The Pinguttara of our politics

Saturday, 15 December 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Tale of Pinguttara

There is an interesting piece in the LankaEnews of 13 December that refers to President Maithripala Sirisena as a ‘Pinguttara.’ I like to pick up that idea and develop on that. ‘Pinguttara,’ is a term that is ascribed to somebody unlucky and unable to enjoy even the good luck that comes his way. 

Those of you who know the Ummaga Jatakaaya will remember the story about how a Taxila Guru in Mithila, India, gave his beautiful daughter in marriage to his best pupil. However, the lad was intensely unhappy and spurned her at every turn. On the way to Mithila, when his wife climbed up a fig tree in order to assuage her hunger, the newly0wed lad put thorns round the tree and left her there – deserting the scene. 


Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNF and civil society leaders, came together to put him aloft on a rising surf. An inbuilt, ill-fated Pinguttara misfortune tossed him out of it

King Videha of Mithila saw this unfortunate incident and rescued the young woman, naming her Udumbara. Sometime later, Udumbara saw Pinguttara doing a menial job, mending a road. The lad looked helplessly at her and smiled at her good fortune.

This is the fate of Pinguttaras: they do not realise and seize their own opportunities but are ready to associate with the fortunes of others. A similar comparison is found in Gutilla Kavya where the following verse is penned considering the misfortune that befell Devadatta who had been Buddha’s follower but who betrayed the Buddha. Something like Judas in the story of Christ:

Staying in the same abode [as the Noble One]

Listening to his alluring sermons

Unshakling samsarik dukka

Alas! How Devdat ne’er reached Moksha!

The U-turn act

Gamaralalage Maithripala Sirisena stole his way out of the house of Mahinda and entered the abode of Ranil and his party. Had he stayed put with the UNF, he could have gone down to history as partnering the Yahapalanaya movement designed to rescue the island from an appalling regime characterised by a singular disregard for the law, by public theft and by brutal murder. That was the promised revolution for which 6.25 million people voted him as President. 

After a mere three years, however, Sirisena felt like breaking away from his new abode of light, spurning Ranil Wickremesinghe, his Prime Minister, for no expressed reason, and showing total disregard for the islandwide UNPers that rallied round to vote for him and for good governance.

And alas! Where does he go? Backward to Mahinda and the UPFA crew that had spat at him during election days. Mahinda Rajapaksa, S.B. Dissanayake, Wimal Weerawansa, Susil Premjayanth and others of that ilk did the spitting, ejecting venomous saliva. Videos are going all over social media showing that. Sirisena’s own attacks on Mahinda are also circulating.

Mahinda’s motive

It has always been clear to any but the undiscerning that Mahinda’s efforts, now doubled and trebled, is to save his family and others from court convictions that are impending. Mahinda’s men offer no new program before the people if they come to power. Nor have they apologised for their past disgraceful misdemeanours in public life. In short, President Sirisena has allied with the corrupt and the lawless; with those facing serious grave court action. This is the diametrical opposite position to his Yahapalanaya election oath. 

Like a Pinguttara, Maithripala Sirisena has, for no earthly or rational reason, done a 360 U-turn. It is just the fated misfortune of Pinguttaras, which probably his astrological chart may reveal. Like the lad at Mithila, President Sirisena just had to do it. Like a character in Greek drama he began inexorably heading the way to the unfortunate point that he now stands on. The whole island is discarding him. World leaders are scorning him. When such an outcome comes out of one’s own act of volition and against all odds, that is simply being Pinguttara.

Supreme Court verdict

The Supreme Court on Thursday delivered a historic verdict that would have the effect of casting President Sirisena and his provocateur, Mahinda Rajapaksa, into the political dustbin. To Mahinda, himself, it would be hard to get over the shame although dancing in the nude is not something these two haven’t done. 

Our Pinguttara man is confronting a dark era of personal shame. This has happened from the position of a phase in his life where he could have taken his fortune on the tide. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNF and civil society leaders came together to put him aloft on a rising surf. An inbuilt, ill-fated Pinguttara misfortune tossed him out of it.


What a crowd of politicos constitute Sirisena’s company now! Readers know their profiles and don’t need reminders from me. In comparison, what a flank of leaders he associated for three years in the UNF, engaged in a program that was putting the country back to law and order and an economy set to take off: 

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sajith Premadasa, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickramaratne, Jayampathi Wickremaratne, Mangala Samaraweera, Ravi Karunanayake, Thalatha Athukorala, Ajith Perera – just to randomly name a few. These individuals are not perfect models, to be sure. On the other hand, they are educated and mature, learned persons of good background who don’t carry any baggage of criminal charges on their heads. 

The Joint Opposition tried to demonise Ranil Wickremasinghe – a basically decent, learned and cultured persona – associating the latter with the so-called bond scam. The truth, however, is that the commission investigating the incident did not find Ranil or any UNP minister guilty of bad dealing. The Ravi Karunanayake issue did not relate directly to the bond deal but to something else. 

This bond incident is all that the JO can shout about overlooking their chronic record of serial misdemeanour. Besides, the money stated as “loss” is not lost as it is frozen in bank accounts. This case hasn’t yet gone to court and it is only the court that can legally apportion guilt. A forensic financial investigation will have to be completed and, in terms of that, it is not necessary that the same conclusion that may be given. 


Getting into a position of making one disastrous judgment after another in violation of the Constitution and driving one’s country into anarchy and its people into despair, can, perhaps, be seen as symptomatic of President Maithripala’s plight. It had been so bizarre that someone has filed action to have the President checked for insanity. How well does that situation sit on Maithripala Sirisena’s conscience? 

The lad of Mithila faced such a turn in his fate when he opted out of a life with the beautiful lass (sriya kanthaawa) and found comfort in being a road labourer. The wife, later, married into the royal family and the lad of Mithula seemed to look in resigned admiration at her opposite fortune.

The unfortunate possible end would be worse for Maithripala since the gang of political humbugs, cheats and knaves that contrived to get the President to turn his mind are going to abandon him. He will probably still have a leader of Ranil’s extraordinary calibre to shelve him and clothe him with a modicum of decency. 


That is my own hope for President Maithripala Sirisena’s future political trajectory; and it is a hope based on gratitude for his immeasurable role in ousting the old regime and ushering in a regime that is ( or rather, was) on the job of Yahapalanaya. 

Buddhism teaches us all to extend our arms and hearts of compassionate to all living beings. If one learns to think of the good deeds of men, then Maithripala Sirisena deserves forgiveness and a secure retirement. The Pinguttara model explains the deterministic inner drive that beckoned him to an unfortunate reversal.

(The writer can be reached via [email protected])

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