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‘Yahapalanaya’ and ‘cutout palanaya’: Overzealous sycophants reduce ‘Yahapalanaya’ to a mere slogan

4 October 2015 07:21 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In the Buddhist folklore, there was this monkey that a king reared as his trusted companion. The king had full faith in the ape, who accompanied the sovereign anywhere he went.  On one fine day, after attending the affairs of the State, the king took a short afternoon nap, leaving his sword with the ape. The monkey sat next to the sleeping royal, ever vigilant to guard his master against undesirable intruders.  Seeing a pesky fly buzzing around the king, and worried that it would disturb the royal, the monkey tried to chase it away, but in vein. When the fly kept circling around, the monkey, now enraged at the repeated incursions, grabbed the royal sword, and landed one heavy blow, aiming the fly, perched on the king’s chest. The king was effectively hacked to death.



When President Maithripala Sirisena on his return from the UN General Assembly was greeted by those numerous cutouts hanging from all available space in the city, touting him as the hero who defeated imperialism, he should have reminded that monkey. (That is subject to the assumption that MS himself did not order the display of that sycophantic affection. That, I guess, is a fair conjecture because in January after he was sworn-in as the President, he ordered the removal of his cutouts that had sprung up around the country).
We are a nation of sycophants. However, the level of sycophancy hit its disturbing zenith under President Sirisena’s predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, though successive Presidents (perhaps with the exception of D.B. Wijethunga, whose tenure was anyway brief), were not far behind.
President Sirisena promised to be different and detest from the culture of nepotism and sycophancy. And people, disgusted at MR’s shameless display of a personality cult voted MS to the office of presidency. Now seeing those larger-than-life-sized cutouts of MS staring at them from lampposts, bridges and tree tops, those folks should have been befuddled as to whether they had taken a ride in the time machine, only to be reminded, that it was, in fact, MS beaming from all lamp-posts.


Money spent on this orchestrated display of public adoration of the President may have come from the personal funds of the sponsors such as Nimal Lanza (whose residence was once raided by the STF during an anti-narcotic operation, though we were later told he was innocent). Still better than MS’s predecessor who had put up cutouts at every corner in the city at public expense, funded by every conceivable Government institution. However, unless MS withstands temptation, it would not be a long before we reach that point.
 However, he does not need to stoop to that low. The 6.2 million Sri Lankans who voted for him at the presidential election, voted him to power because they believed he would be different from his predecessor. They displayed a high degree of political maturity and were not swayed by the State propaganda machinery that demeaned President Sirisena and preached conspiracy theories round-the-clock. Respect of those voters cannot be earned by cutouts and Billboards. But, those can probably serve as the beginning of the end for the public trust MS now enjoys.
The others, who loath him (there are quite a lot of them, understandably due to the political polarization that the ex-President caused in this country) would have a sinister smirk on their faces and ask ‘Didn’t we tell you?’





President Sirisena has been criticized, rightly so,  for taking his 24-year-old son, Daham to the UN. Daham has later responded that he had been invited, since his mother could not make it to New York. The President may, perhaps, feel criticism is a bit too harsh. After all, his predecessor made it more or less a norm to fly not only his progeny, but also the extended family and their hairdressers and makeup artists in charted flights at State expenses. On the contrary, MS travelled in a normal flight, with a few delegates; a routine he has followed in all his official visits. And his speech at the UN General Assembly, where he assured that Sri Lanka would address the past with honesty, and the reception he received from the global leaders, were in stark contrast to what his predecessor had achieved internally.  All those accomplishments were momentarily forgotten due to a fiasco of his son attending as a member of the Sri Lankan delegation. In order to accommodate the presidential scion, reportedly, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative in UN, Dr. Rohan Perera had to opt out from the Sri Lankan delegation.When MR began turning Sri Lanka into a bastion of nepotism, people were reviled. The excesses of his were revealed and his regime was subjected to criticism. But he did not give two hoots, nor did he rehabilitate himself (later, he found it was more effective to silence his critics than amending his ways). Sri Lankans resigned to their fate, minded their own business. When a nation was silenced, it was the international community that took over from that moment.  

