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COVID-19 Pandemic in Sri Lanka: Contextualizing it geographically – Part I

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By Dr. Nalani Hennayake and

Dr. Kumuduni Kumarihamy

Department of Geography, University of Peradeniya

The emergence of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was inevitable, although the sudden outbreak in Minuwangoda took us by surprise. We now see that it is steadily spreading outside of Colombo. The districts of Nuwara-Eliya and, Trincomalee have been declared as areas not suitable for tourist activities, and pilgrimage to Sri Pada is discouraged. Kandy, where we live is the fourth district in terms of the total number of COVID-19 positive cases detected. The actual reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, changing nature of the virus, how many are infected, detected, tested, and identified as infectious, where they live, work, and move around, could be far beyond what statistics and dashboards may reveal.

Along with the health and security personnel, the government successfully managed the first wave with a series of controlling strategies from travel restrictions, imposed quarantines, self, and institutional isolations. Interestingly, all such strategies, have been territorial or spatial measures. In other words, the management of the COVID-19 pandemic requires a set of spatial strategies that affect human spatial behaviour, relations, and attitudes. Inspired by this, in this article, we embark upon a project of contextualizing the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka, geographically. This article aims to show the significance of a geographical framework of thinking, with limited data and information. In other words, what we present here is a sample of what can be done if the data are available at the GN division level. Such an analysis would demonstrate how geography is an innately central character of how COVID-19 is spread, dealt with, and, most importantly, in an academic perspective, in representing, analyzing, and understanding the present situation and future scenarios of the pandemic.

 

Current situation: What is reported, recorded, and represented?

In its Situation Report on February 3, 2021, the Epidemiology Unit at the Ministry of Health reports 65,698 as ‘the total number confirmed’ and 59,883 as ‘the total number recovered’ COVID-19 cases. Thus, we have only 5485 patients as confirmed and hospitalized, with 548 added as suspected and hospitalized patients. The other basic information provided on this website is the district-wise and hospital-wise distribution of the total number of confirmed patients. The highest number of COVID-19 patients, nearly about 42 percent, comes from the Colombo district, while Gampaha and Kalutara record respectively about 23 and 8 percent (see Table 01) Nuwara-Eliya-Ratnapura. The number of COVID-19 infected seems to increase in the districts of Kandy, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Nuwaraeliya, Rathnapura, Kegalle, Galle, Badulla, and Kalmunai.

 

Table 01: District Distribution of Confirmed Patients (as of February 3, 2021 -10 a.m, Situation Report)

Note:

Considered only the individuals who contracted the disease from the districts

How the COVID-19 pandemic is reported and represented in the media and various sources is all the more confusing. The statistics coupled with the newscasters’ tone (depending on which channel you watch the news in the evening) determine the outbreak’s nature for the day. Frequently, in the middle of the regular news reporting, we hear, “Here we received some new information right now” – new COVID-19 cases added – leaving us with a sense of uncertainty as to how this coronavirus proliferate daily. Generally, during the first wave, the media played a crucial role in raising awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic and sensitizing the people towards the situation with their frequent announcements and reminders. Such an effort is not noticeable during the second wave. Perhaps, the ‘new normal’ has become normal. The new cases are generally attributed to the four clusters. As of February, 2021, the Minuwangoda cluster has proliferated up to 61,705 cases, as it is reported on the relevant official websites. At different phases of the second wave, Peliyagoda and Prison clusters were also added to the Minuwangoda cluster. In the popular memory, informed by the official line and the format of reporting by various channels and mainstream media, such reporting creates an impression that it is still the Minuwangoda/Peliyagoda cluster that is expanding as if it has not yet spread to other parts of the country.

The first wave of the outbreak that began with the case of the Chinese tourist and lasted until almost late April 2020 was well controlled before the general election, through strategies such as physical distancing, quarantine, contact tracing (social, temporal, and spatial), lockdown, and isolation of villages and communities and travel restrictions. The first wave witnessed that restricting and controlling human spatial conduct and mobility are the determinants of preventing further transmission of the coronavirus. The government took strict measures to control human spatial mobilities through curfew and prolonged lockdowns at the provincial and, at times, even at the national level. It is reasonable to say that controlling human spatial mobilities has been a successful strategy in curtailing the first wave, enhanced by the commitment and dedication of the health, security, and various other sectors. However, during this first wave, the coronavirus carriers were identified as foreigners of two kinds instead of locals. They are the immigrant workers who had returned from the Middle East and Italy and a small number of actual foreigners visiting Sri Lanka. The exception to this was the Welisara Navy outbreak and small groups of the infected in a few low-income localities in Colombo. Thus, the coronavirus had not fortunately been ‘socialized’ into the local society.

At present, the second wave that began in early October, when an employee from a garment factory in Minuwangoda was found positive for COVID-19, is different. Although it was debated in the early days whether the coronavirus had still come through ‘foreigners,’ it is clear that the virus is, by now, ‘indigenous‘ to us. It took a while to acknowledge that the coronavirus is ‘socialized‘ – meaning that it is out there with us. It is imperative to know the geographical spread of the COVID-19. This is important for the decision-makers to enact necessary controlling mechanisms (i.e., isolation, lockdown, inter-regional restrictions on mobility, etc.) in the relevant regions, places, and localities on the one hand, and on the other, for the individual citizens to safeguard themselves from the coronavirus and to prevent its further transmission. Looking at the COVID-19 pandemic geographically is far beyond a simple exercise of mapping where the COVID-19 cases are found and located. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the geography of the world. Under pre-pandemic normalcy, spatial and geographic barriers are removed within the capitalist system to facilitate a smooth expansion and circulation of capital and commodity markets. The resultant flat geographical surface is what made the globalization of the COVID-19 pandemic possible. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed this as the countries resort to spatial and geographical restrictions (lockdown areas, restricted mobilities, isolated villages, high- risk, low-risk areas, etc.) to control the pandemic. Thus, we must contextualize and unravel the geographical dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic to gauge its extent, scope, and severity and reevaluate the efficacy of the controlling strategies and problematize it further.

 

Geographical contextualizing of the pandemic

Contextualizing the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka would involve a range of geographical inquiries, analysis, and interpretation that spans from a simple mapping exercise to analyses of socio-cultural, economic, and political dynamics of the communities/ localities where the infected are detected. Geographers’ holistic and integrative perspective allows any phenomenon to be viewed in an interdisciplinary manner and a synthesized form. A geographical line of inquiry, on the one hand, enables the decision-makers to foresee and plan for the future scenarios in terms of, especially, risk areas (for containing the COVID-19 as well recovering the economy) and also to implement the controlling strategies more efficaciously and in a socially more responsible manner. On the other hand, such an exercise helps the public to understand the extent, scope, and severity of the crisis and to reflect individually upon the ethics of personal conduct necessary to prevent the further social proliferation of the coronavirus. Here we use the three themes of infection, vulnerability, and immunization to focus on COVID-19 in Sri Lanka geographically; out of seven themes (infection, vulnerability, resilience, blame, immunization, interdependence, and care) introduced in the Editorial, the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (volume 45 of 2020). In addition, we introduce ‘social distancing’ as a form of micro-geography of COVID-19 since it enfolds a set of human spatial interactions involving spatial distancing at the individual level.

Geographies of infection

: With the first wave, particular places, except for Atalugama and a few low-income localities in Colombo were not identified with COVID-19. A majority of the infected were detected from those retained at the quarantine centres. Now, with the second wave, it is different. The questions of where the infected have been found, where they live, where they have been, and what kind of neighborhoods they have been found from are critical information relating to the transmission and control of COVID-19. At the global level, universities, research institutes, and various geo-visualization sites have produced maps demonstrating the global nature of COVID-19. They are mapped not only at the national scale but also covering the regional and local scales. In these global maps, Sri Lanka was earlier highlighted as a country that managed to control the COVID-19 successfully in the first wave with an insignificant number of fatalities. With the second wave, we are now reported as “at peak and rising at a rate of 16 infected per 100K people during ‘the last seven days’ (See the REUTERS COVID-19 TRACKER). Sri Lanka is classified as a country at 75% of the peak of the infection curve with a daily average of 523 new infections. In these global analyses, Sri Lanka places itself at the lowest end, compared globally and within Asia and the Middle East, regarding the total infections, deaths, average daily reported, and total per population. The relatively low position of the country’s outbreak in its region and the world should not be used, especially by the politicians, to downplay its severity at the national level. It is interesting to note that most of the news channels, immediately after reporting the outbreak’s national situation, instantly turn to the pandemic’s global standing, highlighting its severity, almost making the Sri Lankan situation, so to say, uneventful and insignificant. The politicians often tend to overemphasize this as a GLOBAL pandemic to escape from criticisms and lessen its significance at the national level.

 

(To be continued)



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Features

Sri Lanka’s diplomatic synchronicity with Its neighbourhood

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By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has mainly been characterised by synchronising its policies with the multipolar system and balancing the foreign policy manifestation with outreach to different regions and regional groupings. Given the increased convergence of the strategic interests of Sri Lanka and its neighbours, the ever-changing geopolitical scope of the South Asian region has prompted Sri Lanka to forge closer neighbourhood ties. The rationale behind Sri Lanka’s synchronicity with its neighbours is clear, given that the neighbouring countries and regional organisations offer the potential for substantial growth and development. The benefits of accessing neighbouring markets are significant, particularly for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has for years benefited from the welfare gains of its neighbourhood engagements, and there is a lot more it could still gain.

The focus on neighbourhood diplomacy is a striking feature of contemporary Sri Lankan foreign policy. Notably, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government considers neighbourhood diplomacy a strategic prerequisite for Sri Lanka and its economy. The need to re-establish Sri Lanka’s strategic place in the Indo pacific region has been a significant motivation for the Sri Lankan government. This has emphasised the reinvigoration of and strengthening ties with Asian neighbours including the member states of regional organisations such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, and ASEAN. These developments highlight the need for a proactive engagement with Sri Lanka’s neighbours.

Sri Lanka’s Diplomacy with Its Immediate Neighbourhood: India and the Other SAARC Member States.

India’s rising leadership role in the region, growing engagement with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is helping to protect the interests of India and Sri Lanka. Both these countries consider each other mutually important for geopolitical and strategic reasons. Under the new “India First” doctrine, Sri Lanka aims to further deepen its engagements with India and protect India’s strategic security interests. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s “India First” is a manifestation of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy from being western-oriented to being neighbourly. Moreover, India’s increased engagement with SAARC and other regional groupings such as ASEAN and BIMSTEC has helped protect the mutual interests of both India and Sri Lanka.

Equally, the strategic relations between Sri Lanka and other neighbouring nations such as Pakistan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan have been steadily getting stronger. In this regard, the South Asian Free Trade Area agreement (SAFTA) offers potential for increasing the rate of bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and its SAARC partners. Sri Lanka has also entered into trading agreements such as the Pakistan – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (PSFTA) and the Indo – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA), which offers Sri Lanka access to India’s 1.3 billion consumer market. Sri Lanka has also initiated free trade agreement talks with other SAARC member states like Bangladesh and Nepal.

Engagements with other Asian partners: BIMSTEC AND ASEAN.

Broader engagements with other Asian partners such as the East Asian nations and BIMSTEC member states have also been a striking feature of Sri Lanka’s diplomacy. With the right balance, Sri Lanka’s engagements with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) stand to benefit the island nation both economically and strategically. Sri Lanka’s engagements with ASEAN and other Asian partners in the East received momentum under the 2015-2019 government here. Over the past few years, Sri Lanka has successfully established closer political and economic ties with ASEAN and other East Asian nations. Notably, Sri Lanka’s engagement with ASEAN and other East Asian partners is mainly driven by economic necessity. These Asian partners provide Sri Lanka with an opportunity to seek profitable economic engagements within the Asian neighbourhood.

