30th May 1999
Be prepared to face verdict of the South
My unseen friend, Viruddha Paakshikaya has last week launched himself into a rather feeble attempt at defending his beloved leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who it appears is feeling the uncomfortable effects of my criticism of him in these pages.
My UNP sources tell me, the Leader of the Opposition is perturbed. And, that is not because of a "conspiracy" to topple him either. It is because he feels these writings will expose him within his own party for what he is- a gentleman but a weak and ineffective leader. I'm sure Ranil Wickremesinghe will reward Viruddha Paakshikaya well for arguing his case. But even such a fervent plea cannot erase the lapses of the UNP and its leadership and that is why Viruddha Paakshikaya will have to wait long for his reward.
Perhaps thinking that attack is the best form of defence, Viruddha Paakshikaya cites the performance of four ministers in the present government and says President Chandrika Kumaratunga, by not sacking them, has proved she is a weak leader! Let us consider these ministers in turn, my friend.
First you talk of Anuruddha Ratwatte. You say he should have resigned because of the Electricity Board strike, the on-going war and the detention of his son for being present in the vicinity of a murder. Where is your patriotism, Viruddha Paa-kshikaya? We all know that Anuruddha Rat-watte is perhaps the only person, be it in the PA or the SLFP, who can competently prosecute the war? And you want him to resign on some petty strike! Tell me, Viruddha Paakshikaya, of a single UNP minister who resigned because of a strike? Remember the time when the entire country -not only the electricity- was crippled by the JVP in the late eighties? Did your state minister of defence at that time, Ranjan Wijeratne even dream of resigning? Of course not!
Then you want Anuruddha to resign because he promised to end the war by our golden jubilee of independence but couldn't. My friend, did your then minister of National Security Lalith Athulathmudali resign after he was taken for a ridiculous ride by a man called K. C. Senanayake who claimed to have reached an agreement with the JVP? Your Royal-Oxford-Harvard educated intellectual fell for a political conman, but he didn't even think of resigning at that time did he?
So, is your call for the resignation of Anuruddha Ratwatte justified? I'm sure our readers can form an independent opinion about that! Then, you want minister Mangala Samaraweera to resign over what you believe to be the sponsoring of his credit card by Sri Lanka Telecom. I shall say no more about that because that is a matter currently under investigation. It is merely sufficient to note that some sections of the media used his credit card number to access pornographic sites and as I see it, the only people who should resign over that issue are those responsible for the publication of those numbers in their newspapers. And, I cannot resist adding that the fraud was committed using computers located at the J. R. Jayewardene centre!
Then, you want the energetic Sports Minister S.B. Diaanayake to resign, just because we are on the verge of losing our world champion status in cricket and, as you claim, a leading athlete may not win a medal at next year's Olympic games. Now, that is the height of absurdity, Viruddha Paak-shikaya. Do not forget that the cricket World Cup was won in 1996 during S. B. Dissanayake's tenure as Sports Minister. Four of the five previous World Cups, from 1979 to 1992, were held during the UNP's seventeen-year rule and Sri Lanka won none of them.
Worse still, your leading Cabinet Minister Gamini Dissa-anayake was the President of the Board of Control for Cricket during some of these years. Did your Sports Ministers or Mr. Dissnayake resign? And, you want S. B. Dissanayake to resign because we have to forego the World Cup! Regarding Sri Lanka missing out on a medal at the next Olympic Games, again I say no more because the matter is the subject of an international inquiry. It suffices to say that if there is a lapse it will be on the part of the athlete because she has tested positive for drugs and what, pray, can the Minister of Sports do about that? Next you cite the case of our mercurial minister, G.L. Peiris. He had a difference of opinion with A. S. Jayawardena and you say he should resign because of that! Now, knowing both these gentlemen and knowing the capabilities of both I can understand why President Chandrika Kumaratunga was keen to retain the services of both. So, she sorted out the problem in the best way that she thought fit and as a result today, the country benefits from the services of both of them. That, Viruddha Paakshikaya, is an argument you cannot refute. I say so because your own President, R. Premadasa utilised the services of Prof. G. L. Peiris when he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Colombo. Then, the leader that you talked so much about, Ranil Wickremesinghe utilised the services of A. S. Jayawardena in no small measure.
Need I say more, Viruddha Paakshikaya? As I see it, resolving this little difference of opinion was evidence of the tactfulness of the President- and not a reason for minister Peiris to resign! Then, Viruddha Paakshikaya at the conclusion of your frivolous and absurd calls for resignation of our ministers you cast aspersions on the President, saying she is not even the leader of the SLFP and that she got her job by providence rather than performance.
It is true, Viruddha Paakshikaya, that she left for England after the murder of her husband. But when she did return to the country, it was no cakewalk for her to claim the Presidency- thanks to the tactics unleashed by your party! She had to bear with threats to her safety when she campaigned across the country and we all remember how she became the focal point in a rallying cry against the marauding UNP.
