Illness is never entirely ‘mental’ or entirely ‘somatic’; illness is unhomelike being-in-the-world of Dasein including both aspects as inter-nested.
(Fredrik Svenaeus, Med Healthcare, and Philosophy, 2011)
By Saumya Liyanage
The COVID-19 outbreak has already brought about a myriad of medical, political and military procedures. Efforts are being made by national health institutions to curb the virus under the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO). In this country, a Presidential Task Force has been set up to adopt measures to control the transmission of the virus.
The corona outbreak has led to racial and anthropocentric sentiments among communities and some social groups. The racial sentiment has been developing as humans are the carriers of the disease, and people who are infected, or are suspected to be infected, are required to undergo self-quarantine for the protection of society. Anthropocentric sentiment has developed among people because this viral infection has germinated through bats or other animals that humans have come into contact with.
This negative feeling towards nature and anthropocentrism further reflects how we think of the natural world and our sharing of it with other animals. This viral outbreak has gradually given rise to the idea that human existence is detached from the environment; the coronavirus infection has heightened this anthropocentric mentality that we are superior to all other species in the world. Humans have not only alienated themselves from the environments, mainly others species but separated the sick from the healthy. Social distancing has come to stay.
The distancing of humans from the environment due to the corona outbreak further reflects other suppressive apparatuses at work. As the form of anthropocentrism operates through the government regulations, this patriarchal domination suppresses women, children and old people in the community. My observation is that this dominant ideology is operated through medical and military structures through which the government is trying to battle against the viral infection. For the patriarchy, the coronavirus appears as the other, and their battle is to fight it. Countries like Sri Lanka, India, and many African nations have failed to practise social distancing due to diverse social stratifications. It is evident how the elite and bourgeoisie gather around supermarkets one-metre apart in keeping with medical and military procedures. As expressed in social media, social distancing and waiting hours at supermarkets reflect the apolitical sentiment of the bourgeoisie and their subordination, whereas the poo rush to other markets and try to grab anything they can find. However, this anthropocentric sentiment is othering not only the nature in which we live in but other marginalised communities who are weak and vulnerable to the pandemic. Under these circumstances, measures such as ‘social distancing’ are what only the bourgeoisie can practise.
Descartes’s Body and illness
In the traditional Cartesian philosophy, the human body is defined as something similar to a machine, and the spirit or the soul is defined as something separated from this mechanical body. This philosophical assumption is reflected through western medicine and the problem with the current medicinal practices is that the human body and its functionalities are defined and understood as a mechanical body that consists of certain parts and organs. According to this conception, the body organs and other body parts such as limbs are mere mechanical parts of the body that can be dissected, replaced or repaired (Kibbe 2014, Goldenberg 2010). This long historical problem of conceptualising the human body as a biomechanical entity has serious medical circumstances when it comes to how we understand the meaning of patient–health care worker relationship in the current medical care settings. James A. Marcum argues: ‘Working from the biomechanical model of the body, today’s physician operates primarily as a mechanic or technician, whose clinical gaze is focused neither on the patient as a whole nor on the patient’s lived context but exclusively on the diseased body or body part’ (Marcum. J. A., 2004, p. 311).
The dominant medical discourse in the world is thus focused on the human corpus as a place for performing dissections and replacements. This corpus can be opened, removed, replaced or have organs transplanted due to certain illnesses. The problem with these biomechanical approaches to the human body is that the medical world has forgotten the fact that the human body is not merely flesh or a collection of organs or limbs. The phenomenological understanding of the body in contrast to the biomechanical understanding of the body is somewhat different as phenomenology understands the human body as a sentient being or a ‘lived body’ that is already and always attuned to the world. The body thus has its own ways of being-in-the-world and the body also understands the world better than we rationally think of it. Hence, the phenomenal body challenges the biomechanical body in contemporary medical discourse. Writing about current medical practices and patient care, Goldenberg argues that, modern medical technology such as stethoscope, ophthalmoscope, and X-ray have conceptualized the human body as a mechanical object and this conceptualization has permitted us to dissect the lived body (Goldenberg M. J., 2010 p. 51).
First, I would like to briefly discuss why phenomenology is vital for us to understand the nature of illness in contrast to wellbeing. The coronavirus infection has brought up certain assumptions of the human body and its existence as something decayed through illness and death. The daily death tolls in the US, Italy and elsewhere have gradually created the sentiment that the human body is merely a physical entity that can be infected by a viral pandemic or it is a body that can be saved through mechanical manipulation of medical and political discourses. It is true that amidst this pandemic crisis, human beings have to abide by government regulations and medical procedures in such a way that they can deal with the viral pandemic.
