19th August 2001
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The anguish of a Nation

An island is supposed to be open to influences from all around the world, and Sri Lanka, being strategically placed smack in the middle of vital sea routes, has always been an important destination.

But, an island is also a place where one can get marooned in, and the marooned islander is the subject of the popular cliché story. 

Sri Lankans are beginning to feel more and more these days like the marooned islanders. Ships are passing us by, as if we were some pariah state. The country is in the midst of a crisis which is compounded by a power crisis to boot. There is a sense of siege in one way, and all the signs are that this economy cannot take this battering anymore. Prices of essential items are climbing from expensive to exorbitant; there is a feeling that the insurance surcharges on ships, and the resultant prices of sea-cargo imports, will eventually nudge the nation towards a situation of a food shortage.

World governments have clearly ganged up against the incumbent administration. But, the powers that be seem to be inured to all this. The Opposition now controls Parliament. President Chandrika Kumaratunga is therefore a lame duck leader, despite the powers that are constitutionally conferred on her as Executive President. But, notwithstanding that background, she has been obstinate in her refusal to work with the Opposition in an effort to form a government of national reconciliation.

Despite the shortages, and the economic crisis that has already led to retrenchment of workers in several sectors, the crisis management effort of the powers-that-be is transparently geared towards saving a government. A government, it can be said, which has lost the confidence of parliament, which consists of the elected representatives of the people, and arguably, by extension, the confidence of the people as well. 

Sometimes, the symptoms of the malaise can be a good indicator of the magnitude of the crisis. When self -interested tour operators both local and foreign have the cheek to lecture the government about the need for peace talks with the LTTE, it is evident that the situation is getting quite serious!

But, a hitherto mute people are now at least finding their voice. However incremental that tendency may be, and however gradual, there is an inclination for the people to give vent to their feelings to come out on the streets, and to articulate their despondency by any means available.

There are none so deaf than those who refuse to hear, and the government is blithely unmoving to the anguish of a nation. If the government and the opposition do not co-exist there seems to be no way out of this situation of gloom and doom.

Either the opposition and government learn to co-exist, or we shall all co-perish. But, the indifference of all the political actors towards the process of economic deterioration, would have been comic if it hadn't such tragic consequences.The growth rate of this country has dropped from a somewhat buoyant 6.6 last year, to 1.3 this year, and that was before the July 24 airport attack and its ramifications that have followed.

If there is something that bewilders even Prabhakaran, it must be the monumental indifference of the Sri Lankan leaders. Perhaps, there is a feeling that resilience, a commodity that has rescued Sri Lanka from many scrapes in the past, will as usual hold the country together. Prabhakaran knows that . 

That's why he seems to be pushing the government right upto the point where it is gagging. Unless the opposition and the government get smart to the facts, this moribund nation may well be on the point of no- return.

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