A question of 'honour'
In the recent decade, we, Sri Lankans, had
learnt to live in a world of make-believe when it came to our
self-esteem. The discourse of 'greatness' and 'civilisation' so
regularly expounded by politicians and their allies had begun to sound
so hollow that one needed the mental gymnastics of pretence and
self-delusion to continue believing in any semblance of national 'honour'.
Despite that election promise of 'peace with honour' on which many
Sri Lankans voted in the presidential election of 2005, the subsequent
tenure of the Rajapaksa regime only saw the country's name dragged in
mud. The internal war may have physically ended in terms of actual armed
confrontation, but, having experienced the bitter and sometimes bloody
civil confrontations between communities that have occurred since then,
we all know the social reality of a divided society. And if the 'peace'
achieved can be seen to be brittle and incomplete, the question of 'honour'
is something many Sri Lankans, till recently, avoided facing up to,
knowing full well how the antics of the regime of the time had brought
shame and dishonour to the country. Many were thankful that Sri Lanka
was so little known in the world that, while travelling outside the
country, there was little need to defend the stained national
The country which, at one time, was known and respected as the chair
of the once-great Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), was barely able to retain
its membership in the Commonwealth and was beginning to lose its
advantages in global trade structures such as with the European Union
and the United States of America, our biggest export markets. This was
directly due to the uncivilised mess inside the country, with
inter-community relations shattered by mob violence, rights violations,
ethnic minority families fleeing the country for safety and prosperity
abroad, and, the rigours foreign investors and traders experienced at
the hands of plundering politicians and their bureaucrat henchmen. The
ending of that regime of dishonour in 2015 has revived the country's
image globally and slowly drawn the country back into the family of
nations. If the last CHOGM - held here - is now only a bad memory, the
recent string of visits by world leaders from both the East and the West
marks the welcome by the world community to our return to the fold.
Last week, Sri Lanka hosted the executive committee meeting of the
International Democratic Union (IDU), yet another global forum - this
time, on the political plane - among the many that are of strategic
value to nation-states 'on the make' in the global scene. The United
National Party, a longstanding member of the IDU, was the hosting member
organisation and, consequently, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as
party leader, chaired the meeting.
The IDU, headquartered in Oslo, Norway, has 71 member political
parties and associate member parties from 63 countries, and brings
together political movements of the western liberal-conservative
tradition across the globe. At present the IDU has member parties in
government (including in Sri Lanka) and also in opposition. The holding
of the executive committee meeting in Colombo must be seen as another
gesture of 'welcome back' by the world community. New Zealand's Prime
Minister chose to combine his attendance at the meeting - as chair of
the IDU - with an official visit to Sri Lanka, bringing prospects of
greater friendly relations and good business between the two countries.
Significantly, the Colombo meeting was the occasion for confirming IDU
membership for the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) of India, the party
currently heading the coalition government in Delhi. Colombo's gesture
of inclusion of an Indian party in the IDU will surely be appreciated by
The BJP and its ideological allies are known for their strident form
of Indian nationalism, a nationalist discourse that is seen by the
Indian ethnic minority communities (and many Indian democracy monitors)
as tending to favour the majority Hindu and Hindi-speaking communities
and, consequently, being not so friendly toward the other religions and
cultures making up the Indian nation. At the same, the BJP and its
ideological circle has a history of ethno-centric disdain for the
'foreign', especially, the West. That this same BJP, despite its overly
Indo-centric world view, sees fit to join such a western-originated
international body as the IDU, indicates the careful calibration of the
Indian ruling party's outlook on foreign policy and global political
culture to gain the maximum leverage for its country on the world stage.
The BJP's nationalism, unlike the nationalism espoused by the Rajapaksa
regime and currently by its ideological fellow travellers, does not see
the world outside as a threat. The BJP surely knows that becoming part
of any larger community - be it official global bodies like the UN or,
international political movements like the IDU - will require the
joining member, whether a nation-state or an organisation, to submit to
the norms and regulations of that community. That is a necessary
discipline that is observed when one joins others in any venture that
brings mutual benefit. That is what Sri Lanka experiences within all
such international structures of which this country is a member.
After years of being told that the 'international community' is a
threat to the nation, Sri Lankans are now discarding those ideological
blinkers. To think that we can do anything we like and get away with it
in a world that is peopled by many and not just ourselves is to suffer
from a narcissism that, in turn, is a symptom of avijja and thanhaa. 'Honour'
is something won within a community and, bestowed by that community and,
not something achieved in isolation.