“The animal, therefore, is not naked because it is naked”. – Jacques Derrida
Acceptably, the purpose of all political and social organization is to achieve a good and just life for the members of the society. A good social life entails both physical and spiritual development resulting in national happiness. Unlike international politics, therefore, domestic politics should be organized a process of minimal power politics. Democratic politics is the only means through which such secular and cultured life can be guaranteed for the public, for it can engage them in constant discussion and debate. So, it is important that a society is organized around the philosophy of democracy as a life style, rather than assuming democracy is just a numerical game for amassing power. Unarguably, a healthy democratic culture where needs of every member of the society is heard and considered according to the accepted norms of the social organization is a godsend for people. In absence of such a social milieu, life becomes extremely pathetic and agonizing for the powerless whose interests are least represented in the system.
When the existing political culture becomes nakedly inhumane and animalistic, a newer form of society has to be imagined for the good of larger masses. History shows that revolutions of violent nature took place in societies aiming at the overthrow of such naked political cultures. Nevertheless, violence in the name of social reformation should never be acceptable. As the prevalent political culture has exposed its nudity more brazenly than we used to experience previously, we need to rethink and reset our political culture in manners suitable for achieving the goal of just life. Reasonably, we feel that the politicians of our country whose values have become a major constituent part of our political culture do not feel that they are naked, like animals never think they are naked, because they are animals.
Mainly, political degeneration takes place when politics is used for the comfort of a particular tribe or a few individuals, ignoring the larger social benefit it can bring to the society as a whole. Therefore, politics when considered for self-gain and egoistic comforts is not socially productive and becomes a source of social frustration. A better example in this regard is Sri Lanka, where the political parties in power have made politics such a tribal game for power and wealth endangering the national interest of twenty million people. More than the conditions of globalism, what is more scathingly attacking the very foundation of Srilankan nation state (not the majoritarian version), today, is political tribalism.
A major feature of a sound political culture is freedom and space for dissent. We do not feel that political dissent is allowed in the mainstream political culture in Sri Lanka today. Look at the state media, a major organ of the state that can be productively used to promote democracy. One feels that the state media has become ‘government only’ media. They rarely allocate time for the opposition or civil society activists who have differing views about the way the political culture is being shaped by the rulers. Media surveillance by the state can never be justified if it is done for protecting the interests of a political party in power. When the opposition Parliamentarians themselves lose their privileges even within the Parliament, it is unimaginable for the ordinary people to think of their political rights today. Disgustingly, the form of the state is being reshaped in a manner comparable only to Orwellian caricatures of authoritarian political cultures as depicted in Animal Farm or 1984.
Sri Lanka should not allow its democracy to transform into an Orwellian state at the hands of some who lack the political imagination of visionary leaders this country was lucky enough to have in the past. We are a small nation in the world. But we had enjoyed in the past much international recognition as an actor treading the middle path internationally, while locally smooth power transitions were allowed under a functioning democracy. A democracy to function vibrantly in a class society, the existing social polarizations needs to be addressed with economic and normative measures. Today, the poor is hugely taxed, exploited, and battened for fear that they would rise up against the rulers. Similarly, ordinary people are brain-washed of ethnic purity and imagined threats on their opium, the religion. In such an embittered context, political opportunism reigns while democracy is having its last breath.
If Sri Lanka wants an undivided but a united country, it should have taken the path of social democracy, as Ambedkar, a visionary behind the making of Indian Constitution, thought when India was becoming a republic. We need to rethink of the meanings of liberty, equality and fraternity in light of the experience of the visionary thinkers this country or the region had in the past. We had a set of selfless leaders in the past, even though they were not ardent socialist, who were at least humble enough not to make corruption, treachery, ethnic animosity and political revenge their philosophy.
The UNP from 1948-56 was hardly a government of the working class, but they were quite on the opinion that the ethnic problem should not be used for political gains. And all the time they negotiated well with the Commonwealth, the USA and India, and politically sided with the Western democratic ethos. These leaders, DS, Dudley and Kotelawala hailing from rich bourgeoisie families had a common understanding that the security of this country could only be guaranteed by working peacefully with the minorities. Therefore, they never used parochial political propaganda for prolonging their power. Once, when Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was questioned by a BBC journalist as to why he happened to make Sinhalese the national language, he smartly countered the UK journalist by accepting the richness of Tamil culture and literature without going to answer him with a voice of an arrogant racist or nationalist, unlike today’s nationalists who would have got furious and attacked the journalist bluntly.
When Ceylon became a Republic in 1972, it had quite failed to seriously consider the plight of its minorities while taking to the fore an ethnicised view of political culture. However, in practice our first generation of leaders, prior to 1977, had an idea of our national interest and kept the self interests hidden. Nevertheless, they had quite failed to manage the ethnic problem, but were in the process of negotiating with the Tamil leaders all the time. However, things changed drastically in favour of negativity during the 1980s. A class of corrupt men was coming into the driving seat of power. At the end of the UNP’s violent legacy, the 1994 electoral victory of the UPFA was a revolution of ballot. The union of JVP and SLFP in taking the country forward had given much hope for the ordinary people. However, such short springs in politics could not sustain due to parochialism and lack of visionary thinking.
Today’s problem of our political culture largely depends on the character of men taking into politics as a vocation. A sound education and ethical character should be must qualifications for politicians who hope to reach the echelon of political power. We cannot think of wise men to take into power all the time; also, all the time, we cannot afford to let the unwise men to demolish politics of democracy and create their own tribal states which are hardly accepted in the civilized world. Let’s rethink and discuss our political culture and find ways to transform it positively.