13 April, 2024


Looking Back Without Anger – Part II

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

To download this picture, I simply googled three words Johnston Fernando, Chair and Parliament”.

Up came this visual of Johnston memorable contribution to parliamentary procedure archived in cyberspace. It is only natural the Gotabaya Presidency would use the man’s exceptional knowledge of the niceties of parliamentary procedure to be the chief government whip in the house.

Cabinet Minister Johnston Fernando assured parliament that President Gotabaya will not resign. We do not know how events will unfold. History seems to endorse the confidence of the hooch maker turned road builder.

As I said in my earlier essay ‘Looking back without anger’ on Thursday 7th April, when the Bastille was stormed king Louis XVI made a diary entry” Today Nothing”.

The Bastille was stormed on 14th July 1792. The king was suspended in August 1792. The republic was proclaimed in September 1792. History flows but on its own in its own time.

Besides all those historical parallels, Johnston Fernando would not want the Rajapaksa family to fade away. Who else would recognize the brilliance of a mafiosi mind such as his?

Let us look back without anger. Until 1982, parliament was at Galle face. From about 1969 to 1974, as a reporter I covered parliament for the Evening Observer and the Daily News.

There was bus halt opposite the building. I remember parliamentarians Dr. W. Dahanayake and Anandasangaree waiting for a bus to take them back to ‘Sravasti’ – the then MP’s hostel.

I recall former Prime minister Dudley Senanayake driving away after parliament in a red Triumph Herald. If you headed towards Borella you could always get a ride with him, which I did occasionally as I was raising a family in a small annex in Nawala.

The parliament then was a place where they conducted “people’s business.” It was an accessible place. Members of parliament did not have bodyguards. They were people who represented people.

Of course, it wasn’t the case at the beginning. The 1948 parliament was a repository of feudal and mercantile interests. The people mattered but not quite.

Private interests mattered more. There was no “Transparency International” monitoring misuse of the public purse. Sir Oliver Gunathilake a Trincomalee Post Master’s son was a palpable presence in that dispensation. He was the proverbial fixer who acquired substantial wealth. Nobody bothered except R.G. Senanayake and I M R A Iriyagolla who I am proud to claim as my kinsman.

These two mavericks were ignored. Sir Oliver’s immense wealth was simply explained as ‘just bounty’ – rewards of a very clever mind.

It all changed in 1956. The year that Solomon Bandaranayake became Prime Minister while Don Alwin Rajapaksa member for Beliatta was made Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Lands and Land Development.

It was in 1956 that the people literally streamed into parliament.  As Pieter Keuneman later recalled ‘they reverently and affectionately stroked the benches where their elected representatives would sit’.

One man watched this spectacle of people power quietly. JR Jayewardene had lost his seat in Kelaniya.

Napoleon Bonaparte was his historical role model. Just as Napoleon he believed that ‘there were only two forces that unite men – fear and interest’.

Just as Napoleon he had tremendous faith in his own abilities. ‘You become strong by defying defeat and by turning loss and failure into success.’

J.R Jayewardene in 1977 came to power with a five sixth majority. He changed the system that made him bite the dust in Kelaniya in 1956.

The 1978 constitution introduced this grotesque distortion of popular sovereignty which now masquerades as proportional representation. Introducing the system JRJ claimed that he was rolling up the electoral map of the country. He then proceeded to build a magnificent home for the representatives elected under the new system. It is in the middle of a lake. There is no bus halt opposite its gate. It is architecturally, conceptually, and spiritually removed from the people.

The new system makes the party whip matter more than personal conscience. Although he may not have read Thomas Babington Macaulay as did Junius Richard Jayewardene, the ‘Kaputa’ has outfoxed the good old ‘twentieth Century Fox’.

The proportional representation system masterminded by the old fox has enabled the ‘kaputa’ to build a political party whose raison d’etre  is the perpetuation of the family fiefdom.

Today, the people demand an accessible parliament. In the absence of such as accessible parliament, a people’s parliament is quietly forming in the streets.

When the 1977 parliament was convened, I had slipped out of active journalism.

