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There is a rising tide of outrage. How could it be taken at the flood?

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by Rajan Philips

There is a tide in the affairs of politics.Which, taken at the flood, might lead on to positive change;Omitted, all the voyage of politicsIs bound in shallows and in miseries.

Three articles last week by three widely read commentators, Kumar David, Ameer Ali, and Dayan Jayatilleka provide a remarkable instance of convergence in the diagnosis of the current political situation and prescriptions for its treatment. It might be trite and commonplace to say that many people in Sri Lanka are quite unhappy with what the no-longer-new President and his government are doing, or are not capable of doing. But it is a function of the art of politics to elaborate on popular dissatisfaction – its causes, its symptoms, its shared experience and its explosive potentials.

All three writers provide complementary and mutually reinforcing accounts of the current crises, the people’s outrage, as well as the government’s failures due to incompetence in spite of power, and aggravations arising from the corruption and abuse of too much power. There is also much common ground between them in what should and could be done by other political agencies in the current situation. There indeed is a rising tide of political outrage. Who will take it at the flood, and how?

 

Contours of Protest

In his article, “A fire has been lit”, Kumar David (KD) offers “one long sentence” of the current government’s malaise and its symptoms: “Inability to service foreign debt, painful price increases and shortages, pardoning of drug-lord buddies and murderers, a lunatic instant-ban on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, mishandling of the covid pandemic leading to loss of earning by day-labourers, fishermen and the poorest, abuse of power, interference with judicial processes, thuggish police, attacks on free speech, slavish subservience to China and the regime’s palpable bewilderment and loss of direction.”

Both Kumar David and Ameer Ali see no way out for the government from the deep economic hole that it has dug for itself. KD asserts that “the economy will continue to decline, there is nothing that Magic Basil or for that matter the opposition can do to help even if it wished to.” To this Ameer Ali (in his “Addendum to – A fire has been lit”) adds: “no amount of fine-tuning by monetary authorities in the Central Bank could postpone the day of reckoning, and the magic wand of an all-in-one Finance Minister is not going to stop the inevitable collapse of the economy.” While KD observes that “confrontation between regime and people has commenced,” and AA is convinced that “the end is nigh indeed for the Rajapaksa Regime and Gotabaya’s Vityathmaga cabal … (and) the people are not prepared to stomach the pain any more,” it is DJ who draws the contours of protests and the rising tide of outrage in the country.

In his “Rajapaksa Raj and Student Power,” Dayan Jayatilleka insightfully notes that the peasantry and the students are “important zones” in any “mapping (of) the political sociology of the island.” Recalling that every political leader after independence has tried to “cultivate the rural peasantry” and keep the students out of trouble, DJ contends that “it has taken the presidency of Gotabaya Rajapaksa to take on both these social constituencies at the same time.” DJ diagnoses another simultaneity in the Rajapaksa familial power and universe. Unlike anywhere else in the world, what the Rajapaksas have achieved in Sri Lanka is the “simultaneous occupation and domination of state power by a family bloc.” Usually, succession of power occurs sequentially, but the Rajapaksas want state power simultaneously – here and now, and all at once for the entire family, jointly and severally.

Notes DJ:

“Throughout history, people have put up with authoritarian political superstructures so long as their standards of living were manifestly improving. That’s how the UNP lasted 17 years in government. Broadly speaking this was also true of the SLFP’s 20 years in office. It won’t work today because (a) authoritarianism has turned autocratic and (b) there is a collapse in the everyday standards of living of the citizenry, unprecedented since the Sirimavo Bandaranaike years—but even she didn’t touch the peasantry.”

Adds AA:

“The people are not prepared to stomach the pain anymore, and, in spite of the danger of getting infected by the pandemic, they are coming out in increasing numbers to voice their disgust and frustration and anger. One cannot fool all the people all the time. Yet, the pandemic has given a good excuse for the regime to arrest and quarantine the protesters to prevent protests from escalating. Covid is actually protecting the regime. In any case, barring a de facto military rule with or without Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a regime change is inevitable.”

