IF Ranil Wickremesinghe can still dream the elusive dream of becoming the president of this country then he and his party must first shed the fatalism they don now and stop projecting the spectre of defeat on their green sleeves as if it were some minted medal of honour in the muddled belief that realism [...]


Don’t give up the ghost, dawn rainbows back in style

Ranil and UNP must stop playing 'can't beat UPFA' signature tune

IF Ranil Wickremesinghe can still dream the elusive dream of becoming the president of this country then he and his party must first shed the fatalism they don now and stop projecting the spectre of defeat on their green sleeves as if it were some minted medal of honour in the muddled belief that realism demands such a negative countenance and candour calls for a right royal grovel in the dust.

True, on the electoral canvas the position looks bleak, downright hopeless; and realistic appraisal of the dismal situation that inevitably arises from the recent disastrous showing of the party, needs no political seer or statistics pundit to predict yet another rout at the hustings. If nothing succeeded like success for the ruling UPFA then nothing failed like failure for the opposition UNP.

But, unless the UNP entertains a ghastly death wish, no sane political party playing for the highest stakes in the land will keep on chanting the mantra of self destruction when they should, instead, be pronouncing the positive yang and accentuating the mystic ohm, proclaiming to all Lanka that, though they could not give the human sacrifice called for, yet, they have successfully exorcised the demons that drooled upon their vote platter and now, rid of the twenty year curse, are set to make the good times roll again.

In purely marketing terms this is referred to as changing public perception of the product. In the commercial world the correct image is the quintessential ingredient required for success. Once the image is sullied, it is stuck with its stain and millions of dollars are required to restore it to its pristine state. Sometimes the effort is not worth it and the product is abandoned.

As it is for products, so it is for political parties. Failures are not pillars of success but the tombstones of vain attempts. Most often failures lie buried in unmarked graves and the world merely passes over them never having known they had even existed. Funny thing about failing is that it has the disconcerting habit of self spawning; and once it has caught on to the act, it continues churning out flops in the same way success comes up roses.

Package the image: Ranil Wickremesinghe

A major political party can probably afford no more than two failures in a row. Instead of repeating the same exercise when it comes to Round Three and receiving the same damning result, what generally happens is that a new image for the party is created and then presented to the voters’ for their verdict. The image change is made either by adopting new policies or, as is more often the case, in the introduction of a new face as the new leader. Most times it works.

But what do you do with a party that has suffered twenty nine defeats in a row and stayed out of public office for twenty years but still carries the same policies and retains the same leader as if he was a family heirloom that cannot be disposed of, given the sentimental value attached to the antique? How do you handle a problem like the UNP? How do you hand a mirror for them to see the blight writ on their troubled brows? Their foreheads stigmatised with the mark of Jonah?

As far as policies are concerned there is hardly any difference in the economic policies held by the UNP and the UPFA and nothing novel can be introduced in that field. The UNP’s promises of good governance, transparency, law and order, freedom of information and other human rights issues are part of the same baggage that has been carefully dusted and well presented at each electoral hustings. Yet, that has not contributed to a win either. And, whether one likes it or not, the UNP is stuck with its past, present and future leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who refuses to budge and stays fixed and stubborn as the Rock of Gibraltar. So, with the same policies and the same leader, with the status quo remaining intact, is there a hope of the party breaking the mould and creating a new image that will set them on the road to victory at last?

First let’s sneak a peep over the Palk Strait and see what happened in India and how Modi turned the tables on the Congress juggernaut.
Not even two years ago in India, the BJP was gasping to survive as a political party. Branded as an anti Muslim, nationalist outfit, it was held as a party which did not deserve the mantle of India’s leadership; considered as a party which did not possess the necessary voter appeal to assume high office; which was sentenced to purgatory for holding religious nationalistic beliefs while the ruling party paid homage to its respectable secular creed.

The challenge that awaited the BJP was how to take on the giant Congress party which had given India her independence, the party that had ruled India for most of her sixty seven independent years, the party of Nehru and the Gandhis who were not only household names but household gods in India’s rural hamlets. Had Modi shared the same dismal, self defeating no hope pessimism as that held by the UNP today, and viewed the Goliath Congress too daunting a prospect to be brought down singlehanded, Modi will not be swearing in as Prime Minister of India at six pm tomorrow eve in New Delhi but would be licking his wounds in his home state Gujarat, finding comfort in espousing his doldrums and planning on his next defeat – defeat that would be his with ordained certainty.

