21 September, 2020

Blog

Why Not Dinesh? Give The Opposition’s Candidacy To The Vice-Captain 

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Sri Lanka won the cricket World Cup once, but never again. We started down the slippery slope almost the morning after we had reached the zenith of achievement. That was because we dismantled the winning combination which included Ana Punchihewa and Davnell Whatmore. The most crucial mistake we made was in the succession. The captaincy should have automatically devolved upon the vice-captain, who was one of the world’s best batsmen at the time; perhaps THE best. That was Aravinda de Silva. He was allowed to captain only sporadically. 

The same mistake is being made by the Sri Lankan Opposition. In a situation in which the captain and commander-in chief of the national opposition, ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, cannot run for Presidential office, the obvious front runner in the choice of candidacy should be the vice-captain. There can be no question as to who the vice-captain is because the country’s citizenry sees it every night on TV news, whenever there is footage from the center of the nation’s political life, the parliament. And that man, that vice-captain, is Dinesh Gunawardena.  

Now the obvious question arises as to why, though I had been mentioning Dinesh’s name for years, I had suggested Gotabaya as candidate at one time—and why I no longer do so. I did not push early on for Dinesh though I kept dropping his name, because I remembered what another political family had done to a worthy successor who was outside the family. My father, Mervyn de Silva, was perceived as even closer to the SLFP’s Deputy Leader and the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Maithripala Senanayaka, than he was to Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike. I therefore had a ringside seat watching the rise and fall of Maithripala, a left of center populist who had progressive views on foreign policy and was supported by the Left within the coalition. When Mrs. Bandaranaike’s civic rights had been removed and she was unable to contest the Presidential election of 1982, Maithripala, if given the SLFP candidacy, might have won. Instead he was overlooked, and double-crossed by his political ally Anura Bandaranaike. Hector Kobbekaduwa, a distant cousin of the Bandaranaikes, was chosen instead, but he too was backstabbed by the Bandaranaikes as was his ally and Mrs. Bandaranaike’s son-in-law Vijaya Kumaratunga himself.  

Having watched the fate of both Maithripala Senanayaka and Hector Kobbekaduwa, I did not want the same fate possibly visited upon Dinesh Gunawardena. I was counseled by veteran observers that the Rajapaksas would only support one of their own, and I thought Gotabaya would be a good choice, provided he could be persuaded to go with his best self rather than his ‘Tea Party movement’ type Alt-Right constituency at the core of which are irrational ex-military colleagues and militant monks, both verging on neo-fascism. 

Even more simply, while I had advanced the slogan of “MR Plus” for the Opposition Presidential candidacy, in which GR would be the Plus, the GR camp (NOT GR himself) had for many years planned the reverse: they thought of MR as the “Plus” in a “GR Plus” formula! Their project was not MR-centric, it was GR–centric. They felt that MR’s time had come and gone and he was to be merely a stepping stone for a leadership model and policy agenda which they felt was more advanced and superior to MR, because it was less populist, more nationalist, and ex-military driven. They felt the ex-military vanguard was superior to an experienced political vanguard. They felt that MR ran a ‘soft state’ while they wanted the dominance of a hardened state machine. 

In his historic valedictory address to the American nation, retiring US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, WW II military hero, warned the citizenry about the growing power of what he termed “the military-industrial complex”. If the Sinhala Alt-Right takes over, we shall be dominated by a “military–corporate complex” or a “military-big business-managerial-monk complex”, which will replace the “Govi-Kamkaru” component of the “Pancha Maha Balavegaya”. 

I engaged constructively, tried to reason and persuade, and failed. Veteran leftists Vasudeva Nanayakkara and DEW Gunasekara (especially the former) were right all along, but I think my effort was worth it. As the Apostle of Cuban Independence, Jose Marti said: “I have lived in the belly of the beast and I know its entrails, and my sling is that of David”.

