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Dr. Wijayananda Dahanayake – Galle’s most flamboyant son

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Great sons of Galle Part III

Born on October 22, 1902, he was the twin son of Muhandiram Dionysius Sepala Panditha Dahanayake. He was named Wijayananda after the Wijayananda Vihara in Weliwatta, Galle, where Col. H. S. Olcott first observed the five precepts.

His learned father was the chief lay disciple of this Vihara. The eminent astrologer Karo Gurunnanse, who read Dahanayake’s horoscope had predicted that one day he would rule the country. With Ceylon under the British Raj at the time, and with no independence in sight, it was treated as a far fetched prediction.

He was educated at Richmond College, Galle and later at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. The born fighter that he was, he one day created a rumpus, while lunch was being served, when Warden Stone sternly said, “Dahanayake! the next train to Galle is at 4.30.”

As a young man, he took part in the by-election campaign of Kannangara for the Legislative Council, referring to him as a ‘Conscientious Willing Worker’ (C. W. W.). At the time he would never have dreamt, that they both would be future ministers of education.

From S. Thomas’ College he joined the Kingswood College as a teacher. He once said that at Kingswood he learnt more than what he taught there.

A dashing young man then, he was in love with Rev. de Silva’s charming daughter, who played romantic music for him on the piano, which included a rendering of ‘Someone like you’.

Years later when he was heavily involved in politics, a newspaper reporter asked him as to why he remained a bachelor.

And, Dahanayake replied “I was looking for the perfect woman and one day I found her and proposed to her.”

“And why didn’t she accept you sir?” asked the reporter.

“Because she was looking for the perfect man!” chuckled Daha.

From Kingswood, he joined, the Government Training College in Colombo, as a trainee, together with his twin brother Kalyanapriya.

As a young man of 23 years, seated in the garden of the Government Training College, he wrote the poem titled ‘He stoops to conquer’.

The Poem was on the famous romance of Prince Saliya, son of warrior-king Dutugemunu and the Chandala girl, beautiful Asokamala; a romance that shook the Royal Court and the entire country and has been told and re-told, sung, and re-sung down the centuries.

“In palm thatched hut alone – she sat

And breathed the jasmine – scented air

Whilst woodland bird so blithely chirped

To greet this maiden wondrous fair,

An outcast born, unloved, unknown,

What passing phantom greets her sight:

‘Tis stately Sal, King Gemunu’s son

Her bosom heaved with mad delight

Whilst Sal, with magic dreams a lit,

Beheld this sprite, of Heavenly beauty,

No darksome rift his thoughts did sift,

For lingering love had conquered duty!

This lingering love was far above,

The harrowing pangs of princely pride;

By the Gods he swore “I thee adore!”

And lost a kingdom for a bride!”

One day he was reprimanded by the principal for not wearing a necktie to dinner, a strict rule at that time.

An apparently contrite Dahanayake humbly promised the principal that he would do so, the next day. The next day Dahanayake came to dinner wearing a necktie, as promised.

It was a shoelace.

Graduated a trained teacher, he had a brief stint at Siddhartha College Balapitiya, before joining St. Aloysius College, Galle where he taught for eight years, from 1928 to 1936, teaching a variety of subjects including Latin, mathematics, history, geography and rural science.

He was also the games master in charge of cricket, football and athletics. Dahanayake was no mean athlete, easily clearing five feet at high jump.

Schoolmaster Dahanayake was a fine actor and was the chief attraction in the college plays, many of which were adaptations from Moliere’s comedies.

It was the year 1935. The loyal little colony of Ceylon was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Coronation of King George the Fifth, in a big way, much to the infuriation of the sworn anti-imperialist Dahanayake.

Waving a black flag, he joined the celebrations and was immediately taken into custody by the Police. Hundreds of people who were there followed Dahanayake who was being dragged away to the Police station.

Thereafter he was detained at the Bogambara prison and was later produced in court, where he was fined Rs. 10.00.

