By Vishwamithra –
“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson
Politics is scarcely pure. Its intrinsic quality of being sinister and cynical is concealed by its practitioners; without that concealment, the drama is disgustingly gross; its heroes and heroines are plain culprits of the worst kind. It has brought forth the maliciousness of its merchants and exposed the widening gap between politicians and the people whom they have sworn to serve. Instead of a service industry, politics has turned out to be a trading enterprise where the politician makes the maximum profit with minimum labor, capital and land. Of Adam Smith’s factors of production, the politician is charged with enterprise and he is using and abusing his entrepreneur-expertise to the maximum. And his profits are enormous, satisfying the greed and luxuries that he or she pursues.
It is this enterprise that is confronting us all today. It does not matter whether these politicians come from whichever political party. The allure of power is so great and so powerful; those who are engaged in the game become ruthless when it comes to possessing that power and then keeping it for whatever time limit that they prescribe for themselves. That ruthlessness is exercised to the hilt. Especially when it comes to safeguarding their financial interests, their immediate family and close henchmen and most of all, their jealously guarded seat in the political tiers, it becomes limitless. That seat they occupy may have been secured thanks to a violently fought election campaign. That campaign may have started with violence and may well have ended in violence. But the law enforcement officers may have been helpless because such violence had been condoned and endorsed by the leaders of his political party. Yet such violence has been the norm instead of an exception. Progressive elections have shown this propensity for violence and mayhem, principally by the incumbent party. No system or process has been set in motion by the succeeding party to find a resolution to these burning issues; these issues of repeated violence and mayhem have fortified each political party and its supporters to a very sophisticated level. Violence, instead of being at the end of the process, has become the means to an end- more violence.
The story is not a very pleasant one to hear. It is being told and told over and over again without the very politicians attempting to find a way out. We are not asking these politicians to be Upasakas or saints. What has been the exclusive character of the Banana Republics and emerging countries in the African Continent is evolving as the DNA of Buddhist Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans, particularly Sinhalese Buddhists, pride themselves as the custodian nation of the Dharma. A set of principles and values encapsulated in Buddha Dharma as a ‘way of life’ by the sublime teachings of the Thathagatha is being used as a shameful shield to conceal an utterly empty and barren interior. The festering wounds of yesteryear are being ignored and opened out for those political vultures to peck and devour. Non-Buddhists are not without moral error. They too, either by omission or commission, are an active party to this disgraceful exhibition of moral decay.
Showing their faces at every funeral house or wedding party, meeting the helpless constituents on every Wednesday and sending them from one pillar to another post has not stopped this radical decay. A culturally decadent mindset has been settled in, not only by the systems and processes, corrupt politicians have been the masterminds behind a latent game of political chess and the poor hapless masses are the pawns that are being taken literally for a ride of their lifetime. One of Oscar Wilde’s quotes goes as thus: ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’. All politicians, whether in Sri Lanka or anywhere else, belong to that description of man. Whether man has corrupted the system or the system has corrupted him is not relevant. Being enmeshed in the web of this coldblooded cycle, today’s politician clearly indicates that no reason, compelling or not, would he listen to; for he is afraid that such reasoning would expose his naked character, perpetually inhibited by narcissistic oddities constantly feeding his utterly infertile intellect. Instead, he has chosen to dwell in the dark corner of his being. A dull and dishonest representation of humanity, politician has become a meandering drifter only in pursuit of a mirage that’s slowly fading away on the darkening horizon.
This self-consuming eccentricity has totally eclipsed the greatness of the human spirit which Jawaharlal Nehru describes as “…nothing that can happen is likely to overcome the spirit of man which has survived so many perils. Remembering also that life, for all its ills, has joy and beauty, and we can always wander, if we know how to, in the enchanting woods of nature.” (Source: The Discovery of India, page 21/22). But our politician, the Sri Lankan kind, is far from such greatness. In the past, at least a couple of decades ago, we did have, both politicians and other academics and intellectuals in our midst, who had chosen to defy unlawful orders, to risk cruel transfers and harassment by shortsighted political masters, to journey along a path that they only knew from their childhood, a knowledge handed down to them by their parents and school teachers. That era is only a dim memory now.
Whatever slogans politicians express today, good governance or Yahapalanaya, transparency in governance or merciful resolution of burning problems masses face day in and day out, the unfeeling story of our politicians is continuing to be told in street corners as well as air-conditioned boardrooms and social clubs. The sheer insensitivity, that gross lack of empathy of a great majority of our local politicians has taken hold of our political culture. It’s having a strangling grip on the advancement of society, which eventually lead our country to a nation called a rogue-state and that is going to manifest itself sooner than later. That tragic spectacle of a fast disappearing value-system and a speedy voyage towards stormy shores of corruption, bribery and brutal polarization is looming large and real.
This lamentable saga of Sri Lankan politicians cannot be suppressed. It cannot be told with joy and delight as a childhood story narrated by a grandfather to his grandchildren. Columnists and writers will continue to pen these unforgiving emotions and sordid thoughts. They might make an abortive attempt at convincing the masses to turn the corner with a different end in mind. They may venture out to dispel the ignoble and contemptible character of society that is assuming a thoroughly forgettable profile. The most distressing slice of this story is the oblivion and apathy exhibited by the very victims of this maddeningly pathetic mass of the public. No bad government or unsustainable rule would last unless the subject mass of people decide to tolerate it and endure the hardships visited upon by that cruel rule.
Under the present government of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, that journey towards self-destruction seems to have slowed down; that slippery slope of self-immolation seems to have applied brakes; yet the brakes, more often than not, seem to be weakening by the day. Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe need to lead by example, not merely repeat slogans that the people increasingly find empty and of no solid substance.
Maithripala and Ranil need not be afraid. Those who hurl stones at them were corrupt and utterly dishonorable when they were in power. Their strength lay in the power they held. Those mindless merchants of dishonesty and deceit are engaged in a losing battle. Their deeds are being investigated and the findings, if the reports are correct, are nauseating and ghastly. But both President and Prime Minister need to prioritize their workload in order to regain the confidence and trust of the people who voted them in with immense faith and loyalty. Letting the voter down is no option. If any Cabinet Minister is going astray, he or she must be removed without any hesitation or favor. Indecision in government is killing the smooth operation of the state. The end-goal is what really matters. Establishment of good governance is never easy, nor is it sustainable unless close monitoring is enforced. Private-sector-efficiency and skill distribution must be reintroduced to the government sector. No person, Minster, State Minister or Deputy Minister is indispensible. Political power is not a means to enhancing personal finances and self-glorification. That was in the past twenty years.
Politics, as described in the first couple of paragraphs in this column, has to be transformed into a vibrant and honorable adventure. A profession that has within itself easy paths to self-destruction can be practiced as a noble venture in which one shines not on the shoulders of the poor but the bare breast of an honest politician.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org