26 December 2011

A second 88-89 unaffordable!

There are two moments in recent history that stand out, both for what they meant to the general population and for what followed: 1977 and 2009.  In 1977, the UNP was swept to power after a 7 year hiatus and with a commanding majority.  Things would be better, the people hoped, after having lost patience with Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s import-substituting, inward-looking, live-within-means efforts which may have worked but in the end turned out to be half-baked.  The year 2009 was as or more euphoric, with the 30 year struggle against terrorism formally brought to a close.  Today we are looking at 2012 and since this is the last Sunday of the year 2011, it might help to recount.
 
What began as a high in 1977 hit a low in 1989.  That year didn’t fall from the sky.  It began with a constitution horribly skewed against the citizen and patently anti-democratic. It came after 1980 (attack on the organized working class), after 1982 (body-blows on the opposition), after 1983 (attacks on innocent Tamils led by ruling party goons sanctioned by a look-aside government), 1984 (killing of two university students) and after things rolled, war-like, to 1987.
 
We came to 1989 through a development drive that made things but broke people and an Indian bailout of the LTTE coupled with an illegal piece of legislation (13th Amendment) which was a veritable pick-up of a JVP in decline.   That’s how we got the 1989 of proxy-arrests, abductions, disappearances illegal detention, vigilante groups, political assassinations, torture and murder of some 60,000 youth, mostly unarmed and almost all in non-combat contexts.  
 
It is two and a half years since the ‘2009 High’.  If that was a beginning, then now we are in an ‘unfolding’.  Regardless of how pernicious the intentions were of the movers, shakers and those who piggy-backed, it is a fact that workers were attacked.  The opposition was not dismantled, but has been intent on self-destruction.  There was less threat-and-bash than lure-and-purchase.   There are no assaults on Tamils. In fact the government has at great cost not only rescued some 300,000 civilians held hostage by the LTTE, but cared for them as no displaced persons have been anywhere in the world in recent times.  The rub is that instead of thanks communal-minded Tamil politicians continue to prod, poke and blow on the dying embers of inter-ethnic tensions.  
 
Like in the eighties there is widely publicized ‘development’, a misplaced fascination with the largely outdated model of growth-led-development and many questions about who really benefits.  The professionals are up in arms and so too are the academics.  The middle-class is restless about the law and order situation, a palpable disinterest in correcting institutional flaws, the tendency for all disputes to be resolved not by relevant authorities but by the goodwill of the executive and clearly evident wastage for pomp and pageantry.  These are opinion-makers, it must be noted.  The masses are certainly not readying to do battle with government or state, but history has shown that spoilers don’t require big numbers.
 
Today’s spoilers, like yesterday’s ones and like all successful spoilers will wear a righteous garb that effectively covers their pernicious designs.  There are disturbing whispers about the breakaway faction of the JVP hooking up with the LTTE rump.   We know also that there are enough weapons floating courtesy of the country’s battle with terrorism.   We know also that certain powerful players in the international arena with declining stock in the moral market and depleted sway in the global economy are more than flexing considerable military muscle to secure resources, markets and territories of strategic importance. We know ‘Libya’ happened and cannot rule out a repeat.  We know now that excuses can be manufactured or else inflated.  
 
We know that the JVP can be violent and whip up unrest. We know that unruly, emotional youth can be spurred to disrupt the universities, get them closed and thereby develop frustrations that can later be preyed on.  Democracy has not worked for the JVP.  Terrorism has not either, but that has never stopped the arrogant and myopic, anywhere in the world, and anyway even these terms are too good to describe the present crop of ‘radicals’ that the JVP has spawned.  They are unlikely to win, but their adventures can cost the nation.  
 
All this is unfolding upon a canvass called the 1978 Constitution, the same piece of cloth on which much blood was splattered and not only because the main protagonists could legitimately be called megalomaniacs.  
Colombo looks pretty.  There are lotuses blooming on the surface of the water bodies of political ferment. Regimes can never afford to be complacent and it is unlikely that the warning signs have not been read. What is important is not just to meet threat head-on but to recognize and correct what the threat feeds on: flaws of omission and commission.  
 
It is hard to think of anyone who reads the political equation as astutely as does President Mahinda Rajapaksa.  He can think and he can act, of this there can be no doubt.  The stress, one hopes, is on ‘think’ at this point, for although we are not close to a present-day version of 1989, we cannot rule it out altogether either.  
 
History is a teacher but only for those who have the will and courage to learn, citizens and politicians included.
 
['The Nation' Editorial, December 25, 2011] 
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