Mahabharat is the epic saga capturing the interconnected and intercalated conditions of the world, power, greed, right (dharma), wrong (adharma) in breathtakingly philosophical language. The Bhagavat Gita, a component of the Mahabharat is a heart to heart conversation between Arjuna, the Pandava warrior and his soul mate Krishna touching topics spanning from power politics, art of war and half-heartedness to kill the enemy bound by blood. The above quote is the immortal advice given to Arjuna by Krishna as Arjuna lays his bow and arrows on the ground in abject sorrow at the realization that he will be killing his cousins at war.
Two camps of cousins, Kaurvas and Pandavas belonging to the common tribe of Kuru engage in a game of dice, the stake being that the losers will leave their kingdom for 13 years of exile. The Kaurva player Duryojana wins through cheating but the Pandavas, keep their word and go in to exile for 13 years and return to reclaim their kingdom. They face the resistance of Duryojana leading to an epic war. The decisive last battle of this war is fought in Kurukshetra for 18 long days.
“Whatever happened, happened for the good”
Ranil Wikremesinghe, who has been in the political arena for decades will battle his last in his Kurukshetra with the no confidence motion (NCM) of 4th April 2018. If you count 18 days back from the 4th of April, it falls on the fateful day of March 24th, Ranil’s 69th birthday. For decades Ranil has weathered a humanly impossible load of uncivilized mockery, criticism, defeat, betrayal and brutality with the silence of a sage, nonchalance and equanimity. However if defeated on the 4th of April Ranil is likely to surrender his bow and arrows at the Kurukshetra to end the Ranil era. This would not be because it is actually warranted constitutionally. This would be because Ranil is the last remaining statesman with an internalized, conscious bond to the authentic version of parliamentary democracy tradition in Sri Lanka.
The last battle of Kurukshetra is won by the Pandavas denoting the triumph of Dharma over Adharma. Ranil has arrived at Kurukshetra and us –the democratic people of this country through his inability to stand up for dharma at pivotal moments, choosing instead to protect his buddies, Royal College friends and empty people who to belong to his ‘cultured’ class.
In 2002, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga shamelessly usurped Ranil’s democratically earned term of government, dissolving the parliament. Thousands of citizens took to the streets to march to the President’s House to reclaim their mandate. Ranil quoting the constitutional provision available to his childhood friend turned his back to the people and went home without a fight. Thirteen years later (ironically 13 is also the duration of Pandava exile!) in 2015 he repeated history. He watched a bunch of Royalists commit the historic bond scam and watched still as one of them mysteriously disappeared off shores.
All this is history.
What good has come out of it? Ranil is no longer the mythical ethereal gentleman who speaks gospel. He is like the rest of us, rising, falling, wronging, faltering, and sinning and with sin. He is just a man. But in today’s politics he is the only politician demonstrating the soundness to muster a globalizing world. In spite of his faults, Ranil remains the last trump card of a meaningful democracy for all races. Internalizing this conclusively itself is a triumph because it will hold Rail to the same standards we assign the much maligned politicians and pave way to applying civic pressure on him to deliver more if he delivers himself at the Kurukshetra.
“What did you bring with you, which you think you have lost?”
Ranil is a leader of fate and not of intention. He ascended to the UNP leadership on the assassinations of UNP giants, such as R. Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake. He is the uncertain leader who materialized through a mist of graves. His “Royal-ness” nor his “states-manliness” can shroud the inferiority complex that is apparent if one looks at him eye to eye on equal grounds as an ordinary man, beyond his inflated westernized persona sans titillation by an imagined reality.
Ranil’s struggle to establish himself as the undisputed leader on the UNP consumed a large number of political years. He is cursed with an inherent affinity towards persons who are literally hated by society. The likes of Malik Samarawickrama and Sagala Ratnayake are not only despised by the common man, but also hated, mistrusted and considered simply dishonest by those who have insights in to financing, economics and the private sector.
Sri Lankan women constituting 52% of its population don’t share an attraction with Ranil as they do with Mahinda Rajapakse. As the leader of the largest singular political party in Sri Lanka, Ranil has woefully failed to use the potential of women in securing political stability for his party. Both Ranil and ’Ranil-philics’ suffer in abundance from the selective political blindness of not being able to see a woman beyond Rosy Senanayake for the UNP. However it’s a twist of fate that in spite of his political malaise, it was Ranil, and not Rosy, Talata, Hirunika, Dr. Sudarshani or Pavithra who conceptualized and carried through the reforms to ensure a higher female participation in Sri Lankan politics during his current tenure. This is Ranil’s ironic political greatness.
