Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - OPINION - The writer can be con­tacted at vish­wamithra19­[email protected]

The eth­nic vi­o­lence that erupted in July 1983 might not be fresh in the minds of our peo­ple, yet the in­ner psy­che of our peo­ple has not changed, nor has it been able to adapt to chang­ing world or­der of ac­com­mo­da­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion EACH AND EV­ERY IS­LAM DEVO­TEE BE­COMES A TAR­GET OF ANGER, HA­TRED AND VENGEANCE LYRI­CIST OF THE PLAN­TA­TION IN­DUS­TRIES MIN­ISTRY THEME SONG A MUS­LIM BOYS PROM­ISE A TRAVEL BACK TO AN AGE GONE BY WHILE MEN ASK HIS FOL­LOW­ERS TO LOOK FOR­WARD AND STRIDE EVEN HARDER

Navin Dis­sanayake might find him­self alone in the cur­rent na­tional cri­sis, but he will never be lonely. Emerg­ing gen­er­a­tions in the coun­try hope­fully will have more to do with their own prob­lems and is­sues that are de­void of ethno-re­li­gious ten­sions

“A gen­uine leader is not a searcher for con­sen­sus but a moul­der of con­sen­sus.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Fi­nally, we heard a saner, saner than usual, voice in the midst of na­tional in­san­ity. It was an hon­est voice in a ri­otous ca­coph­ony of dis­hon­esty; an ur­gent mes­sage in a coun­try search­ing for im­me­di­ate action and an apo­lit­i­cal be­hav­iour in a po­lit­i­cal world. Hon­esty is a very rare com­mod­ity in the po­lit­i­cal mar­ket­place to­day. When the gen­eral pub­lic are de­mand­ing hon­esty of their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, it is pre­cisely what they aren’t get­ting to­day, hon­esty. On a grey Thurs­day morn­ing,

June 6, in­side the gal­leries of

the Ban­daranaike Me­mo­rial In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence Hall (BMICH), Plan­ta­tion In­dus­tries Min­is­ter

Navin Dis­sanayake enun­ci­ated an un­com­mon truth. His body lan­guage sig­ni­fied the ap­par­ent dis­com­fort and frus­tra­tion he was go­ing through. His dic­tion, both Sin­halese and English, was per­fect; it was sim­ple and to the point and the as­sem­bly he ad­dressed could not have been more suited to the oc­ca­sion and more valid in the na­tional con­text – young grad­u­ates of the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Plan­ta­tion Man­age­ment (NIPM). And his hon­esty was dev­as­tat­ing. What echoed in­side the walled room ren­dered rel­e­vance and va­lid­ity to what most of the Cab­i­net ministers may have been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, yet not will­ing to go where Navin

Dis­sanayake dared to.

As a mat­ter of fact, as a keen ob­server of na­tional pol­i­tics and its in­nu­mer­able chal­lenges to the coun­try, the writer, hav­ing se­cured an in­vi­ta­tion to the event, could not help but be shocked, not only at the grav­ity of the sub­stance of his speech but more so at the very ease with which he de­liv­ered it. One thing was sure. He was stand­ing in the shadow of a great legacy: Gamini Dis­sanayake, Navin’s fa­ther, was known to be fear­less in the face of great po­lit­i­cal dan­ger. When the sub­ject of dis­en­fran­chise­ment of Sir­i­mavo Ban­daranaike was be­ing dis­cussed in the Cab­i­net of J.R. Jayewar­dene in Au­gust 1980, Gamini Dis­sanayake

was the lone voice in there, not to de­fend

Mrs. Ban­daranaike’s in­de­fen­si­ble acts of dis­hon­esty re­gard­ing the abuse of power in terms of the Land Re­form Law of 1975 (Laws Nos. 1 of 1972,

39 of 1975. 1. This law may be cited as the Land Re­form Law; (b) To take over agri­cul­tural land owned by any per­son in ex­cess of the ceil­ing), but the pun­ish­ment that was ac­crued to that abuse of power.

