Mediocrity seems to be the hall mark of our times:
Take the political stage, for instance. Without being nostalgic or
sentimental it can be asserted that both sides of the divide were
dominated by giants. Towering political figures from the Left and the
Right occupied the centre stage. Their political pyrotechnics were
dazzling, even mesmerising.
What happened to their biological and political progeny? The
outstanding examples are Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga.
They are children of the founding fathers of the two great political
traditions - the UNP and the SLFP.
What has happened to them? Why have they gone to water? They don't
even look like counterfeit compared to their dynamic and powerful
ancestors who paved the path for future generations.
Whether anyone agrees or not with the impact of their politics, they
generated monumental movements and forces and left behind lasting
But what are the achievements of their children? Consider Chandrika
Kumaratunga for instance. Despite all her pretensions to be an
intellectual and affectations of being a product of Sorbonne what is the
quality and caliber of Chandrika Kumaratunga? In depth of knowledge, in
wit, in eloquence, in erudition can she even touch the toe of her
Has she made one single, outstanding contribution to her credit?
Changing the hair style doesn't make your brain function any better. She
is better known for her superficialities than for any substance.
Or consider the case of Ranil Wickremesinghe. He is the heir to the
legacies of his UNP ancestors - all of whom played a decisive role in
the birth and growth of the nation in the post-colonial era.
The pioneering founders of the UNP defined and laid the solid base
that shaped the nation's history and destiny. D. S. Senanayake, the
Father of the Nation, a man of the soil who never forgot his roots,
overshadowed the more sophisticated and stellar intellects from the Left
because he was never paralyzed by the Western ideological fashions of
His greatness was in eschewing doctrinaire formulas imported from the
West and sticking strictly to the home grown politics of pragmatism.
Despite their differences the Senanayake and the Bandaranaike traditions
rejected the Western models, theories and paradigms (except those that
suited the genius of the people) and pursued innovative native policies
and programs to nurture the cultural, political and religious roots of
In a sense they complemented each other and it could be argued that
Bandaranaike completed the cultural revolution that was left untouched
by the political revolution initiated by the Senanayakes when they
ushered independence without shedding a drop of blood.
Though the Senanayakes and the Bandaranaikes absorbed and transferred
the spirit and the essence of the best of the West they were not slavish
devotees who fell on their knees to worship alien gods. They triumphed
because they were in tune with the aspirations of the people. They were
totally indifferent to the overwhelming theoretical doctrines of Marxism
which was then viewed as the greatest liberating force that unlocked the
mysteries of history to save mankind.
Because of his scant regard for the imported theoretical fluff that
was floating around "DS" was better known, in his day, as "Kallay John"
Prof. K. M. de Silva, has detailed in his books, how "DS" outwitted
the colonial masters at the negotiations for independence and got the
best deal for the nation. His son Dudley Senanayake carried on the
golden tradition of his father and the nation demonstrated its sincere
gratitude to the Senanayakes when the queues that lined up to pay
tribute to Dudley went winding down the highways and byways of city in
an endless flow of humanity.
Those who witnessed it have never forgotten it. Ranil Wickremesinghe
comes directly from this tradition. It is, therefore, legitimate to ask
how he has led the party he inherited from his grand and noble
ancestors? Where has he taken the UNP? What is the legacy he hopes to
leave behind? How many people will line up to pay tribute to his
achievements when he departs?
The following list of his outstanding actions is drawn up to be
compared with that of his ancestors:
. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Leader of the Opposition of Sri Lanka,
has all the time in the world to make preparations to fly all the way to
Delhi to attend the National Day celebrations of India . But he doesn't
have time to attend the February 4th National Day celebrations held
almost next door to his house in Cambridge Terrace - the National Day
chosen by his ancestors for celebrating the Independence they won from
the colonial masters.
