DN Mon Feb 18 2008
To keep Parliament proceedings alive and interesting is an impossible task for parties representing that August Assembly. For a Speaker, Deputy Speaker or a Deputy Chairman of Committees, it is a headache and a nuisance to have a Member who continues to interrupt each and every Member on his feet.
But, if that Member who disturbs or interrupts the House is a disciplined man, the proceedings turn exciting with other Members responding in a similar manner.
For that, elected Members should have a sound command of the three languages used in the House with absolute knowledge on all Standing Orders of Parliament. Then only they become capable on how and when to disturb a Member who is on his feet.
There was a Member nominated on the National List in 1989 by the UNP who held the record of the most number of interruptions in the House till the year 2000. He was the ‘cracking’ Member of Parliament A. H. M. Azwer.
The Hansard records many a nickname for Azwer. Deputy Speaker Gamini Fonseka called him-”Jack in the Box”. The then Opposition Member, Mahinda Rajapaksa once called him-”Charlie Chaplin”. Speaker K. B. Ratnayake described him as-”Heckler in the House”. Speaker M. H. Mohamed called him-”Spring Jack” as Azwer sprang up from his seat all the time to disturb the House.
But, C. V. Gooneratne who encountered Azwer thousands of times called Azwer by the name of an animal in Azwer’s electorate in the Puttalam District where Azwer represented his people. And Azwer in turn labeled CV with the name of another animal in the Zoo with a tail which jumped from tree to tree, as CV lived close to the Dehiwala Zoo.
This honourable man, A. H. M. Azwer was a honest, sincere and a disciplined parliamentarian who never used politics to earn a living. He always led a simple life mingling with the people in the society. Being a State Minister of the Premadasa administration, he had to sell his official jeep (already owned after paying the instalments) to give his daughter in marriage.
Thereafter, he travelled to parliament in a rented out Hi-Ace van. If one monitored the number of interruptions by Azwer in Parliament from 1989-2000, he would have certainly entered the Guinness Book of Records. He played the role of “Lone Ranger” in the two Parliaments he represented as a Government and an Opposition MP to keep the proceedings alive even at times there were no quorum in the House.
He also holds the record of being involved in the most number of verbal battles which led the Speaker to suspend sittings in the House. Also if you count the number of words by Azwer in the Hansard prints, Azwer would certainly out smart all Parliamentarians in the democracies worldwide. Even the legends of the “Mother of Parliaments”, the “House of Commons” who spoke for hours during the second world war may not equal that number.
In the bygone days, Parliamentarians debated with discipline and decorum using the command of the language to out smart their opponents during debates. The use of un-parliamentary language was never witnessed by those who flocked the galleries to listen to their elected Members. Humour was met with humour and not with sarcasm.
Azwer’s regular partner in battle was the flamboyant former Royal College ruggerite, the six foot C. V. Gooneratne. CV who had a Nelsonian personality inherited a stentorian voice. A well read man like Azwer, CV could fire salvos in seconds.
He had a fine flow of the English Language and the sequence and eloquence of his delivery was excellent. We in the Gallery as Lobby Correspondents for respective newspapers always awaited Gooneratne on his feet as Azwer was sure to take on Gooneratne from the first minute.
Azwer was also a qualified quality interpreter of the three languages in the country able to meet any verbal battle with the experienced members of the House. Of course, the former Royal ruggerite Gooneratne was physically capable of knocking out the verbally strong Azwer in seconds. They both were disciplined men who never stooped to low levels as often seen among many today.
Outside the Chamber, Azwer and Gooneratne were great friends. Inside the Chamber, Gooneratne , before rising on his feet would warn the Chair to keep Azwer under control. Former Speakers M. H. Mohamed, Anura Bandaranaike and K. B. Ratnayake always sought the cooperation of Azwer not to disturb Gooneratne. Azwer could hold himself only for a few seconds.
As the late Gamini Dissanayake repeatedly quipped that Gooneratne had done some “charm” to Azwer, he (Azwer) found difficult to hold himself with Gooneratne. Whenever Gooneratne rose to speak, Azwer followed a ritual to tell the Chair-”Sir, I rise to a Point of Order”.
The Chair often ruled that the query raised by Azwer was not a Point of Order. Gooneratne shot back in style to say,-”Sir, I told you Azwer’s “Point” is now “Pointless” and “Blunt”. Azwer retorted in his inimitable style to add,-”Sir, the Hon. Gooneratne is a man without any “Point” to point”. Not giving in Gooneratne referred to Azwer’s electorate at Puttalam to claim that “Donkeys” never knew they had a “Point”. Azwer valiantly came back to the fray to burst out that “Monkeys” who originated close to the Dehiwala Zoo had only “Tails” and no “Points”. “Sir, if Mr. Azwer really knows my “Point”, he will run”, Gooneratne cracked as the Speaker called both Members to Order.
