Sign of the times – while the world at large has gone to pieces since the local press’ maverick editor was slain, the annual memorialisation of an assassination reveals that while history moves on inexorably, hard-to-shake issues of yesteryear remain pressing concerns amidst the challenges of a pandemic
Today, I went by the grave. Not to weep or mourn. But to see who would still come... 13 years later. And who else would make the annual pilgrimage – even ironically – 7 years after the so-called ‘revolution’ started.
There were the ‘usual suspects’. A faithful chief organiser. That brace of speaker and prayer. The smattering of loving family and loyal friends. A stray dog. Candles, flowery or philosophical words, and lush wreaths. Not a few moist eyes behind the anonymous masks among the appropriately physically-distanced...
Some of the lachrymose emotion may have been tears of rage. At, for instance, the rash of political parasites masquerading as camp followers. Who shamelessly show up every year... as if their ‘revolution’ cared – or counted, or delivered on their many empty promises to see ‘justice’ done...
Some things never change. Maybe in a world battered and bruised by a pandemic like no other, this was cold comfort. To be briefly, sentimentally, in a cocoon with like-minded folks. Perhaps the iconic editor and gadfly journalist whose head was once bloodied but unbowed (in mythic legend and other propaganda) may have graced those gathered with an enigmatic smile. As mysterious as that purported ‘Parthian shot’ last-post editorial from beyond the grave.
And as the caravan of mixed emotions departed on that emblematic day – 8 January – in anticipation of a return, when the planet has orbited his cold ashes another 365 days later, I too left. In a disturbed peace commingled with the ennui that comes from championing lost causes among an alien people clutching their false gods... politics, geopolitics, personal tics deified as characteristics to befit a messiah when the poor saviour can hardly save himself now.
But one was left wondering, over and above the tragedy of it all, if it is not ironic – and equally tragic – that “the more things change, the more they stay the same”...?
Much has changed since the thorn in the side of that old regime was struck down. In cold blood. As a law case heated up a court with fire and light. He was done in. In broad daylight. In close proximity to a high-security zone. At the turning-point of a protracted war.
The war itself ended – although the conflict still continues. In human hearts and inhumane policies. In divisive hate of hostile governors and their cynical henchmen (some say puppeteers). Propagated by those who crave power for personal gain and lucre. And would otherwise lose their influence. If not for the chronic gullibility of the electorate.
So the business of politics as usual and the politics of business as usual have brought us to the brink of the abyss. To our present predicament. We’re at the edge, near the verge, on the cusp, of such hard times as perhaps never before. That’s one promise the state kept... that chaos would ensue if we – he – went on like this.
It – the rot – started not too long ago... before the present lot.
A triumphalist regime snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the nation. To seal in fear and suspicion of the Other. Amongst whom We have all lived for ever and a day in this melting-pot. And drive out hope of a sustainable national reconciliation ethic. Kidney-punching any possibility of peace with justice – let alone Growth, Development, Progress (the true ‘GDP’) with our cupidity. In a casket pragmatically labelled ‘Sovereignty’. And stored away in a vault numbered ‘Majoritarian Politics 101’. Accessible only to crooked captains of perverse destiny, charlatans and chauvinists.
Great ideas that challenged it – such as transparency and keeping elected national representatives of the people accountable – proved that “great wits are sure to madness near allied”. Thin partitions do their bounds divide. Between ‘this’ party and ‘that’ political ideology. And in the end, the same rotten culture prevails. As it always did. It has been thus (despite deceptively positive sweeping changes brought about at and by successive polls) since 1948/1956/1977/1983/1994/2009/2015/2019.
Cosmetic changes abound. Highways and expressways are to be seen. Information superhighways go unseen amidst accelerated disruption to business, society, civics, etc. On the horizon, a port city beckons. It’s a halfway-house between one’s ship setting sail for fair havens and galleons of gold coming into harbour. A cross between a casino for the cosmopolitan and a cash cow for crooks?
And yet, hundreds of thousands of working-people still cling precariously for dear life to office-time commuter trains and packed private and public buses. While their political lords and masters (we really must stop calling them that... and remind them of their proper, professed, pretending, servant-hood) vroom along in V8s at best or BMWs and Benzes at worst.
Who will tell the working-poor who catch the coronavirus in crowded public transport that the parlous state of their national logistics is a direct result of corruption? And yet, is it not those same citizen-voters who are duped and dumped by charlatans, every half a decade or so?
