By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Who on earth in their proper senses and in command of their rational faculties, would promise, in this day and age, to establish within six years an “ideal country” – I repeat, “ideal country” – based on a manifesto containing promises, promises, and promises, most of which will never see the light of day?
Promising to deliver the impossible constitute a major part of the 62-page manifesto issued by the Common Candidate, Maithripala Sirisena. The impossible promises reach a climax when he commits himself to establish an “ideal country”. Here is the full quote from his text: “Secondly, I will implement a six-year program to build an ideal country (emphasis mine) with the government that could be established after General election to be held after 100 days.” (p. 9 – Manifesto, A compassionate Maithri governance and stable country – New Democratic Front.)
Mark you, he doesn’t say that it’s going to be a reformed country, or a renewed, or reconstructed, or a rejuvenated country which is a goal that is achievable within a reasonable or foreseeable period of time. No. He gives a firm promise to build an “ideal country” within six years. This is the equivalent of promising a political nirvana to this generation – the ultimate liberation. No one who knows history and politics will accept this fiction as an attainable goal within the specified time, or, for that matter, even at the end of time. This, of course, can be dismissed as a pie-in-the-sky Utopia that will never be brought down to earth. Nevertheless, considering the gravity of the promise to establish an “ideal country” that has never been achieved by any nation ever before it must be examined briefly to test its credibility and achievability.
To begin with, is it ever possible to arrive at an “ideal country” within six years? There is no historical evidence available to guarantee that Sirisena can deliver his promise. The best of institutions aiming to achieve the ideal state – examples: 1) the Holy Roman Empire established in the name of God and 2) the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which promised a workers’ paradise – have failed to create a religious or secular society that could approximate to that of an “ideal country”. So on what credible evidence or historical experience can Sirisena promise to deliver the impossible? Either Sirisena is a political genius never seen in the records of human history, or he carries with him all genes of Baron Munchausen, the master of tall tales. In promising this unattainable political goal he takes not the cake but the whole bakery!
The “ideal society” is a goal that the best of political philosophers and revolutionary activists have tried and failed over millennia. Obviously, someone has fed Sirisena a dead rope saying that he could do it in six year what others had failed to achieve throughout recorded history. His claim to lead the country to the goal of an “ideal country” within six years is, as he knows, not an option available to any mortal walking on two legs. The chances of pigs flying in the air are greater than Sirisena establishing an “ideal country” with a gang of failed leaders, some of whom were corrupt, deceitful and self-serving traitors who had no compunction in selling the nation to its enemies. It stands out as the biggest joke of all the promises made so far in this presidential election. It questions Sirisena’s political judgment. It also questions whether he can be trusted when he utters such blatant lies.
This is the something akin to “JRJ” promising to attain nirvana within his lifetime! The mission of attaining nirvana is possible only to those who keep on striving through many births in the cycle of samsara. How many in our midst have advanced spiritually to anywhere near sotapanna – the first stage of a stream-enterer? If the task for a single individual to attain the ideal state is that difficult how much more difficult would it be for a political leader, with all the social engineering available to him/her, to take a whole country consisting of 20 million people to a nirvanic state in six years? Is Sirisena stark raving mad?
I couldn’t believe that Sirisena could utter such a ridiculous statement, particularly when there are self-proclaimed “political scientists” like CBK (Sorbonne-trained, she says), well-read failures like Ranil Wickremesinghe and over-inflated Buddhist humbugs like Champika Ranawaka by his side.
When I read Sirisena’s promise of establishing an “ideal country” on page 9 of his manifesto (PDF format) it reminded me of J. R. Jayawardene’s (JRJ) promise to attain nirvana in his span of life. The story behind it needs to be related for the record. One Saturday morning, when I was in the midst of preparing The Sunday Observer, a female attorney-at-law walked into my office bearing an article to mark the birthday of “JRJ”, the first President of Sri Lanka. It was written by him, she said.
A cursory glance convinced me that it was bound to stimulate the readers on Sunday. The female attorney-at-law asked me whether I would agree to carry the article on Sunday. Of course, anything written by “JRJ” was good copy to any editor and I consented to carry it mainly because of two inter-connected points: 1) he said he downs a shot a or two of whiskey every day and 2) he claimed that he plans to attain nirvana in his life- time. Now a whiskey-drinking Buddhist attaining nirvana to me was a hilarious contradiction. But, more importantly, to claim that he could attain nirvana in his life-time, I knew, was mind-boggling news that would stir the Buddhist community.
The potential for controversy was obvious. It is the stuff that goes to make newspapers the influential image-makers of the day. One story like that can brand an individual for the rest of his life. I had no doubt that it would explode as a sensational talking point at least for a couple of weeks. But my relations with “JRJ” were not the best. I discussed the issue with the Chairman, Sunil Rodrigo, who is an astute judge of men and matters. He concluded that to be on the safe side we should get “JRJ’s” signature on the copy. I rang him, even though our relationship was somewhat soured, and I politely requested him to sign the copy which he agreed to do.
More than any other news item of that Sunday the bit that hit the readers was “JRJ’s” ambition of attaining nirvana in his life-time. The readers reacted predictably, questioning “JRJ’s” capacity to attain nirvana in his life-time, particularly because his capacity to concentrate and think clearly would be impaired by alcoholic fumes clouding his mind. The “Letters to the Editor” column ran hot for nearly four weeks exposing “JRJ’s” pipe dream. At the end of it I thought it was time to close the correspondence on “JRJs” fanciful ambition. That was one of my biggest mistakes as a journalist. The next week I got a letter from a reader, writing under a pseudonym, saying that “JRJ” has a reputation of being the 20th century fox and it is possible that he could undercut Maithriya Buddha, the next in line for Buddhahood, and attain nirvana before him!
