This column was published in Lakbimanews on October 7, 2007. I’m going to dedicate this to the timelessness of Sri Lankan politics. When all else falls apart, our politicians remain honest and true to their complete lack of morals or principle.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was chasing buffaloes last week. And not metaphorically speaking either.
Nobody could have missed the president in his buttercup t-shirt, diving into a good sized patch of paddy with the intention (we think) of getting everyone to grow rice. Hiking up his checked sarong–stick in hand–he trailed a pair of fierce-looking buffaloes while the shutterbugs clicked furiously from the sidelines.
It was a photo to die for–the kind that Ranil Wickremesinghe fails to supply, time after time. There’s something about Mahinda Rajapaksa that makes great pictures. And Sri Lanka loves great pictures, to hell with good governance.
Wear a sarong at Number 10 Downing Street and, boy, you’ve got it made. Rig oneself out in a three-piece suit under the blistering sun (as Ranil often has) and you really have lost the next election.
Meanwhile, let’s talk about metaphorical bull-chasing. Or buffalo trailing (whichever applies) because there is a LOT of that happening Sri Lanka side. Out in the real paddy fields, hundreds of varicose-veined farmers have enlisted the assistance of buffaloes to plough the soil. Some use these animals because they prefer the old-fashioned method. Not only are they good work beasts, they fertilise the field while turning the soil. Many farmers fall back on buffaloes because they can’t afford mechanisation.
In Sri Lanka, however, other farmers mobilise buffaloes for other reasons. In fact, there’s no shortage of farmers and certainly none of buffaloes. Let’s imagine–for a moment–that parliament was a paddy field and parliamentarians were buffaloes. And that party leaders were farmers. Doesn’t Sri Lankan politics now become far simpler to understand?
Party leaders desperately need buffaloes (metaphorically, speaking) for survival. The mechanisation option is not open. This would explain why just the other day Rajapaksa, the chief farmer, called upon yet another bunch of buffaloes to hoe his patch of paddy field, if only for one year.
It was the JVP buffaloes he was wooing this time. Speaking at the wap magul ceremony after doing his bit for the cameras, Rajapaksa insisted that JVP support was essential if his government were to deal with the ethnic issue and economic problems. “Join my government for at least a year,” he implored.
Only hitch is that competing farmers have been trailing the same buffaloes in recent weeks. Our Ranil goiyya even banished federalism from his vocabulary in an apparently vain attempt to get our Marxist buffaloes to draw his capitalist plough instead. So far, however, the JVP has shown little interest in cultivating–and fertilising–anything but their own acreage.
Does this mean other beasts would have to be approached before the budget in November? Upcountry buffaloes, perhaps? Muslim buffaloes? Sinhala Buddhist buffaloes? The whole damned lot?
Ultimately, Sri Lankan politics in recent times has seen nothing but buffalo canvassing by this party or that. Every year–as the budget vote nears–some farmer or the other claims he will topple the government and promptly starts chasing buffaloes.
And, so, a futile, pre-budget frenzy begins. Journalists whip out their notebooks and start doing the numbers. How many in this farmer’s party and how many in that? Which parties did all these buffaloes originally contest with? How many, if ten buffaloes cross to the other side? How many, if twenty buffaloes come back? Which buffalo is most likely to defect? How much would he go for and to whose patch of paddy? Which buffalo has no intention of defecting but is claiming he would? How far would farmers go to keep these buffaloes back?
Journalists start interviewing farmers–and buffaloes–about which way they would vote at the budget. With quite an unnecessary sense of foreboding, the media begins stories about possible elections. Some farmers say an election is coming soon and even start campaigning. Other farmers–and the buffaloes that work under them–go around the country saying they’re not scared of any bally election.
And nothing happens. Every year… nothing happens. The budget vote comes. The budget votes goes. There is no toppling. Not even close. Months are wasted in an unprofitable, vapid debate that produces nothing at the end. Not even fertiliser.
It is, to be sure, a clean case of janathawa gonata andanawa. How’s that for a good picture?