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The Meaning of Bilateral



by Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda

Remarks delivered 14 August 2017 at Launch of An Enduring Friendship. Sri Lanka and Pakistan by Arshad Cassim, Editor SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, Published by Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, 2017.

In 2015 Former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told The Nikkei Asian Review that what Sri Lanka needed was an “omnidirectional foreign policy,” a foreign policy which looks in all directions, that serves its own interests, not those of its neighbors, “We don’t want to confine ourselves to one power bloc.”

This is very important. The foreign policy of any country, consists of strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve goals. They are and must be in the self interest of the nation. It is Sri Lanka’s self interest that we look in all directions, to paraphrase the Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, that we be “Sri Lanka centric.”

Sri Lanka is part of South Asia. However, we must remember that South Asia is much more than India. It is Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Maldives, it is also Pakistan.

This is the sixth-most populous country in the world. In 2015 it had a population of 199.1 million, 2.57% of the world population. It is predicted that Pakistan will soon have the fourth largest population in the world, behind only India, China, and the United States. Like India, this is a huge and growing market on our very doorstep, one far too significant to ignore.

Today Pakistan is one of the world’s largest producers of natural commodities, in terms of purchasing power it is the 24th-largest economy in the world. Looking to the future, Pakistan is listed by Goldman Sachs as one of the Next Eleven (N-11), a group of 11 countries that, along with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, have the potential to become one of the 21st century’s largest economies. In 2014 Goldman Sachs predicted that Pakistan’s economy would grow 15 times in the next 35 years and that by 2050 it would be the 18th-largest economy in the world.

The geographic location is also critical. Pakistan has 650-mile coastline along the Arabian Sea, it borders Iran and shares a maritime border with Oman. In the far north east it offers direct access to China, the next economic superpower. CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the network of road and railways that are currently underway throughout Pakistan will link China’s Xinjiang province to the port of Gwadar in southwestern Pakistan. This network also promises to make Pakistan the gateway to Central Asia, home of vast reserves of minerals and natural resources, oil, gas, gold, uranium and aluminium. CPEC offers Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan the opportunity to transport their goods and market them to regional and global markets. This could be the future, a future in which Sri Lanka could well share. This is an economic and political relationship that we must cement, for it is in our national self interest.

Although the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Sri Lanka has been an important part of the South Asian landscape, it has yet to be comprehensively studied and evaluated. Mr. Arshad Cassims’s work is well researched and analytical; crisply argued and crisply written, it discusses the political, economic and defence aspects of the relationship. In a new departure, it also looks at the interaction between two peoples.

Books however are not just records of facts and figures. They are the beginning of a conversation. They also serve as tools of Engagement, to help cement and solidify a relationship. A foundation on which to build, they provide stepping stones, forums for discussion, exchange and interaction. They also help to chart the future,

We must not forget that Pakistan too is an Indian Ocean power. Looking into the future, Mr. Cassim touches on the potential of maritime trade and shipping. Oceans are still the highways of trade. Nearly 90 per cent of the world’s commodities, its goods and its raw materials still travel by sea. The future of both countries lies in the new deep water ports, Gwadar, in Baluchistan and Colombo and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. Gwadar is the pivot of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It will be the link between China’s project, and the . Who knows, it could be one of the hubs of the 21st century.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has described Gwadar as a “game-changer” for the region. It will provide China with direct access to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean and enable Pakistan to establish an economic corridor to link directly with Kashgar and the markets of Central Asia. For Sri Lanka’s ports too, her trade and her shipping, this could a game changer.

This project presents a very interesting and imaginative exercise in softpower diplomacy. A study of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka relationship, sponsored by the government of Pakistan, it is written by a young Sri Lankan, designed by Sri Lankans, produced by Sri Lankans, even printed in Sri Lanka. This represents a massive vote of confidence and commitment to the bilateral relationship, truly bilateral in a way that many other bilateral relationships are not. Many other countries talk of bilateral relationships and then take unilateral action. This project represents the fulfillment of a long process, yet it was always one based on consultation and consensus.

SL is one of the oldest living cultures in the world, yet it is often made to feel like a junior partner, often told what to do, sometimes browbeaten, sometimes intimidated. This culture has a living heritage of 2,500 years, for the sake of our people we cannot afford to be anybody’s junior partner. Neither can we afford to think like one. Sri Lanka must have a Sri Lanka centric foreign policy, initiatives like this are an integral part of it.

