by Our Political Affairs Editor
“Life is all about moments,” he declared, the click of the selfie capturing an evening bathed in the golden glow of a foreign mission in Colombo. Dilith Jayaweera is a name that echoes success without the need for introductions. “When are we having the interview?” I ventured, half expecting a distant date on his busy calendar. To my surprise, he responded with a decisive, “Let’s do tomorrow, at one o’clock.”
Dilith, a man who effortlessly shares his infectious smile with everyone he encounters, stands tall as a remarkably successful businessman in the country. Unfazed by the criticisms hurled by opponents, he exudes confidence and charisma. Having played a strategic role in politics from behind the scenes, he now aspires to step onto the stage and try his luck in leading the country.
With a hint of scepticism lingering in my conscience, I dared to question him, “Are you seriously in this game?” His response was a resounding, “Come on, man. I have a plan. I’m going to win, and I will change this country for the better,” a declaration that reverberated with unstoppable determination.
True to his word, the following day found me at his impeccably maintained office in the heart of Colombo. Dilith, the epitome of punctuality befitting a well-mannered businessman, was right on time. Seated before me, he declared, “Let’s start,” with an air of readiness that echoed his commitment.
As the candid conversation progressed, I found myself captivated by his openness. Dilith faced every question I posed with resolute confidence, leaving me engrossed and eager to uncover more. Dilith Jayaweera’s unapologetic approach painted a portrait of a man poised to reshape the future of his nation.
Question: When were you born?
Answer: September 18, 1967.
Q: Tell me about your life at the university.
A: After entering the University following the 1986 Advanced Level exam, the universities were closed. Therefore, I had to wait for three years to enter the University. During this period, I engaged in small-scale business activities, including private tuition, working as an insurance agent, and working in a medical pharmacy at Bambalapitiya junction. With that business experience and some financial resources, I entered the university, where the first year was very peaceful. However, later on, I became involved in University Politics and formed a new political party, Neethi Shishya Sahayogithaa Sanwidhaanaya. We contested, our party won, and while still in university, I started Triad, the advertising agency.
Q: What was your first job?
A: I worked in the pharmacy.
Q: How much did you earn?
A: I earned 1500 Rupees per month.
Q: Do you believe in Astrology?
A: I respect it as a numerically justified scientific theory, but personally, I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe it has an impact on me.
Q: How do you define love?
A: Love is the deepest human emotion. It originates from your mother, spreads within the family, and finally extends through society. It is something we must celebrate and is everything for me.
Q: How is it different from lust?
A: Lust is an expression that can happen without an inherent connection to love.
Q: How often do you get angry?
A: I rarely get angry, as I believe it is something one should not have, as it does not bring happiness.
Q: How frequently do you read newspapers?
Q: Any specific content?
A: Almost everything.
Q: So, you are bilingual?
A: Yes, but I would say that I can read and write Tamil.
Q: So the next President of Sri Lanka will be trilingual?
A: In terms of understanding the language, yes.
Q: What is your all-time favourite book?
A: “War and Peace” by Tolstoy. Among others, “Losing My Virginity” by Richard Branson.
Q: Which book are you currently reading?
A: “The Entrepreneurial State” by Mariana Mazzucato.
Q: So you don’t read Sinhala books? If you do, who are your favourite authors?
A: Come on. I read a lot in Sinhala. Books written by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara and “Mage Lokaya” by Prof. Nalinda Silva are my favourites.
Q: Ah… is that where you laid the foundation for your understanding of nationalism?
A: Indeed, Prof. Nalin De Silva has had a significant impact on me.
Q: How often do you meet him?
A: Very often, and I met him most recently too, although he has no involvement in our political movement.
Q: Alright then, how do you define nationalism?
A: Nationalism is a concept that differentiates one nation from another.
Q: Could you explain more?
A: Simply put, if you have to differentiate yourself from any other country, that differentiation lies in the inherent civilizational values. Sri Lanka’s civilizational values are built on Sinhala and Buddhist influence. In fact, it is the Sinhala-Buddhist civilization. Accepting and advocating this is our nationalistic approach.
Q: Well, it sounds racial and exclusivist, doesn’t it?
A: No. My definition is very clear compared to the narrow definitions available. Sri Lanka is built on the Sinhala and Buddhist civilizational culture, which is the predominant civilization. This was the predominant civilization that created a common identity for every citizen of the country. It’s a broader social reality where other communities following different religious beliefs like Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and so on are also part of this broader social structural context. This is real inclusivism, not exclusivism. In fact, you can’t deny or misinterpret this reality.
Q: I’m afraid you will not be able to convince this to the common society; rather, you will be branded as a racist.
