25th August 1996

All leaders are always vilified

By Rajpal Abeynayake

It is true that a government in power gets thrashed (and trashed) at every turn; it is one of the fundamentals of the condition of being in power. But, sometimes, governments that are the most frequent targets of villifications end up being elected in the end. Some kids are naughty, some are incorrigible, some are simply lost causes.

The 1977 J.R. Jayewardene government, most political pundits who have analysed the situation agreed, had crossed the critical threshold in popularity ratings. It was judging by the way people caricatured J.R. Jayewardene, a government that had done its time.

History of course will say otherwise. What are the supreme indicators that will show that a set of national leaders have irrevocably made asses of themselves in the eyes of the people? The late Sir John Kotelawala, for instance, had lent himself so much to caricature that he was in the end a cause that was waiting to be extinguished. His commie bashing may have been vindicated today, but he bashed so badly then that he ended up contributing to the cause that he berated against.

Pity that image, only poster deep, is the deciding factor in many of man's destinies. There are many ways in which an image can be made or destroyed, but generally, image is not controlled, in our politics by spin doctors or handlers who are in many countries, the modern kingmakers.

Our political ego's being king size, there is little room for handlers to mould image or cast politicians in their best light.

So, we have a whole phalanx of politicians whose images remain undefined. Just like their policies.

In these times, when many you couldn't point to one politician who has a worldview that could be called his own, this lack of definition is probably the outer representation of the inner confusion. In the immediate past, in UNP politics, we have seen politicians who did the entire route from the right to the center to the tub thumping left, only to come back and say that it is a little too late to change their ideology. Anyone for a worldview?

In reality this is also a time when we have a cabinet which cannot decide whether it is left, right or center. Is this government, I question any erudite political analyst, left of center or right of center? If it is not either of these, is it dead center, in that event?

Since we Sri Lankans are used to a political culture in which we judge performance by style more than substance, imagery, of course, has a place in our politics that is quite disproportionate to its real import. Which is why we constantly ask whether such and such politicians are doing well not whether their plans have worked or whether their ministries have performed.

Now we say, the star of the Professor, for example is on the decline, as compared to that of the general.

There are Ministers who are constantly in the public eye because they are verbose, or opposition politicians who excell in presenting themselves as a radical alternative because they are loud, obnoxious and generally worthless.

Therefore, it is in this context, interesting to look at how the personalities of cabinet members in this present day and age are shaped. We do not, now, have any T.B. Illangaratnes or T.B. Subasinghes in our political pantheon because this is a day and age when ideologues have by and large been replaced by technocrats.

What is the difference then between an ideologue and a technocrat? It is on a rough measure, the difference between T.B. Illangaratne and Kingsley Wickremaratne, for instance.

The politics of an earlier era were a sum total of their exponent's political philosophy and credo. Often, what they did, was directly traceable to what they had called their political philosophy or their credo from the time they embarked on a career of public service.

The technocrat, on the contrary, is a doer. Or, the unkind would say, he fancies himself as a doer.

Whether the technocrat is a man who can decide the shape of a country's future, however, is another matter. Technocracts are people who solve problems. Problems of course, are classically solved as and when they arise.

An ideologue, classically we suppose, is different. He doesn't ideally solve problems. He shape the future in a way that there would be less of them.

Sometimes, ideologues by this method of osmosis of ideas, cause more problems for the future than they hope they would solve. Technocrats may in this way be blessings. They typically patch things up for the time being. A technocrat wouldn't dream of S.W.R.D.'s policy of language, for example.

Maybe, we want a bit of both. An ideologue it is a political anachchronism, because who in these times can chart a straight an narrow political vision?

But do we want straight and narrow technocrats, men who are like the nuts and bolts people who get under the hood fix things and takeoff?

Wanted: A vision, a plan of where we are going to get from here, and most of all, at least a cursory mention of HOW we are going to do it. A vision, not a slogan.

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