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Travelling in a Capitalist Vehicle Through Socialist Crowds in an Earlier Era

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by Mano Ratwatte

I was saddened to hear about the thugs in Anuradhapura assaulting a doctor because he wanted to move unhindered on a road. If the story reported is accurate, this is a terrible thing. It reminds me of something that happened just before the 1970 elections.

At that time, my grandfather William Gopallawa had a personal car that was Mercedes 220S which was not very common in Sri Lanka. A lot of people used to mistake it for a “Loththarai kaar ekak” or a “lottery car” because during that time the Ceylon lottery used to draw Mercedes Benzes. My mother and a couple of others and had gone to work for my uncle who was contesting from from Laggala on the SLFP ticket. We always went along with our parents and helped out a bit by carrying bundles of propaganda material and loading lorries etc.

We were coming back on the Kandy Road and near the Senanayake pocket borough of Warakapola there was a large crowd of UNP supporters in all green splendor blocking the road. But we tooted our horn and were allowed to pass with smiles and waves because a lot of people probably thought we were UNP supporters by virtue of the car we were in or thought it was a Lottery car. So they said “jayaweywa” and we all said “jayaweywa” and smiled and pushed through.

Later on the same road in Bandaranaike fiefdom Nittambuwa there was a massive SLFP led coalition rally with mostly blue buntings with some red. Just like UNPers in green hundreds of people were in Blue and Red. There our driver tooted the horn and wanted the road to clear. I could clearly hear “Buth gotto dha?” “loththarai kaar ekadha?” from the crowds. Why were UNPers referred to as “Buth gotto?” I remember that day because there was rain and we took a lot longer to come to Colombo because of crowds too.

I have clear memories from my young days back then because I was mesmerized by politicking by virtue of my father Mackie Ratwatte being the most loyal and closet sibling to her sister Mrs. Bandaranaike. He was always with her and we went along to so many rallies even when it was clear they were very unpopular and going to lose elections as in 1977.

So that early May day on the Kandy road,there we were; a bit nervous that we might get attacked by our own party men or jeered because clearly we were in a capitalist car and looked more like “buth gottos” for these socialist leaning folks. So we rolled down the windows and our driversaid “naha naha meyka Sree Lanka pakshaye Mackie Ratwattegey pauwla” and then they all smiled and said “Jayaweywa”.. In both cases people had smiles on their faces and I doubt unless someone abused them or attacked them they would have bothered too much about someone wanting to use the right of way on a road.

In 1977, in Balangoda I was campaigning for an aunt of mine along with my late father. We had gone house to house, and I had my cousin with me and we were campaigning(it was quite glaringly evident that it was a losing cause because of what people said to us when we canvassed them) . Off of the main road going through Balangoda, there is famous old temple.I forget the name)..There is a bridge there and as we neared the bridge from one side, Mr. MLM Aboosally and his supporters were coming from the other side.. I remember people introducing me to him and saying I am so-and-so son and he smiled and we shook hands and said Jayaweywa to each other, smiled and went our ways.

Those are simple childhood memories. But why should someone be assaulted or murdered by anyone of any party in Sri Lanka for political opinions or merely want to be left alone? Is it not a Buddhist nation? Or is Alcoholism such a terrible curse now that drunken hooligans will assault anyone at a drop of a hat? Is this not the same society which gets mad at the Dog pound dog catchers who came to catch dangerous stray dogs that may carry Rabies and are a serious health threat to everyone ? Why is that Sri Lankans seem to be able to kill and maim at the drop of a hat just because someone maybe UNP, SLFP, LSSP or any other P? Why should it matter if someone supports one party or another? How can a civilized society that boasts of 2,500 years of continuous history keep pretending and at the same time keep blaming the west for everything? Have people not listened to the Lord Buddha’s words that “hatred begets hatred; violence begets violence”? Or is it a result of 30 years of war that people are desensitized and think they can get away with brute force? Will Sri Lanka deteriorate into a lawless violent society where people are at each other’s throats and hate so much even though a big war has ended? People in Sri Lanka are far too politicized and there seem to be too much riding on which side you back at which election.

In the west, for the most part(there are some situations that are ugly and are designed to manipulate the outcome of elections as the Republican led efforts to require VOTER IDs this November to prevent mostly the poor, blacks and older people from voting in key battleground states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania) you go to the booth and you cast your vote and you come home. No one is there to attack you or steal your polling card or burn your house because you voted for a Democrat or Republican.

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