There’s a singular vacancy in this country, according to some. Ranil Amirtthiah of the popular local band ‘Black,’ whenever he speaks and in whatever forum he chooses to do so, is often poetic but sometimes he flushes subtlety down the tube. He says it straight from the heart, always. This is clearly evident in a vacancy ad he posted a few hours ago.
Post: Sri Lankan ZORRO. Area of work: Colombo and suburbs. Job description: to terrorize those “selfish Essential Service blackmailers”, whip them and show them the righteous path of service to the nation. Salary: the entire nations gratitude.
For those who may not be familiar with the name and legend, here’s a wiki-intro:
Zorro (Spanish for “fox”) is the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega, a fictional character created in 1919 by pulp writer Johnston McCulley. He is a Californian nobleman living in Los Angeles during the era of Mexican rule (between 1821 and 1846), although some movie adaptations of Zorro’s story have placed him during the earlier Spanish rule. The character has undergone changes through the years, but the typical image of him is a dashing black-clad masked outlaw who defends the commoners and indigenous peoples of the land against tyrannical officials and other villains. Not only is he too cunning and fox-like for the bumbling authorities to catch, but he also delights in publicly humiliating them.
Ranil was of course referring to the current strike by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation workers which is inconveniencing a lot of people, especially those who own vehicles. ‘Throw them out,’ is a call that has gathered momentum with respect to striking workers. It is a call that has found some currency in certain circles with respect to striking doctors as well.
Not all the objectors to strikes are regime-defenders, let us acknowledge this first up. It is about inconvenience and it is about outrage; anger about services considered to be ‘essential’. Let us also remember that many of those who are today saluting the Government for ‘sending in the Army’ were chest-beating moral-high-horse objectors when the previous regime opted for such strategies. One might bet that should the petroleum workers resist and resistance was met with force leading to two or three or more being killed, the very same people who cried with horror over the Rathupaswala killings would say ‘the hooligans deserved it!’ Yes, it is a story about political loyalties and the moralizing doesn’t quite hide the fact. The more honest among the advocates of force have demonstrated some nostalgia for the preferred opposition-quelling methods of the previous regime (sans white vans, the advocates hastily add). That tells a story.
Now one could argue that this ‘Zorro-Option’ need not be unleashed only on striking workers but on all those who err including politicians and everyone benefiting from or supporting a system that is flawed
Let’s ignore the political colour of all this. Let us focus on the scenario sans loyalty. It boils down to hope or versions of the same hope: a (benevolent) dictator. Not too many people are stopping in their tracks to ask themselves, ‘wait a minute, wasn’t yahapalanaya (good governance) about better systems and not about personalities?’
Ranil has not spelled out ‘dictator’. He has instead called for a hero who will dash in, whip the pants off the rascals, offer infinite relief to long-suffering citizens and dash out. Just like that!
Now one could argue that this ‘Zorro-Option’ need not be unleashed only on striking workers but on all those who err including politicians and everyone benefiting from or supporting a system that is flawed, makes for the making of dictators and containing all kinds of loopholes for theft and the escape of thieves. The problem is that is focuses on individuals and not systems. If our hero, as he rides into the proverbial sunset, deigns to look back, he will no doubt find a flawed system more or less intact.
Here’s another FB post that gives perspective: 1) No petrol in the sheds; 2) Doctors on strike; 3) When they are not on strike there is still a dearth of medicines; 4) People are dying daily from Dengue; 5) There is no proper solid waste disposal system; 6) The forests are being cut down but the President proudly says the Environmental Ministry is under him; 7) There is cocaine instead of regular retail goods in SATHOSA containers; 8) When a politician is found guilty of wrongdoing he is fined Rs.2,000; 9) The failed Uma Oya Project is rendering people homeless and 10) The Parliament approves leasing of Hambantota Harbour to China. So much more can be added to this. For example, the ‘logic’ of lumping lotteries with foreign affairs and of course the hilarious case of the continued pampering of those implicated in the Central Bank bond scam. The question is, can one Zorro clean it all up? How many Zorros would we need, to put it another way?
A better leader or better leadership would go a long way in curing the country of at least some of these ills, one could argue. This is why there are some who call not for a Zorro but for a Gota (that’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa). Yes, the term ‘benevolent dictator’ is often used when this ‘option’ is discussed. It’s a hope, obviously and as is typical not a hope that can be obtained from track-record. However, we have to recognize the fact that one individual is not a front. One Zorro might make for cheers and some relief, but adventurers, Robin Hoods, brigands and troubadours, romantic as they obviously are, have seldom changed systems or altered the course of history. At best they offer or make a name or a political moment respectively to a process of system-change already in motion. In the terms of the political scientist, they give a name to a moment when objective preconditions mature to the point of significant social upheaval.
This is why we need to debate individual heroes versus collective effort. Bertold Brecht in “Leben des Galilei” (Life of Galileo) elaborated on this ‘Zorror Wish.’ Andrea Sarti tells the would-be Zorro, i.e. Galileo Galilei, “Unhappy is the land that has no hero.” And Galileo Zorro, if you will, responds, “No, Andrea; unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”
Of course we can call for ‘Zorro.’ We might even get ‘Zorro.’ We will cheer when Zorro dashes in, but the Zorros in real life don’t ride off into the sunset, they transform into quite un-Zorro-like entities. No cheering then. As for those who doubt, I invite them to reflect on the Zorros of the past: e.g. Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sarath Fonseka, Velupillai Prabhakaran, SWRD Bandaranaike, JR Jayewardena, Maithripala Sirisena, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Rohana Wijeweera, Ranil Wickremesinghe and (how could we forget?) Yahapalanaya!