 

Rajapaksa Covishield

For over a year, Covid-19 has been the government’s biggest excuse for its wholesale incompetence and pathetic performance. Without Covid-19 Sri Lanka would have achieved at least a quarter of the hyper-promised “Vistas of prosperity and splendour.” That was the political family-line (there is no party-line in the Rajapaksa universe). Now Covid-19 is serving a new purpose for the government. It is providing a new ‘covishield’ to the government. Not the Serum Institute’s Covishield vaccine (the Indian production of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine), but a politico-policing protective shield for the government from the rising tide and anger of protesters.

Already in May and June, the government started banning strikes in the state sector under the Essential Public Services Act. Also in June, control over social media was initiated by giving police the power to arrest without a warrant anyone suspected of publishing “fake news” on social media under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. On Tuesday, July 6, the government took cover under Covid-19 and banned protests and public meetings purportedly to prevent large gatherings and super spreads of the virus. This is after re-opening the economy and public activities without providing adequate safety measures.

After consistently ignoring all the pleas and admonitions of the medical scientific community, including government Doctors at the Ministry of Public Health, the government directed the Director General of Health Services Dr Asela Gunawardena to write to the Inspector General of Police to implement the new (covishield) rule. Two days later, Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara was on his hind legs in parliament, remonstrating that “the police are only carrying out the directives made by the Health Services DG to the Police Chief. If police arrest the protesters, the blame should go to the Health DG not to the police.”

Police moved in quickly after health guidelines enforcement was announced, to break up protests and arrest protesters from trade unions (state employees and teachers); students (protesting against the privatisation/militarisation of the Kotelawala Defence University); farmers protesting against high fuel prices and the crazy, cowpoke ban of chemical fertilizers; and environmental activists protesting the destruction of the Muthurajawela wetlands.

The legality of police enforcing the health guidelines issued by the Director General of Health Services is being challenged in three Fundamental Rights petitions filed by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal have been showing an encouraging streak of independence in some of their recent court rulings. The government will have nowhere to turn if courts were to start calling the bluff of Rajapaksa power.

AJ Wilson used to look for three signs as indications of government fatigue and the electorate’s impatience: university student protests, trade union strikes and unfavourable court rulings. Usually, they arrive in the last year of a government’s mandate. Now they have started arriving, not prematurely, but under extreme provocation even before two years are over after the 6.9 million vote presidential election and within one year of the two-thirds majority parliamentary election.

“Rural masses vote governments into power, the working class throws them out” – that was how Colvin R de Silva would describe the periodical electoral revolts and government changes in Sri Lanka in the first twenty five years after independence. What is unique and unusual this time is that the government has alienated practically every social stratum and across all its peoples – Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians. Everyone one wants change.

But unlike in the past there are too many elections now to achieve a simple, one-shot, regime change from one political party to another. People will have to vote in two elections (presidential and parliamentary) within a year before knowing which multi-party alliance is governing the country. And between the two national elections, there are provincial and local government elections. Governments have made a habit of either perpetually manipulating them to keep winning, or indefinitely postponing them to avoid the risk of losing. Overarching everything else is the referendum, which has been threatened many times, but has been called only once – to subvert democracy, not to reinforce it.

 

What next? What then?

These are the two questions that Kumar David and Ameer Ali, respectively ask, and provide answers to. Dayan Jayatilleka sums up the political mood, citing the title of 94 year old Stefane Hessel’s 32-page (2010) pamphlet published in France: ‘Time for Outrage.’ But outrage expressed through non-violence and peaceful protests. There is general apprehension about what the government will do if protests rise and outrage spills over. But, as KD says, “It is not necessary to incite confrontation between people and military when electoral victory down the line is certain.” DJ raises the call “for a united platform for a protest vote at any referendum on a new Constitution;” and for “all Opposition parties (to) resolve to help each other to form an administration at any Local Authorities and/or Provincial Council election.” 

The positions of Kumar David on JVP/NPP and of Dayan Jayatilleka on the BJP are well known. What Ameer Ali has to say about the potentials and roles of the opposition parties is worth citing: “Is there a credible alternative? Regime change itself is not sufficient. Among the available contestants for power, Sirisena’s SLFP is calculating the odds of deserting the coalition now or later to form a coalition on its own with breakaway elements from SLPP. RW has taken over the UNP captaincy to spoil any chance of SP’s SJB forging ahead. SJB, apart from criticizing the current regime has nothing original and special to offer. Parties of minority communities have absolutely no hope except, as usual, to join one of the winners. There are no other contenders in the arena except JVP, the only party and with an alternative agenda or program for economic revival that is trying hard to convince the masses of its credibility.”

