The spotlight shift from Horagolla to Weeraketiya
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Whatever the political compulsions or inner- party intrigues involved the overt
and united decision of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in declaring Mahinda
Rajapakse and Anura Bandaranaike as the Presidential and Prime Ministerial
Candidates respectively is a very welcome one. It comes at a critical juncture when
the 54 year old party was on the verge of splitting due to internal political strife.
Saner counsel seems to have prevailed at the last moment and a very worthwhile
compromise has averted a crisis.
The selection of Percy Mahendra Rajapakse now known as Mahinda Rajapakse
to be the SLFP Presidential candidate is seen by many as a historic development
in the annals of the party. The dominant first family has "grudgingly" or otherwise
decided to field an outsider for the Presidency albeit with a Prime Ministerial
running mate of sorts from the Bandaranaike clan. The reluctance amidst the
Bandaranaikes in letting Rajapakse have the Presidential candidacy was manifest
even on the eve of the day of decision. Yet the decision has been taken and
Mahinda' s hat is now firmly in the ring. Of course it is unclear as of now whether
Parliamentary elections will precede the Presidential poll or not. Nevertheless the
name of Mahinda Rajapakse has been announced as the official Presidential
aspirant of the party.
It is important to note the factors influencing or compelling this decision. One is
that no effective argument could have been made against denying Mahinda his
nomination notwithstanding the "Helping Hambantota" fiasco. With Chandrika
Kumaratunga in the twilight of her Presidency the party was firmly for Mahinda as
the best alternative. Party branches at the grassroots were strongly for him
though some stalwarts moving about in power corridors were not. Importantly
enough the Buddhist prelates were backing him. The" hat trick" success of the
new Diyawadana Nilame is seen as an indicator of Mahindas clout in this respect.
Kela Bandara is acknowledgedly a Mahinda nominee.
Furthermore Rajapakse is seen as the only man who could salvage the party's
fortunes at this point of time. His excellent Sinhala Buddhist credentials and non -
antagonistic relationship with the Sinhala hardliners are established facts. On the
other hand he enjoys a cordial relationship with the minorities and retains a
positive image among them.. It is felt that he could walk a delicate tight rope
between both sides and revive flagging fortunes of the party.
Besides a fatal party split could have occurred if the Bandaranaikes insisted on
perpetuating dynastic succession at this point. A major intra - party crisis would
have meant the relegation of both factions to third and fourth party status initially
and eventual political oblivion for the SLFP.This was something that neither the
Bandaranaikes nor the Rajapakses would have liked. However much their internal
squabbles, petty politicking and personal bickerings none would have wanted the
party to be written off completely.
Some commentators see Mahinda Rajapakse's candidacy as the harbinger of
the demise of the Bandaranaike dynasty. It is well known that the Bandaranaikes
have been in the forefront of Sri Lankan politics for more than the Biblical lifetime
span of three score and ten years. SWRD Bandranaike was a state councillor in
1931 and member of the board of ministers in 1936. He was minister of local
government in the first cabinet of independent Ceylon under DS Senanayake. He
crossed over to the opposition and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in 1951.
The advent of the SLFP heralded the beginning of what could be termed as the
two party system in Sri Lanka. The SLFP alone and/or in association with other
parties formed Governments in 1956 - 59 , 1960 - 65, 1970 - 77, 1994 - 2000,
2000 -2001 and 2004 to date.
Dynastic politics on a national scale in Sri Lanka was not begun in the Horagolla
walauwe. It was Bothale that started it when DS ensured that son Dudley and not
SWRD or nephew Kotelawela would succeed him. But there is no doubt that the
Bandaranaike - Ratwatte family perfected the art of dynastic politics and excelled
in it for five decades and more. The Solomon - Sirima marriage was in itself a
political union of sorts binding two leading families of the Low - Country and Up -
Country Aristocracy together.
SWRD was the first Ceylonese Prime Minister to be assassinated. His widow
Sirima became the worlds first woman premier. Her daughter Chandrika became
the worlds first executive president. She and her siblings are perhaps the only kids
in the world who can boast that their Dad as well as Mum were Prime Ministers.
Her children could say that Grandpa, granny and mummy were all premiers and
uncle too could be one very soon. Of course Ammi is also President. One
remarkable feature of this dynastic politics was that - despite the strong element of
inherent feudalism - it was sustained through a democratic framework.
A member of the Bandaranaike family has been a Prime Minister of this Country
from 1956 to 1965; 1970 to 1977 and 1994 to 1999. A member of the
Bandaranaike clan has been Leader of the opposition from 1952 to 56 ; 1965 to
1970, 1983 to 1994. A Bandaranaike (Kumaratunga) is President of Sri Lanka
since 1994. The family has also held other offices at times like Western Province
chief minister, Speaker, Cabinet Minister etc. Other posts held by relatives near
and far are too numerous to mention.
