No discrimination against me within SJB
Patali Champika Ranawaka says he did not use Sajith Premadasa
By Hiranyada Dewasiri
In political parties, as among groups of animal species, there are alphas. However, two alphas, most often than not, find it nearly impossible to co-exist within a single entity. In short, there is only room for one. The result is a duel. In the art of politics, this takes the form of rhetoric and subterfuge.
Enter Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarian Patali Champika Ranawaka, formerly from the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), who seeks to position himself as a leader within the SJB. However, the SJB is led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who hails from a former first family and is seen in certain quarters as the heir to the throne of the United National Party (UNP) leadership and the man to resurrect the green elephant from its present political quagmire. The Morning therefore spoke to Ranawaka about the recent upheavals in his political career, the SJB and Sajith Premadasa, and quo vadis.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
Are you satisfied with the number of preferential votes you got at the general election 2020, especially since some believe you harboured ambitions of becoming number one from the SJB in the Colombo District surpassing Sajith Premadasa?
I had no need to come in first. I have not tried to do that either. The problem is, we knew very well that we were going to lose the election. Especially because the educated middle class that votes for us did not vote for us in the last election. We knew this. We also knew that those who were going to vote were the UNP cadre. Because we left the UNP and formed the SJB, because our moderate voter did not go to polling booths, and because some had already joined the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) during the presidential elections, we were not surprised. We cannot measure people through their preferential votes. At the end of the day, you become a Member of Parliament. Our national duty within the city of Colombo is not something that can be measured through the UNP voter base within Colombo.
Are you discriminated against within the SJB, and if so, is it because of your attempts at grabbing the leadership?
Leadership cannot be gained like that. Some try to take it as a birthright, some try to get it through their profession. But you can’t gain leadership like that, and when it comes to politics, whether or not one achieves leadership is based on the public’s acceptance. There is no discrimination against me within the SJB; we just have a dialogue about where we are headed –the SJB came from the UNP, and what the UNP did between 2015 and 2020 was strongly rejected by the people of the country.
Under these circumstances, the team and the policy that will be put forward by the country should be based on meritocracy. If we do not have the right team, we cannot successfully face the economic challenge that is ahead of us. This country has people who have achieved things through merit in a range of fields such as business, and professional and administrative spheres, and the country should be handed over to them.
Politicians have destroyed the country for 70 years. This country was ruled by just four families. The Senanayake-Kotelawala family, the Bandaranaike-Ratwatte-Obeysekara family, and then the Jayawardena-Wickramasinghe family, and finally the Rajapaksa family. No other family has ruled this country. If we are in a crisis, these families are solely responsible for this. These families have failed. Not just the Rajapaksas, but all four families. Now we need people who have the skills. We did not win the cricket World Cup because positions were given based on family. The captaincy does not pass down based on family. Arjuna Ranatunga does not ask for his son to be the next cricket captain. It’s given based on talent.
But in politics, leadership is passed down to sons and grandsons. This is Sri Lanka’s problem. There is a new skilled business class in this country, professionals and state administrators who are where they are because of their skills. Even if you come from such a family, if you have the talent and the skill, you must be allowed to come forward. That is my principle to run the country. I have led by example. I have not brought my family into my political matters. If Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge made her son or daughter contest in the 2000 election, Mahinda Rajapaksa would not have any place in this country. Bandaranaike broke away from the UNP and formed his own party because D.S. Senanayake was going to give the leadership to his son. So, this inheritance of political leadership has caused many problems in this country. This country should be saved from the curse of the four families that have been ruling this country for 90 years. It should then be handed over to those leaders who were created through free education.
Did you use Sajith Premadasa’s popularity among the masses to form the SJB for your benefit?
Sajith Premadasa has been in politics since the year 2000. (Former President) Maithripala Sirisena and (former Prime Minister) Ranil Wickremesinghe did not do justice to the mandate they got in 2015. Therefore, we had to end their politics. Sajith Premadasa had this pressure way before I did. So, the SJB was born. It was a success, as 90% of the UNP joined the SJB. What the UNP has also left to do is to join the SJB. I did not use Sajith Premadasa to form the SJB.
We could say this about Mahinda Rajapaksa. He had no support from the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) in 2005. He only had the JHU and the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna). The entire SLFP worked for Ranil Wickremesinghe. So, a choice was made at this time. The Rajapaksa family no longer remembers how Mahinda Rajapaksa became Prime Minister. The premiership was going to be given to Maithripala Sirisena or Lakshman Kadirgamar. He was President and is Prime Minister because of us. He defeated terrorism because of us. He did not have an agenda to defeat terrorism. His plan was to have peace talks with the LTTE and he did that; he went to Geneva for discussions. Then we could say that we built the Rajapaksas too. We did what we did for the country.
