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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Crisis in Sri Lanka: The Urgent Need of a New Captain for a Rudderless ship in Chartered Waters

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The ship has hit the iceberg; judging by the raids, no of arrests, confiscation of properties and the emerging new facts about the activities of a latently-active, established network, the hidden base seems to be much broader and deeper than what the tip exposed in the media from time to time in the past.

Unfortunately, there is no Captain Smith to deal with the aftermath of the accident and the last to go down with the ship in honoring the grand old shipping tradition - without chaos. By reacting to the developments, as and when they arise, the rulers inadvertently let the world see a rudderless ship at the centre of an orderly whirlpool. The approach, in this context, is tantamount to displaying knee-jerk reactions at best and playing to the gallery at worst.

I vaguely remember how late Lalith Athulathmudali had a mercurial rise in the realm of politics due to a creative act, in the immediate aftermath of 1983 communal riots against the Tamil community by some of our hyperactive, Sinhalese ‘nationalists’: Mr Athulathmudali, known little more than an MP at that time, took over the task of distributing essential goods and medicine throughout the country in an efficient way, when odd were total against such a move.

With that, not only did he make a name for himself, but also became instrumental in expanding his vision along two more channels later on – the revival of the CWE and of course, Mahapola Scholarship.

Of course, he had his flaws - who doesn’t have them? ; he, however, left two indelible marks in the sands of political history in Sri Lanka, which no one can deny, something every politician aspires to achieve in their career, yet only a handful ever succeed.

Nowhere in our parliament history, did we see the elected politicians being exposed to public anger on an alarming scale, regardless of the party they belong to – as we do now. By focusing insensitively on their own security by closing public roads, associating values of human lives with insurance payments and above all, resigning to their own shells, assuming that things will be back to normal in a few months, they just added fuel to the fire, when the role should have been that of a fire fighter.

Thanks to the exponential growth of social media networks and their ability to attract the tech-savvy youngsters, the public organize well and make their feeling known to the rulers, loud and clear. So, the politicians know where they really stand in the public domain right now; gone are the days when PR gimmicks did the trick and reversed the ill effects.

In poor-but-honest-old days, Sri Lankans had nice folks to represent them, from village council to parliament.

Some were lightly-schooled, but smart in many other ways, married to local sweethearts - or eloped under the moonlight, if endless social norms became unbearable and got in the way - led lives of principles, chose white attire that suit tropical climatic conditions – without defying basic physics by stuffing flesh in dark suits, accepted the defeat with grace, never sacrificed loyalty on the altar of greed and finally went home when the time was up - on public transport with very little fanfare.

We may not ever get those good old days again. The public, however, are not prepared to accept the status quo either. That’s why they are longing for a candidate outside the existing political structure for the forthcoming presidential election, despite the aspiration seems to be somewhat elusive at the moment.

With this emerging scenario, the three main political blocks are faced with the enviable task of fielding one who could break ice and win the election - and then repeat the success at the next parliament election. It’s not going to be easy for them, though; because, they have collectively let down people, taking their patience – and innocence - for granted.

The public want someone at the helm who has a clear vision and a personal trait of making bold decisions, not someone who just wants to be nice to everyone – and just for the sake of being so. A leader at this stage cannot afford to appease everyone; exercising fairness to every community and being decisive, when the need arises do so, can co-exist.

In addition, he needs the acumen to plant right people in the key areas such as economy, education, national security, health and justice. If the public do not elect right people, a decisive leader can bring in creative talent through the national list in order to address the pressing issue, rather than wasting the opportunity by paving the way for those who are lost in the political wilderness.

When Prime Minister Modi won his first general election in 2014, the Indian media reported that Mr Modi demanded that the secretaries to the ministries coming up with the plans for the next five years in the form of 10-minute Power Point presentations, rather than lengthy, reliably-useless reports.

Indians say this approach dealt with the inherent lethargy of some of the ministries during Mr Modi’s first term in Office. In addition, there were no accusations of corruption during his rule during the first term.

Sticking to his campaign promises, Modi government cracked down on Black Money, tax evasion, and loan defaulters. Indian voters were convinced that Mr Modi was trying to bring about an irreversible change to the country and they elected him with a landslide, even though he could not successfully address the issue of unemployment, something determined not just by domestic factors.

In his first term, Mr Modi achieved success by choosing right people for the crucial jobs. The choice of Mr Nitin Gadkari as the minister for roads, transport and highways in 2014 is a case in point. On his watch, as part of a huge infrastructure modernisation drive, the speed of road building was raised from a mere 2 kilometres a day to 40 kilometres a day, attracting unusual praise, even from the opposition.

Unfortunately, as far as Sri Lankans are concerned, they could not even get a minister for fisheries, who could facilitate the sale of fish at an affordable price for the locals, when the latter live in a small island surrounded by the sea rich of the same resource – a classic case of monumental political failure.

There is no surprise why the team had little success in every major endeavor they embarked on, when they could not address a relatively minor issue like making fish available at a reasonable price for the locals. There were times when tropical fish were relatively cheaper in London than they were in Sri Lanka!

All in all, the stakes cannot be higher for contemporary Sri Lankan politicians. In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings, they have come under an enviable spotlight as never before and been forced to find ‘innovative’ ways to face the electorate in a crucial year that that potentially could determine their existence – and relevance - in the realm of politics.

- Asian Tribune -

Crisis in Sri Lanka: The Urgent Need of a New Captain for a Rudderless ship in Chartered Waters
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