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DateLine Sunday, 19 August 2007

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Whither UNP?

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 legacies.

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 father?

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 the day.

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 the nation.

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" (Jungle 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 the Vanni.

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 nation?

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 self-destruct.

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 Wickremesinghe.

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 else.

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 it.

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 uncomfortable compromises.

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?

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