By Vishwamithra –
“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.” ~ Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
The current frail sociopolitical culture cannot withstand a near or total collapse of our national economic life. It is increasingly becoming clear that a system change is not possible, at least in the immediate future. Decades of rot caused by sheer mismanagement of state affairs supplemented by errant corruption running through the entire civil society have shown us that a society that is being held in debt by both external and internal lenders is not easy to raise its head without superficial scars and malignant wounds still oozing without control.
The people have refused to see; they have declined to learn and they have abandoned their fundamental value systems that sustained their ancestors for centuries. Even our history has had its morbid times when two communities couldn’t live in harmony, their eventual resort to violence, especially aimed at women and children, produced generations in that same offensive environment. A cycle of unlearning and seeking after comfort in shortcuts and profound greed is holding us back. Our parents as well as our children have learnt only to hate; they have learnt only to copy and adopt nasty aspects of the human condition. Our leaders and followers have shown that this unending cycle is more amenable to embrace than an overall change.
The great irony is that our history is supposed to have had great characters whose validity and legitimacy in a modern day context is redundant and meaningless. Such a tragic circumstance of great significance and magnitude has enveloped the whole nation and whenever there comes a bright glistening, it always dies prematurely, without ever having a chance to grow into adulthood and full maturity. Psychologically we have never come out of the monarchical cave within which we have been residing and enjoying the crumbs and debris that leaders throw at us.
Two attempts at revolutionary change, one in ’71 and the other in ’87-’89, died in deep crash. Their grievances were true and justifiable but the modus operandi flawed. The forces that are not visible to the naked eye conspire constantly to keep the status quo intact and growing. The third attempt in 2022 April to June, Aragalaya, came to a sudden halt, not for the want of a cause or a final destination but for the want of push from our elected leaders. They feared that the youth have overtaken them in a real and earnest way. Jealousy and insecurity played their traditionally destructive roles in a forward advance of a determined segment of the population.
Commitment to a higher ideal, commitment to a selfless cause deserts with growing age and advancement of years. Exuberance of youth does not last; its shelf-life lasts as long as the youth’s demands are hazy and undefined. Revolutions in the world were not born nor were they made successful in weeks and months. They take years, sometimes a decade or two to harvest the true results of an uprising.
At the same time, patience is no virtue of youth. Patience, if carefully cultivated and secured, would lead to the final results of any effort of man. But lack of patience would not only bear no fruit, it may kill the roots of the tree too. Our current political landscape is barren; it’s devoid of far-thinking and idealistic yet practical leadership. Where do we get such men? Where do we get such women?
Barren fields do not produce sweet fruits nor would they nurture and ripen palatable harvests. Unfortunately it is in such a barren and infertile field that we are dwelling today. Sri Lanka’s sociopolitical terrain is apparently not suited for greatness; its men and women have been refusing to learn from their mistakes and learn new ways and means to betterment.
It is in such a barren sociopolitical culture that was produced a President who has no mandate from the people; it’s in such a convoluted milieu that we have produced a Cabinet of Ministers who are in a competition to plunder our national coffers. Where else, other than in the ignominious third world has this type of corrupt political leaders been produced.
This is the context within which Sri Lanka is now seeking to resolve her burning and irksome issues. The youth is at a loss; they are either fatigued or waiting to depart the shores in search of greener pastures. Parents are even more tired. Their daily lives have been turned upside down. The recent crisis of shortage of basic household items has taken its toll. Their enthusiasm in mundane affairs has withered away; their interests have been shrinking at a faster rate than usual. And their fear of falling sick is making them sicker. Shortage of drugs and other essential medicines is causing them many a sleepless night. Exorbitant prices of drugs that are available have made them tighten their belts even tighter. Prioritizing expenses has resulted in postponing pilgrimages to Kataragama Kovil and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
Village damsels have stopped purchasing makeup kits; lads have relegated their evening parties to a mere cup of tea at the boutique at the culvert junction. To what extent our quality of life has degenerated is reflected in these day-to-day activities of the men and women who live at fixed or no income levels. Such invisible economic indices may not show up in the Central Bank reports. But real life of the average Appuhamy, Natarajah and Hameed is pathetically being ignored by the current crop of politicians. The line dividing their wants and needs is vanishing. Their needs have overtaken everything else and the emerging scenario is not conducive to a thriving society whose short, mid and long term goals are becoming mere illusions.
Yet when one enters the posh lobby in a five-star hotel, one is invariably taken to a wonderland. Single malt whiskey and XO cognac are the order of the day. One plate of hors d’oeuvres would cost an arm and leg but it’s no big deal for these merchants of corruption and avarice. The gulf is widening and gaping like a grabby animal waiting for its prey. They comprise of leading politicos; they represent the upper middle-class of our society who have made their fortunes, Covid or no Covid. In fact, during the pandemic they enriched themselves even more than at usual times. Some of them too joined the Aragalaya for a little while, not because theirs was the same cause as was those of the underprivileged. Their grievance was shortage of petrol and diesel for their super-luxury Mercedes and BMW cars. These greedy men and women crowded not only the corridors of Five-star hotels; they crowded the passages of parliament and high-end business establishments whose monies sent those parliamentarians to power. Theirs is the sordid story of a nation betrayed by its leaders and a people whose ambitions were a good education for their children and three meals a day.
These are the vultures who sustain the Wickremesinghes and Rajapaksas and their immediate cohorts. They cannot afford to lose the status quo. That status quo is maintaining their lifestyles; that status quo was created by them and that same status quo is promising them more and more riches, not only for themselves but also for their unborn generations. How can they possibly let that status quo go?
It is a great pity that we have arrived at this pathetic situation. It is to maintain that status quo they introduced an Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) when there is already a Public Security Ordinance. Everything to entrench themselves in power and glory that they ask for your vote. How demeaning it is when Sri Lanka is being governed by a habitual loser without any mandate from the people. What is even more depressing is the people at large seem to have come to terms with it- finding themselves in the comfort zone of status quo.
In one corner are the Rajapaksas; in the other is a Wickremesinghe safeguarding the interests of the Rajapaksas and throwing dirt and debris at the foot of a pathetically hapless people. Misery has visited upon them and those who brought that misery are atop the summit enjoying every minute of their stay at the helm. Encouraged and assisted in more ways than one by the mega-businessmen and women, our politicians in government have come to pontificate to their subjects as if they are the ultimate messiahs.
But the real tragedy will visit upon our nation state when the people at large realize that they cannot uproot the status quo by peaceful means; the day it dawns on them that they have run out of all options, that they have exhausted all efforts and avenues, then they would resort to their ‘nuclear-option’. They will embarks on the streets and run amok; creating havoc, violence and mayhem. Crises don’t erupt; they brew; they come to a boiling point after some time. Status quo will change and will be replaced by a new reality which in turn will become another status quo. Those who understand this cycle will keep on going forward until real change is upon us. That, in short, is the story of man.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org