by Fr JC Pieris
The other day General Sarath Fonseka (SF) declared that he would be guided in governance by the Buddhist Dasa Raja Dharmaya (DRD) not by Marxism, Capitalism or any other ism.
We understood what he wanted to say though the isms and the Decalogues are different. There are two great popularly known works on statecraft; “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli and the more ancient “Arthasasthra” by Kautilya (Chanakya).
Both are, (supposed to be) cold bloodedly concentrated on gaining naked power, king-centered and amoral (almost immoral). Max Weber says: “Truly radical ‘Machiavellianism’, in the popular sense of that word, is classically expressed in Indian literature in the Arthasastra of Kautilya (written long before the birth of Christ, ostensibly in the time of Chandragupta): compared to it, Machiavelli’s The Prince is harmless”. The Buddhist DRD, people-centered and moral is an ethical alternative to amoral Arthasasthra of Kautilya.
Reading a book, ‘Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu’ 2011-II, serendipitously I came across a moral and people-centered alternative Political Decalogue to the teachings of Machiavelli by the Jesuits of the seventeenth century. In the sixteen thirties the Jesuits were highly influential with the political leadership in France and especially in the Royal Court. In fact Fr Nicolas Caussin SJ was the personal ‘confessor’ of Louis XIII from March to December of 1637.
A confessor is the priest in a catholic ritual where one confesses to the priest ones most intimate and private sins or moral weaknesses in absolute confidence and asks for penance and God’s pardon. Fr Caussin is the author of this Political Decalogue. Jesuits tried to bring about good governance by spreading this among the elite of Paris bringing on themselves the wrath of powerful men like Richelieu. The Decalogue declares that it is the responsibility of the king to;
1. Defend the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church.
2. Alleviate the poverty of the people.
3. Administer justice without allowing one to be corrupted by anyone or anything.
4. Confer honors and public responsibilities only on merit.
5. Protect the good administration of the taxes paid by the people.
6. Maintain a well disciplined army even in the time of peace.
7. Fortify the borders.
8. Do not show off one’s military might but maintain peace with neighbouring kingdoms.
9. Cultivate the love of culture and surround oneself with educated men.
10. Postpone personal splendor and luxury for those of the kingdom.
Mutatis mutandis these Decalogues are useful and valid even today. We have more than enough good and wise guidelines on governance from history and from contemporary men of virtue and intelligence. But now they are there only to show in contrast the ugly, dangerous and shameful situation we are in.
Before seeing signs of hope emerging from here and there let’s take a quick peek at the immediate past and the ugly present. In 2005 the people had had enough of the ongoing armed conflict with terrorist attacks all over the country becoming more and more barbaric.
The one and only issue at the Presidential Election was the war and who would bring it to a close. RW was simply never considered; it was obvious he was not the man who could save the country from division and deliver the peace. MR was the only choice not because he had integrity but because he was backed by the JVP and the JHU which would not allow him to deviate from bringing the war to a close and from saving the country at any cost.
MR won and Nepotism reigned supreme. Even the rules and regulations of the country were bent or ignored to accommodate relatives in positions of power as in the case of the Kataragama Basnayake’s position. The slightest connection to the powers that be was enough to get oneself ensconced in a lucrative position. Soon after, the JVP left the alliance.
Now freer, the rapacious rogues went on a rampage. Nothing was sacred; wherever there was money it was pilfered. The Treasury, the National Savings Bank and the EPF, nothing was safe any longer. The Golden Key and F & G funds are gone; the poor depositors are waiting for the proverbial cows to come home. For their own sanity they must resign themselves to the fact that they will never get their money back.
In between all these nefarious activities they also robbed the second Presidential Election. Mr Somawansa simply named it ‘Jilmaart’, which means wholesale fraud. The country was cleaned of all ancient buried treasures and even the Museum was not safe enough for the invaluable cultural heritage of this country.
There are hardly any politicians (forget statesmen) or civil administrators (not servants) in this country only thieves and it is day light robbery, each one trying to outdo the other in robbing the national wealth. Not only education and health (The National Education/Drugs Policies will never see the light of day as almost all in the particular sector are bribed or have vested interests in the status quo.) every ministry is in a mess.
Malfunctioning megaprojects add heartless and undeserved burdens on the poor. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Worse, we are going down the drain to be the most evil country in the world where children and women are least safe. Women are leaving Kahawatte and parents are worried about their little ones. Most of the culprits are either elected members of the ruling political party or the underworld pests in their pay.
IIFA and the Commonwealth Games bid were only eye-wash for some to make a little pocket money in millions. Waste is incomprehensible, half a dozen athletes go to London to compete in the Olympics with thirty officials but that is nothing compared to the entourage that the boss takes with him, in hundreds!
