ANGER or ‘extremism’?
A funny thing happened on the way to the president’s residence. The angry crowd found that the man they had asked to ‘go home’ had, in fact, acceded to their courteous request. He was in situ. It was one of the few promises that our head of state had managed to keep in his short and chequered career. Then it stopped being funny...
A bus was burned, raising the spectre of agents provocateurs – those bêtes noires of peaceful civilian rallies. Protestors crying over the cost of living had tear-gas supplied to help them harness their emotions for a more authentic expression of grief and rage. The STF and Army stood by – whether to protect the messiah from his people or vice versa, it was very clear heads could be cracked if coconuts proved to be in short supply.
The police curfew demonstrated that the raison d’etre of electing Gotabaya Rajapaksa as chief executive still held. If not food, forex, fertiliser or pharmaceutical security, at least the state of the nation’s sense of safety from threats by powers external to the throne is what is still was since ‘4/21’.
That 45 people were arrested and 5 policemen were injured, as well as damage being sustained to 2 police and army buses, a jeep and a trishaw, shows that while the powers that be are secure in their citadel, a citizenry on the move is no longer able, ready or willing to ‘lie down and take it’ like a resilient nation.
So whither Sri Lanka in the next few days? Whether the incumbent regime opts for as graceful an exit as they can muster or not in the face of apolitical citizen disapproval, it is clear that the popularity of the usual suspects is as a candle in the wind.
It is only adding a six-million-rupee insult today to multi-billion-dollar injuries over all our yesterdays that the internationalisation of Ratmalana Airport was the latest white elephant to sully the escutcheon of the Pohottuwa brigade. It went phut within 72-96 hours and left the pancake of a tamasha all over the runway. The game is up on the plundering project, and it’s time to ground the sky-pilots who have hijacked the nation’s destiny for too long now.
Of course, until recently, the soixante-neuf’d population of closet chauvinists and other racists supremacists – even in denial – had been suffering from Stockholm Syndrome whereby they were enamoured of their captors.
But that magical number of 69 lakhs, which has shown up in sundry memes since the ‘Revolution’ took to social media, seem to have undergone a triple-bypass (3T) surgery and suffered a setback by way of a change of heart.
In fact, they’ve been (1) Tried and (2) Tested, and are now only not too (3) Tired enough to apologise for their egregious error of judgment 2 elections and 28 full moons ago. (sorry.lk)
Even now, as then, and perhaps always, those in power or clinging precariously to what’s left of their waning influence, have hijacked the narrative. The bus-burning fiasco has helped the cornered authorities to conceal their narcissistic wound in calling protestors ‘extremists’. It was ever so – one man’s extremist is another entire country’s desperation in extremis.
The Acid Tests – a self-help exam to discern who you are and determine where you stand (or fall...)
‘A funny thing happened on the way to the president’s house...’ – Where were you? What feelings/thoughts prompted your participation, or pre-empted the same? Why are you still a spectator in a spectacle in which you are clearly a player, passive or active? Would you opt to continue being apathetic and ignorant (‘I don’t know, I don’t care.’) if the circling wagons broke through your own barriers of self-defence and sense of well-being?
(Write your response in the first person – e.g. ‘I don’t know, I don’t care.’)
B. Short answers:
1. April is the cruellest month. T/F?
(Answer in relation to April 21st’s Black Sunday attacks as well as the impending Aluth Avurudu season – arguably the driest, dreariest and most desperate in the history of our country).
2. April 3rd and the island-wide rally to express the extent of the displeasure and disapproval encapsulated by the slogan ‘Enough is Enough’ has been hijacked by the main opposition party, who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, acting along the same populist impulse that saw people swing wildly in favour of the now-incumbent administration in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019...
Articulate as eloquently as you like... But on pain of being lampooned or worse, don’t be as verbose as SP (you know who) – And be mercifully brief, as GR was (who is he, what is he doing now) in that miserably uninspiring monstrosity of a national address.
i. How much more can the middle class take and still sit at home while the lower socioeconomic brackets do the grunt work of effecting the ‘Revolution’ they all want?
- Not much more, at least until the artisanal coffee and free Wi-Fi in cafes run out
- But there is a cautious optimism about the tinder of citizen advocacy that will take only the agency of a credible leader to galvanise the great big bourgeoisie
- And it’s to our credit that now, more than ever, we’re much more cynical about being hijacked by one or another avatars of the two-sided, same-faced, hydra-headed, ‘one and the same’ chicane political culture
ii. Have you seen the light as far as bought business and manipulative media are concerned?
- Yes, they’re all the same: egging on the powers who can return the favour
- No, some are different: they truly stand with the people
- Yes and no: there’s danger in generalising about light refractions when you’re a small fish in a big tank and the sharks are thrashing about
iii. Where will the real Revolution, which rights the ship of state (and effects the paradigm shift we all desire – yet find it hard to define), take place?
- A still small voice in each of our hearts and minds
- On TV (duh!) where the polity is as sharply divided now as they once were at the ballot-box (viz. some say the live telecast was democratic and people centric, while others equally vociferously maintain that it suborned anarchy)
- Not in our lifetime, since human nature is corrupt over and above political (and even apolitical) persuasions, and is deceitful above all things
- Instructions to examination candidates
- Do not tune in – the revolution may not be televised
- Be mindful that even the best of the rest of them have vested interests and hidden agendas
The end game
Irony has a way of making injustice seem worth suffering so that the smart alec who held a nation to ransom gets his comeuppance.
Not that he alone was culpable. But the laurels of the 20 Amendment and that 2/3rds majority make him fair game. And the cleansing of the Augean stables has to start somewhere – so why not at the very top of the rotting tree of statesmanship or lack thereof?
There are promises to keep and many more ‘gama samaga pilisandaras’ to go before we can sleep safe and sound at night, lit by power and rid of tone-deaf politicians lacking empathy in spades as much as CEB mafias who will be haunted through eternity by the cries of sleepless children and sick elders.
Just tread with care and caution, though. A cornered wounded beast has many a wile or fang and sharp claw to escape the snare. And mind that when the corralled monster has been served its just desserts, another demon fiercer than the first doesn’t take its place under any guise or pretext whatsoever.
This could be the beginning of Sri Lanka’s “Arab Spring”. But hard-hitting, heartfelt citizen protests must do more than vent their frustration at the fatuous leadership of a failing state. And while wary of having their angry assertiveness hijacked by the political opposition or some other fanatical extremists, we islanders must never again fall into the trap of trusting ‘promising politicians’ of any ilk... or having to choose between the lesser of the two evils.
By the way, this is government’s opportunity for a last hurrah – a reflective road map to recovery rather than reflexive rubber bullets and barricades to stem the flow. Be that as it may, given that all of it is bound to get a lot worse before it gets better, this ‘spring in the air’ may well prove to be too little, too late in terms of holding our elected representatives accountable.
| Writer for and Editor-at-large of LMD | Watching ‘Enemy at the Gate’ |