The people of this country will agree with me that she won the election for her party with her charisma, commitment and courage- and not, as you seem to imply, merely being in the right place at the right time! As for Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike continuing in the Prime Minister's position and as leader of the SLFP, Viruddha Paakshikaya, you need not bother about it at all. That is our party's way of paying homage to a lady, who after becoming the world's first woman Prime Minister then played the more difficult role of de-facto Opposition Leader from 1977 onwards- despite the imposition of civic disabilities on her by the 'great' J. R. Jayewardene.
And, remember, Viruddha Paakshikaya, that is also a way of a daughter saying "thank you" to her mother who cared and shared her travails in life and in politics. And, I'm sure, had we appointed some one else to the Prime Ministerial chair, Viruddha Paakshikaya would be among the first to shout from his rooftop saying "See, how ungrateful you are!"
After uttering all this nonsense, Viruddha Paakshikaya, you then say that we should stop insulting each other's leaders and discuss "more important" national issues. I fully agree with you that we can indeed take this debate to a higher level and we must do so. So, may I suggest that we focus on one issue that will be of national significance in the weeks to come- the Southern Provincial Council election. I will go so far as to guarantee first, that there will be a free and fair poll and second the Peoples' Alliance will form the next administration in the province.
In previous weeks I tried to explain to my friend why this would be so and that is when we got into this debate about leadership, though I daresay that it is a major contributory factor to what would be a colossal defeat for the UNP in the south.
Let us talk about that next week shall we, Viruddha Paakshikaya? I think I have explained in these columns in great detail why the UNP will lose in the South. In response, Viruddha Paakshikaya has maintained a deafening silence, launching instead into a spirited but transparently weak defence of Ranil Wickre-mesinghe. But now I feel we should discuss the South again. So, I challenge you, Viruddha Paakshikaya, tell us why you shouldn't lose the South at the forthcoming polls. Since you seem to be fond of the cricketing idiom I am inclined to make just one more prediction: the defeat the UNP will suffer at the Southern Provincial Council election will be even bigger than the defeat the Sri Lankan cricket team suffered at the hands of the Indians on Wednesday!
So, if you felt sorry for our cricketers last week as they got thrashed all over the park, Virudhdha Paakshikaya, prepare yourself: that will be the UNP's fate when the results of the election are known!
There has been some controversy in recent times about the origin and the early history of the Sinhalese and Tamil people, and how this bears on the present conflict.
There are few races which have a detailed written account of their ancient history. One of these is the Jewish race and the Old Testament. Another is the Sinhalese, their history being recorded in the Mahavansa.
It is the fashion at present, among some people who like to describe themselves as "intellectuals", to sneer at the Mahavansa. However, in view of many archaeological discoveries and other evidence, there is little doubt as to its veracity. It would also appear to be something more than a mere record of history.
It is an established fact that human civilisation existed thousands of years ago in what is Sri Lanka today. Dominant within this civilisation were the Yaksa and Naga people. Many historians are of the view that these two groups combined to form the Sinhalese race. This is contested by Tamil nationalists, who claim the Tamils are descended from the Naga people and furthermore, that it has never been established that the Sinhalese are the descendants of just the Yaksa people either.
It is the generally accepted view that the Sinhalese identity came into being during the Pandukabhaya era. The earliest evidence of the usage of the Sinhalese language dates back to the arrival of Arahat Mahinda. The recent discovery of a clay tablet at an archaeological site near Anuradhapura shows that the Sinhalese script was in use long before the arrival of Vijaya from India. The Ven Kamburupitiye Vanarathana Thera, who devoted his life to the research of the nation's history, established beyond doubt to all but the most biased that the Naga people practised Buddhism and were the predecessors of the Sinhalese people.
What is clear from these facts is that the origin of the Sinhalese people dates back to the earliest recorded history of this land. The LTTE burning the history books issued to schools in the north and east is not going to change that.
Another point of recent controversy is the role of the Buddhist clergy, in the context of Sinhalese history and the present conflict. At various instances in the past, this role has changed from being a purely religious one to something more militant. This transformation has usually taken place when the Sinhalese people, and by extension the Buddhist religion, faced an external threat. The Mahavansa chronicles this in some detail.
Nothing sends the separatist lobby and its various supporters into a greater frenzy than the Buddhist clergy. This ranges from Stanley Tambiah's book "Buddhism Betrayed" (which has a picture of Ven Madoluwawe Sobitha on the cover to emphasise the point), to comments from a minister in the present government that the Buddhist clergy are 'warmongers'. One newspaper coloumnist referred to them as "yellow-robed mud-slingers".
The reason for this hysteria is the fact that, throughout history, the Buddhist clergy has been able to unite the Sinhalese people when required to confront a threat to the existence of the nation and the religion. One has only to consider the fate of the Buddhist civilisations which existed in other countries in the Asian region to realise that, almost uniquely, Buddhism has survived in Sri Lanka in its original form in the hands of the Sinhalese people.
