Features

Men and memories

The mighty midget of SLFP politics

One of the most unforgettable friends I made during my innings as a member of parliament was a dark, small made, balding man who held his Kotmale seat for the SLFP when the 1977 deluge swept all its heavy weights into the wilderness. Dassanayake Mudiyanselage Ananda Dassanayake nicknamed Kurun Goiya by me (because he was such a diminutive guy) was one of those eight MPs returned from the blue party.

It is said that the UNP blundered in fielding D. B. Samaratunga at Kotmale, rumoured at the behest of Gamini Dissanayake, in preference to the Sinhala poet, D. B. Ranatunga who had won that seat earlier in 1965 and that was to Ananda’s advantage. But that’s another story.

My favourite story about Ananda is from the days when R. Premadasa was Prime Minister. The premier was on his feet lecturing to the opposition saying "if you could extend parliament by two years (from 1975 to 1977) on a two-thirds majority, we with our five-sixths majority should be able to extend the life of this parliament in perpetuity!"

"Then all of us will be benefited," piped in Ananda from the opposition benches and the whole house exploded with laughter. Premadasa seized the remark saying "there is a niyama manthri thuma. Kata boru kiwwath diva boru kiyanne naha. (even if the mouth lies, the tongue does not).

I nicknamed Ananda Dassanayake Kurun Goiya and he in turn with absolutely no malice – he is incapable of malice - used to call me Kara Goiya in a reference to my being from the Karawa community.

left movement

He came into politics via the left movement in the middle 1940s joining the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India (BLPI) to give its full name. Mr. Philip Gunawardena, following the parting of the ways with his leftist comrades, once sneeringly called it the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India, Ceylon, the Maldives, Andamans and the Nicobar Islands!

Later Dassanayake joined the LSSP headed by Dr. N. M. Perera but his rural Sinhala instincts drew him to S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike when the SLFP was founded in 1951. He was one of its original members and remembers that his party membership number was 113.

Starting life as a Sinhalese school teacher in 1942 at Rs. 42.50 a month, Ananda Dassanayaka who was to later become not only a member of parliament but also a member of the Senate and a provincial governor, took a diploma in education from the University of Ceylon and taught at St. Sylvester’s College Kandy, St. Anthony’s College Katugastota, Prince of Wales, Moratuwa and Zahira College, Gampola where Dr. Badi-ud-din Mahmud was principal. Badi was later Minister of Education and a parliamentary colleague of Ananda Dassanayaka.

Ananda nostalgically remembers his Prince of Wales days when J. B. C. Rodrigo, brother of the famous Prof. J. L. C. Rodrigo who used to write the popular ‘Adonis’ column for the Daily News when I was in jungies was principal. Few people will know that Prince of Wales to which the Moratuwa elite and many more sent their sons was also the Alma Mater of the fiery Gunawardena brothers, Philip, Robert and Harry who were first Cambrians before they went to Ananda College under P. de S. Kularatne.

Despite his size, Ananda Dassanayaka was prefect of discipline at Prince of Wales and claims that he even had a hand in coaching the cricketers. He was also master-in-charge of swimming until he nearly ended up in a watery grave.

Those were days when the boys were taken to the Moratuwa lagoon for their swimming lessons. Ananda who got the job of swimming coach because he had been swimming since his boyhood in the Mahaweli and other waterways around his village, jumped into the lagoon and told the boys to watch him carefully as he swam a crawl stroke into deep waters. He was some distance from the shore when he developed cramps in both legs.

He could neither shout nor signal for help and thinking that his days on this earth were numbered silently began saying his prayers. They were answered because he was not yet a politician, and a fisherman rowed up to him and hauled him on board.

He was in principal’s office first thing next morning relinquishing his duties as swimming master but Rodrigo nevertheless gave him a small santhosam for services rendered.

After moving from the left to the centre in his political life, Dassanayake began organising the SLFP trade unions in the plantations competing with S. Thondaman who remained supreme in the thottams of the hill country.

Despite his physical size, Ananda was good at making a big noise in parliament. He was once carried out of the chamber after calling JRJ a "drohiya" (traitor). He refused to withdraw the offending remark and leave the chamber after being ‘named’ and was borne out like Kandyan chieftain on a palanquin (in those days MPs had their individual chairs which were not anchored to the floor) by a group that included his former student, Ronnie Abeysinghe, the Sergeant-at-Arms all the while chanting the offending word drohiya. He immensely enjoyed this episode of his political life.