A: It might be difficult because this real picture has been covered and narrowly described for certain socio-political conveniences. Take the United States, where the predominant culture is White Christianity, which you were compelled to embrace by law. Though the case is different and more liberal in Sri Lanka, we must accept the fact that our national foundation is built on Sinhala-Buddhist civilizational values.
Q: What I’m wondering is, despite this nuanced explanation, as a politician, you should tell the people how this thinking is going to impact your political journey. After all, you have to gain votes.
A: Look, whether it is going to be easy or difficult is not the question; it is a fact, whether you like it or not. The right thing has to be communicated to the people so that we become one larger nation that believes in one concept of nationalism. In this context, every citizen of this country becomes inclusive. One more thing, when it comes to this broader social context, just because I was born Sinhala Buddhist, I should not have extra privileges in society.
Q: You graduated in law, have you ever practised?
A: No, in terms of going to court, but I had two law firms.
Q: How do you feel about the prevailing situation of the judiciary in the country?
A: It has to be revisited if the society needs to be progressive, so the laws should be progressive too.
Q: You are of the opinion that lawyers too must be held accountable.
A: No doubt; no one should be excluded from accountability.
Q: What is the philosophy behind your day-to-day decision-making?
A: Sincerity to myself.
Q: Tell me about your daily routine.
A: I wake up around 5:30 in the morning. After refreshing, I take a look at my email and quickly read a few newspapers while having breakfast. Then, I spend an hour and a half at the gym before coming to the office. Now, as I am fully involved in politics, my bedtime depends on the workload.
Q: So you don’t pray to Buddha?
A: No, I don’t.
Q: You don’t keep a statue?
A: I keep a statue at home, but I don’t pray.
Q: How do you interpret the core notion of Buddhism?
A: Empowering the individual while teaching that one is responsible for each of their actions. “Attā hi attanō nāthō; kō hi nāthō parō siyā” (One is one’s own refuge; How can another be a refuge to one?)
Q: But 90% of Buddhists don’t understand this?
A: That’s the difference between the philosophical expectation and the popular practice of Buddhism.
Q: Well, you are accused of manipulating this popular practice of Buddhism for political purposes. The infamous incident of the so-called “miracle snake story”?
A: First of all, I must say that I am not even aware of that news item, to be honest. But even if someone says that I had an upper hand in it, it did not decide the outcome of the election at all. By then, the majority of the public had already decided whom to vote for.
Q: Are you a vegetarian?
Q: Do you smoke?
A: I can’t say that I’m a non-smoker; I do socially.
Q: Ah, I got that. You smoke occasionally, but do occasions come daily?
A: No, no (Laughs). You know, I’m not a person who carries cigars.
Q: The same goes for alcohol consumption?
Q: Well, what motivated you to enter business?
A: My parents were government servants, but my other uncles were into business. I think their lifestyle and social engagement motivated me to start my own business.
Q: What are the key factors behind your success?
A: My creative ability, belief in self-sincerity, and trust in teamwork.
Q: What was the most impactful failure in your life?
A: Businesses without failures are a façade. There were a few of them, but I have overcome them. Otherwise, there isn’t anything to single out, saying that there was a particular failure, and I regret that. No, there is nothing like that.
Q: I know this is a typical question and has been answered by many. Yet, I would like to have your version too. Tell me, do you have any advice to offer those who are failing?
A: It is an invaluable experience for progress and something one must face to move up in life. If you don’t fail, that means you have not done anything out of your safe zone. Once you are out of the safe zone, the probability of failing is fifty percent.
Q: What I understood after reading your thoughts, watching your videos, and so on, is that you are a person who experiences joy and maintains a balanced life. How do you manage your personal and professional life?
A: I don’t have a line drawn to distinguish it. This is life; it is one life, and it is the whole life. So I don’t have a scripted lifestyle, and I don’t draw these lines to compromise happiness.
Q: What prompted you to enter politics?
A: I’m a firm believer in politics, and the impact of politics cannot be ignored. I was politically sensitive and indirectly active in politics right through my childhood. If something is impacting your life, then you have to participate in it.
Q: Yeah, those were the days behind the screen, but the question is now you are on the stage; what is the tipping point?
A: Well, I believed in parties and certain individuals, but later realized they were not capable enough, due to various reasons, to deliver what this country and the common people desire and deserve. I decided to come forward.
Q: Did heroes turn into zeros in front of your eyes?
A: I wouldn’t say no. In this political culture, it is very difficult to find a person to support. In such a situation, I thought, why don’t I try? Life is all about moments, remember.
Q: I know you are referring to one of the former Presidents whom you supported; can you tell me a few examples where his political power started crumbling?
A: Almost everything, like, first of all, to make independent political decisions. He was unable to do so due to various reasons, causing me greater disappointment.
Q: What is the equation between business and politics?
