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It’s 20 Years More To Tahrir From Lipton Square

Apr 2, 2011 3:26:10 PM - thesundayleader.lk

Cricket World Cup 2011 is now over. Sri Lanka was better and bigger than the Pakistanis in India. They had their President in Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, when Mohali had only PM Yousuf Raza Gilani for the Pakistanis and not President Zardari. President Rajapaksa took a bigger cheering squad too than PM Gilani. Here in Colombo, around small and large screens, there was perhaps more cheering and praying for a Pakistani victory on Wednesday last, than in the Mohali Stadium.

President Rajapaksa takes pain in distancing himself from urban life, to project himself as a “villager”

We Sri Lankans preferred to take on Pakistan in Mumbai than those “big brother Indians.” We wanted Pakistanis to beat India, for us to have all the Indian ground cheer for us, at the finals on Saturday. There was also the usual anti Indian political booing entrenched too, in cheering Pakistan. Well, all that is over and the hype and din of the World Cup that frothed in urban life would now gradually settle into the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2018.
It has to. This regime wants to carry its Sinhala vote base, with the promise they could do it better in “Hambantota 2018” than in “Delhi 2010.” It’s also the cost that soared beyond 6 billion US dollars, that’s important. It sure would not be less in the new city of Hambantota that has to be constructed all anew, unlike Delhi. In Delhi, the CWG files are now being opened up because someone went to courts to beat the Delhi government in taking time over hesitant inquiries. After Hambantota 2018, if Colombo beats Australia in the bid, there may not be any files to open, as in India. Or, will it be, there would be no citizen to go to courts and ask for files to be opened? Even if one dares, will the courts dare?
The democratic quality of a regime, a legal luminary in a public forum last Wednesday said, can be judged by how independent the judiciary is. It also means, how free and safe a society is, to question the deeds of its ruler in courts. This regime I was told, not in Tripoli but in Colombo, is “buying, rewarding and threatening” for its existence and that defines all aspects of State life. Threatening too may not stop, just there. That makes the difference.
There is also a difference in how “rule of law” under such a regime is perceived by its citizenry. That does have similarities between Tripoli and Colombo, beyond air raiding their own citizenry. Like in Libya, in Sri Lanka too, it’s the very urban coastal area that feels the rule of “buying, rewarding and threatening” an intimidating way of life. The rest don’t. But, can these urbanites change regime?
This raised too many questions that a non-Left colleague said, neither Marx nor Lenin would have spared the remaining few “Leftists” here, for their theorising on Libya and the “imperialist” intervention. Worst, he said, these Old Left “comrades” could not be reached for any comment, other than on the World Cup final, even under this Rajapaksa regime. Coming out of that schizophrenic cricket extravaganza, what this Old Left bloc say now, on the NATO controlled “no fly zone” over Gaddafi’s North-East Libya, would be spectacularly whimsical, when juxtaposed with North-East Sri Lanka and Rajapaksa, in place of Gaddafi.
Again, all this high profile politics, or rather, politically correct and necessary positioning, is never relevant to the 63 per cent non urbanite citizenry, who still prefer their life with the Rajapaksas at the helm of ruling with ‘buying, rewarding and threatening.’ That perhaps is what had gone wrong with all Opposition politics against Rajapaksa. All issues raised by the Opposition against Rajapaksa, “outright selling instead of long term lease of Colombo prime land to foreign companies, arbitrary relocating of Colombo residents, interference in the judiciary, severe threats to rule of law, 18th Amendment to the Constitution, GSP plus, militarising of administration, siblings, relatives and all their boot-lickers being posted to privileged positions, corruption and waste in mega dumps and even the increasing cost of living” put together, has very little impact on rural life in Athimaley, Andadola or Anamaduwa.
That rural life has its own issues, for sure. They sure struggle without water, without proper irrigation, quality seeds, adequate subsidies for fertilizer, inadequate or absence of floor prices for their products, logistics in reaching markets and may be, rather there has to be, some concern on state provided medical and educational facilities and government employment for their children. These are no new issues for rural life and theirs have not been easy, comfortable life in rural society though without much complaints.
Rural life has also been contend with war benefits too. Most rural families willingly providing large numbers as soldiers, sailors, airmen, policemen and civil defence force members, add quite a substantial percentage to the cash flow in villages. They also get  Middle East remittances, though often mismanaged by dependants. With limited social needs in contrast to fast tracked urban life, they have over the past decades, adopted themselves culturally to timidly depend on politicised rural systems that are lethargic and inefficient in delivery.
They would not, therefore list all the political issues the Colombo urban polity grumble about, as their priorities. They clearly don’t see eye to eye with urban politics and urban priorities. That clearly is reason, why President Rajapaksa takes pain in distancing himself from urban life, to project himself as a “villager.” He knows the advantage in continuing to identify himself with the passive majority in the villages, for electoral politics.
The war devastated North also has little to do with Colombo politics. They have their own catastrophe to be understood and interpreted in post war Sri Lanka, far away from Colombo’s aspirations. Their issues on militarisation of the North – East areas, safe and secure life, resettlement and rehabilitation with a stake in political power, have a wholly different political context to that of Colombo. Very plainly, their needs are not Colombo based Sinhala needs.
These are three different socio cultural areas of different political aspirations that cannot be generalised as one, on priorities taken up in urban Colombo by the Opposition. They have to be very specific components of a common campaign, if the Opposition wants this regime challenged, on electoral platforms.
In under developed countries that still retain traditional cultural life as the base, though within a national economy dominated  by urban life that’s detached and growing on its own with new values, attitudes and perceptions, electoral political power is often decided by the majority that remain as the “old society” within the new economy. Very often autocratic rulers depend on such “old society” for their political power. That power does not change very much when autocracies align with traditional social forces in rural vote banks.
In such societies, power changes hands, when the urban polity decides to leave electoral politics for people’s power that demands a stake in governance. It happened in Tunisia when the rebellion first in its commercial city of Sidi Bouzid moved into the capital city Tunis. It happened much the same way when Cairo was taken over with mass gatherings of its urban people, in the Tahrir Square. The “change” was sealed with the urban and not rural masses.
Muammar Al Gaddafi is seeing it happening in his largest industrial city Banghazi. The largest of the two sprawling cities, the other being capital Tripoli. What is not happening in Libya as yet and what Gaddafi is preventing happening, is the spread of the rebellion to Tripoli. With its heavy petroleum industries, Libya has over 60 per cent of its urban population in these two metropolitan cities. The rest count little, in terms of political power and no one is air bombing the vast peasantry.
But there is an issue though, I was told. With Ben Ali in Tunisia, it took over 24 years for the people to realise, they cannot live any more under a ruthlessly undemocratic State and in a devastated, plundered economy. In Egypt, it took over 30 years for Hosni Mubarak to prove to his people, he is no frozen devil and should be thrown out for democratic reforms and development. In Yemen, with the lowest human development index ratings in the Arab world, Abdullah Saleh was at the helm for 21 years, before the Yemeni people realised they have been completely plundered.
It takes that long for a despot to finish off an economy and a society. Thus it’s a long long way to Tahrir, from Lipton square.