People vs. Politicians: An argument for extra "legal" action

by Malinda Seneviratne
There are a lot of people who are under the impression that cricket is our national game. This is probably because cricket is a high profile sport, what with winning the World Cup in 1996, the TV coverage, one-day games under floodlights (in a country which has sunlight 365 days of the year) while all the hydropower generating reservoirs were almost dry and the nation in total darkness, cricketers endorsing products on TV etc. Officially, the National Sport is volleyball. In reality, it is the ancient and universally popular recreational activity called "vasuru keliya" (crap-slinging).

From the remotest village to that so-called uththareethara place (also known as the Parliament), where "people’s representatives" gather to deliberate on the future of the nation and the expansion of personal bank accounts, our society is ridden with kata-katha and opa-dupa. Is it that our people have nothing better to do? No. They have better things to do and they certainly do these better things. But like all creatures great and small, political and otherwise, local and foreign, they need recreation and conversation. In this commerce of words and information, it is natural that the "uncalled-for" gets called. It is also natural that there are always enough people who turn recreation into profession. Just like professional cricketers, soccerites, athletes etc.

It goes without saying that there can be no vasuru keliya without vasuru. And with bowel movement there comes charges of defamation. Litigation follows. And this is good. Court clerks can get overtime payments, lawyers get richer, court reporters get more space in their respective newspapers, political commentators can churn out more articles, satirists can generate more jokes and the whole country can have a good laugh.


In the past two weeks or so, we had Karu Jayasuriya, Deputy Leader of the UNP demanding Rs. 100 million from the Press Council of Sri Lanka, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon and others for publishing false statements that he believes are defamatory to his character. Prof. G. L. Peiris has sued Mangala Samaraweera and Lake House for Rs. 500 million for similar statements made over state TV. S. B. Dissanayake has threatened legal action for the same reasons. The JVP has sued TNL and the Sunday Leader for tarnishing its alleged "good name".

This defecation to defamation to litigation process is certainly amusing. What really makes me laugh is that for some strange reason all these people seem to believe that we have a working judicial system and that fairness always prevails. I remember rolling on the floor and laughing about a year ago when Prof. Peiris and others finally got round to presenting the draft "new constitution". The joke was this: Chief Justice Sarath Silva was supposed to give a ruling on the legality of the document, the very manuscript which he himself had helped author when he was Attorney General! Talk about "naduth hamuduruwange, baduth hamuduruwange!" Now go ahead and sue me for defamation of character, Mr. Silva.

I am not saying that the entire judicial system is corrupt and that all lawyers are lechers. In fact, the Supreme Court once granted me redress for the violation of my fundamental rights. What I am saying is that there is no reason to go overboard about how justice is sacred and how independent those authoritative figures we call judges are.


Litigation does not occur only during election campaigns. Some people, if they play their cards well, can actually run a "successful" campaign from the money they have won through legal action filed during non-election times. Good for the winners. Not necessarily for the people, for we are (partly out of our own fault) a bunch of poor losers.

I think that suing should not be the preserve of two-bit politicians (sadly, the vast majority of our politicians fall into this category). This country lacks a strong consumer-protection movement. It does not have a civil society worthy of that name. What we have is a bunch of NGOs totally dependent on foreign funds. Not at all organically grown. A sad excuse for civil society. I believe that we, as a people, don’t sue enough.

I have learnt two things over the past 20 years or so. One, it is the general public who have been subjected to the greatest insults and whose good name has been sullied most. Two, the ordinary people, as a whole, can hope for nothing from the judicial system. Let me explain.

I believe that the most prostituted word is "people". In Sinhala "janathava". There are others too, such as jathiya, rata, deshaya, podu jana etc. In the name of the people (like in the name of God and The Church) all manner of crimes are committed. It would not be wrong to say that people suffer most from things that are done in their name. Power comes, as I have mentioned elsewhere, from the ability to convince other people of your version of their reality. This is exactly why we are powerless.


How can we forget that slick operation called "peoplisation" through which Premadasa auctioned off profit-making state corporations, a process which Chandrika unashamedly embraced and streamlined? Today we have a "Podu Jana" Eksath Peramuna which has punched the podu janathava in their collective stomach.


We have a United "National" Party which was never interested in anything national. We have countless crooks and murderers berating from the political platform how much they love the janathava and how they happen to be true janatha puthrayas etc. We have a "National" Development Bank, this is a private financial institution which benefited from the facilities it enjoyed when it was a state bank, actively and aggressively pursuing profits. We have thieves who come to power promising to work for the podu jana yahapatha but actually line their pockets. We have janathavadi revolutionaries who thought nothing of destroying the assets of the people (buses, transformers etc.) or slitting the throats of the most dispossessed sections of the population (bus drivers, conductors, grama niladharis etc.).

Dostoyevsky wrote a book called "The Insulted and the humiliated". That title is who we are as a people and the insulting and humiliation has come more from "people’s representatives" more than anyone else. Time to fight back, I think. But before that, let’s consider the issue of legal redress.

I think one of the worst insults the people have suffered is from that pernicious anti-people organ of the state, ITN, running a talk show called "Janatha Adhikaranaya" (People’s Court). This is little more than a parade of self-appointed "judges" touting the PA party line. My point is that there certainly has to be a Janatha Adhikaranaya, but not one run by the enemies of the people. For it is clear that we need to sue into bankruptcy all those who have hurled vasuru at us, justified this disgusting act as being for our own good, and who have sullied our good name.

"The People," the real ones that is, must take politicians to the cleaners, so to speak. Imagine a parliament outside the parliament. Presidents without titles, kings without Presidential/Royal palaces. Daydreams? Idealistic? I think not.

Kangaroo courts

Fighting back has to happen outside the institutions that work against the people. The alternative system of checks and balances must not in any way take the character of kangaroo courts like the kele adhikaranaya operated by the JVP during the bheeshanaya. It has to result from an organically built people’s movement. Such a movement must understand that electoral politics is only a minor element of this alternative political process. There has to be a sense of proportion when one invests in the masquerade called elections. The larger investment has to go into developing an alternative doctrine and living it. Time is longer than life. I am optimistic.