Sajith’s candidacy and revival of Premadasa Exceptionalism…

“Ambition is the germ from which all growth of nobleness proceeds.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Hats off to Sajith Premadasa! To paraphrase a much clichéd quote: He came, he saw and he conquered, no question. Drive and determination and raw ambition, the three fundamental elements essential for achievement of desired results in any field were amply manifest in the personality of Sajith. Added to that was an army of fellow travelers whose lot is invariably woven into the main protagonist’s ambitious political journey.   

A delicate tapestry was woven and into that were whiskered the nuanced and direct references of political realities of the day, a narrow scope of political messaging which is readily understood by the masses and the validity of the message and the credence that very narrowness lends unto itself have been carefully orchestrated. Sajith Premadasa looks the man who understands the very parameters within which he needs to exist and how to present himself to the broad masses; not the English-speaking puka sahibs of Colombo, but the broad masses whose daily chores include a common bath at the street-corner water tap or at the spout in the middle of a rural setting, dressing their children for the nearby school, collecting the tools necessary for day’s work and trek home after a well-spent day’s labor, looking forward to the cuddly embrace of an earnest spouse.   

  • He looks the man who understands the needs of the broad masses
  • Sajit seems to have inherited all the positive skills of his father
  • R. Premadasa was lauded as people’s leader during his tenure as PM, President

Sajith’s appeal to the masses was not created yesterday; it’s a product of a carefully thought-out process, a process by and in itself is hard to duplicate and even harder to sustain. The first victory of winning nomination and the all-purpose rise of Sajith in the UNP is indeed a massive victory for the real ‘common man’; not the one on whose shoulders the Bandaranaikes and Rajapaksas plodded to power.   

One is reminded of what happened in the UNP Working Committee meeting in 1976. When nominations were entertained by the UNP, JR Jayewardene, the undisputed leader of the party presided and R. Premadasa spoke for more than one whole hour to convince the Working Committee member to select Joseph Michael Perera as the UNP candidate. It was rumored that JR had already asked John Amaratunga to wait at ‘Braemar’JR’s private residence. But Premadasa managed to persuade even JR for and on behalf of Joseph Michael. That determination and drive is hard to come by. In such circumstances and situations, a tremendous skill of oratory and persuasive power, a lethal weapon in the hands of a democratic leader, and R. Premadasa had it. Young Sajith too seems to have it in abundance. He did not give up his fight nor did his supporting army of backbenchers.   

Nomination for Presidential candidacy was not handed to Sajith on a platter. He fought for it and won it. Today’s politics is not a gentlemanly game of Bridge. It is fought on hard surfaces; obstacles and impediments are many and a determined fighter only needs to apply himself with single-minded purpose; he needs to recognize the boundaries and also needs to recognize the dangers of going beyond those boundaries. The supporting staff needs to recognize that too but in the overall context of the desired results, overreaching is very much tolerated and if the leader of the group can sustain the interest, attaining the desired results is within the realistic grasp of the leader and his group of supporters.   

Whether or not all these nuanced aspects of a battle plans, strategies and tactics were planned ahead of time is of no consequence now. The target audience, the broad masses, was convinced much earlier than the real men who decided on the outcome.   

Ranil Wickremesinghe may not have had to face a similar status such as the one posed by Sajith Premadasa and he being backed by a leading television channel and a print media thirsty for sensationalist headlines was not a redundant element in public relation warfare. Sajith’s father tried his hand at a rebellion in the aftermath of the humiliating defeat the UNP suffered in 1970. Dudley Senanayake, although was very much loved and adored by the general public, was not recognized as a politician at elections; his ability to steer the ship of state in troubled times was very much in question. His laid back meandering was already an anachronism in the seventies. An aggressive and battle-hard approach was necessary and R. Premadasa, with his marvelous wit and superlative oratorical skills on public platform managed to create a cutting image of an ambitious man in pursuit of raw political power.   

Dudley recognized this talent but could not come to terms with it. On the other hand, JR did recognize it and put it to his use, JR’s advantage, and went further and made him his successor in the 1980s. But Premadasa’s peak was not when he became President. Ironically all his glamour and glory came when he was Prime Minister. Yet, his tenure in the throne came in for severe scrutiny and the results of that scrutiny do not tell a pleasant story.   

Sajith seems to have inherited all the positive skills of his father. What tells a very telling story is the drive and ambition and pursuit of his goal, until the desired results are achieved. Such perseverance and dogged belief in oneself are indeed rare and need to be instilled in our current crop of up-and-coming political leaders of all parties. Making Ranil bend is no easy task. Ranil’s irrational belief in maintaining an unsustainable status quo in the midst of sensational and marvelous innovations of Smartphone technology and internet networking seems to have by-passed Ranil and the consequence of ignoring these modern scientific and societal realities eventually caught up with him. And by that time the horses have left the proverbial barn.   

As far back as February 2012, a writer in one of the current dailies carried an article under the banner, ‘Premadasa Exceptionalism and challenges it currently faces…’ And I quote from it as follows: ‘so, it’s not one or two reasons why R. Premadasa became acceptable to a very caste-creed-conscious society up to that time. His humble beginnings, his oratorical skills, his boldness in vision, his exemplary work ethic, micro-managing his subordinates and making it his strength instead of a weakness, his self-driven ambition, his masterful exploitation of the local media, his time-management ability, his simple and spotlessly clean attire, waking up early mornings and seeing the constituents at 4.00 am and his dogged adherence to a timeline-oriented work plan, all these attributes contributed to his success. Who but an assassin can stop a man who possesses all these attributes?’

While I concur with all the sentiments so expressed in this part of the said article, I must warn Sajith that all flattery is not what one must judge the situation by. His responsibility now, at least in the very short term, is to win the elections. To that end, I’m sure he does not require training. Yet the mid-term goals could differ and they will pose a totally different challenge. For all realistic purposes, the UNP is now his. He’s the candidate from the Party. The last candidate who represented the UNP and won was his father. He can create history and he’s bound to do just that, create history. The UNP has a candidate representing itself; not another ahindagatta (one picked at random) like the last one, the current President. Those UNPers who stayed at home on the polling day will go in procession this time, I’m sure.   

In fact in the context of historical necessity, winning the elections would be much easier than sustaining the new reality such a victory would entail.   

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