American philosopher ’s great work, The Life of Reason (1905 -1906) is considered to be one of the most poetic and well-written works of philosophy in Western history. This is one of the sayings that we remember.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We, as Sri Lankans cannot and must not forget our past. Nor must we forget the part which Pakistan has played. Today many countries call themselves our friends. However, we must not forget Pakistan’s support for Sri Lanka during some of our most dangerous times. This proved a vital factor in the final defeat of terrorism. Maybe without Pakistan’s help we would not have come so far. We must also remember that in 2006 this willingness to help nearly cost the Pakistani ambassador his life. On 14 August the convoy carrying Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Bashir Wali Mohamed, was targeted by the LTTE. Although the High Commissioner escaped unhurt, several of his escort were killed.

This project has been in the making for almost three years, I would like to thank the Government of Pakistan and the High Commission of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, for recognizing the value of this initiative and taking it on. Their interest and support has enabled this project to reach fruition. A vital role was played by both the then High Commissioner for Pakistan in Sri Lanka, Major General. (Retd) Shakeel Hussain, the acting High Commissioner Dr. Sarfraz Sipra, the officers and staff of the Embassy. Without their vision, their determination and their commitment in the face of many obstacles, this work would never have seen the light of day.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We are totally different cultures with utterly different world views and ways of life. Despite very real strains, this relationship has been characterized by restraint and sensitivity on both sides, something which has been sometimes missing from some of our other relationships. There is a lack of presumption on both sides, an ingrained reluctance to criticize or to dictate and a willingness to help at all times. In the short term and the long term, this relationship is in our strategic interest, one which we must not compromise or erode.

To safeguard the national interest, a nation must always have alternatives. When you have alternatives, you have choices. When you have choices, you have freedom. When you have freedom, you have independence.

Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877 –1938) is widely regarded as the Spiritual Father of Pakistan. A poet, philosopher and politician, he is also one of the most important figures in Urdu literature. These words are from his poem Knowledge and Religion.

A blossom cannot thrive in a meadow full of trees,

Unless some drops of dew ally with pleasant breeze


Like the blossoms in a meadow, the flowers cannot thrive without the dew and the wind. For a bilateral relationship to work, both sides must feel that they have a stake and a part to play, each party must feel nourished and enriched. It cannot be about what you want and what I want, we must both want it together. This is the meaning of bilateral.


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Political nostalgia in the land of forgetting



Anxieties about the present, psychologists and social scientists have long ascertained, lead to a fixation with the past. A nostalgic yearning for how things used to be is hence one way through which our minds, even our bodies, put up with what they are today: a defence mechanism, in its simplest sense, to cordon us from the past.

When we channel the past, we prefer to black out what was considered bad then. This is so that we can procure from it a favourable comparison with the present. Hence, for instance, in the aftermath of Vietnam, with Watergate pummelling public confidence in the government, Americans turned to the memory of the Kennedy years. Donald Trump triggered a somewhat similar response: at the peak (or nadir) of his presidency, it wasn’t unusual for commentators, even liberals, to contrast it unfavourably with the Bush II years. The perceived failures of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime have similarly led the economist, the political commentator, and the Average Joe to reflect warmly on the yahapalana years.

In societies where memory fades over shorter time frames, nostalgia tends to play a major part in reviving disgraced oppositions and defeated strongmen. Thus the UNP, which suffered inexorable declines in 1960, 1970, and 1994, managed to rebound and return five or so years later; thus Mahinda Rajapaksa won by the thinnest of margins from any election he contested in 2005, despite popular perceptions of his opponent as a terrorism appeaser; thus in 2015 his party lost crucial divisions in the western and the southern province to a candidate who had emerged, from a united oppositional front, barely three months before the election; thus four years later, having reorganised itself, it won those very same divisions by margins wider than what its opponents had obtained at that earlier election.

What explains these reversals of fortune and misfortunes? The reason is the absence of ideology among mainstream parties. Why do I say this? In 1962, Daniel Bell predicted in The End of Ideology that with the dissipation of mainstream political creeds, more parochial sects would emerge, making the old divisions between the left and right irrelevant at best, archaic at worst. Bell may have been wrong in his predictions about the fading away of left vs right polemics, but he was correct in his view that these would be displaced by bigger debates. Bell was also wrong in his assessment that this displacement would occur in the liberal West; au contraire, it was in the peripheral countries of the South where the marginalisation of left-vs-right political debates eventually transpired, with much more vigour.

