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April the cruellest month, after these unkindest cuts

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 1 April 2016 00:00



THE WASTE LAND: Government resorting to staging protests, Joint Opposition rallies to regroup split parties with splinter groups, mercurial weather gods, a dry and parched populace bereft of both ‘good’ governance and or ‘bad’ growth to show for it – these prospects do anything but please in present times – Pic courtesy http://www.fairyist.com


Weather can’t win. We Sri Lankans are funny that way. 

Rain… and we’ll carp about traffic snarls and cavil about flooded walkways. 

Dry up, and/or heat up, and Hieronymus Bosch had nothing on the kinds of hell we’d dredge up to bemoan the perdition we’re going through. 

Comes the breakthrough – in bits of drizzle and bigger intimations of thundershowers, abruptly shut down by the power stations in the heavens – and we’re still bewailing the residual warmth that makes our islanders’ brains melt and our bodies head for the hills. 

“April is the cruellest month.” sdfg

Politics contains wicked similarities. 

Research; and we grouse that growth isn’t happening quickly or visibly enough and grumble that the previous Government was good if not better at seeing things got done and shown. 

Develop and/or do advance or progress on the never-never; and we bicker that due diligence hasn’t been seen to – such as vis-à-vis environmental impact assessment reports for port-city projects. 

Champion a landmark piece of legislation like 19A or the RTI Bill through Parliament; and we heap contumely on the heads of all those in and out of the House who allegedly watered down the strongest provisions, shanghaied the best clauses down sidetracks better suited to us, doomed the bill to limbo, etc. – there’s no pleasing some people.

We’re “breeding / lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / memory with desire.”

Politics continues to want to try, and wants to continue trying to woo the populace, even if the weather remains recalcitrant. Rain-gods may come and go, talking of Michelangelo. But politicos recently demonstrated that they have measured out their lives in coffee-spoons; wasting time on futile protests by Government against God knows what, and investing money and energy in Joint Opposition rallies that are rapidly becoming par for the course in the burgeoning movement against democratic-republicanism.  


A nice state of affairs a government in bed with strangers – or the lack of a strong marriage in ‘good governance’, as was expected – has brought us (and itself) to. In a year and a quarter as the incumbent administration (and despite its many good intentions/promises), it has gone from the honeymoon of standing on the high moral ground to scrabbling for a footing on the perilously loose soil of realpolitik and other grittier realities closer to a divorce. The ground has shifted alarmingly under the feet of a grand – and gutsy – unified coalition against corrupt despotism such that the hopes and aspirations – apart from regime change – of many of its apologists and supporters have tumbled and fallen. 

That ground yielded by a precariously pieced together coalition government has been by virtue of amateurishness rather than authoritarianism. The ground gained by antidemocratic personality cult-driven factions has been by dint of #argle-bargle and #jiggery pokery (to invoke two pithy phrases of the late US SC Justice Antonin La Scalia). A moot point is who’s winning which battle: reclaiming lost ground (democratic space) under regimes past or regaining people’s trust (popular disappointment) against administrations incumbent. To external appearances, it’s a 50:50 standoff in which the tug-o’-war is slowly sliding away from Government files and into the splintered ranks of the Joint Opposition. If size of the crowds alone matters!


This may be the normalised view for readers of this column. But it begs an element of naïveté that is not as easily dismissed as, say, a student protest in the face of water-cannon and truncheon-wielding. There remains to be seen whether the baton-charging accusations of a failure to govern, an egregious campaign of alleged political persecutions, and the hoary chestnut of persecuting war heroes under the guise of prosecuting war crimes will hold water? Whether it would weather well with the public, and go down smoothly along the gullet of a polity whose patience is wearing thin with propagandistic politicking on both sides of the parliamentary divide? Joint Oppositions can level charges like roguish schoolboys throwing mud. But playground politics deems that some of it will stick on the throwers themselves. 

After all, who defines “governance failures” and/or who is free of a similar – if not much worse – charge against its own former incumbency (failing state, banana republic)? What constitutes more damaging and more damnable “political persecutions”: police departments to (perhaps, selectively) investigate financial crimes, or presidential death-squads to (perniciously, strategically) interrogate and assassinate political or personal rivals and perverse rabble-rousers? Which unmarked, undisturbed, “war graves” will – if freshly dug up and their gory contents exhumed – jangle more skeletons in the closet than is convenient for which coalition? 

No, my guess is that this Government as much as that Government knows where the bodies are buried. And neither finger-pointing faction will go anywhere near a just investigation into whodunit. So, you can bet that rhetoric and rabble-rousing aside, nothing more serious than ridiculously unreasonable ^chauvinists^ getting hot under the collar and gullible ^nationalistic folks^ getting their blood pressure up will come out of all this reincarnation of “war heroes” and “war criminals”.


As much as the Joint Opposition is fond of rattling old-fashioned sabres (get a new reason to agitate, please!), the coalition Government is still thumping old tubs such as the colossal waste, bureaucratic swindling, and mismanagement the former regime was culpable of (get a new excuse to ameliorate your own mediocre showing, would you?). Now and again, a more reasonable than most Government mandarin from the clean-hands brigade of the ruling party will trot out facts and figures that we all know are entirely or mostly true. Also, regrettably, spew out wishes of prosecuting the guilty and wishful thinking about good governmental reforms which we suspect are entirely false. 

