VILLAGE PEOPLE – It may take more than even a nation on the march to move the parasites out of the corridors of power… Pic by Ruwan Walpola
I, like you maybe, have been blown away by what has been happening at the barricades. So much so – that between noisy marches on the capital and quiet candle-lit vigils in the suburbs, one may not have had much peace of mind or enlightenment to consider the ramifications.
But it behoves us as islanders in a nation, where ‘mere’ voter-hood is being slowly but steadily transmuted into a citizen-ship of a higher ‘gear’, to reflect on recent developments in the polity. Here, without prejudice to party politics or the parasites who continue to play fast and loose with their roles and responsibilities, is my considered contribution to kaffeeklatsch discourse.
A bodily hunger has awakened some minds
For some time, the hoi polloi had put up with shortages of every ilk. But everyone has their price ceiling and commodity fatigue. And each man, woman, and child on the ground at Galle Face – and elsewhere – is a symbol of an artificially engineered ‘Economic Armageddon’.
Let shame be heaped on the heads of those who think evil of the people’s protests having waited this long to step out and be heard. But better to awaken even at this late hour to the perils of corrupt governance than slumber on in a blissful utopia where national security is only all about defenders useful to the regime and ‘defenders’ less than useless to the Republic.
One day, the vast majority of those who are now compelled to lead lives of quiet desperation may have to given an account of themselves as to why they remained silent when successive administrations committed crimes against their people, ranging from cruelty to ethnic minorities, to callous or brutal dismissal of legitimate demands for water or food.
But right now, the boot is on the other foot. I think it is time for the manipulative elected to finally face the reckoning of their maddened electorate and recognise, perhaps for the first time, what they have paid lip-service to for too long... that the people are sovereign – it means we govern you, not the other way around!
An office has failed to sanctify its occupant
Whichever way you look at it, the people’s representatives carry a heavy burden of duty on their shoulders. For one, they’re elected for service – and not, as may come as a surprise to some of them, self-service. For another, they shoulder the weight of legal, political, and constitutional authority as a result of their mandate received through the exercise of the people’s franchise.
When a representative of the people fails to live up to the authority invested in them, the sovereignty of the people could – or should – reserve the right to recall them from the high office to which he or she has been elected. As our supposedly sophisticated civilisation does not currently enjoy such a democratic mechanism, it falls to the commonsense of the candidate and the goodwill of the governors all around them to yield occupied ground.
But when a so-called “people’s representative” does not yield in the face of mistakes made and major policy fiascos publicly admitted, he fails to carry the moral and political mandate of the people – although anyone desperate to grasp power by any means may argue that he still holds the legal and constitutional reins. He is a well-balanced leader only in that he has a chip on both shoulders?
And if such a singular individual – notwithstanding a singularly powerful office invested with unprecedented authority and bolstered by a now-invisible physical majority – refuses to play ball with the very people to whom he was once the ‘messiah’, then the fall of that ‘national saviour’ is not simply one from lawful to awful; but also, god-like to god-awful.
Is there any point in quoting Acton to a man who has not seen action, or realised what the white flag of surrender means? “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. There is no greater heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
The creativity of an island race has been unleashed
At a night-time vigil by the ‘Justice’ installation near Gotagogama, I was gobsmacked by the sea of humanity that swept past... And there was no sign – even in the midnight hours – of the tide abating.
As a subsequent observer of the wave upon wave of protestors crashing the shore outside the President’s office, it has been gratifying to see that not even King Canute and the riot squad, or alleged goons suborning insurrection, could command the tide...
The vim, vigour, and vitality – and sheer variety – of the protests have been breathtaking as much as mindboggling.
From performing artists, an interpretive assurance that speaking truth to power does not have to be violent or abusive, but simply vital and subversive.
From matrons with children in their arms – and mothers cradling breast-fed babies – the feminine intuition that there is peace in being true to one’s nature even while under pressure!
From hamstrung war heroes – the real ones, who gave limb to secure the State then; and life now, to defend the nation from its false saviours – true grit...
From men at arms and brothers in arms to grandmas in wheelchairs and grandpa farmers who comprise the backbone of the nation and marched from their fields to the seafront to prove it, their names are legion of those who voted with their feet... and will live forever as valiant forerunners in the last great battle to defend the republic from its democratically elected cheats and charlatans.
But this slice of life needs to not only symbolise a resistance to autocratic governance and arrogant incompetence; but also synergise a larger, more representative movement. And popular rhetoric and rousing songs alone won’t cut it.
