Rise and fall of the MEP in Peradeniya Campus
With the entry of the 1959 batch to the Peradeniya Campus a
significant phenomenon that was evinced at the Peradeniya University
Campus was the emergence of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP). Earlier,
the politics in the campus was dominated by the Trotskyites and the
Communists. A United National Party (UNP) organization too had been set
up just few months before.
When the 1959 batch entered the University, the Viplavakari Lanka
Samasamaja Party (VLSSP) Ministers, Philip Gunawardena and William de
Silva had just left the Government of the day. They were at the height
of their popularity for their progressive roles. In fact, in the early
1960s, the MEP was the leading political group in almost all the
Universities. However it was in the Peradeniya campus that the MEP first
emerged as a powerful force.
The 1956-59 MEP Government was formed as a coalition of the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party (SLFP), the VLSSP, the Basha Peramuna and some
independents. When the VLSSP left the Government in May 1959 after the
break up, the VLSSP usurped the name MEP.
The first branch of the VLSSP, the precursor to the MEP at the
Peradeniya campus was formed at Arunachalam Hall. Nanda Nanayakkara and
myself were its leading lights. Nanda Nanayakkara was from the higher
strata in society and also an old Anandian. He was able to get the
support of Anandians as well as from the high-class students for our
group. I being a Catholic to be in the VLSSP was a special attraction.
Nanda Nanayakkara got his friends, an old Anandian A.R. Karunaratne,
more popularly known as ‘Bull Karu’ for his forceful disposition and an
old Royalist A.W. Amungugama to form a group at the Jayatilleka Hall. At
the campaign for the 1960 March General Election, we found that there
was considerable support for the MEP in the Peradeniya Campus. So we
decided to form an MEP society.
The political groups in the Peradeniya campus were not formed or
named according to the party labels. The Trotskyites were known as the
Economic Society. The Communists were called the Socialist Society. The
UNPers appeared as the Democratic Socialist Society. So we selected the
name ‘Political Science Society’.
If I remember correct, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, the present Minister of
Public Administration and Home Affairs was one of the signatories for
the application we submitted to form the Political Science Society. By
the third term in the 1959-60 University sessions, we were able to
capture power in the election of office-bearers to the Arunachalam Hall.
In the Student Council election we allied with the Communists and
managed to get some representation as well.
In the March 1960 general election, the MEP got considerable support
from the University Professors and lecturers in the Peradeniya
University. In fact, Prof. W.S. Karunaratne contested the Kandy seat
from the MEP. Well-known orator unparalled, he was a great attraction in
the MEP rallies. Dr. I.D.S. Weerawardena, Dr. Sugathapala de Silva, Dr.
Ananda Meegama, Dr. M.B. Ariyapala, Dr. M.H.F. Jayasuriya, Dr. Siri
Gunasinghe, Dr. P.E.E. Fernando and Dr. Laksiri Jayasuriya were
supporters of the MEP and even Prof. E.R. Sarathchandra was said to be a
sympathaizer of the MEP. We as students campaigned for the MEP in
electorates like Kandy, Akurana, Yatinuwara, Udunuwara, Senkadagala,
Galagedera and Wattegama. Some of us addressed MEP rallies and Dr.
Sarath Amunugama too addressed some of them. At the beginning the main
fight all over the country was between the UNP and the MEP.
However the situation changed when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike joined
the campaign of the SLFP and the voters were swayed by her. At the end,
the UNP won 50 seats and the SLFP came a close second with 46 seats. The
MEP could win only 10 seats but came second in about 15 electorates.
The UNP could form only a minority government and when it lost, the
Throne Speech debate, the Parliament was dissolved. For the 1960 July
general election the SLFP formed a common front with the Leftists with a
no-contest pact. We the University students, University lecturers and
the Kandy branch of the MEP, all insisted that the MEP too should get
into it. But Philip Gunawardena, probably because the SLFP Ministers
obstructed his progressive path during the 1956-59 regime or for some
other reason, refused to join hands with the SLFP.
As a results at the July 1960 election, the MEP lost badly winning
only three seats. It were to have joined the Common Front, it would have
easily won about 25 seats and could have been a powerful force in the
government. Since then, the MEP could never become a force in the
In 1960, the Sinhala medium students too entered the Peradeniya
University. As a result although the MEP fared badly in the 1960 July
election, it gathered momentum in the Peradeniya campus and became a
powerful group. The MEP allied either with the LSSP or the CP according
to the situation.
The MEP reached its climax when its nominee H.A. Premaratne became
the President of the Students’ Council in the third term of the 1960-61
sessions when the MEP allied with the CP. However the MEP had a set back
when the Medical and other Science Faculties were opened up in the
Peradeniya Campus. In fact, very powerful candidates like D.B.
Nihalsinghe and Merrick Goonaratne were sponsored by the MEP for the
post of President but they all lost.
The first defeat of the MEP came from the Arunachalam Hall in the
third term of the 1961-62 sessions where it lost all the posts. Yet the
MEP remained a force to be reckoned with in the Peradeniya Campus.
Although Nanda Nanayakkara, A.R. Karunaratne, A.W. Amungama, A.D.P.
Kalansuriya (later Professor) and I were considered as leaders of the
MEP in the Campus at the time, our real leader was M.A.H.P. Perera who
was our theoretician. He once blamed that both in Arunachalam and
Jayatilleke Halls for having organized the party on the basis of
friendship rather than appealing to the intellect.
The power the MEP enjoyed in the Peradeniya University as well as in
other Universities came to an end when Philip Gunawardena joined the
Dudley Senanayake Government in 1965. In due course the place of the MEP
in Universities was taken both by the SLFP and the JVP. The rise and
fall of the MEP was an interesting and colourful episode in the
(Courtesy: Golden Anniversary
Souvenir of the 1959 batch of University of Ceylon, Peradeniya)