Friday, September 12, 2014

How about some lessons for lesson-conductors?

Jehan Perera ("Dr."), in his latest Sunday missive, writes on (the need to have) dialogue between government and civil society (he inserts the TNA into this, but that is a different story altogether). The man who for decades stayed shut over abuses committed and flaunted deplores this government’s lack of response to grievances past and present. This of course begs many questions, but for the time being let's lay them aside. What’s important here is that Jehan is playing his usual game: fact-twisting.

He doesn't play it openly, though. He’s too smart for that. So he hides his game beneath a barrage of clich├ęs and feel-good pronouncements. Civil society activists in Sri Lanka are, I believe, handpicked for their ability to string two words together. They learn quite a lot about euphemisms. Jehan is no exception to this. So he boosts the TNA over their recent visit to India. “They are now seen as a force to reckon with, as they enjoy India’s backing,” he writes. WTF moment, anyone?

But this isn't all. He strangely writes about the “lives of Indian soldiers lost in the vain effort to disarm the LTTE.” “Vain” hardly comes close to describing India’s love affair with the LTTE, and for all Jehan’s crocodile tears he conveniently leaves out the rapists, murderers and plunderers who came here with the IPKF. One wonders why a man so aggrieved over the plight of Tamils in this country doesn't remember how those same Tamils were harassed by these “peacekeepers.” One can only guess what he is insinuating by way of playing the forget-game here. Telling.

To be fair by him, though, he does admit that India’s message to the TNA is one of finding solutions within country without recourse to external intervention. However, this is footnoted as part of his exercise of appearing fair and balanced. He writes of the failures of Tamil parties at political engagement leading them to place reliance on external intervention, forgetting here that these same failures were part and parcel of the Tamil leadership’s deluded, blatant, myth-based race politics.

I don’t want to write too much on Jehan’s missive. Let’s be honest here. NGOs are certainly not run according to national dictates. A perusal of Jehan’s own organisation, the National Peace Council, will convince anyone that its basic polity has always been about hobnobbing with foreign donors. I don’t like to bring up conspiracy theories, but when it comes to (un)accountability and backhanded dealings NGOs are streets ahead of even the government. For all those doubting Thomases out there, it would do well to read Professor Susantha Goonetilake’s book Recolonisation for a more nuanced “reading” of what these organisations engage in.

Strangely enough, those condemning government bodies exercising ultra-vires (beyond authority) powers seem to be clamouring for full-and-unconditional implementation of the 13th Amendment and LLRC, laying aside the fact that both these go beyond legal mandate. Now I am most certainly not calling for the removal of the LLRC, but when it comes to the 13th Amendment it’s definitely another story altogether. It is, to put things pithily, the latest in a series of trump-cards on which the (so-called) Tamil leadership subsist on. We have seen 50-50, Federalism, and Eelamism come and go. Trump cards are the bedrock of the TNA (I really don’t need to state the obvious, do I?). The TNA alone isn’t to blame, of course; there’s politics and then there’s civil society politics. NGOs figure in here somewhere.

Governments have their share of critics and champions. It is a popular fad to champion the former and vilify the latter. The world does not kowtow to nor accommodate black-and-white binarisms, and when it comes to criticising champion and championing critic what is forgotten is that neither is an unblemished cherub. For all the hype the media have spurted out against the likes of Rajpal Abeynayake, a reporter who despite the blackguarding he has been subjected to remains as candid a journalist as you’re ever going to get here, I am yet to see anti-regimists and “pro-minorities” take issue with the documented, double-checked, and substantiated allegations of corruption levelled against them.

To top all this, we’ve been repeatedly told that this is a unipolar world. Black-or-white logic which does not favour nor allow for a middle ground holds sway. Partly owing to actual past power-abuse, this government is finding itself at the receiving end of protests and rights agitators. Civil society is celebrated, hence, as a paragon of virtue. The world, going by this, can be divided into rights-violators on the one hand and white-faced angels opposing those violators on the other. The media along with international agencies tend to black-face (unfriendly) regimes and whitewash those (apparently) decrying them.

Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. Life isn't a movie and neither for that matter is politics. It is all too easy and feel-good to angel-title the likes of Paikiasothy Savaranamuttu. It is also easy to lend credibility to their "activism" by highlighting meetings, speeches, and appeals made to international agencies. All this is flaunted as “good works” to the public, mainly (but not only) through the media. You can’t fool all the people all the time, some may say. Stuff and nonsense. Duping is the name of the game, as is doctoring. And these men know how to play both.

Thankfully, though, we live in an Age of Communication. Crocodile tears may be shed. But it has become easy to see through activists. Fatally easy. Veiled scandals do not remain veiled. Deception doesn't hold. Not for long. We have apologists for organisations and "peace-wagons" of dubious repute. It doesn't take long to realise what they really stand on, and for that matter how they stand on. Dollars and cents are the real bandwagons here, notwithstanding all the bleeding hearts these men (and women) advertise for all to see.

That is why we see them lamenting over the “state” of IDPs in the North. Why we see them regretting security outposts scattered right across the country. And why we still have no proper reply forthcoming from them about all the transparency scams which still dog their organisations.

Jehan’s latest missive needs to be looked at. Seriously. According to him, the TNA is a “force to reckon with.” I don’t know whether he suffers from short-term memory loss, but this force to “reckon with” continues to flatly refuse dialogue with the government. Adding to this, he thinks that this “dialogue” remains void owing to the government. Cute. One can only conclude that he has failed to do his homework, but then again this is the same man who kept (and keeps) on spinning statistic after statistic trying to prove the prevalence of non-Sinhalas over Sinhalas in the East. No two points for guessing whether these statistics have been (as they always are) doctored. I rest my case.

Lessons are there to be learnt. That’s obvious. We live in a country which once had a rigid teacher-student relationship, referred to as “guru-mushti.” To put it shortly, the teacher was supreme. Revered. Never prone to blame or critique. The student, meanwhile, had to genuflect. Unconditionally. Today, though, things have changed. For the better. Just as the teacher holds sway over a student’s conduct and result, so too the student has a prerogative to demand justification on the teacher’s part.

This, in a very large way, holds true for politics too. Vote-givers have right of demand when it comes to abuse of power. But this doesn't whitewash private outfits. Nothing of the sort. It’s time we exercised this right, then. Time we asked all the Jehan Pereras, Paikiosothy Savaranamuttus and Kumar Rupesinghes to justify claim and statistic. And of course financial (underhand) dealings. Lessons should be learnt, after all. Even by lesson-conductors.