It’s important to understand why such a phenomenon transpired in the first place. Bell’s belief in the end of ideology was moulded by the post-war experience of Western European societies, where policymakers and bureaucrats believed they had struck a balance between equity and growth. For them, the disappearance of traditional ideological patterns followed from the so-called post-war consensus, in which market-led growth cohered with a dirigiste state. The 1960s, with its unyielding faith in managed capitalism – “We are all Keynesians now,” Nixon famously declared – thus appeared to have the best of it both: private affluence without public squalor. Barely a decade later, after the oil crisis and the abandonment of the gold reserve, however, we stopped being Keynesians: eight years of rising inflation and staggering unemployment later, we became monetarists.

On the face of it, Thatcherism and Reaganism signalled the end of old left/right divisions throughout the West, and the simultaneous rise of a new right. In the non-West, on the other hand, the old divisions did fade away, but not at once to a new right. Neoliberalism proper did not make waves in these societies until after the end of the cold war. Even those countries that enacted market reforms failed to oversee their Reaganite revolutions. Transplanted in the tropics, these reforms did not so much lead to an assault on the state as it did a widening of its powers. They generated a horde of contradictions: each dovetailing with the other, all of them at odds with the utopian outcomes predicted by World Bank-IMF technocrats.

In Sri Lanka, these contradictions led simultaneously if not concurrently to the expansion of the state, the slicing of the Left, and the emergence of a donor funded NGO-cracy. The one both led to and followed from the other: the annihilation of the Left yielded place to new civil society formations, which in turn facilitated an exodus to the latter of a great many activists and intellectuals associated until then with the Left. Unlike in other parts of Afro-Asia where neoliberal reforms squeezed the middle-class out of existence, moreover, in Sri Lanka those reforms served to empower a new middle bourgeoisie, more consumerist and less receptive to the Left. The ruptures and schisms of the Jayewardene years both entrenched them – hence their vote for continuity over a reversion to a pre-1977 status quo in 1989 – and turned them to ideologies cut off from mainstream politics. All these factors contributed to the emergence of a new political discourse, mediated less by the old distinctions between left and right than by new divisions between pluralist and exclusivist political polarities.

All politics since 1977 and 1983 – the liberalisation of the economy and the polarisation of the polity – has come to rest on these divisions. In 1989, the debate was resolved in favour of a populist Bonapartist, who sought to achieve equity with growth. In 1994, the murder of that populist led to the election of an ostensibly centrist, but in reality centre-right and neoliberal, candidate from what used to be the country’s foremost centre-left political party. Cut down in size, forced to capitulate, the SLFP under Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga finished off what J. R. Jayewardene had begun and his successor had stalled, namely the liberalisation of the public sphere (and not just sector). This generated an exfoliating morass of contradictions which deepened the rifts that the Jayewardene regime had facilitated; these rifts entrenched both liberal and tribalist ideologues, leading the electorate to vote for the neoliberal UNP in 2001 while ceding political space to the nationalist Sihala Urumaya.

The cycle of memory and forgetting so inherent to politics over here has fed into a never-ending oscillation between exclusivist and pluralist polarities; from neoliberal peaceniks (the UNP, 2000-2004) to populist Bonapartists (the UPFA, 2005-2015) to neoliberal globalisers and liberalisers (the UNP, 2015-2019) to centre-right Bonapartists (the SLPP, 2019 onwards), we seem to be closing in on a maelstrom. If the second half of the 1970s heralded the end of ideology in the Global South, with the demise of the so-called Old Left, and if 1977 marked its end in Sri Lanka, the post-Cold War conjuncture continues to facilitate the rise of various totalising narratives to the exclusion of old political divisions, patterns, and trajectories. “We have to forget class in politics,” a popular political scientist, once affiliated with the Left, but now allied with a post-Marxist outfit, declared at a webinar recently. I disagree with him, yet this process appears to be unfolding across the spectrum: not just class politics, but politics itself, seems to have been thrown out of the window.

It’s easy to understand what’s taking place here. Split between left and right, politics used to be about issues, people, things: the price of rice and the weight of bread. These were primary concerns in an economy which had still not made a leap from agriculture to industry. In such societies, polarisation along lines other than Left versus Right has tended to push mainstream parties, across the political spectrum, to more peripheral concerns. This usually follows from, or accompanies, the replacement within civil society of vital economic and political issues by peripheral concerns: I call the latter micro-politics and single issues.

