17 September, 2019

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Lack Of Intellectual Depth In Our Leaders & Its Sad Consequences

By Vishwamithra

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”  ~Thomas Jefferson

In all political theatres, when the lights are dim and the drumroll begins, the actors and actresses, veterans and rookies alike, take their respective cues and enter the main stage. The storylines are, if the purpose is to shatter box-office records, consistently shallow and distastefully bizarre; music loud and insufferably out of tune; dialogues lofty and cascading like rainwater from a spout; costumes tailored to suit the audience-acceptance, bright and garish and sets irreversibly out of place and abnormally out of size. But what is most natural and unspeakably remarkable is acting. No player is second to the other. In fact, each one tries to surpass the other and overall performance exceeds expectations. However, authenticity is sadly lacking and a thick veneer of artificiality conceals some deeply dangerous minds bent on pursuing ‘success’ at all and any costs.

There begins and ends the great political drama; one enacted by treacherously ambitious frauds whose values are measured in terms of Rupees and Cents, Dollars and Sterling Pounds and Yuans and Yens. This is the tragic tale of political theatre. Since the day the first Neanderthal stepped out of the caves to the beginning of civilization, this panoramic theatre has been witnessed by countless generations of man, and the fundamental frame and architecture of the saga have not changed even one iota. The greed and appetite for things more luxurious continues; what was luxurious at the beginning of our civilization, may today look utterly laughable and puny; in that journey of civilization, from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa to the present day, a very few rulers had made any attempt to renounce power; a very rare few had succeeded in that noble attempt.

The dichotomy of Monarch vs. Commoner, Ruler vs. Subject and President and or Prime Minister vs. the Masses has been astir right throughout our history and our great chroniclers have written down its eventful passage for posterity. Historians have rendered many a different version relying on their own unfathomable depths of knowledge and wisdom. But the tragedy lies, not in our being unable to comprehend the wisdoms of our learned ones but our inability and unwillingness to see the rays of day although they clearly penetrate our mortal souls. The twenty first century offers mankind that no other era of the human story has witnessed or experienced. And that is the availability of unedited data and unrefined knowledge that is cascading through the tubes of television and bandwidths of the computer. When such raw data is coming into contact with the untrained and undisciplined mind, that data becomes the subject to be manipulated, shaped and fashioned by the cruel crafts of marketers whose only goal is profit.

When one contemplates the current political impasse in Sri Lanka in that grand context of history, both ancient and contemporary, what does one see? Or does the current set of political and social circumstances qualify for that intellectual scrutiny or does it not matter, for that set of circumstances looks like a speck of dust in a vast universe of history and fades into the terrain of insignificant and trivial. My contention is thus: however much insignificant and trivial our anguish in relation to the current socio-political dynamic is, a historian applies to decipher the web of our grand and complex human story in a most scientific manner and bares out for students to continue to do so. I am no historian by any standard but my interest in the analysis of events, both current and past has intrigued me to see contemporary events in a perspective of historical prism. In those attempts, some of my forecasts have come true while a great deal more have gone a way out of the realm of success. Yet that has not deterred me from persisting. 

It is in that context I am surveying the current local political-canvass and trying to see the vague lines of nuanced portfolios of the characters that influence the whole painting. Although this exercise deserves a more detailed accounting running into volumes, I am trying to pen it in approximately fifteen hundred words- with all due respect to our readers- which usually is the attention span of a newspaper reader. However, the delicate balance between the ruler and the subjects, the ever-changing, fragile dialogue between the holder of power and those who are subject to that power and, the inter-relationship between the ruler and ruled, the dynamic duel between these two parties assumes an identity outside their separate individual identities. And although that identity exists independent of these individual identities of the said parties, the threshold is thin and imperceptibly faint; the context is convoluted and complex. This is the terrible dilemma that Sri Lanka is facing today. It is as simple and in the same strain as complex as that.

I am not venturing out to the colonial times nor am I intent upon tracing this tale to our ancient kings. History books have taught us immeasurably on this aspect of our story as a collective body of Lankans. However much it has been exaggerated in our Great Chronicle- the Mahawansa– the chronological order of historical events and their influence on our psyche, once the floral embellishments are picked out, the Mahawansa is a brilliant and accurate record of the Kings and Queens and men and women who ruled our country. Yet an objective chronicling of the contemporary times is possible as a recording of events but to opine about the events and their eventual consequences is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Against such a challenging backdrop, an analysis of those who were at the helm of our governing machinery since Independence in 1948 becomes harder than one would think.

