By S L Gunasekara –
Our late colonial masters, the British, have an institutionalized system of ‘family bandyism’. Their Head of State will always be from one family. When the mother Elizabeth dies it will be her eldest son or failing him his eldest son or failing a son, a daughter who will succeed to the job of Head of State with all the allowances and perquisites that go with it at the expense of the people of the United Kingdom. They however make no bones about what they do. They do not claim to be a republic or a genuine democracy where the Head of State is elected by the people but proudly claim to be a monarchy where the job of Head of State always goes to a person based entirely on his family connections which have no relationship whatsoever to competence or ability. They, therefore, are transparent about their perfidy.
Other countries which claim to be republics and/or five Star democracies, and have, desecrated the words ‘socialism’ and ‘democracy’ with their outrageous practices have, however, also evolved systems of appointments through relationship and blood rather than through competence and ability. Thus, we saw in that supposed socialist Utopia named North Korea, that the mighty Kim Il Sung was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il, who himself was succeeded by his brat of a son Kim Jong Un.
But, why do we go as far as North Korea? Let us take India. After the death of the mighty Jawaharlal Nehru, he was succeeded by another very great man Lal Bahadur Shasthri. After Shasthri’s sudden and untimely death, Nehru’s daughter Indira succeeded to the throne as Prime Minister. After the murder of Indira Gandhi, her heir presumptive Sanjay having predeceased her, her younger son Rajiv, who then had nothing to do with piloting the ship of State but only an air bus of Indian Airlines, was suddenly thrust into the post of Prime Minister. With the murder of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE, an Italian housewife, namely, his wife Sonia became the Head of the Congress Party and the most powerful person in India with the Congress government in power. Her son Rahul is tipped to succeed her.
Let us now come home. When the mighty D. S. Senanayake died, it was his weakling son Dudley who succeeded him. While Dudley is generally regarded as having been a ‘great man’ in comparison to others who succeeded him, he himself was weak and treacherous and indeed agreed to the perpetual institutionalised discrimination against the Sinhalese people by the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact purely to be in power and/or to deprive Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike of the chance of being in power. Be that as it may, with the resignation of Dudley Senanayake consequent to the Hartal in 1953, his successor was another relation Sir John Lionel Kotalawela. With the defeat of Kotalawela came Bandaranaike and after his assassination, [after a brief interlude with W Dahanayake], Mrs. Bandaranaike became the first female Prime Minister in the world not because anybody whomsoever recognized in her, a degree of competence in state craft but only because they felt that with the outpouring of grief over Mr. Bandaranaike’s death, she would make a candidate who could win and that her prospects of wining were far greater than those of Bandaranaike’s lieutenant C. P. De Silva who belonged to the Salagama and not to the Govigama caste.
After Mrs. Bandaranaike came J. R. Jayewardene and one of the first things he did was to appoint his young kinsman Ranil Wickremesinghe, a neophyte lawyer who had not even come close to distinguishing himself in any field and had hardly spoken a word in Court (if at all) as Deputy Minister of the important portfolio of Foreign Affairs knowing that with its Minister, the ineffective Hameed being abroad most of the time that kinsman could act and function as the de facto Foreign Minister. There can be little doubt that but for his kinship to JRJ, Wickremesinghe would never have even entered Parliament in 1977. That same Wickremasinghe succeeded to the leadership of UNP thanks to the LTTE and will not give it up despite his world record in serial losses.
Are things better in the SLFP? The answer is a resounding NO.
While the ‘family bandyism’ that prevailed during the Bandaranaike regime was the ‘family bandyism’ of the Bandaranaike family in terms of which one had to be a Bandaranaike or a Ratwatte to lead the SLFP, and the heir apparent was Mrs. Bandaranaike’s son Anura, a very well read man possessed of much intelligence but no industry or will to work. That heir apparent was later cast aside and his sister Chandrika, who had earlier abandoned the party, worked against it, supported a rival candidate Ossie Abeygunasekera [who later became a UNP MP] from the party she then purported to lead when he contested her mother Mrs. Bandaranaike, for the presidency and actively worked against the SLFP in several by elections etc succeeded to the leadership of SLFP and became the country’s President. There can be no doubt that she would never have come anywhere within reach of the leadership of the SLFP had she not been a Bandaranaike.
