Wijith DeChickera muses what it will take to move a democratic republic out of the political doldrums into a safer and smarter state of mind

It’s the silly season all over again. Not ‘Christmas’ when sales and spirits hamstring common sense or even the second wave of ‘Corona’ whereby the state takes leave of its senses.

But a sort of a ‘forever yesterday’ when contesting nationalisms push and shove to press home their points of view.

The war may have ended. But we’re still in conflict over fact, truth, justice, reparations, assurances of no repetition of an ‘ethnic conflict’ much less terrorism. Worse still, we’re allowing international politics to hamstring our interests because we can’t agree on a local mechanism to bring closure to trauma and tragedy.

MISSING ETHOS To my mind, no government has ever worked long and hard enough, let alone sincerely, at defining and developing a national identity, which would embrace and prosper our motherland’s children.

Nor have citizens of sundry political or ideological shades striven diligently and conscientiously to jettison their divisive mentalities, which enabled our colonisers to divide and conquer. Now, rising neocolonialism issues fresh threats to our sovereignty.

So why can’t we – a small island with an insular demographic that has more in common with each other geographically and genetically – take a leaf out of the UN’s book? We islanders are far more like each other than say a citizen apiece of the US and China.

Yet, where the US and China can bring themselves to vote in unprecedented union to favour Myanmar’s democratic transition, we still wrestle with the United Nations itself from across widening chasms.

On the one hand, a heavy-handed administration hasn’t hesitated to slam the jackboot of military discipline into the back of a citizenry still wounded from years of debilitating war. On the other, the civilian population often exceeds the desires of reconciliation with the demands of hero worship.

To my mind, there are three agencies at work to our detriment.

MARCH MADNESS The first is ‘news’ only in the sense that it is old hat. Each year, we clamber aboard our respective bandwagons to visit the circus at the UNHRC.

Every year, we spout hot air or mouth platitudes about one set of ideologies or another and return to pay lip service to clichés such as sovereignty or territorial integrity, or devolution and power sharing. No foreign judges! No hybrid courts! No implementing the recommendations of past reports!

In the limit, we citizens – the silent masses – are the losers.

Is it not time Sri Lankans of all stripes – beaten, bearing scars, berating each other – began to think out of the box?

In the face of geopolitical threats, don’t we stand a greater chance of survival in a challenging decade by investing our energies in stronger more integrated national and foreign policies?

Do we want to remain vulnerably nonaligned, driven by prevailing regional winds?

Or can we unite to develop a safer stance on our national neutrality – one mooted by all citizens and mandated by international law?

Is it too much to ask government and opposition, as well as the three arms of the state, to unite to pursue this urgent and important task?

It is an acid test for a strong government not lacking a clear mandate. We hope it changes its mind…

MONEY MATTERS A second is that most voters are myopic about matters beyond election slogans and polls driven politics.

No amount of smoke and mirrors by canny politicos however, will deny Sri Lanka its day in the dock when it comes to repaying our international debt. Nor will we be able to plough forward if government is driven from the pillar of its electorate to the post of rollback from once friendly nations grown antagonistic to our state.

Is it not time to bury the hatchet between executive heads and legislative strongmen, conservative neoliberals and progressive socialists et al. – and emerge from the morass of politicking to the solider ground of statesmanship?

If the need of the hour is anything – abyss of bankruptcy, pandemic woes, external threats – it is a national governmental mindset.

Idealistic? Yes.

Imperative? Also, yes.

Implementable? Yes, again – now, not later; now, before Geneva, or New York or New Delhi, or Beijing begins to dictate terms to us. Where is our so-called national pride? Where is the professionalism and technocracy we were promised?

MILITARY MINDSET Last but not least is the citizenry’s seemingly stoic acceptance of creeping militarisation. Long past is the time when even apologists of the administration deemed it necessary under present circumstances.

Pity that its handling of the pandemic under an insensitive regime has demonised those who fall prey to SARS-Cov-2 and driven those suffering from COVID-19 underground. Such a stigmatising milieu is our loss.

More to the point, will a peace-loving people opt to remain silent in the face of its inherent dangers?

Have we not learned that discipline and virtue cannot be fostered by men in uniforms nor morality taught by minions of cynical mandarins who preach one law to the country but practise another ethos above the law to their cohorts?

Will we not, united as the US and China were at the UN recently, take a joint stand against a Myanmar ensuing here?