09 August 2011

The legacies Ranil Wickremesinghe can leave behind

People have their moments.  They have their highs and their lows.  They are cheered and sometimes jeered.  They win some, lose some.  They enjoy themselves at time and are sometimes sad.  There is praise and blame.  That’s the way of the world, the ata lo dahama, or the eight vicissitudal nodes, so to say.  They are all born, they all decay and they all perish, sooner or later. 

They are remembered for a while and duly forgotten. Even if history mentions their name, it hardly describes in minute detail nor captures fully the lives chronicled.  Not even biographies or autobiographies are devoid of slant, omission and frill.  Even memory, in the fullness of youth, recounts only in part.  So what is legacy then, one may ask. 
Well, the incomplete and frail human being, burdened with memory and ego, like to think well of themselves.  The weaker like others to like them, remember them with fondness and appreciation.  I am thinking of a particular individual, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
I don’t know him personally, and am hardly competent to pass judgment on how far he has to go in his sansaric sojourn or, if you prefer, what awaits him in a theistic afterlife, hell, heaven or Purgatory.  I don’t know if he wants to be remembered and if he does how he would want to be marked by history or at least by contemporary Sri Lankan society or the membership and supporters of the political outfit he leads, the United National Party.  I am neither member nor supporter
Years ago, I offered in jest to lead the United National Party.  Considering the track record of that party since, I am convinced that would not have done worse.  I doubt anyone else would have done worse either.  To be fair to Wickremesinghe, I doubt if anyone could have done better either.  Considering all other factors, it is hard to imagine the UNP being anywhere other than in the opposition from 2004 onwards.   True, there was a slight chance in the Presidential Election of 2005 and perhaps a candidate more appealing to the Sinhala and nationalist electorate may have pipped Mahinda Rajapaksa at the post, but that’s all conjecture. 
Politics is not about winning elections alone.  It is about retaining and thereafter expanding support base.  Political leadership is about holding party together in tough times more than during easy days, taking the inevitable losses, not panicking when battered by storms beyond one’s strength and most importantly grooming a successor or being sufficiently aware of one’s mortality to do the needful so that one fine or sad day when leaving cannot be avoided there are shoes for someone to walk in and that the particular someone’s feet have grown in a way that they fit just right. 
Ranil Wickremesinghe was not born to lead.  Even if he was, he became leader of the UNP by default and perhaps (in retrospect) unfortunately before his time.  It was known that his uncle, J.R. Jayewardene was grooming him to take over the party reins at some point.   The uncle couldn’t have known that the more senior contenders, especially Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake would be assassinated not too long after he died.  Perhaps Ranil might have become leader at a point when maturity coincided with seniority had D.B. Wijetunga not thrown in the towel when he did.  We don’t know. 
What we know is that he wasn’t ready.  He wasn’t secure.  He was left hanging the baby of 17 years of high-handed (mis) rule and so on.  He had to pay for others’ sins and of course ones he had backed or at least supported in silence or by refusing to object.  He had to deal with a formidable and for a time charismatic opponent in Chandrika Kumaratunga and a far more astute strategist after her in Mahinda Rajapaksa.  He had to hold the party together and to fend off attacks from within.  He might have done his best, he might have not, we cannot tell. 
It seems quite apparent that Ranil Wickremesinghe will never become President of this country.  It seems clear that the UNP will not win a major election under his watch.  Does this mean he has to pack his bags and leave?  I think not. 
Today, he’s the longest serving Member of Parliament, not having lost his seat since 1977.  That’s experience, whatever his track record in policy-making or policy-objecting has been.  No party leader in his or her right senses would want him completely out of the scene.  He was very young in 1977. There are a few who are older to him in the party, but all things considered he is undoubtedly the senior citizen of the UNP.  He has black marks against his name, but then again who does not?  
There are two options for Ranil Wickremesinghe. He could stand firm, using a parochial and anti-democratic party constitution he has amended to his personal benefit and engender periodic distractions such as leadership crises, entrench mass demoralization and produce further erosion of vote base.  He will leave, sooner or later, and would be remembered as the most ineffective Leader of the Opposition this country has known. 
He can also leave. He would not be leaving the party, but the position.  He would not be leaving at the height of glory, but not at the dull-coloured lowest either, if he makes the correct departure speech.  Ranil Wickremesinghe, if he is the democrat he claims to be, can serve the expansion of democratic space in this country that is burdened with the made-to-make-dictators constitution authored by his uncle by uniting the party, boosting the image of the opposition and indeed making it possible for the opposition to be the best it can be.  Just by stepping aside.  He will be cheered by one and all in the United National Party.  And by those outside it as well, who want a decent opposition, not because they have faith in the UNP but out of conviction that a strong opposition will bring out the best in the Government. 
I am waiting to cheer Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe.  He doesn’t have to indulge me of course.  He could however do it for himself if not for the party.  

[Courtesy Daily News, August 9, 2011]


Lalindra Jayewardene said...