Now a failure to resolve primary concerns has lead parties to embrace these single issues, and to canvass as many votes as they can based on them. In Sri Lanka, accordingly, mainstream politics has come down to a trade-off between security and democracy. The latter used to be associated with the UNP, and the former with the SLFP/SLPP, but with the advent of the SJB and the electoral shrinkage of the UNP, government and opposition are effectively struggling to outdo each other over security matters; the SJB’s approach to the Geneva resolution and its handling of the all too tenuous issue of devolution shows that clearly. Whether or not such volte-faces bode well for the future, of course, one cannot really say.

Our collective memories are short: we forget, sometimes in an instant. It is easy for parties to make use of such a culture of forgetting, to play on nostalgia, to present the past as some sort of arcadia to which we must return. But the past is prologue, and nostalgia is neither here nor there. Our aim should instead be, not a politics of one polarity against another polarity, but a politics of democracy plus sovereignty. To that end, we must stop considering democracy and sovereignty as opposites, and focus on mobilising every class in pursuit of issues that matter, and have the potential of unifying everyone from everywhere.

In Sri Lanka, the foremost issue is, as it always has been, the agrarian question, the leap from agriculture to industry. Since 1977, we have failed to make that leap. That is our real national tragedy, and in ignoring and side-stepping it, we have managed to perpetuate it.

It is time parties across the divide realised this without engaging in polemics that have failed to get us anywhere: polemics based on polarities, oscillating from neoliberal globalisation to neoconservative nationalism. We remain stuck in a rut, in a never-ending cycle. To exit the cycle, we must exit these polarities. Yet parties across the divide seem content being where they are. That cannot be the case, and for our sake, it cannot be allowed to continue.

The writer can be reached at



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Explained: Peak of India’s Covid-19 second wave in sight, but end may still be far away



After the April surge, the daily count of new cases has dropped in the last one week. Several other factors indicate that the peak is approaching. But the end of the second wave is expected to be a slow process.

All indications from the coronavirus numbers in India in the last two weeks suggest that the second wave of infections may already have reached a peak, or will peak in the next few days. The end of the second wave may still be a long distance away, though.

After reaching a high of 4.14 lakh last Thursday, the daily count of cases has dropped significantly in the last one week. This is not happening for the first time, though. After crossing the four-lakh mark for the first time on April 30, the case count had gone down for a few days, before jumping again. But the new thing is that the seven-day average of the case count, which adjusts for daily fluctuations, has begun to decline for the first time during the second wave. The seven-day average peaked at 3.91 lakh on May 8, and has begun to decline after that. On Wednesday, this average had slipped to 3.75 lakh.

A five-day decline in the average case count may not be a strong enough indicator in itself to establish a trend, but there also are other signals that are pointing in the same direction.

Decline in surge states

Maharashtra, which at one point was contributing more than 60% of daily cases, certainly seems to be in a declining phase now. It’s been more than three weeks now since the state reported its single-day highest case count of 68,631. After hovering in the 60,000s and 50,000s for two weeks, the state’s daily case count has dropped to the 40,000s now.

The decline in Maharashtra is likely to have the biggest impact on the national curve. For a few days, an unexpected jump in the cases reported by Karnataka and Kerala more than compensated for the decline in Maharashtra, but the chances of these two states sustaining their threat over a long period is showing signs of waning. The continued decline in Maharashtra could make Karnataka and Kerala the highest contributors of cases, but it appears unlikely now that either of them would contribute as many Maharashtra has done.

The biggest glimmer of hope is coming from Uttar Pradesh. The state has the potential to report even more cases than Maharashtra. And at one time, Uttar Pradesh indeed seemed headed in that direction when its daily case count rapidly progressed to 35,000 at the end of April. However, for more than one week, now, the state’s daily tally has remained well below 30,000, and is showing signs of declining.

Like Maharashtra, Delhi too seems to have reached a peak, and appears to be in a declining phase. The city-state had been reporting cases in the high 20,000s for some time, but this has now dropped to less than 12,000 a day.

The decline in Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and also Chhattisgarh, is not being compensated by any major rise in other states, though Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal could give anxious moments. The case count in Tamil Nadu has crossed 30,000 while Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have breached the 20,000 mark. All these states are in the ascendant phase right now.

Active cases

For the first time in two months, the number of active cases saw a drop this Monday and Tuesday. Until the end of April, the active cases were rising by almost a lakh every day. Through May, this daily increase has been reduced substantially. In the last few days, the active cases have increased by less than 10,000 a day.

A large part of this has to do with the fact that the number of daily recoveries has now caught up with the daily case count. The recoveries tail the case count by two weeks.

