Home / Columnists/ ‘Tsar Wars’, or how the evil empire strikes out

‘Tsar Wars’, or how the evil empire strikes out


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 11 August 2015 00:13


In George Lucas’ classic space trilogy ‘Star Wars’ (actually, a trilogy of trilogies), it was easy to discern who the good guys and the bad guys were... or who were meant to be as such. The idealistic hero with stars in his eyes, literally, Luke Skywalker wore white, courted princesses with gauche naïveté, and carried a blue light-sabre. His nemesis Darth Vader, a powerful but corrupt Sith warlord, was mean in black, took no prisoners, and wielded a red light-sabre to match his psychotic mood.

Of course, I simplify the subtext. The fabulous space opera that has thrilled millions and made Lucas’ empire a billion-dollar business many times over had other, subtler shades. Ageing guardian of the Jedi dream General Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (‘good’) in brown and cream. Cynical Cloud City administrator Lando Calrissian (‘bad’) in black and blue. Jedi grandmaster Yoda (dyslexic, but with a devilishly good agenda) in green skin. Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca (trustworthy, but unreliable) in brown fur.

17



Now there is a point to all of the above. That while celluloid space epics have Colour Coding 101 to guide innocent unspoilt viewers, cinematic parliamentary elections (our very own ‘Tsar Wars’) sometimes fall short in the easy to identify symbolism department. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, a nameless island republic had memorable colours and symbols that readily sorted themselves out in innocent unspoilt voters’ minds. Green was neoconservative and the UNP could be relied on to keep the economy open and their eyes closed to the hoi polloi. Blue was socialist but with a heart made hard by a background of power and privilege – at least until its human face emerged in offspring’s version of the SLFP. Red was a monster under the bed and despite its bleeding heart for the underprivileged masses of a lost generation, the JVP could not be trusted to take your grandmother to the nearest police station.

 

 

 

"When we are youthful and idealistic, fans of Star Wars grow up idolising Luke Skywalker. But by the time you actually grow up and go through your encounter with the Dark Side (see the cave scene in the last part of the first trilogy), wiser and saner counsel prevails. Darth Vader lurks in us all, and the Sith’s dark side of things can beckon as seductively as the Jedi’s upright approach can attract. Voter, be aware. Pollster, be alert. With the 8 January revolution there was ‘A New Hope’ (Star Wars: Episode IV). But with the return of Palpatine – the ex-Emperor himself – into the polls lists, there was ‘The Phantom Menace’ (Star Wars: Episode I) revived. Evidently he and his minions were manoeuvring so that ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (Star Wars: Episode V). In the time of greatest testing for the Republic, we – you and I, together with the Ewoks – must do our best to ensure ‘The Return of the Jedi’ (Star Wars: Episode VI). Else, gird your loins for ‘The Attack of the Clones’ (Star Wars: Episode II) and ‘The Revenge of the Sith’ (Star Wars: Episode III)"

 



Today’s heroes have wars in their eyes, wear stylish accoutrements that stand out a mile because of their distinct colour and manner of wearing, and court disaster with undignified attempts to return to and retain the purple. Powerful and corrupt warlords, drug and booze barons, and sick power-hungry sociopaths, don’t always oblige by donning black. Ageing guardians of the republican dream sport too many shades of grey in their ambitious desire to engage the excesses of empire and privilege democracy over despotism 17-2for the masses they would rule instead. Cynical administrators come in all hues and shades. Electoral grandmasters appear to be puppeteers and string-pullers with an eye on the main chance. The greatest of the idealistic republicans are trustworthy at best, but unreliable under pressure when party is privileged over polity, or demagogues cry down the championing of democracy in favour of vested interests and hidden agendas.

By the way, ‘Star Wars’ was an epic story about how something that was intrinsically good – a Galactic Empire superintended by a brotherhood of Jedi Knights – was corrupted from within. It fell from Republican heights (Lucas actually described the Jedis’ sovereignty as being ‘republican’ in spirit) into the pit of galaxy-wide tyranny at the bidding of one power-hungry and evil politician. (Spoiler Alert: the main point of the plot of the first trilogy follows.) He – Palpatine – underwent a transition from an ostensibly principled and obviously charismatic senator to the devious, diabolical, Dark Lord of the Sith, whose ambition transformed the Republic into an Empire and all but wiped out the Jedi... but one – or two – remain. (Another Spoiler Alert: the second trilogy hinges on revealing who they are, and their twin relationship to the meanest hatchet man of all time, Darth Vader.)

