Political Comment / Opinion

Taking stock of a shameful time

By Malinda Seneviratne
The anti-war folk dreamed up an interesting signboard for the demonstration regarding the killing of TNA parliamentarian K.Raviraj.  ‘Shame’ it said.  In Sinhala it was even more interesting. ‘Lajjai’ is also a confession, as in ‘I am ashamed’.  Someone might even say ‘Freudian Slip’. 
There is a lot to be ashamed about.  As citizens, each and everyone of us should be ashamed to live in a country where the law and order situation is such that people get abducted, tortured and murdered while the perpetrators go free.  We should be ashamed that we live in a country where fellow citizens don’t have access to basic needs and especially food.  We should be ashamed that we have a government that does not seem to have a coherent plan (whether categorized under ‘negotiations’ or ‘military’) to eliminate the deadly threat of terrorism so that this horrendous situation can be reversed. We should be ashamed that we have a government that doesn’t seem to be doing much by way of arresting the deteriorating law and order situation in the country. 
The government has a hundred and one reasons to feel ashamed and so too the opposition, which is anything but effective or even coherent.  And Raviraj, if he was watching from somewhere, would have felt ashamed too. 
The demonstration, so-called, was advertised widely.   It was not ‘massive’, say, compared to the JVP protest march that ended at the Norwegian Embassy a few weeks before, but it was ‘massive’ in relation to the numbers that self-styled ‘peace’ activists have managed to bring out on other occasions. The cynics would say, ‘yeah, and that’s thanks to the UNP trying to grab a piece of political capital,’ but that’s hardly an issue here.  The principle cause for shame is that the murder of a citizen, a parliamentarian, a person who chose to articulate his views democratically even if what he articulated was arguably seditious in content, did not warrant a truly massive outpouring of outrage. 
The JVP and the JHU, naturally would not want to have anything to do with the anti-war people, but could these parties, given their resources, not have done more to express condemnation?
There is a secondary reason for shame and this is why I read that signboard as ‘confession’.  The organizers, as has been pointed out by a wide spectrum of the public, have been extremely selective in the expression of grief.  Kethish Loganathan was killed. Lakshman Kadirgamar was killed. Countless others who were non-combatants in the same way Raviraj was a non-combatant, were assassinated in cold blood.  Those murders were acts of terrorism.  They too indicated that huge holes exist in what we call ‘law and order’.   Even if we spread the field to describe it in the language they prefer, i.e. ‘failed/failing state’, all of them are victims of acts that cannot be sanctioned in a civilised society.  Where was the grief?  Where was the creativity that came up with a signboard called ‘Shame’ (a confession though it turned out to be)? 
There was no aerial bombardment at Vihara Maha Devi Park that evening. But when the first drops of rain fell, people left.  Had Raviraj’s corpse served its purpose?  Is there no truth in the following (wry) comment by a journalist covering the ‘demonstration’: “there is no peace movement in Sri Lanka, there is only a peace market”? Or the interjection, ‘No, what we have is a peace gnarugnuruwa’? 
What kind of shame should be felt by those who quickly pointed the finger at Douglas Devananda and those who insinuated that the EPDP was responsible in some way, almost as though they were witnesses to the murder, especially when they have fought shy of blaming the LTTE for other such murders because ‘the investigations are not over yet’?  Did they pause to wonder if Raviraj’s life was more worth than that of his bodyguard, Lakshman Lokuwella, if he was less of a father, less loved and less loving? 
Does the TNA, as they agitate in parliament, dwell on the shame of looking the other way when fellow-Tamils are hunted down and shot on the orders of their masters in Killinochchi?
And since we are on the subject of shame, let us reference the larger scandals, the reasons for shame that are attributable to the high seats of power.  To put it bluntly, what of ‘the president and his merry men all’? 
Three hundred and sixty five days ago, the country got a new President.  Mahinda Rajapakse showed a manifesto, he got a mandate. He came with promises. Sure, on election day he did not have a party and the day after he became president he would have found that he didn’t have ‘friendly’ officials either. 
He has used a year to consolidate, obtain a party, ‘manage’ the opposition including the JVP and appears to be making some headway in taking on the LTTE, both militarily and at the negotiating table.  Whereas there was resignation and capitulation in all previous dealings with the terrorists, in the very least under Rajapaksa we have not had to suffer humiliation at the hands of Balasingham and Co.  Is this reason enough to be happy?
Even as of today there doesn’t seem to be a cogent plan of action, military or otherwise, aimed at defeating the LTTE.  Where is the road map?  What are the landmarks indicating that progress is being made?  So far, nothing.  Shameful, one can say. What of good governance?  Why is he sitting on the appointments to the Constitutional Council? Why is no headway being made about necessary reforms that make for pragmatic and efficient independence institutions?  There are serious corruption charges against the President’s ‘near and dear’.  There is perceivable nepotism. He may win the battle against terrorism, but the more important war of putting the country right will be lost the way things are going. The President too can confess ‘lajjai’.   
Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP can also hang down their heads.  This is the arguably the worst opposition we have had in decades, more preoccupied with the internal affairs of the party than operating as watchdog on behalf of the people.  For Wickremesinghe, party leadership counts more than winning elections or democracy within the party. As such he’s just another two-bit politician and by no means a statesman. Some of his detractors are using the leadership crisis as an excuse to jump over to the other side, entertaining hopes of cabinet posts. The less said the better, but the word ‘shame’ cannot be deleted from that particular political equation.
The word shame is applicable to other entities. Norway, for instance. The word shame is not applicable to some entities. For example, the LTTE.  What they’ve done to this society and in particular the very people they claim to represent ought to make them ashamed, but that would be little consolation (if they understand that word, that is). Describing that despicable political reality requires a new lexicon. 
But why, one can ask, should we even bother about the LTTE?  Shame is something we need to deal with ourselves in the first instance.  That requires deep self-reflection and it is such meditation that will prompt better and more credible engagement with forces that are detrimental to the common good.  ‘Can we be larger than we have been so far?’ is the question that we face, as individuals, organizations, community and political entity.  It is a question that requires serious engagement and therefore strength of character.  Mahinda Rajapaksa downwards.  Time will tell whether we are deserving of better times.