Although Ananda entered the House, or rather the Lower House only in 1977, he was elected to the Senate in 1961 in a somewhat spectacular manner. Those were the days when some of the Senate were appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the prime minister while the rest were elected by the Members of Parliament. Mrs. Bandaranaike as prime minister favoured the slot that Ananda won for the Mayor of Galle, Wilfred. T. Wijekulasuriya, a senior proctor with what we of the black coated fraternity call a "large and lucrative practice." An SLFP stalwart from the south, he was also a big financial backer of the party.

Underdog

The Senate aspirants were interviewed by Mrs. B who decided on Wijekulasuriya and Ameer from Kurunegala for the slots available to the SLFP. When Ananda got the bad news he told his party leader that he would run come what may despite the prime minister having individually called up her MPs and told them who her nominees were. Ananda was clearly the underdog and did not seem any match for Wijekulasuriya. Nevertheless, he met MPs from both sides of the House and canvassed vigorously for himself.

Ananda wore a national dress, complete with a blue scarf, for the first time in his life for the occasion and perched himself on the half wall outside the old parliament by the sea on the day the new senators were being elected. Wilfred arrived at the same place with about a dozen supporters who, judging by their looks, seemed to be from the Galle fish market. Nobody took any notice of the small man seating on the wall covering his face with his shawl as though to protect himself from the scorching sun.

Wilfred’s companions were the worse for liquor and were boasting of their man’s impending victory and hurling insults and abuse at the unseen opponents. Wilfred, according to Ananda, tried to contain his supporters but they were too drunk to listen to him.

Just then, SLFP MP P. B. Jayasundera who knew where Ananda was located came up to the balcony and shouted ‘ade thattaya umba first round eken dinun.’ The voting had been 51-9 in Ananda’s favour. Wilfred and his supporters thought the remarks were intended for them (Wijekulasuriya had a broad forehead and was almost like a thattaya although he had a fine head of hair while Ananda was thattaya per se) and not realising that it was a case of a mistaken thattaya cheered wildly and started lighting crackers. This was immediately stopped by Wilfred who shouted at his people, "yako thopi nisa mawath hire davi." (I’ll also get jailed because of you!)

After a while Badulla’s B. H. Bandara appeared with the results of the second round of voting with 57 for Ananda and 9 for Wilfred. Yet the message was misread by Wijekulasuriya. Rattota’s Chandrasena Munaweera came up to the balcony with the results of the third round but Wijekulasuriya remained blissfully unaware that he had been out witted and outvoted. Ananda was the winner in the succeeding rounds too and on the final round, Badi-ud-din Mahmud, the leader of the SLFP Muslim group got him the Muslim votes and Ananda was home and dry with a massive 60-vote majority. The reality dawned on Wijekulasuriya at last and he and his ganankarayas vanished from the scene without a trace.

Mrs. Bandaranaike was reportedly furious with Ananda over this deviation by the electors over her preference. She made amends as far as Wijekulasuriya was concerned by making him an ambassador. Ananda still lights up whenever I refer to him as the only man to have beaten Mrs. B!

As the village saying goes, Ananda toppled a few "buckets" in the Senate too. B. H. Dunuwille of Kandy, a relative of Mrs. Bandaranaike and father of my colleague, Harindra, had crossed over from the SLFP and was made the deputy president of the UNP controlled Senate. A Kandyan aristocrat and a leading lawyer in the hill capital, Dunuwille was not particularly conversant with the Sinhala idiom at which Ananda, an ex-Sinhala school master, was an expert.

In the heat of a debate in the Senate, Ananda addressing the chair said that the Senate President’s attitude was like that of the dog who jumped on a pile of clean linen ("balla vellawata nagga wagey"). Dunuwille understood the word balla but not the rest of the idiom and demanded that the offending words be withdrawn and the Speaker apologises to the Chair. Ananda stood by his idiom and Dunuwille adjourned sittings for the day muttering "he called me a dog’.

Ananda claims that Dunuwille, according to his driver, kept on saying this all the way up to Kandy where he lived and kept on saying mata balla kiwwa, mata ball kiwwa. The deputy president of the Senate suffered a heart attack and Dunuwille died the same day. It was Mrs. Bandaranaike who conveyed the news of Dunuwille’s death to Ananda saying "you murderer you killed that man" A deeply shocked Ananda immediately went to Kandy to pay his respects and he remembers Harindra as a "small fellow" at that time.