Instead Modi dared to dream and became the merchant of his dreams. Modi promised the voters the sun, moon and stars. He promised the sun to the Hindus when it was out at night and the moon to the Muslims when the sun was bright and to those in the gutter who were looking at the nighttime sky he promised the stars with all its glitter. Result, landslide win.

But, unlike the BJP which was a party of secondary importance, the UNP in Lanka is the Congress in India.. Even with its string of defeats, it can still lay claim to the largest vote base of any single party. Even in the 2005 Presidential election, Ranil Wickremesinghe lost the Presidency to Mahinda Rajapakse by only 190,000 votes, the narrow defeat being attributed to the northern Tamil factor. It cannot be written off so easily. The potential to win exists. All is not lost. But not if the UNP continues to appear forlorn of hope, wretched in form and beggared beyond recovery. Too battered to rise alone and too willing to confess its hopelessness but still not too averse to ask the voters to seek refuge in its beleaguered bosom.

Time and time again the UNP leadership and its members express the view that a joint opposition candidate is a must to defeat the invincible incumbent who wields the Midas touch with the ballot in the same magical manner the mythical king did with metal. By so doing they admit, nay, they imprudently broadcast that the once great Rolls Royce of a party is today but a condemned rickety old jalopy, no longer road worthy and cannot go the distance without a few tow trucks, themselves running a rattle, close at hand.

An almost calm and fatalistic acceptance of the terminally ill when told the bad news of their numbered days has fallen upon the once vibrant party; the conviction has been ingrained into their collective psyche that they are mortally doomed and that the UNP’s standing has hit such a sorry low that it has no chance on its own but only a joint candidate, unifying all opposition parties can perform the herculean task of bringing down Mahinda Rajapakse from his unshakeable pedestal.

However realistic it maybe, such self condemnation, pessimism depressingly packaged and cheerlessly and half heartedly offered as the panacea for the nation’s ills, a Pandora box of sorrows without redeeming Hope in it, are not the stuff that win elections. The ‘we have no chance’ mentality has besieged the UNP spirit and the fire has fled from its soul; and trumpeting it’s all round bankruptcy from the turrets of darkness, spouting it out from the mouths of god forsaken gargoyles in its gutters, is not going to persuade voters to pin their faith on a party that has lost belief in itself and given up the ghost.

What the UNP needs now is a dream to bestir the dormant desires of each one to see the affirmation of a prosperous future. A dream in which no prospect of defeat exist to darken the dawning rainbow. One that paints, in all its hues, a vibrant new vision. A vision that captures the public imagination, that inspires a nation to believe in the sparkle the future holds and beckons. The vision of a Brand and Brave New Lanka, guaranteed by a reborn and resurgent UNP.

What is called for, is a visionary who instinctively knows, in the words of Wilcox, ”Tis the set of the sails and not the gales, that tells the ship where to go’ and ” ’tis the set of the soul that determines the goal, and not the calm or the strife’. One who can convey the message to the nation in tantalising fashion that, after the ceaseless storm that ravaged the land, rainbows are back in style; and that the UNP, armed with a convincing,, inspiring, hope laden, morale raising manifesto has the stomach to go it alone, the will to walk the extra mile and the spirit to triumph.

Forget the electoral map. Forget the 29 consecutive defeats. Forget the pessimism conveyed by pundits and analysts. Ignore the doomsday prophets. Wipe the slate clean and take a leaf out of Modi’s pocket book. Talk the walk. Focus on the image. Package it, sell the dream. Walking the talk can come later.

Fresh from his sojourn in the United States where political parties fight elections with fanatical religious fervor, Ranil Wickremesinghe announced to his party members, in a closed door committee room in the Parliament complex, that the UNP was considering fielding its own candidate, the Daily Mirror reported on Wednesday. It was also reported that henceforth the UNP will contest only under the elephant symbol but that a joint candidate will be announced only when the elections are announced. Though good for starters that is not enough. Merely wheeling in the inanimate elephant it once abandoned to the wilderness will not do. What should be revealed and presented to the nation is the man or woman who will be the charismatic face of the new UNP.

