By Vishwamithra –
“Who is the forgotten man…? I know him as intimately as my own undershirt. He is the fellow that is trying to get along without public relief…” ~ Amity Shlaes
Only two more days to go. Presidential Elections-2019 is here. The candidates have behaved fairly decently, except perhaps the political charlatans who are supposed to represent the Rajapaksas, Mahinda included, have resorted to their usual uncouth statements, sometimes bordering on outright falsehoods and sometimes dwelling in the twilight zone of the delusional. What might happen in three days, whether our country as one single nation would choose to reject a hackneyed wannabe-politician, that is Gotabaya Rajapaksa or a potential leader of men that is Sajith Premadasa would be elected the President is a million dollar question.
This is the usual time for speculation for those lotus-eaters who occupy the armchairs in their posh sitting rooms with a shot of whiskey or brandy at hand gossiping about the analysis of this pundit or that academic. Yet for those who comprise nearly eighty percent of the electorate, it’s no speculation game. That is the forgotten 80% of Sri Lanka. The under-privileged, undereducated, undernourished and underclass of a nation has been thoroughly forgotten. Whether they represent one ethnic community or the other, for them, a Presidential Election, especially the closing days of the campaign are a nail-biting time, of some sort.
Traditions and conventions need to be forgotten; they need to be swept away for their very presence hinder rightful, clear thinking. The cobwebs that veil the lucidity of the picture have to be banished. Nevertheless, a rejuvenation of a dead past, resuscitation of a set of buried values with a populist stance could have a chance to sway the lingering voter into another expectant believer, not making the candidate Sajith a ‘messiah’ but a kinder and more realistic fellow with an oozing sense of empathy. The average, forgotten Sri Lankan needs to relate to Sajith more than Sajith to him. And it did happen.
Politics is about making friends. An inscrutable sense of empathy coupled with belief in the vision one has about oneself and his horizons are essential for success in politics. It was true in ancient times when the Caesars and Alexanders and Asokas guided the world and mankind in it. It is so true now. Those fundamentals have not changed. Not one bit. For the human condition and its sustenance during the darkest days in history has adapted many ways and means to guide what is around it rather than vice versa.
Yet the long journey of mankind has not been trekked on the proverbial bed of roses. Wars have made friends enemies and enemies friends; geographical evolution of the world in fact has been more consequential than any other factor in change. Albeit, the fact, geography’s intrusion is more of an outward image as a result of more fundamental values humans have opted to discard and adopt, it has greatly shaped the meandering flow of humanity and defined all mankind as one single entity moving as one unitary being what color, creed or religion each group holds in each geographical location. And Sri Lanka has not been spared of this unique spectacle.
Great American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said thus: ‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again’. It is the stinking past that we are trying hard to forget; it is that past which takes us to delusional ends of the earth and drops us like dead hardware; it is that story we tell our children with burst and vigor, yet we ourselves do not know its angelic yet dreadful inadequacies and its consequential dissipation and destruction of character. It was Charles Darwin who said that ‘in the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed’. Time after time, it has proven to be right.
It is within such a global and historical context, the 2019-Presinsendtial Election in Sri Lanka is being held. The time-advantage, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the ‘Pohottuwa’ candidate enjoyed, thanks mainly to the stupidity of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s dillydallying of the nomination process in the United National Party, seems to have evaporated the moment Sajith mounted the public platform.
The culture that nursed us during the last quarter century has been one forgettable saga. Its repetition would only exacerbate its own ruthless duel-trait of corruption and dishonesty. A society so acclimatized to such dishonesty would naturally try to cling on to the same if no alternative is offered. However, submerged in provocative slogans and wrapped in shawls (sātakayas), those who claim to represent the common man and patriotism can be exposed if genuine and sincere enunciation of elegant vernacular utterings. It is the personification of that elegance and determination the young Sajith is promulgating through his neo-populist political agenda.
Delving in the last twenty five years of dishonest and corrupt political leadership is of no use now. A new beginning could be made provided, we, as a single people, make our simple minds without resorting to simplistic formulae. The henchmen traveling with Gotabaya Rajapaksa need no more exposition; only reminders are necessary.
In Gota we find a robotic man turning to his brother Mahinda for answers when confronted by the probing pen of the journalists. When reminded about the ruthless past and the ungodly acts of pillage, plunder and murder, in terms of Gota’s interpretation of facts, should remain unasked and therefore unanswered. Man’s memory might be short but its need for readjustment and reconciliation remains a question residing very much in the present.
Offering new leadership to an old family-cabal is no hard task. Constitutional constraints might hinder the path of a would-be dictator’s greed but would surely not allow illegal coup d’états and unlawful takeovers. In 2015, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the best candidate of the ‘Pohottuwa’ could not defeat Maithripala Sirisena, the worst candidate backed by the United National Party (UNP). Today the UNP has fielded its best candidate against a weaker candidate of the ‘Pohottuwa’.
On paper, both sides surmise, that they win. Pohottuwa guys mix apples and oranges and insert the statistics of the local government elections results in 2018 into Presidential polls and infer it’s an easy win for Gota. The UNP and its allies say that if they could defeat Mahinda, how they cannot beat his younger brother after four and half years of stagnation. Both are solid arguments. On the one hand, the UNP-brand has suffered immensely. There is not a thing done unto the Rajapaksas and their alleged horrendous felonies and political malpractice. There is no argument about it. On the other hand, how can a family rule that was swept away four years ago come back as if the voters have been reborn after four years?
But all these arguments are on paper. Elections are not fought and lost on paper. They are being fought, bloodied, and sweated on hard grueling fields and streets; inside rural villages and urban slums; on parched paddy lands and arid zones. This is where the forgotten man lives, that 80% of our population who is still grateful to a father who gave them shelter and employment in a garment factory. It is this 80% that needs uniforms for their school-going children; for them a free lunch is not a factor woven into the grand scheme of finance but a bare necessity for their starving children.
This forgotten man is being remembered by Sajith every day on each election platform; while Gota is wrapping himself up in a phony shawl of patriotism, Sajith is calling those forgotten men and women and children. Maybe, the Rajapaksas underestimated immensity of this appeal.
In stark terms, the choice could not be clearer: a thoroughly forgettable family-cabal or salvation to the forgotten man?
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org