In the 1980s, I was legal and personal advisor to the Balfour Beatty Nuttall Joint Venture (JV) who were the British contractors building the Victoria dam. I had just recruited a young man named A. J. F. (Algie) Wijewickrema who rose to become Personal Manager to my department. We had an office at Mahaberiatenne close to the Victoria Farm and outsiders who had no appointments were not seen as a rule.

Algie says a man, a very common-looking man, appeared at the reception counter one day asking to see Mr. Buddhika. As he had no appointment Algie had asked him to go round the building and speak to me through the documentation window where unskilled and semi-skilled workers were being processed. I hit the ceiling when I saw Ananda, the MP for Kotmale, craning his neck over the mass of would-be employees trying to attract my attention.

I immediately went up to him and asked him ‘Sir (then there was no ‘Kurun’ business) what are you doing here?’ He innocently told me that ‘a gentleman told him to come round to the window if I were to see you. So I came.’ I called Ananda to my office and introduced him to Algie who being a well bred Peterite profusely apologised to Ananda who was not offended at all.

When I was a parliamentarian, I almost died of a massive cerebral infarction commonly called a ‘stroke’ affecting the brain (You see I had a brain after all - otherwise how could I get that attack) and almost everybody from President Premadasa to MPs of both sides of the House came to pay what they thought were their ‘last respects’. As the saying goes only the good die young and here I am still going round with two massive heart attacks and two strokes under my belt at 61-years ‘young’.

Ananda was not amongst my visitors and I blasted him, ‘yako, mang marenna giya tho ave ne!’ (I nearly died you never came). This remark offended Ananda who explained how he went to see me twice but has been sent away by the nurses pointing to the ‘Strictly no visitor’ sign. Ananda is indeed an example to the swollen-headed politicians who more often than not throw their weight around and take no notice of ‘No visitors’ boards.

Our acquaintance blossomed into friendship when I was elected to parliament. I would at every turn annoy him just to provoke him to call me by various names, ‘Kara Goiya’, ‘Manda Buddhikaya’ prominent amongst them.

When Rohana Wijeweera was arrested in the area represented by Ananda we teased him that it was he who harboured the JVP leader which saw him go into a rage. Immediately after a shouting match across the floor with him I needed to make a signal to Ananda. Ananda knew what I wanted. Snuff! He carried a small jar of medicinal snuff always in his pocket, I too had become an addict to sniffing snuff and Ananda always obliged me though after some pithy remarks.

Once when Ananda was Governor Uva Province, he was chief guest at a S. Thomas’ College Gurutalawa prize giving. I was in the OBA committee which lined up to welcome the chief guest. Seeing me, he forgot that he was the governor and yelled ‘Ade Kara Goiyya – Umba Mokada Mehe?’ to the amusement of all those present. I had confided in Bishop Kenneth Fernando who was present at the function about the ‘kudu‘ that Ananda always carried and perhaps His Lordship did not believe me. My seat was immediately behind Ananda on the stage and to Ananda’s left was the Bishop.

After some time I nudged Ananda and surreptitiously extended my hand. Ananda delved into his pocket and as he was in the process of handing over the small container of snuff it caught the Bishop’s eye. Ananda lamented ‘See Your Lordship this fellow is a nuisance!’

Many people have a distinct mannerism, if it can be called that, when speaking. ‘Actually as a matter of fact’ was a phrase often used by Old Man D. S. ‘Basically’ is a favourite word of Ravi Karunanayake whilst Dr. Rajitha Senaratne often punctuated his discussions with a ‘Hondey’ (OK), Victor Ivan of Ravaya fame had ‘Right!’ As his trade mark whilst our hero had not one but two phrases he used incessantly - ‘You see’ and ‘I mean’. Sometimes in his excitement Ananda used to mix up not only the words but also the facts.

Appapillai Amirthalingam was a colleague of Ananda from his senate days.

Ananda and I were members of the prestigious Public Accounts Committee in parliament. Paul Perera, PC, was the chairman of the PAC at the time and a reference was made in the PAC upon Amirthalingam’s brutal assassination. Ananda speaking on the occasion said "You see I have known you see Mr. Appapillai Amirthalingam you see for a longer period than anyone of you here. You see when I was in the House of Lords you see, he was also there." Mr. Paul Perera kicked me sharply under the table suppressing his laughter. However it did not take long for Ananda to realise his slip of the tongue and explained. I mean you see, House of Lords here means the Senate and both he and I were there you see!’

