28 February, 2024


Subterranean Transcripts 

Malinda Seneviratne

The fault is in the constellations and not the stars

“We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars…” —  Jack Gilbert

Jack Gilbert (1925-2012), celebrated poet from the USA, in a poem titled ‘Tear it down’ was essentially calling for self-criticism, for the recognition and subsequent erasure of bias, and perhaps even reflection on the error (let’s say) of being fixated with political projects or preferred outcomes. 

There were many who voted for Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015 not because they believed a word about the yahapalana promise but they thought that defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa was necessary to stop things from deteriorating. On the other hand, there were many who actually believed in the yahapalana pledge, never mind that you cannot get (as the Sinhala phrase goes) feathers from a tortoise.  Among them was the columnist Nalaka Gunawardene.

Nalaka recently quoted a fruit seller who runs a small retail shop near his house in Kotte, Jayasena.  Jayasena Mudalali had told him a few days before the 2015 General Election that there are no honest politicians and that he would prefer if it were possible to vote for a robot.  Nalaka, at the time, had entertained utopian hopes about yahapalanaya, he confesses, and therefore had not agreed with Jayasena. Nalaka yearns for robots today. 

The biggest problem with those who jumped on the yahapalana bandwagon is the term.  It was a challenge and a good one.  It was an aspiration, a standard to be maintained and it was going to be tough.  Many who cheered Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe back in 2015 probably knew it would be tough, but what they didn’t know was that yahapalanaya was a feather and the yahapalanists were tortoises.  The problem is that yahapalanaya is an end as well as a process.  Once you embroider the term on to your political flag you cannot play ‘End justifies the means,’ but you have to be alert to the journey, the decisions, each step of the way; and you have to point out deviation.  

Here’s an example.  There were those who demanded that whether one likes the idea or not R. Sampanthan should be made the Leader of the Opposition.  The hesitation of course was  ideological (at best) and racist (at worst), the latter being the more common source of objection.  The argument was about accepted parliamentary practice and the business of numbers.  And yet, the very same lofty principles were duly forgotten when the parliamentary arithmetic changed and it became obvious that the Joint Opposition had more oppositional legitimacy and clout than Sampanthan and the TNA.  

Those who raised shrill cries of horror at corruption, nepotism, abuse of state resources and such during the tenure of Mahinda Rajapaksa are conspicuously silent today.  They are not calling for the blood (or at least a hauling to the FCID) of those accused of swindling the Central Bank (accusation, let us not forget, was ‘crime’ enough for the name-shame game that the yahapalana (sic) media played when it came to those associated with the previous regime).  

The Ministry of Home Affairs has written to public servants in all districts, asking them to arrange all kinds of religious ceremonies to commemorate 40 years of the advent of a particular political ideology and the 40th anniversary of a politician’s first electoral success.  That’s a call for the abuse of public resources, a demand that government servants pander to the interests of a political party and of course a leg-up to the (further) politicization of the public service.  The (obvious) at-odds with yahapalana rhetoric has surprisingly been missed by yahapalana apologists.  

We should not be surprised since yahapalana nepotism first surfaced just days after Maithripala Sirisena became President and no one among the prominent anti-nepotism brigade uttered one word of consternation.  The watchers of the watchdogs were and are silent on the abuse of state media.  They are not exactly howling in protest when the government unleashes violence on demonstrations.  They didn’t say a word about the attempted white-vanning of a student leader.  

And then there’s the issue of postponing elections.  If the country can move along (‘stagger’ if you wish) without local government bodies but just government-appointed ‘minders’ why hold elections at all, one could argue. The same logic could be extended to include provincial councils as well.  But not holding issues is at odds with yahapalanaya, and again that at-odds has not been noticed by the yahapalana cheering squad. 

When one reads the columns of the yahapalana apologists one gets the feeling that at least some of the columnists are embarrassed about what’s happening.  They don’t exactly say it as they should — where a thundering slap is warranted (going by the ease and weight of swing they demonstrated against the previous regime), they mutter ‘tut tut.’ 

Take all that’s happened over the past 2.5 years and imagine that it was the Rajapaksas in power. Now ask yourselves how the yahapalana cheer-leaders would have responded.  It’s a throw-back to the eighties, isn’t it? It is as though people who pretended to be fast asleep during the JRJ-Premadasa tyranny, who were half-asleep during the CBK years and were wide awake during the Rajapaksa tenure, have return to feigned-sleep all over again.  

So what was all the high-minded talk during the Rajapaksa years about, one has to ask.  Were they really worried about corruption? Did nepotism keep them awake at night?  Did they feel stifled by the lack of democracy? Were they upset about violence then but not now because those targeted by Yahapalanists  are dispensable?  Is it just another api venuven api thing?

The fault, as they say, is not in the stars but, as they don’t say, it’s in the constellations.  There are constellation-preferences clearly.  It could just be a configuration of stars that make up an ape kattiya (Our Guys). It could be a constellation called ‘Constitutional Reform Closer To Our Hearts.’  Whatever it is, it is not about things that ought to matter more than ideological and political preferences, such as truth, honesty, decency, consistency, equality before the law, accountability, transparency and such.  

