Kishali Pinto Jayaardene
When the king cobra kills, it is said that its glare is so unnerving that the victim is fascinated first into a state of terrified immobility before the strike occurs, paralyzing through the injection of a potent neurotoxin that immobilizes the central nervous system. The victims, (including humans if the dose is large enough), can feel impending death but be completely powerless to prevent it, sans immediate recourse to anti-venom treatment.
Political chicanery, natural disasters and human misery
In some ways, it feels as if Sri Lanka is in that advanced state of paralysis as the country lies transfixed in a state of apathy with a quarreling National Unity Government, overtly ambitious constitutional reforms going nowhere and urgent economic problems of the populace remaining unsolved. One disaster after another continues to hit the most vulnerable as the monsoon rains envelop the land bringing deaths and homelessness in their wake. First the drought, then the rains hammer Sri Lanka with equally devastating effect and we have no mitigation system in place beyond politicians distributing relief to desperate people.
Indeed there is an inescapable link between political chicanery, natural disasters and human misery. Corruption, unplanned developments and unauthorized constructions have meant that natural disasters turn deadlier each year. Even as Colombo was built up to be the ‘prettiest city in Asia’ during the Rajapaksa years, its wetlands were mercilessly encroached on with political patronage and no regard for the law. Now as rain waters routinely flood the city, we see one direct consequence thereof.
But our memories are short. And mistakes aplenty made by this Government has paved the way for the return of the Rajapaksas in a more venomous avatar than before, cheered on in no doubt by Colombo’s capitalist class which brazenly genuflected before the family brand in the (political) ‘coming out’ of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother and onetime Secretary of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa recently.
Remarkable displays of absurdity
An effective antidote to this current paralysis would have been far reaching party reforms in Sri Lanka’s two major parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), compelled by, if not anything else, the bruising results of the local government elections a few months ago. Boasting of its ‘democratic credentials’ as UNP party seniors are wont to do, is to little purpose in the absence of a radical reimaging of its image and reconnection with its rural constituents. Meanwhile the less said about the SLFP, the better as it thrashes about in a state of stupefying bewilderment.
Each distasteful muddle continues to be as bad as the other. It was unacceptable enough that United National Party government members from the parliamentary watchdog Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) had tarnished themselves by engaging in phone conversations with Arjun Aloysius of Perpetual Treasuries ill-fame even as COPE was engaging in an inquiry against him. But in a display of quite remarkable absurdity, those very same members were re-appointed to COPE in the new parliamentary session. Known rogues of the Joint Opposition protested against the re-appointments in high moral flood. In theory, the United National Party may well cling to the explanation that its representatives on COPE had done nothing that had been proved to be wrong during the Aloysius inquiry and should therefore not be penalized.
However the sheer absence of commonsensical strategy in allowing yet another stick for the Joint Opposition to beat and that too, in regard to the Perpetual Treasuries fiasco, (the Achilles heel of the Government) beggars the proverbial imagination. On the other hand, the confession of a once prominent SLFP Minister that Aloysius had contributed towards his election campaign fund in 2015 contributes to this tragi-comedy. An ordinary man or woman watching this parliamentary pantomime could not be blamed for calling down curses on all politicians
Accusing fingers need to point inwards
Then again, it is notable that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warned in a speech widely carried on national television a few days ago that journalists who are supporting a Rajapaksa-return are at risk of being disappeared themselves. That was the strategy used by the family dominated regime in power to ‘tame the media, so beware of what you want’, he added.
Far be it my intention to defend the indefensible given the shamelessly transparent manner in which the private electronic media in particular peddle their political agendas over the airwaves. But perhaps the Prime Minister may also fittingly point the accusing finger inwards towards his own Government given its equally shameless record of doing very little to close outstanding cases of journalists who had disappeared without a trace or had been assassinated and beaten up during the Rajapaksa decade.
Thursday’s conviction of General Secretary of the BBS, Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara by the Homgama Magistrates Court for threatening and criminally harassing the wife of disappeared cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda two years ago brings this question forcibly to mind. It remains to be seen as to what sentence will be passed down on the offender. But the issue here is larger than this one slim victory. The Government needs to acknowledge that pointing fingers (even justifiably) at the media wholly bypasses its own responsibility in failing to bring outstanding cases of gross human rights violations to justice. In the meantime, its party reforms have been largely unconvincing to the ordinary people.
The king cobra and its prey
So the paralysis of the nation awakens the fitting image of the king cobra and its prey, as it surely must. Only this time it is an entire nation that will be in the throes of its own death struggles. And even if there is a re-grouping of resistant liberal democratic forces, far greater popular cynicism will be evidenced. The inanities and political motivated agendas of activists comprising civic movements appearing to work for the people but paradoxically willing to disregard core values of the Rule of Law in support of political imperatives in 2015 saw to that. ‘Activist’ voices of protest were transformed almost overnight to uncritical proponents of government policy, defending stuttering anti-corruption efforts and deeply flawed transitional justice processes alike. Now we will face the consequences of that monumental shortsightedness if not lack of wisdom. It does not really help when pessimistic predictions turn out to be right. One would wish almost desperately to be proved wrong but such wishes are of no avail.
Meanwhile the Government now tosses a casual explanation that the much ballyhooed lessening of indirect taxes imposed on the people. (touted as to why the entire tax structure was revised despite cautions that reforms were done clumsily and without forethought), will be seen only two years hence. By that time, both this painful circus and the political caterwauling would assuredly be over amidst the tatters of the 2015 ‘rainbow revolution.’
Barring a miracle, a harsh reckoning seems inevitable for this land and its sadly paralyzed people.