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Catechism for Political Heavyweights

R Chandrasoma

Among the 'analects' of Confucius is this great piece of wisdom that seems singularly apposite in an age of rampant political deception, The Sage remarks 'There may be fair words and a humble countenance when there is little real virtue'. Is this not true of the men (and women) who vie for the highest office in this land of Sri Lanka? There are fair words aplenty and cloying displays of good-hearted concern before packed audiences but the sincerity of politicians is something that the public sees as inconsistent with the office and hence a kind of speciousness about which precious little can be done. There is, nevertheless, much ado about 'honest politics' but it is 'financial honesty' (or its converse 'political robbery') that is mostly at the centre of attention. There is another kind of honesty which is surely more basic - that of being morally upright and truthful. On this count it can be argued that all politicians are inveterate liars and, indeed, skill in this department (mendacity) is the trademark of the successful politician. Are there not, however, certain questions of overwhelming national importance that cry out for honest answers even if this exercise is a great and excruciating pain for those long accustomed to play dodge-ball on matters of national importance?

Here is a 'catechism' designed to trap the dissemblers, moral cheats and others who deem it a wonderful political skill to fool the public with 'fair words' that mean little. For example, the word 'samaya' (peace) is now used as an argumentative neutralizer and flatulent by politicians of every stripe and colour. It is the cheapest word in the lexicon of the current generation of Sri Lankan politicians. A first step in political reform must surely be the banning of such weasel words. Let us move on to the questions -

1 Do you accept (at the very least) that the Sinhalayas are primus inter pares (first among equals) in the hotch-potch of races and linguistic groups that constitute the nation-state of Sri Lanka? Have they not a primogenitary status vis-à-vis the others?

2 While recognizing the rights and prerogatives of other faiths, is not Buddhism similarly privileged?

3 Do you agree that there is a fundamental difference between the murderous terrorism of Prabhakaran and the problems arising out of the marginalization of the Tamils and the overthrow of their anglophilic elite? That the latter is quintessentially political while the former leaves room for naught other than the use of force?

4 Do you agree that the military option - the use of the armed power of the state to crush rebellion and to repel transgressors of our sovereignty - is not an evil option that must be resolutely abjured but a necessary last resort?

5 Recognizing that Sri Lanka and the Sinhala people have many enemies and few sincere friends, is it not prudent to underwrite the current practice of unbridled political supplication and mealy-mouthed appeasement with a show of muscle that would deter at least the minnows and meddlers that lord over us in this shameful age?

6. It has been said that 'one must have an open mind, but not so open that the brains fall out'. Similarly being open to the world is a good thing but must this 'globalization' go so far that we lose our national identity and become horse-fodder for foreigners?

6 Are Capitalism, Competition and Consumerism (of the tawdry kind) so blatantly developed in the West the sure foundation of the good life? Must we embrace this disreputable triad that is rooted in an ethos that is signally at variance with our own merely because the Jeremiahs amongst us shout from rooftops the foreclosure of all other options?

7 Can two systems of education - one for the Comprador Class in English and the other for the Poor Natives in Sinhala - co-exist without social turmoil? Will this not lead to a catastrophic reversal of the revolutionary social advances made in the immediate post-independence period?

8 Is it not true that a foreign energy-mafia (backed by native-born capitalist collaborators) is thwarting all efforts to provide cheap power to the people of Sri Lanka? Have not politicians of all kinds acted collusively in this great betrayal? Is it not astonishing that after twenty years of deliberation a Coal-Fired Power Station remains as elusive as the Abominable Snowman?

9 Can a politician in a spirit of wonderful ecclesiasticism worship all Gods and, sans discrimination, genuflect reverentially in temples, mosques, churches, kovils etc dedicated to a miscellany of Divine Powers and remain, none the less a Buddhist? Is this the New Pantheism of Politicians? Has a Christian Head of State worshiped at a Buddhist shrine? Has George Bush lighted Joss-Sticks in a Tibetan Temple?

10 A final query - Is Sinhala Nationalism a negative force in this country? Can a nation rise when the spirit of the bulk of its people is anathematized?

The point of this questionnaire is to elicit honest answers - it must not be construed as being merely a list of rhetorical challenges thrown by so-called 'extremists' among the Sinhala natives. For instance, the entire country knows that both the President and the Leader of the Opposition will (if spoken to privately) give concordant answers to all of the questions listed above. Their ideological stance on the supposed pathological ethnocentrism of the majority race is their great bedrock of agreement - even if they are nominally political foes. We are not so sure of the Southern Maverick - the current Prime Minister. A patina of Sinhala nationalism that was earlier his trade-mark has not quite rubbed off but his recent antics as a 'political pilgrim' in search of peace and unity suggests that he is no different from the others. This charge may be unfair. He is easily absolved if he gives honest answers to the ten queries given above.


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