In difference to your view Malinda, I don't believe JR in his dream of dreams ever had an inclination that Ranil will ever lead the UNP. If you say he was grooming Ranil, that cannot be.
Ranil was bought into politics by JR because of the respect he had for Esmond, his confidante for a long time and Esmonds wife, whom he considered as the strength behind Esmond.
In fact Premadasa bought Ranil to the forefront more than JR, because he never considered Ranil a threat to his power or the presidency.
Leadership just landed on Ranil's lap by accident, when all the preceding leaders of the UNP fell to either a bullet or a bomb.
Ranil is not a born strategist or a shrewd politician. He's just a hard headed individual, who can only aspire, but not work it through.His greatest folly was when he decided on co-habitation with Chandrika and refused to deal with Sarath Nanda De Silva by impeaching him in parliament for the many allegations he had against him. If not for those mistakes, he would have been in power even today.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Yes, i think the correct term should have been 'It was widely believed...' and not 'It was well known'. Myabe you are right about JR paying a debt to Esmond. On the other hand, 'keeping things in the family' seems to be part and parcel of Sri Lankan politics. In both the main parties. Ranil was the family-man, perhaps by default. Had he not been a relative, I doubt he would have got a cabinet portfolio in 1977.

Patta Pal said...

While I am not too concerned about the history of why he is in this position, by default or design, he has shown his weakness not as a man of intellect, integrity or principle, but as one who is patently out of touch with political reality in Sri Lanka.

I agree with you a fault has been not to groom one or more to the task of leadership which leaves the party woefully short of men of his caliber who also have the leadership and genuine charisma and electability who can compare favorably with the duplicitous leadership in power.

Sadly Sri Lanka politics does not permit unknown people with the above attributes to come right to the top, without a tortuous and lengthy journey.

I therefore fear that therefore we will not have a strong opposition to keep the government in check and prevent the gross abuse of power.

I am still hopeful that IN TIME our lost liberties will be regained, and the country be led by a leader, we will be proud of once this administration falls on its own heap of arrogance.

I only hope I will be alive to taste this sweetness!

muzammil said...

It is true that Ranil was not born
to lead and it must also be note worthy that he utterly failed to feel the pulse of the strong vote
base and changing trends of modern
thought patterns of younger generation.He took all generations
as of prior to his entry into politics.Regardless of where he
stands with his 35yr experience in
politics,UNP has visibly eroded under him and desperately needs some clearly visible changes that
gives some confidence to the voters
This may not lead to immediate win
in an election but can help gain
new hopes.Ranil's refusal to accept
this reality can not be accepted
although I want to respect him as a
great personality.

Anonymous said...

Ranil has done something for Sri Lanka. But not for the party. In that sense he is a great man. But today we need a strong opposition party than a great man. So he should leave.

Nalliah said...

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s manifesto is always paving the way for mortgaging Sri Lanka to international community, World Bank, IMF and the multinational corporations.
Since its existence it was UNP now being led by Ranil Wickremesinghe — which was responsible for all the antiTamil and antiMuslim agendas in Sri Lanka. It was UNP that was responsible for making more than a million Tamils speaking Sri Lankans of the Indian origin who toiled to build the economy of Sri Lanka voteless and stateless.
Almost all the antiTamil programmes were initiated and implemented by the UNP.
It was the UNP leaders who were in Jaffna directly organized and supervised the torching and burning of the Jaffna Library which was one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the last century. Ranil Wickremesinghe was a part of this UNP government.
Ranil Wickremesinhe was a cabinet minister when the 1983 antiTamil pogrom was initiated by the UNP government led his uncle President J.R.Jeyawardene. Under principles of parliamentary democracy guided by collective responsibility Ranil Wickremesinghe too is guilty of the crimes committed against the Tamils in 1983. It was when Ranil Wickremesinghe was a Cabinet Minister; the UNP Government initiated war as a solution to the ethnic conflict. Ranil Wickremesinghe was a member of inner UNP Cabinet that organized and supervised military operations against the Tamils.
Ranil Wickremesinghe ordered and witnessed the execution of hundreds of innocent young men from Kelaniya area in his torture chamber in Batalanda in 1989 which was confirmed by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry which comprised retired judges. The courts rejected charges based on technical issues, not factual issues. Since Ranil Wickremesinghe committed these horrendous crimes in Batalanda, Ranil Wickremesinghe had to abandon not only his electorate of Biyagama, but also the Gampaha District. Since these murders Ranil Wickremesinghe is an MP without an electorate – thanks to his uncle J. R. Jayawardene’s constitution. After the 1989 Batalanda mass murder, Ranil Wickremesinghe recruited a convicted killer and multiple criminal Gonawala Sunil as his secretary. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s secretary Gonawala Sunil went around killing and intimidating people Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted to be silenced. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s corruption in “LH Plantations” has been highlighted with excruciating details by his closest ally Mangala Samaraweera. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s very close family members own several newspapers, broadcasting and telecasting stations which promote Ranil Wickremesinghe and help to prolong his political survival.

-Nalliah Thayabharan