Mob frenzy in the halls of justice | Sunday Observer

Mob frenzy in the halls of justice

6 October, 2019

On Friday, October 4, a three-judge bench of the Court of Appeal dismissed the writ application that challenged the validity of the Sri Lankan citizenship of presidential aspirant Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In due course, the court will give its reasons.

“Formal notices of this application should not be issued to the respondents, and the application should therefore be dismissed,” was the terse ruling announced by President of the Court of Appeal tribunal that heard the case.

The seriousness of the submissions made, and the solemnity of the final ruling was adequate proof that the petition was no flippant maverick endeavor of two political partisans.

Gotabaya, a naturalized US citizen was in the country on a visitor’s visa helping his brothers’ campaign in 2005. When brother Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidency, the obvious choice for the pivotal office of Defense Secretary was the sibling who was the military professional in the family. In order to occupy the high office, he was obliged to first reclaim his Sri Lankan citizenship which he decided to do under Sri Lankas legal provisions that enabled him to reclaim that which was his by birth right while retaining his US nationality that he had obtained after a painstaking process.

The two civil society activists were raising a reasonable question. Was due process followed?

The three-member bench has now made its ruling. The citizenship issue seems to be settled. We will learn more when the court gives its reasons.

The mob frenzy that erupted in the halls of justice when the ruling was announced is the point of departure of this essay.

Halfway through the announcement of the ruling, several lawyers and supporters present in court got in to a frenzied cheering and clapping. Some jumped out of their seats.

“Order!” called the President of the Court of Appeal from the Bench. The senior lawyers tried to restrain the unruly crowd. They tendered an apology to court.

“It is saddening, shocking, and disgusting conduct. I assume no attorneys at law participated in that disgraceful conduct. If there is any evidence to that effect, such attorneys at law shall be dealt with in terms of the law,” said Justice Kodagoda president of the court of appeal.

There was a similar seminal hearing on a writ application during the Rajapaksa regime. A three-member bench of the court of appeal then granted a writ application concerning the select committee hearing on the impeachment of a chief justice. The court then granted the petition. No one said ‘hurrah' or jumped about in the well of the court.

What is wrong with our country? The Civil War irretrievably changed the terrain and memory of our post-independence politics.

The politics of the war years has produced a generation of political activists who present a dangerous threat to our accepted patterns of social behavior in civil life.

They hold a dangerously different world view in terms of freedom and inviolable human rights.

The dilemma we confront today, has a historical precedent. When Napoleon Bonaparte’s empire was crumbling in 1813, Philosopher and statesman Benjamin Constant issued the powerful condemnations of what we now call militarism.

It was highly dangerous, ‘to create in a country … a large mass of men imbued with an exclusively military spirit’. Such a group of men at some point after peace is restored would not shed their attitudes along with their uniforms.

On the contrary, they would regard the unarmed populace as the ignoble mob that has to molded into a new culture of grand patriotism. The rule of law was a useless subtlety that can be manipulated to their whim. Opposition to their ‘weltanschauung’ was disorder that invited immediate suppression.

Three centuries later those words still ring true. Militarism has no place in modern society. In all countries, in all centuries, a confederation of priests has formed within the state, a state apart. In all centuries, and countries, men associated together in the army for long periods have separated themselves from the nation.

The very soldiers of freedom, infighting for such, conceive a kind of respect for the use of force, regardless of purpose.

Without knowing it they contract thereby morals, ideas and habits which are subversive of the cause they defend.

The measures which ensure triumph of war prepares the collapse of the law. Law must be calm, often slow, and always protective. The Military Spirit detests the thinking faculties as insipient indiscipline. All legitimate government rests on conviction.

To make a long story short, during the Rajapaksa decade we ended a thirty year’s war in three short years, and we discovered new paradigms of truth and morality. We learnt to live with mass mediated manufactured truth.

In politics, ‘truth’ is not what it appears to be. A social theorist has ventured to unravel the complexity of truth in politics.

Public truths are things of this world. Each society has its regime of truth. Its own politics of truth. These truths were produced by multiple forms of constraints within that society. Such societal truths were conditioned by power.

Now, we wake up daily, to a world of disputed claims. Sorting out truth from fallacy invariably takes the form of a buried scandal and vanished evidence.

We heard the mob in the hallowed precincts of the court when the ruling was announced.

The first lie we must expose is the claim that in our democracy all men are equal. It is an illusion. Our current politics operates in the blank space between illusion of freedom and the reality of serfdom.

All of us are not equal. It is a terrible lie that we should really worry about. We have not quite succeeded in dismantling the ‘authoritative state.’ The essence of the Rajapaksa family rule remains intact.

Facts are commonly replaced with opinions. Factual truth is hostage to political argument.

Of course, we don’t expect politicians to be always truthful. But we must not allow the politician’s cynicism to carry the day. That would mean forfeiting our commonsense and common decency.

If we wish to regain our sanity and restore the respect for evidence based factual truth, we must defeat Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the ‘Rajapaksa Family’ at the coming presidential polls.