Whom the Gods wish to destroy, the saying goes, they first make them mad. This comes to mind when considering the recent political decisions of President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe has, over decades, acquired a reputation of being politically astute. He has never been one to be overcome by emotion in making crucial political decisions. He is cast more in the mould of J.R. Jayewardene than Dudley Senanayake. He has been accused of being cold, unemotional and insensitive but no one has accused him of being swayed by sentiment. Yet, last week, he was.

That was when his then Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe accused him and his Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka of siding with the corrupt administrators of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) led by Shammi Silva. Ranasinghe claimed his life was in danger and if anything untoward happened to him, Wickremesinghe and Ratnayaka would be held responsible. He also mocked Ratnayaka in particular, asking, “who is Sagala?”.

Wickremesinghe was furious. No sooner he heard this, the decision to sack Ranasinghe was made without paying any attention to the political consequences of such a decision. The manner in which he did so showed that the man was acting purely in revenge rather than in a rational frame of mind.

The ‘usual’ process of dismissing a minister is for the President to inform the minister, either personally or through an intermediary about the removal from the Cabinet- depending on the residual degree of cordiality that exists between them. Not so this time, in what must be a first in Sri Lankan political history.

Wickremesinghe did nothing until Ranasinghe attended the Cabinet meeting. He was lying in wait for his prey. When the minutes of the previous week’s meeting were submitted, Ranasinghe raised an issue about a Cabinet decision that requires the Sports Minister to seek Cabinet approval to appoint an Interim Committee to a sports body. That decision was taken in Ranasinghe’s absence and he wanted to record his dissent.

That was when Wickremesinghe pounced. He accused Ranasinghe of discussing issues related to cricket with Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa when there was a Cabinet Sub-committee appointed for cricket. He also accused Ranasinghe of submitting a list of nominees as recipients of state lands who Wickremesinghe claimed were Ranasinghe’s friends and relatives.

Ranasinghe responded to these allegations. He said that he went to Premadasa’s office on the latter’s invitation and only learnt that matters related to cricket were being discussed when he went there. He denied the claims about land distribution.

Wickremesinghe brushed aside these rebuttals in his characteristic manner and asked one of his assistants to “get that letter”. That letter, the letter informing Ranasinghe of his dismissal, had already been prepared and signed. It was handed over to Ranasinghe who thanked his colleagues for the co-operation they extended to him and left the meeting as they watched in pin-drop silence. It has been noted that signature on that letter was a scrawl, compared to Wickremesinghe’s usual signature, suggesting that he had signed it in a fit of rage.

This showed that Wickremesinghe not only wanted to dismiss Ranasinghe, he also wanted to humiliate him in front of his Cabinet colleagues. That day, Wickremesinghe was an angry man indeed.

Later, the President’s Media Division was to put out a statement saying that Wickremesinghe had inquired from Ranasinghe about his meeting with Premadasa and the distribution list for state lands and that the minister was left “speechless”. What was implied was that he was sacked because he could not adequately explain these actions.

It goes without saying that Wickremesinghe could have still sacked Ranasinghe in a more gentlemanly manner. That is a courtesy a President generally extends to a Cabinet minister. We shouldn’t be surprised though: Wickremesinghe is more political animal than gentleman.

However, this is where the chink in Wickremesinghe’s armour begins to show. While it could be countered that it is difficult for Wickremesinghe to retain Ranasinghe in the Cabinet after the latter’s speech in Parliament that day, the decision to sack him is arguably more damaging for Wickremesinghe.

Politically, this is the best outcome for Roshan Ranasinghe. He is now portraying himself as the hero who sacrificed his Cabinet portfolio and privileges to save Sri Lanka’s cricket and rightly so. It maybe Ranasinghe’s fifteen minutes of political fame and nothing may eventuate for him in the long run but for now, he can at least be sure of being re-elected at the next general election, no matter what party he contests from. Not many parliamentarians from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) can claim that luxury.

In doing so though, Ranasinghe is causing significant collateral damage to Wickremesinghe who is being painted as the villain who took the side of thieves instead of intervening to save cricket in the country. In a country where the sport resonates with a majority of the public because that was often the only reason for them to celebrate, that is a vital blow to Wickremesinghe’s chances of re-election.

Once again- just as he did during the infamous Central Bank bond scam- Wickremesinghe is demonstrating that his loyalists and cronies who sing his praises are more important to him than what is best for the country. He has shed his ‘Mr. Clean’ image a long time ago. Now, he is confirming that he is Mr. Mean.

The more objective, politically smart approach would have been to recognise the value of cricket as a tool for political popularity and to intervene in the SLC dispute. Had Wickremesinghe done so, he could have not only saved the game’s future in the country but also scored vital brownie points with the cricket-loving public which would have helped him enormously in any future election.

Instead, it all became very personal for Ranil Wickremesinghe. So, he threw caution to the winds, disregarded all the possible political consequences and was hellbent on humiliating and then sacking Ranasinghe. Not content with that, he has now begun what is a blatant witch hunt against him.

Ranil Wickremesinghe may think he has won the battle, but he is more likely to lose the war.    


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