Dahanayake, now an anti–British hero, was taken to his home “Sri Bhavana” in a colourful procession.

When Dahanayake started addressing political meetings, the school authorities terminated his services saying that teaching and politics were incompatible.

In 1933, he published a newspaper called ‘Ruhunu Handa’. It was four-paged, priced at three cents and was published every week. Its humour column ‘street talk’ was very popular. When D. R. Jardine’s controversial cricket team came to Galle, Ruhunu Handa headlined “Go back Jardine”.

Soon after leaving St. Aloysius College, he got into main stream of politics.

The humble John Aloysius and Alice Akkas, with whom he rubbed shoulders with easy familarity and affection, became his idols.

He also became a frequent visitor to the Pacha Gaha (Fibber’s tree), the local Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner, where he waxed eloquent as a political aspirant.

It was not long after, he became the first mayor of Galle in 1939. In 1940 he declared May Day as a holiday for the Municipal Council workers, long before 1956.

By now, he was an amusing speaker, a crowd puller, a very lovable human being and the undisputed champion of the down trodden masses.

He then went to Keppitipola’s Wellassa, far removed from his native Galle and contested the Bibile seat in the second State Council at a by-election in 1944, and was elected.

At the State Council, he functioned as a one man opposition, espoused the idol of the masses and was always in the limelight with his gimmicks and fun.

In 1945, he made a marathon speech in the legislature lasting 13 hours. It is still an unbroken record.

Once he was named for a week for calling the State Council “a den of thieves”.

Dahanayake was the one and only member who voted against the introduction of the Soulbury Constitution, on the grounds that the cabinet system was not suited to the genius of the people. He preferred the then existing executive committee system of government.

He was a man with a keen sense of humour who had a gift for eloquence and repartee which he often displayed in the House.

Some of his delightful parodies as a master parodist, drove a point home where extended verbiage failed.

Here is he on Sir John.

Twinkle, twinkle, good Sir John,

How you’ve fooled our fair Ceylon.

Looking young in spite of age.

Like an actor on stage,

When the girls at “Temple Trees”

Crowd and dance like buzzing bees,

Then you sing your sweetest song,

Twinkle, twinkle, all night long!

But if you care to see the woe.

Of starving men who come and go,

Then you’ll sing a sadder song.

And twinkle like a wiser John.

Addressing a meeting at Galle, Premier Sir John Kotelawala once said “If Dahanayake tries his nonsense with me, I will devour him.”

The next day Dahanayake issued a statement: “Then at least Sir John will have a brain in his stomach”.

He was a darling of the press, who always found him for a good story.

As an unconventional parliamentarian he was the first M.P. to travel third class with a first class ticket. And once he was asked why he travelled third class. He chuckled, “Because there is no fourth class.”

It was one way that he kept in touch with the people.

Those were the days when in December every year, the Galle Gymkhana Club held their horse racing meets. And Dahanayake devised an ingenious way of keeping contact with the people. On the morning of a meet, he displayed the “Treble Forecast”, on the Beli tree in his garden. As some of his tips clicked, the Beli tree became more popular.

His official telephone was like a public telephone. Those days there were no direct dialling facilities and calls had to be monitored through the exchange. If the call happened to be an urgent one, then Daha would help the caller by calling back the exchange to give the call ‘official priority’.

He was not a globe trotting M.P. or a minister. Once Sir John, the then Minister of Transport invited him to join the inaugural flight of the newly created Air Ceylon to Madras. That was the only time he left our shores.

When S.W.R.D came to address one of Daha’s election meetings at Galle in 1956, he went up to the mike and shouted “Banda comes to town! UNP down!” On hearing it S. W. R. D. had a hearty laugh.

When W. was a hot-blooded young man, he was presiding at an LSSP meeting at Galle Face Green, when a comrade came up and whispered in his ear, that thugs from a rival political party had been posted at strategic points in the crowd to disrupt the meeting. When told this, Daha immediately got up, stopped the comrade who was speaking and in stentorian tones cried out.

“Mage gama Gaalley!

