BY Capt Elmo Jayawardena

I plagiarized the title of this article from a Latin quote “Quo Vadis”. It was an immensely popular movie in the 50s starring Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr. According to the film, Quo vadis (Whither Goes Thou) were the words exchanged between God and St Peter. The first apostle was fleeing from Rome along the Appian Way to Brindisi to take a boat and escape to Palestine. Peter went back to Rome where he was crucified. Today there is a small chapel on that road where Peter turned back. It is called the Church of Domine Quo vadis.

Now you know I admitted I plagiarized. Don’t throw stones at my aeroplane. I have already said my mea culpa.Times have become difficult and often impossible to cope with. Whatever winds blow across our paradise isle, they are all filled with maelstroms that have so many manifestations. I do not think I am wrong if I say that even the winds are deceitful. We have been in turbulence for more years than we can recall.

We were reduced to pauperism during the 30-year ethnic conflict. As if that was not enough, we have been continuously shrouded in a cloak of corruption that has corralled us for the last 76 years. We may have survived the tsunami, outlived the war, and overcome the COVID menace, but corruption looks as if it is here to stay. Unless some miracle takes place, we will eternally mourn the loss of our beautiful paradise.

Whichever way we look at it, we have become a nation in crutches. Of course, there are a selected few from various privileged backgrounds, riding white horses and galloping with scant regard for the perpetual pleadings of the proletariat.

Let me not mince words about this never-ending predicament. It is the political oligarchy that is directly responsible for the ruination of this god favoured land of ours.

Things may change or things may remain the same. The time has come once again for the meat of the feast to be marinated.

The presidential elections are supposed to take place. A new leader will be elected to resurrect the nation. The excitement is buzzing like a stoned beehive, and the stinging has already started.

Political Pantomime is the talk of the town. The television and the smart phone have become the stirrer, minting money airing controversial material through programs and messages arousing the curiosity of all and sundry. They feature the saints and the sinners in the same forum. Of course, it is all in the eyes of the beholder, as bar none, all the screened politicos endlessly scream ‘though our sins have been scarlet, they shall be white as snow’. All this is for the confederacy of you and me, the politically humbled and vulnerable voters who are hanging by a thread and fighting to survive in a so-called democratic state that is drowning everyone except the politician.

That is our lot today, a definite case of ‘Hobson’s choice’! What can we do? We are crushed on every side with the might of the Diyawanna Oya muscle. The nation that is on crutches is also reduced to nation-wide timidity. Instead of hitting the camel with the cane, we fold up and go home and beat the basket carried by the donkey. Yes, there are those that have the courage to protest, brave the tear gas and the water cannons and get dragged behind bars in their wet clothes. The rest disperse and live to fight another day. The Aragalaya held promises for the masses and was successful in honking “kaputu Kak Kak” and getting the then incumbent president to leave the country. But it was a short-lived victory for the commoners. True, the cookie did crumble but not enough to topple the pie.

The real outcome was so different to the fancy rhetoric of the powers that came into force. The ‘change of guards’ was more cosmetic than their solemn assurances to eradicate the riddle of poverty. Of course, there were promises the same as before. Most were meaningless and were mere fig leaves to cover their political nudity. It’s not that the people were gullible, but they were more or less trapped in their helplessness.

Yes, there were genuine voices raised in protest, often ending up behind prison walls or, worse, buried under the sod of an unmarked grave in an isolated cemetery, a freedom fighter silenced without a trace. Most often they were people who acted in desperation simply because there was no other solution.

The elections are coming in nine months and the insignificant man and woman on the street have become the flavour of the season. Casual meetings often begin with conversation on politics. This is the month of March, and the grand battle is believed to be taking place before November. The first question that people ask is “who are you going to vote for?” The answer at this stage is like a multiple-choice school paper. Only three are mentioned; RW, SP and AKD. Can anyone of them take a strong-arm Lee Kuan Yew stance and clean the ‘Augean Stables’? The Field Marshall in retirement made his best attempt and languished sadly in Welikada. Ending corruption is still his clarion call, but today he is more like the ‘Boy who stood on the burning deck.’

Of course, there are many other stalwarts loitering in the periphery who may make some noise and then throw in the towel with a bit of ‘Hora Police’ for future benefits. But there are some ‘new kids on the block’ too – poker faced and holding their cards close to their chests and side betting to be in the game, in order to pick-up a few chips that fall off the table.

Then. there are the known faces in politics strutting the familiar stage. It might be a good idea to list them on a whiteboard along with their current parties and allegiances so we could check on them when the November winds begin to blow. Some of these are simply withered vines of fruitless opposition or side benchers who could not make the ‘A’ team purely for the lack of godfathers. Most of them are political grease-pole climbers yo-yoing up and down looking for a handhold. Yet, they do carry some weight.

The Three Wise Men may need to give them due consideration even though some of them are better suited in a circus rink with their noses painted red and cheeks painted blue, simply to prevent them from drifting to the opposing sides. More like a ‘Balla piduru kanneth naa, kana gonata denneth naa’ or should I say ‘dog in the manger’ for better clarity?

The ‘lady brigades’ seem to be taking a fair slice of the political cake this time. They do represent, gender wise, more than 50% of the voters. We often see Hirunika, encouraged by her Supreme Court victory, batting for the SJB, and Harini with her ‘silver tongue deliveries’ carrying the flag of the NPP. They both seem to be gathering momentum. Who knows? There could always be a Jacinda Arden or an Angela Merkel in the making among these crowd-capturing Joans of Arc. That sure is a better option than some of the Lady Godivas we have seen seeking seats in the parliament.

Looks like Chandrika too is making a comeback. Though a late entry to the fray (being used to keeping people waiting!), CBK reminds me of buccaneer Jean Lafitte who played a crucial role in the 1812 American war against Britain. In an evenly matched sea battle, the side that Lafitte joined with his fellow pirates tilted the scale, and America won. For services rendered President James Madison gave a full pardon to Lafitte.

Two hundred plus years later it might happen here too, and CBK may tilt the winning scale. That certainly will absolve her of all sins to be ‘born again’ to climb a high pedestal with a new coalition in the parliament.

In the meantime, with all this ‘gas maaru pethi choru’ that is going on, we the voters remain unimportantly active, arguing vociferously among ourselves as to who the infallible majesty we should vote for.

Does it really matter?

Reminds me of Snakes and Ladders. In the last 76 years, we have played political snakes and ladders. No matter how the dice rolled, we have come down the snakes and we have come down the ladders too.

That is the way we Sri Lankans are destined to live.

As such, the question ‘Whither goes Thou’ remains meaningless to us.