It is one thing to be con­vinced of an ob­vi­ous au­then­tic­ity of a tru­ism, but to­tally another realm of pos­si­bil­i­ties that open up when one has the courage of con­vic­tion to express one­self so can­didly and with thor­ough hu­mil­ity.

It is not a very com­mon prac­tice for politi­cians to chal­lenge the ob­vi­ous; not a very cosy thought for politi­cians to be pal­pa­bly com­fort­able in the com­pany of dar­ing, fresh-think­ing and in­de­pen­dent minds. This is the mix of politi­cians into whose midst al­most all politi­cians of the ‘com­mon man’ genre have been thrust. De­fi­ance of poli­cies and de­ci­sions reached and rhetor­i­cally com­mu­ni­cated by lead­er­ship be­comes not only hard and rare, but it would also be ad­versely in­ter­preted by the very lead­er­ship whose such de­ci­sions and poli­cies are so chal­lenged. How­ever, in the longer and larger in­ter­est of the po­lit­i­cal party, the dis­trict one rep­re­sents and the coun­try at large, at least a few wrong and flawed de­ci­sions and poli­cies could be chal­lenged. To chal­lenge a delicate is­sue such as eth­nic dis­putes, eth­nic vi­o­lence and un­palat­able res­o­lu­tions that are deemed to be taken by any re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment, any elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive would think hard and only in the nar­row and slim in­ter­ests of his or her per­sonal ad­vance­ment.

Mea­sured against such a de­mand­ing cir­cum­stance, any ar­tic­u­la­tion of in­de­pen­dent thought be­comes a lux­ury which an ordinary politi­cian can­not man­age to pay for. Any which way the Easter Sun­day mas­sacres that oc­curred on April 21 are be­ing in­ter­preted and an­a­lysed, the po­ten­tial­ity of mass re­tal­i­a­tion by our Sin­halese Bud­dhist brethren can­not be un­der­stated. This is an ideal cir­cum­stance in which one’s pa­tri­o­tism is not only tested; an ex­pertly-dis­torted ver­sion of pa­tri­o­tism opens out for a mass em­brace. Each and ev­ery Is­lam devo­tee be­comes a tar­get of anger, ha­tred and vengeance. The eth­nic vi­o­lence that erupted in July

1983 might not be fresh in the minds of our peo­ple, yet the in­ner psy­che of our peo­ple has not changed, nor has it been able to adapt to chang­ing world or­der of ac­com­mo­da­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Eth­nic is­sues are still among the chief el­e­ments that a nar­row­minded politi­cian would abuse in or­der to get re-elected to power.

The mea­sured man­ner in which Navin

Dis­sanayake styled the con­text of the whole is­sue of the Easter Sun­day mas­sacre, the gen­eral sta­tus of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in the coun­try and its con­tri­bu­tion to­wards the up­lift­ment of our so­ci­etal stan­dards was sim­ply marvel­lous. First, he delved into the lyri­cist who wrote the theme song for the Plan­ta­tion In­dus­tries Min­istry; the lyri­cist is a Mus­lim man whose fa­mil­iar­ity with the ver­nac­u­lar seems to be be­yond that of a well-ed­u­cated Sin­halese pun­dit. After re­veal­ing the lyri­cist’s iden­tity, Navin asked a sim­ple ques­tion from the au­di­ence: Is this lyri­cist not a pa­tri­otic Sri Lankan? Are we to ques­tion his pa­tri­o­tism, sim­ply based on his eth­nic pro­file? These are very sim­ple yet ab­so­lutely per­ti­nent in­quiries one must make if one were re­ally in­ter­ested in ar­riv­ing at a se­ri­ous res­o­lu­tion to a se­ri­ous is­sue.