I recall the parliament returned in the 1970 watershed election that gave Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike a two thirds majority vividly. I covered its proceedings and those of the constituent assembly.

It is fashionable to dismiss Rohana Wijeweera as a historical nonentity. That is not correct. Rohana Wijeweera was tried and convicted for waging war against the queen.

He was released by a President of the Republic and subsequently died in a republic that declares that its sovereignty is vested in the people.

Just as 1956, the 1971 insurrection had its impact. The orthodox left condemned it for its conspiratorial origins and its demonstrated failure to capture the imagination of the broad mass of the working class.

But Leslie Goonewardene the textbook Marxist and the son of a Christian pastor took a more Christian view. “Our politics will never be the same he intoned”. He was right.

Following year comrade Colvin set up the constituent assembly and the quixotic Kandyan utopian introduced land reform that angered both landowners and the landless.

Looking back, I recall how my drinking buddy and neighbor Professor Mendis Rohandheera helped the young parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa to make his maiden speech moving the vote of thanks on the ‘throne speech’ delivered by the governor general.

This essay is written on personal recall. I have no access to archived records. Hence, I don’t recall what my friend Rohanadheera the Sinhala Scholar from the village of Pallathrara precisely said in his draft. The Hansard should have it.

But it was moving, elegant Sinhala prose that summed up the peasant world of the  deep south that was still struggling to emerge from the harshness of an exploitative system that remained intact even in the seventies as was chronicled by Leonard Wolfe in an earlier age in another world.

Now there is a port, an airport, and a convention hall in Leonard Wolf country. There are highways that connect the south to the hill country.

Peacocks peck on the asphalt. Peasants chase wild elephants. The more things changed the more it remained the same.

On television I see agitated crowds surrounding a place called ‘Carlton’. The name is familiar. The better-known Carlton is the Carlton Club in London- the exclusive preserve of peers and gentleman of the conservative party.

This Carlton is at Tangalle in the south which my friend Mendis Rohandheera often recalled so fondly while crying in to his glass of ‘Pol or Gal. In those frugal days, we were happy with Gal almost daily keeping Pol for the few days immediately after pay day.

People cry wolf in Leonard Wolf country.

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Sarath, simply superb. Hooch maker Johnston wearing a suit for this clownish act. Sarong would have been convenient to lift. Wild animals should be left where they are ??? Yesterday two guys were suspended for name calling, filth and throwing objects.

    • 9

      Dear Mr De Aliwis,
      Thank you very much for your article. Before going to read it completely, I thought of adding the following.
      If there is no other options left, why BPs stay as if they are fully blind and deaf in terms of IMF – knowing that the consequeces for the public is worsening by hour.
      I listened to one of the former PSecretary- honourable Austin Fernando… those who are interested in could listen to him as well.
      People along with YELLOW pets.. appointed a bastard to the position, not respecting the consequences…. but calling that we are the best in SA region, in terms high literacy rate, higher life expectancy, much lover infant mortality etc… unfortunately, clearly they are no different to the basic knoweldge in ruling politics… their fall on myths and easy tricks are simlilar to that of animals…
      Thanks go to GOTA; because entire world is now made clear, that SINHALA dominated srilanka is the paradise of fools.

      • 4

        A genuine Buddhist priest …….. a true Buddhist …….. preaching the best Bana that means something ……… in the colloquial language of the people …….

        Well Native, now don’t put on airs and say it’s rather not terribly cricket old chap …………..I’d say it’s rather frightfully splendid ……… rather awfully spiffing old boy……….


      • 0

        This time, the youth will decide… they would not let their stupid parents to decide for their future. I see something – as a sign – light at the end of the tunnel…..

        Their slogans remain as ” Go home Gota,… Go home Gota !”…
        And many of them want RAJAPAKSHES be jailed for all high crimes they deliberately committed.

    • 0

      Imagine having 160 such donkeys in your parliament as your law makes.. Then you have Duuminda who will soon will be exporting power to Singapore while Pavithra is busy throwing water filled pots at the grid.

