22nd July 2001
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Politics of dissent

The government has latterly been in the habit of delivering regular doses and dollops of political Viagra to a hitherto shrivelled opposition. Barely a month ago the government's big guns made asses of themselves in the fiasco of the Supreme Court passing strictures on Parliament regarding the affair of the Chief Justice's impeachment. This galvanised a divided UNP.

That piece of work was followed by the Government proroguing Parliament and proclaiming a referendum. This galvanized a divided Opposition. Now, police had been unleashed on demonstrators, and two men have been killed in the process. This has galvanised a divided nation.

All this sanguine bravado by a besieged government is hurting. If Thursday's demonstrations were allowed to be staged unimpeded, the newspapers would have carried a single photograph of the rallies on its front page, followed by related news inside. Instead, the most watched news channels world-wide are beaming footage of police pummelling "pro-democracy'' demonstrators in Colombo.

Deputy Inspector Generals of police were asked to quell the horde, and live rounds were fired at unarmed civilians in an over-reaction that has not been witnessed in recent political times. A state propaganda handout which claimed that police were provoked by flying stones and broken glass missiles, added insult to a calculated injury. Expensive water canon vehicles imported by the local police have been all rendered unserviceable, according to what the police told the politicians.

The government's propaganda machines went on over-drive as predicted and claimed that the demonstrations were a flop, but the Cabinet of Ministers felt the angry mob had to be curtailed, lest they storm the President's House.

It was the decision of the President to take politics to the streets by taking the issues out of the parliamentary chamber and placing them smack in the public domain, i.e. in the middle of the streets so to speak. It was she who opted for the "confrontations on the street'' as opposed to the politics of the chamber. And see what we have.

Dissension against a Government in power is a sine qua non in a vibrant democracy, and the opposition's decision to take the protest to the streets would have been the reaction of any democracy worth its name. That's especially so, when the head of government has herself decided to catapult the important issues of the day onto the public domain.

The Speaker of Parliament has decided that though he is himself against the prorogation on moral grounds, Parliament is out of bounds on a strict application of the law.

In such circumstances if the Government unleashes the police to shoot live bullets at demonstrators, this country has lost its right to be called a democracy. There is not even a fa‡ade of democracy that remains in such a system.

But, the political issues of the day seem to have acquired their own momentum. The genie of mayhem and anarchy it seems cannot easily be put back in the bottle, and not that the Government seems to have any concerns about a deteriorating law and order situation anyway. Though any amount of excuses can be made, they will all sound academic in the backdrop of the reality that the Government has unleashed violence in order essentially to save its own political life. There is something self-perpetuating about such a political reality. The Government that has just appointed a Buddha Sasana Commission this week, should read up on the teachings of the Buddha; that hatred begets hatred and violence begets violence. 

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