Colombo, English, Governance

Politics is like Fire-Walking

The whole country is being rapidly transformed into a mental hospital, I guess. You who read this as well as I who write this are, frankly speaking, schizophrenic. Instead of being a total lunatic, if one remains bogged down half way in the madness, that is really pathetic. For a lunatic can be easily detected, diagnosed and treated whereas semi-madness is rarely discernible, let alone diagnosing and treating.

This is a very alarming stage. Any disease that cannot be diagnosed at a curable stage is life threatening. When a whole society suffers from such ailment the situation becomes disastrous.

People’s sovereignty is believed to be a power of decision making exercised by the people of the whole country. Taking critical decisions as to what sort of governing system is conducive for oneself and whom would be more suitable for handling that system are important, among other rights in a democracy. Yet, the people exercise this power only once in a while – most probably, five to six year period. They are not in a position to reverse or withdraw a decision once taken, in a midway during the aforesaid period within which the elected person or the body of persons will in all probability conveniently replace the people as the sole arbitrator of the so-called sovereignty. Therefore, people’s sovereignty is restricted to a ruthless time frame.

Now, almost all Sri Lankans know the system governing them is full of defects. Very often we hear people complaining about “a fault in the system”. Though there is widespread frustration and disillusionment over the Presidential System, Proportional Representation and Preferential Voting system etc, no concrete action has been taken so far to rectify these social and political maladies. Best example is the invincible Presidential system, which triumphantly survives in spite of the written pledges publicly sworn by Ms. Chandrika Bandaranayake and incumbent President Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse, to abolish it.

The next argument is that it is not a fault of the system but of the persons elected. If we look back at our political track from the time of the Independence we can easily see that we have elected the same stock of persons as our rulers who differ not much in deeds but in names like Senanayaka, Bandaranayake, Jayawardana and Rajapakse. Since the rulers available to be scrutinized originate from the people themselves, it is natural that we elect repeatedly the same leaders who strike out in their similarities than in their cosmetic differences.

A tadpole resembles in appearance to a little fish. A political candidate in Sri Lanka is like a tadpole. In spite of earnestly wishing to bate a fish we always end up in catching a tadpole in the guise of a fish. When this tadpole metamorphoses into a frog it is already in power, no more a candidate (tadpole) but an elected leader (frog) delegated to exercise or rather to enjoy the people’s sovereignty. So, people will have to wait for another 5-6 years to elect another one, hoping this time to catch a real fish without fail. Yet, at that time too it happens to be a tadpole, the sole reason being not having any fish in this swamp but tadpoles, tadpoles and tadpoles. Then why do we repeat the same folly knowing very well the outcome would be the same?

Classical democracy in the Western world originates as a consequence of a socio-political progress. When people were achieving increasingly higher standards of reckoning as individual citizens in their societies, not as manipulative tools for the opportunist leaders to gain power but as a respectable clientele to be served by the leaders, they needed more and more advanced political mechanisms to match this newly achieved social consciousness. The end result of this gradual process enriching each and every citizen was what we have today as democracy. Therefore, more fish than tadpoles are caught in their fishing net.

On the contrary, the democracy of Sri Lanka came out of the blues as a gift, not necessarily consistent with the level of social progress achieved by the citizenry. So, we as well as our leaders are more likely to be frogs than being fish for some time to come.

Keeping this in mind we will now turn to our present predicament. If I am asked what Marxism is I can fairly well explain it in terms of a new understanding not to be found in any other ‘ism’. If I am asked what Buddhism is I can conceptualize a rather different set of precepts not found in any other religion. But if I am asked what Mahinda Chinthanaya is I am at a loss since I do not comprehend any tenets even remotely akin to a fresh understanding of our condition. Yet, this pseudo Political Manifesto was triumphantly brandished as a newfound manna directly sent from the heaven to redeem the poor sinners of Sri Lanka! I call this a fiction.

Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe who at least for the last five years has been campaigning for a political solution to our ethnic problem and expressing a willingness to explore the possibility of a federal system going beyond the unitary state structure is now all of a sudden says that his party is not for a federal solution! I propose that his earlier inclination towards a federal system as well as his present volte-face is both fictions.

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna popularly identified with Marxism has no qualms in clamoring for a brutal military solution to the National Question and has no shame in being vociferous collaborators of a movement called Desha Hithaishee Janatha Viyaparaya (People’s Patriotic Movement) which is blatantly racist. They do not seem to comprehend that religion when co-opted as a social and institutional force in matters of governance would ultimately tend to tarnish the secular nature of the state, a sine qua non in Marxist theory of state. In spite of having fresh experience in being brutally crushed by the Army not very long ago, still they do not seem to perceive armed forces as main repressive organs of the state, in so much as to volunteering to defend some military personnel alleged to have been involved in a sex scandal while serving in Haiti on a UN peace keeping mission! Therefore, I suggest that the notorious incident of Premawathie Manamperi who was proved beyond any doubt in a court of justice to have been raped and brutally murdered by the members of the security forces in 1971 is a fiction! Furthermore, talking about a Batalanda is weirdly meaningless!

Fire-walking, piously believed to be a miraculous power bestowed by gods on their faithful disciples is, as we know, nothing but the swift speed of walking on the fire meticulously calculated to the minimum fraction of a second without leaving any time for the fire to be effective on the skin of the foot. If the walking speed is not fast enough both feet will definitely get burnt. No god would come to your rescue. Now, the foot treaded on Madamulana some two years back, when getting terribly heated now, refuses to budge for fear of getting other foot also burnt if placed on Kollupitiya. This is a typical combination of brutal satire and comical tragedy.

Mistaking Madamulana for a political innovation is the satire. Being insensitive to the actual burning pain purely out of sheer fear for Kollupitiya is the tragedy. Alas, there is hardly any respite to stop. We are politically condemned to continue walking as fast as possible in order to be burned as least as possible. Unfortunately, we have only two feet to change in our miserable steps.

Yet, mind you, there is no compulsion to stop at Kollupitiya. Till the day we manage ourselves as a socially conscious polity to succeed in breeding a sizable stock of fish we will have to keep on running on fire without stopping, yet baiting only tadpoles!

Gamini Viyangoda
[email protected]