. Those who were not academically or professionally qualified, yet being siblings of ‘King Rajapaksa’, overnight turned into deliverers of results thanks mainly to the fact that more than 65% of the annual budgetary appropriations were assigned to these two siblings. They are nothing but political scavengers of the Twenty First Century. For them ‘the Rule of Law’ was of no material value. Assigned the Ministry of Defense to one and the Ministry of Economic Development to the other, they literally ran riot. White van syndrome, murder and insufferable harassment to members of the Fourth Estate, suppression of legitimate protesters, and murder of friends of their lovers were all among the alleged crimes committed during this ‘Family Rule’.
On the other hand, 10% to 30% commission accumulations even before a contract was awarded to their friends in the commercial field, First Lady’s brother running berserk in Sri Lankan Airline, sons making a mockery of democratic government and allegedly running wild in night clubs and other places where erotic desires are fulfilled, conducted their own ‘Law of Rule’.
What has followed their dramatic fall from power is a climate in which the these political scavengers try to reap the harvest of a vicious and malignant campaign against the current Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe who is as guilty of providing his opponents with the fodder by way of now infamous Bond-Scam scandal. Yet there is no evidence of ‘the Law of Rule’ being present within the confines of the current regime. Of course, there is sufficient number of rumors and unproven allegations against some Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and other members of the coalition government. But such allegations and the comparable amounts of corruption evaporate when taken into comparison with those committed by the Rajapaksa regime. If such allegations reach the levels of the past regime, rest assured, this columnist would be among the first to criticize and castigate the wrong-doers. The quotation by Oscar Wilde with which I commenced this column runs thus: “We are all in the Gutter but some of us are looking at the Stars”. It remains one of the most inspiring quotations of all time. We may all find our own struggles excruciatingly painful and depressing, yet if we focus our energies towards one single goal- the Rule of Law– we might achieve it someday.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org