A shining star in Sri Lankan politics
A shining star in Sri Lankan politics
Ravi Prasad Herath
In 1970, once the ascendance of Sirima Bandaranaike's coalition of trinity, there was a bustle in arranging a ceremony with the intention of welcoming the newly appointed Plantation Industries Minister Colvin R.de Silva (LSSP), at the head office of the Planters' Association.
Soon after the minister's arrival, a person welcoming the minister while shaking hands with him said: "I am Ranjan Wijeratne the chairman of the Planters' Association and you will receive my resignation tomorrow."
Towards which Dr. de Silva's immediate reply was: "I have heard of you young man. You should not render your resignation to me and nor will I accept it."!
It did not mean, Dr. de Silva was not aware that Ranjan Wijeratne was one of the unseen mighty forces rising within the UNP and it was Dr. de Silva who sounded out in a rally held in Colombo Fort against the UNP government stating that: "That it is not only by overturning this, but overturned - trampled - beaten - crushed and smelled and a ritual should also be arranged if possible".
But nevertheless the impression which this person had upon Ranjan Wijeratne was so unique.
In October 1988, Ranjan Wijeratne addressing the UNP convention stated: "All of you gathered here is the asset of pure gold of the party! And it is a decisive responsibility that we have been received today. A small group of people is attempting to overwhelm the democracy through an armed struggle hence as the ministers of the Cabinet, all of you must support the President in this state of upheaval. If unwilling to do so, then must leave at once! And anyone who does not have the courage or the strength to support the President should also leave at once!"(applause). Ranjan Wieratne made such a statement also to provoke ministers like R. Premadasa and Gamini Dissanayake on the state of their operating via on their own opportunistic approaches in the respective electorates.
The brave decisions and crucial approaches of Ranjan Wijeratne towards these issues have been corroborated by history; furthermore some of the party leaders even started proclaiming his victories soon after the diminishing of the era of the terror.
"Affairs of any calibre, Wijeratne involved in, it will be adorned. You will possess the self-confidence as to where you are and what you do when accompanied by Ranjan. He was not ambidextrous. He was straightforward in all his affairs accordingly he kept his word always. He was able to gain the victory over the war which was believed to have been won by none." - Lalith Athulathmudali
"It was Ranjan Wijeratne who dealt with the issue accordingly when democracy of the country was endangered. The Parliament that lies here where we stand today is the monument built in respect of the people's gratitude"- Ranil Wickremesinghe
"Ranjan Wijeratne is a memorial figure for the entire nation. His services were never rendered to the nation with the intention of any behalf."- R Premadasa
President Premadasa while keeping his secondary power as the President granted the rest of his powers to Ranjan Wijeratne without any hesitation. There was no other but Ranjan Wijeratne the only person trusted by both J.R.Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa in the respective government as well as within the party which is indeed a virtue that can be possessed only by the extraordinary.
The prominent names in international politics such as Winston Churchill, Mahathma Gandhi, and Hirohito thus can be taken into consideration when recalling such memories. Furthermore, Ranjan Wijeratne had been resembled to General Ulysses S. Grant of USA in the 19th century as well as Winston Churchill of Britain in the 20th century by certain individuals.
All in all, as Premadasa had accentuated, Wijeratne was one who gained nothing out of his public service and also he remained to be still a tenant at the time when he passed away.
As the most precious gems are acquired from the depth of the earth, it is evident that eminent ancestry produces humans of glorifying aspects.
Prominent individuals like Nandopananda, Nalagiri, Alawaka in the period of the Buddha and Hitler during the second world war were born and grown obscurely. The Buddha has discoursed that; "Duran Gaman - Eka Charan". Long way can be proceeded when someone works alone on it. "Being solitary is far better when none is befitting to be consorted with." The marvelous souls who adhered to such morals have revolted themselves subsequently as remarkable characters in the world.
Wijeratne was an absolute such character. His childhood was somewhat quite unique. He was brought up in the love and care of his relatives for seven years since he was sent to his grandparents just few months after his birth.