The family has been exerting a firm grip on the party in the past. Even now
amendments to the Party Constitution will give Kumaratunga greater powers as
party president. Anura will be there as "PM" or "Number two". Potential contenders
to the throne have been there in the past but the family held on to what it
perceived as its own. After SWRD's death W. Dahanayake became Caretaker
Prime Minister as CP de Silva was abroad recovering from a suspected poisoning
attempt.CP returned and led the party at the 1960 March hustings. But the July
poll saw Bandaranaikes widow coming to the fore, spearheading the campaign
and ending up as a Senatorial Prime Minister.
When Mrs. Bandaranaike lost her civic rights in 1980 it was a trusted family
loyalist and non - controversial politician Lakshman Jayakody who was made
Attanagalla MP. Later when the first Presidential elections were held in 1982 a
Kandyan kinsman Hector Kobbekaduwe became the party candidate. Yet there
were moves to sabotage his bid from within. To her credit Chandrika supported
husband Vijaya in backing Hector in the campaign.
The Leader of opposition post fell vacant in 1983 when the Tamil United
Liberation Front forfeited seats in parliament due to the sixth amendment
disavowing separatism The obvious choice from the SLFP to replace
Amirthalingam should have been former acting Prime Minister Maithripala
Senanayake representing Medawachiya continuously in Parliament since 1947.
But no the mantle fell on young Anura Bandaranaike an MP for only seven years.
Another phenomenon was Sirima being Prime Minister under daughter Chandrikas
presidency in the nineties in spite of her ill- health and physical state.No body said
"no" to the grand old lady in a wheel chair.
Against this backdrop Mahinda Rajapakse penetrating the jealously preserved
Bandaranaike monopoly is certainly remarkable. He is certainly an outsider as far
as the family is concerned. As for the party Mahinda is an insider. Despite the
sibling rivalry among the Bandaranaike - Rajapakse political brats there is no
denying that the political destiny of the Rajapakses too have been inextricably
intertwined with that of the SLFP. The Rajapakses of Weeraketiya too are a
founding family of the SLFP like the Bandaranaikes of Horagolla. First family they
may not be (at least till now) but they are certainly second to none in the party.
As for Mahinda he has a greater stake in the present SLFP than Chandrika or
Anura.While the Bandaranaikes have been firmly in the SLFP leadership saddle it
is ironic to note that two major splits in the party were engineered by members of
the clan. The first was in the eighties when Anura , Maithripala and Haleem Ishak
went out of the party and briefly flirted with the UNP.They returned later. Then in
1993 Anura crossed over again this time firmly into the UNP camp under DB
Wijetunga. He remained there for some years and returned back to the SLFP after
mending fences with his sister.
As for Chandrika she along with husband Vijaya made up a radical dissident
faction within the SLFP. The positive aspect of this was the very progressive
stance on the national question. She split from the SLFP and formed the SLMP in
1984. After Vijayas assassination she went off to Britain. The SLMP split.
Chandrika then returned and along with Rajitha Senaratne formed the BSP.
Realising that the way to power was through the family party she went back to the
SLFP causing brother Anura to leave. She quickly consolidated her hold,
projected a new image and the rest was history.
Compared to Anura and Chandrika's infidelity towards the SLFP Mahinda
Rajapakse has been firmly loyal. He did not desert the party during the time of JR
Jayewardene when the SLFP was out in the cold for a long, long time. It was
Mahinda along with Mangala Samaraweera who kept the party going during the
Premadasa regime. The Pada Yathras and Jana Goshas they organized
reinforced resistance to the UNP.Mahindas commitment to upholding human rights
is also a plus point in his favour.Once he was barred from leaving the Country to
attend the Human Rights parley at Geneva.
It has been said in lighter vein that a postage stamps success depends on its
ability to stick to the envelope till it reaches its destination. Mahindas success too
is due to his ability in sticking to the SLFP through fair and foul season instead of
deserting it during leaner times like Chandrika and Anura. Earlier he was quite
content to play second fiddle to Anura and then Chandrika.It is only in recent
times that he has asserted himself and staked his claim for what he felt was
rightfully his. The Opposition Leader and Prime Ministerial posts had to come to
him. There is no other worthy of those than Mahinda in the SLFP.
The Girawapattu Rajapakses have been involved in politics from the time of
SWRD Bandaranaike. This writer communicated with three knowledgeable
persons to obtain an insight into the Rajapkse family and their politics. One was
former Parliament Secretary - General and proud Southerner Sam Wijesinghe.
The other was veteran journalist and ex - Sunday Observer editor HLD
Mahindapala now in Australia. The third was former Parliamentarian and lawyer
Buddhika Kurukularatne who contributes regularly to Sunday Island.
The Rajapakses are an old and respected Southern Govigama family. They had
deep Buddhist roots and were wedded to the land. Unlike some other eminent
Sinhala families who obtained posts and perks from the Colonial masters the lairds
of Girawapattu remained sturdily independent. As a result the family was not rich
as some other families dabbling in politics. This lack of adequate resources
combined with incorruptible integrity were restrictive factors in reaching the top in
politics. There was also the lack of ambition particularly in Mahindas fathers case.
