28 February, 2024


Ranil Wickremesinghe – Untangling Of A Socio-Political Parable

By Vishwamithra

“If the story-tellers could ha’ got decency and good morals from true stories, who’d have troubled to invent parables?” ~ Thomas Hardy

Since of late, there seems to be a spate of interest in our Prime Minister. Often referred to as Ranil, instead of Prime Minister, he has managed to draw unusual attention to himself; by the nineteen eighties he had already become the darling of the Colombo cocktail circuit, paralleling Lalith Athulathmudali at the time; his laidback lifestyle which emanates an aloofness beyond a mere ‘politician-ness’ of a politician has sometimes caused a great deal of suspicion among his constituents. His inflexible principle of unwillingness to lend any political favors to his friends and constituents has cost him a massive amount of perceived ‘man in power’-notion, to whom most of our voters turn in a circumstance of dire need. His oft-repeated free market economic practices followed up by real-time de-acquisitions of loss-making, state-owned business ventures have come for severe criticism by the leftover ‘left’ in the country.

Yet the labels attached to Ranil by the Opposition, the stature he is held in the blurred pages of political scrapbooks, the length of years he had been decomposing in parliamentary benches without attaining real power, the introvert disposition of the personality and above all else, his unwavering belief in capitalist economic principles have enticed writers and commentators to label our current Prime Minister as a work-in-progress-model of J R Jayewardene. Ranil may lack J R’s discipline, J R’s unmatched aura of the personality, his sharp and bell-like timbre in which he delivers his uncanny repartee in Parliament and his stoical strength in the face of mighty political storms. Yet when one looks back at the last twenty five years, Ranil Wickremesinghe, without possessing any one of those Jayewardenesque qualities, has withstood the present-day blizzards of political backstabbing and downright betrayals within and outside his own ranks.

Political leaders, some say, are made long before they even arrive on stage. Once they arrive, the somewhat clever and skilled ones, not necessarily the wise ones, even before any acclimatization process, begin to play their theatrics and games in order to attain their goals. They seem to be in a hurry. But the ones who wait patiently for their turn consistently end up playing a much longer game, in their own terms, than those who rush to the targets ahead of time. The patient are the wise ones. Nevertheless in politics, in a given context, those who make the right decision to suit the given circumstances cannot be blamed for rushing to target.

Let us deal with the main subject of this column, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Ranil, as is being wrongly vilified and derided, was not catapulted into politics by J R Jayewardene straight at the 1977 General Elections itself. In fact he was eased into the ’77 historic Elections gradually by his uncle. What most writers and pundits don’t realize and fail to acknowledge is that the landmark ’77-election-victory that the United National Party (UNP) secured was a culmination point in a five-year-long struggle against one of the most repressive governments seen up to that point in time. The combine of Sirimavo and Felix Dias Bandaranaike was no easy duo to tackle. It was the popular belief at the time that Dudley Senanayake was the main vote-getter for the UNP. History tells a different story. Except in 1952 at which Dudley received some kind of a fresh mandate from the voters to govern- the elections were held within 3 to 4 months of the passing away of his father D S Senanayake – UNP’s victories at the elections in 1960 and 1965  were too close for comfort. Dudley may have been a leader loved by all the people in Sri Lanka, yet when they trudged to the polling booth on each Election Day, they tended to vote from their heads rather than their hearts.

I have great personal respect and love for Dudley Senanayake. Yet Dudley, with all his magical charisma, never built the UNP from bottom up. His UNP was his father’s module; though he had great empathy for his fellow countrymen, his politics did not extend from the narrow corridors of power in Colombo to the broad streets and immense expanses of the rural meadows in the hinterland. Dudley’s authenticity dwelled in his personal sanctum of inner self-satisfaction. He was susceptible, to an unbelievable degree, to the vagaries of political change. A man who could be rattled by pressures of the domestic kind, on many an occasion, he showed that he was a politician unwilling to be enveloped by that all-alluring aura of power; greed was never in his disposition. But his fatal folly was his ‘Hamlotonian’ indecision, crippling him from making up his mind at the right time. The combine of these traits contributed to making Dudley Senanayake the leader he was. Even the so-called ‘green revolution’ which was heralded in the mid-sixties as a massive drive towards self-sufficiency in rice did not produce its desired results. In the context of the enormous benefits the Mahaweli Development Program, inaugurated by J R Jayewardene, engendered made the green revolution look like a mild breeze.

