“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
One does not have to look anywhere else. Daily headlines in the mainstream newspapers have been telling a most riveting story. Political winds have been blowing in opposite directions as far as the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) are concerned. Ever since the presidential and later the parliamentary elections, the UNP has been the recipient of a minuscule but a benevolent tailwind while the SLFP has been buffeted or pounded by an unenviable headwind.
From the response of the SLFP proper and its breakaway group’s mutterings and actions, one could ascertain that, in the coming months, the advantage is going to remain with the UNP. The badgering and criticism the Rajapaksas were confronted with and the trickling effect such badgering had on the Rajapaksa-entourage has looked crushing. The ‘purity-of-purpose’ image that the old regime attempted to advance throughout the past decade has been tarnished. The credit that was granted, mainly due to the war-victory, is waning and the players in the game have been exposed as players of the country’s coffers and people’s susceptibilities.
The Rajapaksas have not only misspent their political capital they rightfully earned, they squandered the people’s trust to such an unbelievable level and are trekking a tortuous journey on the borders of defeatism. The political calculus that they inaccurately formulated is now haunting them and the bizarre pageant of corrupt practices and dishonest conduct while in power are making a replay in slow motion before a public that is more aware and cognizant of nuanced undertones of this cynical enterprise called politics.
Protection of alleged ill-gotten wealth and material richness cannot be a reward for winning the war against the LTTE. Having deserted the supreme characteristic of leadership which consists of honesty and honour, these politicians are still trying to convince the masses that they be given, not a second chance, but third, fourth or fifth one.
People’s memories are prone to failure; their retention capacities varied and of some meagre and short-lived, except for a very few pundits and professionals whose singular livelihood is research and scholarship. A majority of the masses simply forget what occurred yesterday, leave alone months or years earlier. Under such circumstances, what is available to dictators and military rulers is readily not available to those who are elected by the people. Accountability and transparency, especially in the current context, being crucial and inescapable given the prevailing public mindset, the Government might find it very hard to exercise any control over the Fourth Estate. Social Media, whether they could be classified as part of the Fourth Estate or not, is excruciatingly aggressive and relentlessly persevering when it begins disseminating news and their aftermath. Their pursuit of sensationalism is without breaks and mercy. No ban on websites or control of the Social Media is possible. Such controls, if attempted, would boomerang and could be harmful in the long run. In such an aggressive and merciless atmosphere, the rulers should be ultra-vigilant and must show an uncommon sense of common-sense and unmitigated professionalism when coping with negative publicity and image-destroying schemes of the vultures of the social media.
How are the two parties in the coalition faring in this endeavour, both collectively and separately? As a collective body, the coalition partners have managed to walk the ‘tight rope of political partnership’ without one or the other falling. But as individual members of the partnership, the UNP members have shown far more decorum and stature. It’s quite natural that in the wake of the elections, both presidential and parliamentary, the winning party always is more self-confident than the defeated. The UNP Cabinet Ministers have exercised a balanced political mindset bordering on magnanimity, but I am afraid, the same is not true about the SLFP parliamentarians. Most of the non-Cabinet SLFP parliamentarians are yet to come to terms with an electoral defeat. After being in power for twenty unbroken years and after enjoying the luxuries of power and might of a single family-rule in which accountability and transparency were as alien as feathers to a tortoise, were in a state of shock soon after the defeat have now assumed the ignoble qualities of jealousy and resentment.
The mind of the defeated could be very destructive and harmful, both in the short and long terms. The defeated could be categorized into two main streams. On the one hand are those who have been defeated militarily, in the case of the LTTE and other Tamil militant organizations and those who were beaten at the ballot box as in the case of the political parties. The helpless lacuna that sets in could be devastating to the individual if one is not adequately equipped to handle the human pressures and conditions that are brought upon the lacuna. The un-conditioning of a mind that was used to the pomp and pageantry of power once held and wielded without a care for its boundaries and responsibilities is tough and agonizing. Very few in all human history have walked away from power. Sophistication of allegiance to democratic principles does not consist only in how one wields power; it’s even more agonizing to walk away from power in the face of certain overthrow. The unsophisticated mind will, instead of responding, invariably react to such personal calamities rather surreptitiously. Being schooled in an environment of political power being represented as a permanent passport to do-as-you-wish, the past holder of power is removed from his comfort zone. The resultant state of mind, though outwardly may appear calm and benign, inwardly is waiting to vent out its defeats and frustrations. A part of the travesty of the so-called joint opposition is precisely that.
A parade of arrivals and departures to and from the FCID, the Judiciary and other investigating agencies and the catalogues of crimes, misdemeanours and acts of corruption, nepotism, downright hooliganism and countenance and connivance of political malpractice are now being exposed. The facade has been removed and what is visible is and on display today to the curios public is a scarcely-recognizable skeleton. Those who ran their election campaigns which were purported to have been financed by small-donor money are being questioned for financial fraud.
However, the Rajapaksas have opted to use the tactics of offence. The Rajapaksas have kept their immediate family intact. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of the members of the former First Family are contemplating leaving the rest in the lurch and start singing. Only two exceptions have been found so far; they are the notorious Sajin Vaas Gunawardene and Mervyn Silva. The rest are clinging to Omerta, the code of silence of the Sicilian Mafia and this observance of Omerta is protecting those who are alleged to have committed grave financial frauds and crimes.
One does not know the quantity of embers hidden under the ashes. These ashed-over embers might one day be fanned so the spectacle of exposé would have a compelling effect on the beholders. Yet the process is painstakingly slow and sluggish; words cascading from the lips of the accused are louder than those who accuse; explanations of delay and lethargy are not satisfactory and because of that quality of delay and lethargy are construed as witch-hunting and incompetence, the advantage belongs to the accused.
Such a paradoxical state of affairs could be easily averted if the Government sets about adopting a strategic and proactive course of action. Without waiting to respond after an accusation is made, if a consistent programme of informing and educating the public on a regular and timely basis, what is perceived as incompetence and lethargy could be presented as part and parcel of good governance. Good governance cannot detain suspects without producing them before the judiciary; good governance cannot subject them to summary punishment and kept behind bars. Pretence of justice is not dispensation of justice. Law and order cannot be compromised at any cost. One simply should not forget the malpractice of the law during the previous regime. Both the then Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka and Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake were humiliated beyond measure. The brutal killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga and the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda are still hurting the soul of our nation. The brutal realities of the past decade should not remain unexposed, nor should they be allowed to recur.
Modern societies have learnt to cope with the shades of the colours and nuances of sophistication. In no way does that mean to be swaying in indecision; hard decisions are difficult to arrive at and making good those decisions is even harder. If we decide to let our armour down, if we ever attempt to compromise with the un-compromisable, we will have let down our values as worthy men and women. If the broad masses are not receptive to a slow and steady growth of democracy, let that be, because the alternative is unthinkable.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org