By Gamini Weerakoon
(Gamini Weerakoon is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader)
‘So, so, what’s happening’, is the inevitable question Sri Lankan journalists have been confronted with over the years. And it continues still.
This is amazing considering the fact that politics is the sole interest of the majority of the populace. They watch the three daily newscasts of the main TV channels, listen to radio bulletins and in moments of leisure pull out their ‘smart phones’ and keep watching news flashes. And yet they do not seem to know: ‘What’s happening’. Why?
Do they not believe in the news that says everything is hunky dory in Paradise Isle as their news bulletins say and most newspapers say or that there is something hanky-panky about letting the people know?
From fairly long experience in watching public interest in political news, we will categorise the public into the following groups:
*Those who know what’s happening, don’t like it and pretend not to know
*Some are genuinely ignorant about developments and
*Those who don’t know what’s happening and don’t even know that they do not know but pretend they know.
Take the appointment of a parliamentary committee by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to make recommendations on the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
The report has been completed, handed over to the Prime Minister and he presumably presented it to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
What was in the report and what happened to it?
It reminds us of the naughty Calypso way back in the fifties: Where did the naughty little flea go? No, nobody know, nobody know.
The parliamentary committee was supposed to represent all MPs and these MPs are representatives of the people in whom the ‘sacred sovereignty of the people’ is vested in. And from this sovereignty springs, together with the sovereignty vested in the president, all power of government.
What has happened?
A fellow scribe says: Hell of a Constitutional Kollopang (comedy), no?
What’s the solution?
We scanned the political spectrum for a solution and found none except advice (not an order oral or written) by President Rajapaksa: Think beyond the Box. Certainly, that’s good advice because the Box, at times called the Idiot Box, keeps spouting out sycophantic praises of those in power and how right they are and pretend there are no problems.
The Rajapaksa (Pohottuwa-Lotus Bud) government appears to be in need of intense sunlight immediately, to open up the petals and look around, particularly on the rocketing of prices of essential commodities. The price of a coconut has risen to a nutty height of Rs 100.
During the coconut’s recent price climb in the Sri Lankan market, Arundika Fernando, the State Minister for Coconut, Palmyrah, Rubber products among other things, appeared on TV attempting to scale a coconut tree in his electorate with the aid of a mechanised coconut climber which a whizz-kid in his electorate had invented.
How Fernando’s ascent up the tree would bring the price of nuts down was not made clear in the commentary. The State Minister too did not go up all the way to the top of the tree and bring down nuts. A cynic opines that since the mechanical climber (probably electronic) may have been programmed only to go up but not come down — a one-way ticket to the top — the State Minister may have thought it wiser to stay closer to Mother Earth.
Whatever happened, the nut with the biggest circumference is still prized at Rs 100 and those of smaller sizes less.
Thinking out of the box, it has to be realised that the laws of physics of Isaac Newton and the laws of economics of the Sri Lankan agricultural market are not the same. Newton’s laws say that everything that goes up — stones, apples, space rockets– must come down. But in the Sri Lankan market — coconuts, parippu, paang etc — go up but won’t come down. The best example is the price of a coconut. It has been going up and up in price regularly but has it ever come down?
Fortunately, our new Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardene holds a PhD from the reputed Confucius Institute of the University of Beijing. Whether the doctorate is on matters of trade or geopolitics, we found it rather confusing to follow on the Internet. Nonetheless, the man who has imbibed principles of Confucianism, we believe, would not find it hard to bring down the price of a coconut even though he has come a cropper in construction of an international cricket stadium at Maharagama in the name of ‘You No Hoo’ and had housewives protesting with uplifted sarees and skirts, some years ago, for his prediction that a family of five could live on an income of Rs 2500 per month.
Thinking out of the Box, we spotted another window of opportunity. Monkeys displaced from their traditional habitats are coming into human habitats and playing havoc, destroying agricultural crops, threatening homes and becoming a nuisance. Dilan Perera, a Lotus Bud MP, has volunteered to be the Minister for Monkeys. Perera has said that they destroy 80 percent of crops in Badulla and other areas too including Colombo’s suburbs.
Monkeys are our (humans) closest relatives and do we have a right to displace them from their traditional homelands because of our irresistible urge to merge and spread out into their land? Nonetheless, there is the possibility of peaceful co-existence with our ancestors as a well- known school in the hills by the famed Udawattekelle wilds have shown, living beside them in harmony for many decades. They have learnt many monkey tricks to their advantage, their rivals allege.
Monkeys destroy coconut plantations but now some South East Asian countries have trained these excellent tree climbers to bring down nuts. If that is done, it could be a remedy to a main problem facing the coconut industry — refusal of youth in the Coconut Triangle and elsewhere to crawl up trees as their forefathers did and instead opt for jobs where they can wear designer clothes including tattered jeans as others of their age in other parts of this isle.
Monkeys go back to the earliest times of our heritage — the Rama-Ravana epic where Ravana of Lanka abducted Sita, Rama’s wife, brought her here and hid her in the hills around Nuwara Eliya. We learnt on our mother’s knee how the Monkey King Hanuman carried rocks from the Himalayas and dumped it in the Palk Strait to build the Hanuman Bridge.
This story has much relevance even today, whatever NASA says about the natural formation of rocks of the ‘Bridge’. The Congress government approved the construction of the Sethusamuduram Canal that would enable ships from the Indian West Coast to the East Coast to travel through the Palk Strait instead of sailing round Sri Lanka. But that would destroy the Hanuman Bridge (British Called it Adam’s Bridge).
The BJP’s Hindutva governments stalled dredging of the canal because of their reverence to Hanuman and the Indian Supreme Court upheld halting of the dredging of the canal as it involved deeply ingrained religious beliefs.
Even though Sri Lanka had approved an international highway coming over from the Indian Sub- Continent to Sri Lanka over the Hanuman Bridge, fears were expressed by the Sinhala nationalists that such a road would enable truckloads of bread and Dhall to arrive with a ‘Peacekeeping Forces’ by land instead of dropping it from the air as what happened in July 1987.
To conclude: ‘So, so, what’s happening’? There is a Constitutional Kollopang while the populace is going fruitier and nuttier over coconuts. Monkeys are playing pucks but they have to be saved; Indian sensitivities have to be considered when the monkey issue is resolved if not regional and even geopolitical problems may emerge if our approach is wrong. But is there a solution? Why not? The 20A and a new Constitution. We are a sovereign nation led by a government with a two-thirds majority.