(Lanka-e-News -06.Feb.2024, 11.00 PM) "Courage is the power to let go of the familiar."
Forces against change, those who resist departure from a stagnant system and the very men and women who dug that rotting pit, seem to have realized that the change that is fast approaching is inevitable. Those who were subjected to unspeakable hardships are waking up. The system needs a change; whether it'll be one of fundamental in quality and character or merely a cosmetic one with band-aid solutions, with substitution of one set of leaders with a similar clan with the same modus operandi, one will only see when the time gets closer to the D-day, the elections. However, when the powers that be realize that the change that they have been resisting for fear of loss of their basic comforts, will be dictated to by the willingness and the readiness of the forces of change, it might be too late.
Lankan society today is a product of the choices the people have made collectively over the last seventy six years as one people. Not only those in the South of Vavuniya, even the ones who live in the North and East have all contributed to the piteous destiny it has fallen into. The surrounding countries in the Indian Subcontinent, except perhaps Pakistan, have leapt forward in prosperity, national consciousness and a yearning to propel themselves into a better and promising future. Even Bangladesh, a country that was born only in 1973, has become a lending nation, in this case to Sri Lanka, rather than a borrower.
Not only the leaders, the country's people as a whole, those who decide periodically every election cycle, are as responsible as everyone else for the debacle of the economy. They separately and collectively took part in the destruction of the sociocultural organism of the nation. When we travel back into the last century or so, since Anagarika Darmapala began his one-man show of awakening only one segment of our population- Sinhalese Buddhists- we have been blindly following a twisted sense of patriotism, a mistaken sense of superiority of being a Sinhalese Buddhist over all other members of the community that have been living in Lanka. Equality among men was merely a slogan and a cliché.
However, this awakened sense of patriotism or loyalty to one's heritage, particularly to the 'Sinhalese-Buddhistness' of the population could not sustain itself. The moment sociocultural awareness is brought forth in one grouping of those who live in the same land, a corresponding cognizance springs up in other sections which were not considered as equal partners of the same assemblage of people. Identity politics enters into the national consciousness and the people commence a different social intercourse. As a direct result of this organic evolution, compartmentalizing and polarization of the population occur along pre-set formations.
Prior the the invasion by the Portuguese in 1505, Ceylon, both the South and the North, was ruled by Monarchs. Democracy as a principle of governance entered into our national state of mind only after the Britishers took over from the Dutch. Ceylon started adopting the same governing principles that presided over British Parliament; she became accustomed to democracy, not as an independent State but as a consequence of being a subject people of the British Empire.
At the time of gaining independence, almost all our national leaders were educated in the United Kingdom (UK). For them, adoption of British governing principles did not present a challenging task; it was a mere substitution of the British White Sahibs by the local Brown Sahibs. Entrenched deeply in what was 'British and Western' was not only being part of the British governing principles, it was also fashionable and discriminating in an acute sense of class warfare. Who was left behind this unfortunate and unnecessary class warfare was the uneducated, unsophisticated and helpless rural man and women; they lived in the deep bowels of Lanka. This misfortune was not a part of collateral damage of the advancing social forces. The damage was a direct result of the process itself. Effects of these advancing social forces were basically confined to Colombo and other big cities such as Galle, Kandy and Jaffna. But the negatives and ill-effects of this social change seeped profoundly into the average villager. His reaction to this new development produced a much more severe and consequential social dynamic.
Acutely short of English teachers in the heartland of the country, the village schools began producing otherwise bright students, yet who were not ready to be embraced by the big-city industries, trade and other businesses. Bandaranaike's Sinhala-only policy aggravated the situation further by cornering and isolating the Sinhala-educated youth; they became strangers in their own land. Yet Bandaranaike's policies helped generate in the country a new mindset, a culture which was dormant at the time of Independence; a culture that could not express itself in a dignified and a righteous fashion. While being instrumental in this new awakening, Bandaranaike also unleashed a force that could not contain itself in the midst of the euphoria that declared that the 'common man' was supreme and anyone speaking English or displayed to society that he or she was superior in status, both financial and cultural, was hated and disparaged in the harshest possible way.