Ananda was made Governor first at the Uva then of the South. The Governor’s office in Galle abutted the law courts where I was practicing. One day when I was crossing the road to go to my office I was rather rudely stopped by a policeman. ‘Sir, Governor mahattaya enava’. Just then the governor’s limousine pulled up besides me and the diminutive Ananda jumped out and warmly hugged me kissing me in both cheeks saying ‘Kara Goiyya, umbata kohomada? (How are you!’) The onlookers – there were many – mostly litigants – were surprised because Ananda and I belonged to two different political parties.

I know when I speak or write there is no end to the stories - more like ‘Tennyson’s Brook’. However here is one for the road. One Tuesday in parliament both the SLFP and UNP group meetings were held though at two different venues. The UNP at Committee Room No. 1 of parliament and the SLFP at its Darley Road headquarters. Both meetings were scheduled for 4 pm. The UNP group was always presided over by President Premadasa who was, unlike the present holder of that august office, punctual to the second.

Ananda was engaged in an animated conversation with Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the house in the ground floor library. Around 3.55 pm Ranil started walking towards Committee Room 1 which was also on the ground floor. Ananda was so deeply engrossed with his discussion with Ranil he did not know where he was going. In fairness to Ananda, he asked Ranil, ‘Sir where are you going?’ And Ranil answered ‘I am going to our group meeting!’ Ananda, perhaps completely confusing himself said ‘Good’ I am also going there!’ – perhaps in his sub-conscious mind he knew he had a group meeting to attend too. Ranil immediately winked at me and I too led (or rather misled) Ananda right into the Committee Room 1 to the cheers of the government members present. ‘Yako me koheda?’ exclaimed Ananda and realising that he was in forbidden territory turned back to go. I did a flying tackle to hold back the ‘welcome guest’ and Ananda started pounding me saying "let me go."

The time was exactly 4 pm and in walked President Premadasa who was very happy to see Ananda. ‘Come, come Ananda, be seated.’ Premadasa invited. Ananda said ‘Your Excellency I want to meet you!’ ‘Yes Ananda, right now or after the meeting?’ inquired Premadasa. ‘Later Your Excellency later’ said Ananda making a hasty exit. Ananda missed his own group meeting that day.

The following day I happened to be going up the lift with Mrs. Bandaranaike, Anurudha Ratwatte, and Victor Unantenna, Mrs. Bandaranaike’s amiable secretary when I asked for a big favour from Mrs. B. With a surprised look Mrs. B asked me what it was I wanted. I said ‘Madam you must take disciplinary action against one of your senior parliamentarians who instead of attending the SLFP group meeting yesterday attended the UNP group here in parliament.

‘Who is that?’ asked Madam.

‘Ananda Dassanayake’ I replied.

‘Did Ananda attend the group yesterday?’ Mrs. B asked Anurudha Ratwatte and all of them were now thoroughly enjoying Ananda’s faux pas. Turning to Anurudha, Madam said ‘Anu, you take it up!’ never intending any sort of disciplinary action but meaning some good natured ragging. ‘Yes, tomorrow there is a meeting and I’ll bring it up’ replied Anurudha.

This was what Anurudha told me that Friday.

‘Budhika, Ananda was addressing Madam on some issue when I rose and asked, Madam, there had been a report that one of our very senior members without attending our group meeting on Tuesday attended the UNP group meeting. Very strong action should be taken against such people.

At this revelation all the MPs wanted to know who the traitor was. I was asked to name the drohiya . Ananda was still on his feet and I pointing to him said, ‘well this is the man who was seen at the UNP group meeting without attending ours.’

Mrs. Bandaranaike who was privy to all this could not suppress a giggle at the expense of Ananda who was fuming.

Methinith methana chiki chiki ganawa’ (Sorry! I am at a loss of words to translate this into the Queen’s language) had been Ananda’s response to the Madam according to Anurudha Ratwatte who incidentally ‘loved’ my pieces to ‘This is my Island’ column of Amita Abayesekera.

‘Buddhika you are in the wrong profession. You should have been a writer!’ Anurudha who missed the launch of my book STUDENT DAYS once remarked.

Yes Anu, I am trying to be a writer, but it’s a lot more difficult than being a politician.


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