20 October, 2021


Power, Politics & Piffle

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Why is our discourse focused only on power and hardly ever on responsibility and tasks? We only speak of “power sharing, devolution or winning or retaining of power”? Politics and governance are proving to be uncomfortable partners, but at the core of it is a deception – the system is all about deception. Debates of important issues in Parliament fail to even attract five per cent of a bloated membership. The “House Full “situation is only when emoluments, allowances and duty free vehicles for the members, are on the Menu. Mostly, Political Power translates as “The Right to do Wrong”.

Why has no one yet attempted to provide a figure for the “Cost of Politics”? Why are we obsessed with esoteric (and little understood) figures for growth, GNP, GDP, inflation and national, debt Sovereign debt etc, to a puzzled audience? The reality is that increased taxes, reduced social benefits, levies and extravagances are better understood, as they impact by extra burdens, to be borne, especially by the poor. High- sounding talks about FDI, balance of Trade, Sovereign Debt etc fly over the heads of the majority who, are more concerned with the prices of rice, petrol, sugar, dhal and vegetables. Too often regular increases of prices of essentials are explained as due to either droughts or rain, or on the latest – fuel prices or the devalued rupee. They both have a “domino effect”. Depreciation of the Rupee impacts on all of us who are obliged to purchase some imported necessities. The public are tired of  exhortations for tightening belts, while the privileged few are visibly wallowing in vulgar excesses. It is even argued in certain circles that “It is not really that the Rupee is being devalued, it has merely been over valued in the past”. Good show!

The frequent manifestation of strikes, go-slows, student unrest, alcoholism, smuggling, drug addiction, natural disasters and a myriad more are deeply troubling. Meanwhile their seems to be so much money being splashed around (witness land and vehicle prices, bars, hotels and restaurants) that one fears that Printing Presses are stretched to capacity printing currency notes which have displaced coins. Very soon we may even see a zero added to the denominations on Currency Notes. 

Too often, upheavals are triggered by to neglect and dereliction of duty by those in positions where some foresight and contingency planning could have averted them. Thereby, the hint of blackmail by services deemed to be essential, have led to hasty and reckless remedies that can only spark more problems.

Already there are early signs that serious indiscipline by an angered and inconvenienced public could well erupt. It is apparent that Circuses have greatly outshone Bread. The case of Marie Antoinette should be remembered for her haughty prescription “If they have no bread, let them eat cake”. She metaphorically and literally, lost her head.

Profligacy of some, amidst privation of the many, is a recipe for disaster. The recent happenings at Athanagalla and elsewhere where ribbons were cut to mark “Janatha aithiyata Pavareema” of a long awaited bridge was amidst boos and catcalls, may be a reminder that even more and worse, may come. It seems that the normally docile and patient rural folks are beginning to sense that the continuing theatre will have to end. Crumbs may not suffice to quell a snarling revolt. Sweet talk of pending heaven or of blaming all ills on a “We are still better than them”, may soon cease to be Legal Tender. We thought we were on the path of recovery and rectitude post- January 2015.

Power is an unjust concept and corrosive, politics is of all-pervasive irrelevance and piffle is an all-pervading reality.

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    It is natural to talk about power-sharing when or if one group holds on to power and abuse it. I completely agree with Dr Pethiyagoda however that the proper discourse should be on responsibilities, tasks and justice. The necessary concept on devolution should be ‘cooperative devolution.’
    This new discourse however should begin in the broader sphere of politics. What is politics? It should not be about power, but about justice, fair play, responsibilities and public service. One may even say, it is about ‘Dhamma’ (not the JR type however!). This is a paradigm change that we need in politics almost everywhere. Democracy does not make sense if politics is based on power. This is a change that we need to make in our perceptions i.e. mindset, policies and institutions.

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