Sajith — man of the future
Posted on June 19th, 2010

H. L. D. Mahindapala

 The love-hate relationship of UNP with its leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has reached a critical stage with the rise of Sajith Premadasa challenging his leadership head-on. Except  for the brief honeymoon in the early stages his grip on the party has been very shaky. The rise of Sajith Premadasa has made it shakier. Wickremesinghe is now at the end of his tether. He has run out of all his political stunts. He has nowhere to go now except to the backbenches.

 If he does not step down, or gets thrown out, the UNP will run into a permanent state of instability with Sajith taking a different path to revive the party. In the past Wickremesinghe’s tactic was to play one against the other and manipulate the internal politics to his advantage. His other tactic too was counter-productive:  the more he lost in the electorate the more he tightened his grip on the party. And the more he strengthened his grip on the party the more he lost in the electorate. This makes his strength his weakness and also that of the party.

 Any other leader with an unprecedented string of losses like that of Wickremesinghe would sit up and reconsider either his position as a leader or, if he wants to remain as leader, reconsider the party policies followed without any gains either to himself or his party. So which of the two has dragged the party down to it lowest depths? Is it the leader? Or is it the policies of the party?

 The bare fact is that the two cannot be separated. One is the twin of the other and both are responsible for dragging each other down as born losers. Besides, Wickremesinghe has manipulated the party to retain his position as leader and, ipso facto, it follows that he is calling the shots within the party and he alone is answerable for the serial failures of the major policy decisions that began under his leadership. No other UNP leader has faced such calamity after calamity. The last time when the UNP fell flat on its face was in 1956 when the pro-West Sir John Kotelawela brought down the UNP to a mere eight seats in Parliament. But he resigned gracefully and the UNP brought in the more nationalistic Dudley Senanayake, bypassing the more pro-Western J. R. Jayewardene, also known as “Yankee Dickie”.

 So what makes Wickremesinghe a monumental failure as opposed to the colossal successes of the giants that led the party before? What makes Wickremesinghe different from the others? The one decipherable factor is in his blind decision to doggedly shift the party away from its traditional roots. Even those who are not familiar with political science will agree that no leader dependent for power on the popular political will of the people can win if he/she goes against the grassroots. Wickremesinghe is noted for steering the UNP into the wilderness with his dogmatic commitment to anti-grassroot politics.

 This disastrous trend began markedly only after he assumed the leadership.  The last leader to defend the nation in line with the fundamentals laid down by the Founding Fathers of the party was D. B. Wijetunge. Potential leaders like Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali who were the committed successors to the traditional grassroots were eliminated by the Tamil Tigers. This left the UNP leaderless. Sirisena Cooray, who had the leadership within his grasp, refused to take on the responsibilities of a leader and handed it over to Wickremesinghe who can be best described as a Leader of Useless Committees ( he has appointed more committees than he can count or remember) than a leader in tune with the aspirations of the people.  His rise was the downfall of the UNP. After him came the deluge.

 After that the UNP lost it bearings and went into an unmanageable spin because it took an anti-national line, particularly at a time when the nation was riding on a wave of nationalism. It was suicidal. Wickremesinghe was trying to swim upstream when the overwhelming currents were flowing downstream. In the process he sank to the bottom exhausted by his own vain efforts to beat the odds.

 His biggest failure as a leader is his inability to read the pulse of the people. Mahinda Rajapakse succeeded because he read the pulse, the hearts and the minds of the people unerringly. He captured the mood of the nation that was sweeping the nation. Wickremesinghe, on the other hand, went the other way about, which was totally alien not only to the prevailing mood of the nation but also to the political culture on which the nation was moulded down the ages.

 For instance, which UNP leader from D. S. Senanayake downwards would ever dream of inviting the Portuguese prime minister to celebrate the 500th anniversary of their colonial occupation of Sri Lanka “”…” the event of 1505 that opened the way for successive Western colonialists to plunder, rape, destroy, kill and deny the people of Sri Lanka their language, their culture, their religion, their heritage and their basic human rights?

 At the end of the day what has Wickremesinghe got to show as a leader whether in office (as prime minister for a brief period)  or out of office (for the longest time of his career)? What are his landmark achievements other than splitting the party or driving some of its leading members to swell the ranks of Mahinda Rajapakse’s government? The only other landmark is getting his close henchman Gonawila Sunil “”…” a criminal convicted for raping Dr. A. T. S. Paul’s teenage daughter — out of jail before he had served his time and then honoring him with a JPship to boot. Gonawila Sunil’s wild ways was becoming a problem for Wickremesinghe later and he was killed. Some say he was killed by the JVP but those in the know question the mysterious circumstances that led to his killing.