The Azwer-Gooneratne combination was best ever seen in the recent Parliaments from the Governments and Opposition. They held the floor for hours with brilliant contributions, interruptions, humour and excitement. They both often quoted from intellects like Longfellow, Shakespeare, Elliot, Dickens and so on.
Whenever Gooneratne quoted from Shakespeare, Azwer would disturb him to quote from “Martin Wickremesinghe” and then refer to Charles Dickens” to the annoyance of Gooneratne. From that point it was all humour in the House.
Parliament was quality and entertainment to quantity by these professional members of the House as seniors like Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, ACS Hameed, Dharmasiri Senanayake, Lakshman Jayakody, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Anura Bandaranaike, Anil Moonesinghe, K. B. Ratnayake and others were also men of scriptures who chipped in often to add more humour.
C. V. Gooneratne after assuming office as Cabinet Minister for Industrial Development in the Kumaratunga Government began to display a red colour handkerchief in the pocket of his tunic coat. That amused Azwer. Azwer wondered about the sudden change in the attire of his opponent in the Chamber.
Whenever, Gooneratne entered the Chamber, Azwer used to quip,” Sir, I first greet that red handkerchief and then my friend Mr. Gooneratne”. “You have nowhere else in myself to greet”, cracked Gooneratne. “No Sir, I have never gone the “Wild” way that “Oscar’ went”, Azwer told Gooneratne. Looking to the Chair, Gooneratne quipped, “Sir, I am afraid that my friend Azwer may soon try an “Oscar Wilde’ if his focus goes ‘wild”.
The famous Air Lanka-Emirates deal debate in the House paved the opportunity for all Members and those in the galleries to witness the best of Azwer and CV Gooneratne. Azwer began to focus his eyes on the minister’s red handkerchief planning to take on the minister unlike before. Gooneratne used the opportunity to first counter allegations made by UNP MP Karunasena Kodituwakku. Azwer was the Saviour of all in the UNP. Azwer, a shrewd parliamentarian chose to divert the attention of Minister Gooneratne to his red handkerchief knowing well he could disturb the trend of the verbal dose unleashed on the UNP by the minister. Entered Azwer in this way to say-”Hon. Minister your red handkerchief might fall for the lies you utter in this Chamber”. Shot back Gooneratne in an angry mood-”Only bulls get excited by the colour Red”.
Azwer turned the topic back to the Air Lanka-Emirates deal to claim the deal would deprive the stewardesses of the beautiful Peacock designed saree as their uniform. Gooneratne came back-”Sir, Azwer has another problem when he talks about the removal sarees as his ‘bulb’ is not functioning now” (Azwer’s microphone bulb stood off in the chamber). Azwer complained to the Chair that somebody was deliberately fiddling with his microphone. “Sir, Azwer must call for action to make his ‘bulb’ function “chipped in Gooneratne. Azwer did not give in but cracked, “Sir, even Mr. Gooneratne’s ‘bulb’ is in the ‘dark; as I see it”. Looking at the Speaker, Gooneratne quipped, “Sir, if I switch ‘on’, Mr. Azwer will run”. At that point Azwer decided to leave the Chamber saying, “Sir, I have to attend another function”. Gooneratne added, “Mr. Azwer, I hope your ‘bulb’ will ‘function’ at that function”. As Azwer was leaving, Gooneratne cracked that the House was free of “Donkeys”. Turned back Azwer to retort -”Sir, the Dehiwala ‘Monkeys’ are free to have a day on their own”. ‘Sir, without my friend Azwer in the Chamber, there’s no fun”, quipped Gooneratne to the Speaker. Just leaving by the Opposition door, Azwer emotionally said, “Sir, with malice towards none, it was all said in fun”. “Sir, Mr. Azwer ate into my time, I’ll wind up now”, said CV Gooneratne.
Later on that day, CV Gooneratne was seen walking in the company of Azwer with the right arm round Azwer’s shoulder into the Members’ Dining Room. Will we ever witness such dignified conduct, decorum, understanding and unity among Government and Opposition Members today or even in the near future is the vital question.
The late CV Gooneratne, a brilliant gentleman, fine debater and a disciplined parliamentarian will be long remembered by his intimate colleague and fellow Parliamentarian A.H.M. Azwer, another outstanding product, now an Advisor to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
These men were rare specimen in the annals of our new Parliament in Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte. Will we ever see the likes of them again?