    • 0

      As usual. SLPP is bribing innocient people to work for Gota… this is the ground reality of the RAJAPAKSHE mlechcha politics.

    • 0

      “name calling, filth and throwing objects”
      That is trivial compared to elected representatives trying to undress opponents in a country that we know.

      • 0

        I am sure when you have a murderer as your elected President, Tsunami embezzler as your PM, Mr. 10 % as your FM (sorry ex), a offspring con who cheated in low exams as SM, it has to be trivial. Others learned from their mistakes and you have them all for more than two decades. Enjoy a prosperous and splendor New Year.

        • 0

          By the way in these difficult times, if the donated Indian rice is not good enough for your New Year celebrations, consider the Chinese alternative (organic).

  • 8

    Dear Sarath
    Yes, I too remember the mid 50s a schoolboy. The parliament an impressive brown stone building facing the Galle face.
    JR the cunning fox was a very shrewd, SELF CENTRED (REMEMEBER HIS INFAMOUS GOVI MARCH FROM KELANIYA?) and clumsy politician and the architect of our current presential form of government. See where we are, at crossroad AND AT A POINT OF NO RETURN, a laughingstock of Asia. WE USED TO BE THE GRANERY OF THE EAST
    Personally, we should revert to the old system of governance the Prime Minister answerable to the parliament and the Electorate

  • 4

    Thanks for a beautifully written nostalgic piece !

  • 4

    It is not enough to get rid of the Rajapaksha clan only. All scum bags like Jonston and corrupt govt officers, police officers, judges the whole lot should be etadicated.

  • 1

    Thank you Mr.De Alwis for taking us for a walk along those corridors of History…………

    Ah! The Red Triumph Herald of that Prince among men Dudley Senanayake.,driving in his Limousine to the cheers of those school girls at Castle Street Girls School [ now Devi Balika something ] for his game of Golf………….

    The village in the Jungle by Leonard Wolf has been converted to an Asphalt Jungle by a Wolf who strode the political stage …………..along with his Kaputas……..

  • 1

    Talked about the 50’s but sadly shadow away the Sinhala only and JRJ padayatara…….and the foundation for destructio .our head also no way of loosing his lottery visa likewise so many patriotics writing and banging still happy to live under Sudas

  • 0

    “J.R Jayewardene in 1977 came to power with a five sixth majority. He changed the system that made him bite the dust in Kelaniya in 1956.”
    I think that the writer is very much incorrect.
    JRJ did not lose his seat entirely because of the method of election. Until 1956 the election was spread over several days and the counting was done then and there.
    In 1956 the UNP calculated that if elections were held in seats that were absolutely safe and then for moderately safe seats and then rather unsafe seats. Of course it was not all too obvious. but the first days results will influence the second day’s and both together will ensure the third day’s.
    The calculation was that the UNP secures a good share of seats on Day 1, and that will enhance subsequent performance. But on Day 1 the UNP faired poorly and gathered only 8 of some 30+ seats. A a result, it did not win any more seats.
    Poor JRJ whose electorate was scheduled for the last day suffered.
    From 1960 onward all results were announced only after voting was completed in the whole country, now all in one day.
    JRJ was motivated by two outcmes: the results of 1970 when the UF le by SLFP secured a 2/3

    • 0

      JRJ was motivated by two outcomes: in 1970 the UF led by SLFP secured a 2/3 majority; the UNP won in 1977 by a 5/6 majority.
      He did not want to risk anyone getting a 2/3rd majority ever and reverse changes that his constitution had brought and reject the political and economic order he created.
      His calculations went wrong: after 2005 Mahinda Rajapaksa bought seats in the name of defeating terrorism.; in 2009 the SLPP-led coalition secured a 2/3rd majority.
      But his fears proved false. Nobody wanted to change the system he crated, if at all they reinforced the dictatorial aspectc.

  • 1

    This kurenegala kassippu vendor will pay for his sins. A dirtiest scoundrel. But there are amny more and these are the guys who ran this country with Gota and Mahintha that finally collapsed. All of them have to answer soon.

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