Gaalley kollo bohoma vasai!

Ung hapuwath Naaga visai!

Yakada kandan dekata navai

Dekata navala thunata kadai!”

(“I am from Galle!

The boys of Galle are very dangerous!

If they bite you, it’ll be like a snake-bite!

They can bend iron giders!

They bend them in two and break them into three!”)

And the planned disruption never took place!

At the 1947 general elections, Dahanayake contested W. Amarasuriya, one of the richest in the island at the time and defeated him.

There is an interesting aftermath almost four decades later. A statue of Amarasuriya was erected after his death by the grateful people of Galle, and Prime Minister Premadasa was invited to unveil it. On that occasion, Dr. W. Dahanayake, Minister of Co-operatives, made a stirring speech, going to describe the late H.W. Amarasuriya as a Bodhisatva.

The Prime Minister, in his speech, quipped that had Dahanayake made that speech in 1947, he would have lost the election!

On that fateful day of September 25, 1959, Dahanayake who was staying at the M.P’s hostel ‘Sravasti’ ordered a plain cup of tea for the security officer on duty and another for himself and was chatting with him at the security post, when he received an urgent message, on receipt of which he drove to the Queens House to take oaths as the acting Prime Minister.

On the days he was at Galle, the premier’s Cadillac was somewhat of a public vehicle in which the young men used to go on jolly jaunts, even to the extent of going to the Galle Town to bring hoppers for those manning his election office in the night.

Soon after his defeat at the 1960 March election, Dahanayake went on a pilgrimage, armed with a camera given him by Sir Susantha de Fonseka, a former Ambasador of Ceylon in Japan and a former deputy speaker.

He was going to the Avukana Shrine after parking his vehicle, when he felt thirsty and went to a hut close by, asking for some water. The woman there brought a glass of water and while offering it asked him where he was from. Dahanayake answered that he was from Galle, when the woman fuming with indignation said, “The people of Galle do not deserve to be given even a glass of water, for the way they defeated Dahanayake Mahattaya.”

Dahanayake chuckled and resumed his journey, without revealing his identity.

After a long and eventful tenure in the legislature, he lived in retirement sans opulent wealth, respected and loved by the people.

There will never be another like him!

 



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President picks up the gauntlet

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by Jehan Perera

By proroguing parliament President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given the parliamentarians, and the country at large, a reminder of the power of the presidency. There was no evident reason for the president to suddenly decide to prorogue parliament. More than 40 parliamentary committees, including important ones concerning public finances, enterprises and accounts have ceased to function. The president’s office has said that when parliament reconvenes on February 8, after the celebration of the country’s 75th Independence Day on February 4, the president will announce new policies and laws, which will be implemented until the centenary celebrations of Sri Lanka’s independence in 2048. Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew transformed Singapore from a relatively underdeveloped and impoverished agrarian society into one of the world’s most developed countries in the same 25 years that the president has set for Sri Lanka.

President Wickremesinghe has been getting increasingly assertive regarding his position on issues. Recently he attended a large gathering of Muslim clerics, where he was firm in saying that society needs to modernise, and so do religious practices. He has also held fast to his positions on reviving the economy and resolving the economy. There have been widespread protests against the tax hikes being implemented which have eroded the purchasing power of taxpayers. First they had to absorb the impact of inflation that rose to a rate of 80 percent at the time the country reneged on its foreign debt repayments and declared bankruptcy. Now they find their much diminished real incomes being further reduced by a tax rate that reaches 36 percent.

But the government is not relenting. President Wickremesinghe, who holds the finance minister’s portfolio, is going against popular sentiment in being unyielding on the matter of taxes. He appears determined to force the country away from decades of government policies that took the easy route of offering subsidies rather than imposing taxes to use for government expenses and development purposes. In Sri Lanka, the government’s tax revenue is less than 8 percent, whereas in comparable countries the tax revenue is around 20 to 25 percent. The long term cost of living off foreign borrowings rather than generating resources domestically through taxation has been evident for a long while in the slow growth of the economy even prior to the economic collapse.

