The songs of angry men

For all its failures, the Rajapaksa administration has become experts at one thing – breaking world records. From the largest cabinet of ministers in the world (102) to the largest delegation at the UN General Assembly Session last year, Rajapaksa and co. have been record-breakers all the way. Now, the delegation accompanying the President to the UN come September, is striving to outdo last year’s record breaking number of 51, from all accounts!

Ordinarily, being Sri Lankans, we might even brush such goings-on off as being part and parcel of the country’s political theatrics. The problem is, these are not ordinary times. These are times when it incenses the populace when ministers decide to go out and get Benz cars worth millions. It is a time when the Foreign Minister’s never-ending globetrotting from one exotic location to the other at state expense irks the common man. And this is a time when the most mild mannered of us would derive great pleasure from throttling the Consumer Affairs Minister (once the government’s most vociferous critic on economic matters) who sees it fit to publicly announce that it is positively providential that milk food prices have gone up, since obesity is becoming a serious health concern in the country in a Marie Antoinette-esque moment.

You see, the Sri Lankan citizenry is tearing its hair out and desperately trying to swim against the economic tide even as her leaders are busy fattening themselves up. The President and his government may not notice, but even as they are busy ensuring that three generations after them live in the lap of luxury, the common man is wondering how he will keep his children alive today, without begging or borrowing. As for the stealing, well there isn’t much for the citizen to do, since that seems to be the primary job of public officers.

All the while, economically, the government is headed for a massive showdown in the very near future. State institutions are out of money but the ludicrous spending continues unabated. Inflation is at an all time high (up again in July by 17.6 percent) but salaries have remained stagnant. The recent fuel price hike has sparked outrage in all quarters and strikes are imminent in the weeks ahead. When faced with each of these economic crises, the government is quick to take cover behind the war in the north east, or its much hyped battles in the eastern front.

But everyone knows that the argument is getting old.
Problems of the present aside, the people are trapped in an economic quagmire in the long term too. Living a hand to mouth existence, where you spend every penny earned each month, hope for the future is nothing but a pipedream. In the end, middle-class Sri Lankans are facing the prospect of working for 40 years with little or no saving, no house or property to call their own. It is a frustration that is prompting many citizens to opt for greener pastures overseas, even if the first decade or so might consist of doing menial labour in a strange land even though they held senior executive positions back home. And so the country continues to lose out - on its youth, its working population and some of its most brilliant minds. Who will we be left with? Corrupt and base politicians only, no doubt.

Busy with the problems of governance (ie: getting its numbers together in the House), the administration appears to be aloof to the storm gathering at its door. To the north, south, east and west, the forces are gathering and discontent is rampant. Quick to gain maximum mileage from this widespread suffering and poverty is the JVP, which will undoubtedly put its union machinery in high gear and take the fight to the government. And if the government thinks for even a moment that the ‘sunshine war’ the state propaganda is feeding the masses will serve to cushion the blow, a quick glance at recent history would rectify the omission. Elections held in the recent past have proved that matters of war and peace are of little interest to a people whose stomachs are being dealt blow after blow by the cost of living. Around the island, the fishing community is mobilising, claiming that the increase in fuel prices combined with the weather conditions and the security restrictions on fishing have combined to seriously threaten their livelihood. Private bus associations are demanding their pound of flesh, postal workers are striking and all over the country, the revolution is gathering steam.

The people are demanding change; they are demanding redress. The government had better step up to the task or prepare to bid a hasty farewell to their plush seats of power in the very near future.