Ali also takes to task “the vicious fear mongering by reactionaries to paint this party (JVP) with the old brush”, while deliberately obfuscating the fact that “the new generation of JVP leadership is not even distantly connected to its 20th century pioneers,” and that many of the party’s current leaders were not even born during the days of the two JVP insurrections, and one or two of them may have been babies at that time.” Ali contends that the JVP’s “new generation has nothing to apologize for.” 

Whether it is the JVP, or the SJB, or Champika Ranawaka’s 43 Senankaya, who is going to successfully ride the current tide of outrage, we do not know. We have our own preferences among political parties, but ultimately it is up to the organizations to prove themselves under fire. Their leaders must have fire in their bellies to be relevant at this time, and this is no time for anyone who jumps only when a candle is lit under one’s backside. At the same time there is much that can be done by everyone else to counter the actions of the government, or minimize their ill-effects.

Such actions can be undertaken in multiple spaces – in the media, on the streets, in institutions, and even in social and family networks. Sri Lanka is a closely knit society and it is not inconceivable that the power of a single family can be countered by the collective power of all the other families. Informal social and familial pressures can particularly be effective on public officials and professionals – not to sabotage the government. Not at all. But to do the right thing. More importantly, not to do the wrong thing.



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Flame throwers as deterrent to wild elephant incursions into cultivations?

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Much has been written in the news and social media about the sad and continuing Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) . I have read somewhere subject to correction, that most amount of elephant deaths caused by this conflict has been recorded in Sri Lanka, compared to other elephant habitats.

Independent wild life experts and officials of the Wild Life Department have discussed this matter on numerous occasions, but there seems to be no sustainable solution, effective in the long term. In my view the basic problem is that human being have encroached into Elephant Country, in which these mighty animals have lived for generations and taken over the territory, they rightfully occupied for ages. This is another result of the so-called development that every country talks about but that development at the risk of damaging the environment is not sustainable. Many developed countries protect the environment at any cost in preference to so-called development but not in our country.

I am not an expert in resolving the HEC but I have a little experience . When I was Chairman of Pelwatte Sugar Industries Ltd, the Pelwatte Sugar Plantation had been created by replacing forest land to grow sugar. The then government gave some very attractive incentives to bring a Multinational Company to commence sugar cultivation in Sri Lanka. Thousands of acres of forest land were cleared to plant sugar cane. It was a big investment with an extensive infrastructure including bungalows for the top management and also for staff officers.

There were regular incursions by elephants who loved the sugar cane. The Plantation attempted to prevent the elephants destroying the sugar cane by constructing electric fences which they had to maintain, large elephant ditches, which had to be desilted after every monsoon, and so-called elephant drives which were only temporarily effective. I have watched the poor elephants being driven by large number of vehicles, using crackers and other means.

Basically, the above mentioned are the only strategies used in Sri Lanka for human beings to drive away the elephants from their traditional forests after removing the forest and converting it to various types of cultivations. In Africa , it is reported that they rear bees in artificial hives, as surprisingly these huge animals fear the bees which sting them in their eyes . I am not aware of such a strategy being adopted in our country.

The poor elephants are also trapped or fed with “hakapattas” which are devices with an explosive hidden in some morsel of food that elephants love. They try to eat the food resulting the blast inside their mouth, totally dislocating their jaws and ultimately resulting in death.

The Wild Life Department is supposed to be giving the villagers some ” wedillas” . Only one to three are given to a single villager . The elephant is intelligent enough to realize that if they bide their time after the limited wedilla’s are used, they can easily romp in. This is the only protection afforded to the poor villagers.

We have seen TV pictures of many homes of villagers totally destroyed over and over again, as there is no protection against these huge animals. Their stocks of paddy is also devoured and all their crops destroyed repeatedly. These houses have been built by their hard earned money and totally destroyed over a single night. They have to protect their crops by night and also protect their homes and wives and children. They have absolutely no salvation.

