Politics in saffron
The monarchs of ancient Sri Lanka obtained
advise on the art of statecraft from the Sangha. These were days of
monarchies, in which democracy had not established itself as a form
was the fountain head of justice, and he was said to be the godhead
of infinite wisdom also. Some such monarchs failed in their duty
of doing right by the people, but others accepted their responsibilities
and discharged their duties towards the realm with distinction.
system of governance has a different apparatus for ruling the realm
- and in this order of things, the monarchs within the modern day
system of party-politics are often classified as "UNP monks,
SLFP monks or JVP monks.'' Monks are seen in their conspicuous saffron
habit on party platforms, or at propaganda and protest rallies,
shouting themselves hoarse and clashing with policemen.
Some find this
revolting, and some find the presence of a monk in parliament a
repugnant situation that sullies the order and image of the monks.
But others think that this is the role that the Buddhist monks are
required to play in contemporary politics. If the system and the
apparatus of governance has changed over the years, they feel, so
should monks. This once blessed and now tortured land they think,
needs the resilience of the monkhood in order to survive.
This may be
a secular society, but yet arguably, monks have a societal role
to play in the Sri Lankan culture. Religion may have no official
part in governance; but the culture and traditions of a land cannot
be totally subsumed in the practice of modern forms of democratic
rule. This is why the role of the monks, undefined as it may be,
is of crucial significance in the current political crossroads that
Sri Lanka is placed in.
Looking elsewhere for help
Prime Minster's tour of Europe appears to be in step with his almost
total allegiance to the manthra that the "international community
is with us in the peace process.'' Mr Wickremesinghe now goes West
to brief Western leaders of the progress of the peace efforts and
to obtain their support for the recovery of the economy.
The strategy is to make a double-headed two pronged attack on duel
fronts. One is to keep the international community interested in
the peace process as an insurance policy of sorts against any eventuality.
The other is to simultaneously ensure that the economy, which took
a nosedive under the Kumaratunga administration, revives itself
with some impetus and oxygen from Western donors. However, the government
has ignored other brittle areas in the national body politic. One
is the ascending cost of living. Mounting bills and increasing food
prices will be accepted by the people only when they see their leaders
themselves tighten their belts and practice the austerity they preach.
Wickremesinghe lays so much faith and emphasis on the international
community that his detractors have raised queries about who is really
sovereign in the country. Is Norway sovereign by proxy - or any
other Western power for that matter, particularly since the Prime
Minister mentioned the words "international community'' no
less than eleven times in his first policy statement on the peace
process in parliament?