History is a tale told by someone to serve his or her purpose, especially when the narrator happens to be a politician. Such tales are often first person narrations replete with egotism. If we are to believe in history as told by politicians, all of them are heroes or heroines.
Former Minister Mangala Samaraweera has, in a recent speech in Kandy, related how the SLFP contrived to turn the tables on the UNP and brought its 17-year-long regime to an end in 1994. He, no doubt, played a key role in reinvigorating the SLFP together with several other staunch SLFPers like S. B. Dissanayake, who is today in the UNP. Reviving a faction-ridden ailing party is no mean achievement, especially in the face of resistance from the shibboleth-driven old guard averse to change.
But, Mangala has chosen to remain silent on the factors that led to the debilitation of the SLFP and the actual circumstances under which it finally bounced back in 1994. After President J. R. Jayewardene secured a steamroller majority of five sixths in 1977 and made sure that the SLFP wouldn`t recover by stripping Mrs. Bandaranaike of her civic rights in so abominable a manner, Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga made her contribution to keeping the party in that state until 1993 in no small measure.
She, to her credit, went all out, albeit in vain, to help the SLFP Presidential Candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa win the presidential election in 1982, notwithstanding an intra-party plot to engineer his defeat. She then broke away and, true to form, left no stone unturned in her effort to ruin the SLFP`s chances of coming back to power.
It was during this period that the party seniors led by Anura Bandaranaike and Mahinda Rajapaksa campaigned against the brutal suppression of political dissent by the UNP in a bid to arrest the rapid disintegration of the SLFP. But for their effort and the strong leadership of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who steered the SLFP to safety during the second JVP uprising, there wouldn`t have been a party for Chandrika to return to in the early 1990s.
The survival of the SLFP under the Premadasa regime hell bent on destroying it in the late 1980s was due to a collective effort by the SLFP stalwarts to which Mangala made a contribution through campaigns such as the Mothers` Front. However, none of those measures would have helped the SLFP make a comeback but for the Lalith-Gamini revolt in the UNP, which resulted in an abortive impeachment move against President Premadasa and the resultant expulsion of a group of UNP rebels. The formation of the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) by Lalith-Gamini-Premachandra `troika`, which joined hands with the SLFP, gave the ailing Opposition a turbo boost. The impeachment campaign unsettled the Premadasa regime but his government wouldn`t have fallen if not for the tragic incidents that followed shortly afterwards.
The assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali in 1993 dealt a paralysing blow to the Premadasa government which incurred the wrath of the public as evident from the massive crowds that thronged to Colombo in protest against the killing which was blamed on President Premadasa, an allegation that almost moved him to tears in public. The joint Opposition May Day rally in that year, any political observer will agree, was the largest ever political event in this country. It was a massive show of strength and the protesters cried a single slogan: `Kick Premadasa out!` While the waves of public anger were turning into a political tsunami, President Premadasa was assassinated. That marked the beginning of Chandrika`s meteoric rise to success in politics.
True, Mangala and SB had been instrumental in bringing her back to the SLFP`s fold but it was the felling of the two political giants that cleared her path. Had Lalith been in the fray as the DUNF`s Western Province chief ministerial candidate at the 1993 Provincial Council election, Chandrika would have become only a provincial councillor sans any clout.
She was the beneficiary of a regime change that the LTTE engineered through a string of assassinations. In 1994, the People`s Alliance won the general election under her leadership but with a razor thin majority. Her election as President with a massive majority of 62 per cent was due to the elimination by the LTTE of Gamini Dissanayake. Had Gamini the shrewd political manipulator been alive with other UNP heavyweights who died in the Thotalanga bomb blast, she wouldn`t have been able to secure such a huge majority nor would her government have lasted long.
Success of Chandrika is mainly attributable to the failure of the UNP, which, so to speak, continues to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The present UNP leadership is an asset to any SLFP-led government.
Mangala is right in claiming that he was one of the few SLFPers who realised the need to coalesce with the JVP after the PA`s loss in 2001. The then Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was opposed to any alliance with the JVP and tried his utmost to scuttle the attempts at it. Had he succeeded in his efforts, the UPFA would not have won in 2004 and he would not have become the President! Paradoxically, his failure became a pillar of his success. The JVP retaliated after the UPFA victory by demanding that the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar be appointed Prime Minister. Ironically, Mahinda and the JVP later combined forces at the 2005 Presidential Election.
Mangala speaks highly of Kadir. But, he didn`t make a whimper when Chandrika sidelined Kadir and planned to have her propaganda cannon trained on him a few months before an LTTE sniper took his life. Kadir was a worried man at the time of his demise.
Thus, it could be seen that there is hardly anyone in the SLFP who is free from political sins and has put the party before self. And whatever success they have achieved so far has been due the UNP`s weakness. A lame man, it is said, is a hero before a cripple. In that sense, they may be the heroes that they make themselves out to be.