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A milestone birthday tribute

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23 March 2019 12:06 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe celebrates his 70th Birthday tomorrow 

 


Where do I begin? I think I should start from the very first time I met Ranil when he was 4 years old. The memory is still vivid in my mind. His beautiful, stately, dignified mother, the late Nalini WIckremesinghe, the first Buddhist head girl of Bishops College, brought Ranil to start at the Kindergarten at her Alma Mater, following her mother and grandmother. I was an assistant trainee teacher and perhaps because our families were acquainted, she handed him over to me, confident that I would look after her son. Perhaps it is due to the confidence that his mother had in me then, that I still have an inclination to protect him and my loyalty has remained unchanged through the years. As a child, he was friendly, affectionate, helpful, intelligent, eager to learn and as incredibly handsome then still is. I recall that when I left, he would get his ayah to call me, speak to me and ask me to return to school. .   


 I continued to inquire about him and was happy to hear that he had studied law and joined the Chambers of the late H.W. Jayewardene and the late Vernon Wijetunge, both QC’s. It was much later on, that our acquaintance was renewed, when he began his political journey. I met him at political rallies and was happy that he had chosen this role as I felt that young men of his background and education, could make a difference. The next election won by the UNP, under the leadership of the late President J.R. Jayewardene brought Ranil into the mainstream of politics. He was first appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and later appointed to the Cabinet as Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment, the youngest in that cabinet. As my late husband Chandra Karunaratne was also a deputy Minister in that government, I met Ranil often at that time. He was different then, jovial, ever ready for fun, laughter and a joke. His often misunderstood reserved personality developed, after he took over the leadership of the United National Party. I recall my daughters and their friends enjoying his jokes at the Royal Thomian match which he never misses as one of Royal’s most loyal old boys. I recall another instance in 1977, when I met him at The Supper Club. He was with a couple I knew and I was with some friends without my husband. He asked me why I wasn’t dancing, I said “because my husband isn’t here”. He laughingly said. “I knew you long before your husband did, surely you can dance with me”. As I have known him longer than anyone else except his family, it hurts me when some remark that he is arrogant, I know very well that he is not. He is reserved now, keeps his feelings under house arrest and is often deep in thought, about solving the problems of our country, wondering how he can nudge his vision into place.   

 

The next election won by the UNP, under the leadership of the late President J.R. Jayewardene brought Ranil into the mainstream of politics. He was first appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and later appointed to the Cabinet as Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment, the youngest in that cabinet

As Minister of Youth Affairs, he began the National Youth Services Council, the Late President Jayewardene’s brainchild. This Council provides vocational and career training to school leavers and organizes creative, motivational and skills development through youth clubs. It has been said that the National Youth Council in his time was the best in South East Asia. He has always been a workaholic and seeing the potential in him, President Jayewardene made him Minister of Education in 1980. He initiated many radical educational reforms and was considered to be the best Minister of Education we ever had. Among important steps he took during his tenure, were re-introducing the GCE O/L and GCE A/ level examinations, starting the National Institute of Education in Maharagama and Colleges of Education in several areas, operating the cluster school system, giving school uniforms and school books free of charge. In 1989, under the late President Premadasa, he was made Leader of the House and Minister of Industries. He excelled in both roles and was responsible for implementing President Premadasa’s 200 garment factories schemes, set up several industrial zones, training centres all aimed at an outward and forward looking strategy. With the late President Premadasa’a tragic assassination, Ranil was responsible for a peaceful transition of power and for seeing President Wijetunge installed as President and was appointed Prime Minister.

After the UNP government was defeated, Ranil was made Leader of the Opposition after the assassination of the late Gamini Dissanayake. He has led the party through the worst times, taking insults and slander through it all, turning the other cheek. He kept the party together and returned as PM later on in 2001. The country was on the verge of peace and economic revival when that government was dissolved by President Chandrika Kumaratunge. It was once again a long struggle as Leader of the Opposition, fighting many battles from within and outside, surviving them all, till 2015 dawned and he became Prime Minister again.   

 

I reply that I support someone because of what they can do for the country, I have no personal agenda attached to my loyalty, which has never been built on shifting sands of victory or defeat

 

There is no other politician here, who would have survived those horrific days of an illegal government, through a constitutional coup, except Ranil. He took it in his stride with admirable dignity, courage, never resorting to slander against those who had done him wrong; who he had helped to come into power. My protective instinct compelled me to visit Temple Trees almost daily, during this trauma for him and for us. I was determined to protect him with my life if the necessity arose to do so, like the thousands of others who kept vigil there for the 51 days. I was surprised, how he was able to chat in good humour, with his vast knowledge during this time and also tease me, saying that someone who he knew I hated, had asked for my number and wanted to contact me.   


 So many ask me why I am so loyal to him when neither I nor my family have never received any favours. I reply that I support someone because of what they can do for the country, I have no personal agenda attached to my loyalty, which has never been built on shifting sands of victory or defeat. I am very proud of Ranil for his simple lifestyle, for still living in the house his parents built for him, his loyalty to all leaders of the party through thick and thin, for his patience, for bearing no malice against those who harmed him, for his integrity, dedication, commitment, vision, his sense of history, his knowledge and for being Prime Minister five times. His staff adore him which shows that he is a good employer. His mother was Buddhist, his father a Christian, brought up in a home where this wasn’t a problem, has instilled in him respect for all religions and a desire that there must be freedom of worship, whatever one’s faith may be. He is a national treasure, often unappreciated here, who would have been treasured elsewhere for his firm stand for democracy, and as a gentleman to his fingertips, through all seasons.   


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  Comments - 1

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  • Anura De Silva Tuesday, 26 March 2019 06:06 AM

    Thank you for shining that light on Ranil who doesn't do that for him. I am hopeful that he is innocent of the accused bond scam as well. Most of the people may treasure him when he is dead and gone. He is sadly unappreciated here, who would have been treasured elsewhere for his firm stand for democracy, and as a gentleman to his fingertips, through all seasons.


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