Meritocracy, one can argue, is better that pavulvaadaya. We are quite a distance from that.
The English equivalent of ‘pavulvaadaya’ as per common use in Sri Lanka is ‘family bandyism.’ It was heavily used by the UNP during the reign of Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1970-77), perhaps because her husband’s nephew, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, was almost like a Deputy Prime Minister.
It didn’t start with the Bandaranaikes though. We did have D S Senanayake and his son Dudley, the latter succeeding the former. For a while there was talk that the torch would pass from Dudley to his nephew Rukman, but J R Jayewardene stumped it. It is no secret that JR groomed his nephew, Ranil Wickremesinghe, to take over the ‘Uncle Nephew Party’ someday.
Ranil was lucky. As his uncle observed, longevity was key — Premadasa was killed as were Lalith Athulathmudail and Gamini Dissanayake, and the ahinsaka D.B. Wijetunga, Premadasa’s Prime Ministerial pick (to snub Lalith and Gamini) was too old to last for long. And now, after 26 years, the UNP has (s)elected Ranil’s very much younger cousin Ruwan Wijewardenea as Deputy Leader. He’s ‘next in line!’Then we have the Rajapaksas. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s father and uncle were important political figures but weren’t a threat to the then SLFP leadership. Things changed when Mahinda became President. Basil came into the picture. So did Gotabaya. Chamal’s fortunes improved. Namal, Mahinda’s son, came in as ‘The Next Generation Option.’
It’s all in the family. The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), a breakaway faction of the UNP have tried to paint themselves as being above pavulvaadaya. Their leader, Sajith, however, obtained most if not all of his political capital from the fact that he is the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa and his frequent interjection ‘mage aadaraneeya, sadaadaraneeya piyaano…’ (my loved, forever loved father) affirms the fact.
The point is that almost all the key figures in the SJB were cosy with pavulvaadaya for a long time. Some were with the Rajapaksas and others were with Wickremesinghe. They didn’t leave the UNP because they objected to pavulvaadaya — they just had issues with Wickremesinghe.
The JVP doesn’t have this pavul-fascination. The JVP, however, had a good time with the Rajapaksas and later with Wickremesinghe. Indeed, when Maithripala Sirisena broke ranks with Mahinda, he stood with Chandrika Kumaratunga (daughter of two prime ministers) and the JVP backed Sirisena to the hilt.
Meritocracy, one can argue, is better. We are quite a distance from that. The hypocrisy of those who selectively condemn ‘family’ won’t get us there any faster.