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Ranil Wickremesinghe: consistency is his forte

My memory flashes back to the Bonjean Memorial Hall at St. Joseph's, College, Colombo, where I was lined up as an A' Level student with my fellow Josephians to receive prizes at the Annual Josephian Prize Day, in 1981, 24 years ago.

In walked our Chief Guest, youthful, unassuming and elegantly clad, Minister of Education Ranil Wickremesinghe. During his address to us, I vividly remember how he emphasised the value of youth and how well he enunciated that the youth of today are the future of Sri Lanka.

He also stressed the importance of Information Technology and its relevance to the development of Sri Lanka. What struck me most at the tender age of 18 was Wickremesinghe's simplicity and vision. The words he spoke that November afternoon left me with a lasting impression that this indeed was a future leader.

One must take into context that at that time, Sri Lanka had a splendid selection of leaders - President J. R. Jayewardene, Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa and Ministers Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali.

Wickremesinghe has had the unique distinction of working under and alongside these distinguished gentlemen which has resulted in the polished article he is today.

On a personal note I must say, that on that Prize Day, when I went up the stage for the fourth time our Chief Guest told me "Well done, you seem to be winning it all". Ever since that occasion I have closely followed his achievements during these past 24 years.

When Wickremesinghe became Prime Minister in 1993, I had the good fortune of coming face to face with him for a second time, this time at a professional level, when I was introduced to him by a mutual friend Lalin Fernando.

This time I came to know first hand his vision for Sri Lanka and his dynamism to get things done. I also became privy to his zealous love for his country and his fellow Sri Lankans. His burning desire to make Sri Lanka a better place where all Sri Lankans irrespective of their race or religion could enjoy good living standards and be treated as equals.

In 1995 after the defeat of the UNP at both General and Presidential Elections, Wickremesinghe set about revamping the party. It is in this backdrop that I got to meet him for a third time.

Ever since that day I have come to know him as a statesman in waiting. He has been in no undue hurry, patience was very much his virtue. Even in defeat he has become stronger - and that is what makes great leaders. The great Abraham Lincoln was one of them.

In 2001, he had the courage to negotiate a ceasefire - a ceasefire that has resulted in saving thousands of lives and also played a huge part in the economic stability that we enjoy today.

Wickremesinghe may be misunderstood at times for his sheer simplicity. He has no airs about him, he has the ability to walk with kings, yet not lose the common touch. He feels quite at home almost anywhere - enjoying sipping his cup of plain tea or sitting cross legged in a cadjan thatched house and eating his meal on a banana leaf.

Wickremesinghe has a great sense of humour. Even in the most troubled times he would break the silence with a joke or a wisecrack.

Yes he is a dreamer! He dreams everyday of a Sri Lanka that is united and vibrant, a Sri Lanka that can enjoy economic prosperity and peace.

He has gone through the mill like you and me. After his education at Royal College he entered the University of Ceylon and then the Law College. No foreign University for him, born and bred entirely in Sri Lanka - a true son of the soil.

My firm Christian conviction gives me the belief that here is a man who says no to false promises and says yes to the truth, however hard it might be.

His absolute honesty and integrity are hallmarks of a great leader. He has never hoodwinked anybody by using cheap political rhetoric that could buy some votes. Consistency is his forte. This is the 'Real Ranil'.

The Ranil I have known for almost 25 years - a leader you could expect to deliver what he pledges - who will make your tomorrows better.

I would like to conclude with words of John Galbraith :

"All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common : it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership".

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