Sri Lanka has also been actively engaged with The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)  and its member states since its establishment. Notably, the engagements between Sri Lanka and BIMSTEC further increased when the nation assumed the organisation’s chairmanship between 2018 and 2020. BIMSTEC has emerged as a key ally for the future of Sri Lanka’s economy. BIMSTEC is an important channel for economic engagements with neighbourhood value chains and production networks such as India, ASEAN, and Bangladesh.  

Championing a New Foreign Policy Model: The way forward

For Sri Lanka to reap the economic benefits of its diplomacy, the government should emphasise improving cooperation with neighbouring nations. Arguably, the nature of Sri Lanka’s relations with its immediate neighbours and other partners will go a long way in providing the much-needed impetus for Sri Lanka’s prosperity. Notably, the nature of relations with SAARC nations will determine Sri Lanka’s future in its pursuit of regional continuity, the promotion of Sri Lanka’s strategic interests, and strengthening each other’s economic prosperity. A good neighbourhood policy will undoubtedly help Sri Lanka exploit the vast economic opportunities presented by its neighbours.

 

 

About the Author

Dr. Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O. P Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’

 

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How confidence has been eroded

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By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

On the threshold of the vote in Geneva, with disaster looming, I began to wonder at how Gotabaya Rajapaksa managed so soon to lose the confidence of the country when there was so much hope when he was elected. The Sugar Fiasco, if not quite in the league of the Bond Scam, suggests that corruption is beyond control. After the satisfactory control, initially, of the coronavirus danger, it burst forth through what seems confused reactions, including the preposterous flood of Ukranian tourists. Contradictory messages, with regard to cremation and burqas and even ages for vaccination, seem the hallmark of this government.

In the end, I think the President has to take responsibility for this mess, and I am sure, unless he is totally surrounded by sycophants, that he must realize where he could have done better. But at the same time, I do feel very sorry for him. As he must know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and he seems to have a chain where there are hardly any links with any bearing capacity whatsoever.

I was struck by this the more when writing the series, I am now producing about the Lost Generations of the United National Party. I have been dealing for the last couple of months with those who came to prominence in the period of the long UNP government of 1977 to 1994, in terms of how and why they did not fulfil their promise.

Contrasting them with those given prominence in the current government, one realizes that now there is no promise at all. To take perhaps the most vital portfolio today we have Pavithra Wanniarachchi, a pleasant enough person but known best for her utter obsequiousness to Chandrika Kumaratunga to begin with, and then Mahinda Rajapaksa and now Gotabaya. One contrasts this with the independent integrity of Gamini Jayasuriya, the first Minister of Health in the Jayewardene government, who resigned from his ministerial position when he disagreed with government policy.

That will not happen with Pavithra, not only because she will not give up her position but also because she cannot understand what it means to disagree about policy. And as for the tremendous innovations Ranjith Atapattu, the Minister of Health who followed, engaged in, his building up of Primary Health Centres and the role of midwives, it is absurd to think of Pavithra having any ideas, let alone such good ones.

That contrast alone makes clear the pitiful position the current President is in. But it is also true that he does not seem to have tried to rise above it. This becomes clear when we consider one of the saddest elements in today’s politics, the enormous responsibilities entrusted to the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was 74 when assumed the role which he had first occupied when he was 58. Now we all love and respect him, even my sister who scolded him roundly the last time she met him, when he was still President. But it is unfair to expect him now to be a creative Minister and, even if the President needs him as Prime Minister for reasons I need not go into now, to entrust Finance to him as well as Urban Development and Housing is just plain silly.

It is of course true that Ranasinghe Premadasa did have a couple of important portfolios when he became Prime Minister under JR, but he was in his early 50 s at the time. These included Housing and Construction, where he made his mark though he also did much in the field of Local Government. And he did not have the vital portfolio of Finance which was in the hands of Ronnie de Mel, another of those I wrote about, who achieved much for the country, though also sadly for himself. But he too was in his early 50 s at the time, and when he came back into executive office when he was in his seventies he did nothing of consequence.

