18 May, 2022


In Defence Of Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe: The Lonely Patriot & The ‘Reform Agenda’

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

“A single spark can start a prairie fire.” (Mao)

“I am alone with the people.” (Mao)

Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is the target of a fire-hose of criticism. What I find most interesting is where this criticism is coming from and the larger truth it obscures.

The criticism comes from a network of lobbies and caucuses comprised for the most part of those who never stood up for the country and its protection during the greatest test it faced in its contemporary history: the onslaught of the separatist, terrorist and fascist LTTE. It comes for the most part from those who never voiced opposition to the hypocrisy of the West’s interventionist human rights assault on Sri Lanka. It comes for the most part from those who have no word of criticism of the West for its military interventionism and aggression in many parts of the world, such as Iraq, Libya and Syria. It comes in the main from those whose discourse does not contain the concepts of national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and the people.

Those who have gone on the record attacking Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe belong to what Philip Gunawardena used to refer to as “rootless cosmopolitans” and LH Mettananda as a “microscopic minority”.  Decades later, President Premadasa referred to this social strata or substrata derisively as “the swimming pool set”.

It is relevant that the only NGO Commission ever appointed to probe the activities of NGOs in this country was not the product of Mahinda Rajapaksa or any SLFP administration but precisely of a UNP administration– of President Premadasa. It is Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who is in that tradition.

Almost all the voices and signatures against Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe are of those who applaud the disgraceful US-driven UNHRC Resolutions of 2015/2017 and Ranil-Mangala’s co-sponsorship of them, and actively argue for Sri Lanka’s compliance with war crimes inquiries replete with international participation. Not one of Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s critics have condemned or criticized the 2015/2017 Resolutions or argued for their re-negotiation, still less for their rejection. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s critics are, in short, the Geneva Resolution lobby.      

These rootless cosmopolitan civil society caucuses have a disproportionate influence not only on but in the Government and government policy. Their heroes and heroines are Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, ex-Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and ex-President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. It is these NGO networks, their expatriate backup and their handlers in foreign capitals near and far, and Colombo based Embassies and High Commissions, who have cheered on a so-called “reform agenda” which has caused a situation in which this deadlocked government is sinking in a quagmire, assailed on every front every day, by semi-spontaneous public agitation. Individual Ministers are besieged by increasingly angry crowds.      

These caucuses, whether they know it or not, objectively serve foreign and anti-Sri Lankan interests. They have given the Government a profile similar to that which the UNP was depicted as possessing in the famous ‘Mara Yuddha’ cartoon of 1956. In its updated version, the public perception is of a UNP dominated, driven or disproportionately influenced by non-national, foreign interventionist, LGBTIQ and Evangelical elites or lobbies. President Sirisena’s SLFP is therefore seen as a mere tail of such a UNP.

Jan 8th 2015 seemingly disproved a dictum of the first executive mayor of Colombo and famous UNP General Secretary, Sirisena Cooray, namely that one cannot win an election without the support of “the majority of the majority”. On January 8th, the majority of the majority voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa who lost. A minority of the majority allied to and propelled by a huge majority of the minority won. However, Sirisena Cooray was only partly wrong as we are finding out every day. You can win and election without the support of the majority of the majority but you cannot govern in any stable way; you cannot lead that society. Once you have lost or failed to win the heartland, you cannot rule the country.

What we are seeing today is a mounting crisis of governance. The situation is socially unstable. Soon the country will become ungovernable. The Government has lost the consent of the majority of the majority.  It is being socially encircled, and not by conspiracy or design.

In the meantime, the NGO networks, civil society caucuses, asinine academics and idiot ideologues insist on the Government resuming and accelerating its “reform agenda” of January 8th 2015. This is the path over the precipice. It all reminds me of one of Lakshman Kadirgamar’s jokes during Ranil’s CFA. He used to say the government reminded him of the man who proclaimed: “Friends, we are precariously poised on the brink of the precipice. We must firmly resolve to get out of this situation by making a great leap forward!”

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe seems acutely aware of this situation. He is trying to prevent the UNP from being turned into, or perceived as, an NGO! He is trying to shift the party back to the mainstream. He is the only one in touch with reality. He is the only one who is putting his party back with its base. If this were a science fiction movie, it could be said that Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is trying to prevent the Planet UNP from being taken over by aliens.

The UNP has always been a center-right party, a conservative party with the patriotism that is associated with the center-right. The sole exception was the Premadasa period when it was a patriotic, social democratic and populist presidency and government. Under Ranil Wickremesinghe and the NGO lobby, the UNP is no longer a center party; it has deviated drastically from the center, from the mainstream, and has become a party of cosmopolitan deviationists and a neoliberal Right. It is no longer grounded; it is the party of globalized neoliberals. It is withering at the grassroots.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is obviously trying to position himself but in so doing he is trying to reposition his party and thereby restore equilibrium, thus saving the system. At a time when the Asgiriya Chapter has taken an unprecedentedly firm stand of the so-called Constitutional reforms, and the government is on a collision course with the most diverse social sectors, it is socio-politically suicidal (note that I say ‘socio-politically’ rather than merely ‘politically’) to proceed with a reform package which includes quasi-federalization of a Northern province that has just placed openly pro-Tiger Ananthi Sasitharan on the fast track to the Chief Ministership, liberalization of the labor and capital markets, debilitation of the executive presidency, sell off /decades-long lease of national assets and an open door trade policy with India.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has not achieved that commendable and imperative commitment to pluralism and pro-people economic policies that President or even Prime Minister Premadasa did, but he is positioning himself on some issues– Avant Garde (which means the constituency of armed forces veterans), foreign judges, anti-Sri Lankan propaganda, the Sinhala Buddhist base, the identification with the clergy– in a manner reminiscent of that which Premadasa did earlier in his career, albeit without Premadasa’s brilliance from at least 1957 (the booklet “Athi Thathu”) in producing dissenting ideas on major policy questions and projecting an alternative total vision for the country.

Throughout his career Premadasa kept warning the UNP that it was out of touch with social reality and national sentiments, but his was a voice in the wilderness, until the party and government had to turn to him to survive, both electorally and in the most basic physical sense. As PM, just before he assumed the Presidential candidacy, Premadasa wrote a book called