Pen still not mightier than the sword of cheap political talk

Thursday, 5 April 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Today, 5 April, as I write, my heart is strangely still at peace since the same time last year. Not because justice has been done… or even looks remotely like it will ever be done in a singular landmark killing on our once war-torn landscape. But because the heart has its own reasons (of which reasons knows nothing).

In the case which might stand forever unsolved on Sri Lanka’s postwar mediascape, no prosecutions have ensued although egregious progress has been made. (By egregious, one can mean ‘excellently good’ or interpret it as ‘excruciatingly bad’.) However, until the allegedly widely-known killers – the court proceedings refer to “orders from above” which if not carried out could lead to the death of a policeman – are identified conclusively, the case remains tantalising open like a Pandora’s Box. Not concluded beyond the mere court of public opinion, but brought to trial and justice executed.

Same time, last year, just noting a comment made on a social media platform by a perennial faithful of Lasantha Wickrematunge’s brought a lump to the throat. Because, behind the forensic scene and clinical arena of sullied politics, hearts still bleed. I couldn’t have said it with more poignancy to capture the panache of the man or the pathetic fallacy that Good Governance would lay his ghost to rest in their incumbency.

Our bureaucratic approach to law and order when big names are allegedly complicit is only bested by the foot-dragging of the IGP and AG’s Dept. when it is clear they fear a few masked men or favour some as yet unmasked ones. Be that as it may, I come not to unbury the dead or chastise Caesar’s men, whichever Caesar you may take that to mean – for there are past dictators and present dicks queuing up to inherit the purple – but to praise the loyalty of the living breathing souls left behind in the morass that Govt. has descended into.

Here is what that loyal scribe (who’s now gone on to reach editorial rank herself) had to say in remembrance of her first – for her, unforgettable – boss… “Happy birthday, Lasantha [and a heart icon underlines a point about pathos] – remembering you with much love, as always. Hope you’re dancing the baila and making some prank calls [heart icon, birthday cake icon, smiley face brave ethos to supply logos]”. Ditto from us, o deputy editor cum chief sub: our likeminded tribe of loyalists far and wide hasn’t forgotten him, either; even if everyone else who rode to power on his dead back has chosen not to remember or let it pass…

However, the time for maudlin reminiscences is far gone, like the long spent day of Good Governance. The sun of hope that justice will be done in the lifespan of this administration is rapidly westering. Bother those who feel it has already set! Bless those in whom the earnest yearning for justice still lingers in the face of mounting evidence that it will come to nothing in the end – like the Norse gods who valiantly prevailed in the face of certain doom…

No! This column – and the cause it champions, inter alia – must be made of sterner stuff. No more lachrymose reflections. The man whose birth his friends, families, and fans remember today would have wanted it no other way. There is more injustice in the prevalent milieu than the unsolved murder mystery of an iconic editor who stung successive governments in the flank like an incorrigible gadfly. That for every Lasantha – and Keith Noyahr and Prageeth Ekneligoda and Taraki alias Sivaram (or even Richard de Zoya; anyone remember him?) as well as countless, nameless, faceless, not-so-famous others – there are myriad cases of abductions and assassinations goes without saying. The pity of the matter is that it also goes without doing, sans passionate but clinically professional investigations that are transparent to the public. There seems no impending closure for the curious, the conflicted, the afflicted. Thus killing the bird of realpolitik with the stone of media advocacy, and voicing the hurt of a lost generation until the wounds heal… these remain the task of a conscientized civil society.

With that said, there are diverse (strikingly variant) complex strands of thought on the ramifications of the case. That this is the norm in a hybrid political culture where the good, the bad, and the ugly intertwine like a trinity of serpents – some harmless like rat-snakes, others less so – will be cold comfort to those who grieve for loved ones gone… and groan for justice yet to come. Here is a triad of the dominant discourses as regards the not-so accidental death of a sociopolitical anarchist.


(but necessary/useful)

There is a disconcertingly growing number of otherwise sensible citizens who would argue that the needs of the many in a Sri Lanka poised on the cusp of war victory outweighed the needs of the one. Their rationale is that while a free media is necessary in a time of peace, it was a luxury during the long-drawn-out war. That a gadfly who was inimical to the national interest as it was perceived then had to be taken out at the juncture that he was is par for the course in the safeguarding of the republic’s security and sovereignty. The role he played and service he rendered had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Those who would excuse the then powers that be for acting with alacrity in assassinating a personal nuisance and a public menace – as those with vested interests would perceive it or him – would encourage the present thrones and dominions not to take too lofty a view of a resuscitated democracy’s duty to right past wrongs. It’s live and let die all over again. The war’s over. No harm done with damaging revelations. Let’s all move on.

