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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2402

The Rajapaksas and Ruhuna

By Sunimal Fernando

In point form Sunimal Fernando, a sociologist, has outlined the “ying and the yang” of the SLFP – the democratic alternative to the pro-Western, de-nationalised right-wing UNP. It also traces the rise of the Rajapakses as a political force from the deep south. Here is the 11-point outline:Mahinda RajapakseMahinda Rajapakse

1. Ruhuna, comprising by and large the present day districts of Hambantota, Galle, Matara and Moneragala, has been a mainspring of Sri Lankan civilization for over 2300 years. Throughout this period, Ruhuna has produced some of the greatest thinkers, artists, writers, religious leaders, social reformers, politicians and visionaries our country has known.

2. Historians maintain that the civilization dynamic of Ruhuna derives from the confluence of two factors. These are the deeply engrained patriotism of the Ruhunu people on the one side and the continuous inflow of external influences on account of the geo-political location of Ruhuna on the busiest sea lane in the world – the sea route from the west to the east, on the other. New ideas, new technologies, new ideologies, new forms of art and architecture, new world-views etc continuously entered Ruhuna from India, South East Asia, the Middle East and Europe, through its main sea port – Godawaya (at the mouth of the Walawe Ganga) from pre Christian times till the 14th century and then Galle (from the 14th to the nineteenth century).

3. Godawaya (a river-mouth port), at the mouth of the Walawe was a relatively shallow port. Therefore, as the ships using the main sea lane that skirts the coast of Ruhuna became bigger and heavier, Godawaya’s depth became inadequate and the main port of Ruhuna (and at that time of the whole island) shifted to Galle. With this shift, the commercial, social, cultural and political elites of Magam Pattu and Giruwa Pattu (the present Hambantota district) began to decline, and together with the expansion of the port of Galle, new commercial, social, cultural and political elites emerged in the Galle district. No longer around the river-mouth port of Godawaya and the city of Magama, but around the port city of Galle, Ruhuna continued to function as an ever-dynamic fountain-head of Sinhala civilization, continuing to celebrate the ever continuing marriage of patriotism and cultural rootedness on the one side and exposure to external influence and modernization on the other.

4. Until its economic and commercial lifeline, namely the port of Galle, began to decline with the progressive expansion of the port of Colombo, Ruhunu continued to reflect the healthy fusion of patriotism and modernity. In the early 1850’s, a then modern entrepreneur of Sapugoda in the Galle district, by name Don Constantine De Silva Waniga Chintamani Mohotti Ralahamy, started developing a series of modern capitalist enterprises in the Giruwa Pattu. He introduced into the Giruwa Patta a system of what was then recognized to be modern agriculture with modern technology and wage labour in place of feudal tenant farming and at the same time engaged in property development in the then fledgling town of Tangalla. His then modern enterprises were headquartered at Buddiyagama in Weeraketiya – the seat of the Rajapaksas, - and their management was entrusted to a modernist but patriotic young man of Buddiyagama – the grandfather of DA Rajapaksa and the great-grand-father of Chamal and Mahinda.

5. From those early days in the mid 19th century, the Rajapaksa family has continued to represent and personify the socio-political dynamic of Ruhuna – namely, the healthy fusion of patriotism and cultural identity on the one side with the challenge of social, economic and political modernity on the other. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Rajapaksas led the social democratic struggle of the people of Hambantota against feudal land relations and against the Mudaliar and Vidane Arachchi based feudal system of administration and governance. They also pioneered the social struggle against caste discrimination and prejudice during the same period. Thus, the Rajapaksas were the undisputed leaders of the anti-imperialist national democratic movement in the Hambantota district, as SA Wickremasinghe was in the Matara district and leaders like Abeygunasekera were in Galle. The Rajapaksas thus represented and still continue to represent the fusion of patriotism, democracy, progress and modernity. This is what the memory of DA Rajapaksa rekindles in the contemporary politics of the South.

