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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.

Arunachalam Hall

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.

Peradeniya University

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.

Party labels

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.

Minority government

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 political arena.

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.

First defeat

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 Peradeniya Campus.

(Courtesy: Golden Anniversary Souvenir of the 1959 batch of University of Ceylon, Peradeniya)


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