On a flight to Colombo for a conference on Monday, a retired bureaucrat was sitting in the same row as me. “Look at the Sri Lankan Airlines and look at Air India; India’s so shamefully backward... others have left us behind; we’re the world’s corruption capital. One regional leader dies and we act like the world’s come to an end,” and so on and so forth he went on. My sleep-deprived yawns were clearly not giving him the hint. I silently raged and kept smiling.
May be it was his age and maybe at some sub-conscious level I knew he was right. He continued this one-sided rant even as the aircraft descended on Bandranaike airport. “Look at this airport and think how shabby Mumbai airport feels.” Just when I felt that I was going to ‘defend’ India, we were through immigration and I realised my services wouldn’t be needed as we were taking separate transport to separate hotels.
I’d forgotten the babu, but on Tuesday, when posters denouncing the Chief Justice (CJ) of Sri Lanka were put up by the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapake’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, I kept remembering him. The action was a result of the CJ fighting the government’s move to impeach her on allegedly trumped up corruption charges using the ruling party’s majority in Parliament.
The reason Rajpakse wants revenge is the CJ’s spiking of a bill, that’d take all participatory decision-making powers about the economy out of the provinces’ hands and concentrate them in the hands of his younger brother Basil, the economic development minister. The CJ said any such bill would have to be passed by province assemblies before the government had its way. Since there’s been no legislature in the Tamil-majority north, the bill would die a natural death.
At the conference I met two journalists who had been in prison on sedition charges. “We don’t have a choice. The government says you are either with us or not. It will just not allow any latitude for fair and balanced reporting,” one of them told me and added with concern, “Given the number of people who have vanished for opposing the government, we fear for our lives.”
Wonder if Mr bureaucrat will read this. Sir, I know we are not saare jahaan se achcha, but what’s happening in Lanka could never happen to us. Why am I filled with foreboding the moment I wrote that?