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While leaders commit political harakiri supporters …

by K. K. S. Perera

(July 29, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The unprecedented and shocking news of a staunch supporter of the UNP setting himself on fire in front of the party headquarters is an eye opener not only for the two warring factions of the Grand Old Party, but for every politician. Suicide is rarely a spur of the moment decision. In the days and hours before people kill themselves there are usually clues and warnings. As per reports, the victim had spoken to several party men during the preceding few days and in the morning of the day of the tragedy. Proper investigations will reveal the actual background to this unfortunate episode.

Amidst controversies and contradictory reports on the reason behind this individual’s decision to end his life by self immolation, my nostalgic memory takes me back to late sixties or early seventies where, young Dr. Carlo Fonseka with his unique style and oratory skills was a crowd puller at LSSP meetings. Followed by the heavy weights of the party like of NM, Colvin and Leslie who were treated as heroes in the LSSP dominated politics of south western coastal belt at the time, the last slot was always reserved for Dr. Carlo as a strategy to prevent the crowds from moving.

At one such meeting in Panadura Dr. Carlo in his speech made reference to the attitudes of UNP supporters of the day and said, "I really admire them, their loyalty to the party and leadership is incredible. They do not pay any importance to policies and individuals good or bad, what matters is ‘our party’, Isn’t it highly commendable ? They take pride in declaring, "api dunneth aliyata, denneth aliyata, api kapuwath kolapatai" ( we always voted for elephant, and do so in future as well, our blood is green too) they mean it, these guys are ‘staunch, courageous, straight, uncompromising die-hard ‘fools"

Of course, in the good old days, it is not only UNP, the SLFP, and for that matter even the LSSP and other left wing parties too had quite a large number of such ‘fools’ as their followers (the ‘miris nethuwa hodi kanawa’ types) who worshiped the leaders and the party they belonged to and treated the party as their second religion, compelling even innocent children also to follow their example, while passing it down to generations. Yet, none committed suicide for the sake of the party. This category of supporters is now fast fading away, with younger generations becoming more and more liberal minded and free thinking and do not hold brief for any politician or party.

There have been a few cases of politicians committing suicide in the past, but just for personal reasons. Committing ‘Political Harakiri’ by politicians who were In a mighty hurry to take over the reigns of leadership, especially during chaotic situations were quite common in the past, people like Anura Bandaranaike, Rukman Senanayake, Maithreepala Senanayake and Karu J to mention a few. Even today there are a few Young Turks aspiring to positions through short cuts rather than patiently mark time, accumulate experience and strike when the opportunity knocks at the door. One cannot cite a better example than MR.

In the international scene there are quite a few instances of politicians committing suicide for political reasons, One alarming case being that of Pennsylvania State Senator R Budd Dwyer in 1987. Dwyer was elected to Pennsylvania’s state council as a member in 1971 and remained an ordinary member until he took over as treasurer of Pennsylvania in 1981. Dwyer was indicted in 1986 on a charge of accepting a bribe from an accounting firm for awarding a lucrative contract. Throughout the case he maintained his innocence, but knowing well the final outcome would have been disaster for him, finally in 1987 he summoned a press conference to make a ‘special announcement’, In a fully televised meeting with media he pulled a revolver and stated his decision to commit suicide. Three TV cameras and dozens of other cameras were in focus. Ignoring the cries and attempts by the media men to intercept, Dwyer put the barrel of the revolver into the mouth and shot himself to death. Poor fellow, only if he had access to some of our guys for a session of counselling!).

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