Tomorrow, tomorrow and so forth…
Posted on May 5th, 2022


Even in uncertain times, especially times of political turmoil marked by continuous and widespread agitation as well as unmistakable confusion regarding governance and indeed governability, there is clarity on certain matters. It is clear, for example, that for all the political brouhaha of parliamentary intrigue and agitational grandstanding, what brought the citizen out and pushed the politician against the wall, is an economic crisis.  

There’s a lot of debate about root causes including mismanagement, erroneous policy and hanky-panky, not to mention of course the elephant in the room: in a word, capitalism, but if you want details, it’s about scandalous fixations with discredited economic theories, state-led subsidising of capital interests, sustained buttressing of an import mafia, absolute reluctance to encourage export-oriented industry and deliberate scuttling of all initiatives to secure food and energy security and sovereignty.

As is usual in the case of any crime, if we ask who benefited, the easy answer would be ‘audit the politicians and you’ll find out.’ The word in the street would be ‘The Rajapaksas.’ Auditing is good, but selective auditing is essentially a scapegoating exercise. If anyone wants a clean and accountable country then he/she cannot stop with El Politico. One could ask a few more questions.

Who benefited from the tax breaks? If someone accepted bribes, who bribed them? There are 225 parliamentarians and one president — if the thousands of officials in the public sector couldn’t prevent them from mismanagement and theft, is it because they were lazy, weak, incompetent or themselves pilfering the kitty? Shouldn’t professionals including doctors engaged in private practice, lawyers who never issue receipts for money obtained for their services, tuition teachers etc., be audited too?  And how about all politicians, from President to each and every member of a local government authority?
For all of the above, the focus is on the politician and rightly so. They crave limelight, they are credited for successes — they richly deserve to be faulted for failure. And, moreover, in the politics of the moment, it is typical and even expedient to trim things down to manageable proportions. The larger issues are the stuff for declarations, legislative enactment and such. Agitation and agitator can get lost in the relevant broader picture. That said, agitator and agitator cannot misplace the larger picture either.

The target has been a person, not a system. It is after all #gotagohome and not #burythesystem that’s been stitched onto the agitational flag. On the sidelines one may encounter a few who would say ‘it IS about the system and the person is taken as a symbol only,’ but there’s always the danger of forgetting what the symbol represents in the rush of blood and the obtaining of objective.

So we have, essentially, a move for a name-change and perhaps at best a hurried and therefore inadvisable tinkering with the constitution. That would be the granting of political relief to those who believe they are politically aggrieved. It would set a precedent and a bad one too for it would encourage those who perceive grievance to corral the perceived miscreant. In one case, say this for argument’s sake, one might offer, ‘we had no option’ or ‘this is a necessary first step’ or ‘we cannot wait for the due process of the law and therefore have to go with guilty unless proven innocent.”’ This, if widely and frequently referenced, would subvert justice and also wreck the basic foundation of the social contract.

So here we are today. There’s determination to topple a leader and a government. Here we are today, contained by a constitution that will necessitate replacement of one leader with another, one government with another and absolutely incapable of answering with a resounding ‘yes’ the following question: ‘is the replacement endowed with a greater degree of legitimacy; a history without blemish in terms of management, accountability and honesty; armed with a plan to correct constitutional flaw, deliver the people from multiple deprivations and implement a development plan that is sustainable and ensures energy and food security?’ 

One could also argue that none of these are as important as seriously considering whether the ruling nebulous global octopus greatly prefers the incumbent or the potential replacement. Anyone who has taken the trouble to study the history of agitation, regime-change, brutal suppression of dissent, revolution etc. (and that’s a non-negotiable for ‘revolutionaries’ by the way), would have to take such things into account. Otherwise, they aren’t serious. Sorry.

Anyway, there’s agitation. And it is beautiful. There’s energy, radicalisation, creativity, the forging of solidarities, increasingly intense engagement with issues that go beyond political order and personality and so many other things that might persuade the easily persuaded to call it ‘revolutionary moment.’  A closer look reveals a far more complex mosaic.

It’s a carnival, certainly. No one said revolutions have to be humourless and need to be dressed in drab colours. On the other hand, just as sporting events attract pineapple-sellers, ice-cream vans, fast-food carts, gram-sellers etc., this ‘Galle Face Carnival,’ if you want to call it that, has attracted all manner of vendors. We see all of the above sorts as well as flag-sellers and horn-sellers. We also see vendors of a different kind — vendors peddling ideology and pet political projects with track-records and political histories that are far from being squeaky-clean. It is indeed to the credit of the committed, nonpartisan, idealistic and determined young people occupying Galle Face that they’ve not fallen prey to on false prophet or another but rather ensured that they have every right to be there as anyone else, only they cannot hijack the overall project nor subvert the thrust of the agitation.

Today there’s talk of people drafting a ‘Galle Face Declaration.’ No document is perfect and no doubt such a piece of prose would be critically assailed as well. If ‘Galle Face’ is shorthand for Sri Lanka and indeed anti-systemic sentiment, then the document should be signatured by it. Galle Face is not Colombo, Colombo is not the Western Province, the Western Province is not Sri Lanka; if any lesson needs to be or has been learned through ‘occupation’ it is this.

The young people have tasked themselves with drawing the blueprint for a different Sri Lanka, a new tomorrow. ‘Tomorrow’s Declaration,’ if one may call it that, would delve into histories both political and economic. It would contain a dissection of the system that allows for the discovery of fault lines and designing correctives.

The young, clear-eyed and determined people who see flaw in politicians and citizens, system and stakeholder, the other and themselves, have demonstrated that they have the guts, the wisdom, the intransigent spirit that’s a revolutionary must and immense volumes of patience. They will drive the nation to a fresh tomorrow. There are many dark hours still to fight through of course. As long as they continue to be inspired by deep feelings of love and compassion, they will see us through. 

This article was first published in the Daily Mirror (May 5, 2022). 

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