5 March, 2024


The Defenders Of The Indefensible

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

“Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda.” ~ (Hannah Arendt)

Speaking with Bandula Jayasekara aboard Pethikada, Gomin Dayasiri claimed that it is the people who are to blame for the debacle the Rajapaksas brought the country to. The reason, he argued, was that after Mahinda Rajapaksa oversaw the ending of the war, those who loved him turned him into a maharajano. Had the people been more careful in crowning the man who was, essentially, a politician voted in on a mandate to end the war, he would not have arrogated to himself powers that contravened the norms of legitimacy, custodianship, and governance.

Gomin has a point. A very good point. We elect those we prefer to lead the country and when those we elect achieve what we want them to achieve, we crown them and hand them and their cohorts blank cheques. Mahinda had his moment and, depending on how you view it, he lost it. Happens. That is perhaps why even those who continue to bat for him and idealise a third term as president are not so willing now to celebrate the likes of his wife, his sons, and some of the more populist, demagogic sections of his party, i.e. firebrands like Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa.

That point, however, holds valid for politicians of all shades, and not just the populist, demagogic sort. It is valid for those who support the Rajapaksas and for those who are opposed to the Rajapaksas. I believe, therefore, that it is valid to the man at the centre of the anti-Rajapaksa cabal, the man you either celebrate or demonise. I am talking, of course, about Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Before everything else, however, a caveat: I am neither a supporter nor an opponent. There are more reasons than one to like the man and more reasons than one to dislike him, some owing to his character and others to factors beyond his character. What I’m concerned about here is not Ranil Wickremesinghe the politician (of whom everyone has written everything), rather the people who propagandise him.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, then as now, solicits support from a broad section of the population who are essentially Sinhala or Buddhist, or allied to a more inclusive Sri Lankan identity that is, at the same time, rooted in the Sinhala Buddhist ethos. I’m not saying that this is the absolute truth; rather, it is the impression that his promoters have built up over the decades. In any case, Mahinda has become the most definitive face of the SLFP since Sirimavo Bandaranaike, so much so that I’m willing to wager most SLFPers continue to associate him with the firebrand Sinhala Buddhist nationalism that even Sirimavo’s own daughter tried to do away with it.

Ranil is different. He solicits support, then as now, from a narrower milieu, based on and rooted in Colombo (the city). It can be said that the milieu that elects a politician is the same milieu that spawns those who celebrate him or her in the public sphere, the media and the blogosphere included. Simply put, the milieus which support Ranil and Mahinda are the same milieus that give birth to their hagiographers.

The English media, which is reflective of the English readership, has not, to this day, produced a hagiographer for Mahinda Rajapaksa on par with the hagiographers of Ranil Wickremesinghe. At one level this is to be expected, since support for Mahinda stems from the popular Sinhala consciousness and it makes sense to pen down a piece celebrating him in a Sinhala newspaper. Support for Ranil, on the other hand, stems from those whom Gomin Dayasiri referred to as the “Kolombians”, i.e. those who are not only deficient in Sinhala and/or Tamil but also revel blissfully in this deficiency and are more insular, yet strangely more cosmopolitan, than the commentators who see everything good and nothing bad in Mahinda.

By those who bat for Ranil in the English press, I deliberately exclude the moderate columnists, that is, the likes of Sarath de Alwis, Tisaranee Gunasekara, Kishali Pinto Jayawardana, W. A. Wijewardena, and Ratnajeevan Hoole, all of whom, to be fair by them and those who read them enthusiastically (like me), are shaped less by political preferences than by an overriding concern for democracy, economic rationality, and good governance. These are not Ranil lovers by any stretch of the imagination, and if they do support the previous status quo, i.e. a Ranil premiership (which de Alwis once called, memorably and very accurately, a “Royalist Regency”), it is not because they believe the man to be the most able to stand for those norms and values.