Now it is time to speak plainly. I firmly believe that there are two excellent, risk-free choices of candidate for the Opposition. One is, as Vasudeva has said, Chamal Rajapaksa. The other is Dinesh Gunawardena. Dinesh can probably get support from an improbably diverse array of leading players, namely two ex-Presidents and the serving one: Mahinda, Maithri, and perhaps even Chandrika. 

After the shock defeat of Jan 8th 2015, opposition strategy pivoted on Dinesh Gunawardena. I recall a discussion 48 hours later at Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa’s residence in which Mahinda Rajapaksa correctly concluded: “Dan Dinesh thamai inne!” best translated as “now it is up to Dinesh” or “now it is Dinesh we have to rely on”.  The Mayor of Matale Hilmy Mohamed was witness. 

Dinesh played his role as Opposition Parliamentary leader and Mahinda’s deputy extremely well for years in Parliament under very difficult circumstances in which the numbers fluctuated, the official SLFP joined the Government and the real Opposition did not (does not) have the status of the Opposition. He has the respect of both the Government benches and the Opposition. When he speaks he does so with authority. His television performances, of which there are too few, are superbly skillful. In or out of Parliament, none dare trifle with him. He combines a steely temperament with civility, mischievous charm and a warm smile.

If the Opposition is looking for a Presidential candidate who would be an effective yet safe proxy for Mahinda Rajapaksa, how can there be anyone better than Dinesh, who has played that very role splendidly since 2015?

Dinesh is a veteran of Opposition politics since the toughest days of the 1980s, coming into Parliament in the second term of a hegemonic administration, and after the Referendum of 1982 when the regime had hardened. He has served in Cabinet under two Presidents. His experience ranges from trade unionism to Parliament, from the Parliamentary to the extra-parliamentary, from Opposition to Government. With that richness of experience he is surpassed only by Mahinda and Vasudeva.

In a period of history when the tides are against the neoliberal elitist establishment the world over and running heavily in favor of change under the auspices of populism and nationalism, Dinesh is a populist nationalist with a Socialist orientation. At a time when progressive, left of center populism is to be vastly preferred to the angry ultra-nationalism of the Alt-Right, Dinesh is a progressive nationalist and patriotic populist who has consistently been left of center. 

Not only has Dinesh the benefit of learning from his father, Philip Gunawardena and being raised in a great political family that included his militant uncle Robert and aunt Vivienne (a socialist icon), he has also worked with Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike as an ally and fought against President Jayewardene in the 1980s, engaged sympathetically with the JVP in the 1980s, served in the cabinets of Presidents Chandrika and Mahinda in the last 20 years, and been a close comrade and parliamentary colleague of Mahinda’s for decades. Now that is what I call a wealth of political experience, in both senses of political combat and political engagement.    

The balanced, mature style of Dinesh’s politics is best evidenced in his stance on Constitutional reform. He has been a sharp critic of the elitist establishment’s efforts to short circuit Parliament, as well as to perforate the unitary framework by means of slippery terminological deceit. It is a pity that the TV news failed to catch his strong rebuttal of Sumanthiran’s and Jayamapthy Wickremaratne’s responses to their critics, after their strong arm tactics were exposed within the Steering Committee. However, Dinesh has also engaged with President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe (his former classmate at Royal College) and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, in all parliamentary matters, including in the Constitutional Assembly and Steering Committee processes. While insisting on correct parliamentary and Constitutional procedure and practices, he has also insisted that the Opposition engage in the Constitutional reform conversation by presenting a 14 point policy paper. Dinesh believes in drawing broad parameters, red lines—not in rejecting reform or foreclosing the space for its consideration and deliberation.

For his policy of constructive engagement, Dinesh has come under heavy pressure and public criticism by the ultranationalist Far Right (e.g. Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara, Dr. Wasantha Bandara, Ven. Elle Gunawansa), which insisted that the JO disengage from and boycott the process itself. When this ideology threatened to seep into the JO itself, it was Dinesh who beat it back, with Mahinda’s overarching support, since the latter believed in Parliamentary participation. If not for Dinesh’s excellent parliamentary tactics in a difficult and complex situation for the Opposition, the hegemony of the neoliberal establishment would have been entrenched. 