The authorities who are experts on Wild Life Conservation, I believe have various plans, but there is no accepted, integrated plan of action, other than for the villagers to suffer without any relief and for elephants to suffer by their injuries and ultimate deaths.

I have been thinking about it for some time and came across of a possible strategy which of course has to be appoved by the department of Wild Life and for the large population of genuine elephant lovers , who have tried their best to solve this problem but failed up to date. I thought of a particular device called a flame thrower. According to Google, (picture attached ), this flame thrower can be purchased in the US without a license and it can be used over and over again, if it is is refueled. I believe it cost around US$500 , plus of course the fuel used for producing the flame. There is possibily one catch and that is I believe sometime after the 1st World War, it was decided to ban armies from using this very potent weapon which can totally destroy small buildings, army camps etc., against individuals.

I do not intend them to be used to kill or maim elephants, but as a very effective deterrent at long range. I would like to have the views of the wild life experts before anyone can consider using this weapon as a deterrent. Mine is only a suggestion, as we continue to have elephant and human deaths, without any action taken to prevent same.

 

Mahendra Amarasuriya

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A COSTLY ADVENTURE – Part 14

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

chandij@sympatico.ca

Inspired by a Cycling Legend

When I was a little kid, my hero was Morris Coomarawel, who was the first cyclist to represent Ceylon in the Olympics (Rome 1960, at the age of 19). Then at age six, I rode my tricycle every evening in our front yard, imagining that I was Morris. In the years 1960, 1962, and 1963 Morris won the Tour de Lanka Cycle Race against several hundred older contestants. I was amazed that a teenager could cycle around 460 kilometers within 15 hours. Once a year, I impatiently awaited among a large group of fans, by the Galle Road near Bambalapitiya Flats, to cheer and watch Morris getting closer to the finish. Usually, he did so about 30 minutes ahead of the second placed cyclist.

I was not a natural cyclist. When I was in my pre-teens, I took a long time to learn how to balance in order to avoid falling when cycling around the bends. Determined to master the basics, I used to cycle around Havelock Park for hours. When I joined the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS), having met many colleagues who liked to cycle motivated me to get involved in organizing a cycling adventure.

The Cycling Adventure of the Iron Horses

Finally in 1973, the organizers of the adventure were able to convince about 15 of my CHS buddies to join a five-day cycling trip covering four (Western, Southern, Uva and Sabaragamuwa) of the nine provinces in Sri Lanka. When they heard that the plan was to cut CHS classes for two days to do the trip, three of them dropped off in fear of being punished by the CHS Principal. The rest of us who agreed to go on the trip planned details, itinerary, overnight free accommodation in friends’ homes, the budget, logistics and supplies at the CHS hostel. We called ourselves, ‘Iron Horses’. We commenced our trip on Thursday, May 17, 1973, which was the Vesak full moon religious holiday. We cut school on Friday and Monday.

We knew that during our trip, we would see many Vesak lanterns, decorations and pandals (thoran) illustrating selected stories from the 550 past life stories of the Gautama Buddha, erected islandwide at public places. During the trip, we planned to get free meals from many dansalas that offered food and soft drinks free to any visitor. These added color to our adventure and less stress on our pockets.

 

1) Galle

On the first day, having started early in the morning, we took the whole day to cycle 120 kilometers from Colombo to Galle. Having had no practice runs, it was tough at the begining of the trip. After about 50 kilometers our legs gradually got used to the rhythm of pedaling. I frequently led the group while, Udda, the best cyclist and cycle repairman of the lot rode last. He kept an eye on mates who were a bit unfit. We were not in a great hurry. We spent a lot of time sight-seeing, toddy-drinking, sea-bathing, joking with village girls and resting under large trees in between. In Galle we spent the first night in the home of a CHS colleague from the junior batch who was not given much notice about our arrival.

While cycling, this student, Sumithra waved at us from a CTB bus going towards Galle. Knowing that his home was in Galle, we quickly shouted at him, “Machang, can we stay at your place tonight?” I think that he had doubts that we will ever make it to Galle on those old, rusted and badly maintained bicycles. He quicky shouted back at us from the moving bus, “OK, please come!” When 12 of us showed up at his doorstep that evening, he and his mother were most surprised. However, they were most hospitable and with the help of their servants they quicky prepared a good dinner for us. We roughed out and slept on mats in their large living room.

