12 October 2014

The President’s choices get explained

There was animated conversation in the Senior Common Room of a prominent state university. This was unusual because academics had long since given up on debate and discussion of any kind let alone scholarship and matters concerning academics. Understandably the topic of conversation was politics; not political philosophy, ideological preferences, the worth of this system over that or trends in international politics but the intellect-deadening opinion tossing about a slap, a cry, a resignation and media spin.

‘Did Sajin de Vass Gunawardena slap Dr Chris Nonis or did he not?’ someone wanted to know.

‘Only an idiot would even think that’s a question worth asking,’ thought a quiet, self-effacing lecturer in the Sinhala Department.

‘Of course he did!’ a bombastic professor who found it difficult to hide his political affiliations and had made quite a name for himself during the heady 6% days of FUTA agitation.

‘Lakshman Kiriella says he should have gone to the police,’ offered a young probationary lecturer in the Political Science Department.

'Yes!’ affirmed the party man, ‘it’s a felony and the NYPD would have arrested Sajin.’

‘So Chris was a fool?’ the young lecturer wanted to know.

‘All diplomats outside of the service are fools. They are political appointees after all and politics is about expediency. Whims and fancies. But I think in this case Chris didn’t want to embarrass the President and the country. He’s a gentleman,’ a historian with a penchant for digging a bit deeper than his colleagues explained.

‘Well, the gentleman has got his behind fried!’ someone said.

‘That’s the thing. I really don’t understand this. Whenever some arrogant ego-maniac throws his weight around and embarrasses him and the country, the President takes his side and the victim ends up feeling like a sucker who has been played once by the thug and then again by HE. Is he such a bad judge of people?’ A die-hard fan of Mahinda Rajapaksa and a staunch opponent of regime-haters couldn’t help blurting out.

It was a question that puzzled one and all, even the most verbose of the president’s detractors, at least from an academic point of view. A quiet bikkhu from the Buddhist Studies Department intervened.
‘Have you forgotten that the president, among other things, is a politician? He has to make hard choices. He has to pick sides. He has to consider relative merits. He has to unravel the political equation. Chris Nonis is a gentleman. He has an ego and can be arrogant for sure, but he is slick enough with words to get away looking like a suave academic well-versed in the use of diplomatic language. He has done a lot to defend a difficult brief – difficult not because of any wrongdoing by anyone during the last days of the war but the wrong-speak of a lot of people, especially in the Foreign Ministry, not to mention the Goebbelsian operations of Eelamists and their backers who prefer a pliant president to deal with. He’s done a lot more than have career diplomats.’

‘So what’s your point haamuduruwane?’ the green don asked.
‘Mahaachaaryathumani, now you might think that the President has to assess the fallout of this incident, the damage to the country’s overall image and perceptions of the President as a supporter of thugs and an opponent of decency, competence and even patriotism. The fact of the matter is that the President is not only a good judge of people but a shrewd politician.’

‘Ok, so what?’ the green man insisted.

‘He knows Chris Nonis well enough to know the man would resign but do so after thanking him and affirming continued friendship and support. He knows that siding with Sajin won’t improve his image either in Sri Lanka or elsewhere, but he knows also that outside of Sri Lanka there’s not much he can do to salvage his image. The work of his enemies and the work of his ‘friends’ have ensured that. But back here in Sri Lanka, this home-home matter, he knows, will dismay but not result in supporting abandoning ship altogether.’

‘Well then the supporters are a bunch of no-good losers lacking integrity and a konda!’ the debater said heatedly.

‘Exactly the point. If it’s about bad people, about losers, people without integrity and a konda as you put it, then we have an even playing field here in Sri Lanka – the Opposition is no better. But that’s not the point. The international fallout is something that the President has to deal with of course, but dealing with it is a matter that comes after dealing with the local situation. What’s Chris Nonis’ worth in a major election? What’s Sajin’s worth?'  

'The former is a gentleman, the other obviously is not!' 

'Does that matter in politics, Mahachaaryathumani? No. It’s an easy decision to make. Some people have checks to cash, some do not. Some have checks that are amenable to multiple cashing. We are talking about politicians here, don’t forget. You cannot expect them to be statesmen. It’s like capitalism. Markets. Value is relevant only at the point of exchange, correct me if I am wrong. In the right now, in the here and now, Sajin goes up, Chris is downed.’

There was silence in the room.

[All this in a parallel universe, please note]


Raj Gonsalkorale said...

Sadly political expediency and values do not share a common ground. It looks like even the suave former High Commissioner hadn't put values ahead of perhaps his basic instincts as he wouldn't have swallowed the line thrown by a politician and got drawn into an argument if he focused on values, and his own worth to his country, rather than trying to engage with a politician and his alcohol.

Ramzeen Azeez said...

According to a newspaper Chris Nonis' demeanor hadn't won him any fans in the Foreign Office. He had got rid of several deputies whom he didn't appreciate. Maybe his "kalu suddha" style didn't go down well with the yakkos! However, the incident itself is more the Mariyakade system of justice than one worthy of parliamentarians who, touched by the presidential magic wand, are constantly part of his inner circle.