I am not for a moment suggesting that 70 is too old for office. J R Jayewardene did do much when he became President at 71, and his ultimate failure had to do with his vindictive delusions of grandeur, not his age. But Mahinda Rajapaksa, having done wonders during his first term as President, showed that he was no longer capable of constructive measures when he was in his mid-sixties. To expect more from him a decade later is just plain silly.

There is no need to labour the point, for it is crystal clear we are dealing now with satyrs to the Hyperions of an earlier generation. But it is worth nothing also the contrast between Lalith Athulathmudali, whom I have also written about, and those who now have been entrusted with the responsibilities he fulfilled so well in Jayewardene’s government.

He was in charge of trade which has now been handed over to Bandula Gunawardena. He was in charge of Shipping which is now with Rohitha Abeyagunawardena. And six years after he was first a Minister he was entrusted with National Security whereas now, with the President in charge of Defence, we have Chamal Rajapaksa as State Minister of National Security and Sarath Weerasekera in his first Cabinet appointment, a few months after this Cabinet took over, being Minister of Public Security. The latter seems to be the front man for burqa policy at present.

I don’t suppose anyone will question Lalith Athulathmudali’s intelligence and efficiency, whereas the four Ministers inclusive of one State Minister who now fulfil the functions he managed on his own have between them not an iota of this skills and competence. But this is the material which Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has to work with.

Of course, wonderful material is not a guarantee of success, for we know that, though today’s leading politicians are not a patch on those whom J R Jayewardene had in his Cabinet, that government too brought the country to disaster, with dissent bursting into violence on all sides.

We know too that Ranasinghe Premadasa did very well in some particulars though he worked without some of the brightest stars of the preceding period. And then Mahinda Rajapaksa did a great job in his first term, again without many effective workers. So ultimately it is a question of leadership, and what is so very sad is that Gotabaya, whom one anticipated would be a great leader, has shown himself quite incapable of taking the country forward.

Conversely, though one does sympathize when looking at the material through which he has to work, one does feel too that he is not using the few capable people he has to the full. With regard for instance to Foreign Relations, Dinesh Gunawardena does seem to me a cut above JR’s Foreign Minister, ACS Hameed. And though Dinesh would not claim to be intellectually in the class of G L Peiris, he has a solid base of principle which should hold the country in good stead, which doubtless is why Uditha Devapriya, one of the brightest of our young journalists, characterizes him as the best Foreign Minister we have had in years.

It is tragic therefore that he seems to be floundering, not least because, as so many papers have highlighted in recent weeks, there seems to be no clear sense of direction in the Foreign Ministry. So what we have now is ridiculous efforts by a range of government commentators, including Dinesh and G L Peiris, to prove that we did not in fact suffer defeat in Geneva at the recent vote, a folly Devapriya duly chastizes.

So much verbiage that does not convince anyone is not the way forward for the country. What is needed now is concerted action to ensure that we do not suffer in the way the West has planned for us. But there are no signs of such planning, indeed there are no signs of anyone in authority with the capacity to engage in such planning. Jayantha Colombage, from the little I know of him, seems a decent man with some thinking capacity, but certainly not the thinking capacity or the experience to plan alone as say Lakshman Kadirgamar was capable of, or even Ravinatha Ariyasinha, constrained though the latter was by a host of silly or scheming Ministers. But there are no signs that he is talking to people who know better.

There are two obvious examples of people he and Dinesh together should consult. The most obvious is Dayan Jayatilleka, but since government is wary of him, I will talk first about Tamara Kunanayagam who understands the UN system backwards. Why Dinesh has not consulted her on how to cope with the next stage, which is the discussion in the General Assembly on the budget requested to destroy us, is beyond me. She has excellent relations with the Latin Americans, and indeed Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he sacked her, wanted to use her in Latin America but the mafia that then ran foreign relations stopped him. But even now it may not be too late to use the intelligence and experience she possesses, while also working out guidelines on how to do better in Africa, which too we have woefully neglected unlike in the glory days in Geneva from 2007 to 2009.

