A cattle dealer drove his bulls to the slaughterhouse. With the bulls safely penned in, the butcher – the “master of science of meat” began to sharpen his knife. (This is age when candidates demand scientific evidence!)
“Let us close ranks and jack up our executioner on our horns,” was the initial reaction of most bulls who were wise enough to perceive the peril they were in.
Not quite. There were some bulls who considered themselves as the final arbiters of bovine opinion. They were confident that the butcher could be gored to death by one great bull they had in their midst. The pedigree of the bull and the persuasive hulk of meat it possessed fortified this belief.
This bull was also endowed with a bellow that no other bull could match. This bull who was bullish about his bovine prowess was supremely self-assured of his ability to gore unto death the fearsome butcher now busy sharpening his blade. But there was catch. Not all bulls in the slaughterhouse were convinced. Their discomfiture was based on the nature of the bovine doctrine espoused by the self-declared champion.
“I have not seen any scientific evidence to suggest that a butcher can make meat out of us bulls,” he declared confidently. Now this made perfect common sense. Bull carcasses on meat hooks did not offer scientific evidence on butcher or the butcher’s technique.
There was also a bovine theoretician in their midst. “Now if you please,” began the theoretician bull. “In what way is the butcher any worse than the cattle dealer who drove us hither with his cudgel?”
This profound rhetoric failed to impress many who still carried the sickly-sweet smell of death of the slaughterhouse they escaped only four and half years earlier.
“We will deal with the cattle dealer afterwards. First, we will gore the butcher with our horns,” was the bull-headed point of view of the majority.
“Nothing doing,” said the principled bulls. “What you attempt is to shield the enemies of democracy, good governance and the rule of law”
“Although you are bulls, you act as societal butchers yourselves,” said one bull, whose name was the Sinhala term for ‘Propitious’.
The bulls failed to close ranks. The butcher got down to business.
This fable about bovine logic in the hour of peril appears in Leon Trotsky’s 1931 pamphlet ‘Fascism; What it is and how to fight it’. I have transposed it to fit the current bovine logic in the purported mainstream political grouping embroiled in strife over its presidential nominee.
Ranil’s ‘smartass’ politicking
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP Leader, was dogged in his determination to culminate his career with a final attempt at the presidency. He was never fully behind the idea of abolishing the executive presidency.
Within his power, he stealthily paved way for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to emerge as the main Opposition candidate for the presidency. He repeatedly undertook pilgrimages to the abodes of deities in Himalayan foothills to invoke their blessings for his quest. He knew that his base was not secure. He hoped to unite the party behind his nomination purely on the presumed paranoia of a Gotabaya presidency.
Ranil Wickremesinghe misread the events that followed the constitutional travesty of October 2018. He saw the popular loathing of the President’s maniacal manoeuvrings of constitutional provisions as an endorsement of his own ‘smartass’ politicking. Now he knows better.
Events of the past fortnight holds a lesson. Politics is not about truth or untruth. It is about deception, half-truth, overstatement and misrepresentation.
In ‘What is History’, historian E.H. Carr has told us where to find objective truth.
Objective truth lies somewhere between valueless facts and our own value judgements. The objective facts are there for all to see. Our selection of what facts to use and what should be discarded depends on our own honest or warped interpretation.
Mangala Samaraweera’s beliefs
Our selection and interpretation of facts are subjective. Mangala Samaraweera believes in a multicultural multi-ethnic civic nation of Sri Lanka. His presidential nominee who has promised to construct 1,100 stupas spread around the country believes on very scientific evidence that this is a primordial tribal land where modern democratic norms are observed depending on objective facts chosen on subjective grounds.
Mangala Samaraweera thinks that given the possibility of a Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, the risk is worth it. May be as a practicing politician he has a superior insight in to the hubris and narcissism of his candidate.
Once we remove the military moustache out of the equation, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa stand on equal ground as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Both have by word and deed have practiced systematic exclusivism and macho populism. The only exception is that one has a demonstrated track record of acts that suggest implicit legitimation of violence. The promise by the other to follow his father’s footsteps indicates a clear preference of those same methods
Mangala Samaraweera, friend and fellow traveller of Samantha Powers, did not deem it prudent to have Sajith Premadasa in the front row when he celebrated his 30-year journey in politics with a conscience. The possibility of a Gotabaya presidency seems to have altered or changed his views on the social iron cage that we have yet to dismantle, seven decades after independence.
Whether he is right in his assumption that voters will be satisfied with his projection of the candidate remains to be seen.
Confronted with the possibility of a return to the garrison state after the presidential election, we must revise our notions of fascism.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Once we remove the military moustache out of the equation, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa stand on equal ground as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Both have by word and deed have practiced systematic exclusivism and macho populism. The only exception is that one has a demonstrated track record of acts that suggest implicit legitimation of violence. The promise by the other to follow his father’s footsteps indicates a clear preference of those same methods.
We can prevent a return to authoritarian fake democracy. To do that we must unite the great mass of ordinary people with a credible alternative. We must field a candidate whom we can trust to arrest and eliminate the grotesque greed of the ‘super rich rentier class’ who are ready to even switch to ‘native attire’ when attending the ‘Viyathmaga’ seminars.
That task can be performed not by the UNP but by a coalition of social movements that can undertake to remodel society based on equality, democracy, peace, and sustainability.
I have a parting message for Mangala Samaraweera. All of king’s horses and all of king’s men will not make me cast my second preference to his candidate.