The last laugh on the last bus

Thursday, 7 July 2022 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

DRIVERS AND CONDUCTORS – ON THE BUS in a state, system and society where privileged passengers ride free and with ease while the public forfeits safety, security and comfort; let alone the privileges of the political elite in the VIP section 


Not to quibble too much in these sorely troubled times all round. But given everything that has transpired since Sri Lanka declared bankruptcy, shouldn’t the state set a prime example in tightening its ‘austerity belt’? And empathise far more with the people they ostensibly represent? 

And surely it’s governors at national level – especially elected representatives who brought a once proud nation low (by design or default) – who must first feel the pinch? As well as walk the talk in terms of their tone in parliament, tenor at press conferences and timbre when embodying national leadership under pressure?

But by no means is it so in this most perverse of sociopolitical orders! Far from the madding crowd – and by that I mean distanced in mood, mindset and the milk of human kindness – the executive arm of government find its fit, funnily enough, to tickle its fancy and enjoy a ‘smile-a-while’ outing now and then... at the expense of a suffering public, perhaps they won’t/don’t/can’t realise! 

And discontent to eat humble pie after admitting gross mistakes made, which buckled the food, forex and fiscal security of a middle income country that was motoring along nicely, politicos – from a sublimely tone-deaf president to a plaintively strident opposition leader – are still barking orders as if no one else could envisage their inane ‘instructions’. Or futilely raising clenched fists against a system they et al. sabotaged. I won’t even mention the prime minister sans a mandate whose funny bone seems longer than any nerve in his sympathetic nervous system. 

Not an iota of guilt or shame in any quarter. In fact, it’s not entirely in the realm of conspiracy theories to wonder whether it was by design (and not default) that a plethora of dismal policy decisions were implemented – to draw ‘international bargain hunters’ to our shores? Now, now! Let’s get real... you can’t have your Marie-Antionette-cake and eat it.

Government is either terribly incompetent or horribly corrupt. There’s no middle ground amidst the agonies of a failed state sinking; to say nothing of the plaintive wails of pregnant mothers, and mewling and puking infants choking on plain tea and a lack of sympathy. 

And where one would expect a penitent political culture to don sackcloth and ashes at the penury we have to endure now, and join a national lament with the rest of society, our ‘ruling classes’ continue to serve self... blatantly, tellingly, humorously (a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, don’t you know...). 

As was seen only too recently when politicos, police and ‘petrol shed mafias’ helped themselves to precious reserves of fuel while the people remained high and dry, stranded for viable transport, short of essentials, suffering mortally in never-ending queues and starving to death in power-cut darkened kerosene-less homes. 

Still, he and they – neither the chief culprit, arguably; nor any of his political accomplices in the professional and business classes including a smilingly pragmatic premier cracking jokes only a cynical few find funny – would deign to say a sincere ‘sorry’ let alone #Go Home!

Shall I say it on behalf of all (well, most.) of us: on the off-chance that somehow, sometime, somewhere, these sociopolitical parasites haven’t heard it said? Go home, Gota! Go home, Ranil! Go home, all 224 others of you! We want a NEW LOT – we want the OLD ROT to stop... we want it now! There, think they heard me above the din of the democracy-loving droves at the gate of GotaGoGama or the cacophony of the faux-republicans who have come to their senses at long last outside the hallowed precincts of NoDealGama? 

‘No diesel’ is a minor nuisance compared to the mainstream nastiness of ‘no decency,’ isn’t it? It is certainly no laughing matter. Not to the near and dear of the 14 late citizens who died while waiting for their ship to come in... literally – with a precious cargo of now rare fuels.

In the meantime, prime ministers pontificate in parliament about how able, ready and willing they are to step down and hand over the mantle to a socialist contender for the premiership! 

Really – are you serious, sir? Would it strike you as remotely rib-tickling if the nation-state you profess to lead – with no mandate from the people, to boot – fell from the frying-pan into the fire? 

What’s that? Oh, you were ‘only kidding’? Well, I for one call tell you there are better places to, er, place that ‘economic recovery roadmap’ of yours than into the trembling hands of AKD, whose ashen countenance at the gauntlet thrown down before him tells a distinctly un-funny tale... 

