By Lankamithra –
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost.” ~Arthur Ashe
Just in two short weeks the Yahapalanaya claimed its second victim. One may never know whether the political initiators of the Yahapalanaya movement would be happy about this outcome. There are advantages as well as disadvantages in a political process that entails the ouster of two leading members of the Cabinet of Ministers, a forced resignation in one case and a complicated firing of the other. The man who resigned, or forced to resign, Ravi Karunanayake, did so in consonance with the traditions of a parliamentary democracy while the one who was fired came out swinging against those who fired him.
Whatever opinions or verdicts politicians of the involved parties may present, we should be able pass judgment and ascertain the plusses and minuses that would eventually accrue to the government. More than Maithripala Sirisena, the President, it was Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister who was intricately enmeshed in both cases. Ranil is not only the Prime Minister of the country; he is also the leader of the United National Party (UNP). Both Ravi Karunanayake and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe are among the leaders of the UNP. Ravi Karunanayake’s resignation and the issues related to his ouster have already been extensively discussed and written about in the media. But Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s ouster is different in that the firing occurred after a wide discussion had taken place in the highest decision-making body of the UNP. The Working Committee of the UNP decided, almost in unanimity, that Wijeyadasa should be removed from the Cabinet. The grounds were his criticism of the government’s decision regarding the Hambantota Project which is a breach of collective responsibility of the Cabinet, along with undue delays related to the numerous probes and investigations into the former regime’s bigwigs’ corrupt practices. While the accusations and allegations against Ravi K were of the nature of financial corruption, Wijeyadasa R had even more telling issues associated with his conduct as Minister of Justice. And those allegations were even more significant as far as the UNP members were concerned. Allegations about the lackadaisical fashion in which the probes into the Rajapaksas, the former First Family consisting of Mahinda, Shiranthi and Namal and Basil and Gotabaya etc. and their cohorts feature very prominently in the minds of the ordinary members of the UNP, leave alone its leaders in the present government. The allegation about Wijeyadasa R’s involvement with the notorious Rakna Lanka Company and its obscenely corrupt dealings dating back to the former regime and its Secretary of Defense cannot be swept under the carpet.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe had somewhat a fairly unimpeachable reputation about his financial integrity. Enter Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, it all changed. The veneer of purity was removed. The man who was once the Chairman of Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), a man who crossed over from the Rajapaksa’s grip to the Opposition and then joined the UNP is now standing accused of safeguarding that very regime and on top of that the revelation by Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka about his unholy alliance with the Head of Rakna Lanka have now tarnished his name and reputation. It certainly is no allegation one can ignore. A picture is worth a thousand words- that is an old saying many an editor of a newspaper would throw at his trainee journalists. It could not have been truer; especially when Wijedasa Rajapaksa’s unholy alliance was exposed a few months ago Wijedasa looked almost naked and guilty of untold misdeeds. He simply cannot afford to throw stones at others, for his habitat is utterly vulnerable, more vulnerable than a house of glass.
Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus said thus: ‘It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters’. Both Ravi and Wijeyadasa have failed in the test that Epictetus poses in regard to men and matters. People judge their leaders more by how they withstand and endure adversity than by what they really achieve in the material world. A very rare few would be able to go through adversarial conditions and come through life as a more learned and stoical person. Such human endurance has rare examples. History bears witness to the great ones and in no way could either Ravi Karunanayake or Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe be equated to them. Ravi and Wijeyadasa will not walk into the proverbial gentle night. The humility of the great ones in our history is not a mark of either of these two characters. A harsh critique of these two gentlemen is not unwarranted. The great burden of the very pillars of the Yahapalanaya government rested on them. When former Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel criticized the then UNP government, J R Jayewardene did not take even one single week to ask for Ronnie’s resignation and he did so without making any excuses. Negotiating one’s own resignation is not the soul right and privilege of the one whose resignation is called for.
However, leaving a lucrative position in the government must be causing an enormous amount of pain of mind. Those who embark on politics must be made to be aware that the glamor and luster associated with power is very temporary. The luster does not last, for such power does not last. The Rajapaksas who governed the country from 2005 to 2015 did not understand that fragile aspect of political power. They knew about it but human nature being as it is, the discipline and fortitude that is required of a person under pressure is not forthcoming from either of these gentlemen. It was never the case with the Rajapaksas and it will not be so with 99.9% of the current set of politicians. A great exception that is outside the realm of ordinariness, leaving office when one is on the summit of power has been an evasive human condition. Only one Sri Lankan politician who could be classified as one who would have performed such a superhuman act. That was Dudley Senanayake. No other politician could come anywhere near him in the context of withstanding and resisting the lure and lust for power.
That is from the point of view of those who suffered the indignity of having to resign, either forced or otherwise or being sacked from the portals of power. From the point of view of the government, particularly in the context of the Yahapalanaya rule, the forced resignation of Ravi Karunanayake and firing of Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe are two deliberate acts by the government to wash its dirt off their untidy governing structures. To quote Jawaharlal Nehru’s landmark oration that captures the essence of the triumphant culmination of the Indian independence struggle against the British Empire in India: ‘we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially’.
Yet we cannot rest on the laurels of these two acts which in fact were imposed on the leaders of the government by outside forces. It did not materialize from within; nor did they manifest themselves as natural qualities of leadership of the governing coalition. What both Ravi and Wijeyadasa did were no acts of negligence of duties. Both are being accused of exceeding the boundaries of fair-play and transparency. Neither of them has been found guilty in a court of law. But in politics, such exigencies are not the measure by which those who engage in it are judged. Public opinion is an immeasurable exigency. When the tide turns, it gushes and takes you along with its currents and cross-currents. The previous government was grossly insensitive to the task of handling power. Their avarice consumed them to such an extent, they did not realize that the ultimate consequence of such avarice and unawareness of those consequences would eventually catch up and when they did catch up, it was too late for them. But the real tragedy is not that they did pilfer the country’s coffers and behaved like kings and princesses, but it lay in the fact that they were living in the blissfully ignorant notion of ever-lasting power!
Those who chose to be politicians carry with them an unenviable yet a unique burden; that burden is not one bereft of weight or gravity; it’s no bag of goodies one looks forward to enjoying once that power is assumed by the pursuer; it’s not a sin city in which the holder of power indulges in in his lustful greed. In the dark and deep annals of power, rests many a skeleton of men, if exposed to the fresh air, it becomes almost impossible to breathe. The suffocation that ensues will end a long journey towards that noble end of political power. Political power taken in isolation is no different from an alluring witch shrouded behind a sweet damsel’s costume. Take the shroud off, what is visible is a skeleton with no flesh or blood, but mere bones. Both, heroes and traitors, are hiding behind that skeleton.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org