However, in this catalytic situation, the human body becomes a mere object of medical and political manipulation. As seen in many of the international news channels, the human body is becoming a canvas for medical procedures as well as torture and violence. Web channels and Facebook circulate how the human body is being diseased and also being tortured by the military because of noncompliance with the rules and regulations amidst this coronavirus pandemic. One cannot contemplate these paradoxical reactions of law enforcement and medical institutions. The body is treated as a surface of violence, torture, diseased to establish its beauty, wellbeing, and immortality. In this respect, bodies’ presence in the current social milieu is somewhat controversial and fragmented. The ruling government and medical institutions need people to be healthy and adopt preventive measures. On the other hand, bodies are being threatened, beaten, isolated and further imprisoned or left behind amid corona warfare.
Phenomenology and the lived body
A new discussion about the human body has come to the fore because our bodies have been continually threatened by both the viral infection and law enforcement. As seen so far, whether it is medical or military discourses, the human body is being manipulated and treated in many forceful ways. The coronavirus infects the internality of the body while the government is policing the flesh of the body. But what it means to have a body and what the role of the body is in human existence are vital questions to be discussed in this difficult time. Hence, I turn to Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) known as the founder of phenomenology; he provides two sets of words to denote the existential natures of the body. The German word körper uses for the physical body or body as an object. The term Leib is used for the lived or living body. That is the body we perceive as a subject. Here, Husserl distinguishes two aspects of the human body. This means that in some situations, we tend to experience our bodies as objects; solid, physical like nature of the body; whereas, in some situations, we experience our body as a transcendental or a living entity which is known as the lived body. Generally, the word ‘lived body’ presents the body as a non-dualistic, sentient being in contrast to the Cartesian split of the body as a machine and the mind as an extended rational soul. The main difference between the lived body and the physical body is that this lived or animate body is always given as my own body (Crisis §2) and I experience myself as ‘holding sway’ over this body. The lived body is not just a centre of the experience, but a centre for action and self-directed movement (Luft and Overgaard 2014, ).
In this discussion of illness and disease, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s key concepts of phenomenology will also help to shed light to understand what it means to be diseased or what it means to be healthy. In this regard, concepts such as ‘being-in-the-world’ can be elaborated as to how a person is attuned to her/his environment and how this attunement is disrupted when the illness is invaded into a healthy body (Svenaeus 2011). Further, the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty developed the idea of ‘body-subject’ where he explains the power and expression of the human body not just as a corpus but as a consciousness establishing its ‘intentional arc’ as the power of attuning with the world. In this sense, I am motivated to write about the current illness caused by the coronavirus and understand the conundrum of being ill and not being ill in the light of phenomenology.
When a person is ill and feeling unwell, one’s conscious experience is directly focused on her/his body, and the functionality and the smooth flow or the attunement of the body with its environment is primarily fractured or ceased. When one’s intentionality is directed towards her/his body, the autonomous nature of the body is paralyzed and ill-treated. This uncanny mood creates a disjuncture of our being-in-the-world which means our natural flow of being-with- other.
When someone is diseased, our natural flow of coping with the world and our emotional engagement with the world is disrupted. In a phenomenological sense, this can be understood as something similar to ‘unhomelike’ being-in-the-world (Svenaeus 2011). As Heidegger speculates in his Being and Time (1927), our natural attitude is that our body is thrown into the world where the body and the world are intertwined and bound together through its practicalities. The practicalities here refer to our bodily engagements with certain projects through tools and equipment. When we feel sick, that means our natural engagement with certain projects through the equipment is disrupted and disturbed. Our homelike being-in-the-world is fragmented or disrupted. Heidegger calls this ‘authentic anxiety’.
In this illness situation, our bodies experience the ‘otherness’ within oneself or alienation from oneself from her/his self. The idea of alienation is very familiar in theatre theory and especially Bertolt Brecht’s conceptualization of the actor’s disengagement with the character. In German, it is known as the verfremdung, which means the alienation or defamiliarizing of the familiar (Liyanage 2016). But the otherness that one may experience during illness is something that is to do with the duality of self and the experience of being self while possessing the dual existence. (the otherness of one’s own body comes to the fore). When the illness occurs the patient feels disengaged with her daily projects and she may feel pain, anxiety, dizzy and many other ailments. In such a situation, in a phenomenological sense what we experience is unhomelike being-in-the-world. This ‘unhomelikeness’ is the ‘otherness’ that one may experience during illness. In a healthy situation, a person’s projects are operated through bodily actions that are intertwined with the outer world. These activities always function with ease because the body is always absent in the delivery of human action. Yet the diseased body is not operated in this manner. When the body is diseased, it is not operated behind the curtain or in other words, the body is not absent. The body always comes to the fore. In contrast to this unhomelikeness, when the person is fully operative and engaged in projects in the world, these healthy engagements are characterized by the mood that one possesses in engaging ‘life-world’ activities (Nagatomo 1992). For instance, if I am not yet infected by the virus, my daily routine activities are not disturbed by the illness and my full operation as a healthy person is manifested by the emotional engagement and the expression that I have during my activities. This is vital for us to understand the ‘mood’ of the person who is fully being-in-the-world.
