To bee or to buzz
Lankans have always had a sense of theatre. Alas, the advent of
television has put paid to that popular art, as increasingly hopeless
soap operas - distinguished mainly by their use of musical chords in
place of acting - are beamed into the country’s households.
Happily, this sense of theatre has not deserted the political scene.
A single day’s proceedings of Parliament provide far more drama than any
of the currently popular so-called ‘tele-dramas’. The best thespian
abilities in the country are realised on the political stage.
Nowhere in the contemporary political scene is there a better setting
for tragi-comedy than the on-going live reality-show that is the
struggle within the United National Party. The elephantine contenders
deploy the whole gamut of theatrical talent.
A gunny bag full of stinging flying insects was found at the
site where the UNP Satyagraha was held.
Picture by Nissanka Wijeratne
The past week’s performance by the players of the pachyderm party was
In July, the BBC reported that a new type of elephant fence had been
created. Beehives deployed in rows were successfully being used in
villages in Africa to ward off elephants. Experiments had also been on
these lines in Sri Lanka.
It was perhaps this news item which served as the inspiration for a
bee-elephant incident on Wednesday. Only in this case the bees were
wasps and the wild elephants were green. And the green elephants were
wild about Ranil Wickremasinghe.
The occasion was the Sajith Premadasa group’s Satyagraha against the
leader of the UNP. The venue was the Vihara Maha Devi Park. And the
insects apparently had their provenance in Galewela, of all places.
We know of their origin because of a statement made by Dayasiri
Jayasekera the day before. According to him, a member of the Private Bus
Association would bring wasps from Galewela to disrupt proceedings.
Stinging flying insects
The confusion regarding the type of insect arose from an email which
was circulated on the morning before the Satyagraha. To quote verbatim,
‘...Ranil Wickremesinghe has made underhand arrangements to break up the
campaign; using his stooges, it is planned to bring bees in gunny bags
and released at the venue of the Satyagraha ...’ Either the email’s
author’s knowledge of the morphology of apocritic genera was as faulty
as their English or the creatures deployed were not vespoideae but
To bee or not to bee, that was the question. Ultimately, there was
just one Hymenopterate attack. A single gunny bag full of stinging
flying insects was found at the site. One version was that the sortie
was launched from a single vehicle.
Luckily, on this occasion no-one was hurt, since somebody held the
mouth of the gunny bag closed. It was perhaps due to divine intervention
that the bugged gunny was discovered in the nick of time.
The use of animals for disrupting rallies during factional struggles
of the Grand Old Party is not something new. When Lalith Athulathmudali
and Gamini Dissanayake split from the UNP in 1991, they held their first
rally at Nugegoda junction. The supporters of President Ranasinghe
Premadasa goaded a raging bullock into charging into the crowd, causing
What made the use of bestial assault singularly different on the
current occasion was its application despite the fact that it had been
given such great pre-publicity. If Ranil was responsible, it would have
been monumentally stupid for him to have continued after the operation
was made public.
Meanwhile the melodrama continued. The Satyagrahis refused to budge
from Vihara Maha Devi Park until Ranil was removed. Nonetheless, later
on the park was found to be distinctly Satyagrahi-free, reminding one of
those ‘relay’ ‘fasts unto death’ popularised by the JVP.
What had happened was pure theatre. Even if it lacked a Shakespearean
climax, it more than compensated with an anti-climax worthy of Moliere.
Not a word was spoken at the crucial Working Committee meeting (which
was the occasion for the hullabaloo about satyagraha) about Ranil’s
abdication. The question who was to be and who was to buzz off suddenly
revolved around Rosy Senanayake.
Apparently, that good lady had mis-spoken. She publicly had called
the UNP Working Committee ‘illegal’. In fact, Maitri Guneratne had filed
action against several appointments to the WC and had not challenged the
illegality of the entire body.
So Ranil launched a pre-emptive strike far more effective than any
gunny-bag of stinging insects. He proposed the suspension of Rosy for
her rambunctious remarks. This resulted in the abject capitulation of
The WC decided that the suspension would be shelved, with the threat
of re-activation in case the former beauty queen decided to repeat the
offence. And, fundamentally that was that. No discussion of principles.
No discussion of differences of policy. No discussion, just talk.
Moliere is not Moliere if there is to be no comedy. Accordingly,
Dayasiri Jayasekera attempted to storm off at some slight and had to be
hauled back by his colleagues. Rather like a schoolboy.
The whole proceedings are indeed reminiscent of a schoolboy fight.
The ones in which the antagonists are held back by their fellows and
spew invective at each other. The restrained pugilists are of course
very grateful for being pinioned; else they might come to some harm.
However, it would be wrong to say that no harm came to anybody in
this particular bit of play-acting. Karu Jayasuriya has managed to
re-stake his claim to be king of the wishy-washy. Sajith has proved to
be no giant-killer.
Ranil’s position among the party faithful could not but have been
harmed by the frenetic rhetoric of the Saj-group. There was only one
clear victor from the might-have-been battle. Rosy Senanayake was saved
from being tossed into the political wilderness.
The entire attempted Putsch failed because of the risk to Rosy. The
entire act closed because Rosy’s position was threatened. So who are the
playwrights behind the scenes who place such emphasis on the prima donna?
Who is actually running the UNP?