On the other hand, J R Jayewardene was the total opposite. Dudley became the leader of the UNP when he was only 41 years old. J R had to wait till he was 67 to be at the helm of the party, which he carried on his solitary shoulders when it was in the political junkyards. Dudley was Prime Minister when he was 41 years and J R assumed that position after his 70th birthday. From 1952 until 1973, for 21 long and painful years, J R waited uncomplainingly to take the reins of the party. And one striking quality, in the wake of taking over the party after Dudley’s demise, was, despite the most incredulous in-fight with Dudley in the few years before his death, J R looked after each and every person who had pledged loyalty to Dudley during that in-fight- a rare quality of a leader indeed! One might ask as to what happened to Rukman Senanayake. Rukman was nowhere near national politics when Dudley was living. Rukman’s by-election for Dedigama was a textbook study of a campaign run by a courageous leader against all possible odds and the details of this are well chronicled in J R Jayewardene’s biography penned by Professor K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins. Rukman dug his own political grave by flirting with the Politricks of Felix Dias Bandaranaike.                 

Today Ranil Wickremasinghe is leading that political party. Times have changed. Sri Lanka’s politics has gone through multiple transformations and its complexion and what lies beneath that complexion has undergone irreversible alterations. What was once an innovative adventure for some affluent, English-speaking and educated elite in Colombo has been passed to the hands of vernacular-educated, extremely crafty and personally avaricious vote getters called politicians. Today politics is an enterprise in which hungry and greedy men and women indulge in without any care for the service of man. When vile chauvinism is mistaken for patriotism, when thugs in saffron roam the streets with slogans borrowed from the Mahawansa, when bribes and favors are bartered for the most basic needs of the masses, when religious fundamentals have been transformed into fundamentalism in the religion, when government service is at the beck and call of the wealthy and powerful and when henchmen are misidentified for genuine consigliores of the Godfathers of politics, Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose potent repertoire is high-sounding socio-economic goals, might once again fall by the wayside if he lets down his defenses.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, this socio-political parable of a Prime Minister, needs to come down to earth, at least once in a while, if he is to continue his already tainted term as Prime Minister. His rigidness is often construed as arrogance, his aloof temperament is taken for a cold and calculating serpent and his lack of public-relation-oriented demeanor is misunderstood as discomfort among the commoners. Yet most pundits and scholars might well be mistaken if he or she forecloses Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as done. A man who had the stamina to wait for twenty years, not nearly as calmly and stoically as did J R Jayewardene, does not have any more time to waste. Nor would the masses have patience with his apathetic approach towards facing issues head-on.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has to rebuild a party from bottom up instead of the reversal, a party whose  crème de la crème has to emerge from the millions of the rural youth instead of Royal College in Colombo, a party that needs her energy not from the money-grabbers in the main cities but from the far-off farmland in remote corners in the country, North, South, East and West, a party whose fundamental message has to be palatable not only to the minorities in the country but also to the vast majority of Sinhalese Buddhists. That is a very tall order.

The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 16

    How bankrupt the Sri lankan politics. There are no political leaders except reminding the past ones. Author acknowledges Ranil is no close to JRJ except when it comes to Batalanda and being the eternal Leader of UNP.

    Author does not have anything to praise Ranil yet talk about Ranil. How many years a seasoned politician needs to produce results.

    Only a bankrupt politician would talk about a fully finctional FCID, Lichchavi kings system or ruling the country, and 10 million jobs etc. How many or what do we have achieved. Instead, we know when the next govt comes again they have lots to talk about Ranil’s govt. Rajapakse killed only a few individuals because they want to create a “arab Spring” against Mahinda Rajapakse. How about Meethotamulla. what was the govt doing ? OR is it the lack of visionary politicians. they are thinking 24/7 about when will next 10 or 20% comes and which will be the next super luxury – european car will be ?

    • 2

      What people – especially in countries like SL – respect in a man is not goodness/kindness but brutality that makes them fear for their life or property. That’s why Prabakaran was the most feared “leader” SL ever produced. Mahinda and Gota team comes a distant second. Ranil is just a gutless sissy.

      Whoever the leader/leaders is/are the citizens of Lanka have to decide whether they want to live in freedom or fear and choose the leader/leaders accordingly. Simple as that!

      I would rather live under do-nothing leader/leaders and live in freedom than live under “doers” in fear.

      In SL, for the last 60 years since independence, no politician – when he “did” things – has done the right/correct thing but only done wrong. So why hanker for “doers” to do more wrong?

      No need to complicate things; It’s a matter of simple logic.

  • 13

    The article is not worth the paper it is written on. Ranil is a bankrupt politician who has done nothing substantial in the last 36 years. He has no financial and development policy except to follow the IMF , WB etc. His only assett is clogging the position of the Leader of the UNP an undemocratic organisation and preventing a suitable young leader coming through. Unfortunately the country pays the price.

