By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
There has been much discussion on the need to have a more literate and well informed Membership in our Parliament. Yet, when a new entrant displays her erudition, there is much ungallant nit-picking and Mud-slinging. Maybe, Mark Antony was not the murderer of Julius Caesar. Even if he was charged, he may not be convicted, and even if he was sentenced to be hanged or sentenced to life imprisonment, he could always be granted a Presidential pardon. But he could not be denied entry into our August Assembly it not being “out of bounds” for convicted murderers. So, even if Mark Antony did actually stab Caesar, why all this fuss, here and now?
To me, the most memorable line was Caesar’s response to the messenger sent by the Senate to entice him to the Forum to face a planned murder. To quote him, “Cannot is false, dare not falser. Tell them that Caesar will not come”. This is admirable defiance. Whether Mark Antony was there or not matters little. When Caesar said to somebody, “Et tu, Brute”, he clearly meant, “You are a brute”.
Elder readers may recall that the fledgling SLFP government of 1956 included Mr Casila Abdul Samed Marikkar (not the brightest star in the firmament,) as Minister for Post, Broadcasting and Communication, who was seated next to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at a ceremonial dinner, hosted by SWRD Bandaranaike as PM. During a lull, Mr Marikkar turned towards the Guest and, by way of light conversation, asked, “Pandit Sir, what do you think of the works of William Shakespeare?” This was overheard by SWRD, who commented devastatingly, “Pandit, didn’t I tell you that some of my Cabinet are exceptionally well-read”. In a somewhat similar context, PM Margaret Thatcher when asked at a Press event, “Madam Prime Minister, are you a fancier of antiques”? This invited a classic reply, “Indeed I am, I have a cabinet full of them”.
During our school days, lying was near criminal. Not so now. A memorable statement (by a not so memorable) Prime Minister, was startling “Manifestos, he said are not to be believed. They are lies meant to just win votes.” A well put truth, by a person who at that time was also The Buddhasasana Minister. So much for Musāvāda. The last incumbent of the Presidency was full of contradictions. It is said that a successful liar must also have a good memory. Among his several mishaps was the “Six Feet underground” caper. He now seems to have no difficulty in cozying up to his would be murderer! “I will authorize the hanging” he roared “of at least four Drug Kingpins before I leave The Presidency”. This was merely a hollow threat, or did he actually?
The pious promises that he made at the funeral of the Venerable Sobitha Thero, went unfulfilled. I am reminded of an incident in Parliament at a time when honesty reigned, and when even insults, were elegant. Hon. Dudley Senanayake (PM) was on his feet, when an opposition MP pointed out that Minister Phllip Gunawardena seated at the front bench was asleep. He added “Let sleeping dogs lie”. The quick response was “No. let lying dogs sleep”. As a US candidate said of his electoral rival, “If he promises not to tell lies about me, I will promise not to tell the truth about him”.
We are now at a point where lies are so commonplace, that no one believes in particular, official statements. In such a situation, can one be blamed for relying more on the Social Media for the truth? The more the State tries to curb or muzzle these sources, the more credible would they become. Some lies border on the criminal. This is dangerously evident, when people suspect the official figures relating to the pandemic. As a nation, we take pride in thinking up complex “explanations” and motives for any matter. The more bizarre the theory, the more smart we seem to think we are.
In following the on-going PCOI into the disastrous Easter Bombings, one is astonished at the readiness with which high-ups in office (including the President at that time), can let down their colleagues or subordinates so shamelessly. Apart from the sense of betrayal of their one-time comrades, the greater damage is that it would compromise trust, confidence and simple decency. Outright lying – even about confidential matters, does not inspire confidence in official rectitude. This is made stronger by the common phenomenon of Gazette Notices issued today are cancelled tomorrow in “Domino Fashion”. Until now, I believed that Constitutions are the only official periodicals. I am proved to be wrong again!
Among the pontifications about “Yuthukam saha Wagakeem”, uttered, whether relevant to the theme or not, the absence of the ex-President at voting time in the crucial matter of the 20th Amendment, is significant. Clearly, precept and practice are very different things. Selective action encourages feelings of triumph, at “beating the system” rather than the conviction that the inconvenience is for the common good (including that of oneself).
I may have drifted far from my initial intent – which was to soothe the unfortunate transgressor who, in trying to impress erudition, merely prompted scorn.