National ‘freedom’ derives from Government | Sunday Observer

National ‘freedom’ derives from Government

Tomorrow, the modern Sri Lankan nation completes seventy one years of statehood. As we proudly pause at attention for the anthem, we have a moment to reflect on the state of our nationhood. Since the arrival of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe ‘National Government’ in January 2015 and that first hope-filled ‘Independence Day’ a few weeks later, how far has our national community journeyed in our pursuit of happiness?

Political leaders of various ilk may wax eloquent about ‘civilisation’ and ‘history’ and their own versions of our collective experience of nationhood, but we, as individual citizens, will reflect in our own ways. As sovereign citizens, we do not leave this important moment of collective reflection to just the politicians – especially, the lot that we have haplessly voted into power given our embarrasingly limited choice of calibre.

Sri Lanka’s modern society is unified as a single state, territory and economy, but how much has our post-colonial life consolidated our nationhood? How much do the different communities that make up our island society sing the anthem with full-throated unanimity about our sense of larger, embracing nationhood?

Do we all – Sri Lankan women and men, of different ethnics, different classes and castes, varying sexualities – sing with the confidence of a national community that embraces all equally? Is our care for each other firmly grounded in our religiously intoned principles of karuna/love/brother-sisterhood?

Or, is our nationalist fervour one that selfishly begins with our individual status and our self-perceptions of social hierarchy that render some above the other, some more central to nationhood than others, some estranged by traumatic social-political division and strife? Are some genders more equal than others? Are some ethnic communities more proud of their presumed centrality to nationhood while other communities must resign themselves to a distance from that core experience of ‘belonging’?

In the official celebrations tomorrow we may continue with the unifying practice of singing the anthem in our own, officially recognised, languages. But is that undoubtedly socially binding power of singing the same national anthem in many languages authenticated in the practice of participation and equal inclusion in daily governance?

Our national armed forces have fought long and hard to fulfil their task of protecting territorial integrity and ending social strife. At another level, rebellious militants rising from marginalised social sectors – both rural youth and ethnic minority - have also sacrificed much in their struggles against socio-economic and cultural inequity.

How much are our political leaders actually fulfilling societal needs even though all of them lay claim to such legacies of heroic national and social struggles?

As he addresses the nation tomorrow, President Maithripala Sirisena must face a nation that still awaits the fulfilment of key pledges he originally made when he bravely contested his erstwhile party colleague in that pivotal Presidential Election of 2015. Where is the fundamental reform and refreshing changes in governmental and political practice that were promised by the ‘Good Governance’ regime that began in January that year and was consolidated by the parliamentary victory in the following August?

Prime Minister WIckremesinghe, no doubt severely shaken by the recent undemocratic manipulations of the Constitution that undermined his position and role, faces the challenge of persisting in the project of national political collaboration between the Presidency and the Parliamentary Government. After all, that project of 2015 still remains as the promise made to the nation irrespective of specific political party self-interest.

This country, this society, has too often gone to the brink of social chaos for its citizens to be complacent with excuses and false alarms given as cover for governmental failure. Social strife and opportunistic manipulations of political institutions has certainly brought our society down ominously to the depths of trickery, nepotistic corruption and depraved autocracy among not only our politicians but also permeating general social life itself.

The Government must surely be aware that the electorate watches performance more incisively than ever before, given our new powers of observation and self-expression, thanks to powerful new systems of communication and journalistic monitoring. Has the Government a sense of time table in implementing political commitments?

As the Commissioner of Elections himself now forcefully reminds us, beginning with Provincial elections, the nation will soon start trekking to the voting booths to elect new political managers at all levels of national governance. The political parties and politicians in power must understand that striving for political party pre-eminence alone is not the patriotism appreciated by the citizenry.

If cynicism persists among politicians, therein lies the danger of its spread among the citizenry. Loss of faith in our institutions of state is what once sparked violent rebellion.

On the eve of our Freedom celebrations, the politicians cannot afford to leave the citizenry simply to grit its teeth and persevere with the usual mess of conveniently forgotten promises and continued corruption, inefficiency and community betrayal.

The various speeches tomorrow, in the Capital and in the Provinces, simply cannot sound hollow as they do most times. That is not what ‘birthday’ celebrations mean.