It would be hilarious if it was not horrendous. The horrid feeling that an increasingly large number of average citizens who now think it would be better to have a JVP government for all its putative ‘cleanliness’ at the cost of their relative lack of experience or expertise! 

Funny – no, shame – that a shaken citizenry under severe pressure allegedly seems to consider it fit that a ragtag and bobtail bunch of Marxist misfits and reformed revolutionaries are the best option to bailout Sri Lanka ahead of an increasingly diminishing horizon for the IMF ship to sail in. 

Funny – no, pity – what the growing realisation that the messianic technocrats and consummate super-literate politicians who would salvage a bus condemned to the scrapyard are no more than tired ex-warhorses, old clown princes and trite wisecracking court jesters can do.

Funny – no, sad – when all that those primarily culpable for the pretty pass we have come to as a people and a polity can do is tickle their own fancies, teasingly taunt their political opponents in a once august assembly, and expect the electorate to grin and bear it. 

Is this a nation that believes in karma? Or were they conning us about that too when they paid homage to the Tathāgatha in sacred groves? Or fawned over dark gods in shrines haunted by soothsayers whose succour these so-called ‘technocrats’ sought?

Not even an unprecedented economic collapse could subvert the sense of entitlement some have... 

So it’s little or no wonder that far from the iconic #Aragalaya (a struggle in every sense all over the island now, not only at GotaGoGama) running out of steam, the people’s protests were seen gathering a full head of it again recently. More power to the people!

But not if the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution (22A) passes muster (and is passed into law as a pseudo-21A to fake-replace and faux-override the truly reformatory 21st Amendment to the Constitution proposed by the SJB) in a series of hoops from Parliament through Supreme Court to a referendum.

[Sidebar: does Sajith in his secret heart rue the day he refused to play the Rajapaksas at their own game, and accept the cannily proffered premiership? For all his hot air on the paada-yaathra road, the realpolitik-rejecting leader of the opposition must have at least a smidgen of regret he didn’t seize the day and help us all to cease and desist from using the legislature to make our beloved land a laughingstock of friends and neighbours!] 

In other news... 

Not having learned the lesson that absolute power corrupts absolutely, some shady conductors are keen to retain the seat of that all-powerful executive bus driver. 

So much for ‘constitutional reform’ reflecting the people’s will... And with a presidential election still over 850 days away, the once venerated personage who brought Mother Sri Lanka to her knees will remain ensconced in executive power with most of its trappings intact under 22A.  

Not to quibble too much again... But what of the promises made not time out of mind yet, that the president was willing to abolish this exalted office? 

And even now, will not a Parliament that has to kowtow to the executive driver opt to step off the bus through a voluntary dissolution? Inviting the electorate to have its say at a grant funded poll rather than protests? 

So since the legislature is loathed by the electorate, why not dissolve it – and opt for an election and referendum on the same day? Saving the state time and money, as well as the nation further heartache and hunger?

Not a thought is given about the legitimacy of those still clinging horridly on to power amidst clarion calls on all sides for political stability ahead of a putative IMF bailout. 

But the bus on which we are all careening hopelessly out of control must run out of fuel sooner than later – or plunge off the edge of the precipice, which the driver could have seen miles away and sundry conductors neglected to mention. 

As well as having many if not most passengers ignore the then impending signs of ‘sir, state and system failure’ – together with other perils on the journey – in blatant self-interest, there was also policy breakdown.

For one, government by gazette on converting the agro-economy into a fully organic regimen overnight – against the advice of experts and at the behest of self-interested cronies. Food security gone... 

For another, blatant disregard of economic fundamentals in the face of multiple warnings about doling out dwindling US Dollar reserves to meet sovereign debt... forex security hobbled. 

Last but by no means least, a cynical continuation even now of the ‘business of politics as usual’ midst human misery and suffering – not to mention widespread antipathy to the administration at the barricades and government by diktat.

Time to hop off? This bus is going nowhere fast! But with emigration a closed door for most – and with our faux-prosperous Sri Lanka’s vistas becoming another Lebanon ‘dream’ looming large and loud – not the least of our worries is a deaf bus driver grinning from ear to ear as the passengers boo and hoot him and a not-so-dumb but oh-so-funny conductor seemingly enjoying the bus ride to hell.   

| Editor-at-large of LMD | ‘He who laughs last laughs loudest and longest’ | 


Recent columns