Let us not for one moment imagine that the same principle cannot be applied to those who support the Joint Opposition, see Mahinda Rajapaksa (or Gotabaya) as a saviour.  They look up and they don’t see stars either; they see configurations that spell Joint Opposition, Mahinda or Gota.  If they see corruption, nepotism and other ills today, the chances are that they were blind to these before January 2015.  

Jayasena Mudalali has a point, all things considered.  But if we are a long way off from robot-governments and if we recognize that humans designing robots are never value-neutral, then we have to go beyond the more persistent constellations, i.e. those that describe the dominant political formations in the country which include not just the UNP and SLFP but also the JVP, TNA and SLMC (and their off-shoots). 

The stars that are backgrounded by such constellations are in fact the very stars that are used to create the constellations only to be sidelined post-creation: the people.

Jack Gilbert says ‘The village is not better than Pittsburgh, only Pittsburg is more than Pittsburg’.  We don’t have to look to the constellations, we don’t have to look across the seas and over the mountains.  The fault is right here. Among us.  Within us. So too the solution.

*Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.  Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com.  Blog: malindawords.blogspot.com. Twitter: malindasene

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Latest comments

  • 7

    The greatest achievement of “Yahapalanaya” was the repealing of the 18th amendment. Period. Any price we have to pay now for that is worth it. One gotta be thankful for small mercies!

    In spite of all the prefixes and suffixes ……… in front, behind, up, down of their names and fancy white-man-language, if any imbecile believed that Lankans are not going to be Lankans, that’s their own stupidity/folly.

    The value – if there is any – of an education is to train a man/woman to think rationally ……….. in spite of all one’s “educational” shindigs, if one failed to think rationally, why make a public spectacle? Go and do your weeping and gnashing of teeth in private.

    Ah! the good ol’ promises, eh? ……… promises of politicians?

    Who has not made promises? We all do it …….. only in other areas of human “endeavour.” Think back ……. all the promises one makes in the heat of volcanic hormonal eruptions of youth! ……….. If one can handle it, welcome to the human-condition ……..

    Well, ………… there is nothing else to do other than wait for Rainl to fix Mahinda’s crap and then wait for Mahinda to come back and fix Ranil’s crap ………… then wait again for Ranil ………… again for Mahinda. ……………

    That’s the unique microcosm of the special Lankan-condition within the greater human-condition ………….. to live in hope for the second-coming of one’s saviour of choice.

    I am not going to hang around for the next messiah to hit town …… gonna put to use the valuable lessons I’ve learned ……….. gonna team up with Ranil and “borrow” a little money from the EPF the working-man wouldn’t notice and put on Mahinda’s kit and red scarf and practice his showbiz and razzmatazz ……… and gonna go and try my luck with all the Colombo gals’ schools! …………. hope the gals fall in the same numbers the Lankans fall for the pols every election ………

    Then life would be worth living! …………….. in spite of all the crap one gotta face being born a Lankan.

  • 1

    NOw it has overwhelmingly has proved that Yahapalanaya is another fraud. Previous govt got scared so they tried to stop the voices. Instead, this govt let people scream and keep silent as if they did not here anything. That is simply lack of respect to the voters and just arrogance from the politician. See How RK talked to the commission. . My guess is the projects of FCID and CIABOC will wind up and finish their work when the election comes and the this horapalanaya govt will try to score using those findings.. Other than that, there won’t be any recovery of what was stolen or there won’t be any succeessful prosecutions. Journalists are feeding on this and do not suggest any solutions to the problem. It will be agains tthe same group but positions changed. So, the voters do not have any escpae. I think Malinda as a journalist, you should propose a solution. If not you should say you are also waiting for the moment to become another politician to make your life easy.

  • 3

    Surprise! Surprise!!! Some sense from Malinda after all. Not that I agree with all the points. Malinda had vanished during MR. In fact he was on MR’s lapdog at that time. Did not have guts to utter a word against killings, kidnapping, and corruption during that time. Malinda, you were liberated by ‘yahapalanaya.’ Now you can criticize government politicos without fear so it is good for you and the country.

  • 1

    Malinda Seneviratne suggests “The fault is in the constellations and not the stars”
    The faults of individual stars when totaled will be substantial. Is this attributable to the constellation?
    Malinda, faults can be created but not destroyed.

  • 1

    Looks like Malinda is ‘half’-quoting the Bard to suit his stilted views, not on Yahapakanaya, with which I agree, but with regard to his deafening silence on the innumerable misdemeanors and felonies that his favored Rajapakses committed during their nefarious tenure in power.

    It was Cassius, who Shakespeare described as having “a lean and hungry look” (not unlike Malinda), who uttered these words to Brutus. And the actual quote is as follows: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings”.

    Let’s be honest for a change, Malinda – the Yahapalanayas haven’t yet reached the dizzying heights of corruption, impunity, nepotism, etc, that the Rajapakses achieved, but it sure looks like they are ‘reaching for those stars’ with Penthouse Ravi’s shenanigans, Ranil’s gross myopic stance on the Bond Scam and several reports of other equally shady deals.

    In the end, it certainly looks like we are stuck with the political dregs, as no honest individual will want to wade into the excrement that is Sri Lanka’s politics.

    So why don’t you stop being intellectually dishonest and try objectivity for a change? Your prose deserve better!

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