By Malinda Seneviratne –
‘Podu Apekshakaya’ (common candidate) screams one set of people. ‘Podu apekshaawa’ (common hope) screams another. We are in ‘podu’ or ‘common’ days. The days of the people. Common people. Voters, to be precise.
The ‘commoners’ have got their once-every-six years (well, every four years, since of late) moment. They will be salaamed. They will be placated with promises. They will be championed. They will be promised better representation. This is also the moment of the politician, therefore. Politicians, friends, are full of promises.
But where is the ‘common’ truly located in our economy, in our political structures, in the institutional arrangement? The ‘common’ are spoken for, but they rarely speak. It’s all a hand-me-down system. The benefits of development rise up; what goes ‘down’ is a trickle. Decisions are top-made and then handed down. There are of course those who rose from the ‘commons,’ let’s say, but there’s little commonness in them. This is true of those in power and those who aspire to replace them.
The people vote. The people choose. Then never get candidates who are at the time of candidacy like them. This is why candidates refer to roots, humble beginnings and commonality – all of which have to be spoken of in the past tense. If there are ‘common’ candidates (and there are), they don’t have a chance in hell of making any kind of impact on the outcome of major elections. They are also-rans. The political economy of elections is just not skewed in favor of the common.
In the coming weeks when ‘the common’ are supposed to take center stage, you won’t find anyone of that overwhelming majority on any of the political platforms. Well, there could be a few actually, but they’ll probably be doing security duty or an usher’s job or handing out drinks to the worthies who get to speak. The commoners will be spoken to and spoken for, but they will not speak. They’ll cheer, sure, but that’s small consolation all things considered in a representative democracy.
It is not that the entire voting population is deluded. They know all this. It is not that they are in a feudal bind. They know of fetters, they know what’s what, what’s pragmatic to expect and naïve to demand. So they express preference not so much because they are swayed by ‘common’ rhetoric but the possible tidbits that might come their way.
This is why there’s no such thing as a podu jana pethuma (common people’s hope) or podu jana apekshakaya (common people’s candidate). What are really out there are candidates. Real, live candidates. Personal agendas. Personal ambitions. Voters, as such, are just temporary necessities to secure such things. Dispensable the moment-after.
Should the common voter just stay home on election day, though? No. Like those uncommon but commonality-pleading politicians they vote for, voters weigh consequences, calculate risks, consider relative merits. They compare. They contrast. They watch. They wait.
For now, ‘the common’ are ok with ‘go along with it’. They are ok with being spoken for. They are ok with being silent, marginalized or seldom heard. The system will survive and part of the reason is the slight rise in hope that change and possible-change bring. But there could come a time when ‘the common’ might wonder if the whole this is not just a farce but a process that is geared to scribble a descriptive addition to their tag to make them ‘common suckers’.
People don’t like being insulted. They will suffer robbery. They will live through exploitation. Humiliation is something else. This is election time. It is also a time of massive humiliation. The candidates should at least be conscious of this.
Just don’t take ‘the common’ for granted.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com