Friday, 28 July 2017
Life, as a musically-inclined poet of a previous age once essayed, is what happens when you are planning to do something else. Well, the same may be said for the intentions of Good Governance: that the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley; as another poet-philosopher had it. There they are – perhaps still planning to do what is best… for themselves, their near and dear, and the nation at large – and not necessarily in that order.
Where once they had (or seemed to have, and said they did) the grand plan, the master strategy, the governance ethos to end all governance ethos, they now seem to limp along. Their swagger turned into stumbling, their firebrands lisping stale platitudes and mouthing clichés even the propagandists will find it hard to swallow. Or strangely silent, slumped sullenly in some dark and dusty corner of the corridors of power. No sage or savant can come to their rescue now; those hollow men, leaning together, their headpieces filled with straw.
I pity them… but not because I’m particularly fond of them… in fact I’m especially averse to some of their more cantankerous or chicanery-practicing pundits, despite their not being ogres like certain representatives of another regime one could mention – but I won’t. However, as a body politic one must retain a sense of priority, as well as perspective, and proportion to boot…
At present, we are struggling to immunise ourselves against a plethora of infections. One need not mention dengue, or the simultaneously heroic and horrific spectacle of civil society having to take up arms against a sea of mosquitoes to help a beleaguered government fight a losing battle. If you are privy to a single citizen’s private enterprise to publicly engage a national issue and motivate a broad spectrum of stakeholders against the spectre of death in the marketplace, you’ll champion the cause of ‘Death to Dengue’ in the same breath as constructively engaging the emerging nexus between a panoply of citizens and debilitating national issues.
Be that as it may, on the way forward qua our march towards a leaner, meaner, more meaningfully public-spirited democracy. Perhaps the tender-minded may spare some sympathy for an embattled state and its elected as well as appointed officials as much as the people’s representatives. From student protests to sundry trade-union action, fuel strikes and irate lay and clerical demonstrations, the coalition government is no doubt nodding in assent with the Bard that when troubles come they come not single spies but in battalions.
In this context, it is only the cynical who will sardonically mutter under their breath (for fear of displeasure at the lips of those who advocate a positive spirit at all times) that even the sop to Cerberus – in the shape and form of a high-profile cabinet minister being thrown to the wolves at the gate – is only part of the scenery, another instalment in an expertly-managed spectacle.
One swallow does not make a summer. As Aesop said to the bird-watching boy – or was it the actress to the bishop? All of Colombo – and, if we’re lucky, parts of the rest of Sri Lanka for whom the world is their paddy-field or the beach – is agog with the damning indictments being mounted up like a Meethotamulla garbage dump against the portly bulk of a former finance minister.
Their sentiments range from rage to outrage to outré naivety that nothing out of the ordinary will come out of it. (It seems so at the time of going to press, with the absconding financial grandee cum laid-low arraignee being absent by dint of pressing security concerns in peacetime taking priority over revealing developments in a more secure court where war is being declared on fraud and other fiscal and fiduciary wrongdoings.)
We see glee in the camp of grim-faced senior bureaucrats now in semi-enforced retirement or among the crooked of a corrupt regime evicted by righteous anger not many moons ago. We hear crocodile-tear-crying deposed dictators singing that there may be weeping overnight but that joy cometh in the morning. We sense fierce vindication – and maybe some temporary relief – for the vindictive out-of-joint political opposition.
Banal and blasé as the boys in green may have seemed that no mark of scandal would tarnish the sorry hides of one of their own blue-eyed boys, their disreputable bulwark of a fink, er I mean finc min, now seems to be the only man standing on the burning deck. But as the bishop said to the actress – or was it the poet Burns to another philosopher-king – “nothing good can come out of it” if it is another sad case of bread and circuses.
As usual, we the people will have to possess our souls in patience as yet another charade – perhaps – is played out in public… and in private. While the voiceless in these matters fulminate on Facebook, even the champions of justice being seen to be done if it is in fact to be done might have to resign themselves to the reality that no resignation – much less arraignment, indictment, prosecution – will ever take place in this case… Unless, of course, it is a case of realpolitik requiring a fattened-lamb sacrifice – and this is a scapegoat grown fat enough to satisfy the blood lust (oops, perhaps it is better to venture to say the ‘justice’) of an out of joint opposition and their double-jointed regime-leaders to say nothing of a vengeful cabinet-leader masquerading as a head of state.
That things could be better goes without saying. Pity that it doesn’t – go without saying, that is. That things could be worse goes without saying. Pity that it doesn’t – either. That we have short memories goes without saying – pity… There are three things we can’t seem to remember. We can’t remember the vagaries and vicissitudes of a vicious civil war and all the privations it brought the public in the guise of good news of delivering them from our oppressors. We can’t remember the vim, vigour, and vitality with which our war-victory-touting saviours from terrorism and its rigours persecuted their political and social opponents in the same spirit in which they prosecuted the war. And I can’t remember what the third thing is.
The point is that in the blood rush of baying for a fallen finance minister’s blood – and the head that once was crowned with laurels whose decapitation is on the cards if justice plays out true and doesn’t play the public out of a rolling head – we have failed to remember a few things. Which it would be good not to forget for the sake of our future long-term welfare once the fleeting pleasures of the present sporting exercises are done and dusted.
Firstly, that for every grotesquely visible fat-cat that appears to be getting his comeuppance, there is a ship full of rats whose sinking feelings have been temporarily stayed by the sacrifice made on the high altar of expediency. Secondly, that the high moral ground being lost by a government that thumped its tub (until their champions were hoarse and hurt by the soapbox chest-thumping about their ostensibly squeaky-clean ethos) does not mean that the principles espoused by the coalition government on a now long-forgotten campaign trail were wrong. Thirdly, that there is still an albeit rapidly dwindling space in marketplace as much as town square and town hall for critical, constructive, civil-society engagement to push, pull, pillory, politicians into keeping their promises. And seizing what remains of the day and the incumbent three-legged regime to press the rest of the reformist agenda through.
Last but not least, to enjoy life’s little ironies under our hamstrung democracy. For I’d rather (be able to) rant and rave and let off a head of steam about the idiocy of the incumbents and face the firing squad of their defenders and champions, than be carted off in a Defender somewhere conveniently private – or horrifyingly public, like some late great dead champions of justice – and have the air let into my head.
We as a civic-minded public need a sense of priority that corresponds to national and not partisan needs; a sense of perspective that can see through the smoke and mirrors of managed spectacles and yet not grow so cynical for virtue of this that we close the doors and windows on every passing, increasingly fleeting opportunity; a sense of proportion which reassures us that in a democracy – no matter how idiotic by dint of incumbent realpolitik – there is still a seed of sense which tells us that this form of governance is the worst … except for all the others in general – and one other in particular.