 As for his record in terms of serving the party and the nation the score remains as in the beginning: run nil. His biggest claim to fame was his Ceasefire Agreement. Where did it take him? Or his party? Or the nation? A reading of My Belly is White, an accurate record of Wickremesinghe’s innumerable concessions made in the name of peace, written by no less a person than his Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, reveals how he was bamboozled and taken for a ride by Velupillai Prabhakaran every inch of the way. In the light of the historic successes of Mahinda Rajapakse his reputation lies smashed like a banana run over by a ten ton truck. He is still dazed and whatever that is left of him is uncertain as to whether he is in Pamankade or Alimankade.

 With each passing day it is becoming abundantly clear that every major decision he took as leader of the UNP was not only anti-national but also counter-productive. Take, for instance, his decision to burn in Parliament the Chandrika-Neelan draft proposals for devolution of power. One would expect that his next step would be to oppose any major steps leading to greater devolution of power. Instead he signs the Ceasefire Agreement with Prabhakaran granting more than what was there in the Chandrika-Neelan draft which he burnt.

 Consider also his election gimmick in which he promised to build the biggest dagoba in the world without knowing that the biggest dagoba is in Sri Lanka. Take also his latest decision to kick off his election campaign from Jaffna. There is a limit to idiocy but this decision goes beyond idiocy into sheer lunacy. Even the Tamils saw it as a gimmick and they refused to by it. President Mahinda Rajapakse who began his campaign in the south and with a policy of being anti-Prabhakaran scored more than Wickremesinghe who is for “asymmetrical” (meaning more) devolution of power. Now Wickremesinghe is left with neither the south nor the north trusting him as their leader.

 All political leaders are trapped in the middle of varying opposing dialectics and their task is to find a fine balance between the extremes. Wickremesinghe abandoned the balance and blinded by his political miscalculations and machination he and his chuck golays like the UNP’s Ape Man, Ravi Karunanayake, jumped with both feet into the so-called invincible front of Prabhakaran, believing that the Sri Lankan forces can never reach Alimankade. The UNPers were also hoping to gain political mileage by the defeat of the Sri Lankan forces. It was this unrealistic extremism that made him ridicule the advance of the forces into the strongholds of Prabhakaran. When reality caught up with Wickremesinghe he was way behind with the voters laughing at him.

 The final humiliation for the UNPers and to Wickremesinghe in person came when he handed over the leadership of the last presidential election to Gen (retd) Sarath Fonseka. With that Wickremesinghe hit rock bottom. It was confession that he was not fit to be the leader of the nation, let alone his party. The UNP, in the end, was saved by President Mahinda Rajapakse’s victory. If by any chance Fonseka won the election it would have been the JVPers who would have been dictating terms, with Wickremesinghe and the UNPers running after Fonseka with a begging bowl.

 After all these political failures the only thing going for him was his putative image of a “Mr. Clean”. But in the last few months that too got a severe beating. It was, in fact, shattered irreparably. First came the sex scandal exposed by the media. Headlines screamed that the UNP was run by a bunch of homosexuals, most of whom came from Royal College. This was well known though it was not revealed publicly. The newspaper headlines merely confirmed what was commonly known not only at Cambridge Place but even in the streets. In fact, I revealed long time ago in one of my columns that Wickremesinghe’s favourite entertainment was watching “Kollu”””‚the all-male cast in the show by that name.

 But the more shocking revelations came from the The Sunday Leader. It documented that Wickremesinghe had not accounted for millions given to the party and while the average UNP candidate was struggling to get some financing for electioneering from Sri Kotha, the party headquarters, he was spending lavishly in five star hotels down south.   

 Wickremesinghe has survived attacks so far because the UNPers never stood their ground and challenged his leadership head-on. Instead of taking him on the previous dissenters left him and crossed over to the government ranks. But, after the last presidential election, there is a determined move within the ranks of the UNP to change the old order. There is a formidable group rising within the rank and file ready to confront him as never before and fight on his own grounds, instead of running away, leaving him as the unchallenged leader. This is, indeed, a direct assault on the UNP Bastille.

