One government cruelly executes bothersome editors acting as the gadfly conscience of a war-wracked country. Another government carefully – or is it carelessly – exhumes the body. Feels like we have watched the procession of an inquiry into the deadly masquerade long enough. While the masked men who gave the hunter-killers their irrefutable orders parade in polite society like it was still 2009. Such is life… and life after death – in a state today where taxes have replaced terrorism as the unbearable cost of living. And larger-than-life editors after death and their erstwhile enemies still alive play a long, cold, hard, game of cat and mouse with a pliant media and the people’s mandate.
Polite society has its many pitfalls. On the one hand, things are as they are; and behind them, there is nothing. It is a national condition of accidia that existentialist philosopher Sartre considered nauseating. On the other, things are not as they seem. And under a patina of respectability, what lies beneath this anomie would suffice to coat those respectables with a veneer of wickedness to make satirists sit up and take serious notice. Put this in a context where a ‘new political culture’ is still enjoying a honeymoon period with our ‘shame society’ and you have a recipe for a lasting if lacklustre romance: A people in love with peace and prosperity in a new age of plenty living in sin with politicians keen to keep up appearances.
Sorry to be so cynical in a milieu where, on the surface at least, things seem to be going so swimmingly. Surely, we hear our detractors question now with plaintive wail (in the same vein they queried the dead editor then): Isn’t it enough? Isn’t it necessary? Isn’t it desirable? Certainly, superficially, the powers that be appear to be doing everything in the book (and by the book) to press their case and prove the wicked suspect guilty. However, part of the problem is that not only do the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow… such that justice delayed is justice denied – but these also grind egregiously distractedly, sending the long arm of the law down detours of memory lane to discover the long lost truth about the assassination of an anarchist. Forensic fervour in a not-so-far-flung corner of a not-so-foreign field may finally find the guilty being fingered, collared, and cellared. But one is left with the feeling it is too little, too late… IF anything meaningful and/or significant other than a lowly assassin being hanged happens as a result of all the present flap, after all. Besides, the much loved wastrel is dead. And it all took place in another country anyway – a waste land from which no one has yet returned to point out in plain-speak the mandarin who despatched them...
And yet. And yet. Such hope as springs eternal in some human hearts. Such hope and trust. Such hope in the agency of the law of the land. Such trust in the instrumentality of the powers that be to prosecute whoever may be found guilty with a punishment apposite to the crime and perhaps more importantly to the fullest extent that the law allows. Such is the stuff that dreams are made of. Such is the stuff that idealistic tweets retweeted are composed of. “As they exhume Lasantha Wickrematunge’s body today, hoping desperately for rapid progress in his murder investigation. #lka #justice” – I remain cynical: not detached and cynical, as do those who don’t care for ‘justice’ (whatever it means) and those who are willing to “let the dead bury their own dead” (whatever that means).
And yet. And maybe. And maybe yet there is a detached idealism waiting breathlessly under the masque of cynicism. For it is not that we loved that editor less, but that we love the establishment of a democratic-republican ideal not based on lies, half-truths, and subterfuge so much more… For as much as autocratic enemies of the state can be corrupt, anti-despotic editors can harbour ambitions inadvisable for sea-green incorruptibles to have. But “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” – Nothing But Good About The Dead! We come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him. We come not to bury Cato the Younger – the once effervescent gadfly editor who galvanised a nation’s angst against an execrable war prosecuted so egregiously in its end time – but to praise him for his valour, if not the verisimilitude of what he wrote.
Speaking of which, much is still being made of that posthumous editorial in which our indomitable editor apparently predicted his demise at the hands of his diabolical opponents. Forgive me for dredging up the past (well, what of it if I bring up some dead bodies, too, like Government today?), but here is what we wrote severally as regards the same issue:
Flashback to 8 Jan 2016
“In William Shakespeare’s immature comedy #Romeo And Juliet, a character fighting a losing duel says: ‘Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.’ The emphasis falls on the word +grave+ – which is, of course, a play on words by the Bard. That the following day he would be dead was well known by then to the mortally wounded Mercutio. Which makes the Sweet Swan of Avon’s deathly pun that much grimmer in the end.”
