and the country's most dangerous moment
Ranil Wickremesinghe's style could not be more different from that
of the man who has succeeded him at Temple Trees. Last week this
man was in his political element backslapping journalist guests,
and excelling in small talk. He wore beige colour pants, and his
general approach seemed to be one that was decidedly understated.
He tolerated inebriated scribes -- and at some points he looked
more guest than host as he moseyed from table to table, grin getting
wider each time he did that.
in contrast is the man who almost defines 'aloof.' These two men
may be pitted against each other in a Presidential race a few years
from now, and with the nation passing its most dangerous moment
since the ceasefire was declared more than two and a half years
ago, Sri Lankans are feeling anxious about their future even as
these two men plot their own tentative personal political moves…
is definite discomfiture in the UNP about Ranil Wickremesinghe's
leadership. Many UNPers even if they cannot claim it openly are
saying under their breath that it's time Ranil Wickremesinghe released
the UNP from his long held grip on it. When the UNP appointed a
new Chairman who cannot exactly be described as young energetic
and dynamic an Editorial in a newspaper that regularly cheers for
the party went ballistic against the leadership's apparent inability
to size up the situation and the need of the hour (…which
to hear this paper say it, is to appoint movers and shakers as opposed
to geriatrics to the party's top slots.)
Ranil Wickremesinghe has become a political quicksilver quantity.
Sometimes, he is seen as the old Mahogany chest-of-drawers, the
only solid guy in the UNP who has experience, tenacity and some
amount of national stature. But at other times, there is an instant
thaw and all these visions of substance collapse in a heap -- and
Wickremesinghe is seen as the party's main liability, unable to
win elections, unable to innovate and unable to check-mate the opponent.
Party men (and why should we name names here) have got their knives
out for Wickremesinghe, and they seem to say it is with some justification.
say it in all manner of ways and here are some: "This is the
only country in which a leader is allowed to lead his party to so
many defeats and continue. Now look at America. Al Gore lost in
his bid for the Presidency, and after that the democratic party
will not hear of him.'' Or they say: "It is time Wickremesinghe
went -- but the problem is also that there is nobody in sight in
the UNP who seems to be able to succeed him. But then, he must go
and let the chips fall where they may, and then we do not know what
the UNP might come up with. After all, who would have thought of
Ranil in the heyday of Premadasa, Dissanayake and Athulathmudali???"
Ranil Wickremesinghe plays the nonchalant overdog. He pretends not
to hear any unkind words and he goes from occasion to occasion in
his overworked tie and suit. He still welcomes dignitaries, and
then there are the shades of the old glory when he shook so many
international hands, that people thought the United Nations has
come to be headquartered in Colombo.
is where Ranil Wickremesinghe's story turns a page. He is at the
moment seen as the incorrigible loser, but Ranil Wickremesinghe's
political legacy, whether it was adventurous or merely accidental,
cannot be underestimated.
have for the most part forgotten that when Ranil Wickremesinghe
folded up the barricades in Colombo and announced that he welcomes
the LTTE in the city, he was seen as a madman. The previous government
had waged a "war for peace'' and there was a fierce duel with
the Tigers putting Colombo to the torch even as the army was taking-out
one top LTTE General after another with the help of the LRRP.
then in his own way Wickremesinghe upended that particular table.
Then there was necessarily a new arrangement of forces, and for
a while the refrain was "Ali Koti Givisuma'' and Norwegian
subterfuge. But peace came to stay for two and a half years, and
of course at times it was a hideous farce of a peace with the LTTE
taking the lives of 50 army informants, and eliminating Tamil rivals
habitually, as they still do.
yet, the changes kept steadily contrasting with this downside. In
the people's view there was peace for all intents and purposes,
and the psychological impact of it created a peace that kept critics
dumbfounded almost every time.
now seems undeniable especially after the Kumaratunga government
that succeeded has sworn allegiance to the same set of policy. Kumaratunga
recalled the Norwegians, and she has now announced she will even
talk of the ISGA, the Tiger Interim Administration proposals which
when in opposition she dismissed with contempt as an affront to
the Sri Lankan nation.
argument being made here is not so much about the detail of what's
the solution -- the ISGA, or reverting to the status quo ante per
Karuna. These are in many ways the minutiae for the analysts who
prefer to do the small print with a long handle…..
point here on the contrary is that whether anybody likes it or not,
the Wickremesinghe legacy is substantial. He laid down change, even
if he did it possibly in a very craven way - - and perhaps even
to manage his own personal political fortunes. But that created
the space for the economic rejuvenation of Jaffna and the Wanni,
and he seemed to have created the space even for Kumaratunga to
abandon her 'war for peace.' The bottom line is that it has been
made impossible for any side to resume hostilities without considering
a thousand factors which are all part of the reality since the Wickremesinghe
decision to fold up the barricades.
sides feel incumbent upon themselves now to consider the international
factor before declaring war, and Prabhakran cannot easily revert
back to being the loose canon that he was without considering the
future of his wife's Agriculture Degree and his sons Karate lessons,
even though Dayan Jayatilleke may not agree with me on this matter.
No, that's being unnecessarily facetious for the sake of some necessary
lightening-up of the prose….
the serious fact is that Ranil Wickremesinghe's legacy is more than
two years of peace and hope, which even his worst critics cannot
deny, has caused an absolute sea-change in the way in which the
Sri Lankan conflict has come to be perceived. As for Ranil himself,
this is his strongest suit. He may even call himself a Churchill,
who won the war and lost the election. Of course any comparison
with Churchill will invite laughter in the pub, because Ranil Wickremesinghe
is to Churchill what a gnat is to a Dinosaur. But it is Ranil Wickemesinghe's
almost accidental legacy that keeps him propelled within the UNP
despite his loser-luck, and which also keeps the country believing
in some change of heart or some last minute rear-guard to salvage
the peace, in this most dangerous hour.
this way Ranil Wickremesinghe created a conundrum. His policy is
mostly seen as being accommodating to the point of selling-out,
and he is seen as an elitist bumbling buffoon of a leader who is
at the best of times out of touch and effete. But, strangely what
he has left behind is something that most everybody fears to walk
out on -- and while it is Ranil Wickremesinghe's understated strong-suit,
it is also one of the credibility straining upshots of the strange
interregnum between the war of 2001, and the uncertainty of today…..