Tolerance would be reverence

Gone is the era when political parties campaigned on a platform and did not label those who differed as traitors

Dr. T.B. Jayah together with A.M. A. Azeez has been recognized as the two Principals who were responsible for the emergence of Zahira College, Colombo as one of the leading schools in the country. Jayah was also an active politician who contested and won a seat in Parliament during his tenure as Principal from 1931 to 1948.

After one such election the management of the school wanted him to take action against a member of the teaching staff who had worked against Jayah at the elections and supported a leftist candidate instead. Jayah point blank refused and said that the teacher’s political affiliations and conduct were irrelevant and since the individual concerned was an excellent teacher that was all that mattered. One cannot think of a better example of democracy at work and upholding of the principle that one cannot be punished for the views that one holds.

In the 60s the traditional picture on the front page of the Daily News on the day following every General Election was that of Dudley Senanayake and Dr. N.M.Perera-the bitterest of political foes with divergent views- enjoying a hearty chat while waiting for results at the Kegalle Kachcheri. In the days preceding the Election the two would have critiqued each other’s policies in the strongest possible terms but never once descending to personal recrimination. They disagreed with each other’s political ideologies but always respected the other’s views. This was an era when political parties campaigned on a policy platform and did not label those who differed from their views as traitors.

Unfortunately today we have come a full circle and Elections have become a crude and acrimonious personal battle bereft of policy debate, thus diminishing democracy no end. Any difference of opinion-even when articulated with the best of intentions-is taken personally and frowned upon. Political leaders far from encouraging diversity of opinions as an enriching process in political debate rather give recognition to sycophants who are a dime a dozen today.

The culture of intolerance has taken root in our polity and no one is immune from it. General Sarath Fonseka who was hailed as a war hero and as the main or one of the main figures in the successful campaign against the LTTE is currently demeaned and ridiculed from each and every possible platform. Today he is under custody without any charges being preferred against him despite a whole range of disparate allegations made against him during the past few weeks from public platforms.

As Ranil Wickremesinghe said at a public meeting the other day the usual practice in law enforcement is to find evidence and then arrest the accused, but in this case the reverse process is being followed.

General Sarath Fonseka’s real crime seems to be that he dared to contest the Presidential Elections. Otherwise how does one explain the selective efficiency of the law enforcing agencies which have made little or no progress in respect of many grave crimes committed during the past few years but shown great urgency in investigating alleged violations of the law by General Fonseka?

File photo: President J.R. Jayewardene greeting Left leader Dr. N.M. Perera.

Even the Venerable Mahanayake Theras who were aghast at the treatment meted out to the defeated Presidential candidate were prevented from holding a Conference of Buddhist clergy to express their views on the matter.

The fact that religious leaders of such high standing too became victim to the intolerant political culture of our times signifies the parlous state of our democracy. But what is even more depressing when viewed from the point of view of the national interest is that those sections of society who have the sacred duty to stand up against injustice are not only silent but sometimes even justify such injustice. Academics and professionals who by the very nature of their calling are best suited to stand up and be counted prefer instead to sell their souls to their political masters and be unrepentant sycophants.

The only two exceptions that this writer has noticed are Dr. Dayan Jayetilleke and Professor Carlo Fonseka who despite being strong supporters of the Government have publicly expressed disquiet at the manner in which General Fonseka has been treated.

The Bar Association in particular has been remiss in its loud silence while inroads were being made into the Rule of Law and Constitutional provisions violated. It was tragic to see the Bar Association suddenly swinging into action recently to protest against a demonstration near the precincts of the Courts in Hulftsdorp having remained mute and inactive on much larger issues that affected the national interest.

It is not as if academics and professionals are not entitled to political views or to support political parties of their choice. But when issues involving the national interest arise one expects them to act objectively in a manner befitting their chosen vocations giving precedence to the national interest over political partisanship.

Only such intellectuals understand that dissent is never a factor that undermines the progress of a country. Diversity of views is always a source of empowerment and it is only a clash of ideas that ensures and results in a country’s growth and development.

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