Thus, it is tempting – and opportune – and appropriate – to draw analogies between Star Wars and Tsar Wars, our own soap opera where powerful and ambitious ex-Caesars are battling it out in every sense with the more moderate would-be Czars and has-been Shahs. One senses the soul of a Palpatine in certain ex-Presidents. One sees how easy it would be to draw parallels between a past regime’s chief hatchet man and the oppressive strong-arm tactics of a Dark Lord of the Sith.

Be that as it may, the coincidences and similarities end in the realm of fantasy. No one – least of all the object of the putative comparison – would see the Prime Minister as Luke Skywalker by any stretch of the imagination. Neither the President as an Obi-Wan. Nor CBK as a Princess Leia. (Joke.) Although one won’t find it hard to compare sleaze-ball villain Jabba the Hutt with some scum-bag suckers-up to the past presidency or find amazing resemblances between the opportunistic bounty hunter Boba Fett and certain Central Bankers past and present. (Half-joke.) But seriously, folks... The who’s who of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections 2015 put moviegoers and political market-watchers alike in mind of a space opera like Star Wars, simply because the stellar cowboys in our own Tsar Wars resemble an amorphous bunch of extras whom Lucas failed to hire for his super-successful epic...

Of course, the main point I want to make is there’s much of a much-ness in many of our aspiring parliamentarians. (You don’t say.) As I said in a previous column earlier this week, despite the pleas and protests of civil society, the ranks of both would-be MPs contain the clever, the crooked, the cynical, the corrupt, the competent, etc, etc. The proof of the pudding is not in the voting. It is in the viability of the good, the bad, and the ugly; in their performance as legislators in a system of governance that is going from being an Empire back to being a Republic. That some of those propaganda trailblazing politicos – who are presently marching across our walls at home (much publicised TV debates) and walls outside (promises-abandoned campaign posters) – will eventually be shown up to be Dark Lords of the Sith and not the Jedi Knights we thought they were, will be cold comfort – after the poll.

In the final analysis, therefore, it bodes well for the polity that there is an increasing alertness demanded of, and increasing awareness dawning on, voters that it is vital they know their would-be MPs before they become PMs and chief whips and storm-troopers of the new dispensation after 17 August. If you will permit this columnist to suggest three criteria that could help separate the Jedi from the Sith, you will be better prepared to wield your own light-sabre on the day of the poll.

 

Credible strategies

Anyone can make promises which they are serious about and sincere enough about to start off with. And then botch their escutcheon with “difficulties” and “challenges” to actual implementation once voted in and ensconced in power. Any party can put out a halfway decent manifesto – which precious few voters might actually read. But it takes real guts and great work from party-political machinery to put on a good road show... which, sadly, the competing contenders seem to be taking literally. The past Regime had its Southern Expressway (which the present Republicans critiqued till they were blue in the face) and the auspicious favour of just having won the war. The present lot have their Central Expressway (which the main opposition is green in the gills about) and attendant fanfare with auspicious – or suspicious – timing for the soft launch. Whom are we to believe about which government’s making how much out of what kind of corruption out of hard infrastructure like roads and highways?

No, folks, they do it with smoke and mirrors – we, on the other hand, must not be gulled and gobsmacked by the primping and preening for public consumption. Go for the jugular. Get a manifesto, the solider promise of things to come. Polls-time Viagra-induced infrastructural puffery is mere foreplay. Don’t get so aroused that the lovemaking delivery detracts from the long-term legislative performance, leading to an anticlimactic letdown. Come, come. Let’s give our suitors a more stringent and sophisticated investigation this time round. Prior to the poll!