“JRJ’s” ambition, however, was far limited in scope compared to the grand design of Sirisena. “JRJ” undertook the task of attaining nirvana within his life-time only for himself. Sirisena promises to deliver a political nirvana, cleansed of all evils, for the whole country within six years. That is a mission that not even Buddha could attain.
The promise to establish an “ideal country” within six years goes beyond that of offering a handful of goodies listed in his Manifesto and various pronouncements. He is promising the ultimate goal in politics that has eluded mankind down the ages. As a seasoned politician, who has advanced from the Peking-wing to the My-3-right-wing in the NDF, he should know that no political leader of any shade, shape or form can do what he promises to do : establish the “ideal country” for all of us to live in a political nirvana. In saying this he is not only violating the fourth precept in the Panchaseela (mu-sa-va-da vehera-mani sikka-padam sama-di-yami) but also wallowing in lies and deception to con the people with his bogus promises.
Leaving aside his airy-fairy charivari, consider some items contained in his manifesto. At first sight I was quite excited when I read the headline of Chapter 3: A Moral Society. In political science this is a subject that has vexed the minds of the best of thinkers. Volumes have been written on this subject. Every political act or ideology is scrutinized minutely under the microscope of morals. Nothing in politics escapes morality.
Politics and morals are intertwined inseparably. They are two vital strands that either mutually reinforce each other to sustain politicians in power or disentangle and destroy each other along with the politicians. But my exploration of Chapter 3 failed to find the kind of morality that should be the guiding principles of a society recovering from a devastating and destructive 33-year-old conflict. When I delved into this chapter I discovered that it was nothing more than an outline for a prohibitionist movement sponsored by “My-3-palanaya”. It should have been titled befittingly as : “Eliminating drugs”, or better still, “Dealing with Parliamentarians peddling drugs”.
According to accusations thrown at each other across the floor of the House some MPs are the principal agents for peddling drugs. It seems that one of the root cause of the drug menace lies with some of Sirisena’s own mates in Parliament. If there is a drug mafia operating inside Parliament, as stated by the MPs, then Sirisena is duty bound to take strict and decisive measures to deal with the MPs who are in the racket. But there isn’t a single sentence to address one of the primary sources of this menace which is known to him. Does he not know what is happening under his very nose? Or has he started practicing the art of turning a blind eye to the crimes of the times even before he could assume power?
His intentions were made clear to the businessmen assembled Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel when he announced that on February 6, 2015 “a Bill to implement the National Drugs policy will be tabled, following adoption of the Policy by Cabinet.” He also said that on March 18, 2015 “the National Drugs Policy will be passed by Parliament. (The Island – December 24, 2014). Like all his promises this too sounds good on paper. But, according to Parliamentarians. there is a drug mafia inside the House which seems to be more powerful than Parliament. So how is Sirisena going to implement his laws on paper without ruffling the feathers of those on whom he depends to retain his power?
He devotes a whole chapter on drugs but the details of implementing the National Drugs Policy is not revealed. Presumably, it would deal with any individual/gang/mafia dealing in drugs illegally, even if they are inside the Parliament. Any serious move by Sirisena to deal with drugs is bound to clash with the drug-peddling MPs. The catch here is that he is dependent on their votes to sustain him in power. So will he take them head-on or will he go along with them turning a blind eye to their illegal dealings as long as they keep him in power?
Addressing a meeting at Maharagama, former Minister and JHU General Secretary Patali Champika Ranawaka “charged that there was a casino mafia in the country and it was more powerful than Parliament.” (The Island – December 24, 2015). If the drug and casino mafias are more powerful than Parliament can the mere passing of bills on National Drug Policies solve the drug menace facing the nation?
If Sirisena thinks that he can create a “moral society” by eliminating drug peddlers with his proposed legislation then he should spend some time with a head-shrinker to examine the quality of his own sanity. Besides, morality is a vast subject that goes beyond some drug peddlers corrupting society. This is why the chapter on creating “A Moral Society” sounds more like humbuggery than morality. This Chapter lacks the basic elements of morality needed to build “a moral society”. When under the grand title of “A Moral Society” Sirisena produces a mere wishy-washy note for temperance, voters have right to question whether the Common Candidate and his gang of has-beens have any clue about morality.
In any case what are the chances of him succeeding in this “moral” crusade? According to the black book of “Kudu” Naufer the names listed in it included top Police officers and political big wigs. As Minister of Health what action did Sirisena initiate to deal with this mafia? Having learnt the lessons of the past is Chapter 3 the only answer he can produce to create “a moral society”? And how many Parliamentarians, known to him, will abandon their lucrative trade of selling drugs and join him in his crusade?
As seen in the Manifesto, Sirisena’s concept of “a moral society” is a very narrow one. Apart from his limited vision of “a moral society” the devil is in the details of implementing his legislation to create his “moral society” that would lead, according to him, his “ideal country”. But reading the contents of his Manifesto – particularly Chapter 3 — is it possible to conclude that he will clean up the mess that he describes and lead the country to his elusive ideal?
His knowledge of Sinhala literature would have taught him that Sri Lankans too have a long history of alcoholism going back to the days when that classic Guttila Kavya was written. It is a history that runs all the way from Nut-tath a-yek su-ra muth-in to the ill-fated Temperance Movement led by the Senanayakes and the Kudu Naufer who had the gumption to target the judge who sentenced him. This is not meant to argue that because of impediments the drug-peddlers should be allowed to rule the day. No. This is more to emphasize that a glorified temperance movement – all previous ones have failed wherever it was launched — should not be presented as the ultimate in creating a moral society that would lead to an “ideal country” in six years.
To be continued..