9th April 2000

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Sinhala polity and politics..

Apportioning blame is easy, but in the aftermath of some of the events that took place last week, it's of more relevance to take the more difficult option and see where our society is headed, in the face of the fragmentation of the social fabric in the course of near to two decades of the ongoing conflict. There is now a deepening polarization of society which is now percolating to sections of the country that have been insulated somewhat so far by the war in the North and East.

School history books and the re-writing of this island's history have now become the subject of bickering between adult policymakers, and then there is the polarization which is manifest in the sharply different reactions in the Southern polity towards the so-called peace process. Last week's flag burning and the reactions, if they are seen from afar therefore seemed to be imbued with a certain farcical quality, because we as a nation appeared to be replying to strife in the North by creating more strife and discontent in the South.

Seems like almost everybody, ministers, monks, media-men and society across the board are in possession of the short-fuse. Every reaction seems to be one of yapping at the other sans reason, sans any ability to rationalize or empathize with the opposing camp. It seems Colombo is now becoming a case study of a polarized society, fragmented and wracked by mutual distrust and deepening dissent. In this process, the flag burners, their sworn detractors such as the pressmen who are on the ready to come out with a stinging diatribe each time such an act occurs, the politicians who churn out vitriolic statements which seem to compete with the venom of the flag burners in fact, the whole motley lot, seem to be actors in a national tableau that seems to be headed nowhere fast.

On the one hand, it is hypocritical to say the least, for a government which replied to attacks on journalists at a political rally near Colombo's Town Hall, to shout now from the rooftops about attacks on a journalist at an activists' march. Any attack on journalists arouses our ire; but what really gets our goat is to see a dispensation that didn't seem to give two hoots about attacks on journalists, by the men of the PSD no less, now rising to the cause of a single journalist who was manhandled in the melee of a rally led in opposition to impending peace talks.

A little less noise therefore from all quarters is in order, we think, because it should be reasonable that people can think straighter when the volume is turned down. It's the cacophony that is killing us.

The President is due to meet the Mahanayake's of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters on Monday, we are told. In a bygone time, such meetings were in the normal course of things , but now, even the Mahanayakes, we are informed, have to make appointments with the Head of State via the Presidential Secretariat.

Forces such as the National Movment Against Terrorism, in the meanwhile, are becoming militant, in a sort of inductive reaction to the militancy of the LTTE. The LTTE is armed, and so far the NMAT isn't. But, the NMAT's exhibitionist militancy in Colombo could be more edifying, particularly when one thinks of the real problems facing the Sri Lankan forces. The Army for isntance, which is doing the real fighting with the LTTE, cannot get any of the militant Sinhala youth, to join up. The story of the Army on the contrary seems to be one of coping with desertions. Something is wrong somewhere.

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