If it isn’t too much to ask or expect, could the swell of protestors that has not wavered or subsided – but been almost magically, organically, and systematically replenished day after night after week for almost a month – come to include more islanders than youths, housewives, academics, professionals, and ex-servicemen?
If not at Galle Face, then at another forum.
If only it will not dilute or do disservice to the marvellously apolitical ethos of the movement so far.
If the trifecta of ordinary citizens, organised trade unions and out-of-the-ordinary truly patriotic politicians unite in some way, it may be a citizen/civil society combine that the cabals find hard to resist; and to which, with characteristic ill-grace, they may succumb – as is customary for entrenched regimes when an entire nation is on the march against them.
Some political actors remain or pretend to be tone-deaf
Of course, politics as usual – the art of the possible for a hopeful again people – is simply business as usual for those already in office. Between escorting a Trojan horse in the form of the ‘Group of 41’ independents in Parliament out of and back into the arms of the incumbents, very little has happened in the corridors of power to suggest that the people have got it wrong in all ‘all 255’ to #gohome – or at least be subjected to forensic audits of their assets, and have unlawful or unaccountable wealth confiscated.
But Sri Lankan legal systems, to effect, the same are paper tigers at present. And it is only voluntary disclosure by the 10 of the 225 that leaves any hope open that this will one day become the norm rather than the exception.
It is good to live in this hope but better and more prudent to back it back with a legal requirement to do so, together with full disclosure of future election-campaign funding. For too long has Corporate Sri Lanka been in collusion with the powers that be – and the powers that want to be, and are – for civil society to be complacent about protests being the be-all and end-all.
Time to give teeth to tough laws that tighten the requirements of a truly disciplined society, as well as a more open and transparent political culture – especially as regards our lawmakers themselves. And no longer can legislators – leave alone the executive – remain agnostic to the moral imperative that lawmakers and law enforcers must walk the talk of the talk they walk.
There is a dangerous disregard for legality but a welcome embracing of the spirit of the law
It is encouraging, however, that from protestors to more peaceable civilians such as motorists, more people are beginning to critically engage with and challenge the law.
Not to be facetious or reduce the gravamen to the pedestrian. But I was enthused to literally see how the driver of a vehicle ostensibly illegally parked on the pavement at Colpetty require the constabulary to move their buses off the kerb at Temple Trees prior to him complying with a traffic cop’s request that he do so. And the rider that ‘the age of blind loyalty to the powers that be’ is well and truly over resonated with me and others like you who are fed up to the back teeth with ‘a disciplined society’ simply meaning that civilians are expected to turn a blind eye to the excesses of a highly militarised society in order that their security from the bogey of extremist terrorism is ensured.
There is the flip side to the flippancy of the errant motorist, though, and is that the type of vigilante justice meted out to the driver of the Defender who mowed down a motorcyclist may set ablaze more than a mere vehicle.
Just let us be cautious that in seeking to honour the spirit of the law over its letter, we don’t invite a cornered law enforcement mechanism to retaliate in the spirit of Rathupaswela or Rambukkana. That is an evil spirit indeed.
People remain united
In the meantime, the clarion call of the quietly spreading protest movement has a quieter ethic to it that has recently and increasingly come to encompass all that bedevils our once-blessed island-nation. It embraces a sense of outrage that the peace with justice that we have been promised for generations has escaped as-yet unborn generations too, if the predictions about ‘things are going to get worse before they get better’ are accurate and complete.
But better care could be taken to identify and illustrate the litany of grievances that range far or well beyond the sounding-board of Galle Face Green. These do range from anger at shortages through anxiety about livelihood sustainability to social justice of all types delayed and denied.
And as much as the political opposition is a machine of many and diverse moving parts, so is the organic protest movement that shows no signs of flagging or even a suggestion of failure. For confronted with the enormity of crimes committed by the state against its society, ousting a fatuous politico or his fat-headed bureaucratic supporter pales in comparison to facing the repercussions of a failed state.
The politico of his calibre will go – now or at the next election or maybe even never ever... if the carrots taste more succulent as time goes by, and we the people accept an interim Government and IMF strictures.
But the root cause of the state of ‘power failure’ will remain close to the heart of the people’s concerns if we don’t turn the spotlight on ourselves more fairly and squarely in our perhaps rare moments of private reflection.
And we fail to see the ghost of Gota or the gremlin in the engine of the Mynah in our own mindset – for such a spectre is a demon only we can exorcise and never ask it to #gohome if it is already ensconced there.
| Editor-at-large of LMD | Entrenched in the SPQR: Struggle – People’s Quiet Revolution |