20th July 1997

Democracies, dynasties and noddy-headed numskulls

By Rajpal Abeynayake

“Do not waste your sweetness upon the desert sands,” said those who exhorted Anura Bandaranaike to cross over to the UNP. Anura retorted by saying that he had “spent all his life in the opposition’’. He said its time he thought of making a serious contribution from the benches of government.

Now it looks as if he will have to spend all of his life in the opposition. Just joking, sir. (Anura is a big boy now, and he can take it. )The Economist claimed from London, a while after Anura’s crossover, that the Bandaranaikes are the happiest folks after Anura crossed over to the UNP. Reason? Whichever party was in power, it appeared that the Bandaranaike clan will be at the helm of the country now.

That’s the way political-speak happens in this country. These days, the UNP is celebrating Anura’s twentieth year in politics. Mr. Bandaranaike is in an introspective mood, and the party will be held, we are told, despite the party poopers and the rabble...

So its not strange that the parlour political analysts are taking a breather from Cooray, LTTE etc., and talking of the political future of Anura. This brings them to other topics. Who will take over from Chandrika in the SLFP? “Yaso,’’ says a precocious gentleman I know. It sounded as if he had met her the day before at the Blue Elephant or someplace like that. Actually, he hadn’t. “Yaso’’ is short, he explains, for Yasodhara. But he’d prefer to call her Yaso, because if SWRD was called Banda, why can’t the great man’s grand-daughter be called Yaso?

From there, the conversation veers to succession stakes, long term though they may be relative merits are considered. For example, we are told that Vimukthi is a chip of the old block, but that he is a charmer, like Anura, whereas it was really Yaso who had the brains, like Chandrika.

Welcome to political country, where the Bandaranike family is religion. Next comes the Dissanayake family (“Navin is smart — ohoma hitiyata “) and the Athulathmudali family (“Sarala is too small, but you wait and see, one day she will also come ah”). The Premadasa family takes a backseat, but they too made it to the discussion by a whisker. ( “You can’t discount Sajith totally, ah, because don’t you know, the common man won’t think like you and I no?”) Even the Dias Bandaranaike family is mentioned, but Felix’s adopted daughter is in Canada, and she doesn’t believe in relative merits, politically. . The Senanayake’s, though long gone, are not spared. (“Rukman is there, nursing his wounds in Hambantota or somewhere, but he will also make himself heard at the correct time.”) The opposition of course, it is emphatically stated, is led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, who though he is not the son of J. R. Jayewardene, is a kinsman, and definitely the late President’s political scion.

The UNP, it is theorised, necessarily has to be led by a political family. It has to be either Wickremesinghe, or Bandaranaike, or at least by a long shot a Premadasa. One political prodigy declaims that “there is nobody else in the UNP.”

So there. This is the scintillating Sri Lankan political culture. Though term papers are not generally written about this sort of thing in our political science faculties, if you want to talk political shop in this country, you had better know your political families accurately.

No family, undoubtedly, is discussed in the fine strategic terms that the Bandaranaike family is discussed. For example, somebody should write a book on national opinions about , say, how savvy Chadrika is compared to her father, or how fond Mrs. Bandaranike is of her son “despite all the differences, you know.”

The weakness for family is, it has to be cautioned, most marked among the political pundits who will quote Marx at the drop of a hat. Or those whose political mantra is democracy, the rule of law and all that kind of fun. Though they will spend time in seminars discussing the Physical Quality of Life in Emerging Third World Democracies, on the way out of the seminar-room they will be able to tell you that “Chandrika is smarter than Mrs. B, wait and see’’. Or that “Anura should have been slimmer like the father, and you wouldn’t be able to imagine what a colossal politician he would have become.’’

Make no mistake. They would also be able to fill you in with gracious tid-bits like “ Ranil has JR’s genes” or that “Rukman never had Dudley’s temperament”. If you get a rush of blood into your head, a sharp momentary urge to be your own man, if you remember that someone you respected once said “nepotism stinks,” you might take one last chance at life and yell “JUST WHY DO YOU THINK I SHOULD GIVE A TUPPENCE ABOUT ALL THESE FIRMS?’

Heh heh heh heh heh. If you think you can say this, and survive without being looked upon as a social freak, a political knave, a walking simpleton, a noddy-headed numskull, then you must really, actually be very very naive. God help you indeed.

By the way, all the very best to Anura.

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