Today, we have Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom the Bandaranaike family did not want as President and with him a whole host of members of the Rajapaksa family in various high positions. It is no secret that even ministers pay unctuous obeisance to the Rajapaksa family whether they are technically higher or lower in precedence to them. They pay obeisance not because of any table of precedence or genuine respect but purely and simply because they realize that as things look today, it is only through the Rajapaksa family that one could get anywhere in politics. Is this over simplifying matters? I think not.
If we go through the results of our past elections we will find that in very many cases where a candidate or MP died, his widow, an offspring or a sibling would succeed him. Thus, we found Gamini Dissanayake’s widow Srima, who had never ever ventured into politics earlier becoming the Presidential candidate of the UNP after Dissanayake’s murder by the LTTE. We find that when M. H. M. Ashraff, the leader of the SLMC died it was his widow who succeeded him as the leader of the Democratic Unity Alliance which is a party that Ashraff had formed and that it was the same Ferial Ashroff who became the co-leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress together with Rauff Hakeem.
This is not all. The tragic tale goes on and on and on about family members succeeding other family members in public office wholly because of relationship and not because of any kind of competence, ability or suitability.
When Lalith Athulathmudali was murdered he was succeeded by his widow Srimani, who even got a ministerial portfolio not because of any ability on her part but because she was the widow of Athulathmudali. When P. Chadrasekaram, the leader of Upcountry People’s Front, died it was his widow who succeeded him as the leader of that party. When Saumyamoorthy Thondaman died it was not Sellasamy, Peri Sunderam or any other who had worked or rendered any service to the Ceylon Workers Congress and was known and recognised by the people as being a leading figure of that trade union/political party who succeeded him as leader of the CWC. It was his ‘playboy’ grandson Arumugam who did, and he is now a Cabinet Minister and has been one in governments of all colours. Further, Sumithra Abeyweera became a Member of Parliament for the Kalutara District not because of any competence in herself but purely because she was the daughter of Indrapala Abeyweera, who was the Chief Organiser of the SLFP for Kalutara, murdered by the JVP sometime before the elections of 1989. Similarly, Hema Rathnayake became a Member of Parliament for the Badulla District and later a Cabinet Minister not because of any competence in her but because her husband T. B. Ratnayake, who had been the SLFP Organizer for Haputale had been murdered by the JVP. It was the same with Mrs. Sumedha Jayasena of Monaragala who became an MP for the area and later a Cabinet Minister not because of any competence in her but because she was the widow of Sumedha B. Jayasena, the SLFP organizer for Monaragala earlier and had died suddenly but peacefully before the General Election of 1989.
So hopelessly bad have things become that the infamous synthetic `Doctor’ Mervin Silva is reported to have announced that his thoroughly disreputable son, Malaka, who is not known for any ability in any field of activity will succeed him at Kelaniya!
So ‘family bandyism’ thrives at home and in so many countries of the supposedly democratic/socialist East that one does wonder whether we could ever have a chance – for family connections are not, and can never be, a substitute for objective merit and ability.
One reason for this malaise is that despite all the slogans they shout and their vain posturing at ‘protests’ our People have not yet shaken off their feudal mentality and the ‘feudal lord’ of yester year has now been replaced by the ‘political strongman’.
If we are to progress and hold our own among the nations of the world, we must forthwith free ourselves from this horrendous feudal mindset of servility to politicians and allegiance to their families and replace the ‘family bandyism’ that now reigns supreme with a ‘meritocracy’. If we do not, we are surely doomed!