There are, however, other columnists. They not only bat for Ranil, they muddle up their facts and let their prejudices (virulently anti-everything-outside-Colombo) get the better of them. They are “shallow” in the truest sense of that term, so while they celebrate the man they think is Ranil Wickremesinghe, attacking those who see his other side (a side which other neutral columnists have explored and laid bare for us frequently), they end up being as insular, if not more insular, than the writers who champion a Mahinda Rajapaksa premiership and, if possible, presidency.

The I-bat-for-Ranil club is, not surprisingly, more nauseating than the I-bat-for-Mahinda club, because in the popular consciousness, among the neutral floating vote base especially, the latter is seen for what it is: one-sided, driven by support for a man motivated by a blatant love of power, and reflective of the racism of a big majority of that man’s electorate. In other words, Mahinda is the known devil. Because not many people belong to or affiliate themselves with the pro-Ranil writers’ club, on the other hand, not many come across, or take seriously, articles that praise Ranil for no reason other than the fact that he is the man they idealise him as. There is a reason why this brand of hagiography doesn’t hold water, by the way: as columnists more experienced than I have proved, while Mahinda has a trump card (“yudde iwara kara”), Ranil has precious little to show as PRIME MINISTER, his “achievements” as Minister and Leader of the House being grist for an entirely different debate.

This is why most of those pieces about him make no sense, because, in the absence of an accomplishment he can take full credit for (at least in the popular view), the most typical reasons resorted to when celebrating him cohere into an elitist, self-centred, anti-everything-outside-Colombo worldview: that he is a gentleman; that he studied in such and such a school; that he is a good son, brother, husband, uncle, and employer (whose employer? Ours?) who may not carry babies and smile with the people but who care for the people more than those who can and do.

This is also why those from the English language media seen to be lackeys of Mahinda Rajapaksa surprisingly come out as more cosmopolitan, intellectual, and genuine IN COMPARISON TO many of those who bat for the anti-Rajapaksa, pro-Ranil side. Just the other day, for instance, I was reading through some articles written by these “lackeys”, i.e. the likes of Dayan Jayatilleka, and I couldn’t help but notice that the arguments they made were more compelling, more thought provoking, and more sensible than the tripe dished out by the I-bat-for-Ranil club.

To be sure, these articles do call for a Rajapaksa Restoration. But they do not call for that contingency because of a vaguely defined goodness and flawlessness in the man’s character. They deify him (at times, nauseatingly), yet they do not celebrate his act of belonging to exclusivist clubs. They affirm what he did, not what he CAN do because he came from such and such a family and attended such and such a school.

This is true even of those Sinhala columnists who write of the man: they celebrate his accomplishments, but do not glorify him because he belongs to a clique that gives him a god given right to view his country the same way that a “hamu mahaththaya” views his servants; which, by the way, is the impression I get whenever someone writes that the former prime minister proved his “resoluteness” by his school tie (regardless of whether that is relevant to the majority of this country; somehow I get the feeling that it is not). That self-centred, self-righteous, arrogant, contemporary feudalism, the sort the UNP of the Kotelawala days invoked, is as parochial as the parochialism those opposed to the Rajapaksas associate the former first family with.

Rephrasing what Gomin Dayasiri said, then, we can say that it is those undying blue-and-gold-skinned boys and girls batting for Ranil who are to blame for the debacle that he and his party brought this country to. These are the same boys and girls who, salivating over Ranil’s perceived commitment to decorum and democracy, ironically rebuke those who criticise him by suggesting that they must give him a chance (even though we gave him more than 20 and he lost them all) In case you’re wondering, folks, no, it doesn’t get more self-contradictory than that.

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Latest comments

  • 12

    You say “The English media, which is reflective of the English readership, has not, to this day, produced a hagiographer for Mahinda Rajapaksa on par with the hagiographers of Ranil Wickremesinghe.”
    Oh come on, young man. Where have you been living? Haven’t you read that masterly con-artist C.A. Chandraprema who churns out hagiographies by the week in the “Island” ? Or the infamous Dayan Jayatillake , who can turn any criminal into a likeness of Fidel or Lenin? I see you think that D.J’s output is “more compelling, more thought provoking, and more sensible than the tripe dished out by the I-bat-for-Ranil club.” I don’t see how prostituting principles for personal gain is “compelling” , especially when the output consists mostly of dramatic comparisons with obscure communists such as Gramsci , interspersed with self-congratulatory notes about the writers exploits in the local and international arena ( carefully avoiding his period as an Eelamist cabinet Minister and the experience of being stripped naked at Kanatte).
    You ought to know better.