 

2) Weligama

The second day, we covered much less distance, only around 30 kilometers. The reason for this was that we had free accommodation pre-arranged in Weligama in a large house of a very generous CHS student one year senior to us, Chandralal. On the way, we had a sumptuous lunch in the home of the grandmother of an Iron Horse (Kotte). As this house was by the beach, a before lunch sea-bath whetted our appetite for a sumptuous home-cooked lunch with many Southern specialties.

 

3) Godakawela

On the third day, we covered the longest distance, over 160 kilometers passing the Nonagama Junction and going towards Udawalawe in the middle of a thick jungle. The villagers warned us about wild elephants in that remote road which we cycled hours after sunset. At that time Sri Lanka had no highways or street lights outside the main cities. Only Udda’s bicycle had lights and proper brakes. All others were fairly old. That added to the spirit of our adventure. Finally, we managed to arrive at our destination, a large ancestral home (walawwa) in Godakawela, owned by the famiy of Sunil, a memer of our group. This house was surrounded by a large estate and had a beautiful pond well covered with tall trees. Before dinner, 12 of us had a refreshing skinny dip in that pond in the moonlight. A few of us did not spend too much time in the water for fear of snakes. The rest were a little too drunk and stupid to think of such dangers.

 

4) Ratnapura

On the fourth day, we were drenched by heavy monsoon rains. This was an excuse for us to make several stops at dansalas for free vegetarian lunches. Riding in the rain was fun, but we were soaked without any dry clothes to change into. Finally, just after 40 kilometers of riding we arrived at our final night stop. It was the home of one of our CHS lecturers (Mr. Kumar Thambyah) and his younger brother (Lalith) who was one year senior to us at CHS. Their home was in the beautiful hilly suburbs of the City of Ratnapura. That evening, after dinner, we celebrated our adventure with a long baila singing session. With the help of some Gal and Pol arrack, our singing became louder and more out of tune towards midnight.

 

5) Colombo

The fifth and last day was a race to see who would return to Colombo first. It was a ride of around 110 kilometers From Ratnapura to our hostel. We were able to finish the race before sunset. At the CHS hostel we were given a rousing hero’s welcome by fellow hostellers. Returning first, I finally felt like Morris Coomarawel although we took five days to cover a distance of 460 kilometers, which Morris used to do in a single day. Nevertheless, we were pleased that we completed our adventure without any major problems.

 

 

Suspension

Soon we heard the bad news about a looming major problem. The Principal and the Vice Principal were very disappointed that nearly half the students in my batch, were absent from CHS for two days. The next morning, we realised how furious Herr Sterner, the Germa

n Principal of CHS, was about the ‘can’t care less’ attitude of the Iron Horses. We were not allowed to attend classes and a full inquiry set up. First it was a meeting with 12 of us together with the principal and vice principal. We were ready for that meeting and narrated the same lies. We told them that we planned to return on Sunday night, but unforeseen challenges like some urgent cycle repairs prevented us from doing that. As all the repair shops were closed during the long weekend we were compelled to extend the trip by a day. They did not buy this cock and bull story.

At that point they stopped questioning us as group and proceeded with a one student at a time face-to-face investigation. The cat was out of the bag very quickly. We told the principal and the vice principal 12 different stories during the individual cross examinations. All 12 us were suspended for a month. It was indeed, a costly adventure!

Hiding at the Barberyn Reef Hotel

Considering my father’s disappointment about the last warning I received at the end of my first year at CHS, I decided to keep this one-month suspension a secret from my family. As suspended students cannot stay at the CHS hostel, I had to quickly find a place to hide in for a month. Thanks to the tip money I earned at the Mount Lavinia Hyatt Hotel working as a trainee waiter, I had enough for board and lodging for a month. I was considering the possibility of renting a relatively cheap room at the Central YMCA where I practised judo but unfortunately, they were full.