(This is a PRAGMATIC view… Its proponents are to be found among nationalists, national-minded defenders of concepts such as sovereignty of the state and government’s prerogatives in expediting national security ruthlessly, and those with vested interests in keeping the wheels of commerce and corruption rolling smoothly even under a new dispensation. Their numbers are growing as the caravan moves on, and a new generation of Sri Lankans declares for a Lethe-like forgetfulness.)

It was STUPID 

(a waste then, or now)

There is still albeit a diminishing number of law-abiding and legal-recourse expecting citizens who wait in trust, expecting that the knee-jerk reflex of a regime in the throes of war victory then will be surgically righted by a righteous state now. These include the likes of war widows and wounded offspring, mourners and grievers, media with an axe to grind, tender-minded philosophers in the naïver demographics of the polity. Their aspiration that those surmised to be the commissioners and the killers be brought to book is doomed to be blown to smithereens, while the ambition of those with their sights on protecting some of the culpable remains seated in high places. 

Think of a 2017 cartoon in which a former defence secretary and a former army commander play ‘battledore and shuttlecock’ – a deadly game of badminton in which the cock being clinically passed back and forth is savvy bull… Because there is no smoke without fire… And my former friend is my future enemy when frenemies at best fall out for the worst possible reasons. 

Though the truth stares the simpleminded appellants in the face, something in human nature pre-empts them for surrendering all hope… Therefore, the stakeholders in the ‘peace with justice’ platform press their case… And naïve, benumbed, dumbstruck, deceived, civil society occasionally conducts a candlelit vigil so that the dear departed won’t be in the dark… in heaven or nirvana.

(This is an IDEALIST view… It fails to take into consideration the demands that realpolitik makes on our emerging ethos of democratic-republicanism. And there are enough and more cynical manipulators to keep the managed spectacle of judicial investigations, exhumations, the law’s delays, the public’s outraged demands, media expectations, fresh developments, unexpected setbacks, ticking over… buying time…)


(so let’s be sensible, please!)

While the twin scenarios above can be figments of fancy and may not exist as objective correlatives, the one I’m about to present comes from the lips of a well-placed political interlocutor of the powers that be. He’s sufficiently democratic-republican to be a trusted confidant of the President as much as the Prime Minister. But he’s enough of a subversive to be an outsider with strategic access to the inside. His initial contention is that what is apprehended as a lack of visible progress in arrests being made is merely procedural: the law’s usual and much cited delays, the wheels of justice grinding slowly (but, he says, surely). Upon being pressed, this little-known legislator but much loved champion of good if not great ideas in corporate circles will admit that justice delayed is justice denied; adding for good measure that there is a fair chance that the culprits will not be brought to book in his political shelf life or the lifetime of loved ones left behind. 

In the interim, all that conscientized citizens and their spiritually compatible elected representatives can do is reach out to comfort the victims’ families, coax and cajole the law enforcement authorities to expedite the process, and critically engage those functionaries of the State who don’t do their stern duty with sterner admonitions. Of course, this cunctatorial approach of the Attorney-General’s Department, inter alia, betrays wheels within wheels, the deep state as much as the deep fear that to act without fear or favour now is a sure way to secure a political or career-wise Siberia for self in the near future!

(This is a STRATEGIC or even cynical view… It serves those in power. And a subaltern perspective suffers in silence as a result. Where the honest, decent, sincere, genuine, politicos defend the indefensible and adopt a via media wait-and-see approach, there is a perpetuation of the Old Political Culture in which nobody in power or previously in power is ever dealt justice.)


(so there’s still hope, right?)

If all this is maudlin, forgive me. One is not so blatant as not to know that (despite nil nisi bonum) the late great editor had feet of clay. That he harboured no small political ambitions is well known, even if only among the literati who realise that his posthumous editorial had no little help on this side of the veil. Be it as it may that his reputation among the naïve international community is larger in death as his personality was larger than life before he was invited to shuffle off the mortal coil at brutal gunpoint, let us not to the fond remembrances of true hearts add undue impediments.

While no-confidence motions and their ramifications unfold in the foreground, there will always be a backdrop against which the shenanigans of this tribe of realpolitik-eating politicos – the good, the bad, and the ugly – is mere cannon-fodder for Sri Lanka’s true civil society. Until the truth and the whole truth is out, and justice done, no political party, power or personage – present company of precarious coalition included – can rest on its laurels. Human nature can or will never change; the sooner our governors accept and admit it, the better for Good Governance to regain (if it can) its lost moral high ground.

(The writer is a Journalist | Editor-at-large of LMD | Writer #SpeakingTruthToPower)

(The article above was first published in its essential form a year ago. That it still holds true attributes a less than salutary ethos to the powers that be who play realpolitik games to whom truth is a poison pill.)