DS Senanayake, our first Prime Minister elected by a majority of the people on a first-past-post system stands out as the most astute political leader we had since 1948. A man whose formal education was below par, with no degree either a Bachelor or Masters, he governed the most educated Cabinet of Ministers ever. His first Cabinet consisted of the following: JR Jayewardene, an Advocate of the Supreme Court, Dudley Senanayake, a Cambridge graduate, Sir Lalitha Rajapaksa, a Barrister, Sir John Kotelawala, Cambridge University, SWRD Bandaranaike, Oxford University, EA Nugawela, a Major of Ceylon Light Infantry, C Sunderalingam, a scholar par excellence, George E de Silva, lawyer, Sir Oliver Goonatilleke, Auditor General during the colonial era, A Ratnayake, a Cooperative Executive, C Sittampalam, Civil Servant, TB Jayah, an educationist, Sir Senarath Gunawardene, diplomat and politician from State Council days. The entire Cabinet, including DS, consisted of 14 in number! D S presided over the most educated Cabinet in Ceylon since Independence. While all others were gifted with talent and education, D S was the wisest of them all.

Wisdom is not attributed to all bright and smart men and women. That rare quality or exceptional human condition called wisdom is a product of experience and a combine of stoicism, judgment and common sense (‘street-smartness’) tempered by patience. In that context, DS Senanayake was the only political leader who was wise. All his Cabinet members, except JR, A Ratnayake and Nugawela, were educated abroad, either Oxford or Cambridge. Yet, the so-called ‘uneducated’ DS dominated the national conversation, both as a practical leader and a true patriot. His interaction with the masses was unmatched and his authenticity could not be repeated by any successive leader in Ceylon. The only leader who was close to his authenticity was his own son Dudley Senanayake. Unfortunately for Sri Lankans, there was no encore; empathy, yes, but authenticity, no.

Days of educated men and women crowding the corridors of Parliament are a matter of history now. The proportional representative system of electing Members of Parliament has resulted in distorting the notion of popularity and those who could afford to spend the most amounts of cash in organizing massive advertising on television and print medium are more successful than those educated ones who could afford a bare minimum on an election campaign. The cycle begins with this ugly spending spree. Once they get into Parliament, they start making money in whatever means, legal or illegal, ethical or unethical, moral or immoral, right or wrong. They need that money to spend for their next campaign. This cyclical dynamic has played a dreadful role in our political existence. It has captured not only our immediate interest; it has managed to grip our intellectual capacity, if we have any, and stifled it to near evaporation. So, in the absence of that intellectual capacity to differentiate between disparate choices, we become mere pawns in the hands of even a below-average chess player.        

I will continue on the next group of our leaders in following columns.

*The write can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com                

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    “Days of educated men and women crowding the corridors of Parliament are a matter of history now. I cant agree with you more.”>>>>>>>>(a) Is there any educated/intellectuals left in Sri Lanka ? even Sinhalese intellectuals are fleeing the country. >>>>>it used to be only uneducated >>>like Edwin Rodrigo >>>who fled to Saudi Arabia.>>>to do menial jobs

    • 1
      5

      And the Tamil Intelligentsia like Rajash take to washing Sudda toilets. But Rajash, just because the toilets you wash belong to Suddas, that does not make it a superior job. Of course, it is much better than making vests. As they say, not all Tamils are vest makers but all vest makers are Tamil.

    • 0
      2

      Rajash

      Opinionators like you too is pudding for these failures.

  • 8
    0

    Very true that the quality of the politician is at rock bottom today . But Bandaranaike and Athulatmudali went to oxford but became chauvinist pigs to achieve their own ends..
    Yet education matters. The oriental tradition is that only the elite scholars should rule a country. The chinese believed that mandarins, proficient in many forms of knowledge alone should have the power to rulr..

    it may be a good idea to prescribe minimum educational qualifications for members of parliament.

