Are Youth Back on the Path of Revolt?November 20, 2011, 7:36 pm
While young people all over the world are experimenting with new forms of social resistance, the young, energetic and brave 24 year-old daughter of the slain politician, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra (BLP), Hirunika Premachandra in her interview with Sirasa, Kingsly Ratnayaka, proposed that in order to understand the incident that occurred at the local government election day, it has to be located in a broader political landscape of the island. The anger, grief and determination she displayed at the interview have demonstrated not only her personal feelings in the face of the assassination of her father but also the general anger and despair of the younger people today around the world. It was the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor aroused the young people in the Arab world to flock at short notice through text messages and social networks to streets, squares and other public places for prolonged protest and resistance. Here it is not assassination at issue in itself but the events that followed in relation to the investigation of the event as portrayed by Hirunika in her narrative would have the power to awaken the young people in Sri Lanka from their deep slumber making them conscious that things that have been happening around them are not as great as they are made out to be by the politicians and disinfotainmentist media.
In reporting Hirunika’s interview, web sites belonging to disinfotainmentist genre opted for a caption ‘Hirunika condemned Gotabhaya’ or something similar to it. It was true that she has expressed her displeasure in strong words over the manner in which the Ministry of Defence and other law implementation institutions acted in relation to this case. At the same time, she praised Minister Basil Rajapaksa for engaging in positive way in the aftermath of the incident and also expressed her faith on President Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, my point is that her main concern was not how regime troika (MR, BR and GR) operated in relation to the incident but how the law implementation institutions became partial and can be manipulated in favour of or against relevant parties. Hence, in my opinion, her message has addressed more fundamental issues.
The issue that Hirunika raised was addressed in a different way by the President in his recent speech at the opening of a new building of Tangalle police station. He advised people that they should not take law into their hands as there were specialised institutions to maintain the law and order. It is true theoretically. However, the events in the last six months or so have shown that people were compelled to come forward and record their displeasure at the way in which police usually handled cases. Those protests have proved effective because only after people’s resistance and protest police high command took corrective measures. On the other hand, when the leading and powerful politicians are involved, law enforcement agencies failed miserably in taking action. In a context in which specialised institutions set up to maintain the law and order refuse or fail to take necessary action, people have every right to protest and resist as resistance is the only guarantee that justice will be done. Culture of resistance is a key element of democracy and it is a much more advanced right than the rights enshrined in the Constitution. In my opinion, Hirunika has raised this fundamental issue with regard to the way in which law enforcing agencies have so far operated in relation to the assassination of BLP. To have someone charged with an offence no conclusive evidence are required. What is necessary is prima facie evidence that s/he had some association with the incident. She has shown that in this case the way in which police acted runs counter to this well established tradition. At the time of writing, it had been reported that the magistrate made an order that R Duminda Silva, MP be arrested. This is a positive step. However, that order has come a bit too late as Silva has gone overseas for treatment.
Secondly, Hirunika has revealed another facet of Sri Lankan politics. In political practice, power, money and crime are inseparably connected. As a result, Opposition parties get weakened as those parties cannot exercise all three. This is in fact embedded in the constitutional structure. In this context, it is very difficult for a single politician to totally disregard this interconnectedness of political power, money and crime. The pattern of preferential votes shows that a person who has control over these three factors is able to gain more preferential votes. As I have shown in my previous notes, the executive presidential system and the electoral system provide the basis for the post 1978 developments that have negative ramifications. It may be interesting once again to quote the statement made by the present Secretary of Defence. "Unfortunately, due to the environment of this area where the underworld existed with gun culture, it was not unknown that the politicians working there would have such connections. The politics they have to play in this area is such that they have no choice in it. If you looked at some of the representatives you can see this. But unfortunately they are the ones that can get the votes from these areas. That is the ground reality." Of course, this ‘ground reality’ is not a new phenomenon. However, it appears to be spreading like a cancer harming the entire system. If the electoral politics and gun culture are entwined, what is role that should be played by the law enforcing authorities?
Thirdly, the issue of democratic right, the rule of law cannot be separated from the issue of justice. Perpetrators may be brought to justice and punished, but what about the victims. In Hirunika’s view, politics should always be entwined with the issue of social justice. With that in mind, she referred to the early days of politics of her father as a member of Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, a constituent member of the Socialist United Front. If the issue of economic equality is not entwined in democratic and human right discourse, the so-called democratic rights that our civil society is asking for will not allow democracy to work. As Prof. Weisskopf opined, democracy is undermined if some people can deploy enormous economic resources to influence political decisions, while others cannot. People like Hirunika symbolise the aspiration and determination of the young generation in transforming the current impasse in politics around the world led by the old generation. What has been happening in New York and other places at this very moment shows that the protesting young people can be evicted from public places but the idea of resistance cannot be evicted from their minds.