 

 

Competency subsets

The Empire had its storm-troopers: like the erstwhile Regime had its wars then and its rumours of wars now to manipulate the polity. The Jedi Knights had their mind tricks: like the Republicans today keep massaging public perception about business, economic development, and the investment climate. Our nation needs a Government that can straddle the country’s requirements at both ends of the spectrum. It’s not the economy alone, stupid! It’s not national security qua ultra-national sensibilities, chauvinist! Give us governance that is equally good at managing international relations and perceptions and confidence as much as it is good at meeting and greeting and exceeding the village yokels’ expectations. To my mind, that sounds like it can and must be a coalition of Green and Red that will deliver the goods?

 

Communication skills

The problem with Jedi-minded Republicans like the Prez and the Premier taking the moral high ground is that the Empire is gunning for your least defect from day one. You can ‘bank’ on it, pun intended! And if your principal plan of attack and/or defence is based on Jedi mind tricks – also known as Zen-like calm on national TV, or technocratic brilliance and superlative governmental tactics (like silly pie-eyed jokes varied with stony poker-faced silence) – you’ve lost the Clone Wars. Rest assured the Death Stars of propaganda and shamelessly evil politicking will get you – and get its own message of mayhem out ahead of you – every time. MR is a past-master at winning hearts and minds. “The Force” – and show of force – “is strong with this one.” If there is one thing the UNP needs to become Jedi grandmasters at, pronto, it is this... Sorting its message savvily enough! Sending it our clearly enough! Strategising against the fallout from sex, lies, and videotape (OK, no sex; just lies and some diabolical footage) strongly and convincingly enough!

 

Coalition synergies

Remember the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi? They were a key factor in defeating Darth Vader and the Death Star’s terrible overhanging threat. Small, cute, and cuddly, they were also deadly in low-level guerrilla warfare against speeding mounted storm-troopers. The analogy with the JVP may not be immediately apparent (heck, find me one Red Brother who’s fawningly fuzzy and furry!); but that parliamentary grouping – potentially 10 to 20 (I’m wagering 17) seats – will be key in the coming battle after the election is won, no matter who wins.

 

Confession simplex

When we are youthful and idealistic, fans of Star Wars grow up idolising Luke Skywalker. But by the time you actually grow up and go through your encounter with the Dark Side (see the cave scene in the last part of the first trilogy), wiser and saner counsel prevails. Darth Vader lurks in us all, and the Sith’s dark side of things can beckon as seductively as the Jedi’s upright approach can attract. Voter, be aware. Pollster, be alert. With the 8 January revolution there was ‘A New Hope’ (Star Wars: Episode IV). But with the return of Palpatine – the ex-Emperor himself – into the polls lists, there was ‘The Phantom Menace’ (Star Wars: Episode I) revived. Evidently he and his minions were manoeuvring so that ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (Star Wars: Episode V). In the time of greatest testing for the Republic, we – you and I, together with the Ewoks – must do our best to ensure ‘The Return of the Jedi’ (Star Wars: Episode VI). Else, gird your loins for ‘The Attack of the Clones’ (Star Wars: Episode II) and ‘The Revenge of the Sith’ (Star Wars: Episode III).

May the Force be with you! And may our last words not be, “I have a bad feeling about this...”


Share This Article


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

Reaching global quality standards through Deming Award

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The importance of quality in the contemporary competitive business environment cannot be over-emphasised. Total Quality Management (TQM)is a company-wide, all pervasive management philosophy, which organisations globally, in many business sectors hav


Ramsar accreditation of Colombo Wetlands: Rebranding Colombo as a Wetland City

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Colombo, once known to be “kolonthota,” has always been identified as a wetland complex at the heart of the Kelani river delta. Today this city is increasingly drying up, with around 20 sq km left as wetlands which continue to be threatened every


Coup Sri Lanka: some winners, mostly losers

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

As a president proves shockingly stubborn, a nation waits with baited breath as to what His Excellency the loose cannon on a rocky slope will do next. Two Prime Ministers and the fates of their respective parliamentary groups hang in the balance lik


Rising dollar and bank NPA, brothers in arms?

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The rising Non-Performing Advances (NPA/NPAs) is a matter of concern to the entire financial industry. It is a nightmare. The weekend papers have published some articles based on interviews journalists conducted with respective bank CEOs and also bas


Columnists More