23 January 2020

Credibility gaps and complicities

Is Ranjan Ramanayake a hero or a villain? Depends on who you ask and depends on what you are talking about. If anything he has done or said causes embarrassment to someone or some political group then that person, his/her supporters or the party (as the case may be) would not cheer him. The relevant opponents might. There’s a lot of subjectivity in these Q&A exercises.

The chain of events has thrown up some names. It has revealed some glaring flaws in multiple apparatuses of the state. Such things are not unknown. Even proof of the same is available. And yet, the entire saga of leaked tapes has revived the serious discussion on systemic flaws, political culture, the average political persona and ethics.

Such things need to be discussed. This is good. However, we also see this discussion being displaced by a fascination for the sordid. This is not good.

In all this, ‘due process’ has been subverted, sometimes deliberately and at times by the over-enthusiasm of ‘the public.’ Whether the end justifies the means or not is sadly a question that’s not been considered important enough to discuss. 

Ranjan Ramanayake did not leak recorded conversations. They were leaked by others. Ranjan Ramanayake does not seem to have been interested in exposing corruption. Instead he has encouraged wrongdoing to see that justice is done. Supposedly. When the frills are removed we are left with a politician who has no scruples about bending rules, either through ignorance or arrogance or both, to achieve objectives he has set himself. These objectives are clearly partisan and framed by narrow political agenda. 

Recording phone conversations without the permission of the persons at the other end of the line  is clearly out of order. Leaking such confidential matter without the permission of the relevant persons is also out of order. Ranjan’s act is immoral. We know that the state is in possession of the tapes. It is also probably that others have such taped material in their possession. The state has a responsibility to protect confidentiality. In the case of others it is a moral obligation, nothing more. Who leaked the tapes? We need to know. 

So, let us repeat. Ranjan did not leak the tapes. They were leaked. Claiming after the fact of leakage that exposure was intended is untenable. He was not a whistle-blower. Neither were his intentions honorable or defensible as having the larger interest of the people at heart. That’s all balderdash.

That said, Ranjan’s claims about fellow parliamentarians, if they can be substantiated, are certainly serious. Maybe he is in a land called ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ and if so there’s nothing heroic about it. It more like ‘if I am to drown I will take everyone in the ship down with me.’  


Ranjan has unwittingly confirmed what was widely suspected if not known: there’s complicity (at worst) in wrongdoing and there's a massive credibility gap. We cannot trust this parliament. We cannot trust the judicial system. We cannot trust the law enforcement agencies. Worse, considering our own complicities (in general) by way of electing immoral, deceitful and corrupt representatives and by privileging exchanges of a personal nature over those that have relevance to systems of governance, we cannot trust ourselves as a citizenry. That's not a happy state for a nation or a citizenry. 

It is easy to say ‘let’s get rid of the 225.’ We send 225 to Parliament every election, so there’s complicity there, tempered of course by the limitation that our choices are limited by the preferences of party leaders responsible for making the relevant lists. However, if charity is to begin at home, then we can raise voices, stand together and stamp feet. Remain silent and we relinquish the right to complain. 

Now it is likely that Parliament will be dissolved in early March. Then comes the nomination process. If any party fields even a single person who is in the ‘tried, tested and miserably failed’ category on account of sloth, incompetence, bending or breaking rules, unethical conduct or worse, then that party essentially indicts itself. It shouts out, ‘We do not deserve your vote.’ And if the people go ahead and vote for ANY candidate from such a party, then the people indict themselves. They shout out: ‘We happily renounce the right to complain; we deserve to be lied to, robbed and treated as though we do not count.’  

It is hard to imagine that things could get worse than this. And that’s the positive aspect of it all. We can only get better. But that’s up to us. If the major political parties insist on ‘business as usual’ then it is up to the people to put them out of business or make do with inferior and even toxic goods which they must necessarily consume. 

Of course, in all this, we have to presume innocence until proven otherwise. As of now, we have Ranjan Ramanayake incriminating himself as an immoral, unethical and willing-to-bend-rules politician. We have judges who have compromised themselves. We have the possibility that state agencies leaked the tapes. Ranjan has leveled charges at all and sundry. The tapes he tabled in Parliament may or may not offer evidence to the effect that his fellow-parliamentarians were or are guilty of wrongdoing. Investigations are necessary to generate proof one way or another, with the hitch that there’s very little confidence in such processes being independent, efficient or just. 

That said, it cannot be disputed that there’s a stink that has been emanating from Parliament for decades. We put that stink in Parliament. We cannot do much, but there must be ‘a little something’ that we can do. Perhaps we should do ‘our bit’ at every given opportunity.     

This article was first published in the DAILY MIRROR [January 22, 2020]