Joyless politics — and romancing the mass mind
Some of the best romances don't come from the classics.
I was talking to a lady last week who has been married for 25 years, and
she says that all the greetings and missives that her husband sent her
when they were courting are tied with a red ribbon. She has told her children
"the day I die, they all go into my coffin – red ribbon and all.'' Since
no one knows the lady, no harm done, I suppose, divulging this gorgeous
tale you wouldn't espy in Vijitha Yapa's corner-store Penguin classics.
From romance to politics is a hard dive, but if there is a connection,
it's one that's seen today. Politics is the least romantic endeavour.
This wasn't so. Politicians from Bandaranaike to Gandhi to Kennedy to
Dudley were the kind who would tap into huge wellsprings of goodwill from
among the people. Hitler is said to have had that kind of romantic appeal
in Nazi Germany, even though the consequences don't need special mention.
But Dudley Senanayake, for instance, back here, was able to transcend the
usual conduits of political communication and relate to the people with
a immediacy that was stunning. People who lived in his era and moved with
him tell me so; but also it's not difficult to understand the "political
romances'' which took place between people and leaders who were loved,
sometimes even though they were incorrigibly rascally, like John F Kennedy,
who inspired Camelot.
Lalith Athulathmudali may have come close in recent times, to making
a connection that was out of the ordinary. But he was cut down before anyone
could have known if there was a real legend there. Leave Prabhakaran for
another day. His kind of inspiring fielty is a little too close to cordite
This election perhaps proves how far we as a people are from hoping
to draw any such connections. Politicians as a crop decidedly don't want
to inspire anyone to do anything other than to vote for them to keep their
Pajeros intact — and that's the politics of the bordello.
So, today we have the apotheosis of the leadership of the meat-market.
Listen to S. B. Dissanayake, and you could hear the pimp in him. Listen
to Mangala Samaraweera, and you could hear the masochist. This election,
for some reason, seems to be the one that's getting baser by the day in
terms of being the most uninspiring in terms of the political leadership
For one, it comes at a time of a debauchery in terms of the lengths
politicians could go to, in order to protect perks of office and privilege.
This applies for government politicians as well as those who were in opposition.
Dudley Senanayake, even Lalith Athulathmudali, appear to be from a different
epoch. Some pretend that the politics of the narrative can replace the
politics of sincerity. So, onto the talk show where politicians try to
theorize that politics is the art of getting them, the people's slaves,
to work for you. Some people actually phone the phonies.
The JVP cannot inspire a proper coup de etat, let alone a political
upheaval. Their kind of political romance evokes something that would have
been written, say, in the Chinese cultural revolution a la "girl meets
We can deplore the depths, but the question is, where is the redemption
At the moment, from nowhere. It is a political free fall of talking-heads
thugs and sellers of image with a Professor thrown in here and there.
It's hard to be conclusive when you are confronted with such a sorry
bunch; all you can be is nostalgic for an era when there were at least
some politicians who could draw a connection with the people — even though
there wasn't anything called television in your living room.
Those from the OPA or the movement against terror or the hand holders
task force for peace or some such, might ask, what's all this got to do
with the pressing issues of the day which deal with national integration
and issues such as resolving conflict, so that we can as a nation be pulled
back from the brink?
That proves the point. What we have today is the politics of the think-tank.
It's seen in all the treatises that tell us how this country should be
governed if it was not governed by politicians. It's the orgy of the political
There was no problem so huge in the history of the world, that good
leadership couldn't solve. No huge conflict so intractable that you needed
a conclave of Professors from the Departments of Conflict Resolution putting
their heads together. Ask Churchill who said "success is the art of moving
from failure to failure.'' He solved WW2. Eelam war is chicken-feed.
Inspiring leadership doesn't connote intellectual paucity. On the contrary,
it's bright leaders who could inspire the masses. Churchill too wrote a
book on the history of England that won him a Nobel for literature. Gandhi
was a bright rascal and a saint. Come to think of it, Athulathmudali did
have a intellectual streak in him.
Look around today, and what we have is the moron of the think – tank.
There is simply a lack of bright-ness. There are no brains worth celebrating.
Without the real cerebral, there is a lack of spirit - - and a lack of
ability to make those connections that inspire the love or the confidence
of a people.