Now that the daily case count has remained more or less stable for the last two weeks, the number of recoveries has reached the same level as the case count. The runaway increase in active cases has been halted.

Current trends indicate that active cases could peak well under the 40-lakh mark. As of Wednesday, there were 37.1 lakh active cases in the country.


Positivity rate

The defining characteristic of the second wave was the high positivity rate. Out of those being tested, many more people were turning out to be positive as compared to the first wave. India’s overall positivity rate remained between 5% and 6% during the first wave, although there were small phases where it rose to more than 12 per cent. In the second phase, however, the positivity rate has exceeded 20%. In some states, it even went past 40%.

Positivity rate is a measure of the disease prevalence in the population. If a very large number of people are infected, many more would be detected positive when tested.

(The Indian Express)

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Champika’s challenge



Patali Champika Ranawaka’s somersault into the political establishment remains one of the more interesting developments from the last quarter century or so. Beginning with the JVP, moving to the nationalist right, only to later turn to the neoliberal right, he remains shrouded in enigma, a cut above the rest: while most of his colleagues go round in circles, shifting parties as you would shift from one musical chair to another in a never-ending cycle, he prefers straight lines.

The issue has to do with where those lines are leading him. What are his beliefs and strategies? Who are his friends and enemies? Which side does he tilt to? These questions may remain unanswered for some time, well into the long run; to search for answers now would be futile.

Ruthless to a fault, yet quiet and tactful, our most perfectionist parliamentarian happens to be one of our most intelligent. He knows the numbers, and quotes them almost effortlessly. Even if he jumps to the wrong conclusions, he gives the impression of having taken a longer, more tortuous route to reach them. Whether he’s critiquing a development initiative or a financial scandal – of course while in the opposition – he resorts to logic, not speculation. His speeches are among the eloquent we hear from parliament today, at least by the standards set by both present government and opposition MPs in that unfortunate institution. He says what critics of the government want to hear, not what they’ve heard elsewhere. Insofar as opposition MPs are concerned, Ranawaka has thus laid the benchmark and set the yardstick, even if he lacks the charisma and charm of his opponents.

What explains his appeal? It’s not as though he’s been consistent throughout. The truth is that he has indulged in as much pole-vaulting as most of his colleagues and contemporaries: a dubious record to be sure, but one which hasn’t attracted for him the kind of outrage others have.

Take a look at his affiliations: the JVP, Jathika Chintanaya, Ratawesi Peramuna, Janatha Mithuro, National Movement Against Terrorism, Sihala Urumaya, Jathika Hela Urumaya, United People’s Freedom Alliance, United National Front for Good Governance, UNP, and finally SJB. His entry into the latter remains tenuous and debatable at best, yet it was with its formation that he let go of his past, for good: having served as leader of the most powerful nationalist party in the country, the JHU, he left that party, even if he did not disavow its ideology. What’s extraordinary about it is that regardless of where he has jumped to, his record has attracted less censure than that of most of his colleagues. Bottom line: consistency is not his forte, but his lack of it hasn’t worked against him.

If it’s isn’t consistency, is it survival? From the tail-end of the Cold War to the peak of a pandemic, Ranawaka seems to have been driven by two impulses: power and adaptability. But he’s hardly the only such politician who’s stuck to these credos. To say he’s survived due to some farsighted powers of adaptation is to overlook a crucial, inescapable fact: that adaptation for him signals not so much an ability to harbour different ideological affiliations across parties as it does an ability to adhere to the same ideology, the same worldview, while straddling different parties. In this, he is the superior of many colleagues and foes. Bottom line: he’s survived not because he’s changed so often, but because, at a fundamental level, he hasn’t changed at all.

At a Q&A session organised by a group of young activists a few weeks before last August’s election, Ranawaka was suave, confident, and a tad tired. He spoke about his journey from university student to political activist to politician, underscoring his achievements without bragging about them. The man has, if anything at all, a clean record as a minister, whatever his failings on other fronts may be, and this became apparent as one slide moved into another on the screen.

Yet what caught me wasn’t the conviction with which he outlined his achievements, but the answer he gave to my question as to why he abandoned his activism over alternative development paradigms (he called it Sanwardhanaye Thunweni Yamanaya, (“The Third Era of Development”). Ranawaka was polite, yet to the point with me: “We must bend when we have to, without clinging on to the same ideas, movements, and personalities forever.”

