The recent parliamentary elections in Britain saw the election of a UK citizen of Sri Lankan origin as a member to the British legislature. This piece of news made the front page news in many a newspaper in Sri Lanka. Ranil Jayawardena MP from North East Hampshire who is of Sri Lankan paternity has certainly marked a ‘moment’ for Sri Lanka’s postcolonial journey. Interestingly, it was 200 years ago –in 1815 that the British Crown entered into the Kandyan Convention of 1815 to consolidate an island-wide administration in our country which established the British Monarch as our sovereign until we became a republic in 1972. And now in 2015, a son of Sri Lankan descent secures representation by a constituency in England. How times have changed one could say! Would anyone even a100 years back have thought a turn of events like this ever possible? But of course these are times after the sun set over the British Empire. The post-colonial era now shows how progeny of the once ruled by the Western Whites have risen to be business leaders and also elected leaders in those countries.
But of course as much as it is a sign of pride for us to see a ‘kinsman’ become an elected representative this does not in any way mean that there is now one of ‘us’ ruling over ‘them’. Every elected member after all must serve the interests of his/ her constituents. Whether elected members of expatriated origins in any country, can and will show leniency to the country of their paternity’s origins when political matters relating to how their own ‘country of birth’ deals with the ‘country of their ancestry’, is debatable.
Back in my undergrad days in Colombo varsity’s Arts Faculty, when Barack Obama was running for the office of the ‘most powerful man in the world’ there was discussion among us about what bodes for the image of ‘White America’ if Obama won over John McCain? There was much debate over whether in fact a man of African ancestry could be elected by a majority of Whites in the USA? One comment that is unforgettable in this regard was made by a friend of mine from the senior batch –Dhanya Gunewardena, whose father Ranjith Gunewardena, and mine were incidentally contemporaries in Colombo varsity back in the late 1960s!
The thought expressed by Dhanya was that he would like to see Obama elected for what it would signify for the non-white people living in the West. He meant this specifically with reference to the multitudes of ‘citizens’ in white western countries who are of ‘Sri Lankan origin’. Standing near the window counter of the ‘kiri kade’ (milk bar) of the Arts Faculty Dhanya said to me –“Kawada hari ape ekektath puluwan wei machang, to get elected in those countries.” (Someday maybe one of ours too may get elected in those countries). The idea Dhanya expressed struck me as something highly imaginative! I didn’t by any means dismiss it.
There was logic after all in his argument. Dhanya’s reason to root for Obama wasn’t strictly for its significance of how such a victory would show the progeny of the oppressed can get the chance to be at the helm in the country of the former oppressor. His thoughts had to do with hope for a West that includes top-rung statesmen of Sri Lankan origin! And perhaps the recent parliamentary elections in the UK has shown that Dhanya’s futuristic thought expressed back in those campus days, has much food for thought!
Even if only as a tokenism, for what it’s worth, 29-year-old Ranil Jayawardena has made history in Sri Lanka’s post-tcolonial journey in the 21st century. The words of his most venomous opponent –Robert Blay, who even vowed to personally assassinate him if he shows the potential of becoming the PM of Britain one day, indicates that this young statesman possibly has potential to reach great heights in the arena of British politics.
Whether he will visit his country of ancestry, while in office, one cannot say. But were he to, surely it would be a much celebrated occasion, given the attention he caught in the press on being elected. How great a friend to Sri Lanka he will be in Westminster one can only speculate. But I do believe it is no speculation to say that all of Sri Lanka applauds him and cannot but help feel at least a ting of pride seeing what he has achieved. Stride strong Jayawardena, apart from your voters, an entire nation rejoices over your victory, and bid you – Chirang Jayathu!