Monday, May 20, 2024

Udaya and Patali: A riveting study in contrasts

There are some former Hela Urumaya politicians doing the important work of the State, deciding national energy policy, and participating in collective national decision-making in a crucial juncture in the trajectory of our nation. There are other ex-Hela Urumaya veterans who are flailing around in the dark, and have lost almost everything, but are pretending that they are at the cusp of some great quantum transformation in their politics – a quantum leap that never happens, or shows any signs of happening.

If you think that opener is about Udaya Prabath Gammanpila and Patali Champika Ranawaka, you are right. When Champika Ranawaka suddenly decided to stab his leader in the back in the latter part of 2014, and throw his weight behind the Yahapalana campaign, Udaya Gammanpila was for a moment, if this writer remembers right, caught in the nowhere land in between the party’s new trajectory under Ranawaka, and his own vision for a future Sri Lanka.

He made a speech initially, they said, echoing Ranawaka’s views just after the latter’s defection to the other side. A few days later, he negotiated his entry into the then UPFA coalition, and campaigned in the 2015 election on then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s side. He was pilloried mercilessly for this, just because he is said to have made one speech on defector Ranawaka’s platform days before he chose his correct political location. Upstarts such as Hirunika Premachandra (where is she today – we thought she would have had ‘Ranjan’s back’ as they put things in the American urban argot?) mocked Gammanpila and called him ‘Gemaban-pilla’ basically characterizing him as the frog that jumped.

This writer remembers penning a piece in that November — or was it December? — date in 2014, when Gammanpila crossed, saying he was ‘heroic’ for having crossed over at a time his party leadership had more or less forced his hand to stab President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the back.

This led to me being pilloried in turn mostly because that one alleged speech on Ranawaka’s platform made Gammanpila some sort of unprincipled chap beyond redemption. Begging to differ, I wrote that he may have been obliged to toe the party line in making one supposed speech, but then he decided he cannot speak for that camp in good conscience. How did some fellow scribes decide that there is no redemption after one (alleged) short speech made by Udaya Gammanpila (UG)? How did it make him a much worse character than his senior partner Ranawaka who stabbed his leader in the back, and continued to do so thrusting the knife deeper each minute?

Sorry, but you have to ask them that.

Epoch making

After that, though UG had crossed onto the losing side, he played the role of a frontline agitator in the Rajapaksa camp, playing a now widely chronicled and memorable role as one of the men who along with Wimal Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and others brought Mahinda Rajapaksa to Nugegoda, barely three months after he had lost the election in 2015. The meeting was a massive success with thousands flocking to the Colombo suburb and setting the tone for the ex-President’s eventual return to power in 2020, and his brother Gotabaya’s massive victory in 2019.

UG, the man pilloried as ‘Gembanpila’ for one alleged speech, is a powerful Cabinet Minister today, having been on the fringes of power earlier. He was not so much a MP during the long tenure of Mahinda Rajapaksa from 2005 onward. Apparently what I dubbed his heroic and principled crossover at a difficult and tumultuous time for his party has brought him to the Promised Land, and to his political epoch, if you will. Befitting a hero I should think, and the people thought so too, having voted for him as if he was a seasoned veteran and brought him to Parliament with a thumping lead over most others on the district list.

And where is the oxymoronic ‘principled’ Ranawaka now, in contrast to his former colleague UG who seems to be doing a good job, and destined to greater heights from how it looks from any reasonable point of view?

Ranawaka is out of power, and seems to be a rebel looking for a cause — much to the chagrin of his fellow party travellers such as Dr. Harsha de Silva. UG might be having a mighty grin on his face, saying to himself, “Look how far the mighty have fallen.”

Naked ambition

Ranawaka’s adventurism caught up with him. His naked ambition was apparent when he recently announced some kind of political coming out party with a ‘party within a party’ after he had officially announced his exit from the Hela Urumaya. It did not sit well with his colleagues or his party leader. They are not idiots not to know the extent of his ambition, or the extent to which he will backstab in order to realize it.

Worse still for Ranawaka, almost all the fellow travellers in the opposition political camp decided that Ranawaka, nakedly ambitious though he is, will never be the man for a future leadership position because “his politics has been far too parochial” as he has been in the Hela Urumaya and espoused ‘that kind of political line’. Victor Ivan, the all-knowing seer of everything — some jokes are not funny I know — took out an entire article to say just that.

Compromising on principle is never a good idea, Ranawaka may have realized, but then again, you can compromise on your principles if you have any, and the reader would probably get that idea.

UG had his principles, and he did not want to compromise on any of them. He was not a ‘Gemba’ (a frog that changes political stripes) but he was called that, and Ranawaka, a real ‘Gemba’ that jumped was not called that. It is a strange word we live in.

But the name callers would have by now realized that the man who was true to his principles was vindicated. UG is rewarded. Ranawaka, the man who jumped, has, though he was not the one who was called the ‘jumper’, been punished by the system, and the reality has caught up with him. He has burnt his boats to whatever audience he had in the past, and it appears that whatever audience he coveted by stabbing his leader in the back and crossing over, has eluded him too. Do not take my word for it, take Victor Ivan’s.


They say that Ranawaka may reinvent himself yet, that he cannot be written off. That is hardly the point. He is in a political wilderness of his own making. He has only himself to blame for it. Nobody made him do it. He made some bad choices and is now forced to live with the consequences. Those who pilloried the wrong man — UG — in 2015 are eating a great quantity of crow now. Enough said.

UG doesn’t seem to entertain the outsize ambitions that Ranawaka does. He does not see shortcuts. This comment is not a panegyric to UG. He may have his weaknesses and his strengths and that is not exactly this writer’s concern. The reason for this article was to strike a contrast, to show that standing by principle pays in the long run, and that one should never be swayed by the passing fashion, and the cheering or baying crowd — in this instance, those who booed UG, and praised the other guy.

Crowds are fickle. Those who booed UG have either fallen silent, or they have realized the error of their ways and parted company with the other guy. If you are a believer in god, you’d say god works in strange ways. If you are not a believer in god but in happenstance, you’d say nature takes its course with its twists and turns, but works in strange ways as well.

Rajpal Abeynayake

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