After his May birthday bash in Parliament, the nation’s deputy cultural minister hasn’t stopped  pulling his punches till Thursday’s bizarre suicide bid by hanging in a classroom leads to a heart attack and raises questions over his mental state Holy mackerel! There’s a new Mervyn in the making. And just when you thought it was [...]


Eat your heart out, Mervyn! There’s a new Avatar in town


After his May birthday bash in Parliament, the nation’s deputy cultural minister hasn’t stopped  pulling his punches till Thursday’s bizarre suicide bid by hanging in a classroom leads to a heart attack and raises questions over his mental state

SITTING PRETTY STUPID: Thewarapperuma remains seated on his vehicle roof for over two hours in the sun which seems to be a self-inflicted punishment after students prevent his entry to open a culture centre at Sabaragamuwa University on June 3rd

Holy mackerel! There’s a new Mervyn in the making. And just when you thought it was safe to get into the water again now that the septic jetsam had drifted over the reef and vanished beyond the sunset, the waves seem to have thrown a mutated green version onto Lanka’s sandy shores south of the border, down Kalutara way. And by the look of things, he’s making quite a splash to get himself noticed and to slide into the slimy slippers of the man from Beliatte, even if it means hanging from a ceiling fan in a school classroom in order to do so.

For the last five years since he entered Parliament, he had remained dormant, treading the water in a cove of opposition sprats, lying low with tail camouflaged and jaws deep in the mud lest the Bellytail scavenger who then ruled the netherworld of the sea should spot his insignificant existence and suddenly rise with horrid mouth agape and swallow him for breakfast. But of late, since last August to be exact, the word amongst the corals had been that the ogre was no more; and this gossip tidbit seems to have bestirred him to spread his fins.

And on May 3rd this year, after a comfort period of nine months to confirm the truth of the rumour floating around of Mervyn’s banishment, UNP MP for Kalutara District and newly appointed Deputy Minister of Culture, Palitha Thewarapperuma, emerged from his shell to make his grand entrance by landing a punch in Parliament to a joint opposition MP.

It was an auspicious day for him to make his debut. It was his fifty sixth birthday. And what a birthday bash it was when he celebrated it later with a special birthday message on his Facebook to well-wishers assuring them that if he had assaulted Prasanna Ranaweera of the joint opposition ranks as alleged, the poor bloke would be in the surgical ward at the government hospital. That was the new rising star’s inimitable way of denying assault and announcing his ignominious presence.

But that was only for starters for Lanka’s Deputy Minister of Culture Thewarapperuma whose time has evidently come to play Mervyn and fill the existing vacuum in a nation not short of Mervyn aspirants. Though there are many contenders for this top most post, none has come up to rival the maestro Mervyn to the same nasty degree. Yet. And, Palitha Thewarapperuma shows all the signs of making the grade, possessing as he does the potential to even surpass the fallen idol in a manner that would put role model Mervyn to shame.

Consider his blooming track record so far as he strives to knock off master Mervyn from his pedestal and drop him to the hole in the ground the retired maverick himself dug at the Kanatte cemetery three years ago as the circular grave to hold his ashes upon his demise.

PALITHA THEWARAPPERUMA: Street action in Agalawatte last year in January which led him to being remanded; the deputy culture minister threatened to resign on Wednesday if his demands were not met

Six days after the parliamentary cultural initiation ceremony in which Thewarapperuma seems to have tasted first blood, he storms the office of the school principal of Kalutara Vidyalaya on the 9th of May. Accompanied by his catchers, he brings with him to the office a woman and a child. He demands the principal that the child be admitted to the school and sits down in the visitor’s chair at the principal’s table and declares he will not rise from it till his demand is met. When the school principal tries to explain that the child is not on the list and that he could not enrol any child outside the list, he is shouted down. Finally, the principal is coerced it seems to accept the child and the child is duly admitted to the school. Round One to Robin Hood.