Throughout, Mahinda has been able to rely on Dinesh as his right-hand man in the parliamentary battle since 2015; the one who manages the JO forces in Parliament and confronts the government every day, while being at MR’s side or functioning as his representative at all important meetings with the President, the PM and the Speaker.             

Dinesh Gunawardena has a shrewd understanding of international affairs and as a Realist he is a far safer bet than the Alt-Right GR bloc which criticizes a solution to the Tamil question based upon “bala bedeema” i.e. power-sharing, and refuses even to guarantee that the existing 13th amendment will be respected. The Alt-Right bloc questions the very existence of a Tamil political question and a legitimate Tamil political identity i.e. a Tamil collective identity. Their ideology seeks to put the clock back, not merely to pre-1987 and the Indo-Lanka accord but to 1957 and the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact which was the first recognition of the political nature of the Tamil issue and the need for a political solution based on territorial autonomy and devolution/sharing of power between center and periphery. 

The ideologues of this Alt Right camp regard any political reform based on territorial autonomy, indeed the very recognition of the need for territorial-based devolution/autonomy itself, to be separatist! If it assumes state power in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan state will face geopolitical consequences of a devastating and terminally destructive nature. By contrast, Dinesh Gunawardena as Presidential candidate and MR as powerful Prime minister or Prime Ministerial candidate will be able to balance the Sinhala and Tamil nationalist concerns, with Sri Lankan national interests as a whole. 

Dinesh is a perfectly bilingual ex-Royalist who has a Colombo elite constituency just as he has a broad Sinhala Buddhist base. While a Sinhala nationalist, he is a pragmatist who knows that India must be kept on board and that the principle of devolution cannot be renounced, and the Provincial Council system cannot be dismantled. Dinesh Gunawardena is a ‘Smart Patriot’. 

On the Geneva front, Dinesh has been a fiery critic of the 2015 Resolution while supporting the deployment in our defense, of the report by Sir Desmond de Silva. In this he was opposed not only by the neoliberals but also by the Alt-Right including one or two foreign policy/Geneva hawks within the Opposition. 

Dinesh has been in the political struggle for longer and more continuously than any of the Rajapaksa brothers apart from Mahinda. With Dinesh’s wealth of experience in the political movement, he could fit into the role of the candidate for the highest political office in the land less controversially than anyone else. As the Parliamentary leader of the JO who has led the struggle day in day out in parliament, it is unthinkable, even inappropriate , that the JO Parliamentary Group should turn to anyone but their own Parliamentary leader as the Presidential candidate in a situation that Mahinda cannot contest.   

Perhaps above all, society, civilian governance and our deep rooted democratic system are safe with Dinesh. He has been a thoroughgoing democrat, combining principle with prudence, wedded to the parliamentary tradition for decades while being unafraid to brave bullets while leading demonstrations on national and democratic issues (one recalls the breaking of the ban on May Day celebrations in 1987, the demonstration at Abhayaramaya temple and the death by Police gunfire, of young Kithsirimevan Ranawake). His proven, deep-rooted democratic conviction and commitment are without question. A strong opponent of economic neoliberalism and a staunch defender of the state sector of the economy, of social welfare, and of students and workers rights and trade union rights in general, Dinesh Gunawardena is easily classifiable as a national-democrat and a Social Democrat.

Sri Lankan society has produced three great political families on the center-left: the Bandaranaikes, the Rajapaksas and the Gunawardenas. Dinesh is the son of one of the biggest names ever in the island’s politics– Philip Gunawardena, the father of the socialist movement in Sri Lanka. With the Bandaranaikes breaking their alliance with the Rajapaksas of the South and allying with their erstwhile rivals, the dominant family of the center-right, the Rajapaksas turned to the Gunawardenas. The Gunawardenas, represented by Dinesh could have defected to the Bandaranaikes in 2015 but instead stayed with the Rajapaksas and remained loyal to Mahinda. It is time that loyalty be recognized and rewarded by making Dinesh the Presidential candidate. 