Until and unless the incumbent administration begins to deliver on its own manifesto and under its own steam, rather than relying on the momentum of bygone electoral victories, electoral and economic and ecumenical reforms remain a dead letter; for the Joint Opposition to post home to its protestors with a vengeance. While few rational citizens can disagree with the Government’s legalistic fondness for exposing the former regime’s fiscal and fiduciary wrongdoings, these deteriorate quickly enough into legal fictions trumped up for party-political purposes when prosecutions are slow and proof of criminal activity dries up. 

It no longer matters whether those allegedly guilty of crimes against the nation (war crimes) and/or crimes against the state (fiscal/fiduciary: fiddling funds) and/or crimes against the country (hard loans, selling the family silver) are still at large. It may be due to lack of evidence of their culpability or unforeseen procedural obstacles and the dragging feet of law-enforcement at its lacklustre, lackadaisical, lacking confidence in political will to maintain the inertia against crime sustainably. It doesn’t matter. Rains, like foreign direct investment hesitating between “power cuts” and “power crisis”, can come a day late and a dollar short. In the long run, we are all dead. A need of the hour is less talk, fewer promises, no road shows to privilege one’s own righteousness over the other regime’s criminality – and more action qua honest-to-voter delivery on promises made.


From Government’s point of view, a defence put forward by its spokespersons is that its protest was more to implore the Joint Opposition to let it do its job without let and hindrance than to impugn its former strongmen still not grown silent. This would be tragic (or comic) if it were not true (and characteristic) of the strongman in question. While previously seemingly content to marshal his troops from the sidelines in Nugegoda and Kurunegala, the hide and seek of the deposed would-be despot (don’t forget 18A repealed, but which reverberates in some denizens’ nightmarish dreams of democracy denuded) ended at Hyde Park. That he and his adulating cohorts had got their act together in spades was only overshadowed by the inescapable shade of corruption probes and prosecution threats hanging over the heads of many proud and unbowed demagogues that day.

This brazenness of rallying scoundrels is both an obstacle and an opportunity to good governance. An obstacle if the enervated coalition Government sees only rank upon rank of hungry Huns who once ate democracy out of House and home, and Vandals at the gate of the Republic who would do it again – a vaster force than before! and a larger army than it can muster itself! But an opportunity to take up the challenge, regroup political as well as civil society players loyal to the cause of the revolution cum regime change, and demonstrate virility and virtue in the several spheres of activity open to it.


All things being equal, one might assume this holding pattern will last forever. On the one hand, a coalition Government with a ruling party on the backfoot because of no one else’s fault but its own persnickety approach to development and communications, and palpably lame-duck commitment to belling the former fat-cats. On the other, a younger and less grand party than the Grand Old Party, with one foot in government and the other in the graveyard of strong-arm politics. Something has to happen sooner or later. Sooner than later, it might be a bête noire who comes out of the blue to unite the 46 SLFP MPs who protested and the rest who didn’t. Someone nasty might be the man of the moment, if the weather vane of post-war, post-conflict, post-regime, coalition politics is anything to go by these days.

That a deeply divided SLFP might welcome a champion of the party riding to its defence (no pun intended) is yet to be seen. What matters least to them, and their putative defender of the faith, is that the healing of bitter bifurcations between once united segments of socialist parties hardly puts butter on the people’s bread or a buth packet thrice daily on families’ tables. All these rallies and protests – really, wars and rumours of wars – are simply “stirring dull roots with spring rain”. Not quite what a paang- and power-starved polity requires from its power-hungry politicos, with palms before their feet and a shout about their ears. Like Chesterton’s donkey (which fondly imagined that the cries of “Hosanna!” were for it, rather than the real deliverer).

While a riven SLFP waits for its deluded political messiahs to ride in unifying triumph through the to-be-conquered city, the republican defenders of the citadel are busy fortifying their defences with desperate measures. The UNFGG is keeping us “warm / covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding / a little life with dried tubers”. We’re some of us hoping that their “summer” – late in its coming – will surprise us “with a shower of rain” and that we can most of us all go “on in sunlight”.

Poetry has its uses in adversity! Last week, in frustration at the shenanigans of political parties who use the relative size of their respective protests to beat each other over the head, I wrote of Arnold’s #Dover Beach: “And here we are as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight / Where ignorant armies clash by night.” This week, on reflection, I think while the alarms of protestors may be confused and the armies of those rallying ignorant, the master manipulators behind the machines and the movements that sweep mere mortals into – and out of – power are neither ignorant nor confused.

One splinter group is strategically coalescing a segmented party as a bulwark against @Good Governance’s continuing but weakened hegemony. Only the dusty road to sudden death – a long and winding road to local government elections – keeps the fractured SLFP from gaining more momentum, with inertia in the interim between polls being hard to maintain. If the UNP takes the PC polls plunge now, it might force the unifying messiah’s hand. If it doesn’t, it risks losing more popularity, its moral majority mandate, the president’s support, the poll. It all hinges on the time… the time it takes to push constitutional reforms through.   

With the urgency of Eliot’s #The Waste Land: “HURRY UP PLEASE, IT’S TIME!”

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