- Champika Ranawaka advocates A Sri Lankan identity in his new political movement
- Govt should not be stubborn REGARDING Muslim burial issue
- Meritocracy should supersede ethnic identities
- Separatist issue will not re-emerge in our lifetime
- We have realised that there is a role for us in national politics beyond the confines of the JHU
- This is not an exercise aimed at making someone the president
Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Patali Champika Ranawaka quit the Jathika Hela Urumaya(JHU) recently to form a new movement. In an interview with Daily Mirror, Ranawaka spoke about his future plans.
Q You took another drastic step in your political life. Why did you decide to quit Jathika Hela Urumuya (JHU) suddenly at this juncture?
It is not a decision taken all of a sudden. We have given mind to it for a long time. We have done coalition politics since 2005. We, the JHU, were party to the government as an alliance partner of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) then. In the present context we have realised that there is a role for us in national politics beyond the confines of the JHU. The Buddhist clergy nurtured the JHU as a force plank to voice against terrorism while upholding the Buddhist identity of this country.
Yet, we are engulfed by different issues related to development, and they are common to all the ethnic groups- the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. We believe time is up for us to engage in mainstream politics in evolving solutions to these issues.
"Tamils should not indulge in their outdated, separatist ideologies. They should become party to the governments"
The country is in a dire predicament. For the past 70 years, we made borrowings, but never defaulted in debt servicing. Today, the country is in a precarious position being unable to settle loans. The economy risks insolvency. Against this backdrop and given the failure of the Government, there is a public debate on how to tide over the crisis situation. The country is grappling with a multitude of factors such as the pandemic, economic bankruptcy and the incompetence of the Government. The opposition is also facing a host of allegations regarding its rule between 2015 and 2019. All these factors finally invited us to make the new political undertaking.
The economy is an aspect relevant to all of us. We have planned to strengthen the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) through a democratic Constitution. Besides, we have stepped in to evolve a social movement to have a dialogue on issues and find solutions. For example, there is a debate whether the public transport system or the road network should be developed. It is a broad consultation process on socio-economic issues. We will evolve this social movement while being part of SJB.
"We need to increase foreign exchange revenue to strengthen reserves. We also want to rebuild the image of our country internationally. We need to have a new approach to deal with the world governments and the international organizations. In this instance, we cannot adopt a confrontational path given our present predicament."
During the past 70-80 years, people with merit-based achievements in different fields have been denied political of space. Ever since the introduction of the universal franchise in 1931, people of a certain class have been calling the shots in politics. It is a kind of cultural elitism. They are Brown Sahibs or colonial cousins. It has further deteriorated today. At present, instead of the traditional aristocratic class, we find a class of people who exploit patriotism and nationalism for low ends. The drama involving Kali Meni and the farce about the emergence of a cobra from Naga Loka are examples in this regard. It is an affront to the philosophical aspect of Buddhism. These are not part of our mainstream culture. They are either myths or elements in subculture. But, attempts were made to bring them to the mainstream culture.
We have named our new movement ‘43rd Brigade’. That is to give a political platform for those with achievements in different spheres on merits rather than on class fortunes.
Q You said the JHU voiced against terrorism and stood for Buddhist identity. You now talk about something different. Does it mean that terrorism and Buddhist identity are no
If terrorism manifests once again, we will eliminate it forthwith. We took such a position as far as the LTTE was concerned. We conveyed the same message to the terrorist outfit led by Zaharan Hashim. We have an identity crisis. People talk about Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim identities. The challenge is how to reconcile all of them. Such reconciliation has been achieved in different forms in the world. One is the reservation of various geographical locations for people with different identities. People have parted ways and formed geographical localities depending on their identities. It is nothing, but secessionism. We are opposed to it in Sri Lanka. In another instance, one dominant culture has overwhelmed the small cultures in a particular locality and formed a new identity. This is cultural assimilation, one may call. We are not for it either. We don’t believe in one main culture subduing the others. The other is integration of all the cultures for a common purpose. In this issue, people are united for a common cause in the greater interests of society while sticking to their own identities. We value meritocracy here. We recognise meritocracy of Sinhala, Muslim, Tamil people in an equal sense. We treat all deprived people with equality.
"Our geostrategic positioning was a curse to us for a time. We want to convert it to our economic advantage instead. We also have a quality human resource, thanks to free education and health service. We want to make use of their creativity and couple it with the fourth industrial revolution. We believe in state investment in innovation sector"
In addition to ideologically driven reasons, deprivation is also a reason that triggered social revolts in Sri Lanka at times in history. It is a common factor. We believe in prosperity, social justice and human rights. We believe that any cultural or ethnic right cannot supersede human rights. Everything is subject to human rights. Our movement is open for Tamils and Muslims as well.
Q SJB is the main force opposed to the Government. Any goal by you has to be realised through the SJB. Will SJB agree to your policies?