    • 9

      old codger

      The boy wonder ought to know lot of things.
      However let him do whatever he thinks appropriate.

      If you need more fun you should encourage him.

      • 9

        Anyone who takes Gomin dayasri or Bandula Jayasekera seriously needs his head examined.

        • 1

          Gomin write gibberish which passes off for English (so he thinks)

    • 1

      Well said

  • 9

    Look up and read about the contribution Mr Ranil Wickramasingha has done for education, the development of youth. The difference is that he does not boast and shout about it at every meeting and gathering> His acheievements are on record. Do your home work young man.

    • 0

      Are you the same Ethel N who was a teacher in Oman?

  • 6

    Uditha, most of the readers of CT I believe are mature people who are much older widely read and knowledgeable than you. Don’t keep writing this tripe and waste our time. CT editors, are you asleep? Jagath

  • 25

    Uditha, my man,

    To hell with all Ranil’s minor shortcomings ………. simply put Mahinda is a murderer and Gota is a serial-killer.

    Look, how easy was that?

    I didn’t waste tons of words like you to get to the point!

    That’s the art of truth-telling.

    If you want people to take you seriously simply tell the truth; don’t bullshit.

    Telling the truth is much easier than you might think ……… a lot simpler than your silly pseudo-intellectual meandering.

    I want you to succeed; not lose the plot like many other Lankan “writers”…….. hence the harsh criticism ………..

    • 10

      nimal fernando, Oh Man, you nailed it!

  • 1

    Who’s the better demon? That seems to be the choice for Sri Lankans these days. The commentators on CT have been quite classist against Sirisena, calling him names that they consider deragatory such as “gamarala” and sayign things like “he should have been grateful to Ranil for having made him a president”.

    Utter nonsense! Stinks to the core with classism. In my opinion, having watched all 3 speak to the issues (RW, MR and MS), the president is the only one who seems to have a calm and reassuring demeanour and articulates issues that the public can get behind,

    MS seems to be the only adult in the room, and I hope tha he can reach compromises with the various factions, while at the same time getting rid of the rogues and corruption that is rampant in SL politics. HE needs all our support!

    • 0

      Bull shit

  • 5

    Uditha, you thick skinned upstart; read the reader’s comments. Don’t insult the intelligence of the readership by writing this immature thrash and wasting wiber space! Jagan

  • 6

    Hey Uditha, when mentioning the “lackeys” how come you didn’t include Malinda S who has been a “lackey” of the Rajapakses since time immemorial? I know he is a ‘guru’ of yours, so maybe a false sense of loyalty has impeded your sense of objectivity, but it’s not too late to call a spade a spade, don’t you think?

  • 2

    I find it totally incredible that sane, intelligent people have to engage in complicated debates about whether Ranil Wicks should be the President, deserves to be the President, who supports him, etc. etc.
    Face it, oh Lankan intellectual midgets, do you want a wimp, a low-energy, slow moving ADHD type retard, who has no accomplishments and has a long history of disdain, anger and total lack of empathy to lead your nation? Can Lanka, which needs a dynamic, dedicated, strong disciplinarian with a vision as its President escape the fact that only one man with any chance to be President has those qualities? If Gotabya does not make President of Lanka, the country will wither and waste away, regardless of who becomes President. The near imbecile, low-IQ Sajit, the Pol Pot in waiting Champika R, etc. are not a fit for the country. For god’s sake ask yourself the question? Can these morons even manage a farm with a dozen bulls and a few dozen cows? These are proven incompetent, low IQ types that Lanka can easily do without.

