When the saints go masquerading in

Tuesday, 25 February 2020 01:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

So that saintly MP has thrown a spanner in government’s works again. The pious member lashed out against a battery of citizens from journalists and lawyers to members of his own estate. Last week, much of his grievance was about the silence of the media and the judicial-legal fraternity on the harassment of a bastion – no pun intended – of the free media. 

There is a background to this story and I would thank you to research it on the jungle telegraph, as mainstream media has gone commentary-dark. Or at least watch the video of the honourable gentleman speak his mind in the august (ahem, I don’t think so!) assembly last week… 

On behalf of my fellows in the Fourth Estate, I suppose one must be grateful to the sterling MP in question for stalwartly pointing out the error of our ways. At least, unlike those among his learnéd (I use the term loosely) friends across the aisle, he did it with strong words; not with flung chairs or House-made chilli cocktails. 

He was at pains to point out the unconscionable silence of journalists at a time when one of their number – as well as the former head of her erstwhile media establishment – were the subject of a witch-hunt by the incumbent administration. Of course, this begs the question of how that regime came to be in power to the extent it is today and who, by design or by default, helped them to get there in style. 

 

Prologue

For those who came in late, or have lived in a fantasy-land where there are two principled parties with opposing ideological platforms thrashing out matters in the national interest, let me interest you strangely otherwise. 

The older king grown arrogant and his monstrous regime were ousted by an unlikely alliance of unalike allies. But far from being the white knights they purported to be, those motley usurpers fell out with each other soon enough. And not before another brace of criminal heists had been carried out in the name of Good Governance (well, there was a little of that, too). Now the old rogues want to hamstring the old ones… and vice versa. 

The sad thing is that those who genuinely believed in them, as well as others who championed their cause, fell victim to the chicanery of the deep state or a chummy brotherhood that unites the ruling classes of every hue. 

Bar 19A – and there’s some doubt over that, isn’t there – and RTI, little good came out of GG. And those who threw in their lot with the Good Guys came a-cropper in the end for their pains in supporting a principle –unafraid. Because it seems the ‘capo di capo tutti’ are in cahoots with each other – we see it every time they meet and greet like long-lost pals, rather than political opponents. 

Clear? As mud, which is the lifeblood of the political culture we live in.

That is it in a nutshell. Today the boot – or jackboot – is on the other foot. However much they may promise media freedom or the unfettered expression of ideas, these two political camps brook no variation from the theme. 

On the one hand, the lesser of the two evils in terms of governing coalitions would employ their partisan friends (or should I say party hacks or media-based ideologues) to press the case in print against their political opponents. The less said about the other camp the better; pushing you up against the wall as they are wont to.

Which is a large part of Eran Wickramaratne MP’s grouse against the media. That it is silent about the political persecution of a former Observer editor and her boss, as well as an ex-CID bigwig to boot. For the love of God, he can’t understand why these innocents are being hounded.  

 

Picks 

Well let me tell you, sir. It is part of the dirty political game played at the uppermost echelons of power where press barons as much as pesky editors are pawns. But not before I laud you for your mercifully short and yet impassioned diatribe against my tribe and sundry others such as civil society. For to the devil – or those on the side of the angels – his due! 

As always, you spoke the truth. It is a convenient truth, though. One that suits the purposes of the party you represent over and above the pressing of a principled case. It is easier to verbally champion noble ideals while in opposition than do something concrete about it when in power…  

BRAVE WORDS IN THE HOUSE - fusillade or a façade?

Be that as it may, you took the high road – as you usually do. To uphold the values and praxis of a free, fair and just society is not easy… unless, of course, you have nothing to lose by standing out – because you don’t stand to lose out by sticking your neck out. How are the mighty fallen when the cardinal opportunity to lock the bad guys away for good and throwaway the key was missed (by design or by default). Would we be in this pickle today if your own party leader had been more principled and shown hardier testicular fortitude? That’s b*lls!

Maybe you don’t quite see it that way. And with the charitable frame of mind that being in the wrong brings so clearly, let us say today: mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – for yes, we didn’t speak out against injustice quite as cavalierly as you did. Let us live and let live… or let die, in our case. As for you, even now, there’s still time to critically engage the oligarchy closer to your home that is a weak facsimile of the budding dictatorship out there. Heil to all!

One more point to give the kudos due to you. In a self-imposed silent age where all bulwarks against growing statism and emerging hyper-presidentialism are gagged, you were right to laud and honour the formidable magistrates and law officials who are standing their ground under no mean duress. Cheers to those doughty defenders of the law and the larger national interest – may their tribe increase, and their numbers be safeguarded (as you said) by their champions in the legislature, civil society et al. 

 

Pans 

And yet, despite your ostensible forthrightness in speaking up for the persecuted and holding forth in impassioned vein, I’m afraid we just don’t buy it. 

Yes, you want the notorious MiG and Airbus deals investigated, and the culprits brought to book. Oh, if only you were so insistent that the criminals who perpetrated the Central Bank heists were served such similar notice by the law of the land! And had you and your ilk persevered as much as you promised you would in bringing to justice the murderers of yon editors and schoolboys and the abductors of cartoonists, perhaps there would be no egregious embassy case to contend with today? 

I am not an MP, obviously, and therefore do not enjoy the bulletproof vest of parliamentary privilege. Or have friends in high places on both sides of the political divide who will defend me at the drop of a hat, or a name. Nor do I expect – having seen how little Yahapalanaya did to arrest (leave alone eliminate) the tide of impunity among immune super-politicos – any idealist to champion my cause in the event of, well, anything. One hopes not although hope these days is the thing without feathers!

I am, however, a citizen – one among literally millions – who has seen and suffered the ravages of the political uniculture (I dare say since 2005). It is a reprehensible micro-organism (the 1% of them: fat ugly thug-like thieving hypocrites who band together in their own causes to the detriment of the national interest). And must be eradicated by whatever rapidly-dwindling means available to common or garden citizens in our shrinking democratic-republican space. But with democrats ganging up with pseudo-republicans seeking a hyper-presidential iron fist to steer us to loftier status, the winds favour the emergence of an all-new monolithic regime that’s immune to citizen (leave alone national) interests.

In such a milieu, the clarion call is to increasing activity by unelected citizens everywhere to critically and discerningly engage with the powers that be – in both the executive as well as the legislature. But where the agency of the judiciary is crippled bar a few doughty magistrates standing firm against a barbarian tide, and when instrumentality of law and order tends to law by the order of the powers themselves, a concerned citizenry finds itself gagged and bound. 

Sorry to say that craven business and complicit academia will not stand against the hordes at the gate. Since the armchair warriors on social media live in a bubble universe, it is left to the people and their poets – the unacknowledged legislators of the world – to speak the truth. Shall we end our lament in the words of a writer who perhaps perfectly captures the burden of the average Sri Lankan caught between a desire for progress and the dawning realisation that it comes at a very high personal and principled cost?

Yes, I’m unhappy,

But I’m too scared to complain,

Can’t somebody else?

Of course, Andrew Fidel Fernando (author of ‘Upon a Sleepless Isle’) was writing about “Sri Lanka’s great propensity to quietly tolerate inconvenience”. So it behoves us – striving against a companion tendency to ‘quietly ignore injustice’ – to essay a comparable haiku that is more honest to who we are and how we feel…

Yes, we’re all livid:

But only the brave campaign;

’Cos no one else will…

(Journalist | Editor-at-Large of LMD | Writer | Son of a small island. Scion of a larger destiny)

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