“Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.”
- George Orwell
The United National Party (UNP) has become muted. The political party that championed the cause of democracy has lost its voice; an increasing tendency for retail politics has made it an anachronism in modern-day politics. Its machinery has lost its skipper; the one who is pretending is making incoherent statement after incoherent statement and the backbenchers do not seem to have guts to challenge such a leadership though it has become increasingly evident that its chances at the next poll are slim to none.
Come 2020, if timely adjustments are not made to the processes of effecting changes to its leadership at the highest level that includes party nominee for the presidential poll, the country will be in the hands of some of those who pretend to safeguard Buddhism, the Sinhalese kind. The so-called land of the purest kind of Buddhism, the home of Theravada, might well go up in flames, once again, like in 1983. The pent-up emotions so inflamed by the rhetoric of the Gnanasaras, Rathanas and Asgiriya Chapter monks would engulf the total psyche of the majority numbers. A political inferno would be waiting to explode. Much to the plight of the minorities, both Muslims and Tamils, the sane leaders of the majority would be silent; their impartial judgments, unbiased decisions, valid and legitimate appeals would go unheeded.
Sri Lanka’s socio-political landscape would have to be redesigned, if one were to make it look like normal and worthy of the beholder’s eye. One would not realise the gravity of religion-based anxieties that are essentially buttressed by narrow-minded sloganeering led by the likes of Gnanasara and Rathana. These sloganeering appeals which are ostensibly harmless but if made to a consistent rhyme and rhythm could be devastating both to the opponents of those who engage in it at first, and secondly to the country at large.
Malefic effects of such religion-based discrimination and racial profiling are, more often than not, not only well-known to those who willfully do it but such effects in turn are used as causes to engineer more radical and dramatic social change. The political leadership that is essential to advance these vulgar ventures is provided as a matter of course once the initial momentum is given by so-called custodians of the religious sects and movements. Arguments as to what comes first, whether the environment that rendered suitability for such movement or the movement that was responsible for creation of such an environment are redundant now. By the time such movements or the environment are born, the real effects have already materialised; a destructive sequence of events has been created; men and women have already been driven to a frenzy of phoney religious devotion and fake-patriotism has overridden all rational and reasonable thought.
The above is not a flight of fancy nor is it an attempt to denigrate one religion and make a potentially destructive process look urgent and looming. Space and time for such luxuries have been foreclosed. With the fast-approaching election season, the mind of the voter had to be reset to suit the beneficiary parties, in this case, the Rajapaksas and their cohorts. Some privately-owned television channels and the frenzied social media activists are already in the arena, sharpening their daggers, so to speak, not just waiting for the opportune moment, but willfully trying to be the parents of such mayhem and chaos that would ensue such a breakdown of social discipline and political order.
But the most depressing single aspect of this looming social disorder is the incomprehensible silence and inaction of the United National Party and its weak leadership. Abdication of elementary duty and responsibility is not pardonable. Generations to come will rush to subject them to scorn and their cruel judgment would condemn such leaders into history’s dustbin. The UNP does not seem to care; if such lack of empathy is intentional and deliberate, it’s so tragic and the density of sadness that would befall our nation as a whole would be incalculable.
It does not take an intellectual mind to understand these palpable facts; in fact, those so-called intellectuals do get bogged down in their own analyses and ill-based segmentation; the obvious evades them and honesty eludes these pundits. All signs are significant; they tell a story one cannot ignore; they demand leaders to gather them and strategise and act on them. Those leaders who disregard facts will earn the scorn and contempt of generations yet unborn.
But our leaders seem simply oblivious to these facts. Their collective ignorance has condemned them to these lofty heights from which, if they fall, would eventually destroy them for good. People’s grievances cannot be ignored, but if such grievances are ill-defined and communicated through ill-fated channels, the validity and legitimacy of those grievances become close to zero. That indeed is utterly saddening and depressing. Man’s pursuit of happiness and success in life cannot be measured in terms of his leaders’ ambitions. Leaders would pursue their own goals and attainment of them may not be compatible with the subjects’ limited ambitions and desires. Mundane desires of the followers are legitimate in the context of overall life and its challenges and demands, yet one cannot be allowed to justify one’s ungainly pursuits just because one happens to be a follower instead of a leader.
As the title of this column suggests, the choice before the people cannot be clearer; its starkness cannot be ignored and the weight of the choice cannot be heavier. One political entity, led by the Rajapaksas, is being openly backed by the fringes of the political spectrum. Religious extremities, racial prejudices and adherence to tribal mentality generate violent responses from those who adhere to such edges of societal development. When their prejudices are fine-tuned to sloganeering of politicians, emergence of violent outbursts becomes almost normal. Mature democracies have learnt to avoid these outbursts and the necessary governing structures are more so in place to tackle these outbursts which are considered outside the norm.
What was considered outside the norm became within after the ill-timed release of Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, the ill-reputed political hack whose outer attire happens to be a saffron robe. It is indeed a desecration of the very religion and way of life as preached by Buddha, the founder of the religion he is purported to represent. The release of Gnanasara cannot be a coincidence. Release of a known agitator just six months prior to the next presidential election in no way could be regarded as an act of mercy. The dangerous political underpinnings of such a decree cannot be understated, nor could it be callously disregarded. Therein lies the whole argument for lack of sound judgment on the part of the Executive.
A dysfunctional government apparatus coupled with a cruelly conniving team of race cum religion-rats can lead our land into a chaotic disorder of unprecedented proportions. Defiance of the norm and freedom granted to a conduct unbecoming are all parts of this unholy mosaic of national disharmony. Tamils and Muslims of the land again will be treated as alien to the country which they call home. Whether the Sinhalese majority likes it or not, they have to concede that this land is not exclusively theirs. They need to get over the adolescent notion of a need to right historical wrongs done unto them by the colonial powers who have left our shores more than seventy years ago. Seven decades is a long time for a nation to mature; it’s more than sufficient to let bygones be where they should be. Turning this democracy into a political inferno can be avoided, but it needs extreme vigilance and utmost patience on the part of all our