13 November 2011

When a nation looks for solace…

Sri Lanka’s bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games ended in the early hours of Saturday.  The good fight was fought and lost, 43 votes to 27.  No shame there.  Much has been written about the effort as well as the possible spin offs had the decision come Sri Lanka’s way.  Some have painted sunshine scenarios and others have predicted bleak fallouts.  Today there is only one question: ‘what now?’  The answer lies, perhaps, in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SAARC address. 

This SAARC Summit was no different from previous confabs.  It was predictable: same issues, same platitudes, same assertions, more or less the same ‘state of my nation’ addresses by the leaders, some concrete measures to improve inter-state operations in the region and a conspicuous skirting of major issues.  President Rajapaksa concluded his speech with a quote from the Dhammapada: ‘atta hi attano nato. Kohi nato paro sia’ (one’s solace lies in oneself; what other master could there be?’ 

It is an idea that is of utmost relevance to SAARC and indeed to any regional gathering of nations.  It is in fact the underlying logic of SAARC.  The fact, however, is that such cooperation as is implied in the relevant articles of faith have been limited to the relatively easy terrain of cultural exchanges with trade agreements showing a tendency to go the ‘global way’, the big boys getting the small to agree to dance according to tune. It is called ‘participation’.  It is the democracy of ‘bystandership’ if you will.  Critical issues, such as security, unfortunately, have been outsourced to those who have no interest in the region’s prosperity or security.  SAARC solace, it seems, has been bartered away to masters outside of SAARC.

The president’s proposal, however, is applicable to both SAARC and to Sri Lanka.  In moments of triumph as well as defeat, positions of strength and in adversity, the rise and fall of personalities, the ebb and flow of opportunity, if Sri Lanka has remained resilient it is because at critical moments of her history, the citizens have come to terms with the fact that in the end their fate lies in their own hands.  It is up to them to forge victories out of defeats, to make the best of circumstances that are not rosy, to be honest about flaws, to privilege reason over emotion and treat the vicissitudes of life with equanimity.

With respect to the Commonwealth Games, two things can be kept in mind. First, that Sri Lanka, like other member states of that body have indeed played this game for a couple of centuries, a game where the strong made the rules and the others played along though scripted to lose out. 

Secondly, there is no reason to close shop in Hambantota just because Gold Coast emerged winner.  The Commonwealth Games is just one of many international sporting events.  Sri Lanka is a small country and such facilities, especially those on par with the best in the world, anywhere in the island are a boon to the nation’s sporting population.  It is incumbent on the authorities then to put in place structures and processes that not only unearth talent but channel it towards sporting glory, using these facilities.   The best answer to ‘Gold Coast’ is for our young men and women to show up in 2018 and perform beyond all expectation. 

It is not just about sports, of course.  If our solace lies in ourselves, then it is important for a re-examination of ‘us’, as nation and collective.  If we are to find solace together, then togetherness must be forged first.  National boundaries contain populations but population is not coterminous with nation.  It is about belonging.  It is about feeling that one belongs to territory and in polity, that one is relevant and is truly represented.  It is about development being about ordinary people and not glowing aggregate numbers.  It is about who gets to do what and why, where the money comes from and under what conditions and what happens to the profits. 

To put it crudely, roads and bridges make pretty pictures.  They make for traffic-stopping hoardings. Good for rhetoric.  They are also good to take away resources and value extracted from hapless peoples.  Those who are dispossessed, turned into development refugees, forced to drop out of the nation’s ‘forward march’, do not end up inhabiting any miracle, Asian or otherwise. 

We must, as the President correctly said, following the words of the Buddha, look to ourselves in the matter of obtaining succor and achieving national prosperity.  It is important, then, to recognize both nation and every single individual within it.  If anyone is ‘left behind’, so to speak, the caravan cannot journey too far. 

There are things that are good to win.  Sometimes a loss is not a bad thing.   Einstein put it nicely: ‘Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will lie its whole life believing that it is stupid’.   It’s all about coming to terms with who we are and being the best we can be. 

The President has picked the right words from the dhamma.  Good word takes meaning from good deed.  He can lead, this is known and acknowledged.  Where to, is the question that needs to be pondered.  By the President and by the people. For the people and the nation.

[This is the Editorial of 'The Nation' newspaper, November 13, 2011]


WalterR said...

All right the editor. What was all this fanfare about Commonwealth bash? I heard already these rogues have spent over a billion rupees on gallivanting across the globe for the CGF. Where the hell all these monies are collected from. From the unbearable taxes imposed on petrol, electricity, water, food etc which you know better. Can a poor nation afford this? These bandits have turned the country into a banana republic. I wouldn’t ask the question from Mahinda about his O/L results at Thurstan for him to quote from Dhammapada. Can he read the 5 precepts by memory for a start? Vedi Bana read from a script is all what he is preaching from different stages. I hope I will live to see him ending up as yet another tyrant hanging from a rope. Reincarnation of Santabastian Premadasa.

Sybil said...

@walterR, why don't you start a small anti-Rajapaksa group? There will be guaranteed support from the US and NATO with regards to arms and they will have no difficulty in getting a no fly zone passed by the UN so that NATO and US planes from Diego Garcia can bomb the shit out of this country on the pretext of capturing the tyrants and in the name of democracy - just like they did in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. You certainly have a bright future...

sandika said...

Good article Mr. Seneviratne,
Size of a country is not so important we have shown it to the people around the globe by defeating the ‘ terrorism’ what matters is the sizes or the ‘capacity’ of the hearts of a nation.

Schools, collages, Universities all these are academic institutions and for sure these institutions help and add some shine to ones knowledge and it enhances ones knowledge but those are not the only places that one can learn things, how can we forget the non – academic ways of learning, learning from a ‘society’ is another best place to learn things and self learning is another best way of learning things I believe.

Liberal said...


I don't believe NATO would attack this country :)Also if a ruler (anyone Gaddafi/Omar bashir etc.) becomes a tyrant,should the citizens follow him simply because of the anti West credentials of the guy

Anonymous said...


Definitely NOT. But who do you trust? Rajapaksa, whether you like him or not, was elected by the PEOPLE of this country although there are some, like WalterR, who claim he is a tyrant. Do you believe WalterR's claim or the opinion of the the majority of Sri Lankans? Surely, everyone, including WalterR, believe in democracy, don't we? What is sad, is that it is people like WalterR who are been sought after by the CIA, so that they can carry out their infamous 'regime changes' so that developing countries continue to toe the line dictated by the West. By all means, let us get rid of Rajapaksa by fair elections and following a democratic process, not by licking the boots of the West and carrying out color revolutions and regime changes. Let us, for once, keep our politics, inside this country.

Ramzeen said...

The sudden-death end of the 30 year war (pun aside) is not yet a dead horse. I'm one who travels to and from Habarana every week and I witness the relaxation that pervades the bus travellers (despite the discomfort of the buses and their atrocious seats sized to fit only those in an advanced state of malnutrition). All that's in mind is the bus's ETA. The sense of freedom is in the back of the minds of everyone who isn't sedentary and I risk irk by mentioning the last category.But alas! making things easier for us The Ultimate Apathetic Lotus Eaters. Like the constant reminders of the victory, we are also able to absorb every and any type of governmental flogging.