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Dialectics for a fast evolving scenario

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by Kumar David

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory; it is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a scholastic question”. Second Thesis on Feuerbach

Don’t turn away, this is not going to be a boring treatise in abstract Marxism. I will quickly get to my topic, which is that the political circumstances we are living through are evolving rapidly and we should be alert and adjust to changing situations. First however allow me a few paragraphs about Lenin’s most dynamic years, from February 1917 till he fell seriously ill in late 1921. He died in January 1924 due to complications from bullets lodged in him in Fanny Kaplan’s August 1918 assassination attempt. The February Revolution, (old Julian-style last week of February to early March, new Gregorian-style second week of March) took Lenin and the Bolshevik Party by surprise. When first the women and then the workers of Petrograd fired up leaderless demonstrations which overthrew the monarchy, the Bolsheviks who had prepared the proletariat for revolution for 30 years were stunned! Except Trotsky the general expectation among socialists was a Two Stage Revolution; first Tsarism would be replaced by the rule of the bourgeoisie, then it would be the turn of the subaltern classes – a common at the time static misreading of Marx’s dialectical thinking.

I see developments in Sri Lanka moving fast with unforeseen changes and a regime that most of us last year considered strong and stable, now tottering. Of course it’s going to fall tomorrow but it’s wobbling and the domestic environment is changing unpredictably. Catholics are visibly angry about an alleged “cover up of Easter bombing organisers” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA2Zl1mVrOo); the in the Buddhist clergy have counter-attacked the Cardinal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC0WcSiJiJs0). Farmers in several areas are on the warpath according to News First. Furthermore nobody foresaw in 2019 the havoc covid would wreak, and the ferocity of UNHRC denunciations was unexpected. It is true that red lights were flashing about debt servicing and that the economy was in hopeless straights, but the convergence of bad news has been more rapid than foreseen and the regime has quickly gone belly up. All who join a mission with a single simple objective, to protect democracy, perforce, have to adjust to a fast changing scenario. The ability to think and act on one’s feet is what makes Lenin of 1917-1921 interesting. He remains the star disciple of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fifth century BC classic on strategy. While shifting and manoeuvring Lenin never lost sight of his final objectives. This is why I call him the dialectic on two feet.

Often in this column I have referred to the dialectic as the scientific method; true but how boring! Yes true enough Darwin, the best example in science was an assiduous and utterly trustworthy accumulator of data but with a mind that was alive to how phenomena change and evolve. Gautama Buddha pointed out that nothing is permanent and that all things are evolving but it took Darwin to work out the precise mechanisms by which this was happening in biology. Still, the dialectics of science and nature are slow moving. It is not exciting, it won’t keep you awake at night. Conversely, jumping from Two-Stage theory to instant proletarian revolution on April 1, 1917, capturing state power in October in defiance of scholastic Marxism, pushing back against attempts to militarise the trade unions and the refusal to give the Germans whole swathes of land so as to commit to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (on both Trotsky erred), and in 1921 forcing through the New Economic Policy, a key market oriented concession to capitalist farming, these were momentous strategic transitions, quite breathtaking.

Bearded boring Bolshies 100 years ago, what’s it got to do with us you ask? I’ll tell you. The commonality is that quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in a very fast changing scenario. Lenin in 1917-1922, was an embodiment of the dialectic because he was able to think on his feet and keep his side united using his singular ability to deal with a swift change while the other side (sides to be more accurate) were confused and splintered. This is a useful example for those who seek a democratic, plural and united Sri Lanka because to date this side (I call it ‘we’) have managed to keep our message consistent and united while the ‘other’ side is splintering. President Gota bemoans his unpopularity and his inability to address challenges because “there is no unity” or some such words. I don’t have a clue what skulduggery is going on within the Royal Rajapaksa dynasty, though now is just the right time to make visible adjustments. The public is persuaded that Gota failed because he is inexperienced and his inner circle is dumb; Mahinda and Basil deftly keep out of the limelight. Less and less do you hear from those you marvelled 18 months ago that Gota as the incarnation of a strong leader who would lead Lanka to harmony and splendour? Lee Kuan Yew was a frequently quoted prototype. Where have all those people gone? On the other hand the opposition to an authoritarian new constitution, to excessive deployment of retired military brass and those worried that democracy is under threat (harassment of rights workers, fear in the mind of critics, damaging the judiciary) have succeeded in retaining a degree of commonality.

