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Ensure economic growth to improve quality of life

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By Lacille de Silva

Sri Lankans, since the 1970s, have not been fortunate to have visionary leaders. They were misfits. Their laws are unjust and unacceptable. Their measures are always cruel and inhumane. They do not respect the Constitution and other laws. History proves that if the leaders desire comforts, love power and prestige they are unable to deliver lasting happiness to the nation.

After ending the brutal war, we were reborn. Why did Lankan rulers fail to achieve economic progress there onwards? They too lacked integrity, vision and accountability. They were narrow-minded and acquisitive. The ensuing culture they created is a toxic process. Power has become addictive to them. Why should probity, ethics and good governance apply for both elected and appointed personnel engaged in the service to the citizens?

Nowhere else in the world do senior cabinet ministers doze off in Parliament in the government benches in the front row. It was particularly important, since it happened, while the Head of State was delivering the policy statement as well, in Parliament at its first meeting, after a parliamentary election. It is true that the President runs the government with the support of the Cabinet Ministers. Such ministers therefore do not challenge the poor behaviour of others. This reflects the actual status of affairs of the government.

They have misused legitimate authority given to them to their advantage. Such sordid rulers have collectively subverted laws and the key state institutions such as Parliament, the judiciary etc., for decades. They cannot comprehend that good administration in every area of the government is vital to keep the people happy and their good name.

Our Constitution (Article 12 (1) stipulates that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law”. The famous proverb tells “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked bear the rule, the people mourn”. We should be happy the Constitution takes great pains to ensure justice for all. And to protect everybody from misrule by double-dealer type big-time operators.

They have destroyed the opposition in Parliament. A strong opposition is vital for running a healthy democracy. Such destructive leaders craftily extended beyond their self-interests to biasedly build a motivated and inspired team of acolytes. They are also equally bellicose and self-centred.

At the time we became independent, we had the second-highest per capita income in Asia, excellent literacy rates, improved healthcare, strong economy etc. Sri Lanka now ranks almost at the bottom in global comparisons.

The most venerable Ajahn Brahm, who is the Chief Monk of the Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery in Perth Australia had said that “the oldest multinational corporation in the world is the Buddhist Sangha”. According to him, Buddhism has been a positive inspiration for many world leaders. He had said that British Statesman and wartime Prime Minister was one of them. He had also quoted Buddha and said: “Good virtuous leaders lead by example”.

Ajahn Brahm had said in a keynote address to the United Nations in 2007 – “The ideal form of governance is that leaders should embrace self-sacrifice and not self-interest. Leaders should lead without any concern for material reward. Their only reward would be in the happiness of service”. He had also quoted what President John F. Kennedy had said to inspire children and adults and to show the importance of civic action and public service – “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for the country”. Sadly, Lankan politicians think differently.

It is the assertion that rulers are constituted by the people for the common good. Our leaders should pledge to commit themselves to refrain from abusing their public positions at the expense of the people, to honestly address the vice of corruption. They should, thereafter, concentrate on how to create a better country for future generations. If they are determined to fulfil their constitutional obligations responsibly and strive hard to win and sustain public trust, it is nothing impossible. They should have the strength of character to correct their wrong-doing.

Government is a trust and the officers of the government, both elected and appointed are trustees. They are entrusted with the powers to make decisions for the benefit of the people. The question of representative roles was conceived by Burke (1968), who argued that representatives should serve as trustees of the interests of those elected them – “virtual representatives”- rather than serving as delegates. If so, how did corruption swallow up the whole country to the detriment of the countrymen? It is the main obstacle to achieve good governance and sustainable development.

They have collectively inflicted misery on every citizen. They are only keen in the pursuit of their prosperity. They are subject to manipulations from superpowers as well. And by crooked godfathers behind ostensible governments. It is a flawed system. The extravagant leaders have only favoured immediate gratifications. It had motivated public officials and even the citizens. Everybody now goes for easy money instead of productive activities.

Entitlements such as infrastructure, education, health care, etc have been curtailed to the citizens. Water, electricity etc are overcharged. The citizens pay bribes to get their legitimate services. Corruption undermines good governance, democracy, and the country’s competitiveness and revenue base.

They use various strategies to gain power. Idi Amin in Uganda won the hearts of the people by expelling British and attacking Western Imperialism. In the 1970s, Sri Lankan leaders criticised the Soulbury Constitution. They had campaigned that the plantations owned by the British should be nationalised. A home-grown Constitution was the only remedy to develop the country according to them.

JRJ did the same thing in 1977. It is a serious flaw in their characters. Nobody wants to correct the shortcomings. This, therefore, is an imbecile system. It does not take you forward. Corruption has become the modus operandi of kleptocrats. It benefits only a handful. It lowers and destroys the quality of lives of millions of others. Nevertheless, we cannot expect every leader to possess the wisdom of Lincoln or Mandela’s large-heartedness. But the need of the hour is true statesmanship.

We need leaders who will chase behind to achieve common goals. We have to ensure a ‘fair go for all’ without any further delay. This could only be done by achieving the SDGs that cut across and integrate economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development, which incorporate the 5Ps (People, Prosperity, Planet, Peace, and Partnerships).

