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Be UNP and have a piece of the pie

By Rajpal Abeynayake

(February 28, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Some may fault me for bringing up this Sunday, a problem of a personal nature.

I assure you, these days many personal issues fall under the public or even political rubric, and this one is definitely of that sort.

Many who would go through this article, particularly if they live in Colombo city limits or immediate environs, would definitely identify with this “personal issue’’ of mine.

You see, in Colombo however fastidious you may be (not that I am) it is hard sometimes not to be considered a pariah if you are not openly UNP. Now, UNP I’m not - - and SLFP I have never been. I have not gravitated towards the JVP or any of the smaller political formations and their ideologies either - - and that makes me a political neutral which would have been a case for celebration in some other country, but this condition is certainly a hazard in Colombo.

In the social whirl here, if you expect to be non-UNP and get by, then woe be unto you. No matter how long the United National Party has been out of power, Colombo’s wine glass carrying chattering class expects you to be UNP, or else be considered hick beyond the pale, and deservedly excluded.

It is simple. In other words, in Colombo being UNP is considered a status symbol at least among a certain substantially large class, and certain class of professionals for instance.

This in itself is curios because this must be the first tendency anywhere in the globe perhaps where it is considered jolly good to be a perennial loser.

However, this would not be amusing if you are at the receiving end of all those black looks when you say plainly that you are not UNP, and do not approve of anything and everything that the opposition jointly or severally wants to do.

Those black looks do not go away simply because you may seek to ameliorate the embarrassing social situation by insisting that you are not pro government either and that you have also been one of the critics — even harshest sometimes - - of the current dispensation.

That does not cut in Colombia. They subscribe to the Bush doctrine in these matters —- you have to be with them entirely or you will be considered against them (all the way.)
You cannot imagine the number of times I have been blackguarded like a pickpocket, by friends, no less, for simply being critical of the UNP on some issue or another, while making it obvious that I am not a fellow traveller with the SLFP or the government.
It just shows that in Colombo if you are not UNP you are not kosher among the wine-glass-class.

Weaknesses and drawbacks

I can remember a time I got these black looks for simply pointing out that a certain UNP backed candidate for the Bar Association presidency (not this year) had his own considerable weaknesses and drawbacks.

For simply making this observation, I was threatened with ostracism at the social occasion that was to follow.

However, say on a matter of principle you show that you are one with some of the politics of the UNP —- say on media issues or certain issues of democracy and good governance - - and they would exult, their arms instantly around you, and say immediately “so what do you think we should do so that we can come back to power?’’
I am nonplussed at such occasions but I must say that there are times that even the most independent minded and free wheeling among us are tempted to be part of the dizzy social whirl and do succumb at least momentarily. So there have been times I have caught myself saying “we must do something (to get into power)’’ if only to get an entry ticket for the celebrations of that night.

UNP is a status symbol in certain professions and certainly it is a status symbol in the legal profession that I happen to be a part of.

Allow me to let you in on a secret. When I was appointed editor of the Sunday Observer some years back under a SLFP administration — - a job which I took up considering career advancement and on the expectation of being granted some form of editorial independence — the legal profession particularly, instantly accorded me pariah status.

One of the two Ronnies, let’s call him Ronnie of the Paul lineage, used a great deal of unprintable language and said that I have with this move allowed fish to enter through certain parts of my anatomy — which shows that this man has an imagination perhaps as large as the size of his rectum, since he is often prone to dwell on that part of the human anatomy....

But when I was kicked out of the Observer for asserting editorial independence — an old story now —- they cheered me as they would cheer a conquering hero, but more importantly, they had instantly decided “good old chap’’, as after all I was — all important — part of the dyed in wool Hoo En Pee crowd.

This much can be said, if you are UNP they would in that Colombo set — read most everybody in Colombo - - consider giving you their daughters, and even foisting their mothers on you against all your protestations.

But if you are neutral - even just a wee bit neutral - - and do not appear on the UNP side of the spectrum, you are a dog — just a dog; they wouldn’t want to be caught dead with you.

Class connotations

What’s this I mean? — they say Michael Roberts and others such as Kumari Jayewardene have written about issues of caste and class, but it’s a great lacuna in the area of sociology research that nobody has written so far about the class connotations of UNP and anti UNP politics.

Now that the UNP is on the losing side perennially, if you are neutral they call you snide things such as “high flyer’’ etc etc., meaning that by being neutral you have avoided the loser label and thereby unfairly coveted yuppie status by retaining your credibility.

Ergo — you are a high flyer.

If you supported the war without supporting the SLFP or the president in a partisan way, the way I did, you are a high flyer, because you have betrayed the UNP —- even though you were never UNP to begin with —- and slept with the enemy. Recently, Mario Gomez of NGO fame called me a high-flyer at a party.

I put it to him then —- or at least I’m putting it to him now - - he is the high flyer and he knows it. He covets the Colombo social whirl, its blandishments, its backslapping - - its ticket to social inclusiveness, which is why he jealousy speaks on behalf of THE PARTY. He is still a darling.

I have on the other hand been neutral — a pesky gadfly and a gnat, trying to settle on the sugary side of the wine glass just to enjoy a night of song and company sometimes. Do I dare? Huh, they’d rather swat me with a swizzle stick, and send me into public and political purgatory.

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