Hyde Park: Place Of Lost Souls And Causes As Resurrection Grounds?
The Sunday Leader
by Gamini Weerakoon
Colombo’s Hyde Park is a place of lost souls and political causes.
Even before Independence revolutionaries from London and home-Philip, NM, Colvin, Pieter, Leslie and Bernard in their red shirts strode the stage of Hyde Park breathing fire and thunder swearing to smash the capitalist class to smithereens and usher in a socialist revolution. As journalists we have reported on these entertaining performances from the late sixties till recent times. We will not attempt to pass judgment on them as history is already doing so except to note that they were valiant fighters for lost causes.
What would these legendary revolutionaries be saying had they been watching the actors on stage in Hyde Park on March 17? It had no resemblance to a vintage Marxist rally. Only Tissa Vitharana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara as well as Dinesh Gunawardena could claim such political lineage although two political neophytes of parties espousing racism were attempting to climb the band wagon. The Marxists were fighting for creation of a socialist state. For what were the March 17 heroes fighting for? Bring back Mahinda Rajapaksa and family?
A pro-government commentator in breathless prose claimed that history was made at this park on that day.
After the Hyde Park meeting, politics cannot go on as before. Not for much longer anyway, he said in prophetic terms like some of Rajapaksa’s astrologers did before the two recent elections. In fact these very same commentators fared no better than Rajapaksa’s astrologers in their predictions of presidential and parliamentary elections.
Estimation of numbers at a political rally through which crowds are moving (through adjacent roads) is no easy task but it has made adrenaline flow in commentators to make their day dreams real enough to topple the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government and resurrect a defeated and aging political leader.
Hyde Park is not the biggest ground in this country for staging political rallies. There is Galle Face Green, Town Hall premises, Havelocks and Campbell Parks and Bogambara in Kandy. Hyde Park is a cosy ground surrounded by high rise buildings that resonate well the inanities bawled out. It is located at one of the busiest intersections in Colombo-two in fact- and the streets around it are choc-a- bloc with office workers after office hours. All this would have contributed to the ‘biggest ever crowd at Hyde Park’. Political parties are known to choose small grounds by congested roads going on the basis that smaller the grounds, the larger the crowd appears to be.
Reports said that there was a large crowd. Opposition rallies, particularly of the SLFP drawing big crowds, are not news. SLFP is one of the two largest political parties of Lanka. Mahinda Rajapaksa has been a crowd puller even at the rallies in the past presidential and parliamentary elections which he lost while faithful reporters did not fail in reporting ‘massive crowds’ in attendance. A notable feature in reports favouring the Rajapaksa clan was that the words of wisdom bawled out did not matter so much as description of the size of the crowd.
The conclusion of commentators though not stated in definite terms was apparent reading in between the lines: The writing was on the wall for the UNP and Rajapaksa was romping it home.
But can the size of a crowd gathered at an election rally be a definite indicator of which way voters will sway?
From our long experience in reporting political rallies we can say that although large crowds do indicate strong political support but not necessarily win an election. The rallies of the late Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike in the 1970s for her ‘Food War’ and the parliamentary elections were a positive indicator that large rallies cannot ensure victory. The country’s economy at that time was in the doldrums; the first ever OPEC oil hike had hit the country hard and there was a prolonged drought. Yet, massive crowds kept turning out at her rallies which indicated a very strong support for the SLFP. One such rally was at Kandy where processions marching to Bogambara for hours as Premier Bandaranaike from the balcony of Queen’s Hotel acknowledged the roaring cheers as a monarch of all she surveyed. What happened is history.
We recall at another rally after the Land Reforms Act was adopted, where Colvin R. de Silva roared on stage: Madam you have broken the backbone of the UNP -the Landowning capitalist class. They shall never rise again,’ but the UNP did arise.
Mahinda Rajapaksa holed up in Mirihana is reeling: his key supporters are being summoned before the Bribery Commission and the FCID. His son Yoshitha was arrested, remanded and released on bail.
The year-long painstaking inquiries conducted into bribery, corruption, misappropriation and profligacy are reaching fruition.Mahinda himself had expressed fears that he too may be arrested. His campaign against the government on the fertiliser subsidy and the ECTA with India does not seem to have had the expected public response.
A pro-Opposition commentator has noted that the Joint Opposition has come in for a lot of criticism for not helping them opposing the FCTA and not take the upper on the fertiliser issue. The meeting at Hyde Park turned out to be ‘an all-time record breaking meeting’ and a ‘game changing event’, he claimed.
Is it that the Rajapaksa clan is clutching to the Hyde Park rally like the proverbial drowning man clutching to a straw?
Heated rhetoric over the huge turnout at Hyde Park conveys indications of political desperation. An election- unless the provincial councils elections are held- is nowhere in sight. Parliament cannot be dissolved till 2020. A 75-year-old leader, with a withering moustache though hair is still miraculously jet black, is not an encouraging prospect for would be courtiers.
Can Hyde Park, the well known place of lost souls and lost causes, be a resurrection grounds for the desperate?