Wijith DeChickera calls upon the government and every opposition to join in a national effort to manage the pandemic

The outcome of the US presidential election revealed the land of the free and home of the brave to be a deeply divided polity. The aftermath stateside – with America being demonstrably the hardest hit by COVID-19 – did nothing to mitigate the shenanigans.

Still remains to be seen how any new administration will (as President-elect Joe Biden has said) work to heal their wounds.

At home, we’re still licking ours… after an equally polarising set of (first general and then presidential) elections with local government polls still to come. Nowhere is the rift as evident as in sundry responses to the state’s efforts to combat the novel coronavirus.

Not at all novel has been the adversarial approach of confrontational politics with virtually everyone in opposition viewing government’s management of our epidemic as a misadventure. But the state may have shown cause for such and prioritised political rhetoric over practical strategies. All while taking its eye off the ball to prioritise constitutional reform.

While the authorities have for their part oscillated between arrogance in issuing instructions to apathy as regards public complaints including poor communication skills. This from a machine more accustomed to waging war than winning civilians over… now with drones!

In fact, the putative thought and action leader on the front line – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself – lamented that C19 was not C4 (I paraphrase); for had the virus been a flesh and blood enemy, he would know what to do… and no doubt, despatch it to better effect?

Granted: The incumbent’s sterling efforts in the first wave showed martial mettle in managing the threat. Soon however, and it was inevitable that a second wave would do so, the mixed bag of efforts to combat and control were overrun by a brace of clusters. These proved that the pernicious virus is no respecter of persons, police spokespersons, presidential taskforces or even the commander-in-chief.

What should have been treated as a national crisis with the potential (as never before perhaps) to unite us as a once favoured people – seemingly isolated from the global fallout – has become a partisan battlefield. Could this have been pre-empted by convening the National Disaster Management Council for a more pluralistic inclusive approach?

The propaganda wars (on both sides of the political divide) have seen the heart and mindscape of a people lost – like sheep without a shepherd – descend from the sublime to the ridiculous.

No achievement goes uncontested sans observation through a lens of suspicion. Not a day goes by without infection and recovery rates, that yin and yang underlying the nexus between apparent success and ostensible failure, being hotly (or coldly and cynically) debated and defended in living rooms or on social media.

Then add the evident ambiguity between a militarised bureaucracy tasked to battle the virus and the backbone ofa ministry alternating between being partners in a national effort to verbal saboteurs of the same.

Like former POTUS Donald Trump and newbie Biden, where statesmanship would have been the order of the day if tradition and common decency had triumphed, the race is not to the swift nor bread to the wise or riches to the strong.

Time and life happen to us all. And death beckons and threatens, if we the oldest democracy in South Asia – and dare I say, the world’s most volatile flashpoint republic at present as evinced by the Quad’s naval exercises in the region last month – don’t get our act together.

For one, the man of the moment must recognise that his demeanour defines the mood and character of the country he leads. There can’t be accepting due credit in one minute of personal glory and covering one’s cohorts in glory; and accusing the people and media of letting the side down or mere anarchy in the next hours of agony.

That joint ecstasy of champion nations like New Zealand and the Scandinavian lands is reserved for leaders and the governed who work hand in glove – not ringmaster and sock puppets.

For another, war must cease: on every plain and each plane at that… from the personal and political, to the propagandistic and psychological. Best treat the infected as victims rather than villains. Better still bring more women to the forefront of healing the nation’s wounds.

Mother Lanka and her children need a maternal touch – in terms of nursing as much as national policymaking – now more than ever. Not the histrionic wailing of banshees prone to playing to parliamentary galleries to cover up unscientific approaches to ministering to national health needs.

Speaking of which, there’s no accounting for the Rs. 29 billion slash in the government’s healthcare budget, is there? Nor irregularities in the import of antigen rapid testing kits?

Last not least, and on a related note, our resilient citizens must cease and desist from wishful thinking. Like we did by claiming US VP-elect Kamala Harris as a daughter of our isle… blithely citing the Bandaranaikes as exemplars of our advanced political culture while blissfully ignoring the bane of women on buses, their plight in sweatshops at home and overseas, and their absence from town hall and city square.

If we’re to come out of this alive and well, we must eschew the puerile and embrace the pragmatic. Stay safe… but step smart – together.