Wednesday, 11 June 2014 00:00
Defenceless under the nightOur world in stupor lies;Yet, dotted everywhere,Ironic points of lightFlash out wherever the JustExchange their messages:May I, composed like themOf Eros and of dust,Beleaguered by the sameNegation and despair,Show an affirming flame – W.H. Auden ‘Another time’By Sarath de Alwis
It is no game of thrones. It is simply a game of bingo. The reported decision of Gotabaya Rajapaksa to enter electoral politics is a reassuring sign that our democracy can still be retrieved from its dysfunctional stupor to a semblance of a democracy. His eventual entry to Parliament is assured either through the national list or elections. It will be a quantum leap from the ambiguous to the precise in terms of responsibility and authority.
Noam Chomsky, the perennial critic of shadowy governance, makes the point succinctly: “It only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life and to challenge them.” Chomsky points out that unless justified, such authority “should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom”.
Obviously the Secretary of Defence has realised that setting policy and execution of policy in which he has excelled in is best done on stage rather than behind stage. His decision will certainly gladden the hearts of his admirers whose numbers are substantial. It should be welcomed in double measure by his detractors whose rights of democratic dissent have moved from the opaque to clear.
Formalisation of an informal arrangement
The entry of Gotabaya Rajapaksa into active politics is only a formalisation of an informal arrangement. The surreal brouhaha about his presence at the ‘Hela Urumaya’ function to launch Udaya Gammanpila’s campaign during the Western Provincial Council elections may have been the immediate cause that triggered this development.
This positive turn of events should not be construed as a greater radicalisation of the regime. The pursuit of power is the purpose of politics. The meek-hearted and the bewildered brains that fail to keep that in focus are condemned to be bystanders of history.
Choice of Colombo as electoral turf not surprising
The President planning to run for a third term has decided to allow his brother, a proven performer, to play a visible role in politics. It is an affirmation of the regime’s commitment to transparency in governance. The choice of Colombo as his electoral turf is not surprising. At the recent international summit on ‘Liveable and Sustainable Cities’ held in Singapore, he has assured the world that Colombo will be the centrepiece of a rejuvenated Sri Lanka.
Since the end of the civil conflict he has valiantly soldiered to improve the infrastructure of Colombo. The change is decidedly impressive. The roads, pavements, parks and lakes redeveloped and improved testify to his leadership skills in physical transformation of the city. The restored Colonial period buildings as restaurants, shopping malls, offices and schools are evidence of a desire to reach a synthesis of the essence of heritage and the imperatives of modernity. It is the riddle that has constantly baffled the post-Dharmapala Sinhala middle class.
The current public relations drive by the UDA has little girls in school uniform rushing out of shanty settlements towards high rise apartment complexes. It is evidence that soft persuasion has replaced hard coercion in the social reengineering that is inevitable in planned urban renewal.
The densely-peopled formless menace of unauthorised and quasi formal dwellings should be replaced by neatly arranged housing complexes. It is easier said than done. The economics of urban renewal makes the value of land exponentially so much higher that affordable alternate housing for the displaced needs to be subsidised. Such public policy can be better shaped by Gotabaya the politician with much greater empathy than Gotabaya the bureaucrat.
A Dick Cheney to Mahinda Rajapaksa
The more I contemplate Gotabaya Rajapaksa in politics, the more I realise the remarkable similarities between him and Narendra Modi. For the same reasons that the ‘Economist’ found it difficult to endorse Modi, I find it difficult to endorse Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Yet his announcement has infused me with hope and dispelled my despair. Michael Foucault comes to my rescue: “Power has its principal not so much in a person as in certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes; in an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up.” We are a nation that is trapped in the exaggerated potential of democracy to deliver public good. We constantly and insistently ask, “Who is really running things?”
Does it really matter? In all democracies, social instruments finally evolve in to state institutions. Such institutions then function more for the benefit of those who control them and less for the people for whose benefit the original instruments were devised. The only inalienable right the citizen has is to subscribe to the myth of people’s participation in elections, where dissent is diffused and consent manufactured.
While this condition is common to all democracies in varying degrees, proportional representation and the Executive Presidency with no term limits has created an institutional apparatus that serves mainly those who control it. It has now become a machine that exists for its own survival. It has built in defences that preclude the emergence of any credible challenge to its authority. It has a surfeit of academic talent who convincingly claim that this neo liberal modern state is built on the consent of a people who find no alternative to the presumed macho charisma of the one leader.
To arrive at the conclusion that Gotabaya Rajapaksa will emerge as the Nethanyahu to Mahinda’s Shimon Peres is cerebral jujitsu. The more practical reading would be that the sibling would be a Dick Cheney to Mahinda whose persona is more George Bush Junior. There is nothing vulgar about politics. The purpose of politics is the pursuit and exercise of power.