According to the 2016 World Happiness Report, Sri Lankans have become happier in the past year compared with the previous year. The latest Report, which covers 2015, places Sri Lanka 117th in a list of 157 countries assessed, with Denmark as No.1, the happiest nation and, Burundi as the most unhappy, at 157th. Sri Lankans can take little solace from being just ahead of India, at 118th and war-torn Afghanistan at 154th, because most of South Asia is ahead of us although all are below the mid-level of the Index, with Bhutan, the happiest South Asian nation, ranked only at 84th despite being the nation that invented the ‘gross national happiness’ index.
Nevertheless, compared with life in 2014, for Sri Lankans, life in 2015 seems to have become happier.
For some politicians, though, life seems less happy, now that they are out of governmental power. So we have millions of rupees and thousands of ordinary Sri Lankans mobilised in a kind of a continuous political roadshow by some politicians of the previous regime in their attempts to keep voting blocs on their side.
First we had the poojas at numerous temples around the country that provided convenient platforms for anti-government rhetoric and communal rabble-rousing propaganda. Then we had occult rituals of vengeance and ill-will by these same politicians against the current unified national governmental leadership. And in-between, tens of thousands of followers are bussed in to venues for mass rallies that are then shown up as ‘popular’ support for those that have been booted out of power.
The propaganda content of this particular political opposition grouping remains the same. It is a dangerously vague appeal to nationalist sentiments and phobias that, being articulated almost entirely in Sinhala, cunningly resonates with an insular ethno-centrism inherent in the social dynamics of a country and society yet pulsating with inter-ethnic rivalry and tension. It is dangerously vague because only such vacuity enables the mobilising of emotions over rationality and civil propriety.
Such vacuous political mobilisation is also notable in some of the public discourse of aspiring candidates in the on-going US presidential race. In the US, however, we are yet to see serial violent attacks on minority religious sites as we have seen in our own little island. Significantly, our local religious hate-mongers immediately lost steam the moment their political patrons were thrown out of government. What happened to those violence-inciting, so-called clerics who would enact their own claim to be ‘police’ of the public good by invading government agencies to attempt to force officials to toe their line? True, some of them are now pre-occupied with legally defending themselves against criminal charges. But, surely, if their so-called ‘movement’ is genuine, then their followers should continue with those ‘public policing’ campaigns.
Their political patrons, meanwhile, continue with their attempts at political mobilisation to retain popular support. Last week’s meeting at Hyde Park was the latest exercise in support retention.
But their political goals remain vague and they seem to move from one venue to another rather than from one policy issue to another. A couple of months ago, the country was kept awaiting an imminent announcement of a new political party. That campaign was kept up for weeks until it lost vigour. The ostensible ‘issue’ for the Hyde Park rally was the proposed Sri Lanka-India economic agreement. But hardly any speaker dwelt on that subject at length. They could not have because the proposed agreement is still on the drawing board and there is little substance yet for debate. Hyde Park was nothing more than a mere ‘show of strength’ by these politicians.
The very name by which they call themselves symbolises the sheer duplicity and vacuity of their politics. After all, how could there by a ‘joint
opposition’ in Parliament if that ‘opposition’ grouping fails to include major opposition political parties, especially the parties whose heads are the Leader of the Opposition and Chief Opposition Whip? Indeed, how could the bulk of MPs in this ‘joint opposition’ even claim to be in parliamentary ‘opposition’ when their own political parties, the SLFP and the UPFA, are formally coalition partners in a historic National Unity government? If these ‘joint opposition’ politicians genuinely wish to be in parliamentary opposition, they should resign their current membership of governing coalition parties – the SLFP and UPFA – and either form their own party or join the TNA or JVP.
This very duplicity and pretence is enough to disqualify their claims to future government. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, in attending and speaking at Hyde Park last week seems to be aligning himself with this rag-tag band of political has-beens in a manner which does not resonate well with his own status as a senior statesman. And how can the former President claim that the current government is ‘failing’ when the people of the country, in the latest Happiness poll, has informed the world that they are happier under the new regime as compared with the former?
Meanwhile, we continue to swelter in the unprecedented heat and await the next announcement of electricity stoppages. True, the weather imposes twin pressures on the national power grid: higher power usage due to the heat and humidity on the one hand and, on the other, a drought that has reduced the hydro-electric generating capacity.
What needs addressing immediately is the state of the national power supply capacity as well as the efficiency and viability of the power distribution system.
While the bureaucracy and the technicians debate over their share of the blame for the current sudden power outages, the government must comprehensively review the country’s general power production and distribution system and devise whole new systems and a renewal of infrastructure to deal with intermediate and long-term energy needs. It is to be hoped that, unlike in the previous regime, financial kickbacks and nepotistic gain will not play the same dominant role in such planning.