VENI, VIDI, VICI – sadly, to many of his erstwhile supporters (some of whom admire him – despite, or perhaps because of, the flak on social media barrages), this translates into ‘weany, weedy and weaky’... a powerful president with a panoply of powers who has singularly failed to live up to his potential – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
As far as speeches go, it was a good one in at least one respect. It was mercifully short. Brevity, as the poet wrote, is the soul of wit. In some cases, this is only half-right. As some half-wits have observed, disregarding the demands of time. As many other poetic types on social media essayed however, it was thirteen minutes that they would never get back.
One wag noticed that the timing of the much-anticipated presidential address to the nation was 12 minutes and 57 seconds – and the sum of those two numbers is the now-symbolic 69! Which is neither here nor there, as far as the content went... in fact, that is perhaps as much as could be said for all the president’s mien in his talk.
This hailing of a country at large (under severe pressure, as arguably never before) was viewed – where possible, power cuts notwithstanding, which were, er, surprisingly ‘adjusted’ on that day – by the most representative cross-section of society.
That even die-hard detractors of the incumbent regime prepped in advance with drinking-games to ease the passage down the gullet of the bitter pill was both sad and amusing at the same time. Not even the time-honoured and often ‘para-legally enforced etiquette’ of ‘respecting the head of state’ could keep the ranks of Tuscany from running amok.
There were score-keepers across the spectrum of social media. Despite the hilarity of some memes, concern must be felt by true patriots (i.e. those who love their country, and not some party or hyped-up personage) – at the rapidly depreciating anti-gravitas associated with the highest office in the land.
It is a matter of record – by courtesy of an evidently rather disgruntled viewer – that there is much of a sameness, speeches-wise, in the gravamen of GR, as far as tone and timbre go:
Referred to himself 20 times
Referred to war and terrorism 3 times
Claimed to understand/stated the obvious 10 times
Claimed false victories 6 times
Bottom line: ‘We are in a big mess. But it is not my fault. I am great... and also – don’t forget I won the war. Oh, by the way, I am going to the IMF now.’
(NOTE: It wasn’t ME? It isn’t HE now, either! Though ‘WE told you so...’ – experts.)
Credit where credit is due: Tamil subtitles for a first time, which are most welcome; sign language interpreter, signalling a departure from being tone-deaf to minority needs; mercifully brief.
It was noteworthy that a few commentators observed a noticeable absence of fire in the delivery. Of course, defenders of the faith opted to interpret the muted tenor as being the essence of humility, and the epitome of straightforwardness.
Others were less kind. In the week in which Caesarean corollaries were on one’s mind by dint of the ‘Ides of March’ (15th) political rally, one unkind soul posted wittily and wickedly:
“In his mind:
Veni! Vidi! Vici!
To the rest of us:
Weany. Weedy. Weaky.”
Thus, this brief piece of one-upmanship demonstrated a penchant to polarise the people of our stricken land as it has done for a very long time.
However, it not merely the angered sentiments of the anguished suffering that need to be countenanced but the real cost to the nation. Therefore, as much as it is #funny ha-ha, the #funny-peculiar also needs to be itemised:
Loss of Rs. 4 billion through compelling the Central Bank to peg the US dollar
Loss of Rs. 2.5 billion to informal banking channels by keeping US$ artificially depressed
Loss of Rs. 600 billion in state revenue through tax cuts that benefited the rich
Threats to US$ 3 billion tea industry to save 400 million dollars in forex on chemical fertiliser imports
Drove inflation up into the double digits through short-sighted fixes, with short-term patches treating a solvency crisis as a liquidity issue
Printed money in intolerable amounts, driving up prices all round that could easily have been avoided and creating shortages as a result of supply-demand economics
Lack of accountability in permitting a cavalier approach to managing macroeconomic fundamentals by a group of putative ‘economic assassins’ – some of who mistook monetary for financial policy, while others played ducks and drakes with the fiscal discipline sorely needed for a ship of state in dire straits... including a subject minister who entered Parliament through the backdoor but was missing from the House when critical debates related to his bailiwick were in session
In addition to these sins of commission could be added those of omission: especially pontificating on corruption while allegedly turning a blind-eye to or being ignorant of deals; a crumbling judiciary recusing itself in ‘politically-sensitive cases’; presiding over a cabinet of the apathetic and a cabal of the arrogant in the deep state; as well as blatant appointments to public sector office of self-serving mandarins loyal to the drum major
There are those who would argue – as he did – that the plethora of issues is not of his making.
However, it is always up to elected leaders to address the garbage leftover by previous administrations.
In addition, the litany of charges against a once-popular leader is being laid at the door of a still all-powerful president with a panoply of powers at his disposal by dint of the 20th Amendment. While he has achieved not a little (as regards COVID, for e.g., by his own admission: “We did it best!”), his administration is culpable in summa of our present pass.
Therefore, not to own up to the challenges – but rather, pass the blame as well as the buck – reeks of old, stale, tired, tried and failed leadership.
And one can either throw in the towel while one still has one’s admirers and even defenders. Or live long enough in office to see oneself become the villain of the piece entrenched. I, among many others, are ‘waiting for Godot’ – to go – even knowing full well that his successors will still have their work cut out for them... such has been our past leaders’ and governments’ profligacy, poor management and pathetic policy planning.
In the limit, one would be constrained not to disagree with GR’s most vehement detractors: ‘gotta go when you gotta go’ – whether through precipitate resignation now; eventual dismissal at the next polls through plummeting public approval; or by an ‘act of God or Parliament’... and this applies not to only a personage but a political culture and its parasitical hangers-on.
It’s the way of all flesh, after all: which is to say, sir, towards the dustbin of history.
Ex-Journalist | Editor-at-Large of LMD