Gaze and Illness
In the recent discussion on the corona outbreak and the battle against the disease, one of the major social psychological factors that have developed in recent weeks is that people are afraid of being identified as COVID-19 infectious individuals. The problem of this phenomenon is that whether you are infected or not, people have a great fear of being identified as a diseased person. How can we understand this mental condition? As I discussed earlier, it is a fear of being alienated from our selfhood. Jean-Paul Sartre, in his book Being and Nothingness (1943) articulates this concept through the gaze of the other. The fear of being ill encapsulates the individual’s experience of her/his objectification of the body as an ‘unhomelike being-in-the-world in the wake of a disease. In Sartre’s lexicon, there are other ways that one’s body can be gazed at by others and alienated from her/his self. For instance, seeing a doctor check whether I have been infected by a disease demonstrates that in the confrontation of the doctor’s gaze, my body is becoming an object to me. However, this alienation of my own body from my own conscious experiences is the moment that I experience the discomfort and further the shame of being ill. In Sartre’s philosophy, ‘the gaze of another person has the power of objectification of my own body. Therefore, I experience the ‘otherness’ or the alienation of my own body as if someone who is a conscious person looking at me and makes my conscious attention towards my body’ (Svenaeus 2009).
The human body is an unprecedented creation of nature that is always being in the world as a living and sentient being. It is a sentient being because it always demonstrates to the world of its ‘becoming’ rather than being a final product. ‘The human body is a unique aesthetic material; it is a living organism, always in a state of becoming; that is, in a continual process of transformation’ (Fischer-Lichte 2014, p. 25). We need to understand the living nature of our bodies in this difficult time because, as argued in the foregoing, the human body is not merely a collection of organs or an assemblage of outer and inner materials combined to develop a physical body. As Merleau-Ponty speculates, the human body is a living entity and it is already anchored in the world before we rationally think of our outer world and environment. This is why medical doctors and health workers need to rethink how they should interact with or treat patients. Especially at this difficult time of the coronavirus outbreak, we further need to change our perspectives towards those who are affected with COVID-19, and how we understand their illness and how we take care of the diseased.
The author wishes to thank Himansi Dehigama and Sachini Senevirathne, PGIE, Open University Colombo who have proof read this paper.
(PhD) is an actor and a Professor of theatre and drama, at the Faculty of Dance and Drama, University of Visual and Performing Arts Colombo.
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Prez makes headway amidst deepening turmoil
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Having comfortably won the vote on the Second Reading of 2023 Budget, two days earlier, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, on November 24, dealt with a spate of issues, including the responsibilities of the armed forces and the police, obviously indicating how a second Aragalaya, aimed at ousting his government from power, by way of violent protests, as was done to the previous President, would be tackled, as the country could not possibly afford any more turmoil.
The UNP leader stressed the responsibility on the part of the government to protect the armed forces and the police, who performed their legitimate duties and responsibilities.
The Parliament approved the Cudget, on Nov. 22, with 121 voting for and 84 against, as the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) reiterated its commitment to a political marriage of convenience with UNP leader Wickremesinghe whose party has only one seat in the 225-member Parliament. Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Finance Minister, presented the Budget, on Nov. 14.
The SLPP secured 145 seats, at the last General Election, though three breakaway groups of lawmakers have since distanced themselves from the party.
Speaking on the continuing threats faced by his government, Wickremesinghe underscored the responsibilities of all, including Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. Perhaps, President Wickremesinghe’s reference to responsibilities of those from Corporal to Field Marshal should be examined against the backdrop of perceived relationship between the war-winning Army Commander and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), accused of toppling Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Wickremesinghe talked tough and didn’t mince his words when setting the tone for the remainder of his term, secured on July 20, courtesy the SLPP. Wickremesinghe seemed confident that the balance of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, won with a landslide at the Nov. 16, 2019, presidential election, could be completed.
Wickremesinghe received the appointment as the Acting President, on July 13, and was elected the eighth President on July 20. As the sole UNP National List MP, Wickremesinghe polled 134 votes, including his own, whereas his rivals Dullas Alahapperuma (SLPP) and Anura Kumara Dissanayake (JVP) obtained 82 and 03 votes respectively.
Wickremesinghe delivered a clear message. The UNPer didn’t mince his words when he warned that unauthorized protests, meant to undermine his government, wouldn’t be tolerated, under any circumstances.
Wickremesinghe declared that trouble makers wouldn’t be allowed to take cover behind human rights and any attempt to adopt strategies, similar to those employed against Gotabaya Rajapaksa, would be crushed, militarily. There is absolutely no ambiguity in Wickremesinghe’s stand.