. Wickremesinghe leaps into action (in one of his rare moments) to
fly all the way to meet Charles Gnanakone, the self-confessed Tamil
Tiger arms smuggler, to have breakfast with him at the Conrad
International Hotel, Singapore on June 18, 2000 - on the eve of the
parliamentary elections - but he can't spare some time to relate to his
MPs who are deserting him in droves.
At the height of the last Colombo Municipal Council elections, when
his party was in total disarray, exposing its organisational inability
to even draw up a list of candidates according to the required norms, he
takes wings to Timbuktu - or God knows where - to deliver lectures on
democracy which he is yet to practice in his own backyard. Colombo is
generally regarded as the stronghold of the UNP and this leaderless
party lost its grip on the council when he deserted his post.
. As the Asian head of the International Democratic Union (IDU) he is
supposed to pave the way for greater democracies in the world but he
throws out journalists like Paul Harris of the Daily Telegraph and
Jane's Weekly simply because the latter was critical of the greatest
sell out of the national real estate to the Tamil Tiger terrorists. The
Senanayakes fought tooth and nail against such betrayals of national
interests. Does Wickremesinghe care?
. Wickremesinghe insults the Maha Sangha and then sits cross-legged
with the dress designer leading the two-man band of SLFP (M for moda -
translation idiotic) Wing of the SLFP in front of the Sangha whom he
hopes to exploit for his political gain. The Senanayakes always stood up
for the sangha who were under attack by the Marxists.
. Wickremesinghe removes all the Buddha statues from the UNP
headquarters (they say that he set the example for the Talibans in
Afghanistan) and then gets one of his "catchers" to announce that he
hails from a leading Buddhist family and that the leader of the UNP has
"great respect for the Maha Sangha who deserves credit for safeguarding
the Buddha Sasana for the 2500 years". Senanayakes never had to make
such claims. The people knew instinctively where they stood in relation
to the sangha.
. HSBC, Barclay's and J. B. Morgan Banks had expressed their
confidence in the Mahinda Rajapakse government and agreed to provide US
$ 400 million for development projects but another one of
Wickremesinghe's "catchers", Lakshman Ka-kiriella, has threatened not to
pay the loans if and when they come into power - and this political
podian claims to be a lawyer like his leader!
Apart from the obligations under the law of contracts he is signaling
that the UNP in power is a danger to all investors (foreign and local)
because they will scrap all commercial contracts if it is not favourable
to their political agenda.
. Wickremesinghe has shown a distinct aversion to co-exist
democratically with the elected governments of the day (be it Chandrika
Kumaratunga or Mahinda Rajapakse) but he is ever ready to go to bed with
the unelected fascist tyrant of who runs a Batalanda-type of regime in
He even signs secret agreements with him (he called it the Ceasefire
Agreement (CFA)) and hands over entire provinces to him but he can't
sacrifice his self-defeating ego to serve the national interest. Would
the Senanayakes have ever signed the CFA?
. When the Security Forces cleared the east more comprehensively and
decisively than during the first operations led by Maj. Gen. Lucky
Algama he played into the hands of the Tamil Tigers with his petty
politics of belittling the heroic victories of the Sri Lankan forces,
who have proved that they have the capacity, the power and the will to
tackle the deadliest terrorist group in the world on their own.
Despite this Wickremesinghe is hoping to be the future Commander-in
Chief of the nation? Can the nation hand over the security and its
future to a man who ridicules the forces that protect him and the
So is he Ranil Wickremesinghe or "Thamil" Wickremesinghe? Even the
UNPers say that to have a Thamil Wickremesinghe in addition to
Thamilselvam is going to be an unmitigated disaster. (Paul Harris called
the latter "a smiling rotter".) Considering their current plight, it
could be safely assumed that the Tamils would consider it an insult to
have him as "Thamil" Wickremesinghe because one of them is more than
enough to prolong their misery.
Besides, they will never forget how Wickremesinghe burned the
constitutional proposals that were jointly put forward by Chandrika
Kumaratunga and Neelan Tiruchelvam - a factor that contributed to the
subsequent bloodletting. .