A: While there are a lot of management parallels that you can practice in both business and politics, they are two different things. Although you could use basic management principles in politics, it is a different world. If someone thinks that success in business guarantees success in politics, they could miserably fail unless they understand and address the dynamics of politics.
Q: So, are you ready for failure?
A: Yes, I am very much ready for failure.
Q: Could you outline your political ideology?
A: Motivating the nation, using nationalism, and driving people towards becoming self-confident individuals to contribute to the betterment of the nation. To achieve this, we use three concepts: first, nationalism; second, entrepreneurial state; and third, strategic planning. In the last few decades, what happened was that we were not cohesive with these three major concepts.
Q: Are you going to write this in your manifesto?
A: I’m not going to write rhetoric and present it beautifully to persuade people solely for the sake of vote grabbing. What is needed is putting these three concepts in ideology into action to feel together, work together, and achieve together.
Q: Well, political ideology is something hardly heard these days in local politics. You are talking about this, but I’m sure this is not a rosy road?
A: It is definitely not a rosy road, but if you want to change the social fabric, this is the only way out.
Q: Do you believe in the principles of democracy?
A: Of course, very much.
Q: Being the oldest democracy in the region, Sri Lanka is a bankrupt nation, a failed state. What is the point of believing in democracy?
A: Democracy has nothing to do with our failures. Individuals lacking vision and philosophy, who ran the country insincerely, led to this utter failure. A couple of leaders who were sincere in their vision but did not have the courage to take action that could impact their immediate family members also ran into failure.
Q: Why should people vote for you?
A: People should vote for our proposition. This is the first time in Sri Lankan history that a concept and philosophy are being presented. No other party or individual is talking about solutions. Although they are criticizing, none of them can present formidable and practical solutions to the prevailing problems in the country. Moreover, people in this country have more reason to believe in our sincerity.
Q: So is that the reason you believe you are the most suitable candidate over others?
A: No, I haven’t declared that I will be a candidate. What I’m saying is that our political proposition is the most suitable to solve the prevailing problems in the country. People don’t have to go by personality, but rather by the propositions of the political ideology those individuals and parties are presenting. If there are decisions in the party and the team that I should lead this mission, then I will take that responsibility, believing in the collective consensus to navigate society into the national consensus.
Q: How do you think this can gain votes, whereas many other political parties were engaging in “popular topics”?
A: Through effective communication, we will make sure people can make their decisions.
Q: By the way, any update on the debate, which you requested with NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake?
A: He, in fact, tried to shy away from the invitation by making arguments like saying I don’t have any political experience and haven’t contested any local government election. But I think if he has the courage, he should come forward. I have enough qualifications to have a one-on-one debate with him, including a sound academic and professional background. If he is confident enough, he should come for this open debate.
Q: Suppose he agrees to this debate, inevitably it will be a very interesting event to watch. I wonder if there is any precondition from your side?
A: Nothing. Perhaps, his courage and confidence.
Q: What is your take on Artificial intelligence, and how does it impact society?
A: AI will have its own ‘breadth and depth’; at the same time, it will have its inherent limitations. I don’t think it will surpass human intelligence, though it will have a certain impact on our behaviour. Humans, as seen in history, will always be smarter than AI, always. In that sense, we have to use our intelligence more effectively, fighting any potential “invasion” of AI, which is still a distant assumption.
Q: Are you using AI?
A: Yes, we are using a few tools for research and political analysis.
Q: Okay, tell me about your economic plan, how are you going to uplift the country’s economy?
A: My economic plan is based on an entrepreneurial state. If we want to grow this economy, we have to use many more creative initiatives. We need to motivate the nation by managing human capital along with other resources to generate more revenue by establishing a services and production-based economy. To establish the social fabric or the structure of the country, we have introduced “Smart Sri Lanka” to connect the people, solve malpractices, and push the society for collective actions.
Q: Tell me about your foreign policy
A: Sri Lanka, throughout history, maintains an open policy on foreign affairs because due to various reasons, including historical bonds, cultural values, and so on, we can’t afford to be politically aligned with a particular nation or alliance. The moment we get politically aligned, we risk the very sovereignty, national security, people’s well-being, and the development of the country.
Q: Let’s talk briefly; how do you see the current attempt to solve the economic crisis by the incumbent government?
A: We must discuss how to manage our debt in the context of a larger development plan. Discussing debt for taking more loans will not solve the crisis in the country. These are not challenges that can be overcome by trying to address them in isolation. The government doesn’t seem to have a master, grand, or strategic economic plan for the nation to initiate services or production for adequate income generation. You can’t go on like this. Talking about debt to take more debt will never solve this.
Q: Indeed, nice talk; wish you all the best for your journey.
A: It was a pleasure to have you.