Two Recent Photographs of Significance


If you remember, I wrote in this column last Sunday about iconic photographs both current and of the past which had global impacts, changed minds, even policy and maybe world history. Today I deal with two recent local photographs that have impacted themselves severely on the conscience of the public; that of people who think and are politically neutral but very concerned about the wellbeing of the country.

Nearly 49% Sri Lankans voted for CHANGE on January 8 and got it. Mahinda Rajapaksa had ruled the country for ten long years, yes ruled us with an iron fist that got more and more intolerant and family oriented. After two terms as president through the substitution of an Article in the Constitution, he hoped to win a third term and go on until he could pass the crown he deluded himself as wearing to his eldest son. That is the perception of those who voted against him and ejected him out of the presidency. Then he bounces back, rubber balled mostly by the foursome of you-know-who, claiming he was the prime ministerial candidate. In this too he was unsuccessful though he did win his seat. Praise be, we all sighed with relief. Ranil Wickremesinghe and his clever young men and a couple of women won seats in the August general election, but insufficient. So came the combined government by the two largest parties, enemies invariably, now cobbled together to cohabit on the same side of Parliament. We are not privy to how the cohabitation progresses. We are not happy.

Twin Photographs

The two pictures that sent our hopes and spirits of happy triumph spirally down were those of the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet of over forty persons and the next of deputies and State Ministers. We had to peer close to identify our favourites like Harsha, Eran and Sujeewa and were thoroughly disappointed to find Buddhika, who did so much in the Matara district, missing.

We had been silently screaming against the jumbo cabinets of the previous President, and his penchant for rewarding every politician, blue or bluey pink that swore allegiance to him, with a post of deputy minister or state minister. He just freely threw portfolios around like a spoilt brat flings his toys.

Then came the welcomed duo of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe. We sighed huge sighs of relief and sat back to enjoy a decapitation of despotic rule, an elimination of corruption and nepotism, and the good of the country and its people, mostly the disadvantaged, prioritized in policy planning. We waited the 100 days multiplied by two with hope in our minds and joy in our hearts. We voted on August 18 and waited with bated breath. Good and not so good emerged. We anticipated a slim Cabinet that would move the country forwards. It was moving forwards in the foreign arena with good relations strengthened with India and western nations. And then the two pictures of jumbo Cabinet ministers and deputies and lesser ministers – with not enough real green jumbos and too many rejected by the people at elections and promoted to holding positions of responsibility and honour – yes honour, a word so alien to a couple of those selected. The Editor of this paper succinctly titled his editorial on Sept. 13 as "Voters the Losers" and many articles have followed on this theme of rejects taken in on the nomination list. In last Sunday’s Island Kumar David put the matter even more succinctly: "A deputy minister appointed on September 9 is widely believed to be connected to the heroin trade… Another is supposed to have imported ethanol for moonshine; thugs and crooks are alleged to be a dime a dozen. This is neither a national Government nor a Coalition: It is a Freeloaders’ Jamboree."

That’s what they say. How do I react? I was very surprised and disappointed but cling to the hope that Maithripala Sirisena has a wide design that will ultimately achieve good governance and help us the citizens of this land to live in peace and fair plenty when they get the economy out of the present doldrums. Also, there is the experienced and honest watchman the Prime Minister.

The point of this article is that people are totally aware of what’s going on and react too. Social media that caused regime changes in the Arab Spring has caught on in this developing country too. You can see comments in certain columns in the newspapers where it is no holds barred. You can now get away unscathed with making a bare bones statement like: "the foul mouthed-thug who ruined higher education is now ‘empowering’ something or the other; there is a bookie in the House and someone who made billions from petroleum." Twittering and face booking go on apace and people get involved in trying to see justice is done; ‘secrets’ are made known; skeletons in cupboards rattled.

New technologies

How many cases have been assisted against criminals by CCTV cameras installed in shops, and banks of course, and in road junctions and where people gather. They act as preventives too, keeping criminals at bay. MTV and Sirasa TV stations have hundreds of people with cell phone cameras who supply them with news and views. Called U–Reporters they seem to render yeoman service and also help reduce the number of employees who are entitled to several ‘perks’. Hence the transition from permanent staff to those on contract and now recruitment of freelancers.

Traditional modes of so many businesses of yesteryear are now defunct or being eliminated. Post offices and post boxes are being removed in developed countries. I still love to see green and red pillar boxes with mouths wide open to receive snail mail.

Traditional taxis are being replaced by services such as Uber, which connects riders with drivers via a smart phone app. Since the app has your credit card information and handles the transaction, there is no haggling or exchange of cash, or even telling the driver where you need to go, since he already has the information on his phone prior to picking you up. The typical Uber driver is someone who owns his or her car (about 30% of the drivers are female), moonlighting in their spare time, to earn some extra money. Having started in San Francisco Uber is now available in 60 countries, including several cities in India.

Hotels are increasingly under pressure from services like Airbnb which is popular in Sri Lanka and made use of by many, where a spare room can be offered to paying guests via the web site.

The real thrust of this article is that individuals, institutions, business enterprises and governments can no longer be secretive. Consider the wide disapproval of the formation of the Cabinet prompted mostly by two photographs published in newspapers.

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