“An innocent Ploughman is more worthy than a vicious Prince.” – Benjamin Franklin
We never learn from history that is why we are condemned to relive it
History’s greatest lesson is that we never ever learn from it. That is why, as George Santayana’s famous quote says, we are condemned to relive it. Great Emperors of the past have administered cruellest of pain and suffering on their subjects; they have destroyed families and generations, some have even massacred hundreds of villages and cities.
The silent majority
In order to make their imprint on history, these so-called Great Rulers did in fact defile the very pages of history and when one turn its pages one sees only blood, sweat and tears of the subjects and untold miseries of the commoner. But these rulers did not achieve these atrocious goals by themselves. They were most ably assisted by their cohorts, their court jesters, their Senators, their Cabinets of Ministers, their kith and kin and most of all by the silent majority of their subjects who observed silence not because they were deaf and dumb, they were simply impotent. A gutless people deserve whatever fate, or in this instance, whatever their leaders decree descends on them.
Ruled by vagabonds
With the passing of the ‘judgment’ by the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, and finding her guilty, the governing councils of Sri Lanka not only committed some serious violations of the laws of natural justice, they most nakedly raped the system, the Supreme Court that has a longer history than our Independence. Behind a façade of Parliamentary supremacy, these vagabonds of rulers ran roughshod over the only piece of document that gives us Sri Lankan as a nation its validity and legitimacy.
Assumptions of the ruling club
As attorney-at-law, Asanga Welikala reiterated in his interview with “Groundviews”, the fallacy that Parliamentary is Supreme Being brandied by pseudo-pundits who have rallied to safeguard the erroneous assumptions of the ‘Ruling Club’ is being proven once again. In Welikala’s words, what is supreme is the Constitution which derives its powers from the people and has created three co-equal branches of government, Parliament, he Executive and the Judiciary. Parliament is supreme in England as she has no written Constitution, whereas Sri Lanka has a written constitution which empowers the three branches of government with specific functions with specific checks and balances. True, there may be some serious deficiencies in certain areas, especially with regard to Parliamentary Standing Orders and so forth, but advocating from the exalted portals of Parliament that it is Supreme and cannot be abiding by Supreme Court decisions is not only foolhardy, it is intellectually dishonest.
Educate the masses
In such a confusing context, I am sure the reader would realize that a vigorous process of ‘informing and educating’ of the public is of paramount importance. That task has not been undertaken by any political party or civil organization at present. Such a task is essentially the responsibility of the official Opposition, it is in this sphere of influence, educating and informing the public, that the present Opposition is showing a glaring deficiency and unwillingness.
Opposition has failed
There are instances in the past in which the Opposition did manage its affairs quite efficiently and to the advantage of the people at large. For such a time-consuming venture- such ventures need to be conceptualized, planned and executed well within a time-frame and with a team of trained personnel- a visionary type of leadership is of utmost significant. Why has Sri Lanka failed to produce such leaders in the very recent past? The last of that brand of leaders were Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali.
Cashing their political capital
When they tried to impeach the then President Premadasa, the first thing that they undertook to do was to address the issue to the people at large. When they started their mass-meeting campaign, the people flocked to listen to these two gentlemen. However, both Gamini and Lalith enjoyed a much more positive and receptive audience. Both of them were very able speakers, both in Sinhala and English; the enormous political capital which they built during their time in office as Ministers in the J R Jayewardene Cabinet came quite handy so that they could cash that political capital in a time of need.
Gamini/Lalith and the present day
And one other stark contrast between Gamini/Lalith combination and any present day leader in the Opposition was the very persona. Gamini and Lalith were fearless and as a result, the people, whether those who backed them from the Media field or the academics came to trust them immensely. When a leader is showing that quality of fearlessness, that very fearlessness becomes infectious and takes hold of the followers too, eventually pervading an entire movement.
Cannot launch massive propaganda campaigns from the drawing rooms of Colombo
But Gamini and Lalith did not implement this massive propaganda campaign from the drawing rooms of Colombo nor from the ‘Gondolas’ in Italy. The Impeachment Motion that was brought against President Premadasa captured the imagination of the broad spectrum of masses. Eventually it did checkmate Premadasa in that, the conduct both official and personal, of him changed dramatically.
