By Vishwamithra –
“If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned!” ~ Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
The Economist, the prestigious global publication, carried an interview with Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s first unelected president. It was dated August 16. Very heavy on the macroeconomic side with a little bit of details on the micro aspects, the interview, taken by itself, stands out as an intellectual insight into the economic life of a country whose sociopolitical rudders have been let loose by those who were charged with the responsibility of taking charge in the first place. Yet one wonders, in fact, one is justifiably exonerated, for finding fault with the main protagonist of this column, Ranil Wickremasinghe.
Ranil may be telling the truth; his analyses might contain many a compelling factor to buttress not only his own argument but also to shatter his opponent’s. Each and every time he was in power with enormous opportunity and power to justify his stay in power and bring along prudent resolutions to complicated and complex issues, he failed. In terms of his arguments in the said interview, on each occasion, he had a President over him; or he did not have absolute power to himself when and where he could have chosen a different path to the resolution of the complex issues that have confounded the country today.
Nevertheless, Ranil Wickremasinghe apart, the Economist interview sheds light on a few salient features of the country’s economy whilst attempting to spell out the historical parallels that Ceylon had been facing prior to the present crisis. One obvious parallel is the one during Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime from 1970 to 1977 and the steps that JR Jayewardene and his able Cabinet of Ministers led by R Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali, Nissanka Wijeratne and Ronnie de Mel. Ranil Wickremesinghe is making a vicarious attempt to identify himself with the economic boom of the JR-period; however, his mention that he was a member of that Cabinet would not fly in the context of the massive development-driven policies undertaken by the JR-regime. Ranil was just a passenger travelling on the footboard. And his contribution towards the boom in the eighties was zero.
Today Ranil Wickremesinghe does not have that caliber of Ministers; the likes of Premadasas, Gamini, Lalith, Nissanka and Ronnie are not among the living and the Party they represented, the United National Party (UNP) was totally destroyed by Ranil Wickremasinghe himself. The trust and faith that the likes of Gamini and Lalith enjoyed amongst their supporters as well as foes is not easily earned. Not only has one got to be consistently driven and ambitious; but one needs to be ‘learned’ and talented too. That is why Ranil Wickremasinghe always fell by the wayside.
Ranil Wickremesinghe may have applied his heart and mind into the subject of politics with all he had; but that was not sufficient in the marketplace of politics, for that matter in any profession. When JR Jayewardene reined over Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, although closely related to J R (J R’s mother was Ranil’s maternal grandfather’s, DR Wijeywardene’s, sister), was a podian (puny player) whose strengths and weaknesses were well recognized and reckoned by the political-supremo whom we knew as ‘Yankee Dickey’, JR Jayewardene. Ranil was not even a member of the first JR-Cabinet. He was first sworn in as Junior Minister of Foreign Affairs, playing second fiddle to ACS Hameed, the Minister. Ranil’s effort to gain credit for the economic successes of the JR-era is apparent, yet shameful.
Ranil Wickremasinghe’s chief foe is not lack of understanding of the current economic plight; it’s his defiant refusal of accepted norms of clever and crafty public relations. Ranil has the unique ability to make enemies. Politics is all about winning men and women. Ranil does just the opposite: winning enemies. That indeed is a very sad commentary about a politician whose father, the late Esmond Wickremesinghe, was a wizard of political craft and maneuvering. Observably nothing has passed down from father to son!
Rudyard Kipling said: “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind”. It is here Ranil Wickremesinghe has failed to make any impression. The words he chooses to express his ups and downs (he rarely refers to his downs) are not a product of a clever professional. He might be a voracious reader but none he reads seems to have gone into his whole makeup. There are leaders who could be called dogged, obsessive or even utterly obstinate. But recognizing such failings is one of the great qualities of a successful leader. In terms of such definitions of successful leaders, Ranil is nowhere to be seen or heard.
Ranil’s failures are many and varied. But what has taken him down time and time again is his stubborn refusal to accept the obvious. When confronted by raw reality, he tends to look the other way and indulge in his comfortable pastimes and sulking away wishing the problems would go away because its immediate nasty aspects have been procrastinated. Life is not like that. Having remained his mother’s boy, Ranil’s comfort zone has always been in a corner away from the people who matter in the enterprise he has chosen to be engaged in.
When such a person is thrown into the arena that is full of nasty and powerful players who have built their respective reputations based on half-truths and outright lies, he or she cringes behind an ornamental veneer that plays a very powerful and comforting role in safeguarding the lack of charisma and steadfastness which great leaders inherit. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksa-founded imposter, which is Ranil Wickremesinghe, is in full and unbridled power of Executive Presidency today.
As a matter of proven fact, the Rajapaksas chose Ranil to be their protector not because Ranil would bring in remarkable results but because he, Ranil, alone would be the ultimate shield against very corrupt and dishonest governance practices they themselves indulged in in the past two decades. Ranil safeguarded the Rajapaksas in the aftermath of the 2015 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Now Ranil has no choice but to safeguard them even further in the wake of the disgraceful exit of Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the exalted position of Executive President.
Ranil is President today and the terms of the 20th Amendment are still in play. The strengthening of the Executive Presidency is actually helping Ranil personally on the one hand and the Pohottuwa-mafia on the other in the context of any potentiality of weakening of Executive Presidency. So long as the Pohottuwa-mafia could muster 113 votes in Parliament, rest assured, no dismantling of the vicious and vengeful operations and conduct of those Ministers and other parliamentarians can be achieved in a real sense.
They have a man who would defend their vested interests at all costs purely because those vested interests are the same as those of Ranil’s and his close cohorts’. Sagala Ratnayake and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam are Ranil’s close buddies. Vajira Abeywardana is one of the most corrupt politicians the UNP ever produced; Ruwan Wijeywardene, though by birth is DR Wijeywardene’s grandson, has no achievement he could boast about other than his inherited pedigree. Ranil’s other cohorts such as Ravi Karunanayake and Arjuna Mahendran have already become yesterday’s devalued currency, but still may have some dramatic entry into this Rajapaksa-mafia-run administration.
Ranil certainly has a past, how ignominious it could be; his present is confusing and unclear but his future is as uncertain as the inconsistency of rainfall in the arid zones- no guarantee, no promise of arrival. However, the middleclass and the upper middleclass in the country have chosen to give another chance to this proven failure. Ranil’s inner motivation, which is driven by hatred towards innocent yet forthright and outspoken opposition of the youth in the country, has triumphed for the moment. At what cost to the country’s journey towards a dynamic equilibrium amongst competing forces of capitalism, socialism and middle-of-the road economic policies, may be seen in coming months.
Sustenance of rounding up of leaders of a mass movement has a very limited shelf life. The alacrity of the deterioration of the objective conditions in the country will decide the shape of the process and the final outcome. Self-absorbed and narcissistic leaders may enjoy a very temporary success at containing an uprising; but a day will dawn when the powers vested in the authority of the Executive Presidency would be redundant. Gotabaya Rajapaksa proved it beyond any doubt. The force of mass-power could be uncontrollable if timely resolution of all issues that have already caused irreparable damage to the lives of men and women have not been found.
Libraries of books and reels of videos would not be sufficient to learn what is called street-smartness. Is Ranil Wickremesinghe street-smart? Can the axis of evil comprising of the Rajapaksas and Ranil Wickremesinghe withstand another mass uprising? Will the suffering rural folks stomach it any further and ultimately capitulate to the systemic suppression of the government machinery? These questions still remain unanswered and the day they shall be answered may bring sunshine or perhaps gloomier weather? That day shall come, but when is the sixty four million dollar question.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org