My first recollection of the surreal world of Sri Lankan politics came at the tender age of eight or so, soon after the election of Mrs Bandaranaike to replace Dudley Senanayake in 1970
My uncle had been the Director General of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation and soon after the election, a mob had besieged his house in Nugegoda because he was perceived to be sympathetic towards the UNP and Mr S.
In order to protect his family and him, my parents gave him shelter at our house in Gower Street and kept him hidden from view for the best part of six weeks until things calmed down.
At the time, from the perspective of a eight year old, this was akin to a game of hide and seek !
The perpetrators of this lawlessness – the masses
A year later in 1971, I witnessed the horrific brutality of a policeman literally crack open the skull of a defenceless youth using the butt of his Lee Enfield 303 rifle. The crime that the youth had committed was presumably he was sympathetic to the JVP. Such was the fine line between life and death in Sri Lanka – Sinhala on Sinhala
Approximately 20,000 youth were killed in 1971 – mostly in cold blood by men in uniform
The perpetrators of this mass slaughter – the state
Fast forward the tape another ten years or so and we had the grotesque spectacle of the cold blooded murder on the streets of Colombo of innocent Tamils whilst the government of the day stood by. Cue, the start of a horrific conflict that ultimately consumed 100,000 plus lives
The perpetrators of the mass murder on the streets of Colombo – the masses
Fast forward to the present, and there is this surreal spectacle of a potential constitutional coup gone or going horribly wrong with politicians from all sides horse trading or prostituting themselves in such a manner that will embarrass the working ladies on any red light strip.
The masses are once again up in arms about the shenanigans of their elected representatives and what this circus is actually doing to the fabric of democracy in the country.
However, is the fault or failure actually due to the politics or the politicians of the country ?
Or is there something fundamentally wrong with the culture and society that produces such politics and such politicians ?
A culture and society whose lack of respect for human life has been very apparent since independence.
A culture and society that continues to produce a political class whose primary objective and modus operandi is to enrich themselves at whatever cost
Politicians , especially elected representatives, are but a microcosm of the society and culture they hail from. They are representatives of the people, elected by the people and for the people. If elected politicians from a particular nation have been , for generation after generation, guilty of poor governance, incompetence and corruption on a monumental scale, would it not be fair to describe such a nation as one that keeps repeating the same errors time after time in the misguided hope that something will change ?
Albert Einstein described such a scenario as his definition of insanity !
It is my view that the Sri Lankan masses have no real understanding of how democracy functions and that they are essentially politically illiterate.
Sri Lanka prides itself as having the second highest literacy rate in Asia and yet the country has regressed over the years whilst others in the region have progressed. The reason given is that the thirty year long civil war hindered development. Whilst this is essentially true, what occurred before and after the armed conflict has also stifled progressed and will always continue to do so.
Sri Lankan culture is based on a set of patriarchal and familial values which gives priority to patronage and loyalty – family, clan, friends, old school, tribe, social status etc over ability and meritocracy. Such a system will only enable the mediocre to come to the fore and as has been seen in Sri Lanka for many generations, mediocrity has truly been made a virtue with the leaders of the nation being the primary example of this mediocrity
Kids are taught a set of values from the cradle which are either false or illogical. They are taught a semi fictional history which talks about an ancient civilisation which only creates a delusional sense of self importance.
A beautiful religion of peace is taught as a form of ethno-cultural folklore mixed with xenophobic jingoism with customs and rituals that are utterly at odds with what the real meaning of that great religion / philosophy is. Customs and rituals that make a complete mockery of logic are encouraged and followed. Leaders of the nation then indulge in this ritualistic religious nonsense to gain acceptance and credibility from the masses.
The law of the land is disregarded by anyone with wealth, status and power. Universal law is only applicable to the poor and defenceless. The wealthy and those in positions of power can manipulate the legal system due to the acquiescence of those within the legal fraternity who appear happy to forget their solemn oaths in favour of material benefits
This is in effect the law of the jungle where only the strong and corrupt survive.
It is utterly self perpetuating and the end result is the what is assembled in parliament and which call themselves the elected representatives of the nation.
However the failure is NOT within the executive, the elected members of parliament , the judiciary, the legal fraternity or the various branches of civil administration
The REAL failure lies elsewhere, buried deep within the core sets of values , customs and traditions that collectively makes Sri Lanka what it is today.
Until and unless the narrative taught from the cradle changes , it will sadly be always a version of Einstein’s Definition of Insanity !
Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu !!!