We don’t intend to prevail upon the SJB to accept our ideology or policies. The SJB is the only democratic alternative to this Government. People are disillusioned with the 2015/2019 Government. There is general anathema against the political force that led that government. Otherwise, it is not disillusionment with the SJB.
It is not a mere regime change that we aspire to make. We seek to bring about a thinking revolution. After Independence, we experienced such revolutions twice. One was the 1956 revolution. The next one was the socio-economic revolution brought about by then President the late J.R.Jayewardene with the introduction of open-market economy in 1977. Otherwise, there have been regime changes on and off. We aim at a revolution based on philosophical thinking.
Q The present Government is bent on protectionism in its economic policy. What is your economic model?
The Government does not uphold protectionism. This Government is heading for a neo-liberal economic model. It became apparent with huge tax concessions offered to the wealthy on December 1, 2019. We do not accept it. We believe in a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy. We talk about the distribution of wealth. In the creation of wealth, we have always counted on traditional export crops such as tea, rubber and coconut, and industries such as apparels.
We have to count on our strategic locational advantage. Our geostrategic positioning was a curse to us for a time. We want to convert it to our economic advantage instead. We also have a quality human resource, thanks to free education and health service. We want to make use of their creativity and couple it with the fourth industrial revolution. We believe in state investment in innovation sector.
"We have to think as Sri Lankans. When we recognize meritocracy, it should be done cutting across the ethnic divide. However, Sinhala is the language that originated on this soil. Buddhism also became a documented religion in Sri Lanka. It is like the documentation of Abrahamic religions in Israel. It does not mean that others do not have equal rights here"
Q You talk about a debt servicing crisis. How do you intend to manage the debt burden?
We need to increase state revenue. We need to increase foreign exchange revenue to strengthen reserves. We also want to rebuild the image of our country internationally. We need to have a new approach to deal with the world governments and the international organizations. In this instance, we cannot adopt a confrontational path given our present predicament.
I have led by example how financial progress is achieved at institutions that came under my Ministries in the past. An efficient administration is needed. We don’t allow political interference with the strategically important state institutions like Sri Lanka Customs, the State Revenue Department, the State Banks, and the Ports etc.
Q Do you advocate Sinhala Buddhist identity of the country?
We had had grievances in our history. We yearned for independence during British rule. After Independence, we were concerned about our language rights. We had grievances on religious rights. Most of those issues have been resolved now. There was no major threat to the religious identity till terrorism led by Zaharan erupted. We faced the separatist issue. That is also over now. We don’t believe that the separatist issue will re-emerge in our lifetime.
Our country has an identity. We have to think as Sri Lankans. When we recognize meritocracy, it should be done cutting across the ethnic divide. However, Sinhala is the language that originated on this soil. Buddhism also became a documented religion in Sri Lanka. It is like the documentation of Abrahamic religions in Israel. It does not mean that others do not have equal
Q You mentioned about political recognition for those with merit based achievements. Is this the political platform for you to become the presidential candidate in 2024?
I don’t have any such target. We can topple the Government by roping in members from one side to the other. Today, it is not the need of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is heading for economic failure. Corruption permeates every sector. People have lost confidence. It has led to brain drain. We are working for the creation of a country that is conducive for everyone to live. Otherwise, this is not an exercise aimed at making someone the president.
"We can topple the Government by roping in members from one side to the other. Today, it is not the need of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is heading for economic failure. Corruption permeates every sector. People have lost confidence. It has led to brain drain. We are working for the creation of a country that is conducive for everyone to live"
Q In the north and the east people have agitated for power devolution to the areas of their habitation. Is it practically possible for you to wean them away from that ideology to the common goal you advocate?
They made political undertakings through various platforms such as the ITAK, TULF, the LTTE etc. Eastern Tamils have begun to think differently at present. More than 50 percent Tamils live outside the north and the east. Tamils should not indulge in their outdated, separatist ideologies. They should become party to the governments. They should come forward to hold ministerial portfolios and develop their areas. Tamils of Indian origin are the least beneficiaries of free education. Free education opportunities should be made available to them.
Q What do you think of the issue involving the cremation of Muslim victims of COVID-19?
Only experts have sufficient knowledge about the pandemic. Prof. Malik Peiris, a virologist in Hong Kong, made a solid presentation in this regard. According to him and the WHP, the virus remains in the dead bodies for a few days. He said the transmission of the virus from the dead bodies is minimal when they are disposed of properly by wrapping them in several layers of clothing and burying in concrete graves. Cremation is not accepted in Abrahamic religions. They believe the dead should be laid onto the earth. They believe in resurrection. We should respect such beliefs. It is the duty of the Government to evolve a way out in keeping with experts’ opinion and respects for religious sensitivities. Otherwise, the Government should not act in a stubborn manner. If any community feels alienated, it will try to scuttle the Government. We keep trust in inclusive, social justice.