27 April 2016

Those who are worthy of salutation and those who are not

It was brought to my notice many months after this was written (first published in April 2010) that an organization referred to in the article below had interpreted it as a 'fatwa'.  Representatives of the outfit ranted and raved in certain socialist/left circles but tellingly did not include a reference to the article.  

Someone once said that 99 percent of the Opposition can be purchased and that the remaining 1 percent must be eliminated, meaning killed. I don’t know how correct these numbers are, but in general it seems that a lot of people are easily bought. Everyone has a price, but some sell themselves cheap. And it is not about money either. Some choose to throw in the towel out of sheer laziness, some out of fear and some because they are intimidated by the associated challenges.

The 1 percent is ‘special’ not on account of purity of objective or means adopted, but commitment to cause.

The Samaajavadi Samaanatha Pakshaya (Socialist Equality Party) and its previous avatar ‘Viplavavaadi Komiyunist Sangamaya’ (Revolutionary Communist League, better known by its Sinhala acronym, ‘VIKOSA’) comes to mind. I am talking in particular about people like Nanda Wickramasinghe (‘Wicks’ to his comrades and ‘Podi Wicks’ to his contemporaries at Peradeniya who had to differentiate him from the other ‘Wicks’ who came to be known as ‘Pol Wicks’) and Wije Dias.

People might think they are crazy but there’s something of value in being uncompromising, provided of course that you are honest in both affiliation and articulation. That’s what is called ‘courage of your convictions’ I believe.

This is not to say that one should rush into danger without thinking of the consequences. There are practicalities of course. The honest political agent will acknowledge that there is reason to be circumspect and that a decision to be cautious is arrived at by a comprehensive consideration of all factors and the possible outcome of particular options in terms of the overall political objective.

What is the glory, I wonder, of being ‘radical’ behind closed doors? What is the glory of preaching to the converted? What is the glory of going to seminars and workshops where organisers bring friends and family to make up numbers and with the promise of a free lunch and what not? What is the glory of hiding behind beg words and technical terms? What is the glory of turning tail the moment someone stares you down and then going to safer territories where debate is choreographed before hand? Do people really think they are being politically effective when instead of refuting argument engage in name-calling?

On February 24, 2006, in Celigy, Switzerland, waiting for the post-talks press conference to start following discussions between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, I asked Jehan Perera how his outfit (National Peace Council) would fare if funding dried up. He said that all operations would stop. Now contrast this with the efforts of a man called Nalin de Silva who for more than a decade wrote week after week in the Divaina, Island and Vidusara and succeeded in turning idea into ideology and turned a view that had marginal support into the dominant position in the country. That’s courage. Commitment. Certainly worthy of salute.

There are heroes in the academic world and there are pedestrians. There are giants who take a stand, articulate position regardless of hostility-level of the audience and there are dwarfs who first check out comfort-levels before speaking. There are those who are lions when there is no one around but slink away when in unfamiliar territory.

Who are the real heroes and who are the cardboard pretenders? It is easy to find out, isn’t it? Check out where they hang out, what kinds of forums they inhabit, their dodging-expertise and you will find their purchase price. Nine times out of ten I would venture that they have a pretty low selling price.

My friend Anuruddha Pradeep, a lecturer in Political Science at the Sri Jayawardenapura University used to tell me that most of the federalists can be bought over. He was essentially repeating the 99-1 theory.

Speaking of the federalists and those who are shy of using the f-word and therefore take refuge in the term ‘devolution’ or call it ‘13 Plus’ (meaning ‘something more than the 13th Amendment’), they had their day in the sun. Those who opposed them didn’t have the money or the political power.

They had one thing: solid arguments. They had an idea and it became an ideology. It won the day. That’s the difference between the ‘nationalists’ and, say, VIKOSA. VIKOSA has a world view but one that is constructed, in my opinion, on a false set of premises.
And yet, I can’t help admiring the likes of Podi Wicks and Wije Dias when I consider the Eelamists in federalist and lesser costumes relevant to reduced circumstances. They will state their case regardless of how hostile the audience is. And they are not purchasable.

There is a difference between the LTTE and VIKOSA. The former talked with guns, the latter with words. VIKOSA people argue. They will call you names if you disagree, but they would in the end agree to disagree. They will not make excuses for poor logic or inability to substantiate. They will not dodge an argument. They will not take refuge in the classical out of dismissing question with a whine or a tag such as ‘rubbish’. When asked to substantiate claim, they will not run away or come up with patently third-class interjections such as ‘it goes without saying’. They will not use descriptives such as ‘disreputable’ unless they can prove the point.

There are those who use such 10th Grade debating techniques in any society. They have their moments too. Yes, ‘moments’. Here now, then gone. That’s their story. There are people who can be purchased.

There are people who sell themselves cheap. There are cowards. They are those who pay with their lives to defend the truths they subscribe to. There are men and women worthy of admiration for some qualities and men and women who are pedestrian. I choose to salute Podi Wicks and Wije Dias. They are politically honest. Un-purchasable. That says something in these free-market days.