Dinesh has one political weakness but that could turn out to be a strength. He heads a small party, the MEP, and is not a member of either the SLFP or the SLPP. However, that means that he does not have the national mass base to be a rival to Mahinda or any of the Rajapaksas. This alone should reduce any apprehensions and insecurities, and render him a safe bet.  

Which factor Mahinda Rajapaksa will go for—the high risk option of spectacular (pan-Sinhala) but geopolitically and geo-strategically unsustainable (zero-devolution, ‘Trumpian’) success, or the low risk option of moderation, experience, pluralism, sustainability and stability—is known only to him, and he may make the decision much later than sooner.

In these difficult years, Mahinda’s vice-captain and right hand man has been Dinesh and he should not be denied his due. From my perspective as a political scientist and student of international relations, what MR said on January 10th at Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa’s official residence, remains true today and will be truer still next year, the year of the Presidential election: “Dan ithin Dinesh thamai inney!”

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Latest comments

  • 13
    1

    At last I can see DJ has lost the plot… Some how trying to be a king maker but lack maturity for common sense due to his marxist dogma and finally this rambling that should have come from a mental patient..

    This guy went to Australia to get his phd and people who gave him free accommodation got a nasty surprise since he was trying to sleep with the wife of the friend who gave him the free accommodation.
    These are the values that built in to these nasty parasites.

    • 3
      0

      Watcher
      DJ never peddled ‘Marxist dogma’ (as you put it). He never understood it.

      • 1
        0

        K. Pillai, DJ uses Marxist Dogma to justify his latent Fascist ideology and the psychopathic disorder that he and his Govigama Mafia team are suffering from. DJ is a very cunning fox. He knows what he is playing. Its the same game the Zionist Super Powers have been playing for the last 300-400 years, that destroyed the world of the Goyim (the Gentiles).

    • 5
      0

      Oh no watcher DJ has not lost the plot, he brews his own plot and it is a mixture of his conscience (I hope), what he what to project in order to stay relevant whichever way the wind blows (the diplomatic gigs), and his real intellectual abilities.
      The problem is his mindbogglingly change of heart from Fidel and Rahul metaphores to military industrial complex with regard to GR potential candidacy can only be compared Swing Time.
      And to DJ I would say Dinesh is a great man I am sure, but he cannot win votes, or govern effectively so stick with GR and I am sure he will send you to a plumb post…perhaps even Washington.

  • 3
    9

    No matter what the principles Dinesh stands for and where his loyalty lies, Dinesh is NOT an effective leader. He is NOT a man of action. As a person coming from his electorate, I can say he is a useless guy and unable to work for the people. So Dinesh is not suitable for leading the country as the president. People prefer Gota who is a man of action with a proven track record. He is a better leader than Dinesh. If Dayan has any apprehensions about Gota and his policies, I think Dayan should contact MR or anyone in JO camp and straighten things up.

    • 7
      4

      sachoooooooooooooooooooooooo choooooooo chooooooooooooo

      ” People prefer Gota who is a man of action with a proven track record. “

      When did the people vote for a war criminal, MIG hora, …. and a white van operator to confirm his popularity among the voters.
      Could you give us the detailed outcome of his popularity contes or the source.

    • 4
      0

      Sach I totally agree, Dinesh is NOT a man of action, on the other hand if we could not win another World Cup cricket it was because we never had another Arjuna..

      • 1
        0

        wannihami

        Keep knocking the key board one day you would have typed complete work of Shakespeare.

        Oh dear like the army commanders and officers who individually and single-handedly won the war, now it seems Arjuna single-handedly won world cup.

        What a brilliant single-handed nation is this.
        Why did have 10 more players when Arjuna alone would have won the games single-handedly.

  • 4
    2

    Whats the guarantee that Dinesh will not end up in the bosom of the UNP like his illustrious father Phillip .

  • 6
    5

    I think Dayan is right on this. Dinesh is much better than any one from Rajapakse family which destroyed Srilanka. But my fear is that any one go against Mahinda family is in danger of facing white van ………… They never worried about nation, people or party. They only worry about themselves.

