21st February 1999
A closer look at the UNP's prescribed reading
By Rajpal Abeynayake
Kola Pata Samajaya ( Green society ), CA Chandraprema's book which produced some tremors in the political firmament recently is no longer new. It was given to me by the author sometime back for purposes of review, but the matter was soon forgotten for various reasons.
But, Kola Pata Samajaya has done for Sri Lankan political writing what Carl Muller's Jam Fruit Tree has done for Sri Lankan writing in English. By being politically incorrect, Chandraprema has created wild controversy and stirred the pot.
His advocacy of creating a two tier economy with the second being comprised of work such as prostitution and pornography has not been popular with puritans. But, though his book is now notorious for the prostitution thing , it is the books' treatment of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike that seems to be even more controversial.
Chandraprema commits what will surely be considered a political heresy by the left in saying that Mr. Bandaranaike's victory in 1956 created an "avichara samaya'' or an era of anarchy. He compares Sri Lanka to Peron's Argentina and says the country's economic stagnation dates back to Bandaranaike's era of nationalisation and state control. Chandraprema's doctrine therefore is doubly interesting at a time when countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, considered the nicest girls on the beach an year ago, are now looking battered and washed out.
If this review was done at the correct time when the author gave me the book, there would have been no problems with the authors glittering tribute to the no- nonsense Asian economies . But in the interim between then and now, the core ideology of Chandraprema which is ''unbridled capitalism'' received a few jolts. Especially hurt were the authors' champion countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
It is in this context that now Chandraprema would appear more as an ideological extremist . It is interesting to find out what the author of Kola Pata Samajaya has to say about his advocacy for unfettered capitalism, when his brand of economics too is looking bad. One thing about Chandraprema is that his personality is non-conformist, which makes him look attractive to the reader even when he is being blatantly politically incorrect .
He succeeds in sounding like a Messiah, even when he is being almost chauvinistically capitalist. But now that the Messiah's message seems to be a little flawed ,after the events of Malaysia and other Asian economies, it makes his theories even more interesting by default. The UNP leader has apparently prescribed Chandraprema as required reading for the entire parliamentary group. So it's possible that the UNP has not somehow noticed that Chandraprema's arguments about a politically Green society have to be re-discussed, after what happened to the Asian economies recently.
The author sees the Bandaranaike policies of 1956 as well intentioned ideas which brought the country to the brink of economic ruin due to their extremist nature in the ideological continuum. Though nobody would call Bandaranaike a political extremist, since he was a sworn middle of the roader, his handling of the economy was the polar opposite of what Chandraprema advocates. Therefore his brand of social engineering was extremist in Chandraprema's eyes which is why Bandaranaike is attacked willy nilly in the book.
Though its attractive to think of one ideological extreme as the saviour when the other is failing, it is only a matter of time before both extremes begin to show their downsides. That's what has happened with the policies that were advocated by the Asian economic Tigers and prescribed by those such as Chandraprema for us.
Referring to DS Senanayake as a "prayogikawadaya'' or a pragmatist the author contrasts him with the constitutional eggheads of the SLFP era . Via this route he comes to the conclusion that pragmatic economics practised by the UNP would be the only route by which the country could achieve progress. Many moons ago pragmatism was also a word that was attached flamboyantly to leaders such as Mahatir Mohammed, who were cheered on as realists who eschewed namby pamby economics practised by left- of - centrists.
When capital accounts of the emerging Tiger economies were liberalised the applause was deafening especially from the capitalist ideologues. In Sri Lanka the ideologues went a step further and advocated social reconstruction that would take into account prevailing factors such as prostitution and pornography, which were burgeoning on the economy's fringes. Their ideology was to take all the economic dross and instututionalise it. Chandraprema advocates the legalisation of kassipu and prostitution, which are not in themselves ideas that are entirely bad. But its his general idea that ugliness is inevitable in capitalism that is heard loudest in the book.
It is this ideology coupled with the notion that capitalism is inevitable in itself which seems to be at odds with the Sri Lankan ethos. There are of course many truisms in Chandraprema's treatment of facts and as said earlier its a credit to his personality that he is able to bring out in Sinhala many ideas that are quite unfashionable in conformist Sinhala intelligence circles. His irreverence should be cheered on , especially when he turns his nose down at all the monumental hypocrisies of a national ethos which likes to celebrate history and heritage before taking care of the rumblings of the stomach.
Quoting from the Singallovada Sutra Chandraprema labours to point out that the Buddha had a puritan code for the sangha while he prescribed a great deal of moral leeway for the layman. For instance he infers that the Buddha laid down sexual abstinence for the sangha while he remained silent on the matter of laying down a sexual code for laymen ( ..except to ban sexual misbehavior in general.) This he says is a clear sign that Buddhism doesn't look at promiscuity as a cardinal sin.
All these are interesting reflections, but it's the thread of ideological extremism that runs through the book that may be flawed.
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