So, in case the FSP et al launched the second phase of ‘Aragalaya,’ targeting the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government, they can expect the armed forces and law enforcement authorities unleashed on them.
Immediately after taking oaths, as the eighth President, Wickremesinghe directed the military to clear the Presidential Secretariat (old Parliament). Ironically, President Wickremesinghe, who was always for protests against the government in power, when in the Opposition, overnight metamorphosed into ignoring protests by the NGO-led mafia against the deployment of the armed forces. It would be pertinent to mention that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave in to US pressure not to use the armed forces to evict those camping outside the Presidential Secretariat until it was too late.
Even on May 09 when a well-orchestrated wave of physical attacks, and torching of properties of government politicians, was unleashed across the country, as if in spontaneous response from the public at large, over the attack on the Galle Face protesters, the same evening the US Ambassador Julie Chung issued a statement, through the local media, warning the armed forces and the police not to crackdown on peaceful protesters. We all saw how peaceful these foreign-funded protesters were when the opportunity arose. On May 09, they even turned on a group of SJB MPs, led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, when they visited the Galle Face protest site. Luckily for them, they beat a hasty retreat, with their security, sensing what was in store for them, after getting a few knocks.
During the campaign against Gotabaya Rajapaksa that commenced with violent protests outside his private residence, at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on March 31, SLPP lawmaker Rear Admiral (ret.) Sarath Weerasekera told this writer, on a number of occasions, the danger of failing on the part of the then administration to deal with the growing threat efficiently. Weerasekera was one of the few who demanded tangible action against the protest campaign. By July 09, protesters forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee Janadhipathi Mandiraya by sea. Field Marshal Fonseka, MP, had been the only parliamentarian to address the protesters, near Janadhipathi Mandiraya, just a few hours before they forced their way into the presidential abode.
No one bothered to remind the Field Marshal of his obligations at that time. In addition to Sajith Premadasa, Fonseka, too, received an invitation from Gotabaya Rajapaksa to accept the premiership. Both declined for different reasons.
But, on the part of Wickremesinghe, there hadn’t been any wavering, as in the case of Premadasa, despite being the Leader of the Opposition. The UNP leader simply grabbed the opportunity and proceeded step by step, having evicted those occupying the Presidential Secretariat.
Lawmaker Weerasekera, who sided with President Wickremesinghe at the Budget vote, told The Island the UNP leader had dealt appropriately with those trying to undermine law and order. Unfortunately, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, despite being a distinguished former frontline combat officer, hesitated to meet the protesters’ violent challenge due to well hatched Western propaganda against his government, the MP asserted.
Prez steps up pressure on Opp. Leader
President Wickremesinghe used the opportunity to remind the House of the correspondence between his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa in the run-up to him being sworn in as the Premier on May 12. During his Nov. 24 address to Parliament, the UNP leader tabled in House Sajith Premadasa’s letter, dated May 12, to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Wickremesinghe, engaged in a desperate bid to consolidate his position, faulted the former UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa for Gotabaya Rajapaksa giving up the presidency. The President’s strategy seems clear. In addition to dealing with the economy, Wickremesinghe faces two primary challenges, namely rebuilding the UNP, now reduced to just one National List slot (Wajira Abeywardena), in preparation for future elections and the resolution of the national question (post-war national reconciliation)
The re-building of the UNP has to be achieved at the expense of Sajith Premadasa. There is absolutely no ambiguity in Wickremesinghe’s strategy. Wickremesinghe has no option but to relentlessly push SJB members to switch their allegiance to him. Although many believed Wickremesinghe could influence the majority of the main Opposition, the SJB, to switch sides, in the wake of his appointment as the Premier, it didn’t materialize. Of the 54-member SJB parliamentary group, Manusha Nanayakara (Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment) and Harin Fernando (Minister of Tourism and Land) deserted Sajith Premadasa when they accepted Cabinet portfolios, on May 20 from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The two SJB MPs, who spearheaded a high profile campaign, targeting Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, had no qualms in receiving their letters of appointment from the very person.
The other SJB MP to accept state ministerial portfolios from Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe, respectively, in April (Transport) and September (Tourism) was Diana Gamage, now at the centre of a simmering controversy over her allegedly being a British national. When there are probably at least half a dozen or so other dual citizen MPs in Parliament we wonder why just Diana Gamage is being targeted by so many.
President Wickremesinghe appears to be confident that some of those who had been elected on the SJB ticket, as well as some SLPPers, may accept Cabinet portfolios soon. Appointments are likely to be finalized immediately after the final vote on the Budget, scheduled to take place on Dec 08.
Wickremesinghe needs to reach a consensus with the top SLPP leadership, as regards Cabinet portfolios, as the latter wouldn’t, under any circumstances, tolerate appointments, sans its approval. However, Wickremesinghe will go out to engineer defections from the SJB. Will the UNP leader be able to influence a group large enough to cause the disintegration of Sajith Premadasa’s party, formed in early 2020, to contest the last General Election?