  • 2
    0

    “He has the respect of both the Government benches and the Opposition.” Will the King-making minorities vote for a Sinhala Buddhist hardliner like him? Therein lies the rub!

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 5
    0

    No need to waste time !

    1. Dinesh is in politics because his father was in .
    2.Mahinda is in politics because George was in .
    3.Nmal is in because Mahinda is in.
    4.Sajith is in because Premadasa was in .
    5.Navin is in because Gamini was in .
    6.Much younger Kavinda is in because Jayalath was in .
    7.Another younger Kanchana is in because one time
    Revolutionary Mahinda Wijesekara was in .
    8.RANIL IS IN BECAUSE JRJ WAS IN
    9.Upeksha Swarnamali was in because she had everything
    except POLITICS.
    10. Hirunika is in , again because of her father .

    Sharing and caring at such jumbo level , non stop since independence .
    Are they going to be any creative at any time ? It is either NEPOTISM
    or RACISM for the country and never Humanism ! Why do UNP expect
    Sajith or Navin to lead in the future and both are ready as well ? The
    one and only experience that works ! PROGRAMMED . THERE ARE TWO
    WORLDS .
    1.Wonderful world and beautiful people .
    2.Foolish world and fools .

    • 0
      0

      why,why…., a very good point indeed! its Nepotism and Racism. The operators of the SYSTEM is just trying to tell us something…… its all about the CLAN. When they talk about the leadership, they can’t think anyone outside of the GOVIGAMA MAFIA Elites. Which also means that the rest of the population cant produce any capable leader. So, they are forced to select one from the SWAMP even if he has a very bad record in terms of human rights or any other Democratic values are missing in that person’s character. That’s why DJ is proposing one GOVI after another sermonising the gullible to have a tunnel view of things. Everything else and everyone else outside of GOVIGAMA is thus a complete useless….. they have 70+ years of record about their rule and WE HAVE TO BELIEVE HIM on the ones he proposes now….. thats the best part.

  • 5
    0

    “..Dinesh is a perfectly bilingual ex-Royalist who has a Colombo elite constituency…….”
    Ha ha ha…. this half a line speaks volumes of the basis of Dayan’s newest choice for Presidency. (And he is Ranil’s classmate!)
    Dayan’s aim is to stereotyping Sri Lanka’s next President in order to exclude the other politician who is the most popular next to Mahinda. (Anyways, he doesn’t seem interested.)
    Dayan’s tendency to promote those who have higher social status to the post of President will have an unfair impact on the aspirations of other politicians who hail from less elite families in the society.
    Excluding those who didn’t study in Colombo schools and those who are from less elite families from power, is downright discriminatory.
    There should be a counter mechanism against prejudice, discrimination, devaluation and negative stereotyping of politicians based on their social status.
    .
    To be fair with Dinesh, yes, why not him? Much better than Gotabhaya or Basil.
    Anyways when we talk about Federal Constitution, JO’s active participation in the Constitutional Assembly was the leverage for Ranil to come this far. It is worth mentioning that it was the President who stopped the Vote last November who promised to hold an All Party Conference to discuss the matter.

    • 5
      0

      Champa, DJ does not care where the next president was schooled, he is covering his bases, thinking if any of those he from time to time present as the ideal candidate becomes the president he (DJ) can get on the diplomatic horse again, mark my word the moment he gets the notion that Wimal malli may be the candidate, he (DJ) will counter argue his own arguments and say “why must we always have a Colombo educated, Political pedigree as a president why not a man like Wimal”.
      Whichever the way DJ’s wind blows (no offense DJ) it comes down to the votes of the people who does not even the know the existence of DJ, these folks I talk to on a daily basis, and for them M or G is it as of now.
      On another note where can I find an English copy of the Batalanda report? Any ideas?

  • 1
    0

    It is Dinesh now.
    DL rates the JO and rebels like Dayasiri Jeyaweera, SB DASSANAYAKE, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, etc. as progressive left – relative to himself.

