05 February 2013

Freedom is a moving target

President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his Independence Day speech in Trincomalee yesterday outlining the immense suffering that Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans had to endure in securing freedom observed that protecting those freedoms from those who would take them away is a duty by the land of one’s birth.  He clearly made the point that political differences should not get in the way of doing what is best for the country. 

Too often people get caught up in the politics of the moment, their political preferences and related antipathies have greater weight than the consequences for the nation as a whole.  This was evident in all the war years when we saw leader after leader, regime after regime, put political expediency ahead of the need to remove the threat of terrorism. 
Politicians are good at justifying anything and everything.  Back then the key arguments could be reduced to just one: the LTTE cannot be militarily defeated.  Just in case there were people who might have disagreed, we saw regime after regime by omission and commission paint the LTTE in invincible colors.   These included the quick and regular reference to ‘Geopolitical Realities’ (read, ‘India’), an argument that was buttressed by the weak-kneed moment of J.R. Jayewardene in 1987 after the infamous parippu incident which paved the way for the Indo-Lanka Accord, the IPKF and the 13th Amendment.  Those canards were effectively laid to rest by a President, regime and a citizenry that knew better. 

Today’s threats are not yesterday’s threats.  Those who bet on failure have had to re-think.  So they talk ‘Geneva’ and ‘The Hague’.  They don’t talk geopolitical realities but throw a ghost called Arab Spring into the political equation.  As President Rajapaksa correctly observed recently, these forces have a lot of money, powerful weapons, significant sway over the perception manufacturing industry and other resources, but lack one thing: the people. 
‘The people’ need to be united, it goes without saying, if external threats are to be mitigated.  ‘The people’ are not a monolith, though.  Not everyone voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa, after all.  What the President, in his speech, seems to have stressed is that it is perfectly alright to be against him and the regime, but that the citizen’s patriotism must see beyond such things and, in the name of nation, object to pernicious attempts to destabilize the country and roll back the victories won at heavy cost. 

Now, theoretically, it is quite possible for an objector to believe that safeguarding victory itself requires a different political culture, a different institutional arrangement, a new constitution etc.  Such an individual could very well believe that the regime is not interested in such things.  As the President himself has pointed out when making observations on protests, demonstrations and even verbal castigations in Parliament, different views and their expression is to be expected in a democracy. 
On the other hand, just as the President expects (quite rightly too) that those who oppose him be mindful of the larger need to see beyond the petty political equation, it is also incumbent on the Government to heed criticism regardless of the name of the critic, his/her track record and politics.  Nothing done is ever ‘enough’.  The President knows this.   The country was freed from terrorism during his tenure.  Unprecedented development is taking place under his direction.  It is now incumbent on him to rid the country of its other enduring ills such as corruption, wastage, drugs, the underworld and not least of all the flaws of the 1978 Constitution and its Amendments, most importantly the 13th.

The President observed in his speech that if freedom is a heavenly state, then it is not a state we can create or inhabit.  He pointed out that no one is ever fully satisfied.  People always want something more.  More than anything, though, people want to feel ‘belonged’.  To ‘do duty by the country of birth’, one has to feel ‘belonged’ to ‘the country of birth’.  No leader post-Independence has made that belief as real as Mahinda Rajapaksa.  The curse of politics, however, is that no ruler can rest on his/her laurels.  ‘Belonging’ must be sustained. 
Where there was fear and silence before, there is confidence and voice. Where there were bullet holes and craters, there are houses and roads.  Where child was possible bomb-victim and terrorist-recruit, childhood is possible.  All these things make for a greater sense of belonging, to both nation and one another.  There is only so much that a President can do.  There is a lot that the citizenry can and must do, as individuals and as a collective. 

Freedom is a beautiful word.  It is good that it is a ‘tomorrow’ thing because that makes it possible for people to be better. Complacency is the enemy of freedom.  Vigilance is the price of independence.  These are things we should take note of. 


Anonymous said...

Freedom in this land is an ugly, much abused word.

Freedom, as defined by the rulers, is everywhere but is liberty from the point of view of the individual citizen, present?

A monolithic, omnipresent, omnipotent state crushes all in its path, whether public servant, jurist, journalist or citizen.

Actions speak louder than words and our liberties must be measured in terms of whether we can go about our daily affairs without fear. The muslims are just the latest group to discover that fact.