This requires a collaborative and effective response at an unprecedented scale from all traditional and non-traditional actors. If so, we have to change the way we operate at present. We must be more systematic and catalytic.

Forty-two per cent of our population live on less than two dollars a day. Poverty is a punishment for those penniless people. They are paying for others’ sins. Numerous businesses, including professionals too practising privately, tend to hide and not to disclose their actual income, to avoid taxation.

As a result, the income generated by many businesses, professionals etc exists outside the official economy. This has paved the way for the existence of a rapidly growing parallel black money economy. It has grave and disastrous consequences.

The watchdog institutions that should scrutinize government performance need to be further strengthened. The Auditor-General must be given surcharge powers. The Yahapalana government withdrew ‘surcharge power provision’ at the final hour. Special Anti Corruption bodies such as CIABOC should also be permitted to go after powerful politicians. We expect the President to strengthen ethical values to re-create a well-performing bureaucracy.

Why is corruption cancerous? It has the ability rapidly and insidiously to infiltrate and destroy the organs of the state. It had strengthened – bad leadership, politics of the belly, greed and selfishness, clientelism, patronage, nepotism, weak institutions, lack of accountability and transparency, weak ethical values, weak judicial system etc. etc

The destruction caused is inexcusable. They have sold our valuable assets under numerous pretexts. The exploitation is deep-rooted in the bureaucratic and political institutions. The theft of government financial resources too is another serious form of corruption. The government has failed to prioritize its commitment to improving Public Financial Management, which involves a set of responsibilities. The Auditor-General has reported serious shortcomings in revenue management, accounting, monitoring, evaluation areas etc.

Politicians at the national, provincial and local level have become filthy rich overnight. We have heard of instances where customs, inland revenue officers, and many others, pocketing out government revenue with the collision of the payer. We have also heard of ‘ghost workers’ being paid.

Corruption, therefore, thrives in our country. Without ‘political will’ at the highest level nothing can be done to reduce corruption. It fuels injustice, inequality, and deprivation. It also has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable. It increases costs and reduces trust in government. It has led to violent extremism and conflict. With its negative effects upon political and economic development, it has serious repercussions on national institutions. Constitutionally, the elected representatives are accountable to people through the Parliament. In reality, it does not happen. It is like a spider web. Only the weak get caught.

The World Bank in a report had highlighted “Corruption and corrupt leaders both deepen poverty and make it difficult for ordinary people to get ahead as a result of their efforts”. It has been proved that it is the biggest obstacle for development. Its consequences are always borne by the most vulnerable sections and particularly the poor.

All that we need is a passionate leader. He should foster the trust and confidence of the people. He should be capable of curbing corruption by promoting ethics and integrity among both elected and appointed officials. He should also be an ardent supporter of good governance. However, on the political side, politicians who have enriched themselves through corrupt practices will not surrender their positions of advantage willingly. We know of donations from foreign sources for election campaigns. which have become a controversial issue as well. Similar donations have been banned in several developed countries. Shouldn’t the government think of such reforms as well?

Why did we forget debt is a double-edged sword? When it has been imprudently used, the results we face currently are disastrous. Excessive debt has impaired the government’s ability to deliver its essential services to its citizens. It is amidst the onset of the Corona pandemic and the deepest economic debacle globally. The Government should not any longer delay the necessary reforms.

By 1960, Korea had borrowed 25 billion dollars internationally for industrialisation. The rulers there had invested all those borrowings prudently. Dollars had worked wonders in Korea. China and other sources granted loans for our leaders. We have recklessly borrowed twice the amount and more, at much higher commercial rates as well. Subsequently, the last government handed over the port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease together with 15,000 acres of lands.

President should initiate reforms, restructuring, and rebuilding to improve the quality of lives of our distressed people. Another important issue at hand is the need to expedite matters concerning the large number of corruption cases that had been pushed under the carpet. There have been no significant convictions for graft despite widespread evidence of pervasive corruption.

President should direct the relevant authorities to initiate expeditious legal action regarding the 2015 Central Bank fraud committed allegedly with the help of politicians like Ranil Wickremesinghe. Steps should be thereafter taken to recover stolen assets. All these evidence had been amply revealed at the investigations in the Presidential Commission how RW implanted Arjuna Mahendran, who has recently changed his name to Harjan Alexander. We need the culture of impunity to end and a culture of accountability introduced.

The President should manage the ongoing superpower tensions to the best advantage of the countrymen. And secure our birthright freedoms for all our people. The shocking truth is that the country has been devastated by the two governments that ran governance after ending the war. They have pushed

GOSL to go bankrupt. Our external debt is staggering. Yet, we continue to borrow furthermore externally to repay debts. This is unbelievable. The debt service burden for 2020 exceeds $ 4.8 billion.

This requires that the President engage diplomacy – be highly strategic and tactical, based on pragmatic choices without sacrificing the future of our children any further. Sri Lanka is a textbook case of bad governance. People live in poverty having destroyed everything by incompetent leaders. How do we know whether illicit syndicates too are also linked to a wide range of problems such as law-enforcements, including international criminal interests? Everything possible should be done to give a better deal ASAP.



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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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