  • 4
    0

    Why does Vishwamithra say there is lack of intellectuals
    amongst our politicians.

    Take our President His Excellency Maithripal Sirisena.
    Has no one read the speeches he has and is making
    at Daham Pasal prize givings or at opening of CWE
    branches. They ooze in intellectual content and can
    match the wisdom of those world leaders like Jawaharlal
    Nehru or even John F. Kennedy.

    Then take our great Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
    He is an embodiment of intellectualism speaking always of
    grandiose projects – aero cities, IT centres, Volkswagen
    factories etc. Just last week he flew over Jaffna identifying
    venues for eco tourism. He may be despised by the people
    and can never rise to top heights through the people’s vote.
    But he is a superb intellectual, always telling Sri Lankans to
    eat cake if they do not have rice.

    What has heppened now is that Sirisena and Wickremesinghe
    have both lost public faith. Sirisena developing the fine art of
    making speeches and NOT doing anything. It ends there.
    Wickremesinghe protected those responsible for Sri Lanka’s
    worst ever Central Bank bond scam.

  • 6
    1

    “Days of educated men and women crowding the corridors of Parliament are a matter of history now. “
    TRUE

    What did the educated( Dudley, Banda, Sundaralingam…)men do?

    They laid the foundation for all these problems faced by the people now. Who suffered/suffering more – TAMILS.

    • 4
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      Very true . In fact , the PM should have appointed himself Foreign Minister , so that he could spend even more time travelling overseas rather than trying to uplift the lives of millions of Sri Lankans who are battling to feed their families .

  • 5
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    We can go on and on writing and reading well written articles, of all the shortcomings and the remedies that should be applied to no avail as long as this archaic form of electing representatives is followed. I fail to understand why the intellectuals of this country do not press for a form of Government similar to the Canton system which is being followed by Switzerland.

  • 4
    2

    “DS Senanayake, our first Prime Minister …”
    ds senanayake is the one who started this rot with Sinhalese colonisation
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-inherent-concept-of-sinhala-buddhist-domination-in-sri-lanka/

    • 2
      1

      Anpu, and Vishwamithra –————————————————————————-

      //“DS Senanayake, our first Prime Minister …” ds senanayake is the one who started this rot with Sinhalese colonisation//—————————————————————————————–

      D. S. Senanayaka and the “Educated” Sinhala Racists and Tamil Racists and Castists, are the ones who disenfranchised the Up-country Tamils, when the Sinhala Left opposed.————————————————————————————————————–
      So that is how the uneducated D S Senanayaka and the Educated Parliament behaved, in “democracy”

  • 3
    0

    Leaders grow through the political system . In sri lanka the criteria to become a leader is decided on the family. Intellectuals who are in the system stagnate. Ranil W has hogged the position for the last 20 years and he does not allow any challenges to his position. Sirisena filled a void as MR lost the election. If not Namal would have been the leader. Leaders with potential grow out of a system with defined vission and philosophy. In SL the leaders are inbred and lacks any intellectuality. The country suffers.

  • 3
    1

    Uneducated DS and his educated 13 made nearly a million Tamils in the upcountry loosing their citizenship and voting rights , by their first act in enjoying the power.

    This was a crime similar to that carried out by the Nazi regime. A despicable act that goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet you state DS was ” wise, practical leader and true patriot”. What a horrible person you are Vishwamithra!!

    • 2
      3

      Mrs. B did not complete the deporting of Indian Coolies working in the Tea estates. SWRD did not complete Only one swabasha in Sri lanka. So, that ruined Sri lanka.

      the problem with present Politicians is they are worse than the criminals who has some ethics. these incompetant politicians are worse thieves who cheat the voters.

      • 2
        1

        Bumsofty, one should shoot at your mouth, not allowing you to call another folks group that way ? That only reflects your racial mindedeness or lack of knowledge.

        We the sinhalese would not want you to represent us. Get lost.
        Actually, if those indian tamils were as you say got from India, they should now be granted same rights as we the citizens enjoy.

        In Uk, if any migrant worker or anyone stays longer than 8 years, would be able to ask for citizen rights.
        So why not in SlANKA ? Why you guys behave so primitive ?

        Do you have a brain the size of a mustard seed ?

