Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Among Those Passed

While Newspapermen (and women) write up the news, Journalists write out their Views.

I am sharing this article from yesterday’s Sunday Times in Sri Lanka by a journalist now in his eighties.

Now THIS is a great example of good journalism!

Among those passed

I will reach the ripe old age of 84 this month – so I have been spending these past few weeks going through my library and re-reading some of the old books that gave me so much pleasure when I first read them.

Among the classics that I possess is a 1963 edition of Among Those Present – an engaging collection of pen-portraits of prominent politicians of the time by D.B. Dhanapala who was a regular columnist (using the pen name Janus) for the Ceylon Daily News as well as Editor in Chief of the Lankadeepa.

Reading his pithy and witty writings about personalities such as SWRD Bandaranaike, Phillip Gunewardana, Oliver Goonetilleke, Arunachalam Mahadeva and their ilk, I was struck by how the apt observations he made about those well-known men of yesteryear could equally fit some of our current crop of politicians.

Take the political parties we have in our country today. Loyalty to one’s party, wrote Dhanapala, would be the best thing for politics if guided by principles and ideals. But the only principle Sri Lanka’s political leaders have in mind is their own personalities, their only ideal being, creating their own idol as a figurehead.

When forming political parties even today, our leaders do not look for men and women of intelligence and ability who would be loyal to policy and principle. They search instead for flatterers who would do their bidding, for legislative hirelings and henchmen rather than followers – like petty chieftains whose objective is building up around themselves a gang of Chak-golayas and pandan-kaarayas.

Dhanapala’s description of one of his characters — a Hamlet unable to make up his mind certainly fits young Sajith Premadasa. He goes on to say, to be able to mould events and not allow events to mould him, to impose his will and not be imposed upon, a leader needs some dynamic force from within — which Sajith at present just seems not to have. In Dhanapala’s words, it is always better to be the father of a famous son rather than the son of a famous father.

His pen portrait of another prominent politician of his time could well have been written about a certain Field Marshal who now strives to bestride our narrow world like a colossus. If he thinks less of the past and more of the future, less of himself and more of the country he may yet have the chance of carrying out his duty of service to Sri Lanka.   But 21st century Sri Lanka is not like Europe in the Middle Ages nor even the swift and bold Sinha Regiment that can march and drill with a minimum of commands. The technique of frightening people into following him is not going to work in a pluralist democracy. Until he learns to understand people, the people will certainly refuse to understand him.

As for our current president, Dhanapala could well have been speaking of Ranil Wickremesinghe when he pictured someone who survived because he never lost his head. In fact, he could keep it when all about him lost theirs and blamed it on him. The president these days is traversing the treacherous labyrinths of political power, having found himself a place among strange bedfellows – who have no sympathy with him but only support him in order to preserve their own skins.

Dhanapala made the pertinent observation, as true today as it was 75 years ago, that in politics, a certain amount of brutish blatancy, a vestige of vulgarity of voice is necessary to cut a figure on the platform or be heard above the din of the gallery. In a struggle for supremacy between a cultivated mind with a sense of balance and a raving demagogue bulging with political muscle, the former naturally has to lose.

But Ranil, acknowledged even by his less well-bred opponents to be a man with background and brains, has finally through force of circumstance got his chance to do something for this country. He will have to take care that he does not listen only to those voices that tell him what he wants to hear. Dhanapala spoke of the legislature then as a ‘Mecca of mediocrities’ — and recent happenings only serve to reinforce our view that nothing in our parliament has changed.

Ranil will, instead of appointing committees to look into everything where a decision needs to be made, need to select wise counselors – not ‘yes-men’ who echo his own thoughts but capable professionals who will have the talents, knowledge and experience that he needs to supplement his own. Unlike his predecessor who was wont to make ad hoc decisions based on ignorance, Ranil will need to trust his advisers to provide him with information and ideas (even if they may appear to be at variance with his own ideas) and then have the confidence to make decisions taking into account wise advice that is backed by facts.

Reading Dhanapala’s book, I was reminded of this quote from the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes:  What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.

Even in this little island of Sri Lanka.



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This entry was posted on May 1, 2023 by in Opinion, sri lanka and tagged , , .

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