Global demand and people’s cry for political change cannot be ignored anymore The top-level Indian delegation that arrived in Lanka on Thursday on a quickie three-hour mission to meet the President and the Prime Minister, and to assess the ground situation, flew back to New Delhi by sundown, with the former’s appeal for aid and [...]


World doesn’t owe us a living


Global demand and people’s cry for political change cannot be ignored anymore

The top-level Indian delegation that arrived in Lanka on Thursday on a quickie three-hour mission to meet the President and the Prime Minister, and to assess the ground situation, flew back to New Delhi by sundown, with the former’s appeal for aid and the latter’s shopping list for bare essentials tucked in their diplomatic bag.

Both plea and list have now become the sole direful lyrics in the signature blues whined over and over in Lanka’s Beggar’s Opera.  But how long before the world’s ear turns deaf and its generous instincts dulled by this monotonous refrain for help?

The world does not owe Lanka a living, and its charitable pockets are not lined with limitless wealth to aid Lanka’s people survive this manmade disaster by doling a weekly handout to stay the Doomsday gong.  Especially when the Government has lost the trust and faith of the people, and has no mandate to beg, borrow or hock on their behalf.

For the last six weeks, since Gota’s new outfit of stragglers saddled patriotism’s high horse and bragged they had only mounted to do their mite to save Lanka, they have done naught but save the House of Rajapaksa from certain collapse and prolonged the people’s nightmare.

The prayer for a speedy IMF bailout has received no answer. The door has been knocked but only opened ajar for technical advice.  The IMF’s message has been clearly spelt out: First sort out your debt issues with your creditors and make it a sustainable debt, clean up your political act and restore stability on the political front, and then we’ll talk not of meaningless hand to mouth handouts but of long term constructive aid to rebuild the country.

So what prevents the Government from striving to satisfy these two conditions?

On the first condition, the Prime Minister has announced that the Government hopes to hold a donor conference with China, India and Japan. ‘However,’ he says, ‘there have been some conflicts and disagreements between us in the recent past and we are working towards resolving them.’

But how long will the rebuilding of burnt bridges of friendship take when the same offending leadership still remains in charge?  When rich donors stand poised to carve out their own due measures of flesh, will they give a sympathetic ear to pseudo ‘portian’ pleas for mercy tendered by the same government‘s prime minion and forgive and relent and settle for far less? Or is it yet another wishful hope that restructuring debt tenuously hinges upon?

And it is not only donor nations that are anxious whether the billions of their people’s money, lent to Lanka in trust have been but money thrown down the river of no return at the hands of a spendthrift, corrupt Government.

Gathering, too, to stake their claim at the liquidation of bankrupt Sri Lanka, is an international group of 30 leading asset managers, worried sick of the uncertain fate that awaits their clients’ money invested in Sri Lankan treasury bonds. The creditors’ cartel was formally launched this Tuesday to engage in debt restructuring talks with the Government.

But a lone wolf, straying from the pack, came out of the woods to head straight to the US Federal Courts. Hamilton Reserve Bank Ltd, which had no wish to wait in line to be served their due share, sued Sri Lanka in Manhattan’s District Court demanding immediate payment of $257 million.

Hamilton Reserve alleged in its lawsuit that the default is being “orchestrated by officials at the highest levels of government,” including the ruling Rajapaksa family, and accused Sri Lanka of excluding bonds held by domestic banks and other interested parties from an announced debt restructuring.

With Lanka now facing legal battles in foreign courts coupled with the prospect of prolonged talks with donor nations not even begun, what progress has this government achieved in its quest to gain the IMF Grail? How far has it gone down the political road to satisfy the IMF’s second demand to restore stability on the political front? Nothing of note, it seems. Pity.

Western democracies demand its leaders to work in the best interest of the people and expect the highest standards from those holding public office. Its leaders must possess optimum levels of efficiency and competence coupled with honesty and moral rectitude. It bestows great power but with power comes great responsibility. Not power alone, the privilege of the harlot, but power with responsibility; and holds leaders strictly accountable for their actions and omissions.

Failure is oft fatal. The capital sentence reserved for errors of judgment may be written or unwritten but the final outcome – head on the chopping block – remains the same. Not for a leader in those great democracies to say: ‘I failed. So what? I will not go. The Constitution protects me.’ In those countries, none of that banana-republic stuff will work. Sheer peer pressure and the force of public opprobrium will isolate him to such an extent that he will be rendered an outcast in office, shunned by colleagues and staff alike; and to remain in office, whatever the written laws state, will become an impossibility.

It must certainly leave the West to wonder in bewilderment, the masochistic nature of Lankans that made them watch without alarm the follies of the Rajapaksa regime; and allowed without qualm, nay, with the greatest tolerance their own graves to be dug, made ready for their burials; and still continued in idol worship, holding the Rajapaksas as infallible, the omnipotent demigods come to rule Lanka forever. Until now.

But no matter how tribal, ecstatic and frenzied the worship, no matter the mystique, mesmeric charm the Rajapaksas deftly wove to keep a free people spellbound, the enormous perverse influence the Rajapaksas wielded to turn a nation of promise into a mass graveyard where political ghouls, reeking with corruption, still prey on the innocent dead and rule the tombs with high aplomb, will not go unnoticed in western eyes. In fact, it will become the dominant issue at aid meetings, though not spoken aloud.

It will steal the resolve of foreign governments to override humanitarian concerns. With their own banks facing heavy investment losses and with their own aid grants now on the line by the default, no sane Government answerable to its citizens nor an international lending agency answerable to its sponsoring states, can afford to lend more of their people’s or member states’ money without being charged with reckless irresponsibility. After the failed Rajapaksas had presided over the liquidation of corrupt Lanka, and left the people pauperised, will foreign governments want anyone in the whole Rajapaksa shoot to lord over the new influx of capital sent by foreign nations to realise the Lankan renaissance.

