“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
Ranil Wickremesinghe had to wait 46 long years to show his misplaced manhood. To show that ‘manhood’ to everyone to behold he introduced the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act. ‘The government of Sri Lanka’s proposed Anti-Terrorism Act would empower the authorities to systematically violate fundamental human rights’, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch further added that ‘the government should withdraw the bill and ensure through consultations that any counter-terrorism legislation upholds international human rights standards.
The Anti-Terrorism Bill, which was published on March 22, 2023, is intended to replace the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which led to widespread torture and arbitrary detentions since its introduction in 1979. The nefarious sagas of Batalanda-kind that were floating at the time were a direct result of these draconian provisos of the PTA. ‘While the new bill contains some improvements, it includes provisions that will facilitate abuse. The bill appears designed to give the president, police, and military broad powers to detain people without evidence, to make vaguely defined forms of speech a criminal offense, and to arbitrarily ban gatherings and organizations without meaningful judicial oversight’. Passage of this new Bill would be akin to offering a razor to a monkey (Vandurata deli pihiya dunna wage).
Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers thought that the war victory gave them unmitigated powers over the general citizenry of the country and they virtually ransacked the country. In the same vein, Ranil Wickremesinghe might be of the idea that the mild relief felt by the masses today may give him the same license to tread down the basic human rights of the people. His anger and hatred born out of his inability to secure a majority in Parliament elections or at the Presidential Elections as a Candidate of the United National Party (UNP), has been burning him from inside, consuming him totally as a reasonable human being. His pathetic successive performances at the Hustings, more or less, has defined and shaped not only his conduct as a political leader, but more so his inherent character.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s antipathy towards the ‘other’ of society has manifested itself on more than several occasions. Utterly comfortable with his class-friends (not just Royal College friends, but those who belong to the same social class), his aversion to the common man has tragically been present whenever he is before the ‘other’. But the megascopic overestimation of himself has pumped him up on his won psychological ladder, the brutal realities of political defeat and grueling experiences of its aftermath have failed to impress a positive shade upon his character which is usually the defining factor of great leaders. Instead, such successive defeats have brought upon a very cruel and totally un-empathetic disposition in him.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is acting like, as Professor KM de Silva observed about JR in his JR Jayewardene of Sri Lanka as ‘an old man in a hurry’. While JR had the total backing of the electorate in terms of the ’77 General Elections results and launched himself into an open and free market economy, an Accelerated Mahaweli Development Program, massive Housing Development Projects and equally significant Colombo Port Development Project, his nephew has resorted to the begging bowl and draconian repressive measures upon the country’ youth and its intelligentsia.
The UNP was called the uncle-nephew party because of the relationship between DS Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala. DS’s brother and Sir John’s father were married to two sisters, of the Attygalle inheritance. That uncle-nephew combination has continued up to the twenty first century as JR-Ranil combo. What a country and what a continuation of a farce called democracy! Although Ranil Wickremesinghe has never been elected as President of the country he still became President thanks to the Constitution his Uncle created in 1978!
It is not only the leaders who have to be held responsible for the morass that we find ourselves in, it’s also those who voted for these characters time after time after time. Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s core argument about the elite vs. the rest is so valid in this convoluted context. A change, a real change in our sociopolitical character in the truest sense of the word is not only necessary, it is the only paradigm from which our continuation as a singular nation could spring upward and forward.
Ranil Wickremesinghe may have realized this; or maybe not. But the country cannot wait to find out about how her leaders think and act. On the contrary, today it is incumbent upon the masses to lead the leaders; setting up of national goals, carving out the parameters within which the leaders have to confine themselves in and even defining the specific characters leaders should display both in public and private demeanor.
Human Rights watch does not have to pontificate to us about the pros and cons of the said Bill. Many watershed moments arrived in the last seventy five years after Independence. But April 2022 proved that none had really mattered in the context of the nation’s journey. In 1948 the UNP-led government did not do other than proving to the country that power has merely transferred from the White Pukka Sahibs to the Brown Pukka Sahibs. Then in 1956, SWRD proved to the country that the ‘Common Man’ is only a slogan, not a living being. Since then the caravan has been journeying, every now and then going over bumps, skirting a winding bend, yet when one looks back, for each step forward we had taken we had fallen two back.
A miserable tale to tell your grandchildren; producing unproductive graduates from our Universities and asking them to compete with those who are much lesser qualified for the same jobs; electing criminals and corrupt merchants of power and greed to positions that require superlative skills and qualifications and driving the country down a drainage that could sustain only muck, excreta and slime would not rise again without the mandatory system change. It is so conspicuous yet evasive to the greedy and powerful.
There is no war; there is no other civil unrest or natural disaster consuming the resources of the country. Yet President Wickremesinghe is on warpath with the intellectual curiosity of the nation that rises against rampant corruption and unbearable hardships. That is precisely what the introduction of the Anti Terrorism Act implies. Terror is being practiced by the State and Ranil Wickremesinghe with his enormous experience in the handling of the Batalanda torture chambers is driven to a point that he contemplates that Anti Terrorism Act such as the one published on March 22, 2023 would give him ultimate power to show his manhood which has been so elusive to him all his life.
In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote thus: “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”
Many a time an alarm has sounded but each time nobody responded. That is the tragedy of our nation. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s fake recovery from economic peril and his fake macho will disappear in no time unless this time the change that is needed is given sufficient attention to not only by the leaders, but more so by the masses who would be the eventual beneficiaries of that change.
*The writer can be contacted at [email protected]
Disclaimer: Anti-Terrorism Act Is ‘State Terrorism’ In Sheep’s Clothing By Vishwamithra – - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view