By Vishwamithra –
In an ever-widening field of political activism, Sri Lanka is further being portrayed as a rudderless boat, floating astray not because it’s lacking any exchange of qualitative ideas and opinions but more so because its citizenry including some of its academia and the private sector-oriented pundits have become part of that corrupt and incompetent State machinery. They are using the absence of a credible alternative to the Rajapaksas as an excuse to continue their plunder with unbridled mayhem.
Both Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) and Sajith Premadasa are too engrossed in their own ego cum power-trips. Although AKD seems to have a massive advantage over Sajith, when reckoned for leadership of the nation, especially in the sphere of mass-confidence and leadership-authenticity, AKD’s international exposure or lack thereof, would play a very decisive role in months to come. Being a country so geographically situated along the silk route, as China would like to call it, and given her close proximity to big brother India paying more than close attention to her closest neighbor, AKD is at a decisive disadvantage.
Sajith Premadasa on the other hand, might have a slight advantage over AKD in international recognition, yet a conspicuous lack of any tangible accomplishment as a Minister in the last ‘Yahapalanaya’ era, is one of his weak points lending to the ‘all talk-no action’ narrative.
For a nation on the verge of a political explosion, given the tremendous crisis-laden status the country is in, dearth of leadership-talent is not a very heartening manifestation. The electorate will have to look for other options and the field looks hardly fertile.
When considering other options, rumour mill is saturated with three other names. Sarath Fonseka and Champika Ranawaka are two of them. Both these personalities are being talked about in a positive manner by the electorate, not really as great towering leaders of men, but their accomplishments in the recent past are being subjected to superficial inquiry more so in the case Sarath Fonseka than that of Champika.
Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka undoubtedly stands alone in one sphere of reckoning and that is tangible achievements: leading the Sri Lankan military forces to total victory in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and its fearsome leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. In an increasingly polarized electorate along ethno-religious lines, Sarath Fonseka holds a clear advantage against any other Opposition leader, especially amongst Sinhalese Buddhists, provided that aspect of his official accomplishments is marketed as a distinct quality when compared with others who might be on the field at the time. I may be getting too much ahead of events yet to come. Nevertheless, Fonseka’s leadership and little or total absence of ownership in the war-victory against the Tigers cannot be understated when the Rajapaksas are making every possible effort to declare themselves as the sole reason for such a significant victorious moment.
But Fonseka’s battle on the political field might be much harder than the ones he fought on the gruesome battlefields in the North and the East.
The second name I penned about is Patali Champika Ranawaka. Patali has a totally different political beginning which is even more akin to the shades of Sinhalese Buddhist fundamentalism. But that was in the early nineteen nineties flowing into the twenty first century. But whatever political life Patali enjoyed in the span of his whole political life, he has yet failed to appear as a leading or a dominant leader at a national level. Those Sinhalese Buddhists he so fondly talked about and held a seemingly pro-Sinhala line, relative lack of name-recognition is a conspicuous negative in the current context. But Patali’s image, at least among the political pundits and city-dwelling pukka sahibs, is quite a formidable one. But would that be sufficient to catapult him to greater heights is the question one has to answer before trudging on this path any further.
Apart from Patali Champika Ranawaka and Sarath Fonseka, the third political figure I would like to write about is our own old friend Karu Jayasuriya. KJ, as he is fondly referred to, has one singular advantage over all others on the current Opposition political field and that is one single feature which our electorate holds so close to their hearts, credibility. In the present backdrop of severe economic conditions and the pathetic governance model the Rajapaksas are adopting against all reasonable advice, credibility of our Chief Executive, President of the country, is one solitary quality all citizenry are yearning for. KJ has positive past baggage to brag about. When the country’s very existence as a decent and committed-to-the-hilt to democracy as a way of governance was challenged, it was he who stood alone. He displayed that raw courage, a characteristic that is often missing amongst almost all of the rest in the field, and for that matter, inside the House of Parliament, the very temple of our democracy. At a time when the fragility of our democracy was in display, KJ threw himself to his own one-man battle against the marauding hooligans who call themselves Minsters and Members of Parliament belonging to the Rajapaksa regime.
Of the above three men, any one of them could be a better bet against either Anura Kumara Dissanayake or Sajith Premadasa. An agreement amongst all Opposition political parties on a single issue that binds all of them together needs to be reached if one expects to be successful against such a daunting opponent as any member of the Rajapaksa family.
The most idealistic way in which one can approach a possible way out of the current crisis-laden status in Sri Lanka, at least in the very short run, is to preach an exclusively theoretical one. Instead of sharing ‘power’, be creative and original in your political thinking and generate some energy and interest amongst your respective followers a formula how they can share responsibility after wresting power, if it so happens. If an agreement can be reached as to how to share responsibility amongst themselves, then they can devise a way how that sharing of responsibility could be made into a working reality of sharing power.
Then the question is: what is the single-issue platform that all the current Opposition leaders could agree upon? Leave it to the advertising and marketing geniuses to transform that single platform into a tangible and understandable and coherent message. But the initial challenge is a mindset, a mindset that is collective, coherent and cohesive in nature and content and diverse in articulation, appeal and delivery.
Yet, in an electorate that is young in age and steeped in impatience, holding them together with focus on one single issue is a challenge that might seem more than possible. The possibility of rallying the masses around a single cause might be easier than asking five leaders to meet at the same table to discuss the possibilities of getting the masses around.
In such a situation, a clever government would resort to closing all gaps within their own camp and cause and open fissures among the Opposition camps. They, the government led by the Rajapaksas, would be best advised to patch up whatever the crevices they have and attempt to create havoc among the Opposition leaders. That certainly is the spectacle the country would be invited to witness. Politics will overpower common sense and dark and insensible maneuvering would banish decorum and decency. The Rajapaksas are very capable of such narcissistic and desperate moves.
Yes, it could be utterly naïve and absolutely unrealistic on our part to expect our political leaders to step down from their false pedestals and feel the soil under their feet. To hope for them to be reasonable and wise, whether they come from the current government or the Opposition, would be a utopian dream. But utopia is a dream. Such dreams have led mankind to send one of them to the moon and find cures to many malignant illnesses.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minster of India remarked the uniqueness of the spirit of man in his celebrated book, The ‘Discovery of India’: “How amazing is the spirit of man!…it is impossible to lose hope for him. In the midst of disaster he has not lost his dignity or his faith in the values he cherished. Plaything of nature’s mighty forces, less than a speck of dust in this vast universe, he has hurled defiance at the elemental powers, and with his mind, cradle of revolution, sought to master them. Whatever gods there may be, there is something godlike in man, as there is something of the devil in him.
The future is dark, uncertain. But we can see part of the way leading to it and can tread it with firm steps, remembering that nothing that can happen is likely to overcome the spirit of man which has survived many perils. Remembering also that life, for all its ills, has joy and beauty, and we can always wander, if we know how to, in the enchanted woods of nature.”
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org