Sri Lanka’s perennial quest for national leadership continues. Of late it has assumed proportions bordering on desperation.
So many figureheads who promised Lee Quan Yew or Fidel Castro type leadership have ended up Marcos or Najeeb type. Our neighbour India invokes our envy in terms of their fortune to be blessed by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.
We encounter political leaders and not national leaders by any stretch of the imagination. When one finds a rare strand of liberal mindedness in one leader, he turns out to be without political resoluteness. When another has that, all traits of bad governance negate the positive.
Moderate leaders are without backbone, while those inclined towards extremes lack integrity and competence.
The illusory messiah
So the Messiah we have been waiting for is still illusory; it does not come in one package.
The removal of competent political leadership from the national political arena due to violence in past decades surely depleted the pool of leaders such as Wijeweera, Premadasa, Lalith and Gamini.
What was left is second string, perhaps with the exception of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Even then, he too exhibits a frustrating trait of irresoluteness in matters of dire importance.
Why are we incapable of producing Mandelas or Ho Chi Minhs? For that matter, why can’t we produce a Macron? It is not easy to answer the question, yet one worth scratching our heads over for an answer.
I think Lenin nailed in on the head in saying that people got the leaders they deserved! Surely, do not the citizenry of this island deserve better than what they have been dished out since independence?
After all are we not better than most of the developing countries in so many aspects such as literacy, GDP, human rights etc. ? Should not that progress translate into and be reflected in our national politics? On the other hand, can our politicians and their brand of politics, be termed national in the first place?
We are unable to think nationally; our horizons never reached beyond the individual at worst and caste, creed and race at best. We think we are better than our neighbours in the sense that we are more refined, globally oriented, and cosmopolitan. Yet it is a self-deception at best.
"Sri Lanka’s perennial quest for national leadership continues. Of late it has assumed proportions bordering on desperation."
A nation split in two
Ever since independence we have been divided into two main political blocs; namely the United National Party (UNP )and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and their insignificant pillion-rider parties in terms of regime-making.
For some time there was a lamentation that party politics should be shelved for national progress, which did not come to any fruition when the nation needed it most.
The civil war with the LTTE never saw the two main parties coming together. Any attempt to salvage the situation without going for all out war, as it eventually did, has been thwarted by either of the main parties in opposition ever since independence.
The Dudley-Chelva Pact, Banda-Chelva Pact, the 13th Amendment and the proposed Constitution were glaring instances that show our incapability of having national level leadership even in crucial matters of importance.
But the biggest disappointment today is not that we failed then, but that we failed to learn from them. For the first time in our election history we are confronted with a situation with possibly two years to go for the next presidential or as it might turn out, premiership election, with neither of the two main parties having a clear-cut nominee for national leadership. While during the MR regime, although the UNP was all at sea until the last moment in deciding who their champion was, which they decided ultimately in favour of common candidates, there was not an iota of a doubt that it would be Mahinda from the ruling alliance.
Even prior to that there has never been this type of uncertainty or suspense as to who would represent the main political alliances at the final bout at the ring.
The Joint Opposition (JO), despite the bravado, lacks sufficient clout to go it all alone and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), despite salutary achievements in terms of their public regard does not seem to produce that type of leader of late.
"We are unable to think nationally; our horizons never reached beyond the individual at worst and caste, creed and race at best. We think we are better than our neighbours in the sense that we are more refined, globally oriented, and cosmopolitan. Yet it is
a self-deception at best."
The TNA umbrella has mature and competent figures yet the racial factor makes short work of any serious national leader emerging from that quarter.The traditional Left is left with no choice but to play bride’s maid to, either Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)
Second level leadership
Sub-tiers of governance such as Provincial Councils and Regional Councils are hardly the nurseries to look out for budding national leaders. Instead, they are breeding grounds for scoundrels and rogues who are there to have their scoop of the porridge under the aegis of one or another demi-god at the top level.
These forums are teeming with the kith and kin of the top politicians , thus sealing off the opportunity for young and talented leaders to ascend the ladder of political prominence, thus depriving Mother Lanka of a pool of talent to draw from.
When one looks at the J.R. Jayewardene era, one sees the second tier leadership consisted of politicians of no less the calibre of R. Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali.
Now there is talk about individuals without prominent political affiliations aspiring to contest at the next election for national leadership.
Nagahananda Kodituwakku, a fearless and a progressive activist and a legal practitioner, has made it known that he would be going at it.
"When one looks at the J.R. Jayewardene era, the second string leadership consisted of politicians of no less the calibre of Premadasa, Gamini and Lalith."
Rohan Pallewatte, who is a successful businessman, also says that he possesses a unique plan and a team, for the country’s future.
If one wants to be pessimistic about these types of challengers, they can reiterate the obvious-that they lacked the political backing and the popular support to topple professional well-rooted politicos.
But France’s Macron gives us potential for optimism and a direction to look forward to.
Yet, still there is no need to overlook and totally write off the traditional contenders that each party or political block might offer for the bargain.
The Yahapalanaya Government will eventually have to face the obvious dilemma of whether they are going to go separate ways at the 2020 show-down with their own candidates.
The upcoming Local Government polls would be a good litmus test of their political worth and will be an eye opener for all.
"Let us hope, as we start a new year and a crucial one at that, that we too will receive a messiah, who will deliver us from the quagmire that we have been in since independence and lead us as a nation. "
JVP almost, but not quite
When the JVP asks the constituency to hand them over the village (Gama Deela Balamu) they are making a valid point and an ethical challenge to the voter.
Yet, whether they could have the same confidence and perhaps the audacity to ask for the country, itself, is uncertain.
In all likelihood it might not be in 2020 itself. Given such a situation it is unlikely that anything that would augur well could come out other than from the SLFP or the UNP, the main constituents of the Good Governance brand.
Anything that comes out from those stables, the way things are positioned now, does not promise much for the country.
With the ultra Sinhala-Buddhist right, although fringe in terms of popular backing, dominant in terms of vociferousness and their ability to hijack the majority on the chauvinistic susceptibilities they display time and again, the JO is certainly not the stable from which a horse, who can run the race of the nation, economically, politically and ethically could be released.
In fact a lot will depend on a number of criminal cases of murder, abduction, bribery that are pending against most of the front-line faces of that bandwagon.
Let us hope, as we start a new year and a crucial one at that, that we too will receive a messiah, who will deliver us from the quagmire that we have been in since independence and lead us as a nation.