However, in spite of enjoying executive powers, Wickremesinghe would find it an extremely difficult task as the SJB, as a group, abhorred joining the SLPP-led government. On one hand, Wickremesinghe required the continuing support of the SLPP to sustain his government. On the other hand, Wickremesinghe’s dependence on the SLPP made him quite unpopular. The SLPP has so far refused to accept that it couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the economic fallout, caused by utter mismanagement of the national economy. Had the SLPP government sought the IMF intervention, soon after the 2019 presidential election, Wickremesinghe wouldn’t have ended up as the President. The circumstances that compelled Gotabaya Rajapaksa to invite Wickremesinghe to accept the premiership underscored the seriousness of the situation the country had fallen into.
Having failed to get elected, from Colombo, at the last General Election, Wickremesinghe re-entered Parliament, in late June 2021, on its National List, at a time the national economy was rapidly deteriorating.
But, even Wickremesinghe wouldn’t have anticipated the turn of events that compelled the desperate Rajapaksas to invite him to accept the premiership, one month short of a year later. Having taken over the government, under an incomparable situation, Wickremesinghe seems to be hell-bent on pursuing his own agenda. The SLPP seems to be so far satisfied. The vote on the Second Reading of the Budget meant that the SLPP and Wickremesinghe are prepared to work together. though quite significant differences remain.
However, the SLPP has, in no uncertain terms, indicated that it didn’t bother about the mandates received at the 2019 Presidential and 2020 General Elections at which its candidate received 6.9 mn votes and the party obtained a staggering 145 seats, respectively.
SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga, in two speeches in Parliament (delivered during the ongoing Budget debate) dealt with Wickremesinghe’s strategy. The leader of civil society group Yuthukama did it quite well. The first time entrant to Parliament discussed the issues at hand, including the alleged move to deliberately lose state control over land that may cause irrevocable consequences. At the onset of one speech, lawmaker Cumaratunga reacted somewhat angrily as some government members continued with their noisy private conversations, among themselves, as the MP dealt with contentious issues.
The MP asked whether Wickremesinghe was exploiting the current political-economic-social crisis to advance his own roadmap at the expense of the country. Cumaratunga raised the possibility of those enjoying the political power allowing further deterioration of the economy. The MP expressed fears of Wickremesinghe’s Budget causing a heavier debt burden at a time the country has suspended repayment of loans. The MP also slammed the government over the inordinate delay in amending the Exchange Control Act of 2017 to make it mandatory for importers to bring back massive amounts of funds ‘parked’ overseas, over a period of time, within a stipulated time frame.
In addition to Cumaratunga, Prof. Charitha Herath, as well as Prof. Channa Jayasumana ,made important contributions during the ongoing Budget debate. Both of them dealt with the land issue.
Herath, who earned public appreciation for his role as former COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Chairman dealt with a number of issues, including an ‘operation’ meant to facilitate land grabs. The first time MP alleged that the move to place state land under the purview of Divisional Secretaries was nothing but a ruse to allow land grabs.
Participating in the Second Reading debate on the 2023 Budget, Prof. Herath alleged that the move was meant to allow cronies of the ruling party to get hold of government lands. Declaring that LRC lands had been misappropriated for the political gains of successive governments, since 1977, Prof. Herath questioned the way state land were utilized. The 2023 Budget has proposed to legitimize wrong procedure, lawmaker Herath said, adding: “We summoned the LRC, two or three times before the Committee on Public Enterprises, and investigated the issues at hand. We found out that there had been many shortcomings in its land utilization process. We instructed the officials to take remedial measures. Now the 2023 Budget has proposed that these LRC lands should be placed under District Secretaries and Divisional Secretaries and allow them to decide to whom those lands should be given for the purpose of cultivating them. The proposal would prune down the powers of the Lands Minister.
“We do not approve the status quo of the LRC because every Lands Minister has placed the LRC under his or her friends who, in return, placed the lands at LRC under the mercy of the Minister. This should come to an end but not in the manner that has been envisaged by the 2023 Budget, Prof. Herath said.
Prof. Jayasumana raised the legitimacy of crucial decisions taken by Wickremesinghe as the UNP leader didn’t have a mandate to do so from the people. Addressing the Parliament, during the Committee Stage of the Defence Ministry vote, the first time MP asked whether the President could take decisions pertaining to national security and policy matters as he was only entrusted with completing the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term.
The Anuradhapura District MP suggested the need to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court as regards the ability of Wickremesinghe to call for a presidential election four years after the last poll. In this case the one held in Nov. 2019. Lawmaker Jayasumana declared that he would submit a private member’s proposal to enable Wickremesinghe to call for a fresh presidential poll after completion of one year in office. If consensus could be reached, a fresh presidential election could be held in July 2023, Prof. Jayasumana said, adding that if Wickremesinghe won he could implement whatever his proposals. Pointing out that as Wickremesinghe’s agenda had been rejected by the electorate in 1994, 2004 and 2019, the UNP leader could face serious public challenge unless he obtained a fresh mandate.
