Politicians, like astrologers, are keen to predict a quick end to the ‘malefic period’ that befell the country on Easter Sunday for their usual fun and games to resume. The realisation that it was a fanatical, ruthless attack, the likes of which have devastated some countries has still not dawned on many. There is much [...]

Sunday Times 2

National unity through democracy or demagoguery?


Politicians, like astrologers, are keen to predict a quick end to the ‘malefic period’ that befell the country on Easter Sunday for their usual fun and games to resume. The realisation that it was a fanatical, ruthless attack, the likes of which have devastated some countries has still not dawned on many.

There is much debate on whether the impact of the attacks on national security has petered out or been entirely eliminated.

President Maithripala Sirisena two weeks ago (on April 7) told parliament that 99 percent of those responsible have been arrested and ‘within the next three days’ the rest will be taken in.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament the same day: “The threat is not over as yet because we are subject to global terrorism.”

Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka also told parliament that it would take a minimum of two years to eradicate the terrorist menace.

Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa wished that the Yahapalanaya government’s two leaders would speak with one voice on this issue.

We will not venture to guess who is correct: Sirisena, Wickremasinghe or Fonseka, but it does strike us that even the countries that have been hit much harder by this variety of terrorism and have better security apparatus to monitor terrorism, no such definite predictions are made on the time that will be taken to eliminate the threat. Certainly it cannot be done within days or weeks as some frenzied political activists with hidden agendas are now demanding.

It will be recalled that former American President George W Bush declared the Global War on Terrorism on September 16, 2001 — five days after the World Trade Centre was destroyed and the Pentagon attacked. But has the Global War on Terrorism ended even after 18 years?

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s wish for Wickremesinghe and Sirisena to speak with one voice is typical of a politician wanting to score debating points. If there could be no prediction made on bringing an end to terrorism within a specific time in any of the countries affected by this brand of virulent terrorism, could the Yasapalanaya government make a prediction even before one month has passed after the tragedy?

Of course, a government has got to express a unified opinion and not divergent views. But the question of when a terrorist movement can be wiped out is anybody’s guess and perhaps best left to astrologers, in whom Rajapaksa appears to have great faith. But his cynical critics say he could not predict even the day on which his great victory over terrorism would come. Rajapaksa was abroad at that time and he arrived only days later, running down the gangway of the plane, going on his knees to kiss the Katunayake tarmac.

The challenge in predicting the end of terrorism is best illustrated by the strong Western powers being on full alert — 24 X 7 — even 18 years after 9/11.

It does appear that the ISIS terrorism that has infected Lanka should be tackled the way it has been done successfully elsewhere. Nationalists both genuine and fake are already objecting to any foreign input claiming that Sri Lanka defeated a terrorist movement after 30 years of warring, on its own strength. This is a purblind assertion. That ‘war’ could not have escalated to the heights it reached, had not a foreign power—our friendly neighbour India— played a vital role in developing a rag-tag band of youths into a guerrilla force of international standards. It took the creators of that monster to destroy it with the assistance of its allies together with the Sri Lankan armed forces.

We are compelled to reflect on the past because emerging trends after Easter Sunday, indicate history appears likely to repeat itself in analogous developments, though some of the extraneous powers that may be involved could be different. In three and a half decades, the two regional powers, China and India, have developed powerful geopolitical and economic muscle –particularly China — while Sri Lanka, though strategically pivoted in the Indian Ocean region, remains the same poor Third World Country.

There are some mighty powers offering their expertise in fighting international terrorism, but already the ‘nationalists’ are in full cry about Western imperialism using this opportunity to get a toehold. As mentioned earlier Sri Lanka’s quota of nationalists is heavily weighted to one side of the scale because they see the present situation as a grand opportunity for their ‘strongman’ in the presidential race.

The situation calls for an enlightened leadership encompassing the widest range of leaders in the political spectrum whose prime interest should be to rescue the Sri Lankan people from this terrible plight. We hear the usual call for national unity loud and clear right now. But how serious are these callers?

National unity cannot spring out of a vacuum or from sterile political litanies. The hard reality is that Sri Lankan communities have little contact with one another even though they may live together peacefully in neighbourhoods.  National Unity has to be strived for, starting with political leaders.

Long, long years ago, our civics teacher drummed into us the saying ‘United we stand; divided we fall’. In certain instances, like in a rugby team, it worked, but not everywhere and always.

The Yahapalanaya government is a good case study in national unity .Two of the most powerful parties in the country, the UNP and the SLFP united to form a Government of Good Governance. ‘United we stand — and there is nothing we cannot do’ was the optimistic cry. Readers know well what happened. ‘United they fell’ and both parties are now trying to get on their feet by themselves! Divided we will stand, is their hope. To be fair by Yahapalanaya, political coalitions are the most unstable forms all over the globe. Closer home, Sirima Bandaranaike’s United Front Government — comprising her SLFP and the Marxist parties — also collapsed, despite the two-thirds majority it had in parliament.

Political shibboleths like ‘National Unity’ go down well with the masses when demagogues who have no idea about such unity, roar about it to the ignorant masses. In this context, H. L. Meneken’s classic definition of a demagogue is worth recalling: A demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.

What political ideology guides the Sri Lankan people: Democracy or demagoguery? On which political ideology can we explain events in Chilaw and elsewhere this week?

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