A batchmate, Manik Rodrigo, offered to speak to his father who owned a small resort hotel in Beruwala. Over the telephone I negotiated a part-time job for a month at that hotel, the Barberyn Reef. Manik’s father, Sudana Rodrigo, told me, “Putha (son), as our occupancy is low in May/June period, I cannot pay you a salary, but I can provide you free board and lodging for a month. In return you will work 10 hours a day without pay.” As beggars can’t be choosers, I agreed but managed to negotiate to keep tips for myself.

That afternoon, soon after we were suspended, I took a CTB bus to Beruwala and commenced working at the hotel the same evening. I was grateful that Mr. Rodrigo helped me to keep news of my suspension away from my family. That was my fourth of 10 part-time jobs during my three years at the CHS. I realised then that every problem has a solution. I also learnt that every challenge can be turned to an opportunity by thinking out of the box.

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United Action Design or Alternative-Government Manifesto?

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by Kumar David

This column will argue today that the opposition to the current regime – political parties, trade unions, religious institutions and non-governmental organisations – should collaborate in a unified action plan to stall, pushback and defeat the authoritarian project, and it will dispute efforts to foster or formulate common-programmes for an alternative (future) government, yet. Let’s focus on the first and eschew the latter; that’s my refrain. Before getting my teeth into this I wish to suggest that the regime seems to have retreated a little. There has been some mobilisation; not formally but on the trade union side and on the streets. Protest movements are more numerous than the formal media cares to report. Be it farmers’ fertiliser anguish, protests against the Kotalawela Academy Bill, piloerection at elevation of prodigal Duminda into the stratosphere, nurses’ defiance, anger of the Catholic Church and petitions against the persecution of Muslims by the state, these manifestations of public ire have thrown the would-be Palace Junta on the back foot. Or so it seems to me. And the big ones are yet to come – widespread mass unrest about shortages and prices and the final showdown, a General Strike. The expression of outrage by all opposition entities (except pissu-Sira’s SLFP) against authoritarianism and abuse of power has been a big help to protesters. That’s the good news for now; I need to go on.

There are indeed powwows among the like minded – the Left, Sajith-Champika-Ranil-TNA like Liberals, NPP (including the JVP) arranged discussions, trade unions and reformist confessional bodies. These are either limited pandemic-restricted gatherings or by Zoom. There is however a disjuncture between the objectives of the different gatherings, or within them. If you strip to the core, the disjuncture is in three categories: Are we talking of (a) a programme/manifesto for the next or a future government, or (b) planning to pull together in common actions for defending democracy. And (c), in either case what are the terms on which we do (a) or (b), as the case may be. I will argue that (a) is counterproductive and will obstruct progress when the right opportunity arrives; (b) even on a limited scale has shown results and we must persist with it. So the more fruitful discussion is what are the does and don’ts, what are the (c)s, in respect of (b). Sectarian attacks against each other or within any of the aforementioned groupings at this time is stupid; let us focus on the common enemy.

Infeasible Alternative-Government Manifesto

Let me explain why doing (a) now will be a flop. Every one of us has been privy to one or other discussion or media report about some demand, suggestion, video or Zoom meeting. Consider what we have seen and also read between the lines. Some leaders, Champika and Sajith for example, are actually advancing the case why they should be the Next Great Leader. They are quite entitled to put forward their CVs, that’s their right; but let’s face it, nobody else is going to climb down and accept another’s CV right now. What is emerging in some forums about objective (a) is plain shadow boxing. Each one says this or that but the hidden agenda is “Anoint me! Anoint me!” This renders ostensible programmatic discussions numinous. People talk through each other but the real show is in the corridors where back-biting flourishes. A stark recent example is Champika’s demand in an interview with Kelum Bandara that “The JVP should give up its ideology and team up with us”. Meaning bugger your philosophy and identity, back me for the top-job. I take this opportunity to say: “Ranawaka why not you discard your hard-earned racist credentials and team up with the NPP to advocate devolution and power sharing with Muslims and Tamils?” Strategy (a) will make no progress at this time since Champika, Sajith, even emasculated Ranil and voiceless SF will not lie down and play dead. All of them daydream. This is opposite to the serendipitous conjuncture in the 1970 United Front where it was incontestable that in the event of victory Sirima would be PM. The same was true of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in India’s 2019 election.

