MR and Bandaranayake Policies

Daily News Editorial

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa laments that SLFPers in the Unity Government had ditched the policies of SWRD Bandaranaike and that it was only those in the Joint Opposition that follow the policies of the late leader and who were in fact are the true blue SLFPers.

Speaking at an event in Matale he also says that the SLFP MPs in the government were controlled by Sirikotha. Both these remarks have been the refrain of Rajapaksa and members of the JO all along. For Rajapaksa, it appears that the Bandaranaike policies are the be all and end all of the SLFP and he is finding it difficult to adapt to the new social order. True, Bandaranaike policies may be still appeal to some, especially the old guard of the SLFP. But Rajapaksa must concede that even Chandrika, the daughter of SWRD, had misgivings about certain policies of the SLFP’s founder.

It would be appropriate if Rajapaksa casts his mind back to 1994. On that occasion his leader was Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, daughter of SWRD whom he says the SLFPers in the present government had deserted. It would also be relevant to jog the memory of Rajapaksa as to the events that unfolded upon CBK taking over the reins of the country. Of the significant statements made by Chandrika at the time, one particular statement stood out. Said she: “I had been a good socialist all along but now I will be a good capitalist”.

And CBK walked the talk. She not only rolled back the Bandaranaike policies but even went one better than the UNP. CBK recalled the Shell Company which was shown the door by her mother. Not stopping at that, she embarked on a privatization programme with a vengeance that must have even made Ranil Wickremesinghe blush. Not only that, the new President leaned heavily on the experts and advisers of the UNP to get her economic programme going. She retained the Central Bank Governor A.S. Jayawardena even amidst the objections of some of her ministers.

Her iconoclastic actions even elicited a response by Dullas Alahapperuma in parliament that aanduwa vamata signal dala dakunata haravwa (the government had signaled to the Left and taken the turn to the Right). One was given the impression that it was a continuation of the UNP government in all but name.

Not only that, Chandrika strove to shed the communal patina that the SLFP had acquired since the Bandaranaike days and set about mending fences with the minorities. She took the daring step of appointing a Tamil, known to have links with the LTTE, as Chairman of the state run Rupavahini Corporation, without a thought to the ire this would invoke among the hardcore SLFPers.

In her second term as President, CBK, in a magnanimous gesture, also apologized for the Sinhala Only policy of her late father that placed the country’s youth population at a grave disadvantage and strove to make amends towards this end. So determined was CBK to effect a radical departure from her father’s legacy she even attempted to craft a federal constitution, that however was shot down by parliament. Chandrika also took the extraordinary step of deciding to share Tsunami funds with the LTTE, the project however coming a cropper with the JVP threat to withdraw from the government.

While the policies and concepts of SWRD were being rolled back with a vengeance by CBK one cannot recall Mahinda Rajapaksa who was a Minister in her government making even a whimper of protest. Perhaps, being part and parcel of the government, he would not have wanted to rock the boat, unlike now, where he can take the liberties to criticize what he himself acquiesced to in a different avatar.

Be that as it may, the SLFP has come a long way since 1956 and Bandaranaike policies, needless to say, could not fit in to this day and age, especially with the advent of concepts such as global village. Besides, the ideological and policy differences between the UNP and the SLFP is now blurred, although some individuals like Dullas Alahapperuma still romanticizes on the SLFP of the past. Who would have imagined that the once arch foes would one day jointly govern the country?

Chandrika, no doubt, deserves all the credit for transforming the SLFP and bringing it in tune with the modern times. It is a very thin line that now divides the UNP and the SLFP, which is increasingly getting blurred. This is a happy augury for the country which had regressed due to the vituperative and contentious politics of the two major parties, over the decades.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s lament of the SLFP ditching the policies of SWRD may have to do with the fact that it was his late father D.A. Rajapaksa who followed Bandaranaike “like his shadow” when the latter broke ranks with the UNP and crossed the floor of the House. But he should not allow sentimentality cloud his better judgement.