This culture shock began its grave impact on society in such a way, Tamils living on the North side of Vavuniya became the sworn enemy of this 'common man'. The first clashes between the two communities, Sinhalese and Tamil, occurred in 1958 and as J R Jayewardene failed to take prompt action in the immediate aftermath of 1983 riots, S W R D Bandaranaike, the 'common man's hero failed miserably to contain the situation in '58. In fact, he handed the rein of the government machinery to Sir Oliver Goonatilaka, the Governor General of the country who had no executive responsibility or duty as per our Constitution other than under the most trying conditions. For the first time after Independence, a state of Emergency was declared and it was under the provisions of that Emergency declaration Sir Oliver acted and managed to curtail the violent acts by the majority Sinhalese on the minority Tamils. Even though governing power was transferred from the Senanayakes to the Bandaranaikes, the 'common man' was left bereft of any intrinsic power or any other ability or cognition to act free as an independent citizen.
Thereafter, political power kept on switching between the two family circles, keeping the 'common man' completely outside the realm of decision making. Yet, Ceylon being ruled under a democratic system of government principles, managed to avert two attempts of coup d'etat and two insurrections. Adherence to democracy and its main principle of electing those who are responsible for the running of the government machinery are elected periodically as enshrined in the pages of the Constitution, sustained a relatively stable political environment.
Nevertheless, that political order, however much is dependent upon the country's financial stability, was seriously challenged by the economic crisis that swallowed it in mid-March in Two thousand twenty two (2022). The 'common man's patience ran out of endurance; his ability to keep a somewhat stable household reached its outer limits and when his children started crying for food and the most essential food items began disappearing from the shelves at the marketplace, he went to Colombo Galle Face Green to express his solidarity with the now famous 'Aragalaya'.
Aragalaya was most fundamentally instrumental in awakening the country towards a change; a change that is not merely superficial; a change that is not akin to what politicians pontificate on the eve of elections. The change that those of the Aragalaya hoped and asked for was a more fundamental. The system that had been governing Ceylon had failed; its machinations, its peripheral branches, its core enactments and its fundamental application to resolve the issues that face the average citizen had left most men and women forlorn and betrayed. A 'system change' became a byword for the change that the youth of the country yearned for. They surmised that the entire those who governed the country since Independence have not delivered the goods. When the neighboring nations have leapt forward with prosperity, Ceylon had been stagnating, more often than not, going backwards.
What is this 'system change' that our people are clamoring for? Is it a departure from our basic system of government? From democracy to autocracy or dictatorship? Is it Marxism, Stalinism, Maoism- close to a Marxist-Socialist system of government and economic methodology? Can we attain a system change without sacrificing our democratic principles of governance and quasi-capitalist system of economic production and management? And from amongst the political parties of today, who is asking for that 'system change' and who is fighting to retain the status quo?
Traveling around the countryside and delving deeply into the psyche of our rural citizens, it is more than evident that the majority of them are fed up with the existing conditions, both objective and subjective. The policies and principles of the political parties that ran the affairs of state, political, administrative and economic, are being held accountable by the current younger generations. They want answers and they are not getting any other than political innuendo and platform speechifying. The 'status quo' is being safeguarded and protected by Ranil Wickremasinghe, the Rajapaksas and Sajith Premadasa and their political parties. That is on the political front.
On the economic front, the Colombo-based businessmen whose purses had been fattened by the corrupt politicians' greedy and extravagant lifestyles are resisting change. They say that the National People's Power (NPP) the only political entity that is identified with system change does not have sufficient man power, intellectual wherewithal and political know-how to run an efficient government. But they, who oppose a system change, not only failed when they were the rulers, they are muted when faced with eradication of corruption and peaceful and efficient 'good governance'.
But the NPP cannot afford to be languid in their approach to the situation. Nor can they be overconfident. People turning out for their rallies, their exuberance and hapless countenances should not be misread. NPP must make every effort to make it a must for each and everyone of their followers to come after them because they believe in a change that could be brought about only through the machinations of the NPP. Not for the negative reason of seeking after anyone but the rest, but by the logic of the arguments, presentations and integrity, financial and fiscal policies and undiluted authenticity of leadership. At the same time they must convince the masses that the NPP is wedded to democracy as their sole method of governance and 'social-capitalism' with a human face is their system of financial order. Accountability and transparency must be part and parcel of the system. Then the masses might be convinced that they are real agents of change.
The writer can be contacted at [email protected]
by (2024-02-06 18:50:34)
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