13TH AMENDMENT

Another area in which the president appears to have taken the decision to stand firm is the issue of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict. This problem has proven to be unresolvable by governments and political leaders who give deference to ethnic nationalism. Being an ethnic nationalist in the context of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious divisions has been a sure way of gaining votes and securing election victories. No leader in Sri Lanka has to date been able to implement the compromise solutions that they periodically arrived at, the last being the 13th Amendment. Earlier ones included the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965 which could not even be started to be implemented.

At the All Party meeting that he summoned to discuss the ethnic conflict and national reconciliation, President Wickremesinghe took the bull by the horns. He exchanged words with ethnic nationalist parliamentarians who sought to challenge his legitimacy to be making changes. He said, “It is my responsibility as the Executive to carry out the current law. For approximately 37 years, the 13th Amendment has been a part of the constitution. I must implement or someone has to abolish it by way of a 22nd amendment to the constitution by moving a private member’s bill. If the bill was voted against by the majority in the House, then the 13th amendment would have to be implemented. We can’t remain in a middle position saying that either we don’t implement the 13th amendment or abolish it.”

The 13th Amendment has not been fully implemented since it was passed by parliament with a 2/3 majority in 1987. Successive governments, including ones the president has been a member of variously as a minister or prime minister, have failed to implement it in a significant manner, especially as regards the devolution of police and land powers. When parliament reconvenes on February 8 after prorogation, President Wickremesinghe will be provided the opportunity to address both the parliament and the country on the way forward. Having demonstrated the power of the presidency to prorogue parliament at his discretion, he will be able to set forth his vision of the solution to the ethnic conflict and the roadmap that needs to be followed to get to national reconciliation.

IRONIC PERSECUTION

It is significant that on February 20, the president will also acquire the power to dissolve parliament at his discretion. By proroguing parliament, the president has sent a message to both parliamentarians and the larger society that he will soon have the power to dissolve parliament with the same suddenness that he prorogued parliament. On February 20, the parliament would have been in existence for two and a half years. The 21st Amendment empowers the president to dissolve parliament after two and a half years. Most of the parliamentarians belonging to the ruling party are no longer in a position to go to their electorates let alone canvass for votes among the people. Under these fraught circumstances, they would not wish to challenge the president or his commitment to implementing the 13th Amendment in full.

On the other hand, the taming of parliament by the president does not guarantee the success of an accommodation on the ethnic conflict and a sustainable political solution. The ethnic conflict evokes the primordial sentiments of the different ethnic and religious communities. Political parties and politicians are often portrayed as the villains who led the country to decades of ethnic conflict and to war. However, the conflict in the country predates the political parties. In 1928, in response to demands from community leaders in Ceylon as it was then known, the British colonial rulers sent a commission to the country to ascertain whether it was ready for self-rule. The assessment was negative—the Donoughmore commission wrote that the representatives of the biggest community held to the position that their interest was the national interest. All the representatives of the smaller communities who were divided one against the other were united against the biggest.

An important role therefore devolves upon civil society not to fall prey to the divisions that come down the years. There is a need for enlightened leaders of civil society to work with commitment to explain to the people the need for a political solution and inter-ethnic power sharing that the 13th Amendment makes possible. There were signs of this during the height of the Aragalaya when the youth leading the protests called publicly for equal citizenship and non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion and caste. They pledged not to be divided by ethnic nationalist politicians for their narrow electoral purposes. It is ironic that the government led by President Wickremesinghe has made these enlightened youth leaders the target of a campaign of persecution instead of making them a part of the solution by constructively engaging with them and issuing a general amnesty.

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Privatisation of education and demonising of students of Lanka

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Student union leader Wasantha Mudalige with prison guards

by Anushka Kahandagamage

Sri Lanka is trapped in debt due to decades of corruption and short-sighted economic policies. To come out of the trap or, I would say, escape the moment, the government is seeking loans from the IMF, or anybody else who is willing to lend, no matter the conditions. To this end, under the IMF’s tutelage, the government is seeking to privatise education, aware that it will face the wrath of the people. In this setting, to suppress the protests, the government has adopted a strategy of demonising students, in the public education system.