The Deputy Minister of Culture, Thewarapperuma emerges from the principal’s office as the winner having shown how best to practise the principles ingrained in Lanka’s present cultural ethos to achieve instant results. And in accordance with the present cultural practices inherited from the previous regime, he receives no admonishment, no dressing down, not even a rap on the knuckles in the same manner the former deputy minister for public affairs Mervyn de Silva was handled with kid gloves by the Rajapaksa regime much to their regret later.

Though education and school admissions are not Thewarapperuma’s province to meddle in, the qualifications he would have undoubtedly possessed — epitomizing as he does the prevailing cultural norms — to have deserved his appointment as the deputy guardian of the nation’s much vaunted culture may have served to justify and excuse his foray into Educational Minister Akila Kariyawasam’s garden patch and there to brow beat a school principal into submission.

Last year in February, Thewarapperuma was arrested on the charges of assaulting a member of the Agalawatte Pradeshiya Sabah and was released on bail by the Mathugama Magistrate’s Court. The Magistrate ordered that the passport of the MP be impounded. This was after Mahinda Samarasinghe, who had lost his ministerial portfolio after Rajapaksa’s defeat, had lodged a complaint on 19th January last year against Thewarapperuma, claiming that he had assaulted the member and had made him kneel in public on the road.

At a media briefing convened at the SLFP Headquarters, the then Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, released a series of video images to the media and claimed: “We had made preparations to open my office in the area. At that time a group of thugs led by UNP Parliamentarian Palitha Thewarapperuma, came there and caused a major scene and threw rotten eggs at the office. He made the Pradeshiya Sabha members kneel and assaulted them in front of everyone. This is really dangerous. I hope that the Leader of the UNP will take disciplinary action against this MP. Good governance can never be established through such a political culture.”

But Palitha Thewarapperuma can take even as he can give. Last month on the 3rd, Thewarapperuma arrives at the Sabaragamuwa University to inaugurate the university’s cultural centre. But the students prevent his vehicle from entering the premises by staging a sit in protest. But does he turn tail and head back to the capital? No. He mounts the bonnet of his ministerial vehicle, sits on the roof, crosses his leg and waits in the hot sun for over two hours. After this self-inflicted punishment he gets down drives away, much to the amusement of the students who chuckle at the masochist deputy minister of culture who had no idea what a ridiculous sight he made. But it made the TV prime time news all right and that was all that mattered to him, contributing nicely to boost his ego to outsoar his brawn.

STANDING TALL FOR FINAL CALL: Bare bodied Thewarapperuma attempting suicide whist standing on table

Then last Sunday, accompanied by his supporters Thewarapperuma enters an eating house in Dewate, Galle and is soon involved in a scuffle which is captured on CCTV cameras. He is accused of assaulting a hotel employee and using foul language. Later Thewarapperuma returns with officials from the Galle Harbour Police and Public Health Inspectors, who inspect the drainage system of the hotel. Again it makes the TV news. More fodder for the ego, more grist to his mill.

But that night he has no time to worry about a possible assault charge. His sleep is commandeered by a more pressing duty that has to be discharged when day breaks. The aim is noble: promoting the educational prospects of Lanka’s seed and blossom. But the means, the only means his uncultured mind knows to achieve that laudable end, is reprehensible and revolts every Yahapalana tenet.

The following morning he marches with his supporters to the Meegahathenna Primary school to demand the principal to admit 10 children to the school. When his demands are refused he starts a hunger strike unto the death outside the school premises. On Wednesday with the authorities refusing to concede his demands, Thewarapperuma sends a message to the Presidential Secretariat. He threatens to quit the Government. He says the parents of the children to be admitted to the school have gone to the presidential secretariat to discuss the matter and declares from his hunger strike death bed: “If there is Yahapalanaya, there wouldn’t be such a problem. If the President fails to fulfil the demands, I would leave the Yahapalanaya Government,”
On Thursday, along with the parents and the children and his supporters, he charges into the Meegahathenna Primary school principal’s office and incessantly demands the principal to admit the 10 children. When the principal points out that he had received verbal instructions to delay the admissions, he insists, his voice rising with each passing moment that the children be admitted then and there. But to no avail.

