Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Politics and Governance

Hurry Up and Go Slowly

When we were being initiated to English under the Free Education Scheme, our teacher used to ask us to, “Hurry up and go slowly.” This command made us laugh, for by then we knew enough English to see the seeming paradox.

Sixty years later, I do not laugh at the words any more. I see their wisdom particularly in relation to the resolution of our ethnic conflict. They seem to indicate the way to put an end to this cancerous problem.

“Hurry up” implies urgency, commitment and absence of prevarication. The ethnic problem has dragged on for 60 years after independence and there has never been a dedicated commitment to resolve it. Dilly dallying has always been the order of the day. Wisdom demands that all stake-holders assume a genuine sense of immediacy to put an end to the awful dispute.

“Go” is a command to start immediately. On record we have started more than eight decades ago but really we are still where we started, if not even further behind. If commissions, committees, conferences, seminars, debates and draft bills mean anything, our ‘make-believe’ of ‘going’ may be unparalleled in history. Wisdom demands that we start without humbugging.

“Slowly” denotes circumspection, patience, and foresight. We have to see all around us, be patient enough to respect opposite views and be mindful of the consequences of our actions. That is just what we have failed to do all these years. Most of the time we have been bogged down in emotive words like ‘federal’, ‘unitary’, ‘patriotism’ and ‘sole representative’. Words have been the bane of our life.

Upatissa who later became the Chief Disciple of Lord Buddha under the name of ‘Sariputta’, met Rev. Assajee, a Buddhist monk once and inquired from him as to what the Buddha taught. On being told that it was a vast subject, Sariputta-to-be remarked “attheneva me attho. kin kahasi vyanjanan bahun” (I need only the essence. Of what use is a cacophony of words?)

Unfortunately, most of us who hold Arahat Sariputta in utmost reverence do not appear to follow his words of wisdom in practice. If we did we would have made much headway with our ethnic problem by now.

The UNP appears to have seen some wisdom in these words, when they removed the word ‘federal’ from their political vocabulary. Although they have been maligned as deceitful ‘turn-coats’ when they did this, it has to be appreciated that it is the jettisoning of that word that has brought them closer to a consensus. Imaginably and hopefully, the jettisoning does not affect what they want to do for the minorities.

Going slow also implies gradual progress in the correct direction, a ‘step by step’ approach. We have always wanted to take quantum leaps but tarried at the very beginning, due to controversies about the final destination. This reminds one of the nervous driver who does not start his car because he is worried about crossing the Maradana Junction.

Controversy is not a dirty word. It helps in the clarification of issues and the choice of options and brings about equilibrium. In that sense, we have to be thankful to rivals on both sides of the ethnic ‘tug-of-war’. If not for the force of their pull, the rope would have been snatched away to one side or the other long ago.

Political leaders should be astute enough to act at the point the marker on the rope comes to the ‘nadu center’, as the Tamils call it. One occasion it was at the ‘nadu center’ was when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed.

It is foolish to idle because the ideal is not possible. We can only achieve the optimum practicable at any point in time depending on the balance of forces currently operative. In this sense, the President’s declared move to implement the Thirteenth Amendment appears to be a first step in the right direction. May be no party agrees unreservedly to this move. Only it happens to be a move that no one would seriously oppose.

In fact it is a step backwards for we are supposed to have taken it 20 years ago. Nevertheless it would be a step forward in the sense that we have been going backwards since the Amendment. However it is important that the Amendment is implemented in full and in real earnest for it has been since diluted mostly by the greed of politicians in power to expand their ‘empires’ and the misguided priorities of the national budget.

To think that implementing the Thirteenth Amendment is the end of the race would be deceiving oneself for want of a sense of history. The sincerity with which the Amendment is implemented should generate greater trust among the communities which in turn would doubtlessly make the stake-holders more amenable to greater consensus on further progress.

‘Go’ also demands that we move forward on a time frame that would be practicable after the successful implementation of the Amendment. In the light of past experience the next possible optimum move appears to be the adoption of the Draft Constitution of 2000 or an improved version of it made possible by the ‘breaking of the ice’ by the previous move.

Perhaps it is too early in the day to visualize where we ‘go’ after implementing the Thirteenth Amendment on which we are already focused. Besides conjecturing on further moves at this stage faces the danger of initiating another controversy that would hold back even the promised ‘small mercy’. Let us not upset the hornets’ nests within sight of the Sigiri frescos. Our destination is the top of the rock.

Let us get ourselves going now and cross bridges when we come to them. It may well be that none of us living today would come to the last bridge. It would be crossed by our progeny who by then would have developed a mind-set capable of crossing the bridge with ease. They will make decisions on the dictates of their own social and intellectual environment. It is dogmatic and futile to dictate terms to future generations on the strength of existing power bases.

This does not mean that we do not have a role to play. Our obligation is to develop policies that would facilitate the crossing, not to mention the avoidance of false steps that would vitiate the atmosphere and embarrass a final resolution.

It is also important to realize that we do not have the status to dictate to the powers that would preside over the destiny of a future electorate that would carry the baby beyond the reform within our sight. That electorate would be influenced in their choice by the imperatives of their own environment.

Our immediate task then, is to ‘hurry up’ with the Thirteenth Amendment. That happens to be the most pragmatic move immediately possible. Then we must ‘go slowly’, but progressively, step by step, towards a harmonious, integrated and equitable Sri Lanka with honesty of purpose and commitment.

We have also to make way for those coming after us by removing road-blocks and implementing conducive and proactive policies that would facilitate them to progressively make optimum decisions towards the ideal. Even after ten Prabhakarans, Peace will not dawn on us until the system makes it possible for every citizen to share and share alike the bounteous legacy of this land.