School children as “drug addicts”

A media empire, which has strong ties with the current Lankan regime, recently sent shockwaves through schools, and their communities, by reporting cases of school children hooked on harmful narcotics. Following these reports, there were many write ups, social media content and stories published on the menace of drug addiction, among Sri Lankan students. That media network even released a video, interviewing two schoolgirls who claimed to be addicted to harmful substances. In the midst of the media frenzy, the police carried out surprise checks in schools, searching students’ bags. The state humiliated and terrified school children by using the police to conduct surprise checks in the schools and peek into the students’ backpacks, instead of investigating the avenues through which dangerous drugs enter the country. After a week, the Minister of Education claimed he was unaware that the police were conducting surprise checks in schools, with sniffer dogs, adding that there was no need to deploy the police force for this purpose. If the Minister was not aware that the police raided schools, it is not surprising that the state would also turn a blind eye to how narcotics enter the country. While there is a risk of students addicting to dangerous drugs, the state cannot place all the blame on students. Instead of taking responsibility for the state of affairs, and acting to keep harmful substances off the island, the state places the burden on schoolchildren and simply refers to them as “drug addicts.”

Bhikku students as “alcoholics”

The next example is from the Buddhist and Pali University, in Homagama. Similar to the first story, the same media network reported some irregularities occurring in the University. Those irregularities included the student monks forcing incoming students, also monks, to consume weed, liquor and party. Following this news report, some investigations were conducted in the University and empty liquor bottles were found in an abandoned well. Then we witnessed several press conferences where University authorities questioned the student monk leaders. While one cannot and should not disregard students’ violence upon another student, it is interesting to note the way the government is taking up the particular incident, at this particular point of time. There was a massive social media campaign to show that the student-monks are immoral and unworthy of education. It cannot be a coincidence that the student monks, at this University, were actively involved in the Aragalaya. In other words, the government was trying to defame the University, and the students, by labelling them as oppressors and alcoholics.

The Rajapaksa regime continuously used Buddhist monks, in their political operations, especially to incite conflict and win elections. The state has frequently deployed Buddhist monks to further its nationalist agendas. When the state used monks for their agendas, including to instigate violence, the monks were not framed as ‘immoral.’ The higher Buddhist authorities did not take action against groups, like Bodu Bala Sena, or Ravana Balaya, or their violent activities. It is ironic that the Government seems to be concerned about the ‘morality’ or ‘discipline’ of Bhikkus at this moment when many student Bhikkus have joined hands with the people to protest against the state.

University students as “terrorists”

The last example is the most pressing at this moment. On 18th of August, 2022, the police arrested Wasantha Mudalige, the Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Along with him, the authorities detained Hashan Jeewantha and the convener of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), Galwewa Siridhamma Thera. The state labelled the politically active university students as “terrorists”. Again, this cannot have happened by chance; we all know the Aragalaya against the Rajapaksa dictatorship was heavily influenced by the Inter-University Students Federation and the Inter University Bhikku Federation. The student unions were the muscle of the people’s protests against the oppressive and corrupt regime. The Ranil-Rajapaksa regime labelled the student leaders’ terrorists and started arresting them.

The state’s stamping of University students as terrorists is a folly. If the state labels its own youth as “terrorists,” it means that the state has failed miserably because it is its own actions that have pushed them toward what is labelled as “terrorism.” The state should take a step back and reconsider its decisions.

Privatization of Education

The government and the government-validating media demonize students, labelling them as drug addicts, alcoholics and terrorists. The government undermines and defames the country’s student body. By doing so, the government is strategically isolating the students from the larger society and eroding public faith in them. Ironically, drug addicts, alcoholics, and terrorists are all confined to the public school and state university system, not private educational institutions. The media propagates the idea that students enrolled in the state education system are ‘immoral’ and ‘disobedient’. Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the puppet President of the Rajapaksa allies, proposes a new economic system which he thinks will counter the current balance of payment crisis. The proposal includes establishing an educational hub in Sri Lanka, which promises to privatise higher education in the long-term.