The shot in the arm for ‘our’ side was the UNHRC Commissioner’s Report and the Geneva Resolution which has de facto created a united front of Sri Lankan domestic forces and international opinion. The uprising in Burma and the opposition to authoritarianism in Sri Lanka must not allow themselves to be intimidated by reactionary nationalists who shriek about foreign support and anti-national traitors. International assistance should be accepted on our terms and in any case democracy is a universal clause. Remember that when the Germans offered to transport Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train (“Like a bacillus” in Churchill’s words) he did not hesitate for a moment to accept the offer. The rest is history. In Burma as in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Junta or the containment of an assault on democracy are transnational tasks. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” when it is used to conceal the machinations of dictators.

You may recall Marx’s quip about standing Hegel on his head which in today’s language we would say has gone viral. It is about the relationship between real life on one hand and theories and philosophies on the other. Tamil agitation and at an extreme the LTTE was not an ideology of a separate state and Tamil cultural-civilisation finding expression in an uprising. Quite the converse, it was the practical conditions of a community creating such angst that it gave rise to extreme nationalism among a large number. That Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremism which is holding this country hostage is about ancient civilisation, about hela jathika abimane is humbug. There were class, economic, employment in the late colonial capitalist and state economies, and education sectors which turned Sinhala blood blue with national pride. The nationalists who pontificate the opposite need to be stood on their heads. This critique of what is called the idealism (Ideas and philosophy is what determines the principal features of the real, material world) is very well known now and I think modern bourgeois sociology goes a long way towards recognising it.

What is perhaps not quite so well appreciated is that Marx was more a pupil than a critique of Hegel (not the post-Hegel epigenomes of course) in respect of the dialectic. He speaks of Hegel as a “mighty thinker” in the 1873 post-face to capital I. Certainly spurned the “the ill-humoured, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel like “dead dog”. What Marx took away from Hegel was how to understand change, the dynamics of how change progresses. The conflicts and compromises in real social and human relations which at times mediate and at times determine how the history of societies evolves. The sociological companion to Darwinian evolution.

We are now live in a fruit salad world of international relations where three powers will decide our fate – over which we have little control – India, China and the US. They are each no doubt pondering what to do about our fruitcake regime. Competition among them to one side, it is in the interests of all three to unscramble this tabbouleh and avert this country’s descent into a failed-state abyss, which thankfully we have still not reached. It is not possible that they each do not have calculations up their sleeves about how to sort out this mess but an initiative from the regime itself proposing a via media to the UNHRC and to the aforementioned powers as proof that Lanka will accept its reconciliation-accountability responsibilities and will maintain a foreign policy balance which will not discomfit any great power will ease a compromise.

The Double-Paksa (two Rajapaksa) regime must forget about enacting a divisive new constitution to claw power into the grasp of the Executive; if firing military sorts already hired for top slots is infeasible at least it must give an undertaking that there will be no more sounding brass speaking in garbled tongues; it must put scientists in charge of pandemic control and win, as Biden seems to be doing; dump this squalid and reckless foreign policy team; it must stop manipulating the judiciary and halt asinine Presidential Commission circuses; it must stop pandering to extremists since this impedes a deal with the minorities. All this is doable if the executive is restructured and a plural orientation is adopted. If the government wishes to pull itself up by its bootstraps it must undertake the policy changes outlined in this para, restructure its personnel, pray much harder and offer trays of mangoes to the deities superintending Sri Lanka. The $64K question is whether Gota has the appetite for this healthy and fruitful menu. Those with no confidence that Gota’s Executive, Mahinda’s government or Basil-in-waiting can extricate themselves from their predicaments, must plan and act on their own outside this purview. The sole self-imposed condition is that change must be constitutional; what’s the point of a fight for democracy if one begins by abrogating it?

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