11 January 2018

Political pots and kettles in an all-black Parliament


Dulles Alahapperuma, having first entered Parliament in 1994 and having retained his seat in the General Election in 2000 surprising decided not to contest in 2001.  He had his reasons.  His argument was that he was ‘too white’ to be in Parliament.   

‘Most people in Parliament are brown, but no one realizes this because there’s no contrast to make the brown stand out.  When there’s white, it shows.   This makes “brown people” uncomfortable.  I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable and I don’t want to be where I don’t fit in.’

Brown, to him, was metaphor for taint.  He didn’t want to be a part of that tainted and tainting story.  He did return to parliamentary politics and I am not sure how he justified this to himself or those who thought he made sense with the white-brown parable, but that is another story. What’s important is the parable.  

Parliament and parliamentary politics is not ‘brown’ but ‘black’ in the main.  It’s about pots calling kettles black and vice versa, and where there’s anything relatively clean every effort being made to discolor.  People give in and give up.  People compromise.  People slip.  And once you slip, you get covered in brown and black.  Most walk in dirty, some get dirty once in.  

We are seeing this in the back and forth pertaining to the Central Bank bond issue scandal.  We have the President announcing that the Commission appointed by him to investigate the matter has found Ravi Karunanayake guilty of wrongdoing.  We have Karunanayake claiming that he is innocent and that the President was selective when briefing the nation about the Commission’s findings.  We have the Prime Minister claiming that there was hanky-panky in bond issues from 2008 to 2015, i.e. before the Yahapalana Government came to power.  He has not echoed Karunanayake’s sentiments nor backed the innocence-claim. 

Karunanayake, however, has said ‘neither the Prime Minister nor I have committed anything wrong.’  The news story was headlined thus: ‘Ravi says he’s as clean as PM.’  That’s a mischievous re-wording of course, but it catches a salient point viz the claiming of innocence.   ‘We are both white,’ he is basically saying.  Another way of putting it is, ‘I am as good as he is, and if he is bad then that’s how bad or good I am.’  It’s one step short of saying ‘we are in cahoots in this matter.’  

One notes that Wickremesinghe has not returned the favor.  

Ranil Wickremesinghe has not said 'I am as clean as Ravi is.'  He has not said 'Neither Ravi nor I have done any wrong.'  

More importantly, the Prime Minister has not denied the findings of the Commission of Inquiry that the President detailed in his special statement on the matter.  He has not returned endorsed Karunanayake’s claim.  He has not said ‘I am as clean as Ravi’ or ‘neither Ravi nor I have committed anything wrong.’  

Is that telling, then?  Is all this ‘telling’ and if so what’s being told?

Let’s put all this in brown-white terms.  The President has described someone as being brown.  The moment he does this, he is claiming that he is white.  When Karunanayake says ‘he’s told only half the story,’ he is essentially saying ‘the President could be brown too!’  When Karunanayake says ‘I am white’ he’s saying others are brown.  When the Prime Minister says ‘it was all brown before 2015,’ he’s implying that it was all white thereafter.  When Karunanayake says ‘I am like the Prime Minister,’ he’s essentially purchasing claimed purity or whiteness.  

Taken together they are all brown.  For this reason they all have the fallback ‘I am like you, no better and no worse.’  And perhaps in order to convince themselves and each other they’ve indulged in fisticuffs in Parliament.  

What then is left to say of ‘yahapalanaya’?  What then is left to say of ‘change’?  Pots and kettles, is that what we have to conclude?  All brown and no room for white, is that what they want us to conclude?  The more important question is, ‘is there anyone who is white in Parliament?’  And if there are white people in Parliament, what on earth are they doing there?  

This UNP-SLFP (or Maithri-Ranil) Yahapalana combine has lost the right to use the term.   They have spent three years pointing fingers at the previous regime, which was of course as brown as the current lot.  If that (pointing fingers) was all they did, we could still suffer them, but they’ve dipped their always-brown hands into the National Kitty.  

It is too late for the likes of Karunanayake to salvage pride by employing the ‘at least’ option; e.g ‘at least a commission was appointed, at least a report came out of it, at least some of the findings were made public.’  The whole story is not made of what the President revealed plus what he did not.  The whole story is a brown story.  An ‘all brown’ story.  

It is a story which has all the characters saying ‘I am as clean as he/she is,’ which ladies and gentlemen essentially means ‘I am as corrupt.’  It is said with gusto.  It is said with a devil-may-care air.  It is said with an unsaid ‘so what?’

That’s where we are right now.  The Parliament is brown.  Only one question remains: ‘are we as brown and if so do we want to remain brown?’   Or ‘black’ if we don’t want to use Dulles’ color preference which one feels was inspired as much by dirty politics as by the mud-slinging that passes off for political debate in Parliament and outside it.  

Either way, it is certainly not ‘white,’ or if that’s an insult to non-white people, then it’s not squeaky clean.  It’s dirty.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com. 
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