|Sri Lanka’s bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth
Games ended in the early hours of Saturday. The good
fight was fought and lost, 43 votes to 27. No shame
there. Much has been written about the effort as
well as the possible spin offs had the decision come
Sri Lanka’s way. Some have painted sunshine
scenarios and others have predicted bleak fallouts.
No great defeat, but still a good enough reason to
ask ‘what now?’ The answer lies, perhaps, in
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SAARC address.
This SAARC Summit was no different from previous
confabs. It was predictable: same issues, same
platitudes, same assertions, more or less the same
‘state of my nation’ addresses by the leaders, some
concrete measures to improve inter-state operations
in the region and a conspicuous skirting of major
issues. President Rajapaksa concluded his speech
with a quote from the Dhammapada: ‘atta hi attano
nato. Kohi nato paro sia’ (one’s solace lies in
oneself; what other master could there be?’
It is an idea that is of utmost relevance to
SAARC and indeed to any regional gathering of
nations. It is in fact the underlying logic of SAARC.
The fact, however, is that such cooperation as is
implied in the relevant articles of faith have been
limited to the relatively easy terrain of cultural
exchanges with trade agreements showing a tendency
to go the ‘global way’, the big boys getting the
small to agree to dance according to tune. It is
called ‘participation’. It is the democracy of
‘bystandership’ if you will. Critical issues, such
as security, unfortunately, have been outsourced to
those who have no interest in the region’s
prosperity or security. SAARC solace, it seems, has
been bartered away to masters outside of SAARC.
The president’s proposal, however, is applicable
to both SAARC and to Sri Lanka. In moments of
triumph as well as defeat, positions of strength and
in adversity, the rise and fall of personalities,
the ebb and flow of opportunity, if Sri Lanka has
remained resilient it is because at critical moments
of her history, the citizens have come to terms with
the fact that in the end their fate lies in their
own hands. It is up to them to forge victories out
of defeats, to make the best of circumstances that
are not rosy, to be honest about flaws, to privilege
reason over emotion and treat the vicissitudes of
life with equanimity.
With respect to the Commonwealth Games, two
things can be kept in mind. First, that Sri Lanka,
like other member states of that body have indeed
played this game for a couple of centuries, a game
where the strong made the rules and the others
played along though scripted to lose out.
Secondly, there is no reason to close shop in
Hambantota just because Gold Coast emerged winner.
The Commonwealth Games is just one of many
international sporting events. Sri Lanka is a small
country and such facilities, especially those on par
with the best in the world, anywhere in the island
are a boon to the nation’s sporting population. It
is incumbent on the authorities then to put in place
structures and processes that not only unearth
talent but channel it towards sporting glory, using
these facilities. The best answer to ‘Gold Coast’ is
for our young men and women to show up in 2018 and
perform beyond all expectation.
It is not just about sports, of course. If our
solace lies in ourselves, then it is important for a
re-examination of ‘us’, as nation and collective. If
we are to find solace together, then togetherness
must be forged first. National boundaries contain
populations but population is not coterminous with
nation. It is about belonging. It is about feeling
that one belongs to territory and in polity, that
one is relevant and is truly represented. It is
about development being about ordinary people and
not glowing aggregate numbers. It is about who gets
to do what and why, where the money comes from and
under what conditions and what happens to the
To put it crudely, roads and bridges make pretty
pictures. They make for traffic-stopping hoardings.
Good for rhetoric. They are also good to take away
resources and value extracted from hapless peoples.
Those who are dispossessed, turned into development
refugees, forced to drop out of the nation’s
‘forward march’, do not end up inhabiting any
miracle, Asian or otherwise.
We must, as the President correctly said,
following the words of the Buddha, look to ourselves
in the matter of obtaining succor and achieving
national prosperity. It is important, then, to
recognize both nation and every single individual
within it. If anyone is ‘left behind’, so to speak,
the caravan cannot journey too far.
There are things that are good to win. Sometimes a
loss is not a bad thing. Einstein put it nicely:
‘Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on
its ability to climb a tree, it will lie its whole
life believing that it is stupid’. It’s all about
coming to terms with who we are and being the best
we can be.
The President has picked the right words from the
dhamma. Good word takes meaning from good deed. He
can lead, this is known and acknowledged. Where to,
is the question that needs to be pondered. By the
President and by the people. For the people and the