“Well, life often imitates art. In Sri Lanka’s then fully-grown tragicomedy, an editor fated to lose the battle wrote his posthumous last editorial predicting his own death. In effect, he essayed: ‘Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.’ In short, that mercurial writer ostensibly knew that ~They Would Come For Me. The title of the late and much-lamented senior journalist’s macabre swansong was #And Then They Came.”
“In and over fifteen long years, the founding editor of The Sunday Leader lived a charmed life. Not one to fight shy of severe pressure not to challenge the status quo, he squared up with fortitude to face the fire of friends and enemies. His time is short, his opponents said; some even boasting to their presidential pals that he would be dealt with short shrift. Lasantha Wickrematunge’s own understanding of his role was as that of a goad, a gadfly, a gargoyle whose trenchant and insightful exposés highlighted the ugliness of the edifice of government. He knew his end could come at any moment – many times (beatings, shootings, threats against his life and that of his family) it almost did.”
“But, if there was a media figure striding across the landscape of a torn and troubled land about whom it could be said that ‘under the bludgeonings of chance, my head remains bloody but unbowed’, this fated senior journalist was such a man. That was the motto of the newspaper he helped set up in 1994. And in the final analysis, whether or not he actually penned that last great and poignant editorial of 2009 – or whether it was the clever shadow play of an eminent ghost writer responsible for some of the Leader’s erstwhile critiques and stinging satire – it doesn’t really matter.”
“What matters much, maybe, is that the media establishment he represented suspected that its much-loved editor and thought-leader would be done to death by the then incumbent Government. What matters more, perhaps, is that the now incumbent Government – which promised to arrest his killers and bring them to justice – has failed in this promise, as in many other similar promises to do what is right by the families and friends and loved ones of the myriad dead under a previous murderous regime. What matters most, without a doubt, is that our Governments – and the society of which these are a part – have not truly changed in their worldview; even if there have been cosmetic or superficial improvements to the face of governance and civil society.”
I penned the above bloc on 8 January 2016. A year after the Good Governance bandwagon won its famous victory. Then, like the romantics who still wave their idealistic banners at the barricades and by that graveside, I believed we would experience a radical societal transformation. But today, only reds flags are being raised over the horizon of realpolitik. I hope and trust you will forgive me for reverting to what has already been essayed by this columnist in the past (if Government is bringing up the bodies, God forgive me that I do too).
Back to basics
“Even if it has been stymied by procedural challenges so far – whether envisaged or unseen at the time these promises were made to a gullible public just waiting to be inveigled – will the Administration now pursue investigations into a rash of prominent murders and punish many absconding and still at-large offenders? Can it overcome the customary propensity to blame realpolitik as being the real culprit in the inertia and lethargy of criminal investigation processes?”
[I then went on to analyse the Government’s then apathy and the slow pace of investigations at the time under these umbrellas…]
“NAIVE: The culprits will be brought to book. That investigations are proceeding by the book is reassuring.”
“NECESSARY: Good Governance is necessarily bogged down by the pitfalls of procedure. Bad form to press the case as previous regimes did. So let the long arm of the law take its awfully slow course towards the aweful majesty of the law.”
“NAUGHTY: Delay is good... We can tweak the timings or findings and potential finishings to coincide with key dates – such as elections, and when our political opponents rattle their sabres!”
“NASTY: We had no intention of ever seeing this through to its end. We too have skeletons in the closet. It won’t do to dig too deep. Or go back in time far enough to get to the bottom of it all.”
Today, as Government literally digs the grave of its own integrity and commitment to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as regards bringing the real culprits to book, I have one more dimension to add à la Sartre’s existential despair and desolation:
NAUSEATING: We will exhume the body. We will examine fresh evidence. We will exonerate ourselves and our present cronies and potential future electoral cohorts from any blame or shame. We will extirpate all traces of evidence pointing to one of us having been in cahoots with the enemies of the state then. We are eager to co-exist with the enemy at the gate because there is no fierce friend like a fearsome friend in need.
Lasantha was not all that he appeared to be – although perhaps he was more than most realise. Good Governance is proving that neither is it all it is made out to be or is cut out to be – in the greater national interest over partisan priorities and the Damocles’ sword of once and future presidential polls. But if the outcome of the present press of bringing up the bodies can compel the Government in general to sacrifice the candidates it has marshalled for the field, I will take off my hat to it – and eat it. If not, you will find me a grave man. Do not take it as a threat. I promise not to go quietly.