By Vishwamithra –
“Humans are terrible at predicting the future. We really overestimate what we can do in the short term and underestimate what we can do in the long term… If we can glimpse even a couple of years into the future, even that’s difficult to do.” ~ Bill Maris
On June 6th when Parliament met, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made a relatively lengthy but utterly uninspiring speech. His address lacked severity; it was devoid of any feel for the common man and his delivery, as usual, atrocious. He was never known for his oratorical skills nor was he ever reckoned as an average parliamentary speaker. He was well below that landmark of being average. Yet sometimes he manages to create some laughter with his dry and dull humor. Yet again, DS Senanayake, considered as one of the most consequential leaders of Sri Lanka, was never recognized for superior speaking talents either. To use Ranil’s and D S’s names in the same sentence is a great insult to D S Senanayake.
However, since of late, Ranil has been making references to quotations by some historical leaders; it was only the other day that he compared himself to Winston Churchill. This time Ranil Wickremesinghe made reference to one of the best known cricketing personalities, Dr W G Grace. Grace was not only known for his cricketing prowess, but also for his gamesmanship. Many cricket pundits say that if not for the good doctor, cricket might have remained a pastime rather than a great international sport.
Nevertheless, by quoting W G Grace in his parliamentary address on June 6th, Ranil could not have chosen a healthier or more apt one: ‘They came to see me bat, not you umpire’. But what Ranil failed willy nilly to mention was another quotation by an umpire in another Grace incident. Soon after W G Grace was clean bowled, he reinstalled the fallen bail on top of the wicket, looked at the umpire and remarked that it was a windy day; however, the umpire was keener in perception and wit. He said: ‘mind your hat on your walk back to the pavilion’. Grace met his equal and Ranil is yet to meet his, at least in the current parliament.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s dirty politics and the dirtier fashion he chose to practice it is well-chronicled history. Never was he safe and secure in his engagement with more talented and charismatic leaders. Comfortably at home when his henchmen are below his intellectual and education level, Ranil might hold his own, but when confronted by superior minds and sharper intellect, Ranil coils down to mediocrity. That is the general verdict of the average voter. Wipe-out of the entirety of the United National Party (UNP) in the last General Elections held in 2020 is ample proof of Ranil’s political capabilities or lack thereof.
Ranil, more often than not, has indicated that he is not happy with the abstract notion of the UNP. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s first term as Prime Minister occurred in 1993 when President Premadasa was assassinated. Upon D B Wijetunga’s ascent to presidency, Ranil became the Prime Minister. And under the dual leadership of Wijetunga and Ranil, the UNP lost the 1994 elections and after seventeen years in power from 1977 to 1994, the UNP once again was relegated to the Opposition benches. It was in the aftermath of this defeat Ranil really showed his character and his dastardly conduct as a practicing politician.
Gamini Dissanayake the only UNP parliamentarian who managed to win his province (all three districts- Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Badulla in the Central Province) challenged Ranil Wickremesinghe for the leadership of the Opposition. Ranil lost. Never did Ranil forget this ignoble gesture by the UNP parliamentarians. Gamini Dissanayake, who was sacked by President R Premadasa for Gamini’s leadership in the famous impeachment episode, came back to the UNP and prevented Ranil from claiming the post of Leader of the Opposition which he thought was his as outgoing Prime Minister.
When the presidential elections were called thereafter, once again, the UNP voted for Gamini Dissanayake as its presidential candidate. Ranil was dejected and thoroughly depressed and went to the extent of throwing big money to defeat Gamini at the elections. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s capabilities and talents and their superiority are a myth and it is beyond the pale, to say the least. He was badly beaten by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunga both in and outside Parliament. Then the Rajapaksa boys ran circles around Ranil Wickremesinghe and when Ranil’s position in the UNP was challenged, first by Karu Jayasuriya and later by Sajith Premadasa, Mahinda Rajapaksa rushed to his assistance. Ranil Wickremesinghe may have forgotten who helped him in the past but the Rajapaksas would not repeat after him. When all the chips seemed to be falling and depression and distress was all over the Rajapaksa landscape, they made their choice as was shown in the last couple of months. And it was Ranil Wickremesinghe.
When the people were on the streets clamoring for wholesale transformation and system change and certainly not just derisory reform, when the fall was near and all alarms were shrieking, it was Ranil they turned to. Given the wicked demeanor of his past, given the countless occasions on which Ranil betrayed his own Party, Party men and colleagues and in the context of his illogical attachment to the Rajapaksas and their politics, it is certainly not surprising to see Ranil come back to assume the Prime Minister post in a parliamentary democracy without holding a single elected seat in that same parliament.
Such a strange political episode might seem as an astounding development in our sociopolitical culture, yet one has to remind oneself that Ranil Wickremesinghe is part and parcel of that dirty and dishonorable enterprise.
Coming back to the cricketing jargon, when Ranil Wickremasinghe comes to bat, little does the spectator realize that the pitch had been prepared by the Rajapaksas, bowling changes and field-settings are to suit Ranil’s obscene stroke-making and if and when he gets out even the umpires might not raise the finger for they may have been in the soiled pockets of these very dishonorable players. It’s not cricket! Ranil, when he came to bat in the first innings, was retired hurt and hurt badly. But when the going got tough, in this instance the weak, pretending to be the strong, ate into the pitch, the ground and when there was nothing left in the batting order, they were compelled to call Ranil from retirement.
Now he is occupying the crease and trying to hammer all over the ground without first having a game plan. He is trying to hook a well-pitched up ball and cover-drive a short-pitched delivery and being totally devoid of a planned and strategic approach to class batsman-ship, Ranil Wickremaeinghe, our batsman pseudo-extraordinaire, is attempting to face a lethal attack without even taking his usual guard.
From one end is speeding the economic hardships and from the other end is political reform. To face this lethal attack by the deadly duo operating from either end is no mean challenge. Experience, which Ranil Wickremesinghe can boast about, is definitely a must; but experience alone will not make you keep your wicket. Unorthodox batting and improvisation may well be the ultimate weapon that the batsman has to put to good use. Instead of scoring singles and twos and threes, a timely hit over the ropes may well hasten the process. A skilled batsman of W G Grace or Garfield Sobers would realize that, but a half-bred batsman in the low caliber of Ranil Wickremesinghe might fail disastrously.
While the country needs Ranil to succeed and score the final runs even in the last ball of the last over, the duo of economic peril and political reform might spell not only overpowering, but too dangerous and fresh.
Dr W G Grace was a cricketer whose service to the game of cricket is yet unmatched. Reputed for his all-rounder capacity and indomitable leadership skills, Grace was a graceful player of this game of ours and excelled in the most dignified manner and long before the greats such as Sir Don Bradman, Sir Gary Sobers, Len Hutton and the rest, it was Grace who occupied the sole status as real icon of the game. Only alternative left for Ranil is to carry water to the field when Grace is tired and weary, so that Grace or his worthy successors can continue to play on the game in the fashion and manner it is meant to be played- a gentleman’s game.
I am reminded of the celebrated poem by Sir Henry Newbolt:
There’s a breathless hush in the close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”
*The writer can be contacted at email@example.com