THE NATIONALIST PAPERS
Suckerers, suckering and suckers
Last week in a piece titled ‘The professor, his fan club and their sporadic howls’ in the Sunday Island, I took issue with people who were whining about Prof. Tissa Vitarana being passed over when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was gifting ministries to various people following the swearing in of the new Parliament. I pointed out that Vitarana was undeserving and should be grateful that he was actually accommodated in the UPFA’s national list.
His new found backers (who previously spared no opportunity to vilify him) wanted him rewarded for the thankless job he did as Chairman, APRC (All Party Representatives Committee), even thought they were often livid that nothing concrete was issuing from that assembly. They have implied that Vitarana was essentially a sucker and so I felt that if he felt he was one then the good professor should disassociate himself from the Rajapaksa regime asap. He has happily accepted an after-thought portfolio, essentially saying that either he doesn’t think he was a sucker (or that suckering him was the President’s intention) or that the President was not bullshitting with the APRC as Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and others have been alleging.
It was pointed out to me the other day that I was guilty of a fallacy; that I took issue with Vitarana but not with President Rajapaksa. This is true. Mahinda Rajapaksa has played ‘politician’ to perfection. Politicians and politics; they are about using people and things. They are about reading accurately the power equation and playing the cards to perfection. They are not about integrity, they are not about honesty, not about yatha vaadi thathaa chaari (say what you do, do what you say) or about promising the doable and delivering on mandate. Politics and politicians are about popularity, populism and appearances.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a politician. He’s got the pulse of the people and that’s a huge plus when it comes to politicking. He’s achieved something that his predecessors didn’t or couldn’t. He’s done some good and is greatly liked and not just because he is the most astute communicator this country has known in over a century. Has he been a gentleman though?
I don’t think so. He’s not been a gentleman. He’s not Kurunduwatte Pina as someone pointed out just before the 2005 Election, but Girawapattuwe Kadira. He came to power at a time when the country had been taken to the cleaners by ladies and gentlemen, so called. He was no gentleman then but he got things done that could have been done decades before if ladies and gentlemen had actually been endowed with common sense, national pride, sensitivity to the people’s pulse and of course even a smattering-knowledge of history and heritage.
He didn’t do it the way that ladies and gentlemen might have done or felt was the best way of ‘doing’, but he got the job done. Well, he got part of it done and has quite a ways to go in terms of his own manifesto, but defeating the LTTE must count for something and that something is something that none of the lady-gent detractors of Mahinda Rajapaksa have done.
‘Deshapaalanaya karanava kiyanne hirikitha deval karanna thama soodanam kiyana ekai,’ (When you decide to enter politics you’ve decided that you will do some despicable things) my friend Anuruddha Pradeep, lecturer in Political Science at Sri Jayawardenapura University told me a few years ago. He added, deshapaalanayedi hirikitha minissunge kara vate atha daannath wenava’ (in politics you have to put your arm around despicable people too).
Mahinda Rajapaksa has not done anything that any other politician has not done. He’s put his arm around despicable people to get things done. It doesn’t make him a gentleman-politician. It makes him a politician, period.
Now it is time to ask ourselves something. Are we happy that we have a ‘suckerer’ for a President? Are we happy to be suckers? Are we going to watch someone being suckered and are we going to cheer as long as it’s someone else and not us, or it’s someone we think is bad and therefore permissible? Are we going to recognize that suckering and being suckered is part and parcel of politics and that until such time we reach a level of political maturity and develop relevant institutional structures that render such things meaningless and impossible respectively?
Or are we happy to be suckered because the suckering is being done by someone we like or someone we are grateful for? Is that a price we have to pay, a cheque that he can cash again and again? Will we keep paying the man some kind of tithe for getting rid of Prabhakaran? Will our children pay this tithe to his children after we are dead and gone?
Years ago, when Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power promising to get rid of the Executive Presidency, some people were against it, saying that she is good and that a strong leader is needed to ‘resolve the conflict’. She didn’t resolve it, did she? She paved the way for Ranil Wickremesinghe to almost give it all up to the LTTE, didn’t she? Mahinda Rajapaksa was/is a strong leader and he did resolve the conflict. Both could be called ‘suckerers’, and the people by and large were all suckered by both. Happily, one might add.
What it does is, it forces us to revisit the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The same instrument can be used for both good and bad, can yield happy and unhappy outcomes.
Tissa Vitarana was a sucker if ever there was one. We can point this out and use the fact to call out rubbish-analysts like Saravanamuttu, but we can’t erase the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa, by being a politician and refusing to graduate into statesman, will continue to have the ‘Suckerer’ tag and that all of us, by being citizens in a country whose constitution is heavily skewed in favour of politicians (as opposed to citizen), are either suckers or bound to become suckers, sooner or later.
The question is are we going to do anything about Mahinda Rajapaksa or anyone else doing this suckering business? Will we at least call him out when he suckers someone and say ‘hey boss, it’s not right you know?’ Or will we say, in the very least, ‘boss, you did that dude in and he deserved it (let’s be honest, we are human), but why not stop this business now and get the institutional structure in order so that you won’t have to do such things to get things done (that need to get done)’?
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com