The plain fact is that throughout his political career he has proved
only one thing: he is no friend of any man. Those who trust him get
burned in the end. This is inevitable because he is not even friend to
himself. He has at all times exhibited a tremendous capacity to
He has suddenly got energized by a few shots he got in his back
recently from the dress designer who has yet to decide whether he should
clothe his new mate as a man, woman or hermaphrodite. Wickremesinghe is
indefinable not because there is any mystery surrounding the man but
simply because he is so wishy-washy.
Ask any sensible UNPer they will tell you that there is more
character in a pol pitta (palm frond) than in all his bones put
together. Any piece of cardboard can cut a better figure than
The all important question is: why has Wickremesinghe and his party
fallen so low? Why is he struggling to just survive - let alone win -
when all the resources of the richest party are behind him? Why has he
missed opportunity after opportunity? Is it the fault of his advisors?
Or is something inherently wrong with the man? Has he a future any time
in the foreseeable distance?
His three major strategies so far have been to (1) depend on
Velupillai Prabhakaran (2) depend on the "safety net" of the
neither-here-nor-there international community and (3) to keep himself
and his few stragglers behind him happy by promising to take over
government next month which never comes.
There is no need to elaborate on these three strategies. Having
failed he is now clutching at straws. He is no doubt buoyed by the
crowds. But even if the crowds mean anything he will have to wait till
2010 for the crowds to give their approval to him.
Where does all this leave Wickremesinghe? Actually, at the place
where began: i.e. nowhere! For him to go forward he has to offer a
viable alternative. Above all, he has to score major victories on the
peace front which also happens to be the war front. After Thoppigala,
which he belittled, he is locked in.
Prabhakaran will insist on getting back the east. But can
Wickremesinghe give it back to him? If he goes down this track the
chances are that the Security Forces will join hands with the southern
forces in a revolt that will throw Wickremesinghe out on the streets.
Does he have a plan to bring down the cost of living when it is
determined by the fluctuations of global markets? Can he negotiate peace
except on the terms dictated to him by Prabhakaran? Two editors - Manik
de Silva of the Sunday Island and Victor Ivan of the Ravaya - have
expressed the view that he is a greater threat to free media than anyone
His political future depends on Mangala who has yet to bring in the
numbers. It is easy to load buses traveling from one electorate to
another. But there are no buses inside the parliament to transport MPs
from one side to another.
They have to do it with their own two feet - and the traffic has not
flown in the direction of Wickremesinghe.
Chandrika too has flown in to give a helping hand to the Mangy-Wicky
duo. It is obvious that she has come in to play politics. All three of
them have only one target: Mahinda Rajapakse government. She has been
brought in to do what Charles Gnanakone, the Tamil Tiger gun-runner, is
attempting to from his end. But political observers do not rate her
chances very high.
After all she holds a monumental record for failure: failed the A
Level, failed at Sorbonne, failed as President, failed even to get to
the airport in time.
In the meantime, Wickremesinghe is desperate. He is hitting in all
directions. His new alliance has the potential to make more problems for
him than he thinks. Chandrika Kumaratunga did no return home to make tea
and scones for Wickremesinghe. Her ambition is to be the next prime
Minister. So does Wickremesinghe. Whom will Mangy support in a contest
between the two?
In any case, there is no opening for either of them till 2010. Can
both wait till then? Will Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mangy get together
and outwit Wickremesinghe? She has outwitted him before. Now that
Wickremesinghe has joined the Moda Wing of the SLFP he has no way out of
Though it is a symbiotic relationship Mangy has had the upper hand so
far forcing Wickremesinghe to compromise. And for Wickremesinghe to
survive in this present relationship he will have to make more
More compromises means less chances for the UNPers who are hoping to
get their share. So in which direction is Wickremesinghe dragging the
UNP? In addition to the loss of MPs he is ready to make compromises that
will change the UNP forever. The party has lost the symbol. It has lost
the identity. It has lost its sense of direction. When is the party
going to tell Wickremesinghe to get lost?