16 January 2015

The supporters (of Mahinda and Maithripala) reflect*

The MR Camp
We got caught in the thrill of the whole thing, that’s for sure.  We all operated on the basis of a simple assumption: the President cannot lose.  For this reason, we were in a world where we felt we could do as we liked.  We cut loose.  We went to town.  But we are getting ahead of our story.

Let’s start at the beginning; not the first beginning, i.e. when the boss first appointed (formally and informally) his ‘trusted men and women’ but the beginning of this election campaign.  As usual this glorified cheering squad made sure the boss felt good.  That’s important since very few leaders want to hear bad news.  Hangers-on, therefore, know that the boss has to be kept happy.

Nothing to worry sir.  You will win and win big. We will do it for you. 

All that was said are versions of the above three sentences. The last was very important.  Usefulness has to be ingrained in the boss’ mind.  That’s called ‘investment’. 

Now it is one thing to lie through your teeth but quite another to believe your own lies.  If anyone of us thought that it was going to be easy, that’s reason enough to be hoofed from the campaign headquarters and be asked to stay home until January 8, 2015.  That didn’t happen.  We not only joined the carnival, we even made big bucks on the side.  That now was a win-win situation.  We believed the boss would romp home, so we took it easy.  We did a bit here and there.  We were duly rewarded.  But it was one big party until election day. 

As the campaign progressed, this confidence manifested itself in other ways.  There was bragging. There was arrogance.  There was contempt for the opponent and his supporters.  There were people taking the law into their hands, thinking that it would help the boss and thinking even that this is what the boss really wanted.  It didn’t help of course that the boss had turned a blind eye to this kind of stuff for many years, offering silent approval and encouragement so to speak.  And there was advertising over-kill. 

The worst thing was that it all rubbed off on the boss.  It showed on his face.  There was arrogance.  There was bullishness.  There was contempt for the opponent. There was ungainly language.   The people found it hard to recognize in that face the man they’ve always admired and loved, the man who after D.S. Senanayake was the most loved national leader this country has known.   
None of this helped the boss.  It made what ought to have been a piece of cake into a real contest. 

The MS Camp

This was about change.  It was a long-felt need.  We had the arguments.  We had the facts.  We articulated. We substantiated.  We forgot that we are also creatures of the same political culture in which the people we want ousted operate in.  

We began with a huge handicap.  No, we are not talking about the fact that we are in the opposition for that’s a given disadvantage.  The biggest liability was the former president, Chandrika Kumaratunga.  She was the living antithesis to what we promised, the lovely idea of a ‘maithree paalanaya’.  Rage seemed to be her middle name.  Revenge her one objective.   We thought Ranil Wickremesinghe with his usual foot-in-mouth ways would wreck the campaign, but this time he was different.  Perhaps he associated the right people.  Chandrika was what she always was, an insecure, vindictive politician.  That cost us. 

‘Maithri Paalanayak’ or ‘Compassionate Governance’ was a beautiful tagline for a presidential campaign.  The only problem is that we are all pruthagjanas or flawed human beings.  It was an ideal impossible to live up to.  Given that our opponents had no such pretensions, given that they acted as though the only way to differentiate themselves from us was to live out the antithesis of our tagline, they knowingly or unknowingly dragged us down to their level.  Well, let’s say half way down to their level, but down enough to make all our holier-than-thou statements hollow. 

We found ourselves, especially in social media and on television debates, using the same kind of language and promising un-maithree-like retribution to our opponents for all crimes committed.  This was wrong.  So very wrong.   We ended up sounding like our opponents and we can’t blame people for thinking ‘so same lot, same bad-mouthing, uncouth bunch of politicians’. 

*In a parallel universe called 'Humility'