We are caught in the debt trap well and truly. Forget our sovereignty. The more debt we incur the less independent this country becomes. They are putting all their hopes in tourism to save the economy. Greece depended on tourism industry to save their economy and now it is bankrupt. (What use talking about Greek bonds now?) Our debt ridden economy is heading in the same direction. When people read these things in the papers they curse, of course sotto voce.
Signs of Hope
The silence is slowly receding. Voices are beginning to be heard, here and there, louder and louder. Voices rising in the name of democracy, law and order, good governance, justice for all, freedom from fear and peace in the entire country. Maduluwawe Sobitha (MS) Thero on the religious front is not alone and he could be the centripetal force to rally not only the Buddhist clergy but the leadership of all religions in the country.
From what the Mahanayakes have expressed on several occasions regarding governance they certainly are with MS. On the political front SF could do the same inviting all the other parties in the opposition to unite in a broad coalition with one goal: to bring about a complete overhaul of the corrupt authoritarian political culture in the country. Maybe what is still left of the JVP could be very helpful in the organization of such a coalition; for whatever is said about it the JVP is still the most people-friendly of all the self-serving, parasitic parties.
Before the 2005 election, the ideology of “Jathika Chintanaya” with the help of JVP and the JHU vulgarized the idea of all out war to end the war and save the country. It sank in to the bottom of the people’s psyche. The war became people’s war and it was a juggernaut that could not be stopped. Based on that foundation the war victory was achieved by SF and the Rajapaksa brothers. Similarly we must make the need for good governance, the most felt need of all the people. It must become the people’s most urgent need.
It is becoming so. In other words, the good political Decalogues like DRD and the Jesuit alternative to Macchiavelli’s The Prince, must be vulgarized and made the people’s demand from the country’s leadership. As they demand that the candidates who so piously come forward to ‘serve’ the country adhere to the ethical Decalogues they must also use their common sense and vote only for those whom they can rely on to govern ethically and morally.
It is good, then, to remind ourselves again and again of the five precepts of a ‘dharmishta’ voter who has the common good at heart and not his personal interest. That is why there is an adage: People get the government they deserve. If the people are ‘dharmishta’ then we’ll have a ‘dharmishta’ government.
Five Precepts in politics
I. (Eradicate corruption) I will not vote for a person who does not declare his assets and publish the same in the national newspapers for the perusal of the public. The honesty and the integrity of the candidates must be clearly seen. They must be above suspicion and show that they are selflessly coming forward to serve the nation and the people. It is not enough they show it only to the Election Commissioner. Those who are reluctant to declare their assets to the public are simply not trustworthy and do not deserve our valuable vote.
II. (Eradicate violence) I will not vote for a person who is known to have connections to the underworld and behaves (even a member of the family) like a thug in public. Those who cannot control their anger, who when in power take revenge from the political opponents, who take the law in to their hands, who intimidate and humiliate the ordinary citizens of the country when they travel on our roads are simply not suitable to be the leaders of this country.
III. (Eradicate nepotism) I will not vote for a person who already has a relative or a family member in the Presidency, Parliament or Provincial Council. Our politicians are mere mediocre non-productive parasites. There are exceptions, of course. The truth of the matter is they are fattening themselves on our national wealth.
They are shamelessly rapacious and greedy. It is enough that there is one parasite in the immediate or the extended family of the candidate. We, the voters, need not go and make them, a whole family of, a tribe of, parasites. What is more dangerous is that power concentrated in one clique or family is harmful to the democratic values and rights of the people as we now know.
IV. (Eradicate political opportunism) I will not vote for a candidate who after winning a seat has crossed over to the political party in power. Changing sides for ministerial posts, to avoid corruption charges or for other perks is an indecent act. It is an ignoble betrayal of those poor voters who placed their trust in him. Of course they will justify their actions. They will have hundred and one reasons to show how selfless and nationalistic their action is. But we know who they are, born liars who have sold their souls for a mess of pottage.
V. (Eradicate leaders who are non-nationalistic and anglocentred) I will not vote for a person who has neither love for the country’s heritage, culture and traditions nor any inclination to protect, promote and enhance the same. This precept needs no elaboration.
One way of knowing who these people are is easy. They live abroad and have even their green cards and rush back home only when the time is ripe to creep in to the government from the back door with the help of powerful relatives. These people are potential traitors. For their love of the country is insincere.
In the name of good governance I invite all people, in the three provinces where the elections are going to be held, who have a sincere longing to bring about a change in the political culture of the country, to propagate these precepts among the voters. This would be a good opportunity for the civil societies to get in to action for the sake of the country. Let us make a beginning from the East, Sabaragamuwa and the North Central provinces.