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The Mãnâpá Papers


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April is the cruellest month, I wrote in these columns last Friday. Not only usually because *aluth avurudda* is a time when the unkindest cuts (power outages, price hikes, pointless protests, pretty little progress in poverty reduction) affect the general populace the most. But because in some quarters it sometimes has the propensity of “mixing / memory with desire, stirring / dull roots with spring rain”.  fg

As a case in point: Three days ago, certain journalists of two whole decades (since The Sunday Leader’s start-up in 1994) – and more (as Suranimala was on the scene for longer than just in his last incarnation, and at two other national newspapers at that: Times, Island) – remembered his passing. The death of an iconic, iconoclastic, journalist who is larger in death than in life...

That, in the midst of his death, we are in a half-life of our own is no more poignantly remembered than on his birthday/birth anniversary (5 April). 

That, in the midst of our living deaths, then (remember that awful regime?), destiny struck on the very day (8 January) that his assassin’s cruel bows laid full low our harmless albatross – five years earlier (2009) – still rouses revolutionary passion among true republicans. 

That, election result and the reversal of arrogant despotism’s fortunes, as well as the undoing of a rule by fiat by arrant anti-democratic forces, could have been – and still can be – a cause for celebration for upholders of the law’s just causes and civil liberties such as freedom of speech.

But it isn’t. Truth be told, between the hope of a fully realised peace with justice dispensed and the reality of just realpolitik and rank amateurishness – with attendant rationales and justice dispensed with – has fallen a shadow of delays, disappointments. No real results. Many reasons for it. Sundry excuses. Pity... 

 

6

GDP

If only the powers that be could see that over and above Growth, Development, Progress, and all the other tough-minded criteria that can be measured, the true worth of a government and the society it represents is to be found in promises kept on a word given. If so, then they – a coalition with potential for national transformation like no other in our history – would be fit for posterity’s forgiving pages. If not, and if they won’t / don’t / can’t make good on promises made, in good time, then the tender-hearted books of life will record no more gracious a verdict than for any other administration culpable of succumbing to realpolitik. It would be politics as usual (at best) or cynically exploiting a demographic to secure their own ends (at worst). In the long run, we – and he, like us – may be all dead... But in the unforgiving now (and in poll times: the soon coming hereafter) someone will remember. 

Of course, all of this begs the question whether any such promise as has been interpreted by the average citizenry was ever made. Did the then aspiring government-to-be actually promise to bring Lasantha’s killers to justice? Or did another government waiting in the wings make generally attractive noises and placatory gestures like any other government to win people’s hearts – and votes?

 



Time

Time will tell. Because that’s all we have – and they have – to go on: time. We: those yearning for a case closed and assassins disclosed in this singular, symbolic case... They, those who promised that the death of an editor who stood as a singular symbol of assorted freedoms (never mind his own feet of clay or personal ambitions) would be sorted – Even as they hem and haw and hedge their bets... Especially as they field candidates for cabinet and marshal resources to militate in favour of future election victories. Let those who have ears hear, those who have eyes see! I expect that critics of critically engaged journalism and supporters or friends of the incumbent administration will be equally annoyed at or upset with me and my ilk (there are a few sterling others who won’t / don’t / can’t pass up each and every opportunity to plead our case). They will argue against or say things to us, like this... Why harp on minor matters when there are more major issues facing government today (balance of payments deficits, IMF strictures, nascent security threats)? Do let bygones be bygones (“don’t trouble trouble”)! Could it be that you have an ax to grind on behalf of the previous regime?! 

 



Truth

But here we stand. We can do no less if government will do no more. Under the bludgeoning of fate, infamous accusations, the fury of state mandarins – and in the face of the futility of the investigations being passed like a ruggerite’s odd-shaped ball from CID to TID to who knows what next (the FCID, maybe) – our heads are bloodied but unbowed. 

To cynical governmental campaigners or politically-seasoned citizenry, the idea of one man’s death being of such great import to anyone might seem to be suggesting Good Governance descend from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is an iota in a sea of jots and tittles, true... But it is an issue on which government’s true intentions, its great reputation for governance, and their real nature that no one knows or suspects, rests – And will hinge in future when the greater scorekeepers than UN peacekeepers (I mean voters and media agitators) come to write against government’s name... So do cease and desist from asking us to shut up, do.

