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UN, Uncle Nepo, and once more unto the breach, unbelievers


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 30 September 2015 00:00


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By now all of Lanka knows the President was accompanied to the UNGA forum by his son, who had no official standing in the Sri Lankan delegation, and that the young man in question was a visible part of the President’s entourage on the Indian leg of our leader’s tour, which creates a gap in the wall of public confidence in Good Governance. These are regrettable slips on the upward path to the siege against the old breach of nepotism and cronyism, and there are hardly any noble ways in which to interpret the President’s choices and actions

 

 

 

While our President was making waves at the 70th Sessions of the United Nations General Assembly last week, I had occasion to recall a famous line from a stirring speech. It was this: “Once more unto the breach!” Taken from the well-known <Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!> soliloquy by Shakespeare, in his *Henry V, Act III*, it has now come to mean, in plain English: “Let us do the same thing once again.” Used in the context of a return to one’s labours of the past, in Sri Lankan English it has come to mean a breach, or a violation, that smacks of the old familiar errors of history. But I sense I am losing you, patient reader. So here’s a brief background and the relevance of the appropriation…sdg

The breach that the Bard mentions is the gap in the wall of the city of Harfleur, in medieval France, which the English Army under King Henry V held under siege. Bluff King Hal was charismatically encouraging his troops to attack the city again, even if they would have to “close the wall with English dead”… The breach that the Bards of Lanka – our Fourth Estate, those minstrels of today – could mention is a violation in protocol. The gap appears to be in the wall of the city of Halfhearted Old Hat, in modern Sri Lanka, which the armies of Good Governance are holding hostage for a just cause. Our contemporary incarnation of King Hal, characteristically bluff, seems to be urging his troops to hold the commonwealth to ransom anon – by treading the primrose path of nepotism once again. 

In the Swan of Avon’s stirring speech, Henry V soliloquises thus:

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,

Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit

To his full height. On, on, you noblest English,

Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!”

That our equally charismatic leader rendered no less a stirring speech at the UNGA event is a matter of record. In his characteristically eloquent way, waxing briefly about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs to replace the MDGs: the Millennium Development Goals), he made the point that Sri Lanka could “summon up the blood” to “stiffen the sinews” of the world. And referring to our blessed isle’s 2,500-history, he cited the holy triad that had from ancient times made Lanka’s land green with agricultural bounty and its neighbours greener with unbounded envy. 

Devo vassathu kālena

Sasse sampathi hēthucha

Pito bhavathu lōkocha

Rajā bhavathu dhammiko6

Which triad translated is this trinity: A land that is blessed and destined for sustainable development – when the rains fall from heaven on time and the earthly harvest is plentiful; the labourers are happy with their lot in the green fields of plenty; and the whole land is plenteous under the yoke of a demonstrably righteous ruler. (Interestingly, a former President – R. Premadasa – quoted the same Pali stanza in his 1980 address to the 35th Session of the General Assembly of the UN, 35 years ago! Once more unto the speech? History, it seems, is repeating itself in many ways!)

I hate to run interference with all the hype on which our present hopes are built, as much as a previous administration presented its vision in a speech at the UNGA in late September 1980. But two out of three is hardly a mark of great distinction for our noble governors who had reset the governance benchmark as high as these good gentlemen of the present dispensation of Good Governance did. Because while the rains have come (even if out of season) and the people seem content (if a tad questioning now of good men’s motives), righteous rule begs the question: is it once more unto the breach? 

By now all of Lanka knows the Prez was accompanied to the UNGA forum by his son, who had no official standing in the Sri Lankan delegation, and that the young man in question was a visible part of the President’s entourage on the Indian leg of our leader’s tour, which creates a gap in the wall of public confidence in Good Governance. These are regrettable slips on the upward path to the siege against the old breach of nepotism and cronyism, and there are hardly any noble ways in which to interpret the President’s choices and actions.

 



Naive: it’s a nice enough thing to do

There are those who will make light of this diplomatic faux-pas. After all, a democratically elected national leader who is trusted by the people has every right to identify, select, and train the next generation of leaders, by exposing them early to the international limelight. Right?

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Even democratically elected leaders are subject to protocol, propriety, dictates of reason, and strictures of the public purse. But MS has not read Ranil’s memo... 

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: The oriental monarchs of old and the eastern mandarins of modern times may be an exception to the rules of democratic-republicanism. We are still an ethnocratic monarchy. 

 



Necessary: it’s all a part of a tactical error

Other defenders of our head of state might submit the plea that this was a bona fide mistake. Mere happenstance, which means nothing in the long run! Well, to paraphrase Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s <The Importance of Being Earnest>: “To misplace a son at one international happening might be interpreted as misfortune, but to misrepresent him at another begins to look like more than mere carelessness!”

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Someone in the Presidential Office goofed off, and got his beloved leader in a social media pickle, which mess is now being spread around the bread of mainstream news.

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Sophistication lacking in Presidential Press Relations is hardly the chief obstacle facing the chief executive these days. He has a hard task on his hands: balancing the baying diaspora abroad with the demands of a baleful electorate at home; juggling moderate coalition partners at home in one hand and newly re-established international friendships overseas in the other. Even the latter are not as open-handed as he/we thought, given the US volte-face on a Sri Lanka-friendly resolution – now not so surprisingly fine-tuned to be more stringent.

 



Naughty: it’s an assay in strategic manoeuvring

Those with less charity and who are more cynical in their outlook will essay the suggestion that one tacit dynasty is about to begin to replace another. While the previous one was a regime that snowballed into a republic-wide family business, the one that is emerging is only divergent in terms of scope. After all, where once our global friends and neighbours thought they knew who the heir apparent was, it is now time to introduce the new pretenders (meaning, aspirants) to the throne.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: As Namal to Mahinda, so Daham to Maithri. “Fathers of war-proof,” as Shakespeare might have muttered under his breath! 

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: As MR the fall guy for Western snobbery, so MS the foil for Eastern vanities and vainglory; India, for once, on Sri Lanka’s ‘side’ in sending out a message to the global powers that be: we do things differently on the subcontinent, yaar. 

 



Nasty: it’s a sign of the shape of things to come

Least said, soonest mended. But if we’re right in our surmise that the leadership of the nation-state is deliberately moving away from the tenets of Good Governance, it could be the beginning of the end and the start of a long hard ride for coalition partners in the Good Governance administration. 

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: The powers that be as a composite group – parties, factions, coalitions – are committed to Good Governance in the short term (in the long run, we are all dead... i.e. out of power, by dint of voter preferences).

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: The cracks are beginning to show. One lot have their bond scam, the other their global faux-pas. But some things are going to get a lot worse before they get better; so let’s all grin and bear it.

 



Not for the fainthearted

Once upon a time, a nice set of right uncles told us they would rid the country of corruption and cronyism in politics. Now it looks like they were clearing the stage for their sons and company. Pity. There is an opportunity cost, credibility lost. Those who preached a necessary and expedient end to nepotism are now seen to be practising it. Justice must be done, and seen to be done. 


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