Mahindas fathers elder brother DM Rajapakse supported Wickremanayake in
1931 for Hambantota in the State Council. In 1936 Rajapakse contested himself
and won. He joined and supported the Sinhala Maha Sabha of SWRD. DM
Rajapakse was a dynamic personality and was destined for higher things in life.
Unfortunately he died early in 1945. . Mahindas father DA Rajapakse with his
familiar "Kurakkan" shawl was reluctantly compelled to succeed his brother. He
won the seat in 1945.
DM Rajapakses sons Lakshman and George entered politics. Lakshman an
ebullient person with an abiding love for the Siuth was a maverick.Lakshman won
the then Hambantota constituency in 1947 as an Independent and in 1952 on the
LSSP. In 1956 he won on the MEP and became deputy minister.In 1960 March
Lakshman won Tissamaharama on the MEP ticket. In 1960 July he won the same
on the SLFP ticket. In 1976 he reentered Parliament again as an SLFP' er in the
Mulkirigala by - election caused by his brother Georges death.
George Rajapakse Won Mulkirigala in 1960. 65 and 70 on the SLFP ticket. He
was Fisheries minister in the 1970 Government but like his father died at the age
of fifty in 1976.His daughter Nirupama was in Parliament from 1989 onwards and
served as deputy minister in the 1994 government.
Mahindas father DA represented the Beliatta seat in Parliament from 1947 to 1965
with a short break in 1960 March when he lost to DP Atapattu . DAR lost in 1965
to DPA again. DA Rajapakse won Beliatta on the UNP ticket in 1947 and
thereafter on the SLFP ticket till 65. His youngest son Mahinda won Beliatta in
1970. He was then the youngest member of Paarliament being only 24. He lost in
1977 to Ranjith son of DP Atapattu. He was back in Parliament from 1989 onwards
serving as Labour and Fisheries minister, Opposition Leader and Prime Minister.
His elder brother Chamal a retired Police officer also entered politics and is now a
It could be seen therefore that the Rajapakses have been part and parcel of the
SLFP just like the Bandaranaikes. DA Rajapakse was a faithful deputy of SWRD.
Bandaranaike crossed over from the UNP to SLFP on July 12th 1951. Five others
(AP Jayasooriya, George R de Silva, Jayaweera Kuruppu, DS Goonesekera and
DA Rajapakse ) were supposed to follow suit, But when the moment came only
DA Rajapakse crossed the floor behind Bandaranaike like his faithful shadow. The
others did so later.
On Sep 2nd 1951 the SLFP was formed. DM was one of the 44 signatories giving
notice of the formation of the SLFP. In the 1952 May elections the fledgling SLFP
won nine seats. DA Rajapakse was one of the nine. In spite of these impressive
credentials and loyalty DA Rajapakse was not a cabinet minister in the 1956
cabinet or 1960 July cabinet. This writers first thought was that the Rajapakses
had always been deprived of their rightful due in the SLFP despite their loyalty.
But I learnt that this was due to DA Rajapakses simplicity, self - effacing lack of
ambition , love of his roots, and abhorrence for the trappings of power.
In 1956 SWRD offered DAR any cabinet post other than the one to be given CP
de Silva. But DAR declined firmly and only wanted nephew Lakshman be given a
deputy minister post. So Lakshman was made deputy to Trade and Commerce
Minister RG Senanayake. But the people of Hambantota under the leadership of
Tangalle lawyer Wickramasuriya protested strongly to SWRDB and DAR. So a
reluctant Rajapakse was forced to be deputy minister of Landa, Irrigation and
Agriculture under CP de Silva. During Dahanayakes short lived cabinet after
Bandaranaikes assassination Rajapakse was Minister of Agriculture and Lands
but resigned in two weeks on Oct 10th to preempt dismissal.
Mrs. Bandaranaike offered a cabinet portfolio to DAR who declined it. Then she
offered Speaker office. This too was refused.It is said that Rajapakse stated that
he preferred his home in Weeraketiya to Mumtaz Mahal, He continued to remain in
a room at Sravasti from where his young son Mahinda attended Nalanda and
Thurstan. DA Rajapakse served as deputy chairman of committees and deputy
speaker under RS Pelpola and Hugh Fernando in that Parliament.
Mahinda too was ready to lag behind Anura in the early days. He was a close
friend and despite being an MP remained in Anuras shadow. But Rajapakse has
proven his mettle over the years through his loyalty, courage, hardwork and
political acumen. Mahindas political stock waxed while Anuras waned. Now
Mahinda is the captain elect and Anura his vice - captain.It is their lot to revive
and lead the party founded by their fathers The SLFP is the joint legacy of both.
Only the spotlight has shifted to Weeraketiya from Horagolla. [TamilWeek: Aug 14]