Of being Prime Minister of the country four times
Men of honour to their grand old party, the UNP
It is few who have had the rare privilege of being Prime Minister of any country four times. In this beautiful land of ours, blessed with the timeless beauty of nature’s magnitude, it is just two people who have achieved this honour.
Therefore it was fitting that one of them, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, gave the 17th annual oration this year in honour of the late Dudley Senanayake, who was the other, several decades ago. Temple Trees was home to both of them, at one time or another and this being the venue this year, made it yet another cherished event, leaving their footprints once again, in the sands of time of our country’s history.
There has been an erosion of standards in many spheres of life including politics today. Both the late Dudley and Prime Minister Ranil stand out as men of honour, beacons of loyalty to their grand old party, the UNP. Even when Dudley withdrew from politics for a while, he never jumped a political fence to join another party, although invited to do so. Ranil Wickremesinghe too, despite the ups and downs which are invariably a part of a politicians life, has stayed loyal to his party through thick and thin. Both of them suffered countless insults, but took them in their stride, not deviating from their straight political walk. Both are known for their unwavering belief in a school of thought that transcends ethnicity, religion, race, language, class, caste, upcountry- low country divisions which have divided our country and hindered our progress.
"Ranil entered Parliament in 1977, when the UNP won a landslide victory and was the youngest Minister in the then Cabinet"
Dudley was a liberal democrat at heart, Ranil’s thinking too, is inclined in that direction. Both are respected for their respect for others, common sense, simplicity, integrity and belief in the rule of law and democracy. They also share a natural shyness, both lived in the homes their parents built, never made millions, never built vast luxurious mansions or squandered public funds to boost their images, preferring a simple lifestyle, unimpressed by the grandeur and pomp of power.
As Prime Minister Ranil mentioned in his oration, the world and politics have changed immeasurably, since Dudley’s time. He recalled that as a child and a student, he had been fortunate to meet and learn from our past Leaders, who were frequent visitors to his parental home. The late Dudley and J.R. being among them. He also had the privilege of attending debates in Parliament in the sixties,listening to those parliamentarians who were experts at wit and humour. They were in a class of their own in the style and language of debate. He also recalled that the late Dudley had been against the Presidential system. He recalled how Dudley led the party from outside Parliament, when he returned to politics at the invitation of UNP stalwarts in 1958 as he hadn’t contested at the 1956 election. He and the late President J.R. Jayewardene who had lost his seat led the struggle from outside, and there were countless protests, fighting for the freedom of the press and other issues affecting the masses. The late Dudley led the party to victory in 1965, and was Prime Minister till 1970. He spoke of the open economy which was President Jayewardene’s brainchild, begun after Dudley’s time and the political thinking that prevailed during that period.
Our country can be proud of both these leaders, Dudley Senanayake and Ranil Wickremesinghe. I believe these words of Gilbert Holland written in the late 19th century epitomize them both
Ranil entered Parliament in 1977, when the UNP won a landslide victory and was the youngest Minister in the then Cabinet. At the oration, Prime Minister Ranil spoke without a note, taking us back down memory lane, right through Sri Lanka’s political journey. I was amazed as all listeners were, at his elephantine memory and his vast reservoir of knowledge. The late Dudley’s secretary, Joe Karunaratne told me that the oration was one of the best he had heard and I commented that this was because of the vast experience Ranil had and the knowledge he had gained through his forty years in politics. He spoke of the absolute power of the executive Presidency which had been abused in unprecedented fashion by the Rajapaksa government. The country fell into deep debt as a result of misrule, extravagance and the use of State funds to enhance personal glory. The debt which the country has to repay has exceeded Rs 4 trillion. The Chief Justice was removed without going through an impeachment process, without a resolution brought in Parliament to do so. Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka was thrown into jail and treated like a criminal, after his courageous service to the country which enabled us to win the war. Today, it is obvious that people want a change in the Constitution, some have even suggested a return to the Soulbury Constitution, he said they are looking at many options and systems which have been adopted in other parts of the world like the US, New Zealand and other countries. The UNP has accepted and is committed to democratic socialism as the style of government they believe in.
Our country can be proud of both these leaders, Dudley Senanayake and Ranil Wickremesinghe. I believe these words of Gilbert Holland written in the late 19th century epitomize them both. We need more of this calibre as future leaders.
‘A time like this demands strong minds, true faith and ready hands!
Men whom the lust of office does not kill,
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy,
Men who possess opinions and a will,
Men who love honour, men who cannot lie.