This, one must see. It may not be the greatest show on earth. It might even turn out to be a comic circus act. But it would be worth waiting for. That is of course if it does come off in which case the public would be entertained to a display of verbal gymnastics if [...]


Verbal challenges that go up in smoke


This, one must see. It may not be the greatest show on earth. It might even turn out to be a comic circus act. But it would be worth waiting for. That is of course if it does come off in which case the public would be entertained to a display of verbal gymnastics if all this talk about challenges thrown and gauntlets picked up is not so much political and media hype.

If media reports are correct (there is so much rubbish dished out these days by pretenders to journalism and other hacks that one can never be certain) Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has taken up a challenge from a former minister of education and UPFA parliamentarian Bandula Gunawardena for a debate on the state of our economy.

Gunawardena challenged either Karunanayake or Harsha de Silva, the deputy minister of policy planning and economic development to show their faces in a TV debate which the deputy minister promptly accepted followed a couple of days later by the finance minister.

The finance minister was not satisfied with taking on a lowly parliamentarian even though Bandula Gunawardena is reputed to know his onions when it comes to economics. He has-and maybe he still does- held tuition classes in economics somewhere in Nugegoda for many years. How many of the students turned out to be economists of one kind or another is not known. Perhaps some did in fact grow up to be ganang karayas but then who keeps a count of these minor fry when what is in vogue are persons who can stash away millions and billions without leaving a paper trail.

Anyway our finance minister was not satisfied with merely crossing economic swords with the aforementioned Gunawardena. He wanted to take on his predecessor in the job of finance minister. And who would that be but the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa himself who had the finance ministry and a few other ministries tucked under his belt or wherever.

So what does Finance Minister Karunanayake do? He says okay to Gunawardena but wants to go after the biggest fish, as it were.
What is not clear, however, is whether Karunanayake will battle Gunawardena only if he can have a shot at Rajapaksa or he is willing to slay Gunawardena and leave his predecessor alone to be dealt with on another day?

It might have been a better idea if Deputy Minister de Silva who responded first to Bandula Gunawardena’s challenge was allowed to get into the ring with the “tuition master” while the finance minister kept himself fit for the big fight.

So while the respective party managers and advisers sought out the modalities and what not, one might warn prospective viewers brushing up long forgotten lessons on supply and demand and the principle of diminishing returns that if they are expecting an exposition of Keynesian economics they would be sorely disappointed. But those interested in the great bond battle might find it entertaining if not entirely enlightening.

It certainly would not be like that debate when Nobel winner Paul Krugman, the famous columnist of the New York Times and guru of orthodox Keynesianism took on Steve Keen the author of “Debunking Economics” in an absorbing exchange that also pulled others into the fray.

One supposes that there will be more of the blame and shame game than a surgical dissection of our economy however much they perceive themselves as pundits on the subject. The fact is that the small screen today has become the platform for slanging matches between contending political sides.

TV producers without innovative skills and original ideas churn out look-alike programmes that go on for hours on end from which emanate little sense and more nonsense. One doubts whether there have ever been head-to- head debates as the plethora of challenges seem to indicate.

This is not the first time- nor will be the last- when somebody has challenged somebody else for debates that have never materialized. This has been going on particularly in the months ahead of the presidential election when most TV channels slow- cooked sloppy programmes after lining up politicians or their mouthpieces in battle formations. They had a greater soporific effect than counting sheep or sleep- inducing drugs.

So these megawattage one-to-one debates that are announced so often at press conferences by politicians with nothing on their hands and less on their minds seem great for personal publicity and nothing more. Even when they do occur in the current format where party hacks line up and spin their party spiel, the capacity to bore is even greater than those Spanish bulls that pin the matador to the ground.

It is after watching the same old talking heads in what appears to be interminable discussions and slanderous throw-away lines that now and then one yearns for a return to the Middle Ages in Europe and later years in America when disputes and more importantly insults to one’s honour were settled with duels.

This practice might sound rather barbaric in modern times but it is surely far more moral and manly than pushing a button and sending a drone to kill somebody thousands of kilometers away who you have never seen and end up killing several dozen innocent people.

In times long gone by men duelled with sword and later the pistol. To challenge a person to a duel and have it accepted was considered the height of honour.  It should be stressed however that this practice was reserved for the upper classes and those that society considered true gentlemen. So if in our society somebody shouted “ado wareng bung eliyata” raising his sarong up to his knees and perhaps a little higher was not a challenge a true gentleman would condescend to accept.

It is said that if the courts of the time could not offer a gentleman justice it had to be settled by blood- letting and whether one’s opponent is allowed to survive such an encounter or not, I suppose, depended on the damage done to the reputation and honour of the offended party.

Apparently when dueling came to America with the first settlers it was more popular in the South of the country where the majority of duels were fought by lawyers and politicians. It seems politicians of the day not only slung mud at opponents but fired bullets too. A thoroughly uncivilised thing to do our politicians would surely tell you. Slinging must is okay but firing bullets, that is somebody else’s job, no?

Research reveals that legislators, governors and even judges settled differences with a duel. Candidates for office debated their issues on the “field of honour” which would perhaps exclude our parliament and TV. Our own history records the famous single combat between Dutugemunu and Elara mounted on their elephants.

I doubt whether Ravi Karunanayake and Bandula Gunawardena would recreate the past on the banks of the Diyawanna Oya mounted on their own elephants obtained with proper licences, naturally. However challenging SLFPer Bandula Gunawardena has been he certainly would not mount an elephant. How can he? The elephant, after all, is the UNP party symbol.

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