By Sarath de Alwis –
Remembering a remarkable human being who has sadly passed away when you need him most is best done by remembering his life and work on his birth anniversary.
Mangala Samaraweera would have tuned 66 today 21st April.
On his political journey he left a footprint that attests to courage and conviction. He was an exceptional man of his time. As we look back, in the context of contemporary crisis, he departed at a time when history was crying out to be free. In those oppressive times, he was of that rare kind who always used ‘we’ instead of ‘me’.
I knew him in a very perfunctory way because his sister Jayanthi has been a friend of many years. He was exuberantly pleasant. His graceful indolence amused the literate. It exasperated the aboriginal mind.
In politics and public life, he lived what poet John Donne wrote.
“No man [or woman] is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Though overused and platitudinous I am compelled to resurrect the poetry of John Donne in light of the senseless killing in Rambukana which demonstrates that a faltering regime run out of reason and logic can only resort to its last straw – that the legitimate state retains the monopoly of violence.
Mangala was the true to type humanist. To him each person’s pulse was in sync with the heartbeat of all humanity. It baffled the established majority belief system that was saffron in colour, hierarchical in order, feudal in mind and exploitative in purpose.
Mangala Samaraweera was the quintessential Buddhist who admired Siddhartha in the manner Dr. Walpola Rahula thero describes his renunciation in his classic ‘What the Buddha Taught.’
Mangala was horrified when an alleged disciple of the Enlighted one claimed that Adolph Hitler was polite man who should be emulated by one of our presidential candidates.
Mangala would have been in cloud nine watching the beautiful things unfolding in ‘GOTAGOGAMA’ opposite the repository of state’s authority.
Although he played a pivotal role in electing Mahinda Rajapakse President in 2005, he was far sighted in recognizing the eventual metamorphosis of ‘love for the country’ in to ‘love of lucre’.
Mangala deeply despised the ‘militarism’ that transfused the post war Sri Lankan society. What is unravelling today in Gall face and in the countryside is the final dismantling of militarism and triumphalism that was instilled in the majority psyche by professional ‘manufactures of consent’ not to win the war but to rule after the war.
Mangala did not live to see the young civic actors living his dream in ‘Gotagogama’. On some social media platform, I read an eloquent tribute to him couched in language with a rustic vibrancy. He would have relished it. ‘Mangala Umba Kiyankota Api Umba Ekka Hitiye Naha. Api Kiyankota Umba Api Ekka Naha.” (When you said it, we weren’t with you, When we say it you are not amongst us.)
All politicians aren’t evil. A few are. Quite a few are not evil. As current proceedings in the talk shop in the middle of the lake demonstrates a good number are quite happy, not only to live with evil but to take refuge under evil to retain power and privilege.
I did not share Mangala’ free market fascination. But I deeply admired his stubborn humanism that made him believe in the heroism of ordinary people to resist tyranny.
Mangala must be remembered for his courageous stand against ‘militarism’ that marked him as a globally acclaimed opponent of autocratic governance.
What is militarism? The classic definition is offered by Karl Liebknecht the German Socialist who paid the ultimate price early in the Nazi onslaught on the German democracy. Militarism is the upholding of a social order relying entirely on the states’ monopoly of violence’. Of course, Liebknecht interpreted social order as that which relied on pure simple naked capitalism.
Militarism is an attitude. It is a strong belief that best outcomes are best arrived at by coercion. What appears to us as ‘khakied brutality’ is a social norm to the Militarist mindset.
Take the case of the masked black uniformed combat riders who were prevented by the police from intimidating the protestors near Parliament. The Field Marshal did not approve of their presence but admonished the police for being tough on the troopers.’
Fonny’ now in opposition is our John Wayne – the tall tough guy on our side. This incident demonstrated that Miltarism is a state of mind. We foster it at our peril.
Mangala Samaraweera is a man who earned bipartisan respect for his uncompromising value judgements in moral behavior.
His public conversation after he gave up parliamentary politics was with young people who are now part of the Gotagogama. Mangala would have been a happy comrade to the young in this port of intellectual curiosity and exploration amidst the storm sweeping the land caused by pure political chicanery.
In the preface to his play “Major Barbara” George Bernard Shaw captures the essence of the dilemma we are grappling with watching the young at ‘Gotagogama’.
“Every reasonable man and woman is a potential scoundrel and a potential good citizen. What a man is depends upon his character what’s inside. What he does and what we think of what he does depends on upon his circumstances.”
Each of us has the capacity to do either good or evil. In each of us there is an inner hero who when provoked into action is capable of performing heroic deeds that do tremendous good to others.
I wouldn’t describe Mangala as an idealist. He was too pissed off with the system. He just wanted to change it.
A fashion designer by profession he took to politics. In his new vocation he attempted to refashion the future.