No doubt, the Prime Minister, well versed in the ways of liberal democracies, is fully seized of this reality, that the roof of delay in receiving the promised aid is the continued ominous presence of a Rajapaksa on stage, still hugging the limelight. But, alas, he has no option. After having opened the jaws and walked in to the oral lair — like a modern-day Don Quixote but sans a single Sancho — he must keep it open lest it closes shut and he perishes within. He just cannot afford to make much noise about political reforms without risking his master’s boot.

On Wednesday in Parliament, Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his fortnightly bad news bulletin, gave another harsh dose of economic gloom but hardly touched on the present political quagmire, except to brusquely say, ‘we are also working towards introducing political reform.’  He acknowledged that ‘today there is a collective protest by citizens against the whole Parliament,’ but said — what no government that has prematurely lost the people’s mandate has the right to say — that ‘the people can exercise their mandate in two years and elect a government of their choice,’ as if this constitutional right of the people were his to bestow?

He waved instead the 21st Amendment bill which took more than a month for his own cabinet colleagues to approve, as the panacea for the political evils besieging the country. He urged all to support it but the ghosted version’s contents remain a mystery yet. It has not been released to the public. The sole hazy notion as to what shape and form it takes, lies in the vague description put forward by the Justice Minister that it is ‘as close to the 19th Amendment as possible.’

Justice Minister Wijeyadasa, however, confirmed on Wednesday in Parliament what is known to all: “Many donors including the IMF had wanted democracy and rule of law ensured in Sri Lanka before they agree to assist us. Therefore the 21st Amendment is essential to bring about political and economic stability,” But whether the still unseen 21A will do the trick to restore political stability remains doubtful.

Three weeks ago, the President did a U-turn on his May 11 pledge to support the 21A, and expressed his reservations about its efficacy to solve the political problem. It is still to be seen whether the divided SLPP will take a cue from the President’s stance and sink the Bill at voting stage. The SJB, which saw its own alternative 21A held by the Supreme Court this week as one that will require a referendum, objects to the Government version on the ground that it fails to go far enough to achieve any real political purpose.

It gives echo to the people’s demand, the clear singular cry ‘Gota go home’ that rises above Parliament’s cacophony.  It is the people’s voice, the voice of the teeming masses brought home to Gotagogama at Galle Face Green.

It’s the voice that brought Gota trembling to his knees, made two cabinets resign en masse, forced then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, once held invincible, to ignominiously quit. It is a voice the Government can only ignore at its own peril. Until it’s heard, diplomatic courtesy calls and expressions of full support will only be of therapeutic worth and should not be mistaken as solid assistance in nation building dollars.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has achieved little else other than successfully buttress the President’s hold on power. Knowing full well his prime ministerial station, held in the President’s grace – and- favour, is constantly at risk, he may, perhaps, have sought to fortify his position by bringing in to 21A, 19A’s Article 46(2) which makes the Premier irremovable by the President. If it had passed Presidential muster, he should strive double quick to get it enacted.

Or else, he would end up leaving the fruits of his labour to any successor-in-waiting to scoop and enjoy the plum of new office, when the ‘ivorine’ pill finally drops into the ordained slot as the wheel of fortune whirls to a stop.

Cabinet takes yogic breather in cool comfort at the Square

Sometimes in a man’s life, when the world’s burdens get too much to bear, then it’s best to lay the load aside and take a breather with a spot of animating yoga, India’s ancient Vedic way to harmonise body, mind and soul and seek union with the ultimate reality.

Its roots lie in Hinduism’s 5000-year-old Rig Veda, one of the four sacred texts written in Sanskrit. It contains over a thousand slokas, used by yogis to develop the mind and physical fitness. The yogic way also lies at the very foundation of Buddhist meditation, prescribed by the Buddha as an indispensable discipline to realise Enlightenment.

CHILLING OUT: Prime Minister with some of the Cabinet members going through the Yoga motions at Independence Square on World Yoga Day on Tuesday

There are over 60 different postures, called asanas, in yoga. They are designed to improve flexibility, muscle strength, spinal protection and to increase blood flow. Yoga’s ancient wisdom can be boiled down to five basic tenets, Proper exercise or Asana,  Proper breathing or Pranayama, Proper relaxation or Savasana, Proper meditation and nutritious diet, Positive thinking and Meditation or Vedanta and Dhyana.

What better way for the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and some of his cabinet colleagues, than to lay down their burdens and unwind on Tuesday’s World Yoga Day at Independence Square – held under the auspices of the Indian High Commission — by giving a public display of the inherent benefits found in the mystical practice of Himalayan Rishis?

The break would, indeed, have been refreshing; and just what any Indian therapist would have ordered them to do to prep themselves 48 hours before Thursday’s top-level Indian delegation arrived in Lanka to meet them: To cease brooding over why they have so dismally failed to connect with the people, why their mindsets skip the beat, botch the lines and keep eternally out of step with the people’s rhythm and blues; and strive instead to attain another more positive, albeit, elusive goal.  To attempt through Yoga, to fuse their own individual consciousness with that of the Universal.

But lest their noble endeavours to keep beat with the Universal pulse on a steamy Indian summer day in June, were to be hampered by the heat, with their focus scampering off to cruise pass long queues and venture down blind alleys of broken promises, a steady stream of Himalayan breeze flowing out from intercoolers, strategically sited in advance, ensured that this elite Brahmins of state power, these ‘pampered Jades’ of Lanka, could continue entranced in their meditations in that old familiar clime of air conditioned cool.

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