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Political slap to the face wins public praise

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Does anyone know Mulaparthi Ramaraju? No? Well, nor do I.

That is until a few days ago, when, quite by chance, I turned on a video clip while searching for some background information. What intrigued me was the headline that accompanied the video.

“Ideal politician”? said the first two words. That should have been enough to stop even those who disdain local politics, in their tracks. Well, it did me, though I wouldn’t claim to have much faith in politicians after more than 60 years of association with this breed of varying shapes and sizes (not to mention mental makeup) in different parts of the world.

For a fleeting moment, I thought they had discovered somebody answering to that description in our Resplendent Isle, which might even change its name, as things go, to the “Cannabis Republic of Ceylon” now that Diana G is an earnest G-pusher (Ganja that is not Gamage) and the IMF has a long lease on the place.

Given the names of some who occupy the top spots in that Washington abode, one could expect them to go around mispronouncing the name of our motherland, calling it Siree Lanker or some such distortion. Now we can’t have that, can we?

After all, what would our full-time nationalists say? Deny them entry visas and ask President Ranil W to return the dollars from the first tranche of the loan and restructure their own currency without bothering us with inanities.

Just see what happened to that singer who slipped after hitting the high decibels, saying “mahatha” for “matha”. By the time this column appears, she might have made her presence at the ministry of something or other, singing away like a canary before a battalion of boorucrats.

After all, they have little to do in office these days anyway, now that funds have been slashed, like to those chaps who run all elections but now do not have the money even for polls to the worthless Pradeshiya Sabhas, where, now and then, they settle issues with fisticuffs.

This brings me to the subject of the “ideal politician,” which has caused all this disbelief and disquiet. Not only among us poor sceptics who have a distinct aversion to permanently open-mouthed politicians, but has spread far and wide from the place of origin.

It all happened in a small town in the state of Andhra Pradesh in neighbouring India. Now there would be those objecting strongly to calling Big Brother “neighbouring India”. Some insist on calling it Mother India, more so after last month’s series of agreements and the likelihood that Big Brother would be stretching his arms and legs right across the Palk Strait.

Now that we seem to see eye to eye with a “Common Vision”, we do not have to see an ophthalmologist, do we?

Okay, so It was one day last month when the aforementioned Mulaparthi Ramaraju raised quite a ruckus at a meeting of the Narsipatnam Municipality, of which he is an elected member. At the election campaign (they do have elections unlike us, you know!) for the municipality, Ramaraju made several promises to the voters of Ward 20.

Nothing strange in that either, especially if one listens to the plethora of promises that spout from the mouths of Sri Lankan politicians, who, I would venture to say, are the most promising politicians one might ever encounter.

Now 31 months later, Mr Ramaraju says all his promises remain unfulfilled, and he is damned in the public eye. Silly man! Now that Mr Modi has more than his fair share with all this connectivity stuff and will be able to drive all the way here to see his pro consul, and Mr Adani will be Trincomalee’s new commissar, all that Councillor Ramaraju has to do is move over here and plant himself in Trinco watching the harbour sites and lights, preparing to contest a local election.

The 40-year councillor might have to wait for a considerable time—not to plant himself but for the elections—like our own voters have been waiting, hoping the polls will get there before Godot.

That is only the prologue to Ramaraju’s venture into the political arena. After two and a half years, he has not been able to solve a single civic issue such as drainage, power, sanitation, roads and others.

Why? Because the municipal officials completely ignored his ward and absolutely nothing was done to alleviate the civic problems of the common man.

Now if it were in this country like no other, where bribery and corruption are not only rampant but an integral part of our political-administrative system, even that staid old body called the IMF would have to step in and ask for the mitigation of such “vulnerabilities”. Stop “something” changing hands, as they used to say in the ‘bajjar’.

Ha ha! That should raise some good laughs around the globe, especially in countries such as Singapore, which our leaders and pleaders wish to transplant in the motherland. If our political fat cats follow the news, they would surely be aware of the political clean-up happening in the city-state these few weeks.

And what do we do? Produce another piece of legislation that calls for hundreds of thousands of officials, including personal staff of Pradeshiya Sabha members, to submit their declarations of assets and liabilities. I suppose in these trying times, a good laugh is good for the system.

But for Ranaraju, there is no time for laughter. At a recent council meeting, the angry, distressed, and ashamed people’s representative exposed what he and his voters have suffered at the hands of a nonchalant, uncaring bureaucracy.

Ashamed at his failure to keep his promises, he removed a slipper and slapped himself in the face. It did not take long for the news of this deed to go viral, as they now say.

Having watched this video several times, one wondered whether any politician in our Resplendent Isle would do the same, having failed to keep his or her promises to the people. Would they even recall the promises they made?

More likely, they would want to slap their opponents and public officials. Just the other day, there was a real ho-ha when a State Minister threatened to split the eardrum of an official by hitting him across the face.

And the great arm of the law, which hesitates not a wit to physically manhandle journalists doing their job, stood there in stony silence while the threats continued.

Talking of slippers, perhaps it would be a worthwhile idea to pursue parliament to insist that all MPs wear slippers to the chamber and that ministers who fail to answer written or oral questions within a week are required to slap themselves in the face with their own slippers.

And MPs who are prone to throw chairs, chilli powder and destroy electronic equipment should be encouraged to hurl slippers at each other, which will save the parliament some money on replacements.

Perhaps some benevolent footwear manufacturer can be urged to donate a few hundred pairs of slippers. A little something should do the trick, never mind what happens to those worthies called representatives of the people.

 

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later, he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.)

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