The speeches of Premadasa took a very conciliatory tone and even the timber of his delivery assumed different bars. Before the Impeachment Motion was planned against Premadasa, he was the most popular politician in the country, but thanks mainly to the Impeachment Motion and its content, his popularity and acceptability, especially among the poorer classes took a nose-dive. And the dictatorial way in which he conducted the governance of the country was given an abrupt halt.
An astute mass educator
The writer is not making any attempt, direct or vicarious, to demonize R Premadasa’s Presidency. The immense services rendered by him in the field of housing, poverty-alleviation, the Garment Industry expansion, setting a marvellous example of work ethics and punctuality cannot be overstated. To do so would be a great disservice to the man who never ever wavered from speaking for and on behalf of the under-privileged and the déclassé. And moreover, one could not have found a more astute mass-educator than R Premadasa.
The lethargic UNP
Nevertheless, the importance of mass-education cannot be overlooked. In today’s Sri Lanka we do not have among us any such leader who could undertake a mass-education program. The present Leader of the Opposition and the UNP are simply not equipped nor do they have the capacity for such a significant and decisive course of action. President Rajapaksa has realized that fully. With each dawning day, he wakes up to the same Leader of the Opposition, to the same lethargic UNP and the same gullible Sinhalese Buddhist majority.
The Mahawamsa mindset
The present predicament of our people is also a direct by-product of the ‘Mahawansa Mindset’. Fed by the myths of the Great Chronicle, Mahawansa, the average Sinhalese Buddhist truly believes that Sri Lanka is the country that Buddha ordained to be the ‘protector of Buddhism’. It is way too late to alter that mindset of the average Sinhalese Buddhist in this country. The deep-rooted prejudices and hatred the average Sinhalese has accumulated over successive human generations and over twenty centuries towards his Tamil brethren have taken their toll. Even to whisper of reconciliation towards Tamils, leave alone more devolution of land and Police powers, is evil according to some stalwarts of this end of the racial spectrum.
Against such a backdrop of socio-political milieu, the pervasive apathy that is prevailing among the people of Sri Lanka is understandable. The daily struggle of an average family is much more immediate and calling than an Impeachment Motion brought against a Chief Justice. Independence of the Judiciary is a concept the nuances of which are hardly understood and assimilated by even the so-called intelligentsia. Money and muscle are ruling the day. The naked aggression of this twin combo, money and muscle, against an unsuspecting Appuhamy, Selvam and Mohamed is too big a complication to overcome. The demands that the daily needs crave for would eventually rule the day and dictate the calendar of events for that average villager and urban dweller.
When bread and rice were luxuries
When J R Jayewardene managed to galvanize the average man, woman and child in the nineteen seventies, the objective economic conditions were far too worse than what one finds today. Although prices of some essential household items may be high and on an upward trend, those items are available in the marketplace even at exorbitant prices. In the ’70 – ’77 era the story was different; bread and rice were luxuries, long lines for other household stuff like milk-food and exercise books, cloth and other groceries took their ultimate toll against the power that were. Breakdown in the discipline of Government Parliamentarians was inexcusable yet not so appalling like today. And that Government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike did not have the luxury of a slogan like ‘war-victory’. So the challenges of today are more daunting and exacting. We are not only left with ‘half-past-two-thirty’ leaders’, our follower-bank too is depleted of ideas and imagination.
Are we worthy of nationhood
In such a quagmire of barrenness, lethargy, negativity and confusion, what can one do? We do not have a Gandhi, as Pundit Nehru describes in his ‘’The Discovery of India’’, was a ‘breath of fresh wind’, among us. While our fundamental rights and privileges are being assaulted by those who are charged with the responsibility of safeguarding them, when the Chief Law-Giver of the country, the Chief Justice is being vilified, insulted an ultimately removed from office by sheer power of “Parliamentary Supremacy”, when the Government-backed officials, MPs and other henchmen are, condoned, tolerated and eventually hailed as national heroes, what can the average man do? Are we a worthy people worthy of nationhood? That is the million dollar question.