STATE OF THE NATION
NO (PROGRESS IN A) COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Wijith DeChickera laments that age can wither and custom stale the infinite variety of Sri Lanka’s youthful hopes as a result of gerontocracy
The aragalaya that galvanised a nation into concerted people’s action seems to have gone with the wind. And the citizens who braved state sanctioned thuggery and police or military brutality in quelling what was characterised in certain quarters as ‘a riot’ have all but disappeared from the environs of Galle Face’s iconic GotaGoGama. All flesh is as grass!
But pockets of rebellion against an ongoing regime demonstrate that the spark of resistance has not been doused quite yet. And that the once fresh breeze of the notion of popular sovereignty now appears to be subject to targeted persecution by a state hell-bent on exacting its petty revenge on dissenters opposed to the former and present governments betrays that something continues to be rotten in the state.
For starters, it is beyond absurd that activists, artistes and other actors – including an outspoken actress and an active former parliamentarian among others – continue to be arrested, detained and questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for their respective roles in the protest.
That this is in a nation state where large-scale larceny is overlooked while minor offences are charged under the heavy weight of the law is an irony and a shame.
For how much longer can we continue to be a commonwealth where we ‘hang the petty thieves and elect the great ones to office’ – and not expect there to be more citizen uprisings of one calibre or another?
Now, to grind the suffering citizenry further into the ground in a dry and dusty wasteland that was once the granary of Asia comes the ludicrousness of a former chief executive being afforded the full regalia of benefits apparently due to him by dint of presidential privilege!
It isn’t enough that the individual who arguably presided over the unwarranted downfall of a lately ‘lower middle income nation’ is being thus felicitated but that the constitution is invoked to grant that person who fled the country ignominiously – not once but twice – honours that will cost the country’s coffers a pretty penny all over again.
Has government no sense of proportion, shame or dignity?
It is increasingly evident that this administration at least does not permit such niceties to trouble its repose. As if keeping an authoritarian yet incompetent former head of state in clover isn’t insult enough to the struggling masses of people, a corpulent cabinet of 20 and a superfluity of 37 state ministers would certainly do greater injury than a lean, starved population can bear in the months ahead.
All of this in a republic presided over by an elder statesman who rode into power on the back of a dying people’s struggle and continues to make ambivalent noises about the imperatives of change led by youthful protestors! If only he together with other ageing leaders in our realm today would get real...
For in a polity where common or garden civil servants are now required to retire by 60, our corridors of power continue to be staffed with visibly spent forces. The president and prime minister – in company with Britain’s newly crowned monarch Charles III – clock in at 73.
And parliament with many of its number pushing the upper reaches of late middle age – and some octogenarians to boot – provide a daily reminder that Sri Lanka’s elected leadership missed sipping at the fountain of youth (or need to) despite all the lip service being paid to ‘youth interests,’ ‘succession planning’ and ‘the next generation’...
It is only the repeated idealism of the land’s flowering generations – as evinced month after month in LMD’s Youth Forum where young Sri Lankans speak often eloquently about being the change they want to see, and constantly bringing up fresh and practically insightful ways to refresh Sri Lanka’s table of stale if pricey bread, so to speak – that keeps one from dashing the cup of hope from one’s own lips...
In such a climate of idealism by tomorrow’s citizens tainted by unenlightened self-interest by yesterday’s leaders, there’s more to do today, over and above criticising rank hypocrisy.
Must not we too as citizens screw up our courage to the sticking point and continue to responsibly hold government accountable through speaking up and ongoing if sporadic peaceful demonstrations against state apathy – as a few concerned citizens are still doing?
And quite apart from the IMF’s seventh stricture in its raft of requirements ahead of a putative board-led bail-out following the staff level agreement reached recently, shouldn’t we walk the talk of system and societal change – for starters, by refusing to be givers of bribes where overstaffed state ranks are stuffed (sorry, I meant ‘staffed’) by them... and for another, by declining to invite politicos to ‘grace’ our tamashas when they’re clearly a disgrace?
In addition, although the putative architect of the ‘One Country, One Law’ ethos is no longer at the helm, one wishes the new helmsman would restore a smidgen of faith in law and order, an independent judiciary and equality in the eyes of sundry magistrates – rather than resort to the legalism that punishes sprats while Sri Lanka keeps swimming with the same old sharks.