When being visited by his parents at his grandparents, he usually hid himself in the kitchen or under a bed to avoid them. He considered his grandparents as his parents and called them father and mother.
Even during the time he came to live with his parents in Colombo for his primary education, it was only after a severe thrashing, he called his parents - mother and father it was believed.
All four boys of the Wijeratne family were educated at S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia and Ranjan was very talented in all sports and extracurricular activities such as cricket, hockey, soccer, volley ball, swimming, shooting, scouting etc. Nevertheless long distant running was his favourite event.
Long distant running is an individual event which needs to be continued for longer periods in solitaire; towards which retreats Ranjan had always been fond of.
Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra (later) who was the Sinhala language teacher in school at the time had stated that though Sinhala language was discriminated in the school during the respective epoch, Ranjan was a special student always due to the unadulterated knowledge which he possessed in relativity towards the rural agricultural environment of plantation.
Ranjan's father, George Hercules Wijeratne maintained somewhat a strict disciplinary status within the family similarly to the superintendence of the Military. And it was somewhat a place of immense familiarity to Ven. Kotugoda Dhammawasa Thera the locality of their residence at No 543, Galle Road, Wellawatte (opposite Roxy Cinema).
And it was the customary routine that every boy got a short hair cut from the barber who visited the house on a monthly basis and also annual visits of a tailor towards stitching of a dozen each of shirts and trousers for each boy respectively. (Tailoring or buying of cloths was done only once a year).
Every child needed to be home by 6.00 p.m. the latest and those unable to do so left with no other alternative but to stay outside.
'Being concealed' was the usual practice for Ranjan whenever possible and never did he ask for any pocket money like his brothers and this had been his way of life throughout his school years; taking care of the vegetable bed being his main interest, as and when he did have free time.
School leaving certificate
Thus it was evidently proved in his school leaving certificate by college warden Hayman at that time that Ranjan was more of suitability towards training pertaining to the plantation field since he held the capability of being an honest and right minded planter.
During the evenings of his school days Ranjan was involved with the UNP Youth Front in Wellawatte and thereby worked as an optimistic active member.
"Kehelwattha Plantation" located in Badulla district being his first occupation and thereby gaining the opportunity of learning Estate Management under Harris De Chretzer.
In 1950, D.S. Senanayake considered as one of his uncles wrote to Vitols Plantation stating: "Ranjan Wijeratne who is in his age of 20 is well known to me. He bears a clean character and is multi-talented. He is ideally suited in becoming a planter."
With this short letter, Ranjan started his permanent career with Vitols Plantation on October 11, 1952 and thereby continued on a service towards his retirement until 1977 after which he took up his public service.
It was attested as to how much he was devoted to his service, that in 1952 when D.S. Senanayaka passed away, to pay his respects Ranjan obtained leave from his work yet after a while without even attending to the cremation he returned to his place of work.
In 1954, at the age of 23 Ranjan's wedding was to be scheduled, yet on the same day, due to a labour strike with leadership of Thondaman in High Forest Estate which was under his administration; when the dispute had to be settled, he first negotiated with the estate labour conductors on the prevailing issues and then only afterwards he came down to Colombo for his wedding and got back to High Forest with his wife the same day soon after the ceremony. How well he had dealt with the labour issue at his estate was evident by the two baby elephants the workers of the estate had arranged to welcome the newly married couple at their arrival. Later, Saumyamurthi Thondaman who had emphasised this crucial incident with less gravity stated that: "Ranjan had come to my domain for the first time and even though the entire plantation was under the European administration the way Ranjan handled the strike of the workers was truly marvelous."
Once Ranjan was matured and educated enough with adequate experience in estate administration, J.R. Jayewardene appointed him as the chairman of the State Plantation Corporation. Hence, sudden visits were made by him to all estates which were administrated under State Plantation Corporation with his son Rohan whenever possible and sometimes he even went to the extent of correcting the workers by showing them the art of plucking tea leaves.