 

"Now a political conscious public want their Government to deliver on its promises of good governance; to that end, they are holding the Government and its leaders accountable, which is a positive trait for representative democracy."




MS ought to take criticism in a positive light. The scrutiny he had been subjected to recently, in fact, highlighted the renewed interest and reawakening of sense of belonging. It was not long ago that people were indifferent to all sorts of evil, ranging from white vans to large scale plundering of the national wealth.  Now a political conscious public want their Government to deliver on its promises of good governance; to that end, they are holding the Government and its leaders accountable, which is a positive trait for representative democracy.
Unless the President takes criticism into account, this enthusiasm may not last long; it can turn sour, bitter and acrimonious. Chandrika Kumaratunga, the former President came to power in a wave of popular support on the back of an activist civil society and reawakened Sri Lankan voters; that was a spectacle akin to MS’s election victory. Once in power, she pretty much forgot that and her relationship with all segments of progressive opinion turned acrimonious. Of course, circumstances under which, she governed were tricky; her Government was compelled to fight a monstrous terrorist group, which for three decades stalled the democratic evolution of this country.





MS does not need to carry that burden on his back, thanks to MR, who conclusively defeated the LTTE.
Sycophancy is one of our entrenched problems. It may be a residue of our feudal social structure in the past, but its implications have been aggravated by the political system, which over time has degenerated to one of rent seeking. It is hard to get over those old habits over night. In this system, some politicos think the easiest way to the heart of their political superior is through billboards. However, such display of sycophancy degrades  society and demeans the leaders in whose honour those cutouts were erected. President Sirisena should know it well that it is generally  certain tin-pot dictators from some of those former Soviet republics in Central Asia or a hellhole in Africa who are more likely to choose that recourse. Having given the political leadership to launch a series of democratic reforms since his election, MS does not need to stoop that level.
However, the problem is more structural than personal. Modern States cannot be run solely on the goodness of its leaders. Human nature may not be as pessimistic as Hobbes described (in the State of nature as, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’, or a war of all against all), but, humans, in general, succumb to temptation, be it for power, wealth or personal aggrandizement.

 


"The 6.2 million Sri Lankans who voted for him in the presidential election, voted him because they believed he would be different from his predecessor."




That is where institutions come into play. Without institutions, modern States would be at the mercy of their political leaders and wheeler-dealers. Independent judiciary, bribery and corruption busting mechanisms, independent commissions, independent media, independent telecommunication and media regulatory authorities serve as a bulwark against the temptation of political leaders and regressive populist impulses of the masses. Without those institutions run by people of calibre, who have been vetted by an independent body (in our case, a constitutional council) Yahapalanaya would only be a slogan. Those institutions keep a tab on the arbitrariness of the State.
Recently, there were allegations that the Government’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority is periodically ordering blocks on the website of the ex-President. It would be easy to dismiss those claims by saying MR was getting a dose of his own medicine. But, his followers would not think so. And, the arbitrariness of those actions, taken at the whims and fancies of some individual, who like the proverbial monkey is overzealous to protect his masters, would only bring disrepute to the Government.  More than that, it portends a dangerous trend.
It would  always be better if President Sirisena could rein in his acolytes from turning himself into a Rajapaksa. However, the best way to rein in sycophancy in the country at large is to empower those independent institutions which would, over time, take a life of their own, and set and enforce norms, regimes and parameters of governance.
 

Follow Ranga Jayasuriya @ RangaJayasuriya on twitter

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  Comments - 2

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  • Cheers Tuesday, 06 October 2015 02:49 AM

    But MR is still a productive president who took Sri Lanka towards next millennium

    Patriot Monday, 05 October 2015 10:36 AM

    Nice article.


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