Declaring that Gotabaya Rajapaksa received a huge mandate at the 2019 presidential election to preserve Sri Lanka’s unitary status, Prof Jayasumana questioned the moves to even go beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The academic reminded that the Supreme Court had been divided on the 13th Amendment.
The SLPP rebel reminded that the Supreme Court bench that decided on the 13th Amendment did so by a majority of just one judge.
Sri Lanka is heading for unprecedented political upheaval as Wickremesinghe pushes ahead with his agenda amidst further deterioration of political-economic-social situation. The much-touted USD 2.9 bn in emergency aid from the IMF, spread over a period of four years, seems wholly inadequate to remedy the situation. Impending political turmoil appears to be quite threatening and may even undermine the economic recovery efforts unless the Parliament addressed the issues at hand with the dedication such situations required.
Cracks in the Fortress
By Lynn Ockersz
Defiant hearts throng the streets,
Tugging tirelessly at their chains,
Taking on the Iron Fist face-to-face,
Which cannot afford to relent,
Since for it too much is at stake,
And the world may not call this,
Iran and China’s Bastille moment yet,
Since the fire power of the state,
Remains formidable and lethal,
But chinks emerge in the armour,
Of those holding the reins,
And this could spell epochal change.
The Revenge of Power
by Fr J.C. Pieris
It is vitally important to value our freedom more than anything else, as Patrick Henry did and declared: “Give me liberty or give me death. My humanity diminishes the less I am free; my humanity is enhanced the more I am free.” Moises Naim has written a book that every freedom loving human being must read to become aware of the treacherous dangers to his/her freedom.
The book is about how our freedom won with so much trouble, toil, blood and sacrifice is being corroded today, not from outside forces, like in the past such as tribal chiefs, kings and dictators, but more insidiously from within, subtly and deceptively, with something that looks like truth or democracy.
The mortal enemy of freedom is power. The gradual defeat of power by freedom and democracy we enjoy is being slowly strangulated by power returning to battle in unsuspecting hidden ways and means. That is why the book is titled “The Revenge of Power”.
The book is about the 3-P autocrats who steal our freedom and kill democracy. The three Ps are populism, polarisation and post-truth. The corrosive and corrupting consequence of the trio – populism, polarisation and post-truth – is a criminal and complete takeover of the state.
Populism is a set of practices and strategies. Through this, the autocrats become not only the sole voice and face of the government but also of the state. It empties the meaning of the authentic exercise of the will of the people as it weakens popular and civic organisations, and eliminates the function of political parties as channels of alternative ideologies.
Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) perfectly fits the bill for a populist leader. He came to power through democratic and legal means unlike Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) who became the President through trickery. No autocrat can beat the executive powers of the President of Sri Lanka, thanks to J. R. Jayewardene, who introduced the 1978 Constitution. Slowly, MR began to show traces of an autocrat. Even the few checks and balances that were in existence were disregarded. Self-promoting useless extravaganzas increased. He openly became nepotistic. He began to interfere in the judiciary by removing Chief Justice of Sri Lanka Shirani Bandaranayake, and brought in 18th Amendment in a bid to become the President for life. In the meantime, more and more allegations of huge commissions on mega projects, robberies, scams and crimes of family members, relatives and cronies increase. Pandora Papers disclosures as regards Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband has revealed only a fraction of what the Rajapaksa family has amassed.
MR’s younger brother, Gotabaya, entered politics in the wake of the Easter Sunday massacre declaring that he alone could protect the country’s national security. He said at the very beginning of his presidency that his word took precedence over government circulars. He banned agrochemicals. His idiotic economic decisions bankrupted the country.
Polarisation is the age-old idea of divide and rule. The autocrats generate intense hatred against the rivals and neutralise them. Since they exploit the atavistic fears and prejudices of and the social cleavages and divisions among people, they have a huge fan-base, and hence emerge as Messiahs.
Creating an enemy, the Other, is the speciality of our politicians. The Tamil minority was the first enemy. JR, the autocrat deliberately organised the 1983 July riots, and the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. Then, we had the 30-year civil war. They demonised the Tamils in the North and the East. GR came to power after Easter Sunday tragedy, promising to ensure national security and making the Muslims, the Other or the enemy.
Creating and accusing the Other, the enemy is part of the political practice in Sri Lanka. Rulers speak of imperialist conspiracy, Tamil separatism, Muslim Wahabism, NGO betrayals, Christian conversions or what not. They make ‘others’ monsters ready to pounce on the hapless majority, destroy them and conquer Sri Lanka.
