By Ravi Perera –
There is this blonde out for a walk. She comes to a river and sees another blonde on the opposite bank. “Yoo-hoo” she calls out, “How can I get to the other side?” The second blonde looks up the river and then down the river and shouts back “You ARE on the other side”
To the confused public observing the endless cross-overs and cross-backs occurring in the political arena in the run up to the presidential elections it must be like chancing on a conference of blondes, in this very tropical country! Whether they stand on this or the other side of the river seems to matter little to our politicians merrily changing parties. The choreography of the drama has been now perfected down to the auspicious minute for the jump. In the opening scene, a few days before the main event, there are wild rumours of a cross over which is then strongly denied by the politician. Then suddenly the politician summons a media conference where he vehemently condemns the deviation from the accepted party line by his bosses and even alleges corruption among his former colleagues. He is then warmly welcomed by the recipient party, the ceremony often concluding with religious rites. This is soon followed by a counter conference of the “other side” (or is it this side?) alleging betrayal.
And of course, they all have “files” on each other. Where we would normally have “information” on another person, a politician would claim to have a “file”, somewhat in the manner that an illiterate would refer to a document. But to the politician it befits men of public affairs to seem more formal, to refer only to information reduced to writing and preserved in neat files. Besides, the image of a thick file, carefully maintained and safely hidden away, titillates the imagination of the public, long nurtured on a steady diet of thrills and spills of local tele-dramas.
Our politicians do not do things for selfish reasons. It is only us mere mortals who look for bargains; discounts and card holder dine free type deals that go to make ends meet. Going by the talk, their actions are motivated by higher motives, selfless lives dedicated to freedom, human rights and honesty in public affairs.
It is now becoming increasingly obvious that there is no real difference between the two sides. Where Sri Lankan politicians are concerned “history” ended long before the Berlin Wall came down. The Rajapaksa regime may have vulgarized the meaning of public life with motorcades, bodyguards, all kinds of benefits (which are generally extended to the family too) used freely to keep them in. But from long before the Rajapaksa phenomenon a particular homogeneity has been evolving among those in politics in this country. When elected, a person becomes a kind of commodity whose loyalty is available, if offered the right price. There is no ideology, it is all personal. This is still more so among the top leaders who have only personal interests and motives; the party, the philosophy, the finer refinements and traditions of politics, only secondary considerations. The theory of evolution and natural selection seem to have now asserted its immutability among our politicians too. Even in their appearance, demeanour and posture there is a remarkable sameness. A noticeable plumpness and a healthy glow of the skin distinguish them from the milling crowd. But most of all, it is the god of good fortune who smiles on our politicians most benevolently. More they serve the public, the richer they become.
Francis Fukuyama argued that with the coming down of the Berlin Wall, which symbolized the end of the Soviet era, Western Liberal Democracy would become the overarching universal ideology for the foreseeable future. All political activity would take place within that larger framework. That may be true for societies that Fukuyama looked at closely. But here in Sri Lanka history has been dead long before all that! In our political culture there are no ideologies, policies or even ideas. No loyalty to a person, party or even the truth is called for. Whoever is on top will call the shots and the rest will adhere as long as benefits follow from that arrangement. There is no difference whether you are on this side or the other.
It is now nearly seventy years since we gained independence. A good thirty years of that were wasted on a civil war, which was a creation of an earlier generation of politicians. At no time in this long period ,whether before or after the war , have we reached the kind of growth rate that Asian Tiger economies sustained in their rise to prosperity. On any economic statistic we are in the lower middle order, on an unclear path, towards an uncertain future. In the policies we follow there are only superficial similarities with those adopted by the Asian Tiger economies during their impressive rise. In a warped and confused appreciation of the conditions that enabled those nations to achieve success, our leaders seem to applaud their weaknesses, the authoritarianism of Singapore, the clannishness of Malaysia, and the corruptions of South Korea. While these nations are speedily addressing these weaknesses, we are adopting them! Having no clear idea, we only talk in terms of some basic symbols of development; two lane highways, harbours and budget airlines, features which became standard facilities quarter of a century back.
Perhaps our politicians are smarter than it appears. They certainly think so. It is therefore not inappropriate to end our essay with another example of Blonde thinking.
A Russian, an American and a Blonde were talking one day.
The Russian said “We were the first in space”
The American said “We were the first on the moon”
The Blonde said “So what! We are going to be the first on the sun!”
The Russian and the American looked at each other and shook their heads
“You cannot land on the sun, you idiot! You will burn up!”
To which the Blonde coolly answered “We are not stupid, you know. We are going in the night!”