“Any nation that thinks more of its ease and comfort than its freedom will soon lose its freedom; and the ironical thing about it is that it will lose its ease and comfort too.”
~W. Somerset Maugham
It is indeed a fascinating exercise to speculate. Not only is it fascinating but taken in the context of great uncertainty that shrouds today’s issues, it is intriguing and educating to find out the strategic thinking and the tactical moves that the old Masters would have used to engineer and bring about a collapse of an ostensibly formidable power.
The obvious counter to the basic premise of this argument is: If J R, Gamini or Lalith were alive today, there would never have been a President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mahinda Rajapaksa -- yes, but as President -- no way. Therefore, this piece should be only read in the context of the basic premise being treated as speculation or conjecture. But I have no doubt that in that speculative exercise we will find some fascinating facts, illuminating examples and some uncanny parallels.
"Attacking Government policy and tying those policy-criticisms to the leadership of the ruling clan would have been a must under any of the three leaders -- J R, Gamini and Lalith"
How would J R, Gamini or Lalith have, individually as well as collectively, managed the current dual crisis -- on the one hand, the United National Party and the Opposition and on the other, a corrupt and nepotistic regime headed by one single family.
Sri Lanka, as a country and its people as a nation, whether Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher, have always shown a tendency to cling on to a personality cult. It is so common for the entire East as a geographical region. Especially in the Indian Subcontinent, personality cult, as against following an astute leadership, has been the driving force of socio-political change.
Shrewd politicians have made use of this idiosyncrasy of the Eastern mind and exploited it to the maximum possible degree. That is how celluloid heroes have become politicians of immense veneration; sporting giants have managed to mesmerize not only their spectators but when launched into the field of politics, become instant celebrities cum heroes. When these gung-ho heroes are devoid of any education and learning of any acceptable standard, once installed in power, the solutions that they try to seek for the complex issues that confront them on a daily basis, appear to be more simplistic than simple, more stark than nuanced and in fact, more knotty than the problems they strive to solve.
It is into this current quagmire which the collective parliamentary Opposition finds itself in that a magic potion needs to be introduced and it won’t be too much to ask for either. To ascertain the kind of strategic measures and tactical manoeuvers that would have been employed by the past ‘Greats’ such as J R Jayewardene, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake, one must invariably delve into the present chaotic status of the Party. What is the present situation?
The United National Party (UNP) has 42 MPs with 35 of them elected and seven from the National List.
All three, J R, Gamini and Lalith would have made use of the opportunity to build national-level orators. They would have insisted that Sajith Premadasa speak at every important bill and always make speeches on national issues instead of parochial local issues pertaining only to the Hambantota District. Attacking Government policy and tying those policy-criticisms to the leadership of the ruling clan would have been a must under any of the three leaders -- J R, Gamini and Lalith. Shying away from attacking the misdeeds of the key personalities in the Government would not have been allowed by them.
In other words, all those three leaders would have unleashed the oratorical skills of Kabir Hashim, Sajith Premadasa, Buddika Pathirana and Rosy Senanayake. Rosy in particular because her appeal to the general public and women folk would be invaluable. Also, another objective could be achieved by asking these MPs to go round the country -- that of obtaining their 100% commitment to the Party. In the present uncertain scenario, buying up of opposition MPs cannot be ruled out.
The disunity that was rampant prior to the Uva PC elections does seem to have taken a backseat and the cornering of Sajith Premadasa, former President R Premadasa’s son, seems to have been resolved with a Deputy Leader position in the Party.
Under J R, Gamini or Lalith, the kind of disunity that was responsible for the poor performance at almost all elections would not have been tolerated by the Party leadership. Period. Holding the Party hostage by some MPs was not even heard of those days and party discipline was held in high esteem at the time. Yet, legitimate grievances of parliamentarians would have had a much more receptive ear under those leaders and favoritism, especially under J R Jayewardene, was a no-no. For example, what happened to Rukman Senanayake, J R P Sooriyapperuma and Jinadasa Niyathapala before the UNP came to power and what befell E L Senanayake, Cyril Mathew, Ronnie de Mel, Gamani Jayasuriya, N G P Panditharatne, Anura Daniel, Sunil Ranjan Jayakody after coming to power in 1977 are glaring examples of keeping Party discipline in full gear. Successive electoral victories proved the case for strict Party discipline.
The Leadership Council and its Chairman Karu Jayasuriya, although it came in for wider criticism, especially by the Premadasa supporters, seems to have evaporated, solely due to the better-than-expected results at the Uva PC elections. However, among the negatives is the Party’s General Secretary, who on more than a few occasions, has shown sheer incompetence in the execution of work on the one hand and a woeful lack of political acumen on the other. In addition, his pronouncements which had to be corrected by the Leader later and allegations about corrupt practices employed by him when handing over nominations for various districts during the last few Provincial Council elections are being talked about openly by some senior members of the Party.
Under J R, Gamini or Lalith, the present General Secretary would not have survived 24 hours, leave alone almost one and half decades. In the context of the calibre of Daham Wimalasena, Ranjan Wijeratne and Dr. Gamini Wijesekara, the present guy just fades into insignificance and looks unpleasantly out of place
J R Jayewardene and Gamini Dissanayake had been quintessential team-men. Their dedication and devotion to the chosen objectives and purposes was amply demonstrated right throughout their political lives. J R, inviting Dudley Senanayake from retirement to take over the leadership of the Party and Gamini asking Lalith to be the leader of the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) were fine examples of that trait. However, Lalith’s ambition and wanting to be the leader of the country at all cost would not hold good for our argument. As far as what they could have done with the present set up in the Government ranks would have been diametrically opposed to the way the current UNP leadership is handling that very matter. The current UPFA leadership is revolving round one single family; apparently, the President is grooming his son, Namal to succeed him and that is why a third term. When a similar situation existed during Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Government, J R was crafty enough to drive a wedge in between the then SLFP/ULF coalition which ultimately resulted in the breakup of that coalition. All three leaders of yesteryear, J R, Gamini and Lalith would have exploited the current situation to the hilt to drive a similar kind of a wedge between the son and brothers. In politics, as in love, all is fair. One must be ready and willing to play that game. Carrying long-term IOUs is one essential part of that equation.
Here I end my speculation work. Reader, please remember, this is pure conjecture.