CHOGM Insecurities and Anxieties and the Arrival of a Regimented Sri Lanka

There are two crucial aspects which interest me on the eve of the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Governments’ Meeting, held in Sri Lanka. One is the closure of the national university network for the duration of the week, which — as is popularly felt — is the state attempt at undermining a possible demonstration that would be organized by the Students’ Body during the “all important” week. The second point is to do with the energy and enthusiasm with which an assortment of young people — a select band of 200, I am told, chosen from over 1000 applicants, who are thrilled at getting a chance to “volunteer” for CHOGM activities.

What is the connection between the closure of the national university setup — a closure which has directed all undergraduate students to vacate hostels for the week and which is imposed on all universities alike — and the youth volunteers at CHOGM? For one, some of these youth volunteers (chosen from an application process of persons between 18-30) ARE university students; and a chunk of others, would be university entrants in the coming months. It can be assumed that a considerable number of these volunteers have a basic IQ, a solid education under their belts and are seen as a “cross section” of Lankan youth representation. It can also be assumed that this choice is largely classed, and I take it for granted that these representatives are consciously or unconsciously liberal-minded as a whole.

CHOGM 2013 promo material --- a regular sight from junction to junction, lest you forget

CHOGM 2013 promo material — a regular sight from junction to junction, lest you forget

The closure of the university set up — notwithstanding the interruption it causes the ongoing academic programme and with the general understanding that the semester will not be extended to catch up the week that is thus lost — is motivated by a fear of democratic expression. If one is to assume that a political demonstration is set to take place next week (and this is the popular reading of the authorial mind) and if university students’ participation in it is anticipated, the closure would be an attempt at sabotaging the effective rallying of the (hypothetically) would be protesters. Of course, the greater effort in preparing for CHOGM has been in “patching up” loopholes and in “setting the system straight”, for a visual maya which the government assumes will hoodwink and distract the visiting delegates from countries which are quite knowledgeable what to look for in Sri Lanka; and whose agendas in coming here are already in place.

The process of “patching up”, once again, is crassly channeled through wastage, misappropriation, excess and corrupt gain. Many articles, in the recent weeks, have been dedicated to these subjects, even though there is very little active resistance shown. Specially, with the emaciation within oppositional political groups and the erosion of the alternative lobby, the colossal waste in “beautifying” in the name of yet another dignitaries’ meeting remains unchallenged as one would like it to be. The use of exclusively military labour to hastily un-do and re-do roadsides and carpeting more than clearly amplifies one of the growing concerns over the past few years: the militarization of the public spaces and the labour force. Ironically, this is one of the grave concerns of which the International Lobby says they are concerned. Yet, when they are driven to the summit in Colombo in pomp and feathers, those very roads were “beautified” by preferred military labour, in difference to conscript civil labour.

CHOGasMic Spinners

CHOGasMic Spinners

The “surface beauty” and the gaudy decorations of spinning devices fixed at every other roundabout and the not-so-original line up of vertical flags just about show the state mentality and its lack of an aesthetic impulse. The red-bricked pavements — and other pavements along which bricks are laid in gaudy and outrageous patterns — only superimpose this crassly materialistic display, which is symptomatic of the materialistic psyche of the regime. What is compromised by this ill-occupation includes the humanist considerations (which, the state suggests, should not stand in the way of what it considers as “development”), rights of labour and the rituals of the democratic spirit. That is why the shutting out of conventional labour, the shutting down of universities and the gross misappropriation of material resources for which the tax payer will have to pay comes too easy.

Coming back to the closing down of the university and the youth delegates at CHOGM, the fear psychosis (in the administrator) of a possible strike / demonstration by undergraduates, too, is struck by a cross section of “youth representatives”. These are the self-appointees of a politically agitating, socially committed “students body” whose strike would, in a way, “represent” the grievances and concerns they, as a youth group, would have. The dressed up “volunteers” at CHOGM — who, in their bliss or uninformed innocence —, too, represent; but, represents a psyche that cuts across a continuum which includes those in “lack of political awareness”, those “whose life mission is a cute CV, for which CHOGM is a drop of ambrosia”, those who “live to volunteer”, those “who want to earn a good buck”, those who “really believe in mobility along liberal lines” etc.

A friend who is yet a student at the University of Colombo — who is not a potential demonstrator next week, nor a CHOGM barbie — asks as to “what is wrong with all these people”, whose faith and belief in CHOGM is merely the uncritical lack of perceptiveness which the state through various schemes is promoting among the youth; and of which they seem to be ardent darlings of. In the very outlook of the state education policy, the encouraged segment closely represents  the CHOGM volunteer-mentality: parrots of soft skills and governmental needs and the total shutting down of perceptive and critically reflexive acumen. In a way, the regime has been subtle in choosing its slogan for CHOGM, 2013: “CHOGM, Sri Lanka has arrived”.

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