STATE OF THE NATION
A VISION WHILE ALL OF US WAIT IN HOPE
Wijith DeChickera watches the world go from virus to vaccine, waiting for the planet to heal and wishing humanity at home would get more real
In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. But on humanity’s only home, Planet Earth, nations wage war. In fact, in many democracies mortally wounded by a novel coronavirus, their governors have taken the battle into the midst of the people as if military discipline alone would prove a panacea.
In a post-COVID world, it won’t be vaccines, or law and order alone, that win or save the day, as well as lives and livelihoods.
At home not long ago, we were in the bleak midwinter of denial and outrage at anyone who dared to differ to dissent. On the corona front, it is no one’s fault really that the viral spread underwent a sea change.
To remain in denial however, as well as stubbornly refuse to change tactics, is to take it from national emergency to unnecessary disaster. In a new year ahead, we the people must expect – even demand – more and better from our governors all round.
For one, an overarching vision of prosperity that begins with the fundamental building blocks of common decency and shared humanity, and that is pluralistic and inclusive rather than rattle the sabre of narrow communalism or chauvinistic nationalism.
That may resonate with petty minded polities at election time; but to pander to a majoritarian mindset in times of crisis – when the clarion call must be to unity – is both perverse and defeatist. No one wins.
For another, more balanced strategies, that encompass all aspects of (and stakeholders in) the larger economy. This would – perhaps to the surprise of exclusivists or particularists who assume they have a monopoly on ‘right policy’ – prove a more secure investment in the mid to longer terms.
Rather than the ad hocism, which has come to characterise certain paradigms of national thinking of late… from import substitution to embargoes on essentials and high taxes.
(Let’s not even mention faux cures for corona being touted by femme fatales posing as ministering angels or charlatans claiming to be incarnations or avatars of Kali!)
To do this, we must challenge some of the crippling paradigms that prevail to the detriment of the national interest. For instance, not every downgrading of our country ratings is part of a diabolical international conspiracy to disadvantage Sri Lanka.
To persist in such thinking – in the face of the undeniable vicissitudes of global finance and international realities – is to tread a primrose path to perdition to the type of state Argentina or Venezuela once were… and are.
And for instance, not every civil or human rights disaster – such as the horrific shooting of suspects in custody or prisoners in remand – has to have a hidden hand…
Although (it must be said) that under the rule of a regime that guaranteed law and order, such gubernatorial misadventures leave a very bad taste in the mouth. So the sooner the very leaders who promised ‘One Law, One Country’ take charge – and are seen to do so, sharply – the better.
We can no longer be agnostic to the cracks in the plaster of governance. In the first wave of a debilitating epidemic, the precision of a militarised bureaucracy might have worked better to test, trace and isolate.
But given the incontrovertible proof of community spread, government must change its game plan. And the full gamut of it, at that… from containment measures to far more careful messaging – to say nothing of suspending its reprehensible punitive culture! Don’t let’s ever make that dehumanising mistake again.
It is no one’s particular fault that they contracted COVID-19. Unless of course, they were especially foolhardy – like those politicos on the campaign trail or careless citizens taking unwarranted risks, perhaps falsely reassured by the face-saving pronouncements of those they trusted and took as exemplars?
There is also the vexed issue of living under the shadow of a ‘shame culture’ – whereby it is deemed preferable to lie barefacedly and not get caught, over and above telling the truth and being seen as weak, silly, foolish or incompetent – when the truth is exactly the opposite of what it is held out to be.
Such a mindset permits – no, rewards! – superstitious elements, which thrive in a miasma of false religiosity, pseudo-science and superstition. It also enables sycophants to survive, as well as encourages even doughty technocrats to flourish in echo chambers that they have allowed their functionaries to construct.
And on the surface, what passes for success – or surpasses even credulity – is actually not ‘sir fail’ but a flunking of all of us who rely on him.
So in a milieu where a viable vaccine is not expected in the blessed isle anytime soon – and yet, jabs from global fiscal injectors would flow thick and fast – we had better get our act together sooner than later.
These interventions would do well to go from supplying economic performance data that is not sugar-coated to releasing the stricken polity from the bitter pill of everyone paying the price for the folly of a few… or as the case may be, a majority?