  • 11

    “Ranil Wickremesinghe has to rebuild a party from bottom up instead of the reversal, a party whose crème de la crème has to emerge from the millions of the rural youth instead of Royal College in Colombo, a party that needs her energy not from the money-grabbers in the main cities but from the far-off farmland in remote corners in the country, North, South, East and West, a party whose fundamental message has to be palatable not only to the minorities in the country but also to the vast majority of Sinhalese Buddhists. That is a very tall order.”

    I simply do not understand the purpose of this article. If Ranil is a smart politician, Viswamitra does not have to give the above mentioned advice. Anyway I think it is too late. He is a loser. This time he came to power not by riding the elephant but by climbing on to ‘Hansaya’. Most of the people who voted to ‘Hansaya’ regret for their decision. I do not know to what extent he is clean but one thing is clear that he is knowingly allow corruption. MR also did the same and he paid the price for that. At lease he has ‘eradicating terrorism’ to his credit. What has Ranil got; ‘Sanhindiyawa’, ‘Nawa Wyawasthawa’. Most of the Sinhalese hate these two terms.

  • 15

    He seems to have an insatiable appetite for foreign travel , as amply demonstrated during period 2001-2004 , and 2015 to date. A true leader must live with his people , not spend his time getting in and out of airplanes while the country sinks deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit .

    • 13

      Ranil doers not have a family, because of that 10% or 20% is nothing for him. His way is extensive foreign travels. He lives mostly outside Sri lanka.

      Ranil rewarded people with minister posts for earning money for the last election. He has rewarded a financial dealer for spending money for the oncoming election. Besides, he does not have to worry as foreigners give him money for elections.

  • 17

    In the 25 years Ranil led the UNP how many leadership changes have occurred in the Conservative party and labour party in UK ?

    How about the political parties in Australia-Liberal party etc ?

    Then look at USA -how many new presidents ?

    How many changes in China ?

    then , what about North Korea ?

    When Chandrika as president wanted to change the presidential system what did Ranil the leader of the opposition do ? He made it impossible.That time he had dreams of being elected president !

    After Sirisena became president did not Ranil want to create a Executive Prime Minister ?

    Opened the doors of the UNP to the common man !-yes to Sagala, Malik, Paski, Ratwatte, Mahendran, ambassador Pelpola, his cousin as our ambassador to UK – may be common thieves but not common men.

    No other politician has done what he did with the trillion rupees fraud with Bonds.

    People will decide what kind of a man he is.

  • 14

    Lots of people have proffered this sort of advice to Ranil: to no avail.

    It’s time for him to go; for the good of the country. For many Sri Lankans the UNP has long been the natural party to vote for. How can we vote for it, when for so long he’s been manipulating in such a way that nobody else can lead the party?

  • 14

    Dear Writer,

    RW is a failed political leader. If he is a real democratic person, he should have resigned long time ago after losing many elections.

    It is obvious he is selling the vital assets of Sri Lanka to foreign powers thinking that they will save him. He does not have vision or mission to position the Sri Lanka’s future for another 50 years. He is playing a tempararary game with MS that can last only another 2 or 3 years.

    My comments are based on his entire career from 1970 to now. There is also no future for UNP as there are no intelligent leaders to drive the UNP as it was before.

  • 8

    Not only is he undemocratic I believe his (in)action during the pogrom of 83 shows that he is not friendly towards the minorities though many think he is.
    I believe is recent posturing towards minorities has to do with the fact that >60% of his electorate is made up of Muslims and Tamils.

    Anyone have any thoughts on that?

  • 5

    What can Ranil do with 94 MPs who have not even passed the O Levels?
    We have the most under-educated legislature in the whole world.
    Is this not a record ?

    • 4

      Justice, maybe this is how Ranil became a leader !

  • 4

    Man stop polishing turds!
    RW should have long gone! How many defeats? How many rejections?
    He alone destroyed the UNP! The vacuum in UNP is all thanks to him.
    Please don’t tell me that is tenacity or perseverance!

  • 0

    Vishwamithra.I am reminded of this famous quote.

    There is a tide in the affairs of men,which taken at the flood,leads on to fortune.Omitted,all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.On such a full sea are we now afloat.And we must take the current when it serves,or lose our ventures…..


  • 2

    You are asking feathers from a tortoise!

  • 0

    Vishwa, quoting Sir John Kothalawala/ Neville Jayaweera, Dudley too was behind the 1962 coup and you say he was not power hungry. Greed was not in his disposition

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