 The rebels are demanding internal reforms which would bring down the ancien regime. But the decadent and dying regime of Wickremesinghe is still tinkering with the frayed frills at the fringe without changing the rotten core at the centre. It won’t work. A regime change at the centre is a must for the UNP regain its lost prestige and power. Wickremesinghe can never provide that. He has lost credibility in every respect. However, he is hoping that events will change automatically for him to ride into power without him working for it. In his latest interview he said that credibility is something that can be lost and regained. This is typical of Wickremesinghe. He is taking the laid back attitude of hoping for the day when the tide will change against the Rajapakse government and the people will have no alternative but to turn to the UNP led by him. He is also hoping that history of “JRJ” who waited for a long time to get his political rewards will repeat in his case too.

 The opposition that is raising its head within the UNP this time is different from the previous dissenters. Led by Sajith Premadasa the reformists are demanding democratization of the party, particularly in restructuring the authoritarian powers held by Wickremesinghe. The battle lines are drawn and Sajith has left no doubts that he is determined to challenging the incumbent. This time round Wickremesinghe will have to fight tooth and nail to survive. As usual he has cranked up the rumour mills to throw mud at young Sajith to undermine his public image.

 In the current political climate only a Mahinda Rajapakse can defeat Mahinda Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe is no match to him. So is Sajith the Mahinda Rajapakse of the UNP? Well, if Sajith can win handsomely in the heartland of the Rajapakse domain in Hambantota, at a time when the Mahinda Chintanaya and Rajapakse heroism was at its height, sweeping the nation from coast to coast, then it is only a matter of time for him to extend that victory down south right across the nation. Sajith’s victory in Hambantota is incontrovertible evidence that he is the Mahinda Rajapakse of the UNP. Wickremesinghe would never have won in Hambantota. He can survive only in the pro-UNP electorate of Colombo. Outside Colombo he is a dead duck. 

 Sajith is the UNPer who has credibility, the capacity and the clean image to capture the next wave of politics. The future of Sarath Fonseka, allied to the JVP, has come and gone. Like  Wickremesinghe his future is in the past.. He has had his day and like Wickremesinghe he will go down the grease poll with the JVP.

 Sri  Lanka will be shaped by the next generation of leaders like Sajith Premadasa, Namal Rajapakse and Ruwan Wijewardene. Though Ravi Karunanayake is flexing his muscles, he has been allied too much with his pro-West, anti-national politics of Wickremesinghe. He can never live down his deriding of the Sri Lankan forces. His jibe about “Pamankada “”…” Alimankade” has branded him as an agent of anti-national forces forever. He has been Wickremesinghe’s  side-kick representing Sri Lanka at the International Democratic Union “”…” a band of anti-Sri Lankan neo-colonialists working against the best interests of the nation, aided and abetted by Wickremesinghe and Karunanayke.

 Of those in the race Sajith has a comfortable lead. He is articulate, both in English and Sinhalese, precise in his analysis of politics, a keen intellect with the right mixture of Occidental and Oriental philosophies, with a command of the details and with organizing skills of mobilizing grass root forces and an easy-going interpersonal relations that would endear him to individuals at all levels. Like his father he is not a Colombian engaged in armchair politics. He believes in working at the ground level where the people are battling.

 His latest media interviews give an insight into his thinking. He made it clear that he will not oppose the Mahinda Rajapakse government for the sake of opposing. He was very cynical of the UNPs approach to the war and the national issues. He is pragmatic. In short, he is a sophisticated version of his father. He has the potential to even outshine his father. The UNPers who are in search of a promising future can succeed only if they break away from the failed past and throw their lot in with the new leadership that is heading for future.


2 Responses to “Sajith — man of the future”

  1. Leelawardena Says:

    To me RanilW is Don Juan and ChandrikaK is Dona Katharina. There are no two words about it. Having said that, I must say, RanilW has saved this country at one crucial stage.

    That is; if RanilW had not burned that Chandrika-Neelan draft proposals, JRJ constitution would have been ended that day. And, ChandrikaK would continue to be the leader of SLFP for life. She and RanilW would have been the Prime Minister of this country taking turns. Either way, JVP would have bought mayhem to the south once again. LTTE would have grabbed Eelam.

    Mahinda Rajapakse would never have been the President. He would never have a chance to lead th SLFP. Needless to say, neither LTTE nor Piripaharan would ever have been wiped out.

  2. jana Says:

    The UNP is at deaths door. Changing the leader cannot resuscitate it. Sri Lanka needs a new honest movement of the led by the intelligensia. UNP must be allowed to die.

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