Colombo Telegraph

Why Sri Lanka Should Reject Ultra-Rightwing Politics

By Vishwamithra

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” ~Pericles                                

Global considerations are ever present. A trend towards nationalism in Europe and the United States of America is visible. Narrow-minded politicians are busy making more and more promises to gullible constituents expecting that they would, at least in the short term, overwhelm the more sophisticated arguments for compromises and accommodations on reconciliation and harmonious living among diverse groups of populations. Ultra-rightwing politics seems to be gaining grounds, especially in countries in which more than one electoral option is available for a voting population to decide. A propensity for ‘strong’ leaders as against ‘weak’ and indecisive leadership is growing. As was penned in my previous columns, these terms of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ are being defined and explained in terms that suit those who seek political power.

Being ‘strong’, specifically in politics, is not the bravery and courage that a soldier shows on the battle field; it is certainly not the inner strength of character that a forlorn mother shows in dire circumstances, trekking miles after miles to fetch water to quench the thirst of her child who is hardly fed for the day; it is not the stoicism that a father displays day in and day out when he drives his three-wheeler to earn a wage of honest labor in order to feed a family of four with an occasional ‘kottu roti’ his two children look forward to each Friday evening. Such bravery, such courage and such stoicism is a super mundane product of very mundane human beings who have been driven to the edge of despair, yet do not flee from responsibility; nor do they fear to challenge it. That is strength of character, a rare human trait which is not evident in our politicians today.

Abduction of innocent and unsuspecting journalists in white vans in the dead of night, manhandling of them when they step out of their abodes at fading twilight or even killing in broad daylight is not a show of strength. That is bullying taken to its illogical and destructive end; that is a show of phony strength which is a product of a mind that has buttressed its defenses by way of money and muscle power from outside the realm of inner fortitude and endurance. A sophisticated sense of strength is generated by a developed skill of patience, compassion and equanimity.

The Rajapaksas of our political arena have infested its air and its inner core with material and psychological debris that is usually seen in decadent families whose measures were totally alien to the values that enrich and empower the poor and helpless. When politics is taken as a tool to extend family power and hegemony instead of as a sharpened instrument to serve the people’s desires and demands, that aspect of politics is essentially, as Nehru wrote in his celebrated ‘The Discovery of India’, death-dealing. The adventurous sheen of politics has given way to a dull and drab exercise of raw power by novices whose first few steps in politics are much more ‘impressive’ than when they are matured and experienced. These contradictions do exist despite the obvious denials by the very practitioners of the trade.

Politics in this transactional fungus, offers itself as a self-destroying force unbeknownst to its tradesman. Grownup children of these politicians, whether they are men or women, take this newly-gotten power for granted’; they gallop from one end of the city to the other end’s night clubs in the wee hours of the morning in brand new sports cars and other limousines with women of the evening, virtually painting the town in red. Value of money has gotten cheap; its bargaining power has become overwhelming while its value has diminished to near zero. Marcos of the Philippines and Idi Amin of Uganda have taught them their craft to its finest detail. And our lads have learnt it so well.

The Sanga, Veda, Guru, Govi, Kamkaru-brand has been tarnished; its sheen turned dull and drab beyond recognition. Yet they got another lap to run, thanks to our soldiers’ bravery and sacrifice in winning the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). All the sins and debaucheries are forgotten and forgiven. The luster of Pancha Maha Bala Végaya (five-pillar force) has evaporated and not even a whisper to the great brand that SWRD Bandaranaike created with so much hope and promise is being heard. Yet the people at large still identify the corrupt and lewd politicians of that ilk with this magical brand. 

What Bandaranaike, despite being an exquisite product of low country Radala cum Oxford class, managed to launch a political school of thought that is still being profiled with the vernacular-educated Sinhalese Buddhists whose numbers exceed 70 as a percentage of our population. That is still the challenge the United National Party (UNP) and its new coalition partners that sprang from the liberal-thinking, English-speaking Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have to confront. Identity-politics which Bandaranaike gave birth to has stuck on, apparently forever. ‘Commoner’ and the ‘other’ have been demarcated from each other, (no pun intended). Mahinda Rajapaksa and the rest of his corrupt and greedy fellowmen and women have owned this mesmerizing political reality and its defeat in 2015 now seems merely a temporary retreat. 

The UNP and its leaders have to bear the brunt of the responsibility for allowing this wound to fester. A lack of firm and profound commitment towards eradicating the long-term ill-effects of being politically branded as the ‘other’ cannot be taken lightly. Instead of propping up outsiders, the UNP needs to field its own candidate, especially for the Presidential Elections. Repercussions of making outsiders kings are being displayed visibly today. Water finds its own level, they say. 

Gaining political power is no easy task. The UNP’s own leader, JR Jayewardene, showed it in 1977. It’s no exaggeration to say that if Dudley Senanayake was the leader of the UNP in 1977, the UNP would not have come to power. Dudley did not have the foresight nor did he possess the stamina to endure the brutal regime of the Sirimavo/Felix Combo in the 1970-1977 era.

Three leaders of the UNP who understood and followed the JR sample to the hilt were R Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. But the UNP does not have them anymore. In their stead, it has Ranil Wickremesinghe. Ranil obviously has shown that he has the staying power or power of staying, whichever way one puts it in. In the modern-day politics, in which information and its dissemination is determined by Nano-seconds instead of days and weeks, the opponents of the Rajapaksas have to learn to be armed to the teeth, especially in the social media kind. In a sense, it should be easier, at least in the process. The substance however, could be hard and more inscrutable to the untrained novice whose experience in political campaigning is limited to managing ‘losing’ elections.

Taming the Rajapaksas is hard, but, in the larger interests of the country and its stagnating economy, it must be done. If the UNP can profile the new SLFP-SLPP coalition as an ultra-Right-wing political entity made up of corrupt and nepotistic individuals, then the identity of being the ‘other’ could be overcome. But it certainly cannot be done overnight- and it may be too late for the forthcoming Presidential Elections.

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