An open letter to the General Secretary of the SLFP
I am sure you may be thinking of the reasons behind this open letter. Since we are friends, I should have mentioned these points to you in person. But I decided otherwise as this attempt would be more beneficial to you, than a one-on-one tête-à-tête.
You have become a key figure within contemporary politics in Sri Lanka – especially with your appointment as the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Both you and your colleague Susil Premajayantha became centre figures of heated political debates in providing nominations to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In fact both of you became the most powerful and most sought after duo in a tough political battle. This letter, is not intended at changing your political allegiances but to share some thoughts probably for your own benefit.
My memory goes back to the early 90s of the Chandrika regime. Visumpaya which was Prof. G. L. Peiris’ then official residence was the meeting place for many budding MPs, especially in the evenings along with some ‘energy drinks.’Though he was a former university vice chancellor and a well-known academic, Prof. Peiris was also a budding politician having entered Parliament through the national list. He used to entertain young parliamentarians like Dilan Perera, Nalanda Ellawala, Dullas Alahapperuma and Anura Yapa at Visumpaya with thick political talks.
But I have no strong memories of a close association with you until you became the media minister. There you gained visibility and came up the political ladder with a ‘comparatively acceptable’ reputation.
You, as the media minister, faced the hardest period in maintaining media freedom [in this country]. It was challenging for both you and us as media practitioners.Many journalists were attacked, abducted, intimidated and even assassinated – and to many of us, you were the first point of contact in government. At least you were a patient listener, but you would personally tell us how helpless you were – as much as we were. I remember your advices to me when I was facing safety issues during a time many of us maintained a link with you when we were in exile.
Then there were moves to revive the defunct Press Council. As I touched on in one of my previous columns, I think you were successful in shelving the ideas of the ‘top’ at least during your tenure as the media minister.
Even during such challenging times, you managed to maintain a reasonable rapport with the media. In short, you were not branded as a ‘joker’ or a ‘liar’ which are ‘reputations’ many media ministers or media spokespersons gain.
There were some corruption allegations against you as well from the JVP and other political platforms – mainly on the issue of controversial ‘Sil Redi’ distribution during the presidential polls as well as misusing funds of the Petroleum Corporation for election work. But I leave that for you to clear through your own means.
Most importantly you always managed to win the trust of the party leadership. Thus, you were entrusted with many crucial responsibilities by successive leaders, predominantly by ex-President Rajapaksa and you delivered well. The cardinal event that comes to my mind was the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike which you implemented as per the wishes of your leader. Whether good or bad on policy, you played the cards well and led the Parliamentary Select Committee to bring results as desired by the political leadership. And then you, along with some others like Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi were gifted with lucrative ministerial portfolios.
Now this was the the turning point in your political career. When Maithreipala Sirisena defected from SLFP last December, you were the obvious Rajapaksa choice to the post of general secretary. Moreover, when President Maithri replaced Mahinda as the party leader he decided to continue with you as the SLFP general secretary.
What did that mean? He trusted you; but did you trust him?
I think I know your answer. But that could be your personal one, not the official one. I think you have mixed up the two.
In the contemporary political history of Sri Lanka, anyone who disobeyed party leadership has not been successful. Look at Lalith, Gamini and the DUNF – Rajaliya Party; what happened to them? Ranil who stood by his leader [though he belonged to JR camp] during tough times of impeachment was successful. See what happened to those who revolted against Ranil. Were they successful? Look at Chandrika who went against her own mother and the party and formed new political forces. But she had to return to the main party platform to be successful. Anura Banadaraike was also a good example.
I am not claiming that you are becoming anti-SLFP. But I think you clearly need to identify your boss and be loyal to him – not to others. Individual loyalty is a personal matter, but party loyalty is an institutional issue. Your loyalty is still with the former leadership who may not have a future within the party ranks in the future. The role of the general secretary is to strengthen the party and its leadership. It seems that the SLFP is now being dictated to, not by its own seniors but entirely by outsiders like Dinesh Gunawardene, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa, Gammanpila et al. I am concerned whether you have become a cat’s-paw of these outside elements with ulterior motives. I know you have become a victim of circumstances with immense pressure from various quarters, but you are the best judge especially when safe guarding your own party.
More than that of the UNP, the SLFP’s post of general secretary has always been a challenging and a risky one. Only a few were successful, I guess. And today is the most challenging period of the SLFP with a serious split within its own ranks. Your performance will be decisive in determining its future. If there is a split between the party leader and its general secretary, then the situation is serious, as far as the party is concerned.The leader should not go to court against a decision of his own general secretary. It is not a healthy state of affairs.
Some food for thought my friend!
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