By Afreeha Jawad -
Canada’s celebrated Sikh soldier Harjit Sajjan is among the many Sikhs appointed to Justin Treaudeau’s new cabinet. His outstanding performance in the Canadian military has been duly recognized with his appointment as Canada’s Minister of Defence. Sajjan’s military brilliance was displayed in combat operations in Bosnia and Afghanistan .What message does this convey to those that run and those that ran the affairs of state over here in Sri Lanka for over half a century? Besides, what does this prestigious appointment speak of the Canadian mind.
Opposing Lakshman Kadirgarmar’s Prime Ministerial appointment despite all his efforts in proscribing the LTTE internationally was the restricted, warped ultra-nationalist mindset . They were not willing to let go but would still call themselves Buddhists and lay claim to a religion that vehemently calls for detachment. Contrary to this is all inclusive Indian pluralism so evident in the presidential appointments of Zakir Hussain and Abdul Kalam not to forget Sonia Gandhi a non national who even gave Congressional lead to the 2004 Indian election victory. A minority Sikh Manmohan Singh took control of Prime ministerial office. The swiss cantons and India’s state formation – Telangana the latest, symbolize the accommodation of ethno/religious minorities in those countries.
Very recently the Lankan jingoistic membership could not help but grudgingly green light R. Sampanthan as oppostion leader – the international community focus on his appointment. Yet it was not without rumblings from certain quarters.
To be treated equal among equals is only on paper, and a recent case in point displays the gross violation of this profound thought coming off the Sri Lanka police. Some DIGs during Rajapaksa’s era were promoted to the post of senior DIG s overlooking DIG Latiff formerly of the STF with a 37 year service record, masters qualification, numerous awards and ambidextrous ways. Can the former regime then deny the charges of racism staring at their face.
In another instance Sumeda Jayasena, Vijithamuni Soysa, Sashindra Rajapaksa, Jagath Pushpakumara and Chairman Moneragala Pradeshiya Sabha Gamini ganged up against him for the “unpardonable crime” of personally arresting their henchman – a team of poachers, sand miners and illicit timber fellers. With just one stroke of a pen, this honourable officer was transferred out of Moneragala in a letter worded, ‘with immediate effect.’ That was the audacity and arrogance of the Rajapaksa era who now from roof top criticize the the present regime. That an officer of his calibre was humiliated by a set of empty brained vagabonds for the moral discharge of his professional duties is to say the least ,nauseating. The fate that may have befallen this country if not for that mysterious January 8th revolution, followed by that discreetly manipulated creative hopper party is only God’s knowledge. Yet, this is certainly not to pay a glowing tribute to Yahapalanaya. There are moral meanderings and they too carry the potential to equal Rajapakse and company unless a stern Presidential eye is cast on them. Not to forget are the Rajapaksa acolytes now in presidential company who may disrepute him in corruption and racism.
It is believed to be that the Muslims, Tamils and upper caste Sinhalese share commonality in discrimination. The ’72 constitution with its politicization of the judiciary, executive and legislative saw an exodus of what is termed ‘lower caste ‘ into these arms of government. As a result, the plums of high office became the sole preserve of those down the caste ladder. At an interview, commonality of caste is only too natural in the selection of candidates. President Maithripala Sirisena himself paid a heavy price in the SLFP’s caste based power struggle. He was denied his rightful place in the SLFP for his, what is called ‘elevated’ placement in the the caste ladder. Finally his only option was the infamous hopper party from where he got even more than what he strove for. It needs an astute observation lense to see how even now caste operates discreetly in this country.
Though ethnicity is a recent entry into the Sinhala social landscape, pluralism and devolution of power is all old hat to Sri Lanka -the first of which we see in the diverse ethnic groups that made Sri Lanka their home , the second is a proven fact for the three administrative units of Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti displays in no small way a willingness to share power in ancient Ceylon. Tamil kings like Sankili and Pararajasingham ruled the Jaffna kingdom. Ceylonese royalty even tied the nuptial knot with Indian Tamil women nevertheless of royalty and similar social status.