“Whatever you have given, you have given only here”
Perhaps the deepest tragedy of Ranil’s internal power struggle is that his vast political knowledge, wisdom and economic vision had to take a back seat to entertain his messy struggle in the murky swamp of politics. The time invested in dealing with the giant alligators such as Mahinda Rajapakse, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Velupillai Prabhakaran are justified. However, puny series of thorns such as Sajith Premadasa, Sirasa Media Network, Buddhika Pathirana, Shiral Lakthilaka, Palitha Range Bandara, Maithree Gunaratne, Palitha Thewarapperuma who are not worthy of the dust at his toes consumed and putrefied his intellectual and political energy causing him grave damage. Ranil does not appear to be perturbed by any of their actions. He has consistently demonstrated the hard heartedness of a man giving his children in alms. This is not to say that Ranil embodies the qualities of an exalted Bodhisatva with whom such altruism is tied to. It only denotes that Ranil is the cleverest emotional manager of Sri Lankan politics.
Ranil is the only modern politician who has a heart hardened enough to disregard self-defeat of his personal power struggle and willfully forgo his ascend to the throne in the name of liberal democracy. He holds the office of the Prime Minister through the democratic process and not through a political game in the brand of “Jehan Fernando-Maldeniya” of Koombiyo fame. He has not partaken in genocide to cater to those who maligned him as a traitor and an anti-nationalist. Even during his darkest and most hopeless day in politics, Ranil never resorted to racism to negotiate an easy political resurgence. Sajith Premadasa’s inability to emerge victorious in his political dual with Ranil is Sajith’s political impotence. Sajith’s decade long childish project carried out hiding behind a media Moghul is only symptomatic of his political immaturity and emotional bankruptcy. His pathetic “Tall for security- short for laborer’ saga summarized his political puniness.
Ranil’s fearless economic vision is not fully embraced by the public, not due to a natural error in its conceptualization, but because opportunistic politics compounded by Ranil’s original sin of his inability to latch on to power leading to missed opportunities. However it is only Ranil that appears to have the long term visionary capacity to deliver these economic reforms.
“What is yours today, will belong to someone else tomorrow”
Ever since the emergence of the NCM of April 4th the fractures within the Yahapalana government are widening rapidly. If the NCM is passed, it will also spell the no confidence in the Yahapalana government. There are two unwavering allies of Ranil in this dilemma. One is the majority of the MPs of the UNP. In spite of their dissenting views about Ranil they seem to display a conceptual coherence in their support. The other ally is the Tamil National Alliance that has demonstrated political maturity and intent that merits a separate essay in these insidious times.
Shamelessly fishing in the murky waters are Rauf Hakeem and Mano Ganeshan. If they extend their support to Ranil, this would not be out of any ruth towards their suffering electorate. It would be because these crafty and ruthless political brains recognize that their electorate trust Ranil’s non-racist politics. The fortunate day that their electorate, and in fact, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims recognize them as political opportunists to wake up from their illusion, they will not need a Ranil to save them. The people will do it themselves. Instead of coming to term with this political reality the President appears to be sitting on the high branch of his office gleefully sawing away his very seat, indirectly supporting the NCM. It is his ill fate and ours that he in his glee, does not realize that he will pay Gotabaya Rajapakse with his Presidency and life for his disloyalty towards Ranil. This path paved will only end in one fearsome destination called ‘Gota 2020’.
At the 2020 Presidential election the common enemy of both Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sirisena will be Ranil. They fear not the present Ranil who is hacked by Sirasa and is listening to abuse in nonchalance. They fear the Ranil of 2020 who will rise articulately and fearlessly for liberal democracy; the Ranil who will carry out economic reforms empowered by the constitutional reforms. It is the moral prerogative of both politicians and the public to rise against any force that attempts to usurp the mandate of the people. To uphold that moral prerogative one does not have to be a fan of Ranil nor cast a vote for Ranil.
Regardless of who owns 2020, we must not disown our democracy. Ranil should emerge victorious at his last battle in the Kurukshetra only for this reason.
*This article was originally written by the author in Sinhalese and subsequently translated to English by the author for the English readership.