Charge of the katakatha brigade | Daily News

Charge of the katakatha brigade

Ratnayake Wasala Mudiyanselage Abeyratne Ratnayaka, more popularly known as A Ratnayake was the first Cabinet Minister of Food, Co-operatives and Home Affairs in independent Sri Lanka and the last President of the now defunct second chamber called The Senate. He was also a Member of State Council and Parliament. ‘RAT’ to his colleagues, A Ratnayake, received his education at Dharmaraja College, Kandy and at Royal College, Colombo. The former Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo, Professor Kshanika Hirimburegama was his granddaughter.

A Ratnayake had been very critical of D S Senanayake and his policies during the years they spent in the State Council and later in Parliament. On occasion too he had supported Dr N M Perera and Philip Gunawardene, the two Marxists, elected by the people of Ruwanwella and Awissawella to both legislates, and his chances of becoming a Minister he thought were remote.

“Will you pay me the compliment of agreeing to serve as Minister of Food and Cooperatives?” (The Prime Minister offering a Cabinet portfolio to an ordinary MP)

However, to his great surprise, one night when Ratnayake lifted his telephone receiver and heard DS’s voice asking,

“I say, Rat, how would you like to join my Cabinet?”

Ratnayake was speechless for a few seconds, in Sinhalese he told DS,

“Sir, ara ibba waturata danawa wage ne ” (you remind me of a man praying to a tortoise to enter the water.)

Soulbury Constitution

A loud guffaw deafened Abeyratne Ratnayake. He asked D S Senanayake what portfolio he had in mind for him, and told him that he would prefer the education portfolio since he had served on committee of the State Council for education for so long and had acted as Minister of Education too. Then DS said:

“No Rat, I want you to take on the subjects which I was dealing with at State Council, will you pay me the compliment of agreeing to serve as Minister of Food and Cooperatives Undertakings; the other half I want my son to takeover and Dudley have agreed to handle the Agriculture, you are the only man I can trust to carry out the plans which I have initiated—even though you have been one of my worst critics.

Immediately after the first Parliamentary election was held under the Soulbury Constitution seventy years ago in 1947, DS turned to Sir John and said: “I say Lionel, look around and see if we have a majority, if not try to get some chaps to join the government. The Eastern Province members are the best bet. They always come to parliament with absolutely open minds.”

Senator Ranayake, talking about the first Parliament once said, “after 16 years of giving the government hell, I found myself at the receiving end; and what a fearsome opposition there was. Among them, of course NM and Philip— and Dr Dahanayake. Taming that opposition was like trying to humanize hell. Dahanayake was the sternest critic of Ratnayake’s policies. But he was not the only one who felt the sting of sharp tongue, he attacked J R Jayewardene’s policies and using parodies to drive home a point—once during debate on Budget proposals in the house he said,

“Twinkle, twinkle, JRJ., How I wonder what you say;

Workers starve and children die, While you twinkle in the sky’

Why ‘Daha’ lost his popularity

Wijayananda Dahanayake before he became Prime Minister, was a simple unassuming politician, who always rejected personal security. ‘Daha,’ with his disarmingly simple gestures and modest ways, he had, in his rather extended political life, acquired a name for honesty, outspokenness, unpredictability and for being on the side of the poor. He was, at first glance, looked the common man himself dressed in the white national – not always spotless, cut like Bandaranaike’s. The non-smoker and teetotaler, Dahanayake, the Thomian and English literati, spoke easily in colloquial Sinhalese with a choice of words which was spoken in Galle his home town.

In early 1960, during a family excursion to Kataragama, the writer witnessed how the police prevented the pilgrims from bathing in Menik Ganga, a compulsory ritual practiced in good old days. While we were waiting on the banks, a cordon of armed security, guarded the Prime Minister Dahanayake who was bathing in the stream. The ‘Kataragama scene’ unusual and unbelievable scenario became the talk of the town, for Daha was a common man’s leader who travelled by train from Galle to Colombo as an MP, from State Council days and while holding the education portfolio in 1956-59 too. He was a politician who never lost the common touch. Being made the Prime Minister, [head-of-state] he lost his simplicity and humility, and adopted a totally different attitude. No politico including Heads of State, before and immediately after Daha ever used security men apart from one single bodyguard, usually a Sub Inspector. After the ‘62 Coup conspiracy, Sirima Bandaranaike, and Dudley Senanayake, as Prime Ministers were given small contingents may be around two dozen men, which was enhanced following the 1971 JVP insurrection.

Daha, known for his strong personality and for being forthright and fearless, lost his unassuming, simple ways and popularity no sooner he was ‘crowned’ as head of state, a chance happening rather than a seniority based posting, following the tragic death of former Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike, and in the absence of next in command C P de Silva who was in London for treatment.

Speculation and suspicion on his participation in the cold blooded killing of PM, aroused by a rumour, (katakatha brigade?) and his rejection to heed to the advice of the party seniors and Cabinet to get rid of two ministers who’s names emerged in the course of the investigation, and also the overnight dismissal of ten ministers, (mind you in a Cabinet of sixteen) and the reciprocal act by the SLFP in suspending him from the party, contributing to the above.

Daha, dissolved Parliament, formed a new party named Lanka Prajatantrawadi Party [LPP], and fielded 100 candidates island-wide, against the UNP and SLFP at the 1960 March general election, but was even unseated from his abode in Galle. How power change men? 

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