Colombo Telegraph

Numbers & Flashbacks

By Mano Ratwatte

Mano Ratwatte

Émigré lankans to Lankans living, breathing, suffering politicians and garbage collapses within Sri Lanka are talking about the May Day numbers. Joining that herd, this hypocritical émigré is also chipping in his 2 paisa worth into the Indo-US vs China tug-of-war experiment that is called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; previously known as Republic of Sri Lanka and previous to that as Ceylon.

Why don’t all the politicians really show they genuinely care for the working class? How can they do that? Just DO NOT waste money, generate huge amounts of garbage; let the people enjoy a quiet holiday with their families. US doesn’t celebrate May 1st but they celebrate on the first Monday of September. No one pumps people with booze and money to attend rallies in scorching heat.  No organizers are threatened to bring bus loads or lose standing.

If all the political leaders can say in unison “We respect working class people of Sri Lanka; we will not use you as political props; please enjoy the day off with your family and friends”, imagine Yahapaalana change which can brought about to the political psyche and culture. No more “us vs. them” division of the working class. Crowds don’t translate to election won or lost; enthusiasm does.

It is not easy to fill a large Green like the Galle Face Brown (previously green). Whatever party affiliation one doth profess, it is not easy to get massive crowds if one is in the opposition.

No free train rides or conscription of government workers from CTB or CGR or whatever JSS or other union once you have lost an election or two.

The SLFP branch now known as SLPP wins the numbers game for now. It is clear by the numbers of opinion columns( mea culpa) and the frenetic arguments, side swipes, insults and comments from all and sundry: from Tamil Tiger Eelam expats to the liberals to the conservatives to pro US liberals who denigrate every disabled poor village lad who served in the military on whose blood and sacrifices the hard fought war was ended, and who are now forgotten by those in Maybach Benzes and Colombites that something about those numbers struck a raw nerve. Otherwise why the sudden removal of security from the former twice defeated President? Is that nice? Probably not. It was not nice for some to spite CBK and remove her security during the war too. That went to the courts but the whodunnint vis-à-vis her security is anyone’s guess; because those pointing fingers at each other now were thick as thieves and single-minded in defeating the LTTE. Was President Rajapakse’s security withdrawal because the clever plan to challenge him backfired?

Numbers are important to gauge the opposition. But numbers at rallies do not indicate who will win but they do send signals of change in attitudes towards incumbent regimes. Certain people are feeling insecure because of the relentless insults and assaults on the majority ethnic group. It is easier for a governing party in to command buses, trains and have rich sponsors with gunny sacks of cash than an opposition. That has always been the case.

What is with this “us vs. them” mentality of rallies to posture and shout and scream in scorching heat? And what is with crowds and bragging about numbers?  SLFP had a large rally in 1977 too and they were routed at the polls. There were absurd slogans this writer was also guilty of shouting as a teenager in the SLFP led regime because of family.

Flashback – a: Looking back, gosh what a farce.  This writer in his eager teenage years, took part in a rally all the way from Havelock park to Galle Face shouting slogans like “Pesalaiyen thel ena thuru, miris nathuwa buth kannam, Pesalaiyen thel ana thuru seeni nathuwa they bonnam”. “Mao wani Sirimavo” etc.*

Before that, he recalls after Hon Dudley Senanayake died, and Hon Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was allegedly hooted when she went to pay her respects to him. The May Day catchers had to even shout “mathini dudleyta garu keruwaa; ung mathinita hoo kiwwa”.** There were absurd personality based slogans in the UNP rally as well as other rallies.

That was during the notorious rations and queues period; this writer confesses to enjoying the attention and the thrill too of hanging out with dedicated party supporters, sycophants and loyalists, and started harboring teeny weeny bits of ambitions of becoming political; ah luckily those dreams were shattered when he went to canvass for a family member who ended up losing to an honorable Muslim Gentleman in the sweep; a story this writer highlighted before too, because there were people who unfairly slam all Sinhalese of being racists; in the birthplace of the world’s first female Prime minister those horrible Sinhala Buddhist racist fellas turned the tide and voted for someone of another ethno-religio group. People were blunt in their verdict when one went house to house canvassing.

1977, saw the biggest rally and parade that the opposition UNP ever held. Their passion was palpable. Everyone who had an ear to the ground knew it was TAPS for the SLFP. At that parade, this writer saw his late amazing Buddhism and Sinhala teacher, and her son who were active UNP organizers in the parade shouting slogans, proudly wearing green caps. And she was an incredible teacher who gave this writer a glowing letter of recommendation despite the political differences and the occasional scolding he received.

Flashback – b: This writer will never forget such one scolding. One day, she was annoyed by the rowdy chitter-chatter during Dhammapada recitals and says “Ratwatte thamusey katawagannawa, thamuseyla deyshapalana waasiyata aagama maarukarapu ewung”.*** That was a low blow, and not true at all about this writer’s immediate family and ancestors; it was a calculated insult at the belief the assassinated SWRD converted to Buddhism for politics. Ah sometimes frustrated angry teachers held this guy by the nape quite harshly, squeezed and insulted everyone in his family!. But all in good spirit given the times. Attending public schools and getting the heartbeat of the people through classmates it was clear that was a fancy dream.

Pragmatic estimates that this writer was privy to, estimated number of seats the SLFP was hoping to retain was 30 to 38; nope, they were trounced, and only retained 7 seats and gained tailor made seat in a 3-member new seat (Nuwara Eliya –Maskeliya) to end with a total of 8.

Teachers lashed out too. Despite slogans the SLFP were trounced. UNP were similarly routed once in 1970; and in a series of elections from 1994. One gets a better picture of those who are loyal or are genuine when one loses power and can still generate large crowds without the powers of incumbency.


*That was when there were reports the Russian oil exploration team has detected oil off Mannar. So slogans were “until oil comes from Pesalai, we will have rice without chilly peppers; and drink tea without sugar. Sirimavo is like Mao

**Madam respected Dudley and they hooted Madam

***Ratwatte, shut your mouth; you people are those who changed your religion for political advantage

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