One is properly and painfully aware that not every other person will see the tragi-comedy of it, which is obvious to us as evident to all and sundry. For each idealist who perhaps unreasonably expects justice in our lifetime, there is a pragmatist who pooh-poohs the pleas of the families of the dead and the lost... For every relationship-oriented republican who wants to know where the bodies are (metaphorically speaking) and who the killers are, there is a results-driven pseudo-democrat who will encourage the dead to bury their own dead (maybe even literally) and bury the files. 

But if we are ever to emerge from the Dark Ages of Sri Lanka into the light and shade of our full potential, it is important for dreamers to remain sentimentally attached to the notions evoked in our collective conscience (the truth must out) and emotions aroused in our national consciousness (freedom and fairness for all) by a movement to usurp tyranny that dared to call itself a revolution. And if the people – at least that minority demographic who read this rag, and likeminded others – are willing, we are able to showcase some optional alternatives or possibilities.

 



A natural or normalised view (NAIVE)

  •  This is Sri Lanka
  •  Stuff happens
  •  Better not to get your blood pressure up about issues no one cares much about any longer
  •  We are a resilient people
  •  We’ll get over it. So best move on if you know what’s good for you

An unrepentantly pragmatic prism (NECESSARY)

  •  The government needed a wedge to move the former regime out
  •  Such an edge was available in the emotive issue of abductions and assassinations
  •  With every good intention Good Governance donned the cape of champion of justice
  •  But the law’s delays, unforeseen procedural obstacles, and the unwilling of law-enforcement to lay its lives on the line – literally, for government had been a mercurial and merciless beast since almost time out of mind – have stymied the efficiency and efficacy of investigations

 

The cynical lens (NAUGHTY)

  •  Everyone knows who had the power to commit such crimes in the name of expedience
  •  The former regime knew it then. The incumbent administration knows it now
  •  Some honest-to-goodness campaigners in the heady days of Good Governance as the New Wine genuinely thought their government had every intention of pursuing the right path
  •  But once voted in, a majority of so-called champions of peace with justice lost interest in most of the cases, except a few with vested interests who kept hammering home the uncomfortable obligation to do something about past crimes committed in the name of wartime governance ethics
  •  Govt. had its own imbroglios, unfortunately, and its agenda – if it was not to be hijacked by the very antidemocratic forces it had ousted – and had to jettison some of its more idealistic aspirations in the face of the reality of politics’ nuts and bolts
  •  The greater good is national unity, parliamentary cohesion, adherence to short- to medium-terms goals of reform, and keeping an eye on achieving the holy grail of constitutional reform (to keep ‘us’ in with a chance, and ‘them’ out for a certainty, forever and ever, amen) 
  •  Thus the ostensibly espoused objectives would (should they fall foul of the populace: could be in less than 100 days leave alone 2-3 years) become a sacrificial animal on the altar of the art of the possible and its exponents scapegoats (but never mind; it’s part and parcel of island-republican politics)

 

That persistently subversive perspective (NASTY)

  •  Perhaps the goat-footed god of the overarching underworld is not the only culprit   
  •  Perhaps the faux-military machine that carried out the criminal hit had general orders 
  •  Perhaps the need of the hour – to stay in power by fielding the right mandarins in cabinet and at election time – has compromised the willingness and the ability of the best intentions of good governance to marshal its resources against dastardly deeds done 

 

Perhaps 

Perhaps we’re not being fair to the powers that be. Especially the ones among them with more than a smidgen of integrity. One such of their mandarins, a respected MP and deputy minister with more gravitas than many, recently said in a television interview: “These things can’t be fixed overnight. This takes a long time, because these problems are old problems. They have a lot of history, a lot of stakeholders, and it takes time. But we have started.” Of course, he was responding not to specific murder trial investigations but to the general question: “What have you done to fulfil our wildly unrealistic expectations? We thought everything would be fixed by now.” 

Eran Wickramaratne – a friend of Lasantha’s latter-day avatar and a champion of the free media – has our attention and our regard. Now he will earn all of our respect – to say nothing of the undying gratitude of the families of the murdered (be they an editor, a ruggerite, the nameless faceless hundreds if not thousands) – if he and his government will continue to champion with equal if not greater vigour the causes of justice with equality for all before the law which they once championed.

In the end, we all fall – or stand – before some tribunal: voters, other interlocutors, donors, detractors, supporters. But there is one judgment seat before which nothing but the most brutally seared conscience can stand: A jury of one’s complicit peers. Shall we hold our breath hoping that there is no honour among thieves for truth to out?


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