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The New Republic: Making it or Faking it?


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 29 July 2016 00:00


A week and more ago, those of us who remembered celebrated humanity’s greatest adventure yet: our first (manned spacecraft) moon landing on 20 July 1969. And yet a significant segment of web-crawlers still believes that the whole operation was faked as a part of the US’s Cold War on the then Soviet Union. These now mostly social media-based conspiracy theorists would have us think that the grandest enterprise yet of our barely space-faring race was shot in some state-sponsored special-effects studio so that the space race could be conclusively won by the US of A.  Untitled-2

There may be some merit to the suspicion that much of America’s so-called conquests and victories in a sole-superpower world share the stamp of the ‘managed spectacle’ that some cynical commentators attributed to the staging of the Cold War itself. However, it would be a rare bird flying over the cuckoo’s nest who still maintains that humankind had not set foot on earth’s only satellite to date… At a time when – perhaps fuelled by another managed spectacle: the increasingly hot war in the Levant, sparking off cold fury in Europe; and “ISIS”’s role in these – another enterprise is underway: A mission to boldly go to Mars.

Two months and more ago, those of us who cared commemorated Sri Lanka’s arguably most significant achievement yet: Its institution (in its name, but with great potential to actualise) as a republic on 22 May 1972. But there is a disturbingly growing number of genuinely democracy-loving citizens who think or feel our blessed isle has miles to go before we sleep the blissful dream into reality. These increasingly vocal dissenters against the salubrious enough status quo know that the precious democratic-republicanism they so cherish was once a pipe-dream under successive dispensations prone to tyranny of all sorts. 

There was a brief space after the end of the War and during the first heady, halcyon days of the Revolution that the vision at least had been salvaged – and all that was left was to drive the endeavour towards its desired destination. Be that dream as it may, an awful lull has fallen, and an undreamt of hiatus descended into the gap between the aspirations of us many and the ambitions of those few. Between the dream and the coming reality, between the desire and the consummation, between the drive and the concretisation, falls the shadow.

So what went wrong with our late, great, democratic-republican project? What keeps it on the wrong track, maybe in some charitable perceptions ever so slightly off true course – but bound for the inky depths rather than planet-fall? And what will get it back to recommit to its original destination? 

 

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Space race

The new republic we all (well, most; okay, half!) dreamed of achieving was doomed to failure at ground zero the day its champions began characterising it as a “people’s revolution” – and not a revolution of principle – and citizens accepted that definition, and welcomed it, and worked towards it. 

The problem with people’s revolutions as opposed to principled revolutions is that people don’t have principles – they can’t possibly do. (Principles – like gravity – are immutable laws of the universe; values – such as prudence at a cliff’s edge – are mere derivatives, no matter how valuable.) The problem with people who claim to have principles is they don’t practise the values they espouse – they can’t afford to. People’s revolutions then begin to fail, flail, falter, founder, flounder, and get flushed down the tube after politicians perceived as being principled prove that they won’t go the distance on the values people attributed to them or they attributed to themselves.

Good Governance was a space race of our own making. Not a race to space, but a race for space. A race for mind-space for challenges to poor political praxis to be issued; a heart-space for political culture to race to be changed for a common rather than a partisan good. A soul-space for civil society to race to break free, shake off its shackles, and make good on the mandate it offered to the very administration it craved, which returned its embrace. A race for space for a re-imagined to-be-rebuilt from the floor up Sri Lanka – mind, body, heart, and soul – to give democratic-republicanism the agency it deserved and the instrumentality it desired to effect the paradigm shift we all (most, half.) demanded. 

The race was won by a team – a coalition against corruption which soon became a motley crew with its own criminal lapses – and soon enough transmogrified into a rag-tag administration sans a shred of credibility – which had neither the will nor the ability to deliver the end result in due time. Here were heroes or astronauts who promised the sun, moon, and stars; but fell short – some of them becoming merely naughts or zeros overnight – in bond-scam debacles or VAT fiascos or MP-bribing for House vote-buying luxury-car imbroglios. 

We still cherish some of their heroism, in the same vein that many North Americans still salute Neil Armstrong. But a smattering of “arresting developments” (ahem) aside, a small step for democracy in January 2015 has yet to make the quantum leap into full-orbed republicanism a year and a half – and counting – later. (At least, that’s the perception the Joint Opposition is giving out to anyone within earshot, and Good Governance is strangely silent – or reduced to traducing and threatening the media to stay stumm, or else… So, how the mighty have fallen! Eh?) 

