Arresting the Rot…


Panadura clock tower

It was with nostalgia that I read the following sentence in your editorial titled ‘Arresting the Rot’ on July 25: ‘Parliamentarians should be stripped of most of their perks and privileges which have helped them rise above the law regardless of whether they are in the ruling party or the Opposition’.

My mind went back to 1950s.

The 1952 General Election was a unique experience for an ‘eight-year-old’ as my home was a hive of political activity with two of my older brothers, both staunch supporters of LSSP candidate, Comrade, Henry , father of late Janadasa Peiris, the veteran Media man. [Even in 1977 the SLFP secured only the third place in Panadura]

Usually once or twice a week, the then sitting member for Panadura and Speaker in the House, Sir Susantha de Fonseka, toured his constituency a large area covering part of present Bandaragama and Kesbewa on horseback followed by his driver and servant in the car. As the tok… tok.. noise from horse shoes wakes us, we used to run to the garden as all residents do, to have a glimpse of the man mounting his horse and his majestic appearance with the whip in one hand. Sir Susantha knew most of the voters by name; once during 1952 election days, he would slow down seeing my father and inquired:

"Albert, how… the children seem busy? Very good, very good!"

Father said that was a sarcastic remark by him after seeing the Red flag with HAND symbol on it in front of our house.(There were no party symbols then, but individual candidates were given different ones and flags and posters allowed.)

Quite often, ‘Henry Sahodharaya’ (Henry Peiris ) would drop in to discuss campaign strategies, with supporters in our area. He would park his ‘vehicle’, the Humber-Hawk bicycle under the mango tree, pull out a few notices or booklets from its front cane basket, and talk to the people for a while before he bids ‘Sadukin Pelenawunta Jayaweva’ [‘Victory to the Proletariat’, a now obsolete popular slogan of the Troskytes] and pedal up the road for next destination.

The ‘Push cycle candidate’ was the only choice for the party, who stunned the electorate by defeating the giant who was backed by all those famous Panadura elite of the day. I remember, my brother telling me of Henry’s his first visit to the Parliament a few days later, as MP for Panadura, using only public transport. He did so until he lost to UNP at the following election.

A decade later, in early 1960s, attending an AL class, I went by bus to Dehiwala, and as we crossed the bridge at Moratuwa, a lean fair neatly dressed gentleman in white shirt and RED tie, and a folded white drill coat hanging on his left arm, entered the double decker bus. As there were no vacant seats he was standing on the passage, until one of the passengers recognised him and offered a seat, "Sit here, Merril Sahodharaya". Merril Fernando, from the fishing village of Koralawella, one of the leading rebellious fighters of 1953 Hartal, won 1960 March and July elections under LSSP beating business magnate of Moratuwa, Ruskin Fernando.

Then again in 1967, returning from work one evening, a somewhat familiar person travelled with me in the same compartment in a Panadura bound train, but I failed to recognise him until he got off at Koralawella, to be greeted by two fisher folk women, ‘Merril apita, api Merrilta …, Viplave apita honda’—We are for Merril and vice-versa; we are for revolution. Merril, the ideologist broke away along with other revolutionists on principle, when the LSSP leadership aligned with ‘Capitalist Srirmavo’, in 1964; hence he lost Moratuwa seat to LSSP in 1965.

Dear editor, keep on publishing more and more such editorials. Who knows? Maybe a day will dawn when you witness the ‘politics and politicians’ as I did as child and a youth half a century ago!

But will I? I doubt it very much.

K K S Perera

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