By Vishwamithra –
The Texas sky is spotlessly blue; emanating a cold and unresponsive disposition, it’s vast canopy is hardly disarranged even by a thread of white cloud. Yet its stupendous cover renders an ever-assuring shield to those who live under it. Notorious for its unique character of dispatching all four seasons in one single day, for a visiting vacationer like me, the Texas skies are a way too luxurious for a one whose skin is exposed to the scorching sun in three hundred and sixty five days of the year in Sri Lanka. Albeit being surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the caressing breeze that flows in the parched dry zone is hardly felt in the capital city, for the emission control techniques are either not yet strictly enforced or such sophisticated tools and technology are not yet freely available. Whichever the case may be, the misfortune is that its denizens are relentlessly subjected to the air that hovers above the big cities that is so pregnant with life-threatening elements emitted by moving vehicular population.
The Texan weather, on the contrary, is like a balm that soothes many a weary man. Flat as a vast table top, the landscape could be as boring and uninviting to an occasional visitor; yet given the uniqueness of weather patterns, as far as the eye can see, there isn’t even a hillock to beautify an otherwise bland and dull painting. In the distance the blueness of the skies is disturbed by threatening dark clouds as a harbinger of coming showers, like deep shaded drapes falling from the heavens.
While taking the morning constitutional along well-paved walkways, I was reminded of a recent discussion some close friends of mine and I had with a renowned intellect back in my land on one of our Zoom sessions. He, my friend for whom I have immense respect and regard, threw at us some gloomy pinches of news backed by logical and coherent analysis. My friend is a thoroughbred professional of the highest caliber. His apolitical observations and conclusions have been, more often than not, pinpoint accurate and authentic.
According to him the country is living a prolonged nightmare cloaked in illusory images. The IMF loan and the consequent flow of sociopolitical dynamics would not alter one bit unless and until the sickeningly shady character of corruption and dishonesty that surround most of the Minsters and other Pohottuwa politicos is erased from Sri Lankan body politic. One cannot expect that to happen if there is no election, whatever the kind: Presidential, Parliamentary or local government. In other words, the current status of the country is not existing in a vacuum. Nor was it born in a cocoon of emptiness. They all had a context within which conditions and circumstances were created and engineered to perpetuate the sustenance of dishonesty, corruption and stupidity.
Birds of the feather have all congregated together to create a new reality. A reality that is creating new bonds among thieves, new relationships among those whose allegiance is only to self-enrichment and prolongation of their term in power. It is extremely hard to negotiate with such social scum. There is no way one could compromise with such devilish men and women and come out unharmed and unwounded. Men like Ranil Wickremesinghe and his cronies may well be comfortable and cozy being together with those rascals, but any man or woman who has a modicum of conscience simply cannot reconcile with such dishonesty, such corruption and such hypocrisy.
What one cannot understand is as to why a specially drafted Anti-Terrorism Act with sharpened teeth of terror for the enforcer to suppress, batter, intimidate and eventually kill men and women who ask for their freedom of expression. It is not only saddening to pen these thoughts, it is also utterly depressing even to ponder about the future of our young and yet unborn generations. Once the shackles of state power around the ankles of a people are tight and menacing, the whole nation will become just a bundle of men, women and children. The Gulag Archipelago the great Solzhenitsyn described in his celebrated works would be a mere forerunner to the sad saga of humanity in Sri Lanka.
It is the burden that the current generation has to carry with or without a forewarning. We cannot unload the load. For there is no one else to carry it. Active resistance is the only answer and it should be the only response from everyone of us, being soundly aware and forewarned of the impending sociopolitical calamity. IMF loans and their interrelated socioeconomic dynamics are not alien to Ceylon. In 1971 and 1974 two standby arrangements were extended to the Sirimavo-led government. But on both occasions, we never failed to honor the debts so secured. Despite the most cruel of economic hardships experienced by our countrymen, we managed to sustain ourselves as a solvent state.
What eludes our pundits and critics is the growth of the country’s gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Our Central Bank may have not paid any attention to this crucial detail or they deliberately disregarded it as insignificant. Most of our punditry and so-called super economists may not have been subjected to the harsh realities of day-to-day lives of the average Ceylonese. That economic statistic, namely the disparity between those who are above the middle-class and those who are barely able to place food on the table on a regular basis, cannot be seen and felt by any person other than the ones who endure hardships from sunrise to sunset without cursing the ones who can. The gap is not visible, but could be felt only by those who occupy the lower stratum. It has a direct co-relation to the country’s status as a viable economy or not.
Corruption and dishonesty on the part of our political leaders has obviously accelerated the process of bankruptcy. As in the case of the Sirimavo-led government in the seventies, the IMF is no magic wand and its beneficial effects would not be signs of a lasting cure; nor would it be a palliative that would arrest the spread of the malignancy that has been eating into our body politic.
When such savage and vicious realities are playing on an unbalanced sociopolitical field, a natural progress towards an acceptable political and economic equilibrium is not possible. We are faced with the proverbial ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Which issue, political stability or economic recovery, should take precedence? It is the pressing and intimidating enigma that confronts all of us as one single nation.
In today’s Cabinet there is no single person other than President Wickremesinghe who could comprehend the nuanced aspects of an economic crisis. For those whose intelligence level is much to be desired, the IMF loan is another source that would enable them to pilfer the national coffers, the same way they had been doing during the last two decades. The irony is that Ranil Wickremesinghe who can exercise some level of discipline cannot do that as his position as President is totally and absolutely dependent on those who were waiting like vultures for the IMF money, not to make use of it to plan and strategize to get the country out of the economic rut they themselves drove into, but make their ill-gotten millions, billions. That is a real tragedy.
But what can we do as a country to narrow the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’? Resolve the political issues before attempting to employ measures for the recovery of the economy? It indeed is a Hobson’s Choice. Without political stability there is no economic recovery and without getting the economy going there cannot be any political stability.
In such an irreconcilable circumstance the only alternative to national collapse is the unwavering trust the people could place in their leaders. This is precisely the challenge the current government’s leadership is facing. Not only the current government, even the present Opposition is not held in any trust at all by the people. Aragalaya took care of that unkind act, an act that is unkind to the current crop of all politicians; and unless any emerging leadership takes this factor into their utmost consideration when planning and executing their unpalatable solutions to the present crisis (there can never be palatable solutions to the crisis), there will not be any pleasant period following the impending collapse of the system.
The rich are getting richer by the day. They go for their haircuts to Singapore or Bangkok. They lunch and dine at the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Lake of at the Hilton. The current government’s henchmen, even the Ministers and other parliamentarians still do that. The average villager in the deep South or up North is struggling to put food on the table. They are the ones who are tightening their belts. A Blackhole of a gap is existing between the rich and the poor and its widening exponentially .
However, history is replete with many armed and violent revolutions that sought system change in their own way. Political power being what it is and human nature being what it has always been, one cannot repose total trust in a leader or a set of leaders. Power corrupts without any consideration. When the wheels of power start turning, those wheel do not identify X, Y or Z. It attempts to corrupt all. In such a situation man hardly has a choice. He has to decide the best from amongst very bad choices.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org