Divide and rule is the name of the autocrat’s game. RW has called the Aragalaya youth fascists making them The Other. By using the PTA he has made the university students terrorists. Anti-riot police in full gear with tear gas masks, water cannon trucks and hundreds of men and women armed with batons and shields are sent to suppress the fundamental rights of the people to protest of small groups of unarmed non-violent civilians.
Post-truth is the confused conceptualisation and uncontrollable diffusion of fake news that distorts reality. It has such a power that it can systematically block the knowledge and diffusion of the truth. It is not simply spreading lies. It is about muddying the waters to such a point that it is difficult to discern the difference between truth and falsehood. Post-truth is the baby of the modern mass communication media.
“Post-truth has been defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “the disappearance of shared objective standards for truth.” It is a condition that arises in public life when the dividing line between facts and knowledge, on one side, and belief and opinion, on the other, withers away, or at least when they are used interchangeably so often that the dividing line between them is no longer widely agreed upon.” (Quoted from the aforesaid book)
With easy access to millions, social media, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, etc., we are inundated with facts and messages that can be true, partially true, false or fake. Often contrary facts and news are presented to us and we are confused as to what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. This weakens our democracy. A country of confused citizens is easy prey of the rapacious populist autocrat.
How to protect our freedom
The author has proposed methods of fighting the 3-P autocrats by battling against their five most used tactics.
The battle against the Big Lie
The Big Lie was the slogan given by Trump to his election loss. Here are some of our Big Lies. “Dharmishta Samajaya” sounds so pious and nice but the reality of the JR presidency was just the opposite. Then MR presented the vision of “Suba Anagathayak.” Now, we are in the Rajapakses’ ‘Anagathe’, you can decide whether it is ‘suba’ or ‘kalakanni’. “Yahapalanaya” was another fantastic goal to be achieved, but the UNP and its cronies carried out the Treasury bond scams, and the SJB footnote gang shamelessly tried to protect the culprits. Finally, we have the “Saubagya” of GR, well, the country is bankrupt and economically bogged down and ruined. The sweet dream of ‘Saubagya’ has become for the people a nightmare! These are the Big Lies of Sri Lankan politics. There are many small lies that are brazenly proclaimed in public like when Namal R said that “No Rajapakse has robbed anything. Take us to courts and prove the charges.” Of course, GR had “Nidoskota nidahas” all the cases against the Rakapakses and their crony murderers and thieves. Or take the television channels that promoted the Dammika Peniya as a cure for Covid-19.
Now for the battle. Democracy and freedom can be saved only if the citizens are well informed of how the government works. Ways of educating the youth and even the elderly must be found and implemented. They must be taught to check always the myriads of facts, figures and information they receive and even double check them before using them to make decisions or sharing them with others. The perpetrators of the Big Lie must never be allowed to win an election again. Even the supporters and promoters of the Big Liar must be dealt with similarly. The electorate must be made to feel seriously responsible for the election results.
Battle against criminal regimes
There are countries where criminals are no longer underground but very much above ground and in the highest places of power. Since the 1970s, Sri Lanka has also joined the club or the mafia of such countries. A good example of where it started is when JR made the notorious criminal, Gonawala Sunil, a Justice of the Peace after pardoning and releasing the latter from prison! We have a person convicted of “Kappan” as the Chief Whip of the government and most others are all thieves or at least collaborators of thieves. It is not for nothing that people call them Ali Baba and the 225 thieves.
As every government deal, whether oil, gas, sugar, medicine, vaccines or other essentials, is suspected to be a scam and the allegations are never investigated or admitted, we sure have a kleptocracy consisting of the politicians, top administrative officers and their crony businessmen openly robbing the wealth of the nation. The kleptocrats robbed and bankrupted the country. They have taken out the wealth of the country and stashed it away in black tax havens.
When the people of Aragalaya led by the youth, protest publicly against the criminal government, they are arrested and jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Saving democracy and freedom from a criminal regime is going to be a war of attrition. Then we must investigate the route of the stolen money and confiscate it. So far, nothing has been done in this regard. All that we know about Nirupama Rajapaksa, Jaliya Wickremasuriya, Udayanga Weeratunga, Air Bus scam, etc., has been revealed by investigations conducted overseas. We cannot expect a criminal government to conduct such investigations. It will have to be the work of NGOs, journalists, detectives and lawyers. Anybody, even charities that receive funds from autocrats who need character laundering must be named and shamed.
The battle against autocracies that seek to undermine democracies
Powerful autocracies and even some democracies competing for global domination have always interfered in the smaller democracies. It is clear how funding for elections is received. It is no secret that China funded Rajapaksas or the US funded some others. There were allegations that North Korea funded the old JVP and India funded the LTTE. Funds apart, now they use the social media on a global scale to disinform, mislead and tarnish the images of politicians who are undesirables, or support their favourites. They have found that Russia has interfered in the Trump election and in the Brexit referendum.
