By Emil van der Poorten –
As one of those who welcomed the removal of a despot and his entourage on January 8th, I am also one of those who are sick and tired of a Maithri/Ranil (MR2) dispensation which seems only to be adept at issuing “motherhood and apple pie” statements from time to time and has displayed a capacity to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the rape and pillage this country was subjected to for better than a decade and the need to bring the guilty to justice. Not only do they keep trotting out excuses for their lack of action to make the guilty pay the price they owe Sri Lankan society, in more cases than I care to count, they have even appointed some of them to positions of authority and “respect,” and I am not even counting the “camp-followers” of the Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR 1) dispensation in this number!
At best, this can be attributed to naivety, but given the fact that that every one of the decision-makers is a seasoned politician it puts their conduct beyond the pale and implies complicity in what has probably been the most disgraceful chapter in Sri Lanka’s recent history.
Many moons ago, I wrote a piece expressing the opinion that, in the matter of Ranil Wickremesinghe, it was a case of TINA (“There is no alternative”). The title of today’s piece says something very different.
Let me explain why that is not, simply, a matter of me changing my mind.
When MR 1 had succeeded in cowing every media person, self-appointed “opinion-maker” and his mother into subservience, genuflecting metaphorically, if not literally, in the presence of and in respect of every utterance of that horde, it was popular to pillory Ranil Wickremesinghe and blame him for the lack of resistance to truly unbelievable behaviour in what was alleged to be a democratic country. In fact it was those very critics who bore the real responsibility for that state of affairs, displaying little less than abject cowardice before what they saw as MR 1’s wrath. I chose not to join their ranks for the simple reason that I believed that the problem was far bigger than any shortcomings of Ranil Wickremesinghe and the fact that it was patently obvious that the responsibility for lack of resistance to what MR1 was visiting on this country rested squarely on the shoulders of those who tacitly or otherwise gave the MR1 government free rein. I believe that January 8th bore out the accuracy of that evaluation and that of several (primarily female) members of the Sri Lankan “commentariat,” a small minority certainly but one that was distinguished by its adherence to principle and the journalistic skill to express that adherence.
Now, we have had MR2 at the wheel of the Sri Lankan ship of state and they have given no evidence of a real commitment to return this country to anything resembling good governance.
Yes, we acknowledge the fact that the wheels of justice must not be employed like those of a tractor thrashing through the mud of some paddy field. We share the distaste of MR2 for “White Van Justice.” We do not believe that the forces of law and order, be they the judiciary, the police or any of our security services, should be used simply to advance the interests of some ruling clique. We have no quarrel with the government on those matters.
However, we have a right to demand from this government the removal of those individuals, some of whom have been elevated to senior Cabinet rank, from those positions because many of them were specifically voted out by the people of this country and were accused of offences that were often, if not always, of a criminal nature.
I know mine is no longer one of the few male voices to be heard against bribery, corruption and the larger crimes committed during the tenure of MR1, asking that the due process of law be applied against the perpetrators. There is now a host of critics whose voices we never heard during the MR1 reign who are only too ready to have their fingers dance across keyboards critical of what MR1 did. Those of us who were in the trenches then will not begrudge those who’ve joined us now the right to say what they are saying. After all they are voicing the opinion of a majority of our people who are stating unequivocally that they feel the delay in bringing thieves and murderers to trial is totally unacceptable.
What is most disquieting, despite increasing evidence, circumstantial at this stage, is that this procrastination is not accidental or due to simple incompetence..
There appear to be people in decision-making positions who because they “bought insurance” for the eventuality of MR1 returning or for reasons even more crass which have currency signs attached to them are either slowing due process of law or ensuring that even the first steps are never taken to ensure the return of justice to this land.
And make no mistake, even if token prosecutions are launched, justice delayed is justice denied.
The only political organization that has displayed any adherence to principle and the need for the return of the rule of law, and done so with admirable consistency, has been the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Unfortunately, however, rightly or wrongly, it appears that the majority of Sri Lankans have never forgiven that party’s conduct in the late eighties when it ran a reign of terror that challenged that of the government of the day and its less-savoury successors! That they insist on continuing to treat Rohana Wijeweera as some kind of god-head, given his direct association with the most bestial chapter of the “old” JVP is beyond the comprehension of any rational analyst. Dropping Rohana from their one-man pantheon of gods, given historical reality, could not be characterized as some act of political opportunism. It would be consonant with their loudly declared abandonment of armed struggle in favour of the (elective) democratic process.
Forgiving the crooks who robbed us blind or, worse yet, pretending that they didn’t and we, as a nation, “need to get on with our lives and not dwell on the negative past” is unadulterated balderdash and a simple recipe for some kind of self-inflicted annihilation that goes beyond “race” and creed and community.
Either in support of the JVP or in parallel with it, there needs to be a movement to restore democracy and corruption-free governance to this country. This is not simply a matter of morality, principle or ethics. That restoration is a sine qua non for the very existence of this country as one of elementary decency where basic law and order prevails.
If those infesting the Parliament of this country cannot be persuaded to change their behaviour and I am in no way optimistic of the chances of that happening, I believe that we need to take extra-Parliamentary steps to effect the change that we need. Mind you, these will, of necessity not be extra-judicial in the manner of the armed revolts that the JVP was responsible for twice in its relatively short history but relatively passive resistance that has succeeded in the past and can in the future.
We need to draw people of like mind – believers in justice, fairness and the rule of law – together, whether in protest groups or in some other form that the new information technology (IT) provides, to make our collective voice heard. My understanding – as one who is basically semi-literate insofar as the internet is concerned – is that the communication skills that many Sri Lankans already possess – irrespective of the level of their skill in an international language such as English – transcends the traditional barriers that the previous printed or broadcast word encountered. In such circumstances building a coalition of those who share the same beliefs should be more than simply possible and should enter the realm of the probable.
Let me say, though, that any such coming together must be action-oriented and not simply another “think tank” issuing statements about the obvious and simply adopting a holier-than-thou stance. God knows we have enough of such pandithayas shooting off their mouths already and a media only too ready to help them in their quest for publicity for themselves, emitting a load of hot air in the name of this “Forum” and that!
I know that this is not the first time that some of us have issued a “call to arms,” such as this. We did the same during the time that MR1 was white-vanning those they saw as being an impediment to their quest for absolute power. That appeal for resistance worked and I have no doubt that a similar effort will not be in vain to combat the insidious danger that promises to be as large as the one from which we only recently escaped. After all, aren’t those dark days just as unacceptable now as they were then?