By Ranga Kalansooriya –
I am sure you may be thinking of the reasons behind this open letter. Since we are friends, I should have told these points to you in person. But I decided otherwise as this attempt would be more beneficial to you, than one-on-one tête-à-tête.
You have become a key figure within the contemporary politics in Sri Lanka – especially with your appointment to the post of General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Both you and your colleague Susil Premajayanth became center figures of heated political debates on providing nominations to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In fact both of you became the most powerful and most sought after duo in this tough political battle. This letter, in any case is not intended at changing your political allegiances but to share some thoughts probably for your own benefit.
My memory goes back to early 90s, the initial days of the Chandrika regime. Visumpaya which was Prof G L Peiris’ then official residence was the meeting place for many budding MPs, especially in the evenings along with some ‘energy drinks.’ Though was a former Vice Chancellor and a well-known academic, Prof Peiris was also a budding politician having entered into Parliament through the national list and he used to entertain young parliamentarians like Dilan Perera, Nalanda Ellawala, Dallas Alahapperuma and Anura Yapa at Visumpaya for thick political talks. GL’s then private secretary Kanchana Ratwatte would also join sometimes; and I would be a patient listener to these conversations. You were always with sharp political analysis during those talks and so was Nalanda, as I can recall.
But I have no strong memories of a close association with you until you became the media minister. There you gain visibility and came up in the political ladder with a ‘comparatively acceptable’ reputation.
You, as the media minister, faced the hardest period for media freedom. It was challenging for both you and us as media practitioners. Many journalists were attacked, abducted, intimidated, some were assassinated – and you were the first point of contact on government’s behalf for many of us. At least you were a patient listener, but you would personally tell us how helpless you were – as much as we were. I remember your advices even for me when I was facing safety issues and many of us maintained a link with you when we were in exile.
Then there were moves to revive the defunct Press Council as I reminded in one of my previous columns and personally I think you were successful in shelving the idea of the ‘top’ at least during your tenure as the media minister.
Even during such challenging times, you managed to maintain a reasonable rapport with the media. In short, you were not branded as a ‘joker’ or a ‘liar’ – the ‘reputation’ many media ministers or media spokespersons would gain.
There are some corruption allegations against you as well on JVP and other political platforms – mainly on the issue of controversial ‘Sil Redi’ distribution during the Presidential Polls as well as misusing funds of Petroleum Cooperation for election work – but I am not going to deal with them, I leave it for you to clear your name by your own means.
Most importantly you always managed to win the trust of the party leadership. Thus, you were entrusted with many crucial responsibilities by successive leaders, predominantly by President Rajapaksa and you delivered well. You were a loyal comrade and trusted lieutenant to Rajapakse. The most cardinal event that comes to my mind is the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake which you performed well as per the wishes of your leader and delivered results within days, not weeks. Whether good or bad on policy basis [that is a separate matter to discuss] you played the cards well and led the Parliamentary Select Committee to bring desired results to the political leadership. And then you, along with some others like Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi were gifted with lucrative ministerial portfolios. I think still you did well at the Petroleum Ministry compared to your predecessor.
Now this is the turning point in your political career. When Maithripala Sirisena defected SLFP last December, you were the obvious choice of Rajapaksas to the post of General Secretary [if I am not mistaken it was not a Central Committee decision]. To my mind you deserve it. Moreover, when President Maithri replaced Mahinda as the party leader he decided to continue with you as the SLFP General Secretary.
What does it mean? He trusted in you, despite all choices he had to make changes within the party office bearers. But do you trust him?
I think I know your spontaneous answer.
But that could be your personal choice, not the official stand. I think you have mixed up the two.
In the contemporary political history of Sri Lanka, anyone who disobeyed party leadership has not been successful. Look at Lalith – Gamini and the DUNF – Rajaliya party, what happened to them. Ranil who stood by his leader [though he belonged to JR camp] during tough times of impeachment was successful. See what happened to those who revolt against Ranil, were they successful? Look at Chandrika who went against her own mother and the party, and formed new political forces – but she had to return to the main party platform to be successful. Anura Banadaranaike would also be a good example.
My argument is not to claim that you are becoming anti-SLFP. But I think you clearly need to identify your boss and be loyal to him – not to others. Individual loyalty is a personal matter, but party loyalty is an institutional issue. Your loyalty is still with the former leadership who may not have a future within the party ranks in the future. The role of the General Secretary is to strengthen the party and its leadership. It seems that the SLFP is now being dictated not by its own seniors but entirely by outsiders like Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa, Gammanpila et al. I am concerned whether you have become a cats-paw of these outside elements with ulterior motives. I know you have become a victim of circumstances with immense pressure from various quarters, but you are the best judge of yourself – especially when safe guarding your own party.
More than that of the UNP, SLFP’s General Secretary post has always been a challenging and a risky job. Only a few were successful, I guess. And today is the most challenging period of SLFP with a serious split within its own rank and file. Your performance will be decisive in determining its future. If there is a split between the party leader and its general secretary, then the situation is serious, as far as the party is concerned. The leader should not go to court against a decision of his own general secretary. It is not a healthy state of affairs.
Some food for thought my friend..!