Does this offer a clue to his philosophy, if he follows a philosophy at all? Critics, especially from the Sinhala nationalist right, accuse him of peddling nationalism as a launch pad for his personal politics: a strange assessment, given that since at least the Donoughmore period politicians have been peddling nationalism, of all shades, for personal gain. What makes Ranawaka a target of nationalist vitriol here is not his tendency to shift parties so quickly, but his gift for dominating nationalist discussions while cohabiting with parties hardly amenable to such discourses: the UNP then, the SJB today.

That boils down to a simple truism: no matter the virtues he claims for pole-vaulting, no matter the vices he claims for sticking to the same ideologies, he’s achieved the best of both worlds, bending to the currents of political expedience while sailing on the same ship. If Ranil Wickremesinghe has been compared to a fox, Mr Ranawaka’s spirit animal, given these predilections, ought to be a leopard: not a leopard that doesn’t change its spots, but one whose spots can never change.

All this is peripheral to any proper discussion about the man, his dreams, and how he has set out to realise them. Far from concentrating on why he’s survived all these decades despite abandoning any pretence at ideological consistency, while sailing on the same (Sinhala nationalist) ship, it behoves us to consider the challenges his track record poses to his future prospects. Put in another way, what are the biggest obstacles he faces as he charts yet another new political course?

To ponder these is to ponder Ranawaka’s vision for the future. None of his critics, from the nationalist right or the pro-SJB opposition, has engaged him over that vision. In essence, it centres on the need to nurture what he calls “fifth generation leaders”, a meritocratic class of results-oriented politicians and officials. The emergence of that generation is, in fact, the objective of “43 Senankaya.” Rawanaka’s strategy to that end is to consolidate the Bandaranaike reforms of 1956 and the Jayewardene reforms of 1977, forming “an administration comprising of experts from various sectors.”

One can of course question how the reforms of 1956 will square with those of 1977 – can you think of a more contrasting, disparate set of policies? – but that is grist for another piece. For now, what needs to be understood is that Ranawaka’s political philosophy has engaged a suburban petty bourgeoisie, along with a young precariat milieu fresh out of university, engaged in part-time employment, and entranced by his talk of next generation leaders. The “43” in his brigade’s title refers to the year free education was enacted here: its aim, therefore, is the realisation of the hopes and aspirations of a post-1956, post-1977, and post-2000 educated class. This is ambitious, cutting across political differences and potentially unifying everyone from everywhere. Yet it is not without its problems.

Ranawaka’s showing at last year’s general election (he came second from last in the SJB’s Colombo district preferential results) confirmed two things: one, that the nationalist crowd he wooed long ago has defected to the SLPP today, and two, that despite a lack of support from this crowd, he could not canvass enough support from other communities and groups. The latter revealed a more fundamental failure: an inability to cut into a) Colombo’s upper middle-class and b) ethnic minorities from Central Colombo. In these constituencies he was upended by a neoliberal rightwing, populist centre-right, and minority bloc. Once these groups deserted him, he was left with only a Sinhala suburban middle-class: a paltry base from which you can aim for little, and achieve even less.

Ranawaka’s challenge then is two-fold, necessitating two strategies. Firstly, since he is locked into Colombo’s middle-class and ethnic minorities, he should cross the terrain, beyond city and district, canvassing popular support from other regions. Secondly, since he cannot do without city and district, he should scale the wall, winning support from non-suburban-Sinhala constituencies there.

To both cross the terrain and scale the wall is not easy. But given his dismal showing last year, he should opt for a strategy which squares the circle. Otherwise, he runs the risk of not only irrelevance, but also marginalisation: both of himself and of the “43 Senankaya.”

The problem for Ranawaka is that he has ruffled the feathers of three minority communities: Tamils (anti-federal postures, coupled with an ambivalent stance on devolution), Muslims (comments about them being outsiders 13 years ago), and Christians (anti-conversion campaigns vis-à-vis the JHU, following the passing away of Soma Thera). Simultaneously, his defection to the UNP and SJB has led to dwindling support from the Sinhala nationalist right. All these factors have led to losses on all electoral fronts, with no compensating gains.

Today, he courts support from a niche audience: an anti-Rajapaksist, pro-meritocracy Sinhala middle-class as conservative as rightwing neoliberals. Unless he claims real estate elsewhere, he will find it difficult to achieve either his aims or the objectives of his brigade, even with a Sinhala electorate on his side. In politics especially, the past cannot be allowed to determine the future. In Ranawaka’s case, the past seems to be coming back with much ferocity. He must do what he can to let go, paving a new road. A failure to do so can only condemn him to irrelevance and extinction.


The writer can be reached at

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