By Kumar David –
There have been three grand coming-out events in the last 12 months. To be a more precise two debut-balls and in the case of Sajith a still ongoing feud whether to anoint him Deputy Leader or let him languish outside Uva for a little longer. The guy is hogging headlines and some, more outside than within the UNP, are excited by a youthful pretender. For the record, all three bambinos are under 50, their birth years: Champika 1965, Sajith 1967 and Anura Kumara 1968. Obama was just 44 when first elected but belongs to a different rank. Nevertheless, the fate of these three will give telescopic insight of things to come and the political playing field in the next decade. Ranil, Rajapakse, Dead Left and Sambanthan are jointly and severally well past their useful shelf-life. Indeed the conjoint age of DEW, Tissa, Vasu, Ranil, Mahinda and Sampanthan exceeds four and a half centuries, reaching deep back into the mid-Portuguese period in the history of this country!
In Alexander Dumas’ novel, D’Artagnan is not one of the three; an outsider, a country bumpkin who travelled to Paris to join the high stakes game with Athos, Porthos and Aramis: “All for One! One for All!” So that myth holds too! The fourth of this generational cluster, the Tamil Prabaharan, was an outsider to this same Sinhala nationalist battle cry that binds Champika, Sajith and Anura Kumara.
We are on the brink of a profound generational shift in political leadership, most obviously on the left. Dead Left leaders hanging on with a tenacity that perks, privileges and portfolios alone can explain have obstructed a next-generation which may challenge them, albeit at the gates of the morgue. Secondly, leadership in the small-left is barren, a desert as dry as the Kalahari. There are a dozen minuscule entities with ‘Socialist’ or ‘Revolutionary’ or an equivalent on their name boards, but no leader of national stature and none likely to gain that stature. Speaking candidly, and with no bias one way or the other, it is a walkover for the JVP on the left; a takeover of the whole left space just for the asking. Will it still manage to screw up the opportunity anyway? I am not sure, but it seems so far so good with Anura Kumara. (This should not be read as uncritical endorsement, which is a separate matter from objective evaluation of prospects). Does anyone see a credible alternative challenger to share mass left-space with the JVP?
When Rajapakse goes, sooner the better you may say but that’s a separate topic, who will occupy the vacated Sinhala-Buddhist space? Oh yes for brief period a squatter like Nimal Siripala, a sibling or a clown may crouch on the throne, but only as a deaf-and-dumb filler like the previous DB. The SLFP next generation is rotten; incompetent garbage, drug dealers, abusers of power; not one who with a leadership image. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king and I see only one person who is fostering an image and can emerge as a challenger opposite the UNP and Anura Kumara. I have written about this perception of mine a few times recently but not had anyone write in and express agreement. I am of the view that Patali Champika Ranawaka (PCR) is preparing to mount a presidential challenge at an opportune moment and it will be strong and credible.
I have the strongest possible difference with PCR on the Tamil question and his refusal to recognise the rights of the Tamil people. He is opposed to the devolution of power and I reject that. I needed to say this because some readers and commentators are dense, unable to see that when I say PCR is mounting a serious challenge it is an objective assessment of ground realities and has nothing to do with my likes and dislikes. Having made that clear, let me repeat, in time his will be a robust challenge as he is streets ahead of Rajapakse and his menagerie in education and intelligence. Another distinction is that, so far as I know, he is not corrupt and the support base he is nursing is a cut above the lumpen ragtag of drug dealers, robbers and political thugs who constitute the regime’s entourage.
PCR is finding resonance in a certain section of the Sinhala intelligentsia. Young professionals, middle management and educated middle classes, typically in the 30s to the 50s are interested. It is a politically significant mobilisation of putative Young Turks. I have also detected an interest among senior engineers, corporate chairmen, board members and technology leaders from state enterprises and the private sector. With the Rajapakses and the UPFA in abject moral decline, the UNP in disarray and the Dead Left in the morgue, there is space for an ideologically rata-jathika-abymane believing, Sinhala professional, educated, middle-class movement. A movement of this nature, if it gels, is different from the JVP which has a more plebeian class base and is committed to a left-oriented ideology. We are seeing here the birth of something new. By counter-posing to the leftist JVP, the possible rise of a rightwing movement of this nature, I am not implying that it will necessarily assume neo-fascist contours, though it may. Nationalism can be wedded to “socialism” in many ways. The new-right in France, Denmark and Austria manifests a different storyline from the narrative of pre-war fascism.
PCR’s challenge proceeds from intelligently chosen premises linking techno-economic anxieties to political abuse and Sinhala-Buddhism. It taps into roots of social concern as against the UPFA’s and UNP’s fish-market sloganeering. Both old and new left will not be able to match this challenge as they do not have the techno-economic intellectual resources to counter it. I have been sounding the alarm among left “intellectuals” but to no avail.
Poor Sajith is the odd man out among the three, the dog without a kennel and also not very bright. He is not a patch on his old man; R Premadasa was sharp and able and a dogged worker who did much to rebuild the UNP alongside JR. It is known that Sajith is a good grassroots organiser who achieved much on a small scale in Hambantota during the March SP-PC elections and there are those who say that bringing him on board now will be decisive in swinging Uva votes. The strategy of the anti-Sajith section seems to be to keep him out of the Deputy Leadership till after Uva because if the UNP does well without him it will cut him down to size. The decision may be known by the time readers see this piece in print.
Sajith Premadasa is fundamentally the least important of the three bexause he does not slot into any organically necessary political or ideological locale. The JVP and Anura Kumara bring up the political and ideological left; they fill a natural and necessary slot. The Sinhala-Buddhist space is a crucial political location; some would say it is the hegemonic ideology in Lanka. Champika Ranawaka is making play for a key role here, and given that genuine Sinhala-Buddhists are fed up of the putrefaction of this regime he is likely to be a figure in this big game.
Poor Sajith in contrast can find no essential location anywhere. From the point of view of class, education, international connections and personal mores he is not a natural leader of the UNP, the GOP of the Lankan bourgeoisie. His old man too was similarly challenged but he did have the advantage of great ability. Sajith may be a good organiser but remains untested on the national scale. Keeping away from Uva till the Deputy Leadership issue is settled is wilful and petty. Anyway, let us see how it all unfolds over the years. My guess is that the other two Musketeers will pull much farther ahead on their respective roads while poor Sajith languishes in a blind alley in the UNP.