    • 6
      1

      Then started Sinhalese colonisation schemes in Tamil areas. many eastern Tamils themselves do not know the original ancient Tamil name for the present Gal Oya region is Pattipallai Aru. This uneducated man leading a bunch of educated fools laid the foundation for Sinhalese Buddhist racism and making both the Indigenous and Indian origin Tamils disposed third rates in their own land.
      If he made the Indian origin estate Tamils stateless after living in the country for around eight generations around that time and earning most of the island’s foreign exchange, he should have also made the Sinhalese Karawa, Salagama , Durawa , Hunu , Hali , Berewa, most of the Kandyan upper castes as well as many of the so called low country Sinhalese aristocracy like the Bandaranaike, Jayewardene ETC also stateless, as their Indian Tamil ancestors arrived in the island just a century or two before the Indian origin estate Tamils. Just because they now changed their mother tongue from Tamil to Sinhalese and their religion from Hinduism to Buddhism and Christianity and called themselves Sinhalese , they were exempt. Now their Sinhalised descendants Like Karuppiah Wimal Jenali Borukiyanage and her admirers at Lanka web are carrying on this anti Tamil dance, conveniently forgetting their own recent immigrant Indian Tamil origin

  • 5
    0

    What passes for Education now, is passing Exams with the help of After School ‘Tuition Masters’ No wonder that Sri Lankans have lost the Ability to think for themselves!

  • 5
    0

    Great piece; Great Title, both very timely; possibly too late.

    I have often wondered why we produce such men of very ordinary intellectual standing, as our leaders. Men of brains and stature, don’t come forward.

    There is not one among this long who could be called an orator.

    Not one.

  • 0
    0

    “And that is the availability of unedited data and unrefined knowledge that is cascading through the tubes of television and bandwidths of the computer. When such raw data is coming into contact with the untrained and undisciplined mind, that data becomes the subject to be manipulated, shaped and fashioned by the cruel crafts of marketers whose only goal is profit.”

    It is a clear case of information overflow. Part of the problem is an inability to filter out the useless information. The other part of the problem is an inability to draw correct inferences from the useful information. The net result is in line with the notion of propaganda which Goebbels had in mind: “There is no need for propaganda to be rich in intellectual content.” Much of what we see in social media or the news – in the form of dumbed-down, sensationalist hyperbole – is for the sole benefit of some entity, be it the government or a corporation. The purpose is to reinforce a particular way of thinking as opposed to encourage a debate. That is why the outliers, such as those who espouse nationalism or oppose immigration, very quickly become social pariahs.

  • 2
    1

    It was a brilliant cabinet, and the did proud by the country and developed the country. They were well accepted by the world leaders then. That is the reason we were one of the first developing country to be in the UN in 1954. out of the 49 countries.

  • 2
    0

    Something to observe in the photo which probably is nearly 70 years old. A few in western attire but many in casual dress. A similar photo today will have one in national dress and the rest in expensive suits tailored in Italy and Saville Row ties.

  • 4
    0

    education doesnt seem to be of any importance any more – see the highly educated persons like G L Peiris and his contribution – is it anymore different to boot licking uneducated henchmen gathered round MR. Same cam be said of others in other parties !

  • 1
    0

    education doesnt seem to be of any importance any more – see the highly educated persons like G L Peiris and his contribution – is it anymore different to boot licking uneducated henchmen gathered round MR. Same cam be said of others in other parties !

  • 1
    0

    There was a certain dignity and admirable intellect in former leaders like N.M. Perera, Peter Keuneman, Dudley Senanayake, and others, gentlemanly politicians who the country was proud of, and compared to the louts, thugs, uneducated brutes, and rabble rousers, one finds in every political rally these days, was of a high calibre, we can never find in Sri Lanka anymore. The tone set by leaders affects the behavior of the people.
    Unfortunately, we will never experience decency among the politicians again.

  • 0
    0

    You are insulting great maharishi Vishvamithra by having his name. Please do not use this psedonym any more.

  • 0
    0

    Glad to see two of my relatives in the photo and if they have ever lived and governed us,SL would be a developed nation but the people who brought our demise and todays sorry state are the ones in the national Ambude.Ever since the colonials left our shores we are cursed with idiotic and utterly corrupt and even criminal minded politicians.

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