By Ranga Kalansooriya –
Dear Mr. President,
If my memory serves me correct, it was June 26, 1996 at Polonnaruwa Rajakeeya Vidyalaya’s anniversary educational exhibition where Prof GL Peiris, a high profile cabinet minister of that regime was the Chief Guest. I went there to cover the event for the Daily News. The speech you made there – the then Mahaweli Minister – would never fade from my mind.
You recalled how you as a kid took part in a zonal music contest by playing a borrowed violin, as you had no means to buy one for yourself. And you wore a borrowed pairs of longs (probably of your brother) and as it was too big, you needed a rope to tie it up around your waist. I think you said you went to the competition empty stomach. Tears came to my eyes, but they were there in yours before mine. That was the day I realized your humbleness and compassion.
When I heard last December your decision to become the common candidate, this story returned to my memory and I repeated it to some of my friends.
But many would not know about your internal character until you emerged challenging one of the most charismatic national leaders of the country’s history whose popularity still dawdles as a ghost within your circles. Though you were the General Secretary of the biggest constituent of the ruling coalition, you were not a national leader until last early December. But you were extensively successful in challenging that charismatic leader and sending him home. Not because you, personally, were a better choice compared to him as we did not know you as a national leader. But you sounded sense, you spoke on reality, you aired the voices of suppressed, you promised revival of democratic values – and all progressive elements mobilized with you within “three weeks”. And you arose as ‘the national leader of our era’ and we all looked up to you for a new political culture, new social order and a new era of humanity under your Presidency.
To be honest, we saw the dawn of this new era during the first three months (I do not want to use the word 100-days as it now looks more pro-UNP, though it was your election pledge to us) through various aspects and I do want to mention them since you know them all by heart. But the intention of this letter is to highlight what we are now beginning see in you which may not be visible to yourself, or those who surround you may not allow you to feel them.
When you claimed that you will not be contesting for the second term, you will reduce the term to four years (as you wished), you will form a national government of reconciliation for next three years, you will be strict on state discipline, we dreamt of a Sri Lankan Mandela who would be an apolitical head of state who will not fight for petty party politics, but who would struggle for the revival of democracy and good governance – which was your main political slogan. Hence, you could create history and pen a new chapter in Sri Lanka with dignity and honour.
But are you on the same path as you were in three months ago? Are you still working for political cohabitation for national reconciliation? Will you remain an apolitical head of state for the betterment of the country or will you become a non-ending fighter for your share of leadership within SLFP, the party that threw you out (legally or illegally) within minutes of your decision to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa?
May be I am wrong, but to my mind this is what happening to you. Rajapaksa fraction is playing a chess game with you and you have become a poor subjective reactionary element to the agenda of that vicious camp. It seems you are regularly watching MR movements and adjusting you strategies on daily basis. At the end of the day your strategies are determined by the MR camp. It is not strategic politics but reactionary politics.
Of course, as the party chair, you have an obligation towards the party, but at what cost? Did those 6.2 million people voted for you en masse on January 8 to grab the power of SLFP and fight with Mahinda for the power? Or did those voters in North, East, South and West – irrespective of ethnicity or religion- brought you to the highest post of Presidency in order to form a SLFP government with Mahinda and Chandrika as you claimed in Nuwara Eliya recently? Did you mention this to us in your manifesto? Or are we being fooled again as it has repeated in many a time in our political history?
Please do not think for a minute that I am trying to bring you down and defame you in public. We as citizens of this country, but most importantly as stakeholders of your victory – have an obligation to voice these concerns and bring the vehicle back on track. And please do not forget the fact that I am using the very same press freedom and freedom of expression that you have brought in on January 8 to raise these issues. I would not dare it before January 8. You could certainly be proud of it.
I see a rigorous campaign from your end to gain the grip of the SLFP in a situation where even your own General Secretary (who replaced you within a day at the will of Mahinda Rajapaksa upon your defection) is on the fence – or rather more towards MR camp. All your efforts to retain the party grip have so far in vein. [But this does not mean at all that MR should be allowed to regain power. This is the last thing that pro-democratic movements would like to see in Sri Lanka].
Thus, whatever we see within your political perimeters is a clear sign of this struggle, neglecting the national priorities that you laid down during the electioneering process. I would put the debate on 20A also into this category. More delays would further strengthen MR camp and that has been his strategy from the day one, and on contrary you continue to lose the grip.
Though you claimed that you will minimize your media visibility, now we see your long speeches with massive pictures in media on daily basis. This reminds me of Premadasa era where he wanted to see a speech of him on daily basis on op-ed pages of daily newspapers. Though you instructed that no state funds be used for newspaper advertisements by state institutions, we not only see them on daily basis but carrying your pictorial massages as well. You ordered no cut outs, but they are everywhere with your pictures. I think this is the efforts to build up your own charisma – but could be counterproductive.
Please be mindful that this struggle could make you blind and desperate as you are fighting from a less powerful wicket. So, this could sabotage your decency, discipline and accountability which the other camp does not possess but you do. [Did we see any hint in the weekend English media that there were some inquiries by state intelligence agencies into the sources of journalists mainly for stories relating to your internal party meetings?]
Desperate Muslim Minister Rauff Hakeem has made an alarming comment in House this week. He mentioned about a dictator and a dangerous “kitchen team” within your circles. If this claim is true, then we all should get alarmed as these “kitchen operators” were the dangerous and misguiding elements for many leaders in the past. “Kitchen Team” is not a new or bad phenomenon but the ulterior motives of those team members should be carefully calculated before implementing their advises. That is how you should be careful with them.
In different contexts we had many lost opportunities. Tsunami, Chandrika’s victory as the President, Ranil – Chandrika coalition, end of war were among the significant. But your emergence was the most significant opportunity we experienced which we do not want to loss at any cost. Therefore, we will do our outmost to protect you in whichever way we can. Because, we still feel that your own protection is the protection of the democracy in this country and that trust is not yet lost. So, you can still count on us.
Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya