Remembering Mangala: cultural rebel, kingmaker, icon…   

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“Boho de dunna – Aho dedunna” (O rainbow that gave many things!)

Among the thousands of posts that were shared on social media the day Mangala Samaraweera died, the aforementioned post by Bharathi Weerasinghe took me down memory lane to the day of Vijaya Kumaratunga’s assassination.

“Ammapa hadawatha palenawa.  Vijaya Kumaratungata niwan suwa labewa!” (My heart is broken – May Vijaya Kumaratunga attains supreme bliss of Nirvana!”

It was reported that this was written on a wall of a labourer’s house near an old junkyard. There are many reasons; for Vijaya and Mangala were polar opposites of each other, but both of were not bigots.

Five years ago when Mangala Samaraweera was entrusted with the Ministerial post of Finance he publicly claimed that he had received a pair of shoes that would be too big for his feet. Having uttered those remarks, Mangala ensured that he did not give any interview to the media.

At that time, I worked at Sunday Mawbima newspaper.  I somehow managed to get an appointment from Mangala for an interview to be published on 7 July 2017.

Mangala sat for the interview saying that he had only 30-minutes. I had been given two full pages of the newspaper for the interview and half-an-hour was not enough. While I was wondering how to fill two pages, I saw the book ‘Zorba the Greek’ on his table.

We started our discussion from there. At the end, the interview which began at 2.00 p.m. ended around 6.00 p.m.

After that day, I met Mangala in another place. At the time I was working at Lake House.

He was on his way to meet then Lake House Chairman Krishantha Cooray. Both Mangala and Cooray have had a close nexus over time.

If someone were to inquire from me who Mangala was, the best description I could give that Mangala was a person whose vision and works went beyond the limits of this island.

He was a cultural rebel but on the other hand he was also a prisoner of the cultural police.

“When I handed over the gifts and certificates, these school children knelt before me and worshipped. School children should not kneel before politicians. We have to create a younger generation with strong backbones.”

This particular remark is more than sufficient to underscore what sort of politician he was. Most of those who had criticised Mangala during his lifetime were seen singing hosannas about him after his demise.

Mangala was also known for the significant contribution made towards the toppling of the corrupt Rajapaksa regime back in 2015.

He was recognized as a kingmaker in the local political sphere. He was blessed with the talent to bring parties to power and also topple those in power if they were to veer away from the path desired by the people. Mangala had also carried out whatever task entrusted to him during his eventful political career.

He was also a trump card for former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, while being a stern critic of then UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Mangala made a ‘fatal’ intervention to save the People’s Alliance (PA).  The programmes such as ‘Sudu Neluma,’ ‘Thawalama,’ and ‘Pothai Gadolai’ were his brainchildren. They went ahead even in the midst of a brutal war.

Mangala was a politician who shook the cores of the traditions. He brought modern touch to Sri Lankan politics in a revolutionary way. Mangala was an antithesis to the popular gallery politics.

At that time, the UNP members saw Mangala as their arch enemy. He did not give a chance to the UNP to gain power. Owing to this he managed to create an environment where the government could work ‘independently’. As a result when he crossed over to the UNP, its members did not accepted him as their own for a long time.

Mangala had a great challenge when a group including S.B. Dissanayake left the CBK Government. But he did not give up. Mangala was the one who built the bridge between the People’s Alliance (PA) and the JVP to form a Government in 2004. He managed to send Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP Government home within two years.

He was dedicated to make Mahinda Rajapaksa President in 2005. He was a decisive factor in making CBK the President twice, Mahinda Rajapaksa once and Maithripala Sirisena once.

He was the greatest kingmaker in Sri Lankan history!

Mangala was given Foreign Ministerial portfolio in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Cabinet. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa was not satisfied with Mangala’s conduct due to differences between them on certain opinions. This led Mangala to resign from the Government with Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi.

With their resignations, many thought it was the beginning of the demise of the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government. Mahinda too knew that Mangala’s resignation was a blow. But he did not show it.

Those who believed in Mahinda Rajapaksa said Mangala’s resignation will not make a difference. “This Government is like a solid rock,” which was what they said. However, Rajapaksa sent several messages to Mangala, calling him back to join the government because the President knew his value.

But in the end, Mangala was in the frontline of defeating the Rajapaksa Government in 2015.

It can be considered a wonder, that despite many criticisms, Mangala did not have allegations of corruption in his entire political career.

He had a liberal ideology about politics. He had radical views that was nourished through that liberal thought. Meanwhile, he also had a left-wing reading as well. That is why he is a unique politician in Sri Lankan history.

Most people try to maintain two different images when it comes to public and private lives. However, Mangala never tried to hide who he was. He was the same person both in public and private spaces.

He did not hesitate to speak out the bitter truth when nobody else dared to do so. Mangala’s untimely death added validity to the concepts of the living.

Mangala, though passed, is larger than life and continues to inspire us today!

By Ranjith Kumara Samarakoon