Struggling to protect democracy

All political parties that come to power to govern wish their government injunction and writ to be equally effective in all parts of the country. For this to happen properly, there should be the same understanding, acceptance and implementation of the law. The law is operative because there has been a shared involvement for the common good of all. When this shared involvement in the framing of the law and right understanding and acceptance of the law is flawed and is lacking there is plain evidence of absence of consensus on the need for basic social cohesion and commonality and lively solidarity in the Sri Lankan society.

When there is no clear understanding by public men, among whom are political and religious leaders, of what is good and evil, what is right and wrong, what is true and false, not only misunderstanding and social confusion, conflict, chaos and calamity leading to violence and bloodshed follow.


The semblance of unity that was exhibited at Independence was fragmented before a decade of years passed on issues of language, religion, ethnicity, caste and culture. The greed for power instigated some politicians to abandon intelligence and rationality, disregard good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood and appeal to the baser mob instincts of the masses hooked on the prejudices of their forefathers. Rationality got devastated in a burst of emotion and biased feelings. In the name of religion and culture very irreligious, impious and uncultured thoughts, words and actions were surfaced. And they are resurfaced today by parties plotting to capture a majority of votes from the Sinhala Buddhists.

People and their political leaders are readier to change elements of ‘material culture’ than change of outdated mental culture. Modern high-tech devices from frying pans, rice cookers, washing machines, air-conditioners, computers, cellular phones and now revolutionary door bells to forestall thieves are used by people with chauvinist mentalities of a feudal bent. Many mulishly hold on to racial, caste and religious bias and mental and cultural attitudes they are reluctant to abandon. Yet need to abandon being foolish and prejudiced. We should not be anti-Tamil-Hindu, anti-Muslim Islamic, anti-Sinhala Buddhist, anti-Catholic, anti-Christian and become anti-human.

We would be refined by our civilization and culture and striving to become Sri Lankan, truly appreciating the unique character of this land. Religious leaders who genuinely love the people of Sri Lanka and wish to see them united as one nation could do much to promote mutual respect among the people, lucid and coherent thinking and inter- religious, inter-ethnic harmony and pave the way towards national progress by consistently inculcating in their adherents the traditions that accord with religions such as devotion to truth, justice, tolerance, compassion, humility, gratitude, repentance and love and forgiveness.

Then, rather than politicians seeking props for their dilapidating political stances in places of worship, religious leaders will give good guidance to all including politicians in the ways of truth and righteousness, justice and fairness and living in graciousness and peace.


Rulers need to understand that striving to be autonomous, independent and self-determining are some of the characteristics of every educated human person. People’s ideas, views, opinions, understanding and knowledge and expertise could be wide ranging, varied and diverse. Tot capita, tot sententiae. There are as many opinions as there are heads. Nevertheless they are also capable of belonging to a community (common unity) of thought and action on many issues and a consensus of thought in human affairs.

They also show a commonality of belief in the religions, philosophies, ideologies they choose to adhere to and follow.

A leader has to be in solidarity with the people. No leader can govern a people effectively for a realistic term without their free, deliberate, cooperative and collaborative participation. Cooperation and collaboration cannot be enforced through threats, intimidation, coercion and terror. Various methods of autocratic control have been used by despotic rulers in the past and some today. When a significant section of the people are oppressed by monocratic rulers and bureaucrats, they do not submit to government directives as free people. They submit only to avoid further oppression and ceaseless harassment. People detest and hate oppressive leaders.


Potential despots wish to exploit the democratic process to the maximum to come to power. Once they get installed in power they discard the elements of democracy and attempt to govern by unilaterally imposing their will on the people. They think that they are all-knowing, sensible and very efficient. They presume they are strong in character, single minded, determined and are set on a firm course and they would achieve all manner of success thereby. Whereas, they are very narrow in knowledge, understanding and experience of the human condition which is complex. They do not know that the desire to know the truth – and in the public domain, the desire to know the true state of public affairs – is very basic to the human heart. And they disregard the people and set out to let everyone understand what is politically correct during their regime. They do not know that the desire to know the truth – and in the public domain, the desire to know the true state of public affairs – is very basic to the human heart. And they disregard the people and set out to let everyone understand what is politically correct during their regime.

And they set out to let everyone understand what is politically correct for their regime. This narrowness of intelligence impede their psyche which refuses to accept even relevant, lucid and cogent information that could open a person’s mind and raise it to accept other people’ better appraisal, keen understanding and incisive judgement of human affairs.

Despots come to power by exploiting a defective and less than healthy social situation. They opportunistically exploit the helplessness, dependence and fears of minority groups that tend to accept personal assurances disregarding the rights and well-being of the people as a whole. Undemocratic power holders, cowards at bottom, who gave such semi-official assurances to escape a tricky situation, never keep their word. They are not men or women with traits of honour in any form in them.

Despots remain with half-closed minds and yet think they comprehend everything clearly and better than everyone else and are therefore the most qualified and capable to govern the country by imposing their arbitrary will on the people. They do not understand nor are they concerned about the human dignity and human rights of persons. They profess to be concerned about the collective. They like to be supporters of the masses of unthinking people who could be manipulated and controlled in a desired manner. They are not concerned about the unknown, anonymous individual persons who day-in and day-out attend to their daily tasks ungrudgingly and who go to constitute and silently sustain the social community, the society. These despots abhor the individual person conscious of his human dignity, capability and rights who questions the sanity of the judgements and decisions and the integrity of character of the ruling authority.

The autocratic ruler does not care to engage in any kind of discursive dialogue or deliberative discourse. The despots superficially think that those who speak of human dignity and human rights are not representative of the ordinary democratic people but are a small vociferous minority. The despotic rulers tend to take the short-cuts easily available to them when they are in power. Often they are reluctant to explain and justify their actions and are incapable of being accountable over what they do in the public domain; they prefer to remain behind closed doors and silence, threaten and intimidate those who speak of democratic rights. Yet not all could be bullied into silence.


In any case, the people have a democratic right to know what is done, by who it is done, the cost of all that is done in their name and by the power vested in the rulers by them. The rulers either by themselves or through authorized subordinates should keep the people informed of matters relevant to them.

The just ways by which religious autonomy and identity is regarded, human rights and equality adhered to and respected, rights to one’s language acknowledged and democratic principles safeguarded are important. The rulers who are temporarily vested with power do not have the right to ignore or abrogate them in any way.

All of humanity whether of the East or the West, the South or the North have become conscious of the equality of all human beings, their inherent human dignity and human rights. Very often, it is the coarse and ignorant wielders of material power who attempt to deny to the people and the minorities what is inherently theirs by their very human nature.

The sovereign people should freely decide not to vest wide-ranging power even temporarily in potential autocrats and those who do not know how to uphold Constitutions. Rather than regretting later about impulsive and indiscreet decisions, the people should be circumspect and prudent and take every possible step to protect themselves and the succeeding generations from the prospect of a national catastrophe. They should disseminate and share their thinking and views with others. 


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