    Wait for further DJ suggestions.

  • 4
    0

    Dayan will play under anyone…He will play under the vice captain or cross over and play for the opposition…. as long as he can go to Russia.

    • 5
      0

      Rajash, I just cannot imagine why DJ wants the Russian post so badly, just imagine the food? Perogies and beet root salad any body? The women? Beautiful yet high strung and at the home-front there is an intellectual who will not play the second fiddle to any buxom blond. The weather, oh my god the weather! And learning the Cyrillic alphabet, does one really wants to do that after turning 60!
      Or perhaps, DJ imagines himself to be Omar Sharif (DJ has the right kinda of hair but not the mustache) and plays Lara’s theme in a loop in his head.

      • 1
        0

        DJ is a better actor that Omar Sharif. Unlike OS ; DJ can play second fiddle to any poloitician at a drop of a hat

  • 1
    0

    Dayan J:
    You brought cricket into this.
    Lankan cricketers have beaten South Africa in two tests so far. Why this sudden improvement?
    Everyone knows that their morale was low. Change in the SLC management and Dayasiri no longer the Sports Minister made all the difference.
    .
    As far as Lankan governance is concerned, we are in this invidious position of having to choose between two baddies.

  • 1
    0

    Dr. Jayatilleka
    *
    While Dinesh Gunawardena, in comparison to many others politicians is a more decent chap. Nevertheless, he is a very tainted person as are all others who voted for the 18th Amendment and expulsion of CJ Shirani Bandaranayake.
    *
    MR did not even dream of making Dinesh G his Vice Captain in his government. Instead, he had useless septuagenarians as VC / Prime Minister.
    *
    We do not need a figurehead President who will be the shadow of MR, any other Rajapaksa, Wickramasinghe or Sirisena.
    *
    We should look for a younger person preferably not older than 55 years of age, has a mind of his own and proven track record of honesty, integrity, and respect for the rule of law – a local Emmanuel Macron.

    • 2
      0

      Rajeewa Jayaweera


      “We should look for a younger person preferably not older than 55 years of age, has a mind of his own and proven track record of honesty, integrity, and respect for the rule of law – a local Emmanuel Macron.”

      How about Wimal Sangili Karuppan Weerawansa born in 1965 (??????????????) and only 53 (????) years old. Age does not matter as long as Wimal behaves like a teenager. He does. Wimal fits the bill.

      • 0
        3

        Native Vedda
        If you consider Wimal Weerawansa to be honest, has integrity and respects the rule of law, all I can state is “it is
        better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak (write) and to remove all doubt” (with apologies to Abraham Lincoln)

        • 1
          0

          Rajeewa Jayaweera

          “all I can state is “it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak (write) and to remove all doubt” (with apologies to Abraham Lincoln)”

          Yet you refuse to practice what you preach.
          Your hypocrisy knows no bound.
          That is typical Sinhala/Buddhism at its best.

  • 4
    0

    Dayan´s choice of Presidential candidate:

    One month before- Gotabhaya Rajapaksha

    Last week – Chamal Rajapaksha (Dayan suggested that Chamal can be the López Obrador in Sri Lanka)

    This week – Dinesh Gunawardhane

    I am surprised to know who his next candidates will be by next week.

    I am also equally surprised to know how many candidates will be chosen by the due date for the for the Presidential election by Dayan.

    I think as per the rate of him naming a candidate, he may not have one other than himself to name.

  • 3
    1

    Your skin as thick as that of a rhinoceros hide. The rhino horn is said to have medicinal values. Do your horns have any? .

  • 0
    0

    Is Dayan ‘Writing for the Orumiththa govt which has over 150 ministers now.What is the total with the state ministers ? Ranil scored poiont by employing vijayakala Mendis nee maheswaran as the LTTE voice.

  • 0
    0

    Why talk about the bottle, not the wine in it?

    All are crooks

  • 1
    0

    dinesh is a member of the present parliamentary committee on high posts which has not approved DJ’s appointment as ambassador to russia. Is he now (true to form) wooing him?

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