Even in 1966, Ranjan Wijeratne had been openly talking about the pessimistic behaviour of the public with poor self-evaluation of them whilst under estimating their inherent talents and potentials.
"Self-evaluation' is being aware of one's own talents and potentials. Politicians should not endeavour to exert their power by blurting the cumbersomeness always. As a country, we are not in position to continuosly provide the subsidies right now. We must at least have some control over the food subsidies and be able to manage without it even up to some extent".
Ranjan clarified on these aspects in 1966, while addressing the annual meeting of the Lanka Planters' Association. The tea exporting industry will be completing a 100 years of history by 1966, yet even by that time a decrease in price for Sri Lankan tea had been shown in the International Market.
Before the adversaries introduced the food subsidies somewhat an aspect of mitigation, Ranjan by fore seeing the circumstances proved that the dairy industry and cultivation of vegetables could be efficaciously integrated through the field of plantation.
Encouraging Dudley Senanayake's waga sangramaya (Boosting up of the agricultural field in the country), Ranjan was able to produce 50,000 lbs of vegetables in that year and 150,000 in the following year (after expanding the estates up to 104 which remained at 90) to the local market with his dauntless courage and through effective way of administration. Also he pointed out that since the needs of the local consumer could be completely fulfilled through the local agricultural industries therefore futile expenditure of Rs. 9,000 lakhs on importing of such items should be laid off immediately.
Ranjan might have been determined to make his approach towards politics after he resumed work at 'New Peacock' estate in 1968; which was a capacious plantation consisting of 4,000 acres of land.
It was under the sole authority of Ranjan having received the administration of the entire plantation from its last European administrator Lawrence Harvey. S. Thondaman. Dudley Senanayake and Gamini Fonseka were his friends who visited him during the holidays. While working methodically on his political future, he maintained a scrap book of paper articles pertaining to correlation between India and Sri Lanka, expenditure of the public as well as local politics. He had told his wife once that Rs. 25,000 is sufficient to enter into politics."
Whether or not he had money nevertheless on the aspect of initiating on his political journey, the result of the general election evidently testified the mistake he made by performing himself as a mere coordinator thus not on full time basis; as Dudley's government had faced a debacle by descending it's number of seats in Parliament to 17. According to the election results published on May 27, 1970, though the UNP had obtained the highest number of votes as a single party, the LSSP gained a more number of seats in Parliament.
The dawn of the era 1971 was a crucial period even for Rohana Wijeweera of Kottagoda as far as his political movement was concerned.
Wijeratne was quite keen in finding out the official method in gathering adequate lands in terms of providing towards fulfilling the arising needs of the public pertaining to hospitals, schools and other general facilities. Planters who operated locally and internationally were also anxious in clarifying this matter through Ranjan who was considered by them as their counselor.
Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who was the minister of plantation industries was informed by Ranjan Wijeratne that the government would think of utilising the futile and none beneficial lands for this purpose.
He was bold enough to directly question Colvin on what could be the government policy on the plantation industries which had been the main source of foreign exchange up to that extent and also what the majority of the rural community was depended upon as far as their financial needs were concerned.
"A rumour was at its spur spreading around since of late that the plantations which were proceeding well, also would be affected by the second chapter according to the act of acquisition of lands hence ameliorating of this inequitable ad judgement should be suppressed soon".- The exposition of Ranjan Wijerathne during the annual convention of the Planters' Association on January 29, 1971
0n January 30, 1971, the Planters' Association had a meeting with Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and officially on replying to the questions, which was brought forward by Homas Amarasooriya and Luxaman Dias of the Planters' Association, he emphasised: "The government has no intention of nationalisation of lands and no such obligation exists in their political promises of 1970 and also there is nothing of the sort that has been referred as far as the plantation industry is concerned."
Thus thereby Ranjan Wijeratne was able to compel the government of Conciliatory Front (Samagi Peramuna) to disclose its standpoint."Newly Harrowed Soil" (Peraloo Nawum Pasa) was a revolutionary. Thus according to the prevailing situation, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna took the upper-hand in terms of the public services which was not fulfilled by the government.
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