In a television interview on Monday, when asked about the popularity and appeal of the slogans used by his party which had not struck a chord with the masses, the UNP’s Leadership Council chief Karu Jayasuriya, whilst admitting that there were many shortcomings to be rectified said, ‘we prefer to die in a democratic country not under a dictatorship”. While one can appreciate with his sentiments, how much better if he had said “we want to live in a democratic country , not live under the jackboot of a dictatorship.” Sadly the emphasis is on the negative aspect, on dying and death when the focus should have been on the living and life. Today’s voters want to live, to live the dream. Not die the reality. Compare this to the promise offered in Modi’s catchy slogan: ‘Happy days are here again’. To suggest a local slogan for future use, how about “Make Mother Lanka Smile Again” – “Sathutu Sinawa Yali Lak Mawata”

Then again on Wednesday the chief of the UNP’s United Bhikku Front proposed the name of Venerable Sobitha as the ideal common candidate and called for a joint opposition saying the UNP cannot win on its own. When the UNP’s own organisation expresses the view that a Buddhist monk will have more appeal and better chances of attracting the masses, including winning the Tamil and Muslim vote than Ranil, what message does it convey to the public other than one of sheer despair? Unless this deeply embedded inferiority complex and this paralysing conviction that the UNP is a non starter doomed to disaster are eradicated from the minds of its own card carrying members, nothing but defeat stares in the UNP’s face. This is not only a party matter but one that raises national concerns for without the UNP this country would be reduced to a one party state.

If it is still his dream to become President of this country, Ranil Wickremesinghe must have a change of heart, a supreme belief in himself and in the victory he thinks he justly deserves to have. He must inspire his party to believe in victory. He must inspire the nation to dream the same dream and believe that to reach the unreachable star is possible and that the UNP is the party holding the light to reveal the starry way.

But dreams that move masses don’t come easy. They come only to the anointed, to those whom the fates have blessed to place their hands on the nation’s tiller and guide the course of her voyage. Ranil must believe in himself and aspire to be the sparrow that Providence makes fly, not fall.

If he is not upto it, if he lacks the charisma to galvanise a nation with the endearing vision of a splendorous future the UNP promises to dawn, he might as well throw in the presidential towel right now. Instead he should concentrate on making his party win a general election with a two third majority. This will enable his party to abolish the executive presidency, to restore the parliamentary system and to appoint him as the ceremonial president of Lanka; even though it will be sans the power he would have dreamt and longed to have held. As things stand, if a new image is not created, if a tidal wave of faith and hope in a new UNP does not lash Lanka coast to coast, that will be the only way he can become President of this country, holding sinecure office, if at all.

Any party which comes forward today and says in the words of Britain’s war time Prime Minister Churchill, ‘we have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’ will find themselves booed out of the running even before election day whilst the party that sweet talks the public with grandiose visions of hope and glory and declares its supreme confidence it will win handsomely, that sprinkles the magic dust liberally and builds castles in the air for people to dwell in fantasy climes will romp home to victory on the back of a people’s wishes for rollicking good times to roll.. That is what Modi did in India. That is what political parties do all over the world to win elections. That is the reality of today’s politics. Feed the fantasy and you’ll soon have them eating out of your hand.

The people await a new dream. Whosoever can best give it to them can become master of their fates and president of their souls.

Sunday Punch 2Kurshid comes a cropper

Salman Khurshid

Whatever happened to India’s ex External Affairs Minister Salmon Kurshid, the swashbuckling trouble shooter sent to Lanka early this year to put Lanka in her servile place pre Geneva, who walked with a swagger, talked like a bragger and berated Lanka like a ragger for regarding India as big brother and whose arrogance danced on his manicured elegance whilst his cultivated superior air wafting from his pores served to conceal allegations made against him and his wife of defrauding handicapped people.

For one who acted as if he thought no end of himself, the Indian voters have given him something to think about in the idle days ahead. News reaches that the great Indian 21st century modern know-all guru has been given short shrift by the great Indian voting public and has bitten the dust in the safe Congress seat of Farukhabad in the Uttar Pradesh where he was able to garner less than ten per cent of the vote. What’s more, he has even lost his deposit.

Alas, how are the mighty fallen.

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