09 February 2016

A handbook, insurance policy and litmus test for Maithripala Sirisena

"The Dasa Raja Dharma:  handbook, insurance policy and litmus test".  This is the title of an article I wrote for the Daily News which was published exactly 6 years ago (February 9, 2010).  The advice was for the then newly re-electly president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. History shows that he opted for a different kind of advice.  Now we have Maithripala Sirisena.  His first twelve months have been dodgy (and I am being kind here). He still has time.   So I re-offer these notes.  

Elections are about claims and counter-claims.  They are about posturing and ridiculing of posture.  Some of it was so crude that they failed as communication devices; they did not win any votes and may have even turned off a few loyalists. Some of it was classy and even if they didn’t engineer defection nevertheless generated some laughs.  I am thinking of the cartooned spoof of Saheli Gamage’s song ‘Maharajaneni’, praising President Mahinda Rajapaksa for comprehensively eliminating the terrorist threat posed by Prabhakaran and the LTTE.

The visuals could have been crafted better, but the lyrics, voice and music were perfect for the task.  It got me thinking about the matter of ‘kingship’, royalty, the popularity of the song, the fact that the sentiments did not mesh well with the notion of participatory democracy (we are after all not a monarchy officially) etc. 

Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he referred to the famous observation/directive of Arahat Mahinda (to King Devanampiyatissa), claiming that he was not owner but mere custodian of the land and the people, and a temporary one at that, probably didn’t envisage that he would be hailed as king less than 4 years later.   It all began when an old Tamil woman who had escaped from the clutches of the LTTE referred to Rajapaksa as ‘Raju’ (rajuta kiyanna).  A few days later, Prabakaran was no more and the LTTE, contrary to all prediction and dream, was wiped out. Then came the posters, the cut-outs and Saheli’s song.  The President went along with it for a while, but when things started going overboard, he put his foot down. 

People like to be kings.  Some believe they are kings, often because they misread the meaning of ‘raja yogas’.  The fact remains that king-aspiration does not necessarily deliver crown and wearing crown does not necessarily confer royalty.  Mahinda may not have wanted to be king, but he was hailed as one and in a sense that conferring was re-endorsed on January 26, 2010.  He is not a man who has lost his humility and I am sure he would not be averse to admitting that even if he were king, he is far from the perfect monarch.  At some level he must recognize his mortality and imperfections, for this is the man who told us in 2005 not to sing hosannas for him but instead point out error and suggest remedy.

I was thinking about kings and royalty, citizens and subjects, governance and rule and it didn’t take long for me to realize that the definitive text book was written, so to speak, over 2500 years ago by Siddhartha Gauthama: The Dasa Raja Dharma, the ten-point framework for rulers.  Each tenet is a book, if one wants to expand on the basic principle, a doctoral dissertation in fact and a single article running into 1000 words or less cannot do justice to this amazing handbook for the ruler. 

This is it, the ‘nutshell version of good governance’  [Scroll down for elaboration of each of these]:

1. Dana -- liberality, generosity, charity.  
2. Sila -- a high and moral character.
3. Pariccaga -- sacrificing everything for the good of the people.  
4. Ajjava -- honesty and integrity.   
5. Maddava -- kindness and gentleness.   
6. Tapa -- austerity of habits.   
7.  Akkodha -- freedom from envy, ill-will, enmity.   
8.  Avihimsa -- non-violence. 
9. Khanti -- patience, forbearance, tolerance, understanding.   
10. Avirodha -- non-opposition, non-obstruction.

All leaders, not just kings and presidents, would do well to reflect on the above 10 principles and to extrapolate and apply them as appropriate.  It is essentially a checklist when testing/predicting ‘goodness of fit’ of any proposal or policy.  It is therefore an insurance policy. 

It must be remembered also that the Dasa Raja Dharma is not just for rulers, but for the ruled as well, for we can assess the worth of any piece of legislation, any act, any proposal, any programme against these criteria and once this is done we will be more confident in applauding or blackballing.  

It is hard, no doubt, but then again who said ruling was going to be easy?  We don’t expect our rulers to be Arahats but we certainly expect them not to be brigands or rasthiyaadukaarayas.  The Dasa Raja Dharma is a mirror.  Each of us, leaders and the led, can look at this mirror and check the distance between self-image and reality.  We can hold it against each and every politician, those in power and those who aspire to political office and the three dimensional man/woman inside the two-dimensional version that smiles at us from city wall will no doubt jump out in all his/her primary colours of being. 

We could do all this, but it is more important that Mahinda Rajapaksa does it.  He is after all The Ruler, the all-powerful Executive President, a man who came before us with a manifesto and returned home with mandate.  He will be challenged at every turn. There will be countless opportunities to slip.  At every step along the way from here to the ‘there’ that he envisages, Mahinda Rajapaksa will have some people on his side, but if he wants to have more people with him, then the more efficient way of getting about it would be to choose as his constant companion the Dasa Raja Dharma, for it was authored for him by one of the most insightful political scientists the world has ever known and one of the most compassionate too: Siddhartha Gauthama. 

If I was Mahinda Rajapaksa and had to choose between an army of advisors and this brief note of 10 simple and simply profound points, I would not pick the former.  Mahinda Rajapaksa is a practical man.  He can choose to be wise(r) during his second term as President.

Dana: the virtue of giving

Sila: the moral component of the Dasa Raja Dharma]

Pariccaga: the third element of the Dasa Raja Dharma

Ajjava: the discourse on honesty and integrity in governance 

Majjava: the kinder, gentler elements of governance

Tapa: the virtues of austerity and restraint 

Akkodha: the need to eschew enmity

Avihimsa: incorporating non-violence into good governance

Khanti: the virtue of patience and tolerance

Avirodha: a must-cultivate for the effective and benevolent ruler

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com