The state agenda of privatizing education is not a recent one, but it has been reenergized by the Ranil-Rajapaksa government in the context of crisis. Well before demonising the students, in the public education system, in June 2022 the government, national education commission, came up with an education policy framework.

Biased towards Rajapaksa ideologies, the national education commission that developed the policy, proposed to expand the privatization of higher education. In their report, the committee presents a table demonstrating how Sri Lanka allocates less money on higher education compared with the other middle-income countries. The next section outlines the way Sri Lanka relies more on government grants for higher education than other middle-income countries, which is confusing and contradictory, perhaps reflecting the grossly inadequate overall investment in higher education in the country. Then the report goes on to analyse how the poor school education system creates an unskillful student who is unable to think critically. It finally recommends promoting private participation in higher education, not only through funding but also by matching the curricula to fit the market and increase the “employability” of students. While on the one hand government pushes for privatising higher education, on the other, it demonizes the students in the public educational system. The State has seized the problem by its tail. The government is unable to perceive its own flaws in short-sighted policymaking, law enforcement, and corruption, and instead accuses and defames students, to distract them from its concerted effort to privatise education.

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

(Anushka Kahandagamage is reading for her PhD in the School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)

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Janaka…Keeping the Elvis scene alive

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Janaka Palapathwala: Recreating the Presley era…through song.......

For the past three years, local performers have certainly felt the heat, where work is concerned, beginning with the Easter Sunday tragedy, followed by Covid-19 restrictions, and then the political situation

Right now, there seems to be a glimmer of light, at the end of the tunnel, and musicians are hoping that, finally, the scene would brighten up for the entertainment industry.

Janaka Palapathwala, whose singing style, and repertoire, is reminiscent of the late Elvis Presley, says he was so sad and disappointed that he could not reach out to his fans, around the world, because of the situation that cropped up in the country.

However, he did the next best thing possible – a Virtual Concert, early last year, and had this to say about it:

“The concert was witnessed by so many people around the world, in 12 different countries, and I take this opportunity to thank all those who showed a great interest, around the world, to make the show a mighty success. Lasantha Fernando of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the USA, went out of the way to pull a huge crowd, in the States, to make the concert a massive success. Lasantha, by the way, has done many shows, in Minnesota, including a concert of mine, four years ago.”

Toward the end of 2022, the showbiz scene started to look good, with musicians having work coming their way – shows, sing-alongs, events, overseas tours, recordings, etc.

Janaka added that the Gold FM ’70s show was back after six years, and that the music industry is grateful to Gold FM for supporting musicians with such an awesome event.

“Also, the unity and the togetherness of the Sri Lankan western musicians, scattered around the globe, were brought together, once again, by the guidance of Melantha Perera.

“The song ‘Baby Jesus Is Fast Asleep’, written, composed and directed by Melantha, was a true Christmas gift to people around the world.”

Referring to his career, Janaka said that these days he is involved in a mega video production project.

“I intend to do a road show for a total Dinner Dance Promotion package, titled ‘Janaka with Melantha and the Sign’.

“Phase One of the project is already completed, and we are now heading for the second phase, where we plan to get Sohan Weerasinghe, Clifford Richards and Stephanie Siriwardane involved in the cast”.

Janaka also spoke excitedly about his forthcoming trip to the USA.

“I’m so excited to tour the USA, after three years. The ‘Spring Tour USA 2023′ is going to be different.

“I’ve done formal concerts, in the States, but this Spring Tour will be a series of Dinner Dances where I would be seen in action, along with the top ranked DJ of Washington D.C., Shawn Groove, and some of the best domestic bands in the States, and I can assure all my friends, and fans, in the US, that this new venture is going to be doubly exciting.”

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