It is the Mahavansa, in its sections on state policy, which describes the role that must be played by the Buddhist clergy in situations such as this. Hence the desire of the more bigoted sections of minority opinion, along with their motley collection of Sinhalese supporters, to discredit both the Mahavansa and the Buddhist clergy.
The triangular relationship between the king, the people, and the Buddhist clergy was the basis for the social consensus which existed at the time. It is the collapse of this relationship over more recent times, due primarily to colonisation but also to the influlence of subsequent external factors, which has led to the present alienation between the 'state' and the 'people'. This of course makes it easier to undermine the unity and integrity of the national identity. Which is probably why LTTE sympathisers like the so-called 'Inter-religious Peace Alliance' are trying to create dissension among the Buddhist clergy, by using a few monks in their bid to save the LTTE from military defeat.
That question about Ranil's leadership
I have read with interest the numerous views expressed in your columns with regard to Ranil Wickremesinghe's leadership of the United National Party.
Whether the views and conclusions of your regular columnists reflect the thinking of the larger mass of UNP supporters of the people or the country, I would not venture to say. But it strikes me as passing strange that The Sunday Times, a newspaper group belonging to his uncle, should be so persistently critical of the man.
Is there some grey shadow lurking in this family closet that deems it that uncle and nephew - as was the case of D.R. Wijewardene and J.R. Jayewardene - must always be opposed to each other or are you simply saying that blood ties have no part in publishing an independent newspaper? A commendable sentiment, I would say, but by the same token, that would not seem a good reason that Mr. Wickremesinghe should be treated unkindly, because of those same blood ties.
Be that as it may, what really do his critics say? That he is an ineffectual leader propelled into leadership by circumstances fortuitous to him? The second part of that question is easily answered. Succession is rarely a predictable matter. If it were, it is unlikely that Sirimavo Bandaranaike would have been prime minister or for that matter Chandrika Kumaratunga the president. Rajiv Gandhi would not have been Prime Minister of India and Sonia Gandhi would not have led the Congress. Getting there is only of academic interest. It is how you grow into and fill the role which must concern us. Ms. Bandaranaike grew into a formidable presence, as her daughter has done, but while the former presided over the bleakest period in our post independent history, the latter has only glib words with which to mask a stagnant economy and a dismal record of broken promises.
Factionalism is not unusual in a party in opposition. The Jayewardene - Senanayake clashes in the UNP and the brother-sister difficulties in the SLFP are cases in point.
The UNP today would also appear to suffer from a mild shiver, with the Susil Moonesinghe-Anura Bandaranaike grouping on the one hand, the Cooray faction on the sidelines and the recent Mendis "Muddle." Karu Jayasuriya has made it plain that he is not a contender for the leadership of the party. Where then does the UNP look for an alternative leader? Is it not suicidal to look for one now? ( Mr. Wickremesinghe's detractors may say that it is suicidal one way or the other, but there is a difference, in the event of defeat, from remaining a strong and viable opposition and going into political oblivion).
I would submit that it is at this time that a party leader hones his skills and gets to know to read the pulse of the people. A far more difficult task to achieve when one is in office.
A party which had been in office for 17 years has to relearn the business of opposing. The ruling party machinery tends to become a part of government. A radical change requires a radical reorganisation and most of all, the people must be allowed to forget the more obnoxious elements of the UNP governance. There would seem to be a time to allow things, to happen and a time to make them happen. The agony of waiting, to bear the criticism of the more impetuous members and to hold firm to a consistent path do not show themselves immediately as effective leadership, especially from one who does not find an easy familiarity with his members much less the people of the country. But this alone should not disqualify Mr. Wickremesinghe from leadership. Have we not experienced the transient smile and the empty promise all too often?
A recent article accused Mr. Wickremesinghe of not having a vision. Those who would have seen him on two interviews on MTV and Sirasa, may not agree. What vision had we from Ms. Kumaratunga? A more relaxed lifestyle and frankly a more democratic governance, one must admit, is ideal for our own easy going temperament. But we could have had as much from our Dearly Beloved Mr. Wijetunga. The down side of such a situation is poor discipline and lack of a work ethic, and our country slipping into the back waters of South Asia.
Losing four provincial elections and possibly five in the near future, does not help Mr. Wickremesinghe. However much the statistics may please him as a confirmation that the tide is turning, nothing really succeeds like success. But there is one quite plainly evident result to be gleaned from the recent election results which brought both Karu Jayasuriya and Susil Premjayanth into the Western Provincial Council with resounding votes of confidence. Both these gentlemen enjoy reputations as decent and honourable persons and they embody the political culture that we are now looking for. It is the image that Mr. Wickremesinghe strives to bring in the UNP. Whatever compromises need to be made to bring the team into a common fighting mode, such compromises must be made clearly with that end in view. If Mr. Wickremesinghe is forced by pressure to revert to an old style UNP, he may as well step aside and await a day and time which will surely come, when he will be proved correct.
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