By Sarath De Alwis –
“Just think, reader, what will happen to you if the truth of a mad beast overpowers the sane truth of man?” – Maxim Gorky in Untimely Thoughts”
Last week saw our genial, rustic peasant President and the patrician Prime Minister indulging in matters sublime. What emerged from it all is that Maithripala Sirisena is clearly the representative of the purpose, the promise and the potential of the SLFP.
Both addressed a gathering of Literati at the book launch of Upul Shantha Sannasgala – Tuition Master, prolific writer, public thinker and media celebrity.
They differed greatly in style and content. The savoir faire displayed by the president in reaching the hearts and minds of a microcosm of the Sinhala speaking intelligentsia was electric in its impact. The Prime Minister cultivated, elegant and detached emerged as the affable outsider.
The contrasting approaches of the leader of the SLFP and the leader of the UNP created a palpable sense of Déjà vu. The cold war between politics of patrimony and politics of entitlement since the uprising of 1956.
The business like Prime Minster used the occasion to trace the evolution of mass media from the Ola leaf and Papyrus to Guttenberg and the Rotary press and thence to the digital age. He reminded the chosen elite gathering that it was the UNP that pioneered Television and introduced free Wi-Fi access.
The President was raconteur and social critic. He was fascinated by Sannasgala’s most recent literary expedition ‘Amma’. It reminded him of Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’. He was overwhelmed by the first person omniscient narrative of the writer’s early and adolescent years in rural poverty.
What was striking about his entertaining and insightful observations was his disarming authenticity. The description of the scabies infected urchin wondering in the small piece of parched earth reminded him of his own beginnings.
Describing an incident in which the imperious Sirimavo Bandaranaike reluctantly suffered the company of a drunken journalist he unwittingly and innocently laid bare the distilled essence of the SLFP ethos under its founders – their belief in an imperfect but dignified humanity. He did not say it. He certainly inferred that ‘every man’s experience is his private literature’.
In contrast to the pragmatic UNP that is eager to erase its past, the SLFP has the capacity to confront its painful experiences and reclaim mastery of its future. It is the task of the SLFP to move beyond its folly of the Rajapaksa years and rediscover itself in a functional and an accurate way consistent with itself. It is the SLFP of literate men of the caliber of T.B.Ilangaratne, Sagara Palansuriya, Reggie Perera and activists of the caliber of Peramunetileke and Karunasena Jayalath.
Few realize that the Rajapaksa years spawned “political entrepreneurs,” who gobbled up the ideological adherents of left of center politics paving way for parvenus of the Weerawansa variety. The Rajapaksa regime created a constituency of an apolitical mass seduced by patrimony. Yet another class of passive and inert followers remained indifferent to public affairs.
The authoritarian state allowed limited competition among a chosen elite within managed boundaries. The Rajapaksa democracy perfected the Schumpeterian theory that democracy is the ‘method that institutionalizes the arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a managed competition for people’s consent’.
We live in an age of skepticism and doubt. The larger segment of our society believes that governance is in the hands of those corrupt interests in power. The Central Bank bond scam has totally undermined the good governance initiative. It has created its fissures in the UNP ranks as well. Confronted in a live TV program ‘Satana’, Eran Wickramaratne clearly displayed his discomfiture and unease over the bond fiasco. He put up a brave defense of the indefensible and was candid enough to confess that he did not know the credentials of the three handpicked members of the Prime Ministerial committee. In sharp contrast Dr. Harsha De Silva continues to insist on the eminence and the forensic integrity of the committee that determined that Governor was not directly involved.
The divergence in opinion of the two dynamic trend setters of the new UNP can be explained. One is the Calvinist ethics of propriety. Not isolated good work but a life of good works combined in to a unified code of conduct. The other is the Lankan Buddhist ethic of expediency. Karmic fatalism is a convenient substitute for moral consistency. We don’t have the luxury of ethical universalism. Why should the UNP be exempt?