We (don’t) need a Messiah Champika has failed to maintain what Mangala designed and Gota delivered
By Suren Rāghavan
John's two disciples found Jesus and said to him, "John, the Baptist, sent us to ask, 'Are you the Messiah we've been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?'" (Luke 7:2). That is historical. The question today is do we need a messiah because the madness is here again.
This is that time of the year when the global neo-liberal gurus tell us how liberating it is to worship the gods of greed in the marketplace and to satisfy the inner consumer craving even while pushing our stress, anxieties and credit cards to the red limits.
All the while, pretending that festival fetishisms will somehow bring us the happiness we search for at least a few days – at least this year. All in the name of a man born poor – lived poor as a carpenter's son with a single mom and later in life preached, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise."
Roads of Development
Of course, every game has a spoiler. That is why Minister Champika Ranawaka must resign without further delay because he stands between the lands of ultimate satisfaction as promised by Ranil, ever since he entered into politics from (still rural) Biyagama in 1977, and the growing need of the post-war middle class of Colombo who gladly drive by the horns than by any road ethics. Champika – after two full years in office of a very powerful ministry that includes UDA – has utterly failed to add any improvement to this old and already congested city of Colombo, now home to over a million people (and another 500,000 visiting daily). It takes over an hour in any direction to reach mere 15 km during peak times. Public hygiene factor is rapidly dropping.
Champika has failed even to maintain what Mangala designed and Gota delivered – both previous UDA chiefs. It is a shining signpost of unavoidable nature that screams about the promises and deliveries made by this Yahapaalanaya Government.
Then of course my Jathika type friends will jump to defend that we are far better than Chennai, Dhaka or Karachi. Yes, agreed.
We are far better than the 60 odd 'internally failing' states in the world. Our success cannot be measured against the weakest.
That is sadism. We ought to struggle with our potentials. Colombo could be a model garden city. And that is what the suddas left in part. That is what we still witness in and around Bauddhaloka Mawatha even after seventy years of neglect. The way we have done and continue to destroy the greenness of this country by totally mad city and infrastructure planning from Uma Oya to Port City is a testimony that we have stopped thinking but just living. Champika must resign because if not for Professor Amal Kumarage who – with his own life at risk – advised to make part of the city roads one-way and to introduce a bus line system, if not for such gap management, we could have seen some fresh blood of traffic fights on the streets. Traffic is just one thing gone wrong with an ever decomposing public transport system making a nonsensical private vehicle culture now demanding some 140,000 barrels of crude oil a day which was only around 25,000 in the 80s. One can do the arithmetic of the exchange burnt on this illogical 'development'. Having said that we know Champika will not resign. Because should we ever have such responsibility-based political culture then we will have none in the Cabinet. Meanwhile, it is important to ask why the ADB and other donors are so keen to offer millions of further soft loans to Lanka for Highways and road development and not to improve the 'colonial' rail system built in 1854 by the occupying para suddafor the benefit of the economy. We have systematically destroyed that national asset and made it a huge lose making agency. Do we need messiahs to fix this?
On the way to the Exams
Traffic management is crucial when/if you are driving loved ones to a life important exam. 2017 GCE (Ordinary Level) exams just started a few days ago. Some 688,500 future citizens of this country are testing their opportunity to fit into an ever shirking loan dependent economy at 3,700 exam centres island-wide, including one in the main prison in Colombo. It is great for a Buddhist country to be compassionate to the prisoners this way. But, it will be even more compassionate to ask what young people who should experiencing beauty of life are doing inside an overcrowded prison built in 1841 and for sure maintained in the same decomposing manner of all other colonial institutions. Examination Department Statistics show that on average a 30% who sit the O/L exam will disqualify for further studies. That is a staggering 200,000 young lives who will wonder on the meaning of life in this country. That is why no one is taking the slightest chance but making die hard sure to get through. For this – our national education system has become a silent social carnival of memory gymnastic. The callous system of tuition classes a student has to attend – at times two for the same subject after the regular schooling – calls for an urgent critical look at our school administration, the whole methodology and even the philosophy we follow to educate this nation so as to make them productive and positively contributing citizens.
Such urgency is deeply felt nowhere other than in our universities when these 'brightest' manage to scrape in. Every year the newcomers to even the best ranking State universities in Lanka display such an inbuilt inability for serious critical thinking. Their preparedness to engage in higher studies that will change Lanka and its society is abysmally absent. Instead they are well trained recording machines now with some powers of social identity that will restore an extra right as 'uni students' immediately making them a radical class during the four years and an administrative hegemony after they leave the uni with a certificate in hand – all thanks to the responsibility of the few taxpaying citizens.
The colossal cost of money, time and life is high in the entire industry of tuition classes –almost an exclusively male dominant easy fame and cash industry. No need of accreditation.
Not even a police/criminal clean record requested on those who spend hours with very vulnerable young people with an authoritative position. Anyone who can print and paste few 1000 posters in and around any major city is a 'tuition sir'. The intra competition has grown so ugly they display the best students who won motor cars by attending their classes. They claim that they produce the best results in examinations. This should challenge the entire education ministry and the minister should give us a rationale why he believes that such amount of money of the public is 'wastefully invested' in the school system if the students of the State schools are unable to pass the exams set by the State examination department without attending tuition classes. Does this show how pathetic our education at the State schools? Or how clever the tuition masters are?
I am tempted to suggest something drastic.
Let's close all the State schools, give parents a dole. Let them send their children to tuition of their choice only and all students will sit for a common paper. If not the education ministry has to find a creative, practical as well as a qualitative answer to this tuition cancer and the way it has already crippled the lives of the students, teachers and parents.
In two months all sectors of this island will be jubilant that they chased the 'suddas' and become 'nidahas''. Again millions of public money, time, energy and material will be wasted to smoothen our otherwise ugly and naked national realities. Name me a traitor. I will not celebrate because I honestly have nothing to be proud of this State and its current conditions except for few events like Arjuna Ranatunga bringing the ICC Cup home. We need an urgent investigation into our democracy and its validation.
May be Westminster democracy is not the road we should take. Will a new reading of the State formation and a Civilization State order based on a collective responsibility be the light we should hope at the end of this long dark tunnel? But then who will lead us there? Do we (not) need a messiah?
Suren Rāghavan PhD is a Resident Research Scholar at the Department of History, University of Colombo
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