Reflections on the Rise and Fall of Sama Samājism in Lanka

 M. Haris Deen, in Daily News, 10 October 2013

Following my earlier piece, “78 Years of Sama-Samajism – Where Art Thou Now”, there were several letters of appreciation for what I wrote – All bouquets not brickbats. However, one reader, while acknowledging the bottom line that highest number of seats the LSSP were able to secure in any Parliament were 14 pointed to some inaccuracies in my article. The corrections my reader pointed out were that Moratuwa was won by Merril Fernando and Bandarawela elected M.P. Jothipala under the Hammer and Sickle with the embossed No.4 signifying the Trotskyite Fourth International LSSP banner. It was Dr. Hector Fernando and not Hugh Fernando who secured the seat of Negombo for the LSSP. By that time T.B. Subasingha, Philip Goonewardena and Somaweera Chandrasiri having joined the MEP. While thanking the reader who pointed these out, I was actually going to put the record straight in this issue.

The rise and fall of Sama-Samajism was more or less like that of Reginald Perrin in the British TV series ‘The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin’. Perrin rose to become a successful businessman from being a middle class office executive and fell not to rise again. The LSSP saga appears to be the same but not so comical though.

In my last article I have traced the events that led to the rise of Sama-Samajism at least to capture 14 seats in Parliament and secure the position of the Leader of the Opposition for Dr. N.M. Perera. The good economist was supported by 13 other intellectuals of the same high calibre in different subjects. Hence, the LSSP were able to select a shadow Cabinet to match or even outscore those in the front rows of the opposite side.

Trade Unions:

Trade unionism remained a buoyant force. One factor attributed to the downfall of Sir John Kotelawela, inter alia, was the brave confrontation presented by the Late Gladstone Amarasekera an ardent LSSPer and President of the All Island Conference of Trade Unions.

Bala Tampoe continued to strengthen the Mercantile sector work force with the Ceylon Mercantile Union. My very good friend I.J. Wickrema another strong Sama Samajist Secretary of the GCSU, kept a hold of the government sector workers in a position of strength.

There were also other groups of trade unions in the banking sector and the port commission sympathetic towards the Sama Samajist cause. All these offered a comforting factor to the LSSP against the disappointment of the Colombo Central electorate preferring post peon Themis to Bala Tampoe. That disappointment was written off as a ‘one off’ tidal wave of ‘Ape Aanduwa’ concept promoted by Bandaranaike offering Sinhala only as the official language of Sri Lanka. Therefore, Sama Samajist strategists mainly depending on the trade union support and the workers vote bank fielded over 100 candidates in the subsequent election. I have already chronicled what happened then in my last article, but for those who might not have read that article, the LSSP was reduced to 10 seats in Parliament and its leader Dr. N.M. Perera lost his position as leader of the opposition.

The fall:

I read written on the back of a trishaw that “those who fly high indeed fall very low”. Whatever that meant, literally that was what happened to the LSSP. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike saw to it in 1964.

1964 was indeed a historic year for the Sama Samajists. The party hierarchy led by Dr. N.M. Perera and Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, fell victim to the guile and ingenuity of wiley Dr. Badi-Ud-Din Mahmood who was selected by Sirimavo to wave the olive branch to lure the LSSP into a coalition offering ministries including that of finance. The historic meeting of the party in Hikkaduwa indeed dealt the death blow for the party. Die hard Sama Samajists Bala Tampoe and many others led the revolt of the youth leaguers who were silenced when Colvin folded his shirt sleeves and threatened the rebels by saying “Podi Kollo Chandiyo Wenda Hadanawadha?” “Are small boys trying to be thugs?” That not only silenced the opposition but also dealt the death knell for the Sama Samajists, who split into the Nava Lanka Sama Samaja Party (NLSSP) and the Viplavakari Sama Samaja Party (VLSSP).

The acrimony between these two groups exist to this day despite efforts of my good friend Prof. Tissa Vitarana to offer a friendly hand by his mild mannered approach. According to my other friend the late Vivienne Goonewardena joining Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government in coalition was the greatest mistake the leadership of the LSSP got into. Thereafter the decline of the LSSP was imminent.

The strike by the Bank Employees exposed the vulnerability of the great economist N.M. Perera even on matters of workers’ demands that he would support when in the opposition. The trade unions disintegrated and the Sama Samaja lost most of its worker support. The only concession, if one can call it that is Bala Tampoe, although advanced in age, continues to exert himself as a trade unionist in the mercantile sector in his own way. Good Luck Bala, as one of those who supported you after taking over from Kandanearatchi as President of the State Engineering Corporation branch of the CMU, I salute you for your consistency.

Political history of Sri Lanka:

Sama Samajism might have lost its lustre and might have fallen from ‘grace’ with the people of Sri Lanka, but it is a recorded fact that the Sama Samajists contributed tremendously to the historical changes that took place in this country since independence. They might not have had the opportunity to be in political power but their efforts certainly influenced the downfall of the mighty UNP and exposed the UNP’s vulnerability to political pressure.

The Suriya Mal movement although the brainchild of British teacher Doreen Young, was espoused by the Sama Samajists, to great advantage against British rule. The Hartal of August 12, 1953 brought down the government of Dudley Senanayake. Even Dudley’s Cabinet was unable to meet in Colombo’s Parliament and seek refuge in a British ship the Newfoundland. The late Gladstone Amerasekera’s bravery humbled the arrogant Sir John Kotelawela, who ruled as if he was the monarch of all he surveyed, and brought down the Kotelawela government to its heels and it was a small group of Sama Samajists in England led by Lakshman Kandanearatchi and myself assisted by Bernard Soysa and Athauda Seneviratne, who were responsible to convince Chandrika Kumaranatunge to come and take the lead in 1994. These are history making events worth putting on record.

Although Sama Samajism lost its splendour and fell from ‘grace’, they are not dead. They continued to watch and take an interest into political matters that were taking place in Sri Lanka. Living in the UK for the last 38 years did not mean we lost touch with our motherland.

We had a gathering of LSSPer’s in London meeting and discussing situations in Sri Lanka in the residence of Lakshman Kandanearatchi one time Pannipitiya Youth Leaguer, (who introduced me to the CMU), in Islington London. Bernard Soysa, Vivienne Goonewardena and Athauda Seneviratne would attend our meetings when they happen to visit the UK. In one of these meetings Bernard Soysa suggested that we should convince Chandrika Kumaranatunga to come and take the leadership of the SLFP as her mother was so very advanced in age at that time she did not have the stature and charisma to stand upto Ranil Wickremasinghe.

The only other Bandaranaike link Anura having abandoned SLFP in preference to a ministerial position in the UNP government of the day. Despite opposition by Vivienne Goonewardene we invited Chandrika to attend one such meeting and over dinner suggested to her that she should come and take over the leadership of the SLFP and contest the Presidential elections which the LSSP pledged to support. Her first reaction was “Pissudha? Giya Gaman Maawa Marala Dhai”. “Are you all mad? They will kill me the moment I land.”

The next meeting when Bernard Soysa happened to attend was also a failure as far as luring Chandrika to come. 

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