We also had the backbone to stand against it when his family was robbing this country under the guise of development. We do not live in fear of families and their ancestral homes. There are accusations and attempts to imprison us. This is because I have risen all this way right from the bottom purely through my skills. I have not come from traditional political families. Anagarika was called a thief, a homosexual and he was chased out of the country. D.B. Jayatilaka, who was to become the first president of the country, faced a lot of injustice. Thieves who robbed this country’s national wealth spent to defeat me in the previous election. But I cannot be dismissed like that. We will establish a new rule in this country in 2024 as a new social force. This is what we have to do. This country should be handed over to the skilled generations.
Will you be the leader of this new social movement?
No, it will be led by the talented and skilled new generation that is oppressed by dynasty rule. They should take over the governance of the country.
You came to politics from a Buddhist background, and then joined the SJB. Now you have left the JHU and said that you are starting a new social movement. Have your political beliefs changed?
We are pragmatics when it comes to politics and we are concerned about what the basic needs of a country are at that particular moment. Many claim that they are patriots but they weren’t here when Prabhakaran was attacking us. Most of them believed that we should have resolved the issue by conducting peace talks with the LTTE. Mahinda Rajapaksa also believed the same. They believed that terrorism cannot be defeated without going for a federal solution. I intervened to make an ideological and political change at this moment in time.
But that was 10 years ago. Now, the country is facing new challenges. In 2015, we realised that we should work towards democracy and human freedom, against corruption. Today, for the first time after Independence, Sri Lanka is heading towards bankruptcy. So, we must act according to this need. The main political force in the Opposition is the SJB. So, we joined the SJB. We can save this country. We have to build people who champion skills and must gather them for an honest effort to save the country from ruination. We don’t need people who do politics in order to gain political power or people who do politics as a leisure activity. We will work towards uniting people who are already making honest and notable efforts to save this country.
What are your views on JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake?
He is a skillful leader that was created by the free education system in this country. It is true that the JVP caused destruction through an armed struggle, but the JVP is a manifestation of Sri Lanka’s peasantry. It was President Jayewardene that abolished the JVP and pushed them to take refuge in jungles. The JVP had a harsh response to this.
But Marxism has been defeated for a long time now. What Anura Kumara Dissanayake should do now is let Marxism go and become a leader of the skilled public and reorganise the party. Instead of playing the role of the Opposition critic, they should come forward to take state power to rebuild this country. Nicaragua’s Marxist Sandinista movement lost their elections. They ultimately left their Marxist beliefs behind, organised differently for the country’s people, and came to power. As long as the JVP holds onto these utopian beliefs, this country will be deprived of the service it should receive from Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Lal Kantha, or Sunil Handunnetti. The JVP and the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) should stop being Opposition critics and take part in governance, and become ministers. Eelam and Marxist society are both utopias that can never be achieved.
If you believe these individuals in the JVP are valuable personalities, why did you not join the JVP instead of the SJB?
I am not a critic. I lead by example. I have been a minister for about 12 years and I have achieved certain things. We strengthened every ministry financially and set an example for how to run state institutions with no corruption. So, the JVP should do the same. They should join hands to lead this country – not the way they joined Chandrika Kumaratunga. They should join hands with equal forces. They should join with the SJB and a new generation should take over the governance of this country.
If you become the leader of this country someday, how far would you consult the Sangha to govern the country?
Economy and spirituality are essential in creating a wholesome human being. The Buddhist clergy has intervened in social life even in the past. They have provided advice on matters related to the Dhamma. The Sangha treated the ill and took part in indigenous medical practices; they have contributed to educating especially through pirivenas and the Sangha has also rallied people in the struggle for independence. So, this is a special role. There should be a balance in the triangle of the ruler, the people, and the Sangha. So, this balance needs to be protected.
Finally, what is your vision to develop the country if you become its leader?
I do not build castles in the sky. I have been a minister for 12 years and I have ensured that none of these ministries were a financial burden for the Treasury. Within the 100-day period in 2015, I led the Ceylon Electricity Board to make Rs. 20 billion in profit. After I left, the CEB has suffered losses of Rs. 250 billion. I challenge anyone to do it better than I did. I can only be defeated by them running a ministry better than I did. The Urban Development Authority endured losses of Rs. 39 billion. Under me, not only did the UDA make a profit of Rs. 23 billion in 2019, but every employee received a bonus of Rs. 40,000. There is nothing more to say about what I will do in this country if I come to lead it. I have already left my mark.