Groundviews

Karma and Politics

Photo from Api Sri Lankan

“Every country has the government it deserves” – French-Russian Philosopher Joseph de Maistre in 1811.

Politics the world over is going through its test of time, as most “democratic” governments are now influenced either by corporations or China.   These outside interests encourage a concentration of political power leading to an accumulation of economic wealth, especially if the Westminster based democracy erodes its checks and balances with solid opposition parties, independent bureaucracy and a judiciary complemented by various civil society institutions.

Sri Lanka’s current fate is a result of manipulating its democratic institutions and the constitution to meet these influences and to fit personalities in power over the last 40 years.

Journalist Prasad Gunewardene wrote in Ceylon Today (2014-12-07) about veteran left wing politician Colvin R. De Silva making a prediction to then President J.R. Jayewardene – “Dickie, the day you go, abolish this executive system and go, because your successors will find it difficult to keep their political parties united unlike you, and when that happens there’ll be chaos in the country”. “That’s a matter for the future to see like Que Sera”, JR had quipped in a lighter vein. Gunewardene states, true to Colvin’s words, President Premadasa’s UNP split. President Kumaratunga’s SLFP split. And today, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SLFP is also in the doldrums.

In this history of time, Sri Lanka continues to play out its political drama and intrigue with the January 8th, 2015 Presidential elections.

The polls and conversations with many say corruption and the centralization of power within the Rajapakse family goes against the current regime. This government ended the most difficult of wars and won accolades and plaudits as well as censure for it. The condemnation, especially of the ending of the war put the regime on the defensive.

This may be a reason for their reptilian insensibility in hoarding power and the wealth needed to sustain them for impunity. However, Karmic laws do have a way of equalizing the unabated reptilian indulgences.

Ending the war and all the good work to develop infrastructure is losing its lustre as, if there is no virtue in leadership – poor governance, a lack of discipline, lawlessness and the inability to protect all its citizens. Political leaders have lost their connection with the people, as the average person only sees motorcades speeding through their villages and towns. Politicians rarely stop to ask how they are doing and what they would like their government to do for them.

Losing touch with the ground realities only destabilizes and divides, as the core being of the nation disintegrates.

Learning from History
History is a stage littered with stories of the likes of Napolean, Hitler, Stalin, Joseph Mobotu (Mobutu Sese Seko), Saddam Hussein and so many more, who may have come to lead with positive intentions and even did good, later to get drunk with power, losing touch with reality, causing misery for many with their own fate sealed in the Karma of those actions.

Mobutu with a self perpetuated cult status, concentrated power around him, ran the Congo (named Zaire by him in 1971) to the ground in his 32 year reign. Amassing a wealth of over $ 10 billion, he gave meaning to a new word – “kleptocracy”. Mobutu tyranny left thousands dead, structures of government crumbled and left the Congo destitute amidst its rich natural resources.

On May 17th 1997, saw the end of Zaire as the Alliance des forces democratiques pour la liberation du Congo (AFDL) was welcomed by a population weary and drained from the reign of Mobutu terror – the Republic of Congo was born again. As Mobutu fled hastily, most of his old friends ignored him. He died in exile in September 1997 in Rabat, Morocco.

Napolean was a “larger than life leader” as he took Europe by storm for 20 years from 1799 after the French Revolution. He united Europe and championed the end of feudalism promoting meritocracy, secular education of the arts and sciences, institutionalizing law and justice and more to lay a foundation for the modern world. Napolean, the Emperor too fell prey to his own success and was fallible and mortal like the rest of us as poet Byron captures in his 19th century poem;

But thou forsooth must be a king,
And don the purple vest,
As if that foolish robe could wring
Remembrance from thy breast.
Where is that faded garment? Where?
The gewgaws though wart fond to wear,
The star, the string, the crest?
Vain forward child of empire! Say
Are all thy playthings snatched away?

Stories of these leaders give us an idea of what can happen to our own, but no one can predict the future.

Dependent Co-Arising
The very Buddha Dhamma Sri Lanka protects provides clues to what may come in its political future through the teachings on Karma. This precious wisdom tells us that all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions. The nature of causality—the way one thing leads to another, continually change and condition each other in interconnections in this web of life.

The Samyutta Nikaya adds;

“According to the seed that’s sown,
So is the fruit you reap there from,
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Down is the seed and thou shalt taste
The fruit thereof.”

This wisdom emerges as one sits quietly in meditation and a realization that going against laws of nature is not sustainable.

A Shining Light in Uruguay
Ironically, in today’s cynical world of politics, there are good stories.

This good story is about “the last hero of politics”, José Alberto ‘Pepe’ Mujica Cordano, President of Uruguay (3.3 million people), who is described to be “the world’s poorest president”, as he donates some 97% of his monthly US $12,000 salary to charities that benefit the poor and small entrepreneurs in his country.

He lives his life in peace without much fuss on his wife’s small farm in the outskirts of the capital Montevideo. In his stable is his own 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.

Mujica’s way of life may sound surreal for modern political leaders, but how sensible it is as he is content with the adequacy of what he has. Being amongst his people he does not have to fear them nor carry the burden of being protected from them.

No wonder The Economist named Uruguay, the “Country of the Year” in 2013 and is regarded as one of the most liberal and socially developed nations in the world.   I can wager that Mujica, who seems to live the Noble Eightfold Pathway of the Buddha, will leave his office gracefully at the end of his term with a legacy of goodwill and happiness, and not a burden of instability and violence on his people.  That is good Karma.

We will see what Karma awaits Sri Lanka on 8th January.