By Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne
This book by Dinesh Weerakkody, a top private sector executive who has many publications to his credit, traces the political journey of an extraordinary statesman and should be of interest to all citizens of Sri Lanka, whether they are his supporters or not.
It begins with his ancestry; many have often wondered why one coming from his back ground chose to enter the world of politics, which to some is a labyrinth which must be avoided at all costs. Dr. Greg Power in his foreword advises everyone to read it in order to learn and understand the value of leadership in making critical national choices and in using power wisely.
Through the eyes and pen of one who has had a long and close relationship with his subject, it is certainly refreshing to get an insight into the personality of an often-misunderstood statesman who had the tenacity and endurance to stick to his belief in democracy and displayed incredible patience as the Leader of the Opposition.
The author has seen beneath his somewhat aloof personality at times into the real person, which portrays dedication, discipline, and a genuine concern for the people of this country and their woes.
Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thero, who has known Ranil from his childhood, comments in the book that even as a child, he never indulged in wrongdoing, malpractices or injustice, thus emerging as a rare being in this country, as a professional and as a leader.
The author refers to Ranil’s love of history and comments that this perhaps stems from the fact his father, the late Esmond Wickremesinghe, obtained First Class Honours in history, from Ceylon University College, which was the predecessor to the University of Ceylon.
He explains the political heritage Ranil has inherited from the Wijewardenes and the Jayewardenes who were the movers and shakers of their time, in Sri Lanka’s political history. He links Ranil’s political interest to Lake House, which was begun by his Grandfather, the late D.R. Wijewardene, who started the newspaper group with the objective of getting Sri Lanka’s Independence. He states that among Ranil’s first dreams was to be a journalist.
He describes Ranil’s parents and their influence, his father’s dynamic personality, and closeness to leaders like Sir John and J.R. He was a powerful force among those responsible for bringing the UNP back into power, under the leadership of the late Dudley Senanayake.
Esmond Wickremesinghe was from a prominent Christian family and fought hard and long for press freedom. His mother Nalini, was dignified, stately, beautiful, a devout Buddhist and very close to her son, Ranil. It was perhaps both these influences which combined in making Ranil a politician, a devout Buddhist but one who respects all religions and insists on the freedom of worship for one and all.
While speaking of his early childhood, his education, first at the Kindergarten of Bishops College, then Royal College and his friends who from schooldays on have remained his closest friends, from childhood on, the writer says that Ranil was always an avid reader, also very protective of his only sister, Kshanika and a good brother to all his brothers. The author refers to Ranil’s grounding in law, after passing out as an advocate, while working in the chambers of two leading lawyers of the time, the late H.W. Jayewardene and Vernon Wijetunge.
He goes on through ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ in Ranil’s political journey, through which he remained unstintingly loyal to his party, the UNP. He talks of Ranil’s patience, persistence through all the brickbats thrown at him from within and without, through which the author stood loyally by him.
While reading this book, one finds a new understanding of his wide experience, as a statesman in good governance and the many projects done by him for youth, education and industry in his tenure as minister of these particular ministries. One sees something of the hard work done and secret meetings to ensure the victory of President Sirisena and to defeat the Government of that time which took the country into bankruptcy, and one which was regarded with disgust by all those in the democratic international world. He speaks of Ranil’s dreams for Sri Lanka and his chance at long last to make these a reality.
We also read about Ranil in annexures in the book, by those who knew him well including the late Anura Bandaranaike, interviews with NDTV and N. Ram in The Hindu and speeches by the Prime Minister at business and other forums.
The book is a good read for everyone, an example to younger politicians in the importance of learning to follow before one leads, of learning to walk the straight path with unfailing loyalty to one’s leader and party before one runs.
Ranil’s climb is shown as slow and steady as one whose first priority is the next generation, not the next election, and who never makes false promises to stay in power. The book pens a portrait of a gentleman politician, rare and unique today, who depended on his brain and not brawn to get where he is today.
The author also stresses that Ranil must rise to the challenge and deliver before it’s too late, one which I echo with all my heart, as a long-time supporter!