    Having said that, hopefully Gotabya will keep Mahindra’s eldest son, a retard if there was ever one, out of the picture as much as possible. Its clear that this guy is a total disaster and should never be allowed in a real position of power. Sadly for Mahindra his eldest son is the archetypal village idiot.

    • 2

      Jay Chambers

      Its you again.
      Take care.
      Cover your head when you go out in the evenings.
      Sometimes its cold out there.

      • 1

        Thanks Native V. These days its typical cold and miserable December London weather so I am well ensconced at a nice place in appropriate attire. Meanwhile try to focus on what I wrote, and say something intelligent if you can. Your country is at a crossroads, next few weeks will mean a lot more for its future than any other recent period.

    • 2

      Hey Jay C, your admiration of Gota (“If Gotabya does not make President of Lanka, the country will wither and waste away, regardless of who becomes President”) speaks volumes for your perspective! Looks like you need a dictatorial type who has a history of thuggishness, abductions and inclination towards racial and ethnic provocations that encourage violence, death and destruction.

      I have no problem with your assessment of the others you are critical about, but wanting Gota to be President is a bridge too far for any reasonable and discerning entity concerned about Sri Lanka’s future.

  • 4

    A country which boast of near perfect literacy rate, professionals who have gone abroad and made history, elected the first female PM (not in US yet), opened up the markets in mid 70s, Blessed with abundance of beauty and public witch is known to foreigners for their hospitality has to settle for
    LESS WORSE if not hard core criminals. This mentality has repeated again and again where four families have managed to rule the country since its independence. Unresolved ethnic conflict for more than 30 years with no hope of resolving , half the parliament filled with donkeys with no education and the the ones who boast to have education also seems to have lengthy criminal records, people with PhD are Dayan, Laksiri, Wijedasa and GLP, no judicial integrity, high ranked service personals facing murder charges, MP,s like Vasantha,Suresh who are clueless of of directions and jumping like monkey , MP,s offered millions, Land being surrendered to foreign powers, —-etc—–etc. I would like the readers to see the whole picture to realize the magnitude of the malignancy Is this what we are worth???? Is this what we deserve???? Is this (clowns) what we can come up with????

    • 0

      Dear Chiv

      The best ever think the good governance did was to invite all the diaspora back to Nation Build? the least ever discussed is this for the obvious reasons? my turn to deliver but at what cost is the calculation correct??

      Can we all go back to fulfil the patriotic duties together??? take all our wealth and knowledge/networking with our children/wealth and do an amazing job now we know all the flaws and had time to bench mark against the best young by the finger pointing and blame….tells me we know exactly what to do? I got my Nationality back but feel very lonely to do this on my own? would you all join me the CT readers and the commenters please? what I have in mind is for all Tamil/Sinhala diaspora to go back and help our people to devise a future without identity politics? We will also create a space in the respective countries we live for the current and future migration of refugees too humanely ‘walking the talk’??

  • 0

    A worthless popups material to save Old King! I thought, reading the heading that is about the current political situation.

    Old King is a world known notorious criminal + War Criminal. In Lankawe his swindling is covered by Finance Ministers like Mangala, but it is record outside the country. The man is losing his latest attempt to save him and his wife and children from their crimes and going to the purported tool, the PM post. One day, if he lives long enough, he is going to see Hague too.
    Those who write about him are only hoping to lick at the sweat coming from the $18B body. It is the sin of learning Goddess that these notorious men and women learned to read and writes. An equally criminal is Ranil. If in Singapore these men like people daily would found a reason to flog them publicly. Then, it is jobless person would only start an analysis on the writers of these criminals. What a low grade life all these are!

    These are only some kind hidden efforts to prevent those criminals from facing their investigation.

  • 1

    A rather verbose article,as others have commented already. I would be interested in who might be an alternative leader to these two flawed characters. And the main question might be….how to enable another choice.Everyone involved so far has to be found a face-saving formular to let them back down. These politicians do not like to look as if they have been defeated.

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