In examining the causes that led to this very narrow, chauvinistic and retarded mindset is inter Alia, majoritarianism that worsened with the ‘Sinhala only beat’ – the first an external deposit , the second ,an autochthonous one. Adding fuel to the fire was the ’72 followed by the ’78 constitution when centralized power was concreted. The upwardly mobile class, with newly found riches jobs and social status had moved out of caste units into a class system and were firm adherents of majoritarianism from which the communal card sprang. With only a smattering of English at hand, not being exposed fully to the language perse, this class remained chained in their restricted enclaves unable to rise above the ordinary and mediocre. Many politicians themselves of this class membership stood to gain for it was their vote base into power installation. The absence of role models was yet another reason for this morally decadent, ultra-nationalist mindset. In the absence of statesmen only politicians remained. There was no high calibre ,moral leader, emulation worthy, for this class to fall back on nor look up to when all what they heard was the petty ‘jaatiya aagama’ cry which regrettably did the country no good. Despite the many irregularities in the present administration, it needs to be re-iterated that the communal rhetoric at every street corner known to be former presidential forte has ceased to be the spoilers being the corrupt under Sirisena’s wing causing him much discomfort. For instance Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who was upheld as being above board came crashing down lock, stock and barrel shattering his public image of, ‘Mr. Clean’. Some political top brass also bring disrepute to the present administration when those that share common umbilical chord also share the plums of high office. Its time that a full stop to such moral meanderings became operational lest yahapalanaya is dubbed some other and it already has. Yet these critics have no moral right to do so considering the white vans that prowled in the darkness of night in an era of vampires. But two wrongs do not make a right.
Ministerial choice of biological appendages into powerful seats continue under the guise of having confidence in such. If so, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s choice preferences that sorrounded him could also be green lighted for the very same reason. Those that strongly opposed nepotism in the past are not free of that guilt today.
Selfless leaders are good role models as we find in Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln to name a few. But, it was not our fortune to have such whom we could emulate and look up to. The only one we had was Dr. E.W. Adikram who preferred to be very much a private person than engage in politics, knowing its disrepute in Sri Lanka. Incidentally, Weerawansa and company of the former JVP with their,’thousand tanks ‘ and honorary service fell foul and the rest is forgotten history.
If they did honour their promise, they certainly may have been good ingredient as role models. But that’s asking pearls from swine. Whatever be the fate that befell the tanks, Weerawansa remains a very belligerent think tank for the ousted regime – certainly a former Presidential side kick kicking aside truth, seemingly a good beneficiary of Rajapakse. Significantly, it is ingrained in the Sri Lankan to go back on one’s word and this moral incongruity starts from those that give the political leadership. Ironically that is the political legacy we are destined to endure where role models are concerned. The only ‘role models ‘the nation is left with are political deceits, liars and con men whom the citizenry has taken after .
Role models apart, Sinhala literature itself so rich in imagery and style yet does not connect the readership with a higher purpose. For instance Rabindranath Tagore, Leo Tolstoy, Omar Qayyam and the like stimulate the depths of our inner conscience and take us on a journey of profound elegance. When Martin Wickremasinghe writes about the emerging middle class he does so with his very astute observational powers and remarkable fist. None can deny the richness therein. Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula resorts to very colourful, star class imagery in his salalihini sandesaya describing a royal birth but does not engage the readers into a higher realm of thinking. The ephemeral ecstasy experienced in world class literature and the abstract component is found wanting in local setting. In this abstractness is the mind’s ability to experience the totality of existence where the mind rejects all boundaries which world literature offers. Tagore’s one single expression tells it all. “Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls” _ those of social constructs coming off nation, state, class, caste, religious group, ethnicity and the rest. The absence of its equivalent in any one of Sinhala texts creates the necessary space for not viewing the world in its totality _ the focus being on particularism rather than universality which breeds communalism.
Devoid of systemic existence, the ancient Sinhalese were a classy people, with a broader world view, so very enlightened and had every right to call themselves Buddhists.