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Election reminiscences

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Part IV

Continued from October 17

In the late 1960s, the UNP Government took steps to build the first state-owned hotel at Bentota. At the General Elections in 1970, the SLFP candidate made a promise that this hotel would be immediately converted to a hospital, once they came to power. But once they came to power, it was announced that the Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike was going to ceremonially open the hotel. Posters came up announcing it. Then there were counter posters put up by the UNPers to the effect that it is the promised hospital that is to be ceremonially opened.

At the opening ceremony the SLFP candidate (now the MP) who promised to convert it to a hospital also spoke. He said that it is true that during the election campaign he promised to make it a hospital and that the people are witnessing today the opening of the hospital.

“This hospital,” he said, “…is going to ensure the recovery of Mother Lanka from the serious malady she is suffering from. Namely an insufficiency of Valuable Foreign Exchange!”

 

***

A Government MP who had signed the Impeachment Motion of President Premadasa, by way of explanation, had said that he thought it was a motion to import peaches (im-peach-ment), adding that he very much liked to eat peaches.

 

***

There was a 1956 Basha Boy in Parliament who displayed his much professed love for Sinhala. One day he said that at his home, the children called their mother ‘Maniyo’ and that they called him ‘Piyano’. “What do they call your father?” asked a colleague. “Grand-Piyano” he said.

 

***

A disgruntled new MP once said “I regret that there are members is this House, who would break up a funeral procession if they are not allowed to drive the hearse.” When the decrepit old hospital in his electorate was being renovated, the MP said that there would be new urinals and arsenals, both.

 

***

Once the male attendants at a hospital went on strike for some frivolous reason. And, when the Minister heard about it, he was furious. “Tell those bloody men to get back to work immediately,” he shouted, “…or I will womanise the whole hospital.”

 

***

A new breed of JPs called “Janapriya Pandankarayas came to be appointed. Once one MP, said, “Now that I am elected, I will have to look into the promises I have made, which I must forget.”

 

***

G.V.S. de Silva was the UNP MP for Habaraduwa in 1983. One day at a meeting, the UNP youth Leaguers severely criticized him, all because he allotted teaching posts to both UNPers and SLFPers in proportion to the votes their candidates had received at the polls. “Right is not right in today’s politics,” he lamented.

 

***

Henry Abeywickrama was a member in the S.W.R.D. cabinet, who was found guilty of bribery and corruption by the Talagodapitiya Commission. One day he was giving evidence in the Galle District Court, when a counsel, in order to belittle him asked, “Is it not a fact that you were found guilty of bribery and corruption?” “Not by a court of law” he replied laconically.

 

***

U.B. Wanninayake who was elected as the M.P. for Yapahuwa in 1965, was appointed a Cabinet Minister. And, his constituents organized a grand welcome to him and was expecting him to come in his official car by motorcade, with his bodyguards.

When an advanced party went to welcome him on the way, they found him near a culvert at a junction. When they asked him why he did not come in the official car, he had said that as usual he came by train, without wasting public money on petrol and that he was taking a rest as he was tired.

 

***

Dr. N.M. Perera’s reference to some of his fellow M.P.s as ‘Puduma Saththu’, way back in 1952, when he addressed a mass meeting at the Galle Face Green, was raised in Parliament as a breach of privilege. The LSSP leader’s defenders claimed that the word ‘saththu’ was quite harmless and inoffensive. They argued that Buddha himself used it, when he said “Siyalu sathvayo niduk vethvaa” (May all beings be happy), and that clinched it.

 

***

Prins Gunasekera, one time MP for Habaraduwa, who fought for the rights of youths in our country, had to leave his motherland to save his life. His phrase “Gaalu Giya Awe Netho” refers to the disappearance of youth during the 1971 youth uprising.

 

***

 

Sometimes one’s professional career also has an impact on one’s political fortunes. Dr. Colvin R. de Silva once lost the election as some women voted against him, for defending the cricketer Sathasivam, who was accused of murdering his wife.

 

***

Some election petitions were fielded after the elections. The first such was filed in 1921, when E.W. Perera contested the Western Province B Division Seat in the legislative Council and defeated a formidable opponent, Forrester Obeysekera. The petition was dismissed.

W. Dahanayake was unique, as he filed two election petitions; one for the Bibile Seat and the other for the Galle Seat, arguing both cases himself before court and wining both cases.

 

***

A Doctor of Medicine, who was elected for a seat in a suburb of Colombo, was proud of his humble beginnings. One day he and some of his friends were drinking Pol arrack on the ground floor of a hotel, when one of friends said, “Doctor, you are drinking Pol arrack here, while your son is drinking whisky on the upper flour.” The MP quipped, “Mama waduwage putha (I am a son of a carpenter), “Eka dostarage putha.” (That fellow is a son of a doctor).

 

***

One of the MPs rode on the tidal wave of 1977. One day when he came home for lunch, he saw some workmen busy installing a telephone. He asked them what was going on? “Manthrituma! We are installing your Nila Telephone,” they said. (We are installing your official telephone.) “Nila Telephone be damned. I want a Kola Telephone!” (Nila Telephone be damned. I want a green Telephone!)

 

To be continued…



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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