6. When SWRD Bandaranaike walked out of the then UNP government on 12th July 1951 to be the flag bearer of the anti-imperialist and social democratic forces in the country, it was none other than DA Rajapaksa who accompanied him across the floor of the house on that historic day. Not only from the day it was founded in September 1951 but from the very moment of its conception in July that year, the Bandaranaikes and Rajapaksas have been the ‘Ying and the Yang’ of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

7. The fusion of patriotism and modernity – the hallmark of the Rajapaksas and the hallmark of Ruhuna – is reflected in the very personality of DA Rajapaksa. On the one side he was educated at Richmond College, Galle, and was tutored by foreign missionary scholars like the legendary Rev. Small. He was vice-captain of the Richmond College cricket team and captain of the football team. The ground record he established as a bowler on the Prince of Wales College grounds in Moratuwa in the nineteen twenties still remains untouched. On the other side, on leaving school he was able to step out of the cricket field onto the paddy fields and kurakkan chenas of Giruwa Pattu with the greatest ease, and identify himself both socially and culturally with the peasants of his own Hambantota district. DA Rajapaksa was patriotism and modernity personified.

8. The lifeline of Ruhuna was its exposure to the outside world through commerce, trade and the inflow of new ideas, technologies and ideologies. The lifeline of Ruhuna was therefore its sea port – Godawaya and then Galle. Thus when the importance of Galle gave way to the commercial and political centrality of Colombo in and after the nineteenth century, the economic, commercial, social, political and cultural elites of Ruhuna started to decline. But when in the nineteen eighties, Ariyaseela Wickremanayake, a harbour construction engineer and a passionate son of Ruhuna began to lobby for the construction of a deep water harbour in Hambantota, demonstrating its potential of being developed as the deepest and largest harbour in the world, with a location just half an hour off the world’s busiest sea-lane which is used by 100 – 200 ships a day, the present day Rajapaksas came forward to give political muscle to a project that will surely not only modernize Ruhuna but also lead the country as a whole towards a future of affluence and prosperity. At the turn of the present millennium, in 2001, DA Rajapaksa’s sons ceremonially laid the foundation stone for the construction of the world’s largest and deepest harbour at Hambantota while Ariyseela Wickremanayake navigated a large ship into the proposed harbour to prove to all that this dream is not by any means a fantasy. Some day, the construction of the proposed Hambantota harbour – the dream of the present day Rajapaksas of Ruhuna – will bring in its wake not only a revival of the past glory of Ruhuna but a economic, social, cultural and political resurgence of the country as a whole.

9. And as we move into the twenty first century and into an age of rapid communication, travel and spatial mobility, Ruhuna ceases to be a spatial concept – a distinct territory or piece of land. In this modern age of Information and Communication Technology, Ruhuna transcends its territorial limits to present itself increasingly as a Value, a Vision, whose features are a healthy fusion of Patriotism and Modernity, resting on a socio-political bed of Social Democracy. Ruhuna, therefore, in this modern age of Information and Communication is no longer a piece of territory as it was in the past, but a Socio-Political Value or Ideology. And with the concept of Ruhuna thus transformed, the social heroes and political leaders of what was once a piece of territory called Ruhuna are now the standard bearers of a distinct political ideology rooted no doubt in the historical dynamics of a particular piece of territory but belonging no longer to that distinctive area or territory, namely the South, but to Sri Lanka as a whole.

10. Heroes personify the confluence of social and historical forces as they mature and seek expression at specific points of history. Social heroes give flesh and blood to the forces of history as they meet at these points of confluence, to take new form and shape and move in to the future. And as a new stream of history moves on from a point of confluence and prepares itself to flow through the vicissitudes of time into an unseen future, heroic leaders appear in order to give form and shape to a people’s destiny.

11. The dawn of the twenty first century has seen the transformation of the old ‘concept’ of Ruhuna, to take new meaning for a new and transformed age. The dawn of the twenty first century has also seen the transformation of a Rajapaksa of Ruhuna from his older role of ‘leader of the piece of territory called Ruhuna’ to that of ‘Prime Minister of the country that is Sri Lanka’. Is Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa the man of destiny long awaited by our people? Is he destined by history to give life and form to this new and transformed meaning of ‘Ruhuna’, and lead our people to a glorious future as many a son of ‘Ruhuna’ has done in our historical past? Only the future will know.

- Asian Tribune -

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