By Vishwamithra –
“The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.” ~ H. L. Mencken
Politicians have got used to using the public as if they own them. At the same time and in the same vein, the public also respond in a welcoming manner that beguiles a probing mind. The response from the public to the timely use of rhetoric and sloganeering from politicians is being noted not only in the dirty and nauseatingly stinking slums in the urban and suburban sectors, it is also palpably present in the cocktail circuits in the more sophisticated corners.
Addressing the not-so-wealthy guys and gals in an exaggeratingly approachable way (either Malli or Nangi depending on gender) does not speak to the character of the politician in question. Ever since the entry of the ‘common man’ into the arena of governance, this bastardization of our societal ranks has been able to fundamentally dictate the behavior and terms of our political dynamics; it has eaten into our fabric of movement without any checks and balances; it has been woven into the very vernacular of the politician’s daily tapestry of work. But tragedy struck without our being aware of it. Its multi-faceted character is raising its very posture beyond all expectations; that despicable human quality of complacency has made the ordinary ‘commoner’ into a robot to be manipulated by even more despicable politicians.
This is the sad story of our life in Sri Lanka. The ‘common man’s’ politics has created a very uncommon man in the end. It’s evident in every corner of the country; whether in the instance in which the entry of his son or daughter into a respectable school; or on the occasion of a graduate-teacher’s transfer from one school to another; or when the permit for a felling of a tree in his own backyard or in the case of a meager job for a driver in a government department, the same ugly beast of bribery and corruption is threatening to devour the ‘common man’. Politicians did not begin their journey to this abyss of bribery and corruption with the entry of the ‘common man’, but his entry did cause the journey to be accelerated and much more wicked and unpleasant.
The consequences of change into this novel phase of social evolution are being manifest now in exponential sequence. The appearance of a halt to its relentless trudge is delusional. In the long journey of human endeavor, history of a nation is too short even to mention as a footnote. Nations come to life with inspirational leadership and ruthless execution of warfare against those who oppose the birth of new nations. Sri Lanka as a new nation came into being in the mid nineteen hundreds. Yet long before the seafaring adventurers Portuguese landed on our shores in 1505, Ceylon existed as a Monarch-nation, sometimes divided and sometimes as a single nation-country. However, Buddhism as a religion was accepted as the leading and most dominant religion our Kings and Queens faithfully followed and made our state as a single Buddhist religious polity, making it look like a theocracy. This dependence on a single exclusive religion, Buddhism, and making it the official state religion has caused many a modern day liberal to think that Buddhism being given exclusive and superior status in the context of constitutional acceptance as a violation of basic fair play. And the entry of SWRD Bandaranaike’s utterly short-sighted policies of Sinhala-only as the official language of the state has quadrupled the ill-effects of such nihilistic political adventures.
Into this array of political adventures of SWRD enters the ‘common man’. ‘Common man’ is not condemned because of his socio-economic status. Socio-economic status of man is determined by so many factors amongst which most domineering is the prevailing material conditions in the country at the time. However, Sri Lanka has been enjoying free education from 1946. This allowed each and every school-going age child to be educated at no cost to the parents of the child and ‘free education’, as it was called, did not associate itself with the necessary educational infrastructure. This lack of infrastructure, especially in the rural districts where more than 70% of our population lived, told another story about our ‘free education’.
Lack of English teachers in the rural schools made this tale even more mournful. Schools in major city centers such as Colombo, Jaffna, Kandy, and Galle were saturated with top-class English, Mathematics and Science teachers. They enjoyed privileged status with almost all leading schools in the country and were located in those city centers. The resulting discriminatory grading of schools led to these rural schools producing their best children to enter the Universities. But they produced Arts graduates without any knowledge of English and had a marked disadvantage in the employment market. Whereas those who studied in the leading schools in the city centers relished preeminence purely because of their ease with which they conversed and managed their day-to-day business of school-going and extra-curricular activities such as cricket, tennis and other sports.
The ‘common man’s’ child did not avail him or herself of these luxury elements of ‘free education’. On the other hand the ‘common man’s’ lethargy and over-dependence on government handouts so promised and never delivered by the cunning and diabolical politicians paved the way for an utterly disparate system of ‘free education’ which continued to produce not educated men and women but book-worms whose understanding of the developing marketplace was minimal and was pathetically below expectations.
When SWRD’s so-called revolution introduced so many ‘common men and women’ into politics mainly as a political ‘gundu’ (bait) and not as a result of a puritanical intention of giving him a place in the sun, the ‘common man’ took the stick by the wrong end. The House of Parliament used to preside over some of the best oratorical and thoughtful exchange of ideas and ideals. With the ominous entry of the ‘common man’ it instantly transformed itself into a House of irritating and cantankerous men and women of half or uneducated kind. The ‘common man’ is not condemned because of his socio-economic status. Nor is he judged for his family background. But his refusal to learn from the prevailing discriminatory systems and introduce meaningful and positive changes into the system is open for criticism ad condemnation. When those who have refused to learn have entered politics for its lure of power and an opportunity to earn money has corrupted the uneducated mind of the ‘common man’-politician.
This convoluted context of socio-political reality made the well-intentioned ‘uncommon’ politician feel bad for doing what’s right. Bandaranaike’s policies and principles made the country’s ‘common good’ turn into thorns in the eyes of the public, 80% of whom were ‘common men and women’. Whichever way one looks, it’s not a good sight. The present-day corruption of all layers of government, beginning from politician down to Ministry officials, and grama niladharis is a dangerous symptom of that malady. Politicians of both sides, government and opposition, have entered politics not for the noble cause of ‘service of man’ but for self-obsession and material enrichment. That pathetic characteristic of humanity has devoured our politicians and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. They have come to treat the public as trash and their spit on the face of a gullible voter is welcomed with a docile demeanor and complacency.
If we are intent upon changing this gruesome system, we need to first realize that it is gruesome and unwelcome. Educating the masses towards a more amenable and positive way of socio-political life is difficult and time-consuming. There will never be a perfect society. Such dreams are essentially utopian and far too optimistic. Yet an effort towards improvement of men and women by providing a fundamental structure to enable man to develop himself without the expectation of government handouts and political patronage and defense of that structure is of utmost significance and dispensation of justice and execution of a work plan that would benefit the public even at the expense of the super-rich class of commission-merchants and politico-dealers is a must in the current context.
Yet all these measures and dreamlike policies could be blindsided by a single stroke of a politician’s pen. Corruption has gone into the marrow of our politicians. They live by it sometimes they die by it. But the public simply cannot wait any longer without making a hearable noise. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and its able speakers have performed admirably well in the current circumstances but their history is brimming with terror, murder and mayhem. Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Handunhetti alone cannot do this job and it is essential that they, the JVP, support a common candidate at the next Presidential Elections with the support of all civil societies and the UNP. Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) are beyond repair. They are the ones who are mainly responsible for this mess and their intentions are well recorded in our post-Independence history. Let’s leave them there, as an unprintable footnote in history.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org