We both entered politics in latter half of the 1980s as activists of the People's Liberation Front (JVP) that was underground by the time. I was several years senior to him. He hailed from a lower middle class family.
After the defeat of the 1989 insurrection, I quit JVP but he continued in it while working as a journalist. He gradually went up in the power ladder of the JVP and became the Propaganda Secretary and the Parliamentary Group Leader.
He is very famous for his eloquence in disseminating radical ideas deep fried in Sinhala chauvinism. But, Wimal was not as much popular among party cadres as he was popular among less educated masses. He was actually sacked from the party in 2007 and he quickly responded by putting together several disgruntled and sacked party groups to form a political party. The beginning of the party was half-hearted but soon it gathered momentum and moved with new hopes of creating an alternative for the JVP.
Wimal's party National Freedom Front (JNP) introduced a new culture that deviated from the traditional JVP professional revolutionary cadre. But the journey was brief since the people gathered around Wimal were too ambitious and power greedy. Wimal too was not in a caliber to give leadership to such a greedy and opportunist lot.
A good example is Kamal Deshapriya Mannawaththa, an old colleague of Wimal that broke away from the party with a group in late 1990s due to an internal power crisis. Mannawaththa was swiftly ushered to the post of National Organizer of the JNP after a decade of political inactivity. Wimal praised the man too much to make him think he could be the real leader of the party. He wanted his group to get washed into the Provincial Councils but the circumstances were extremely difficult and Wimal had to thwart Mannawaththa. The party was losing elections and ultimately, he left with his group sparing ex-JVP politburo member Nandana Gunathilaka who remained in the party for opportunistic reasons. Sometimes later, he also joined the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party. While he was a cabinet Minister, Mannawaththa was in his staff. He left Gunathilaka since the latter did not give into his need of having a nominal party instead of directly joining the ruling party. Mannawaththa could have secured a national list seat through his strategy that Gunathilaka spoiled.
With this, Wimal was entirely surrounded by a naked lot of power greedy, ambitious, inefficient guys that wanted Wimal's shoulder to go up before they kick the ladder. The best example is Achala Suranga Jagoda, national list MP of the JNP, a notable absentee of this set of photos who is now to cross over to the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
Wimal was in a path that there was no return. He could not lose because the militant JVP was after him. Just before the presidential was called, Wimal was almost alone in late 2009. When ex-Army Commander Sarath Fonseka posed a serious challenge to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Wimal gambled his future taking his side boldly while the others were waiting and seeing. He won the gamble and the pictures of his assuming duties as a powerful cabinet Minister shows what he achieved in return.
Many blame Wimal and the blamers have reasons since so many JVP cadres and sympathizers sacrificed their lives and day for the party to achieve socialism. Instead leading the party towards socialism, a set of bureaucrat have settled in a game of power play and Wimal is a winner for the moment, while the likes of Somawansa Amarasinghe, Anura Kumara Disanayaka and Lal Kantha have lost. Then why blame Wimal alone?
Now, gone is gone. Wimal is now in the core of Sri Lanka's capitalist politics. His former colleagues have failed in whatever their targets. Wimal is a creative man in many senses. Let us see what changes he may do in capitalist politics.
But our warning is beware of those who are around you!
-Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe