PM Khan and his political lessons for Arjuna | Daily News

PM Khan and his political lessons for Arjuna

Arjuna Ranatunga with the 1996 World Cup-Imran Khan with the 1992 World Cup
Arjuna Ranatunga with the 1996 World Cup-Imran Khan with the 1992 World Cup

Pakistani Premier Imran Khan apparently had a message for his former cricketing colleague Arjuna Ranatunga. Take the knocks he said, and learn from them.

He also said that Arjuna instilled a sense of self-confidence in Sri Lankan cricketers who were always abundantly talented, but never had that one quantity — self-belief.

No argument with the legendary Prime Minister on that one. It was Ranatunga’s chutzpah and his sense of can-do that won us the World Cup, a feat so far not emulated.

This is not a cricket column, but worth mentioning that the country reached two subsequent World Cup finals, one under the captaincy of Mahela Jayewardene and the other under that of Kumar Sangakkara. Arguably, both had more talented teams to lead than Arjuna had in 1996, but they couldn’t win the clincher. On the given day only one team can win, and so this is not to take anything away from Mahela’s or Sanga’s feats — but both probably lacked that one ingredient, Arjuna’s Captain Cool chutzpah, his sense of, “We don’t care who you are, because we are going to wallop you right here before you can say Darrell Hair.”

Many hats came off to salute Arjuna for that quality.

Politics is a different game though. Imran Khan apparently had some words for Arjuna Ranatunga on that too.

There is one thing this writer thinks, that Imran Khan did not say. He is a kind of politician who won in the end because he had his country at heart. Yes, he possessed other qualities, but he had his people’s interests uppermost.

Humane qualities

The same could be said of any number of successful Asian politicians, and politicians from anywhere around the world. But to confine it to Asians for sake of example, Aung San Su Ki, Imran Khan, Lee Kwan Yew, Mahinda Rajapaksa, etc., were all in the same mould — even though their political backgrounds were vastly different. They worked for their people and only their people.

Politics rewards only those who work for the people of the country, and though that should be axiomatic, it would be surprising, the number of folk who do not understand that. Politics may temporarily reward those who work for other people — for other countries, and for outside interests, to put it as crudely but credibly as possible. But politics rewards on a tangible, not accidental basis, those who work for their people and their people alone. Ask Ranil Wickremesinghe, he learnt that the hard way.

Politics does not reward the Mangala Samaraweeras of this world. This writer knows Mangala Samaraweera, or at least had known him — met and spoken to the gentleman, on many an occasion in the past. Make no mistake, he is no ogre. He is at a personal level, genial, humane and better than most. After all, he is the type who even in the middle of a most acrimonious political climate, drops in on his way to say ‘hi’ to his political rivals, Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Medamulana. This writer saw the video — where he is shown to drop in, and say “Me yanagaman nikan aawa” (Dropped by for no reason). When he is invited to a Rajapaksa family wedding, he is there, sometimes in the teeth of unfair criticism by sections of his constituency over the mere act of attending a family function out of goodwill, forgetting bitter political rivalries for a moment on the happy occasion.

Colonial times

But I digress. Despite these qualities, Samaraweera will never be a politician in the mould of Aung San Su Ki, Imran Khan, Lee Kwan Yew, or Mahinda Rajapaksa. That is because, essentially, he does not work for the people of this country. He is free to disagree, and he probably would stand on his head and say, no, he does work for “we, the people”. “We the people” maybe, but not “we the people of our country”.

If he lived in colonial times, he would have been a great Governor General. No doubt the Queen would have appointed him to that decorated sinecure without batting an eyelid. But sadly for him, these are not colonial times. As much as he wishes this was, this country is no colony, not of the British — not of any other power, period.

What goes for Samaraweera, goes for Wickremesinghe, and Ranatunga as well. As long as these folks primarily work for outsiders, they would not succeed. The people are aware of Samaraweera’s ‘performance’ in Geneva. He would say he made those moves that were ridiculously inimical to this country’s interests, in the interests of this country’s minorities. Nice try, but the people would never buy that. Least of all, the minorities.

The people of this country, though generally passive and unengaged in the political whirligig, have keener instincts than Samaraweera thinks they do. He cannot dupe them, and claim that what he did for expediency was done in their interests. By now, he probably believes in his own lie that he did all that he did as Foreign Minister for the longer term interests of the nation and its people. At best, he did what he did because he thought that is the easier option — the cushier path of least resistance.

How did that turn out? This is the problem with the opinion makers of this country too. There was this ode that Victor Ivan the journalist had written about a beautiful country in the future, because according to him, “extremism’ would soon be defeated. In many people’s view, Aung San Su Ki was extremist too. But it appears she cannot be defeated, not even by a marauding military.


Lee Kwan Yew, wasn’t ‘extremist’ by any stretch. He was known for his best efforts to foster racial amity. That is despite agreeing to constitutionally allocate a special place for Malays, Singapore’s indigenous people. But despite his moderate stand on race, he was Singaporean first. Refer that famous speech, in which he said the CIA tried to bribe him and he spurned the lot.

That is where Victor Ivan gets it wrong. He conflates ‘extremism’ with working in the interests of the country, and not in the interests of outsiders.

He thinks people can be roused to be ‘racist’ but people are in their grain amicable, and they want to co-exist with those of other races, religions, sexual orientations, what have you. He seems to underestimate the innate goodness in people, however acrimonious the ‘mob’ may seem at times.

But he underestimates something more than that. He underestimates the disdain people have for those who work in collaboration with the outsider. He cannot hide it — he hates the Government in power, and worships the Wickremesinghe, Samaraweera and Premadasa type of ‘liberals’.

He is unaware that the people know those of the aforementioned ilk work with the outsider, the interloper — even when they try their best to hide that fact. They also try other tactics such as claiming “this (current) Government is making the country a Chinese colony, and they are outsiders too.” The people know that what is damaging is when Samaraweera turned against us in Geneva, and not when the Chinese lent us a little money.

Politicians who go against these fundamentals may succeed in duping the people in the short term — but they cannot sustain that gig. It is also extremely unlikely that they can repeat-dupe the people as they did in 2015. There was nothing beautiful about that. It was as ugly as hell, and the people learnt a bitter lesson from Samaraweera’s antics in Geneva, and the raw deal they got due to the neo-liberal economics, also recommended to us by outsiders and ‘experts’.

Ivan can try, but he cannot conflate that sort of disloyalty to the people, with what he thinks is a ‘beautiful’ counter reaction to extremism. Just so he understands, people will go to ‘extreme’ lengths to save this country from inimical, non-Sri Lankan, patently alien influences.

As for Arjuna Ranatunga, even as a bit player in the political game as of now, he can take note and learn something from his younger brother Prasanna Ranatunga.