09 June 2016

Make sure you don’t miss the bus!

When I was working at 'The Nation' I wrote a column for the FREE section of the paper which was dedicated to youth.  The title of the column was 'Notes for a Rebel'.  I wrote a total of 52 articles in this series.  I have resumed by 'Notes for a Rebel', this time writing for the website www.nightowls.lk.  Scroll down for the other articles in this series on rebels and rebellion. 


In September 1988 a bus was set on fire.  It was not the first bus set on fire during that terrible time and it was not to be the last.  It happened at about 8.00 pm.  It was a Kandy-Nawalapitiya bus.  Some undergraduates from the university boarded the bus at Peradeniya.  There weren’t many passengers and none of them (except of course the undergraduates) knew what was about to happen.  The bus came to a halt a little past the bridge over the railway track.  Someone shouted and ordered everyone to get out of the bus.  Everyone did.  The next moment everyone saw a bright blaze.  The next day the university was shut down.  

Here’s the context.  Almost all universities had been shut down, one by one, that week.  The student leaders were either arrested or were being hunted down.  Those at Peradeniya wanted the university closed for two reasons.  First, a closed university meant the leaders need not be on campus; they could flee.  Secondly, in the context of political unrest, a lengthy closure meant that frustrated students could be recruited for the insurgency.  In this sense the decision was logical.  The fact that the insurgency was bloody, resulted in over 60,000 youth being killed and ended in disaster was not something they would have envisaged, but the ‘small battle’ was won that night.  Theoretically there could have been other ways of getting the university closed, but the decision-makers probably thought this was best way.  

Now, what if the insurgency had succeeded?  What if a revolutionary government was established?  What if a new, democratic constitution was written and a system put in place to consecrate truth, justice, equality and all the other regents that revolutions want to produce?  

 At some point, people have to eat.  At some point things like a productivity, industry and food security have to be addressed.  At some point someone will realize that something is missing.  And someone else will realize what it is that is missing.  A bus. 

It would probably be more than a bus of course.  If a ‘revolution’ requires the burning of a bus to get a university closed, following the same logic other ‘battles’ would naturally call for acts of destruction of far greater magnitude.  Fleets of buses, for example, would have to be set on fire.  Buildings, transformers, bridges, vehicles and roads would have to be destroyed.  Experts on all manner of subjects (who, ‘unforgivably,’ were on the wrong side of the revolution) would have to be killed.

[For the record, all this happened.  There was no revolution, but the ‘winners’ and those who succeeded them that to run a country whose infrastructure had taken a massive hit and whose human resources had considerably depleted (not everyone killed was a rebel and not all rebels were idiots).]

So, on Day One post-revolution, when the victors set about righting the many wrongs that compelled them to fight in the first place, they would realize that they have power but they are severely lacking in the assets department. 

The issue is simple.  Revolution is not about destroying everything and building afresh.  If that were the case, the first problem that the new revolutionary government would have to resolve is starvation.  However bloody the battle is, once it is won, the victors still need roads, bridges, railways, electricity, schools, hospitals, teachers, scientists, administrative officers, tractors, earth-moving machinery, livestock, etc.  And buses. 

Each time you burn a bus (or carry out any act of destruction), you are depleting the asset base that you will be forced to work with once the revolution is done.  

The problem is that what is thus destroyed is seldom easily replaced. It takes a single matchstick to burn a bus.  It takes a lot of money to buy or build a new bus.  You kill a senior plant pathologist because he or she didn’t follow an order, but it will take you decades to replace that kind of expertise. 

Rebels must think about the Post-Revolution Reality (but not get carried away by it of course) and must therefore make sure that they aren’t going to miss any buses once the ‘war’ is won. 

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com

Other articles in this series

The sun will never set
When the enemy expands consider inflation
When you are the last one standing
Targets visible and targets unidentified
When you have to vote
So when are you planning to graduate?
The belly of the beast is addictive
When you meet pomposity, flip the script
When did you last speak with an old man?
Dear Rebel, please keep it short
Get ready for those setbacks
The rebel must calculate or perish
Are you ready to deceive?
Dear Rebel, 'P' is also for 'Proportion' 
Dear Rebel, have you got the e-factor out of the way?
Have you carefully considered the f-word?
It is so easy to name the enemy, right?
The p-word cuts both ways
Cards get reflected in eyes, did you know?
It's all about timing 
Heroes and heroism are great, but...
Recruiting for a rebellion
The R, L and H of 'Rebellion'
Pack in 'Humor' when you gather rebellion-essentials
When the enemy is your best friend
The MSM Principle of Engagement
Dear Rebel, get some creature-tips!
Dear Rebel, get through your universities first
Read the enemies' Bibles
Poetry, love and revolution
Are you ready to shut down your petrol shed
The details, the details!
Know your comrades
Good to meditate on impermanence.
Time is long, really long
Learn from the termites 
Be warned: the first victory is also the first defeat
Prediction is asking for trouble
Visualize, strategize and innovate
How important is authority?
Don't forget to say 'Hello!'
It's not over until you clean up!
Have you met 'PB' of Alutwela?
Are you sure about those selfies?
Power and principles
'Few does not mean 'weak'