Rajpal's Column

5th December 1999

"Thuppahi campaign'' or multi-culturalism- which has arrived? 

By Rajpal Abeynayake
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Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga says, in an election address to the nation, that her "father used the family legacy for political work'' with the result that her "mother had to pay off the mortgages with what she earned by way of salary.'' She is probably proud of a very patronising political family.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, though stoutly denying that he promised "to give away the North and East to the LTTE for two years '' is still a picture of appeasement.

His interim council proposition is a tacit acknowledgment that he would rather talk business with the Tigers – rather than fight Prabhakaran to the death. In his sleep, he dreams of minority votes and campaign endorsements from fringe Tamil parties. 

Susantha Gunetilleke, writing in the Sunday Island, observes this phenomenon and says that Sri Lankan leaders are the "Tigers' best allies.'' At least he recognises the political reality when it happens . 

The Sri Lankan political ethos has been abundantly "thuppahified'', meaning that the politics is now for the main political parties, a matter of appeasing the fringe elements such as Prabhakaran and the knocked about minorities. Twenty years back, this kind of appeasement politics would have lost a candidate his election deposit. 

But, in this poll, the constituency is more than ever expected to be one that favours appeasement.

At the 1994 Presidential election, the shadow of Wijetunge was like something determined to be the last bastion of majoritarian politics.

Before that, President Premadasa used the minority vote to clinch power in an election that was from the outset an anxious touch-and–go exercise for the incumbent UNP and its allies.

But, in that year, the challenging contender Sirimavo Bandaranaike had all the Sinhala forces arrayed in her favour, including the Mavubima Surekeeme Viyaparaya and the then active and resplendent Mr Dinesh Gunawardena who still had some fight left in him in those days.

Subsequent years saw Dinesh Gunawardena and the Mavubima Surekeeme Viyaparaya going to seed.

Several other organizations that had the majority interests at heart such as Sinhala Veera Vidhana and the National Movement Against Terrorism sprang up in the interim, but none of these are now supporting any of the major candidates in this year's election. 

Sinhala preservationism is advocated only on the fringe this time, by the candidate Harischandra Wijetunge, who is almost representative of the marginalisation of the majority sentiment in the rush for appeasement and the minority vote. 

For "pluralists'' "moderates'' and most NGO funded liberals the campaign should be the ultimate testimony that sense has arrived and chauvinism has died; that the Sinhala nation is finally in a bumbling, stumbling and utterly wretched way finally enlightened. 

Others would hold their noses.

This current election campaign is to them a message that they are in arid land, that Sinhala culture has died and thuppahification of the national ethos is complete.

It doesn't help that Ranil and Chandrika represents "thuppahification'' more than just by ideological play acting. Ranil Wickremesinghe has been portrayed by the opposition as a Mustang tent political faddy, a man with an advertisement smile and blow dried hair made to go with a blazer and a wan manner of a jaded Colombo school political mandarin. 

Kumaratunga has been identified sometimes with a love for shopping in London and being fashionably late , the latter something she cannot live down even if she contrives to hand down a score more of criminal defamation suits. But, her manner, mostly these days seems to tell all.

She concedes that her daughter has been sent for education to a foreign medical college ( in the manner that her mother sent her to Sorbonne ) and she looks the nation square in the face and says she "feels trapped in Temple Trees for the sake of your security.'' 

Tissa Abeysekera could have made a movie of that, with roles transposed with Chandrika playing the walauwe hamuduruwo advising the waif that works in the mansion – (Batti we'll say) — that she really can't buy her any more clothes, because the walauwa had made a lot of sacrifices to send "the lamatheni to London for her doctorate.'' 

This would then be the new incarnation of patronage politics that was introduced at the beginning of this century by the landed gentry, who had the means and justified their hegemony of the nation as being a healthy form of governance which kept the poor and the corrupt from getting into politics and muddying the waters. 

The point of course need not be laboured. Both Presidential contenders are the progeny of feudal political families which may have possessed committed champions of the common man such as Bandaranaike but have not been able to shed their hardened patrician images. (Anura Bandaranaike, that man who wittingly or unwittingly calls a spade a spade would have said "pedigree.'') 

So this year's politics is a throwback to say 1949 or some year thereabouts , anytime before 1956, we suppose.

In the reckoning of Susantha Gunatilleke, its the last year of the honeymoon or so, because it is a matter of time when some Sinhala soldier fed up with appeasement turns his guns on the gentry. 

Could be true, but it will be interesting to know why the Sinhala majority cannot find anybody more able than the hapless Harischandra Wijetunge to galvanize the masses and give life to the message that appeasement is a sellout. 

Is this then, really the beginning of the end of the Sinhala nation, a slow death that has just begun?

Or is it just the aberration — the angst of national growing up that will conclude in the creation of the polyglot homogenous but happy melting pot that Reggie Siriwardene would be dreaming of from his Kynsey Road ICES?

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