‘From the sidelines’ : What’s in a name? Everything! | Sunday Observer

‘From the sidelines’ : What’s in a name? Everything!

What’s in a name, asked the Bard. Everything, if you are dabbling in politics in Sri Lanka. That is probably why Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was appointed as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) organiser for the Attanagalla electorate last week by President Maithripala Sirisena. This announcement was a bolt from the blue to the party that has blue as its official colour. Kumaratunga replaces Sarana Gunawardena, so she is not in illustrious company. Gunawardena , a former Deputy Minister of Petroleum Industries is now a guest of the state, spending time in remand prison on charges of misusing state property arising out of the importation of a luxury vehicle. However, it is not Gunawardena we are worried about, it is Kumaratunga. What is her agenda? Surely, it is not to nurse her Attanagalla constituency and then run for Parliament from that electorate at the next general elections in 2020 when she will be all of 75 years of age and even generous helpings of hair dye might not be enough to do the trick? That is nothing new either.

Why, didn’t Mahinda Rajapaksa do exactly that- run for Parliament after being Executive President for two full terms? And that too from distant Kurunegala in Wayamba, far away from the Giruwapattuwa he calls his home and decidedly on the wrong side of the Bentara river! Well, Kumaratunga just wants to stay put in Attanagalla. After all, it has been almost a family heirloom of the Bandaranaike family, ever since S.W.R. D. Bandaranaike won the electorate- ironically, for the United National Party (UNP) - for the first time in 1947. Bandaranaike held the seat until he was assassinated. Then the SLFP passed the baton to his cousin, J.P. Obeysekere who held the Bandaranaike bastion until weeping widow Sirimavo took over in 1965. She held the constituency, surviving even the UNP’s 1977 landslide until she was disenfranchised when J.R. Jayewardene took away her civic rights. By that time, the ‘chit’ system had come into effect and another kinsman, Lakshman Jayakody, was nominated by the SLFP to represent Attanagalla in Parliament, to replace Ms. Bandaranaike. That was the end of the Attanagalla electorate saga as the proportional representation (PR) system came into effect in 1989. Now though, that is set to change. With constitutional reforms being proposed by the government, electorates will be back in vogue. There will be contests in electorates between rival parties. That is why having the correct name will be important. And, the recently appointed organizer for Attanagalla has two of them: Bandaranaike and Kumaratunga.

The jump from Executive President of the country to electoral organizer for Attanagalla, is quite a decline, if you want to look at it that way, especially, for someone who has always said that, after retirement, she would keep away from politics. But, is that the real deal? The grapevine is abuzz with the possibility that Kumaratunga is only keeping the seat warm for someone else and that she will be true to her word, at least this time and not run for public office again. (Remember, she promised, not once, but twice, that she would replace the current Constitution and scrap the Executive Presidency, which we are still saddled with?) Of course, it could be that President Maithripala Sirisena has sent her in as a ‘nightwatchman’ until the real batsmen come out to play at election time in 2020. However, there is also speculation that the ‘someone else’ that Kumaratunga is warming the seat for is none other than her son, Vimukthi Kumaratunga. That is what has sent the SLFP all aflutter. Now, Kasun Vimukthi Kumaratunga, bless him, is away in England, doing what he knows best: treating sick animals.

He is a veterinary surgeon with a special interest in Veterinary Ophthalmology, the treatment of eye diseases in animals. So far, he has displayed little interest in what is going on in Attanagalla, busy as he is, tending to the sick animals of Bristol in the South West of Britain. Now 35 years of age, he is not a child anymore. It is also reassuring to note that mama Chandrika has repeatedly told us that her children would never engage in politics. Even recently, she told us specifically about Vimukthi, stating that he would never enter politics in Sri Lanka. In fact, Kumaratunga has told us that her children have tried to dissuade her from engaging in politics. One can hardly blame them. They would have been told that their grandfather was shot dead on his doorstep and they know that their father suffered the same fate. At that time Yasodha Kumaratunga was eight years old and Vimukthi was six.

That is not the end of the story. When they were teenagers, they would have seen their mother nearly killed- and losing vision in one eye- at a campaign rally (although, in hindsight, one could argue that Chandrika Kumaratunga never had a vision for her country!). To be fair by Kumaratunga, she tried her best to keep her children away from the limelight, more so than every other President in this country did- even more than JR and DBW. That is one of the few things she did right when she was President. But the rumour mills keep working overtime. Kumaratunga’s denials about Vimukthi not entering politics are not helping her cause because if there is one thing you can count on Chandrika Kumaratunga to do, that is to say something and do exactly the opposite. SLFPers, who were fed up with the Bandaranaikes leading them for fifty years handed the reins over to Mahinda Rajapaksa only to find that the Rajapaksa clan took over not only the party but the entire country.

They realized- too late- that the Rajapaksas dealt with their newfound power with much less finesse than the Bandaranaikes ever did. They have managed to -at least for the time being- get rid of the Rajapaksas only to find that the Bandaranaikes could very well be back again, this time, in the guise of a Kumaratunga. It just goes to show that the Bard was wrong in this lovely land of ours because, here, what’s in a name? Everything! But then, if I was given a choice between a Kumaratunga and a Sarana Gunawardena, I would choose a Kumaratunga, warts and all, always! 

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