By Vishwamithra –
“Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.” ~ Oscar Wilde
Potent arguments are being exchanged between friends regarding the Bond-scam that has taken the Colombo social circuit by storm; lethal points for both sides are being hurled at each other; yet the evidence shows that the bond between the two protagonists, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, of the current coalition government is ostensibly intact. How tight and taut this bond could be is another matter altogether. In politics the line that divides what seems and what is, is thin, faint and blurred. A clever politician knows how to tread that line without offending those who occupy on either side of the line. But that is intellectually dishonest and morally deplorable. But that again is politics, the one profession that has destroyed our culture and degraded our values.
Yet every five or six years, after each election cycle, expectations are high, hopes are higher and eventual disappointment is insufferable. That has been the sorry story about the declining features our democracy. Maithripala Sirisena’s mandate was clear. It was uncompromising. Its weight was overwhelming. The anti-Rajapaksa sentiments overpowered an electorate that the Rajapaksa family treated as an absurdly cowardly and subservient commune. The collective sigh of relief that the majority of Sri Lanka exhaled was not only weighty and ‘un-foggy’, it was a real and living organism. At the time it seemed that the mandate embraced history; it called for a radical transformation of measures and values that were associated with a strain of truth not travesty, of dignity not degradation, of humility not hype. Nevertheless, in three short years, all significance of that mandate seems derelict and forgotten. The socio-political dynamics that drove the Rajapaksa regime and its henchmen and women to ecstatic pleasures and filthy riches has not died. On the contrary, it has gained momentum and is driving the current regime and the country at large, along the same blurry path towards the same empty goals.
Such tragic realities would open anybody’s mind to these unfriendly vagaries of socio-politics. They, these realities, would prompt any reasonable man, in the current context, to downright disappointment and a feeling of being thoroughly let down. Disappointments in politics, exclusively for those who have chosen politics as a livelihood, are a common occurrence. Yet for those who stay outside the fray as mere spectators and chosen only to partake of the voting process, these disappointments may mean abject poverty; they may lead the electors to unspeakable conditions in their close neighborhoods. The electors’ lot may have deteriorated. Their numerous requests for common good may have gone unheeded. Theirs is a fate that has succumbed to the wants and needs of thuggish henchmen of politicians who have deliberately opted to exploit the poor and enrich themselves. The voters willy-nilly have empowered the elected and impoverished the electors.
Against such a wretched backdrop, against such an unfriendly social milieu, the voter is becoming increasingly disillusioned about the choices before him. This is the precise state of affairs any politician who runs for office strives to avoid but it is the precise situation he has created for his electors. A culture, which has nurtured the citizenry for the past few decades, has now totally enraptured the social theatrics of a nation. And there does not seem to be a way to discard that culture and create conditions and circumstances that would in turn engender a new culture founded on more morally-acceptable norms.
Blaming politicians and their practice of corrupt politics in general would not suffice. A general upheaval on the part of the citizenry is sensible and leadership for that kind of upheaval has to be generated from the societal ranks of today. Such expectations might be too rare and difficult to realize. Yet dreaming for a better state of affairs is no sin. In fact, it is an onerous duty of each and every elector to dream for a better tomorrow. But one cannot dream for a better tomorrow if one is entrenched in a ‘comfort zone’ of the present. Confidence and competence conspiring to reveal brilliant minds may be scarce and infrequent, but as Plato penned “mankind will never see an end of trouble until…lovers of wisdom come to hold political power or the holders of power…become lovers of wisdom.” We might take eons to achieve a stage in which our power-holders would become lovers of wisdom. Accumulated subversion of norms, willful and callous disregard for the rule of law, lack of decent and reasonable constraints on public conduct and appalling ignorance of history have created a monstrous galaxy of politicians whose beginnings are more obscure than their ends.
But they are a product of the democratic will of the electorate. The electorate has to come to terms with them until it’s time to replace them with an equally unqualified set of politicians. The founder-leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Rohana Wijeweera articulated this process of continuous ‘revolving-system of government’ (thattu-maaru kramaya) most eloquently in his speeches in the late sixties and early seventies. However, we cannot go where Wijeweera wished to take the youth in Sri Lanka. That ideology is dead and proven absolutely worse than the present democratic way of life to which Sri Lankans have got accustomed.
That is the preface to my central contention of today’s column: Maithri/Ranil bond. Soon in the wake of the election of Maithripala Sirisena as President of Sri Lanka in January, 2015, the bond that was built between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe looked immensely solid and firm. Almost each time President appeared in public, albeit his profound loyalty to Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), his original political party, he never failed to mention that he was greatly helped by the United National Party (UNP) and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe for being elected as President. The bond between Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the UNP, seemed to grow with each passing day. His respect and admiration for the UNP leader was palpable and intense.
On the part of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the complement was returned with even greater strength. Nevertheless, the Bond-scam apparently had a profound effect on this bond. The mutual trust was shattered and the growing crevices became visible and tangible. In the meantime, Sirisena’s fight within his own party, which he in fact left when he contested the Presidential Elections against its leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, became even more intense and at times comical. Sirisena’s failure to take full control of the SLFP did play an integral part in the Maithri/Ranil bond to be fissured. The formation of the infamous ‘Joint Opposition’ (JO), which in all realistic terms, a group of Ministers and other parliamentarians whose loyalty to their defeated leader was surpassed only by their collective questionable financial integrity, increased the graying of Maithripala’s shock of hair.
In order to buttress his position in the Cabinet, which was dominated some UNP stalwarts, Sirisena resorted to one of the acts which enticed unconditional criticism. He brought back some defeated SLFPers back to parliament through the backdoor known as the ‘national list’. While the UNP members of the Cabinet, both in private and in public, spoke in one voice, these SLFPers began indulging in a cascade of crude and rude criticisms of their own government. The JO, having failed to come to terms with the Presidency of Maithripala Sirisena, a typical product of the country’s dry zone citizenry, a loyal disciple of the Bandaranaike family and an emblematic follower of the so-called ‘Bandaranaike policies’, began a campaign of vituperative politics. They left no stone unturned in order to gain temporary political advantage. Despite allegations of amassing vast amounts of wealth at the expense of the country’s coffers, Mahinda and his immediate family managed to throw mud, first at Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and then at President Sirisena.
Into this the arena of dastardly political theatre entered Arjuna Mahendran, unseated Governor of the Central Bank and deposed Minister of Finance, Ravi Karunanayake and their Bond-scam. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe failed to see the depth of damage this Bond-scam could cause. He should have insisted that Arjuna Mahendran resign immediately upon the surfacing of accusations regarding the Bond-scam. The damage would have been much less; there would have been no Presidential Inquiry; no JO cry, for their past practice of corruption was hardly outdone. The evil effects of the Bond-scam are now manifesting themselves as ghosts of mistakes that could have been easily averted. And their effects are affecting the bond between the President and Prime Minister. The unbonding of the bond between the two leaders of the country is now visible. Its apparent consequences will be shown in the local government elections scheduled for February 10, 2018.
What could have been nipped in the bud has grown into a massive tree, taking firm roots in a soil that is already spoiled and rotten. Hopes are still alive for the bond to re-bond. It’s entirely on the shoulders of both men, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org