How is it that the erstwhile champions of the people – academics, business chambers, professional lobby voices, et al. (and oh yeah media) – have failed to educate the masses on the meaning of, or solutions to, their ongoing plight and peril? Are they, too, complicit in a devil’s compact? Between patronage politics and being the much-lauded engine of growth? As well as arguably corrupt into the bargain?
Yet, despite the changing scenes of life, much has remained the same... in trouble and in joy.
Cost of living can be counted on to continue its upward trajectory into the stratosphere. Price hikes at the pump and elsewhere means the vector of national development has taken a detour through the warehouses of commodity and other mafias. Ostensibly, these hikes align us with the world market. Actually, it’s to cover up the lack of a national integrated backbone as much as long-term sustainable economic policy free of partisan agendas and narrow vested interests.
Currency crises indicate not only that we’ve been living beyond our means for decades. But that serious solvency issues are being patched up with limited liquidity fixes. Time as well as international goodwill is rapidly running out. While geopolitical machinations ramp up.
While the monetary policy regulator has wangled itself a job in the treasury and is running the economy as well as the financial markets. Using supra-economics unheard of in academia or professional circles. It’s ‘Greekonomics’ to me – and economic assassination for all of us who don’t subscribe! Plus sackings of dissenters under the guise of ‘cabinet responsibility’!
WWLD? Being a political animal, he may have – as he once did – run with the hare and hunted with the hound. Perhaps traducing the personalities while sparing the principles – or the lack of these – or trenchant commentary and insightful analyses with recommendations tagged on, which we badly lack...
By the way, this in no way mitigates the rank criminality of his cold-blooded murderers. Or exonerates the ‘promising revolutionaries’ who covered up for their political bedfellows between 2015-19. Both seen and unknown. While perpetuating the charade of bringing up the bodies.
And even now, the politics of it all divides us. On the one hand, those who say the dead dream of ‘Good Governance’ was set to right the ship of state but was sabotaged by its captains and helmsmen. On the other, those who maintain the barge still lists to port precisely because of those intervening spectral years – the likes of which we may well never see again.
Be that as it may, the unsolved assassination of an internationally reputed editor remains emblematic. Of all the rage, grief, helplessness and resigned acceptance of reality. Of war widows, lost generations and the posterity of our unborn.
History moves on – inexorably. Memory clings to the past for meaning. For a happy few, it can transmute into a benign nostalgia. For those who have abandoned hope, the legacy of Sri Lanka’s unresolved issues is numbing sadness, unrelenting pain, agony not ecstasy, hatred of strangers, PTSD...
The ‘national problem’ is not only a lack of truth and reconciliation. But crime, political chicanery, corruption all around, chauvinism setting the agenda, cynical politicians manipulating the citizenry – and voters as willing (albeit often desperate) accomplices.
Jesus wept. Lazarus (the dear, deluded, deadened citizen and occasional elector) came – not forth – but fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh – in the political stakes we still call ‘democracy’.
That other shrouded corpse (the slain editor) failed us and himself by buying into and peddling the dream that politics matters. In the midst of life, the pandemic taught us that we’re in death or worse whoever’s in charge. Who is? Hoo is! Boohoo to you too, sir!
Even now, as the mourners hurry home and the gravediggers scurry for cover, shall we not realise that politicians divide, conquer and ruin us? And that it’s education not elections that save?
The office of the executive – despite the powerful aegis of its 20th Amendment – has fallen into the disrepute of especially the politically neutral and the disapprobation of even its former supporters. A hardly hamstrung parliament, supposedly bolstered by a 6.9-million 66.66 octane majority, has not been able to stave off gas, sugar, milk powder, diesel/petrol paddy, forex, fertiliser ad nauseam shortages.
The political opposition’s people of principle and would-be professional administrators can be counted on the fingers of one hand. While there’s no telling many of the rest (even the ‘best’ of them under a previous dispensation) apart from their now much vilified little lamented foes across a House that is no longer ‘august’ (if it ever was).
A younger generation of leaders has been hung out to dry by its elders and betters. And even the once more promising either lack imagination or the creativity to mount a national rescue operation.
If Sri Lankan politics – and the national interest – is to revive and recover, it has to re-imagine itself outside an all-too-familiar, paternalistic, increasingly militarised and plainly incompetent model. Budget debates by the lake, debacles at street barricades or boohooing by a graveside will not hack it or rid us of both crony capitalism and toadying kleptocracy.
So come away with me, as I steal away to see if we can’t recoup together our losses at the hands of our leaders and set an example that they can follow.
May 8-1-2022 be citizen counter-revolution’s genesis!
(Journalist/Chief Sub Editor of The Sunday Leader 1994-8 | Editor-at-Large of LMD: at LMD since 2002)