28th September 1997

Celebrating a package–and an icon

By Rajpal Abeynayake

To apotheosize Bandaranaike and to cheer for a political package that seems to ran kle the Sinhala Buddhists in particular, seems to be an odd pursuit. But, that ‘s exactly what happened last week. One thing about judging a man thirty eight years after his death is that you no longer have to say “history will judge him ‘’ . History has already decided that Bandaranaike was a force that cured the Sinhalese of a British induced inferiority complex.

What Bandaranaike the ideologue was at the core of his being is probably an academic matter. Those whom he pleased most comprised the Sanga Veda Guru coalition, which at least in today’s context will be seen by our present leaders as the gung-ho fringe. Those who saw Bandaranaike as an astute liberal, would also excuse him as an intellectual who was compelled to embrace the causes of his time. So, it is not difficult to commemorate the life and work of a free thinker, whose actions nevertheless seemed to be spurred on by the parochial?

What’s funny about such a celebration is the fact that its an exercise in the abstract. How does one forget Bandaranaike’s politics when an organisation going by the 12LABEL of “Sinhala Commission ‘’ tosses the power sharing package of the incumbent Bandaranaike government into the dustbin? Bandaranaike himself may have been equipped with a supple liberal intellectual world - view moulded in Oxford. But the Bandaranaike ideology on the other hand could not be charted so cautiously in the stirring political rapids. It led to the majority revolution, which of course lives on dangerously.

Its paradoxical how liberal intellectuals of today see the Bandaranaike era as a heady stirring time in which all kinds of glorious schools of Sinhala thought were born. We suppose that was the era in which to be young was bliss, and to be Sinhalese was very heaven?

The incipient Sinhala causes of that time are viewed today in retrospect with a sense of nostalgia as if to say it was “the perfect decade’’, the perfect niche in time. It is also lamented that we somehow squandered that interlude of bliss. And why would that era be our grand halcyon? In hindsight, mainly because we were able to celebrate the resurgence of an oppressed culture, while not having to worry about annoying the minorities , and other intervening factors.

Our current leadership would rather have a man of the calibre of Bandaranaike at the helm of our affairs, notwithstanding the fact that we now see the majority as a force that has to be more accommodating and generous. Why would they otherwise glorify the Bandaranaike image? Of course, considering Bandaranaike more in perspective is something this government is not in a mood to do, because its not sure whether the more important thing is to push power- sharing, or to bask in the afterglow of the Bandaranaike personality cult.

Yet, talking of pivotal figures in history, a writer by the name of Mr. French, incidentally, has come up with a work on the historical drama which led to the granting of independence to India. In the book he puts the Mahatma in perspective, for instance. Indian readers have warmed up to the notion that Nehru was the real hero who was behind the creation of secular India, while Gandhi was in fact a bit of a political eccentric who may have actually set back the course of the independence movement by a few years. French points out that Gandhi stopped an entire nationwide peace march because of one single act of violence.

History on the other hand has been witness to the “ rehabilitation’’ of certain historical figures, for instance those who were considered an embarrassment in their own time but who history has had reason to judge differently now. Julius Caesar was rehabilitated in next to no time with Mark Anthony’s funeral oration, at least if we are to believe Shakespeare on that.

If historical figures can be rehabilitated, how about the reverse process? This is not to suggest that leaders of the past be subject to the Soviet method of succession, in which the incumbent casts the predecessor as the villain and the devil incarnate. Its just that history and the present maybe served right, if we put historical figures in perspective, and disinter some of the dross that has been buried with their bones.

Maybe we should grant Bandaranaike some of his expediency, and say that he was instrumental in entrenching the majority complex. No doubt we would then be reminded by diehards that Bandaranaike was the man who conjured the BC pact which envisaged giving the Tamil areas a great deal of autonomy almost equal to what the current political package envisages. But, the fact remains that in quintessence, Bandaranaike has to be seen as a force that imposed a majority consciousness on the nation, which all the President’s horses and her men find so difficult to undo now. Its obviously difficult for the present President to see her father in that light.

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