Main­tain­ing a sane voice and publicly vent­ing out such ‘san­ity’ in an in­sanely racially-charged so­ci­ety could place him in a de­ci­sively dis­ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion. But the lead­er­ship of man is made up of such se­ri­ous and dis­ad­van­ta­geous el­e­ments. That may be why, when he found him­self to be ut­terly be­trayed by his own Hindu kins­men dur­ing In­dia’s

Free­dom Struggle, along des­o­late paths in In­dian vil­lages, Gandhi used to sing Tagore’s song unto him­self: “If they an­swer not to thy call, walk alone, walk alone.”

Lead­er­ship is a lonely dwelling; its un­savoury serv­ings are sel­dom served at cer­e­mo­nial openings; its fre­quent de­mands on the char­ac­ter of the oc­cu­pant are more to the ad­van­tage of his or her sub­jects rather than to him or her­self. Yet, all pol­i­tics be­ing pur­suit of power, the de­ci­sive el­e­ment that dif­fer­en­ti­ates boys from men is ‘tim­ing’ of the di­verse moves one makes. Boys, more of­ten than not, make more noise when men whis­per their wants and de­mands. Boys go back into the past, prom­ise a travel back to an age gone by and as­sure of this ‘… era’ and that ‘… era’, while men ask his fol­low­ers to look for­ward and stride even harder.

When Navin Dis­sanayake em­pha­sised the de­mands of the cur­rent cir­cum­stances and asked his au­di­ence to think more ra­tio­nally and treat all men and women in a bal­anced fash­ion and when he specif­i­cally men­tioned the nu­mer­ous sac­ri­fices the Mus­lim com­mu­nity has made in or­der to be one with the greater Cey­lonese fam­ily, he did not talk about the losses and gains suf­fered by both com­mu­ni­ties.

Navin re­ferred to the en­dur­ing sense of pa­tri­o­tism of a mi­nor­ity group in the com­mu­nity as an in­te­gral com­po­nent of a larger wheel of destiny.

He did not de­fend Is­lam; he de­fended pa­tri­o­tism.

Navin Dis­sanayake might find him­self alone in the cur­rent na­tional cri­sis, but he will never be lonely. Emerg­ing gen­er­a­tions in the coun­try hope­fully will have more to do with their own prob­lems and is­sues that are de­void of ethno-re­li­gious ten­sions. Their eco­nomic is­sues should take prece­dence over eth­nic and re­li­gious ir­ri­tants; whether backed by in­ter­na­tion­ally-funded ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions or not, they should be treated with ut­most care with a view to main­tain­ing a dy­namic equi­lib­rium amongst all eth­nic de­nom­i­na­tions. Reli­gion must be treated as ex­clu­sively a per­sonal com­mit­ment of a man to a set of be­liefs and val­ues whose ap­pli­ca­tion mat­ters more than the dust-rid­den ide­olo­gies. Pub­lic exposure of re­li­gious ad­her­ence is ugly; its ob­scen­i­ties have, as his­tory has shown us, claimed the lives of chil­dren. Who is re­spon­si­ble for such gross vi­o­la­tions? Who is re­spon­si­ble for man’s in­hu­man­ity to man?

It is eas­ier to write about these nu­anced dos and don’ts in a piece of news­pa­per col­umn; it’s much harder to put into prac­tice these lofty ideals in to­day’s mar­ket­place of pow­er­pol­i­tics. Nev­er­the­less, one must write about them. In such a dilemma-rid­den con­text, dis­ci­pline is of cru­cial im­port. Con­se­quences of a break­down in the dis­ci­pline of mind will even­tu­ally lead to ir­re­press­ible vi­o­lence when un­leashed, be­comes a cause to another more sin­is­ter and di­a­bol­i­cal ef­fect. That is why Navin’s ora­tion at the NIPM Awards

Cer­e­mony on that grey morn­ing of June 6 con­sists of a boom­ing mes­sage

of a ‘voice from the fu­ture.’

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