The Deputy Cultural Minister then rushes out, closely followed by his supporters. He enters an empty classroom, gets onto a table, removes his shirt, unbuckles his belt, ties the belt round his neck and attaches one corner of the shirt onto the belt and ties the other corner to the ceiling fan and, whist still standing on the table, attempts to commit a bizarre suicide by hanging. His supporters manage to bring him down and carry him out of the room when he suddenly collapses in a feint. He is rushed to the Nagoda hospital where his condition worsens and is immediately taken to a private hospital in Colombo and admitted to the ICU. At the time of writing the condition of the deputy minister is considered to be serious.

Meanwhile, the principal, having heard that Thewapperuma is attempting to commit suicide, rushes to inform him he would accede to his demands but faints seeing the bare bodied deputy minister standing on table with his neck tied to the ceiling fan. The principal collapses and is rushed to the Megatenna hospital and later transferred to the Nagoda hospital.

On Friday it was reported that the Police Media Acting Director SSP Priyantha Jayakody had stated that the Police would take action against Thewarapperuma for his attempted suicide was a punishable offence. But the issue here is not the attempted suicide. Anyone is at liberty to take his own life or attempt to do so.

The crux of the matter is the impudence of any MP or minister, deputy minister to storm into a school principal’s office or for that matter any public official’s office and make demands as of right. The police should look at section 180 of the penal code which deals with the offence of obstructing a public official in the discharge of his public function and also section 186 which deals with the offence of threatening a public official which Thewarapperuma may have committed when he attempted to intimidate and subjugate by his overbearing presence and domineering speech a government school principal and to force the hapless principal to sign the necessary document to admit the 10 children to his school, even as Thewarapperuma did on May 9th when he successfully forced the principal of the Kalutara Vidyalaya to enrol a child to his school.

Education Minister Akila Kariyawasam said on Thursday that Thewarapperuma may have been suffering from a mental ailment probably as a result of his son’s death last year. “We intend to direct him to seek psychiatric help,” he said.

While the public will no doubt sympathise deeply with the cultural deputy’s tragic loss and with his present health condition and wish him a speedy recovery, they cannot, however, condone his obnoxious behaviour or accept the reasons given as an excuse. The Government should realise that to turn a blind eye to such misdemeanors would not only serve to encourage others to do the same but would also invite the public wrath as the Rajapaksas discovered and rued when it was too late in the day to turn back the tide of public opinion.

Meanwhile Beliatte’s Mervyn who was shunned like a leper by the Rajapaksas during the last months of their rule having realised the damage he had caused them, must also be ruing the day when he did not persevere enough to make friends with the present set up. True he had tried his best to curry favour with the members of the new government and gain their goodwill even before they came to power but the doors had still remained barred, though a nudge in the right direction may have thrown it open.

But as he practises ‘insight meditation’, he would also realise that why he had not given his utmost to bend over backwards, go on his knees, crawl on his belly and even lick their shoes whilst singing their hosannas in public and squirm his way into their good books had been due to his own inhibition to conform to the noble principles of Yahapalanism which had been espoused so eloquently on public stages and which was anathema to his ears and ran contrary to his grain and condemned his behaviour.

In his heart of hearts he knew he would not have survived an hour in such an environment which did not tolerate the profligacy of the ‘anything goes’ Rajapaksa regime; and his personal idiosyncrasy to get a kick out of browbeating public servants or tying them to trees would have only led to him being strung up by a noose of Yahapalana ideals around his neck. What regrets he must endure this Sunday morning for not going that extra mile to enter the new Camelot and hobnob with its new knights when he realises that, after all is said and done, all cats are grey in the dark.

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