The only defence of the democracies against such onslaughts depends “on three priorities: fighting corruption, defending against authoritarianism, and advancing human rights.”
The battle against political cartels that stifle competition
Democracy is a way of organising political competition. In a democracy, those unhappy with the current state of affairs can change things, but only if they can persuade enough fellow citizens to vote for them. Ensuring fair and lawful political competition is the central purpose of democratic checks and balances. (Quoted from the book)
But political cartels that include the judicial, administrative and military sectors unleash anti-competitive pressures to stifle freedom and democracy. They are rigging the game to stay in power. The autocrats become political monopolists. In Sri Lanka, the practice of bribing MPs to switch sides is part of anti-competition.
“To defeat them, we need a kind of political anti-trust doctrine, one designed to protect the competitive dynamic at the heart of democracy. Whether dealing with campaign finance, redistricting, voter registration, or media regulation, policymakers must squarely confront one question: Do the current rules foster fair and constructive competition? Where the answer is no, a strong prima facie case exists for intervention and reform.” (Quoted from the book)
Battle against illiberal narratives
The autocrats create the Big Lie that they are the saviours of the people harassed by poverty, and the elites are insensitive to the people’s plight. They cater to the people’s gut level feelings and make their adrenalin work. But the democrats find difficult to achieve such results as they will offer only abstract principles of truth and fair play; freedom and competition. Usually, the democrats are always at a disadvantage.
“The populist frame is too powerful to be defeated permanently. Like a virus, it reappears in outbreaks again and again throughout history. But the rhetoric is hollow. And pointing out that hollowness gives us an opening we must exploit to sell people once more on the promise of democratic life.” (Quoted from the book)
In our country, Aragalaya has opened the eyes of people as never before and now many of them can see how they have been deceived and abused by populist autocrats.
“Sobriety is in order. The fact that democracy has survived over the last three centuries in no way guarantees that it will prevail against its enemies once more. But if we can defeat the Big Lies, sideline criminalized governments, parry the attempts at foreign subversion directed at democratic elements, face down the political cartels that stifle competition, and beat back the illiberal narratives that sustain autocratic onslaughts, we’ll have won the war to preserve democracy.” (Quoted from the book)
As I finished reading the book, I realised that we had found the local antidote to the 3-P autocrats. It is our own way of dealing with our own variety of 3-P autocrats. It is what emerged as Aragalaya in April this year, climaxed in July and is still simmering like live coals in the ashes. Proudly, I called it the Beautiful Revolution. However much its detractors howl against it, it is now a historical fact. Aragalaya happened and nobody can deny, delete or forget it. Our youth led it and were responsible for it and all, their mothers, fathers even little children joined them whole heartedly. The world was stunned by its success. Not a drop of blood was shed by the protesters.
I gauged them at the Galle Face Gotagogama. Aragalaya can be defined with the three words they always use, Nirpakshika, Nirprachanda and Aadaraya. Nirpakshika means they are not followers or slaves of anybody, any party or any ism. They are strong free adults; they think for themselves and they decide for themselves. Nirprachanda means non-violence stemming from human solidarity. Aragalaya was an experience of solidarity; not the narrow solidarity of groups of the same race, religion, language, class, caste or political party but the all-inclusive solidarity of the human race. At Gotagogama there was open trust and friendliness among all sorts of people. I remember one incident clearly; when the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu said that he was going to send food-aid to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, a young Tamil took the mike at Gotagogama and sent a message to the Chief Minister; Sir, either send food-aid to Sri Lankans or don’t send at all. Yes, we are Sri Lankans, period. Finally, they called their movement Aadaraye Aragalaya. I suppose it is inevitable; nirpakshika and nirprachanda leads naturally to the peculiar ethos of Aragalaya; an ethos of love, peace, friendship and brotherhood.
Aragalaya led by the new generation revealed what is truly necessary for democracy. It was democratic as it never had a clear leader. All were welcome to come forward and share their opinion. Various individuals were spokespersons for it but Aragalaya went on, a common project of the people. Everybody shared equal responsibility for the spontaneous project, in such a way that all were leaders. Aragalaya formed free citizens fit for true democracy. And this is the best antidote to the 3P autocrats. Democracy, not just in name but in practice, is possible in Sri Lanka. The good news of Nirpakshika, Nirprachanda and Aadaraye Prajatantravadaya must be spread island wide. This is the foundation for the system change we are looking for. And this is what frightens the enemies of Aragalaya, Ali Baba and the 225 thieves. They know their evil system is in its death throes. With PTA, emergency, suppression, new alliances, new parties, fake news and all kinds of crooked deals they are fighting for their survival. They will be vanquished.
Let us keep in mind; the price of sweet freedom is the hard work of eternal vigilance or a sort of permanent Aragalaya.
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