The more serious obstacle to (a) is not the greed of putative starry-eyed leaders/presidents. It is that the systemic obstacles to a joint Manifesto are insuperable. Yesterday I tuned into a Zoom presentation on Tik Tok on HiruNews. Sumanthiran held forth: “I have the backing of all Tamil parties to say that while we stand with the opposition against contraventions of democracy, the opposition when it comes to office cheats us. We have been cheated repeatedly. Unless you make a clear articulation of your position on the Tamil question and you tell it openly to the Sinhala people, we cannot travel far with you. Our people are willing to come on the streets for democratic rights and face the consequences, but unless you tell the country ‘This is our solution to the National Question’, count us out as long-term partners”. Will Champika, Sajith, Ranil or SF ever come before the Sinhala Buddhist masses and say “Devolution”? The sun will rise in the West before that day dawns. A common opposition governmental manifesto-programme is a chimera. Forget it for now. Maybe later, after restructuring the institutions of state power it can happen.

The National Question is not the only insuperable obstacle to a Common Manifesto. Another big one is the Executive Presidency (EP) and with it the writing of a new or substantially amended constitution. Neither Champika nor Sajith can subdue their greed for securing an all-powerful EP. Notwithstanding proclamations of fealty to Buddhism they are slaves to thanha (craving). That’s OK, as someone who disregards religion I don’t really care. My point lies elsewhere, it is that abolishing EP is another point on which agreement will not be possible until someone is chosen as leader; then all the rejected sour-grapes cases will come on board!

I have so far not mentioned the most intractable stumbling block, the socio-economic content of a presumed common programme. There are those who desire socialism but will compromise at social-democracy, there are the champions of free-market capitalism, entrepreneurial export-oriented enterprises and labour-market reforms (that is putting the working classes in their place) and there are dreamers hankering after an idyllic society akin to the long-gone village. How do you persuade Karl, Adam and Friedrich Hayek to sit round the same table and decide on a menu? Come on get real! Let’s pull together to do what can feasibly be done together, and that too is just what urgently needs to be done.

 

 

The intelligence to focus on what can be done

 

Citizens have the right to resist attempts to nullify the

Constitution when other remedies to do so are infeasible

(Article 20 of the German Constitution – A rough translation)

 

The common minimal plan that I believe the whole opposition (and a goodly part of government supporters and parliamentarians when the government splits) can agree on, consists of a few basics. Let me have a go at enumerating them. The dimension that will weld every decent activist into a united force is the need to constrain the Powers of the State. That is to resist excesses that reach beyond the rule of law. Closely allied to this is the protection of Fundamental Rights from infringement by the (Raja) Paksa regime and by the police and armed forces. Maintenance of Order and Security are vital, but this is a two-edged sword. It is in the name of order and security that the state and the establishment carry out the most egregious violations of human and democratic rights. Hence vigilance and intelligence must be exercised in monitoring the state.

Action must ensure that the next election cycle is held on schedule. I am not in a hurry to advance it for the somewhat perverse reason that that the Paksas are so adept at hanging themselves that I would like to give them rope and time to finish the job. The worry of course is that the integrity of future elections may be corrupted. A comment that I frequently encounter is that the regime will fix future elections and that fraud, bureaucratic, physical or digital will be rampant. The Elections Commission is already embroiled in controversial transfers. The danger is most real but it can be overcome; best done by sharpening public vigilance right from now and paying closer attention to domestic and international monitoring mechanisms. I guess this falls between Regulatory Enforcement and Civil Justice. The other major item for an action plan to concern itself with is the judiciary; preserving judicial independence in respect of Criminal Justice and Civil Justice.

I will not ask for more, I am a realist. So long as the Rajapaksa-clan regime stays in office I am not asking for the moon. Eliminating Corruption, winning transparency and Openness in Government and creating traditions of Informal Justice, that is a fair society, is too much to hope for in these times. No one can guarantee that the next government will be a bunch of angels, but right now the urgency is to stop repression. We cannot wait till a perfect option arrives to take steps to avert looming disaster. This is the minimal, if nothing else that January 2015 achieved. When a house is on fire, pull the entrapped children out first!

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