Our country’s response to leadership has come to a pretty pass. Take a good look at our elected and appointed officials. You will see benevolent tyrants being fawned upon by all and sundry – and craven democrats being vilified by disenchanted republicans. But soon, the buzz about the ‘new deal’ may die down. And the hype and the hoopla surrounding growth and development and progress may well come to be written off as a passing phase (although we sincerely hope not).
After all this is gone and peace has passed away without understanding and we are each long dead, what will be remembered by posterity as the greatest progress made in our day and age?
One suspects that even as the victors and vanquishers write their histories, the greats of our time will be immortalized for what they did – rather than for who they were.
The deals they cut. The arms they twisted and the erstwhile enemies whom they embraced. And the ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil that they best embodied. Airports and ports, bridges and roads, clocktowers and stadiums, and numerous development-projects will memorialize their names and their natures. Images of fists clenched against the powers over the sea who defy or denigrate us will vie for space on the frontispieces of hagiographies with photos of the powerful new friends we wooed and won.
And so, it is incumbent – not on the administration, but on the people whom they supposedly serve – to ensure that more than mere achievements, accomplishments, and accolades are engraved on Sri Lanka’s once and future monument. When historians cut open our corpse, what will they find engraved on our collective heart? ‘Growth’? ‘Development’? ‘Progress’? All of the above? But no real peace? Or true prosperity? The shalom that comes only when the trappings and treasure of civilization are accompanied by social justice – and all the other accoutrements that a truly republican polity (such as ours was, is, and may never be again) consider just and good and fair and pure…
Thus, and therefore, permit us to suggest that if Sri Lanka is to be remembered not principally for its leaders and their lacunae, it is the average islander, the common or garden citizen, the good the bad and the ugly, who are going to have to step up and do their part. Especially in a milieu where confidence in the Government in measured by how many times a sovereign bond was oversubscribed – and the Government’s lack of confidence in itself is expressed in hurried moves to stifle dissent by questioning the legitimate activities of key opposition figures.
Firstly, it is now the time to speak up. Long enough have true patriots with fellow feeling for the few dissenters who dare to challenge the status quo held their peace. The time will come, and indeed has now come, when self-censorship essays a more deafening silence than any jackboot of oppression could ensure. If the people remain afraid to cry out against injustice where they see it, to rail against tyranny where they perceive it, and to wail over the naked and the dead where they discern them… then dictatorship by any other name will already have triumphed? We need not wait a generation, two decades, thirty to forty years to declare with the 20:20 vision of hindsight that we have been diddled and cheated of our constitutional rights – by the very constitutional amendments that are being presented today as being in the national interest. Speak out now – or forever hold your tongue!
Secondly, there is still the space to go out with the gospel of good governance. Take the glad tidings of great joy that can be ours to every city, town, and village. Teaching others that with power comes responsibility. With privilege comes duty. With prestige comes the noblesse oblige of which far too many of our contemporary leaders seem apathetic and ignorant.
They do not know and they do not care that their present-day definition, nay praxis, of servant leadership has inverted the norms that our ancestors knew only too briefly in the heady days of democracy in this country. The iron may not be hot enough for too long from the time that cash flows into state coffers from an increasingly stringent tax regime.
Thirdly, the ethic of living out the principles we espouse falls more squarely than ever before on each one of us. Gandhi’s dictum to be the change we wish to see in the world has been quoted often enough in this regard. Time to walk the talk! And that means not the leaders of our land, but we the people…