 



Moon landing

But even if they’re only hitting the tops of the trees these days, once upon a time in time not out of mind, the GG gig did land on the moon. And what a welcome accomplishment that was. There was in the immediate afterglow a sense of achievement that was heady, practicable and implementable, and of real worth to civics in general and constitutionalism in particular. 

Maybe the trains didn’t run on time (metaphorically speaking) as they once did under a more ruthless regime. Neither visible, tangible, growth to grassroots tastes; nor development at speed, as under an infinitely corruptible family firm, or governance as a personal business concern. But there was no more fallout from the ethos of authoritarian anti-democratic counter-republican rulership. It took a while for the reality to hit the American imagination after Apollo 11’s safe splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. It has taken a while for the continuing effects of egregious realpolitik and other pseudo-democratic rot to strike at the heart of republican sensibilities and throw cold water on our sea-change. 

 



Cold War

Once back on terra firma, the US propaganda machine was not slow to capitalise on dismantling the USSR’s erstwhile hegemony in the space race (Gagarin the first man, Tereshkova the first woman, Laika the first dog, in orbit, were all Russian). The actual demolition took twenty years more, until the Berlin Wall fell as a final act of communism’s capitulation under the costly press of capitalism’s suit. It would cost the West as much as the Soviet bloc two decades of grandstanding and posturing, managing the spectacle.

Now entrenched in ground realities which it didn’t envisage or disingenuously avoided encompassing, the UNFFGG continues apace to destroy the tough carapace of its predecessors. Wars of attrition have set in on virtually every front. 

The UNP has made political capital of a fruitless show trial of a criminally culpable former first family which has been tried, sentenced, executed, in every court from media house to domesticated public opinion. But without an actual prosecution as promised – yet! The SLFP is like a wounded scorpion that turns furiously on itself with the sting of death, but is locked in a mortal battle to discover which is its head and which its tail. 

The uneasy heads that would wear the ultimate crown in this game of thrones are carping at former presidents while toadying up to incumbent graces, sniping at everyone else’s shortcomings but theirs, and levelling egregious threats against the Fourth Estate in an unbecoming attempt at one-up-man-ship. Under threat of being starved of bread but not circuses, a puzzlingly ingrate civil society (or so they must seem to the ivory tower theorists who rescued us from a fate worse than malevolent monarchism) refuses to eat cake or let their fallen heroes enjoy their share while being forced to make do with crumbs. 

Managing the spectacle is proving to be a harder and more unpleasant task for the Machiavellian princes than when they first resolved to weave that tangled web, to practise deceit in place of democracy, to constitutionally cheat their way in an otherwise legitimate enterprise, from being embroiled in perilous coalition to being ensconced in comfortable perennial parliamentary clover. 

 



Mission to Mars

Now, maybe more than ever, the world’s only superpower needs a post-Armstrong, post-Obama, piece of new hope it can package to keep its dream of supremacy alive in a newly multi-polar world. This is especially so in the face of debacles vis-à-vis ISIS, its complicity in turning Iraq and Libya into wastelands, and a growing dangerously racist moral bankruptcy at home brought into sharp focus by police on the rampage Stateside and a chauvinist demagogue being polled by some as likely to gain the White House. A manned mission being planned for Mars in the 2020s may just be the piece of hope it can leverage. To allay homeland security concerns as much as aspire for all of humanity’s extra-terra expansion as a means of survival for the race?

Now, perhaps more so than ever before, our polity’s primary engine of national transformation needs a post-war, post-conflict, post-revolution piece of new hope it can package to keep all our dreams of Sri Lankan sovereignty alive in a freshly fragmenting milieu. This is especially so in the face of bond scams being followed up by plum jobs for the boys as a reward for dropping government in the thick of scandal; its own complicity in heaping its citizenry with indefensible burdens while serving its political agenda lavishly; and the managed spectacle of ‘enemies of the state’ being hauled up to court in a tumbrel while party and personal favourites puzzlingly dodge the guillotine. 

What form and shape this silver bullet will take is anyone’s guess. But it has to be high on the agenda of a government which knows its time is running out and its season in the sun – with its people over the moon – is slowly fading like a half-forgotten summer. It has to be big, soon, or broad enough to fly the electorate to the moon and back, and Mars and beyond. A super-package of tax cuts, true prosecutions to the hilt, truth and reconciliation commissions, trade deals, might just be the Mission Accomplished! 

With that said, it will take more than plugging the leaks in the macro ship to set sail for the destination intended when this endeavour was first envisaged. It will take the courage of one’s convictions and a concerted effort to extricate government, state, and civil society from the same old chancred political culture in which we are good, you are evil, and everyone is neutral until they threaten your complacent, corrupt, arrogant, business as usual, governance as unusual model.


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