22nd February, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 32

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SPOTLIGHT

 Bloody betrayal

Vijaya's much loved face defaced by the shooting - his body lying at the morgue

 Vijaya Loyalists' poster campaign for peace

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti 

If there ever was an award for amnesiacs, hypocrites, opportunists and psychopaths, the Sri Lankan breed of politicians are sure to collectively bag it. One of the best examples of backtracking coupled with an attempt to rewrite political history emerged recently with President Chandrika  Kumaratunga crediting the United National Party (UNP) with the killing of her husband, founder member and General Secretary, Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP), Vijaya Kumaratunga.

Kumaratunga, killed at the height of the 1988 JVP insurgency, was among some 117 SLMP members reportedly killed by the Marxist insurgents during the period of terror.

A popular film idol, who following his marriage to Chandrika Bandaranaike joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and later founded the SLMP, Kumaratunga within a short span of time, became a politician with a deep understanding of the country's most contentious political issue and the means of its resolution.

His desire to see an end to the ethnic conflict also saw him visiting Jaffna and with wife Chandrika to South India to discuss matters political with the Tamil political leaders and the civilians.

While Kumaratunga took long strides in politics it was public knowledge at that time, that Kumaratunga was also earning the JVP's ire, particularly due to his political stance with regard to the Indo - Lanka Accord and his willingness, notwithstanding a jail term earned due to trumpeted Naxelite charges by the J. R. Jayewardene administration, to work with the UNP for the resolution of the conflict.

But, just 16 years after Kumaratunga's brutal assassination saw the victims of JVP violence forging an alliance with the JVP, their aggressor, for political purposes. The irony of the political marriage was that Kumaratunga's widow, President Chandrika Kumaratunga was the unanimous choice as alliance leader.

Soon after the formation of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the late SLMP General Secretary's 16th death anniversary that fell on February 16 was also marked with a series of religious and relief programmes - a political embarrassment to the true Vijaya loyalists who did not wish to be in anyway associated with the JVP.

SLMP recalls JVP's tyranny

But the founding of a new political alliance with the JVP has irked a group of SLMP members known as the "Vijaya Sahurda Sandhanaya" or "Vijaya Loyalists" to such an extent that they allege that never has Kumaratunga's memory been insulted in this manner and have vowed to tell the country the absolute truth about Kumaratunga's assassination that is being given new political twists for political expediency.

According to SLMP senior party sources, a series of other political killings had been carried out by the JVP and one that the members remember for the sheer brutality of it is the shooting of Ven. Pohoddaramulle Premaloka Thero, the chief adviser of the SLMP party who was gunned down soon after Kumaratunga's assassination.

According to SLMP sources, insurgents linked to the JVP had visited the temple under the guise of obtaining an interview for a party publication from the monk and had spent some time at the temple premises questioning the priest on his commitment to power devolution.

When the priest had answered in the affirmative, reiterating his party's collective commitment to power sharing as a basis for conflict resolution, he had been twice shot in the mouth, instantly killing him.

"We are unable to forgive or forget, and most definitely cannot forgive our former members who want to share a platform with the killers of our leader simply to gain political power," said one SLMP member.

Fear psychosis

Kumaratunga's life was lost during a period of murder and mayhem. Both the insurgents and the counter forces of the government were unleashing violence during the height of the second JVP insurgency. A number of clergy including Buddhists and Catholic priests, along with UNP, SLFP and SLMP politicians became targets of JVP violence.

Strangely, a large number of SLMP members, a relatively new political outfit making new waves became prime JVP targets, largely due to the liberal political view they adopted with regard to the concept of power sharing, a view anathema to a large majority of the population at that time and to the JVP that branded power sharing as a loss of sovereignty. The SLMP's death toll within the two-year period of terror hence, amounted to 117.

As senior SLMP member and Vijaya loyalist, Padmasiri Kodikara recalled, it was a period of terror when the SLMP, unarmed and committed to a fresh political ideology became prime targets to the "Deshapremi Movement" that went on an outrageous killing spree.

"We were unarmed, relatively new and without our leader. The problems we faced were enormous. It is tragic that some of our members are able to perform this act of absolute political betrayal," he noted.

Ban on political parties and  death threats

It was at this time that the Patriotic People's Movement, the military arm of the JVP began issuing orders under the name of one Keerthi Wijebahu, chief commanding officer of the movement, bringing the country to a standstill. On September 6, 1988, Wijebahu demanded that all court houses boycott work, thereby crippling the judicial activities in the country.

Order No. 4 bearing Ref. No. 0504 condemned the killing of pro-JVP lawyer Wijedasa Liyanaarachchi allegedly by the police following orders from the ruling UNP.

The order specifically demanded all courts, the legal practitioners and court workers to boycott work until justice is done to the Liyanaraachchi murder. Any violators were threatened with instant death.

Similarly, the Patriotic People's Movement banned the UNP for allegedly being stooges of the West, particularly to the US and for being pro-India by inviting Indian troops to help the nation with their military might. Some of the leading UNP politicians were put on their 'assassination list' as traitors to the nationalistic cause.

Those who represented the party or extended support to the UNP were also issued with a notice of immediate death. The SLMP's plight was no better with Vijaya Kumaratunga himself being put on the list of planned assassinations for willing to work with the Jayewardene administration on the national issue.

Issuing a series of other orders that added to the country's fear psychosis, the JVP also prohibited the masses from participating in the 1988 general election and followed it up with a series of killings of candidates.

But what added a more fearful dimension to the story was the JVP's sudden issuing of notices prohibiting people from reporting to work, ordering islandwide strikes, crippling state transport and health sectors, thereby having a huge negative impact on the country's economy, its people and the country's image.

Vijaya's final public address

The threats did not deter Vijaya Kumaratunga who had a political mission - one that transcended political barriers. Kumaratunga, with his unconcealed dislike for feudalistic politics was no fan of the SLFP, a party that failed to sustain his interest due to its sheer lack of liberal thinking.

While new theories are being spinned about the assassination of the SLMP leader, it is also timely to examine the contents of Kumaratunga's final public address. Addressing a mammoth public rally held at Campbell Park on January 28, 1988, Kumaratunga lashed out at the UNP, SLFP and the JVP for failing to address the need of the hour.

Interestingly, Kumaratunga also voiced his concerns about the SLFP's links with the JVP. "If  JVP is willing to lay down arms like timid boys at the behest of the SLFP Leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then we demand to know as to who actually controls the JVP? If hundreds of buses are burnt, public property worth millions of rupees destroyed when the Bandaranaike mother and son duo demand such destructive actions from the JVP from under the Bo tree in Fort, do we have to ask as to who controls the JVP and under whose instructions this country has been plunged to anarchy, destruction and bloodshed?" queried Kumaratunga.

Kumaratunga also named a long list of persons murdered by the JVP including Nandana Marasinghe, several LSSP members, James Ethugala and the like and accused the JVP of carrying out a spate of killings due to SLFP prompting.

Kumaratunga's accusation against the SLFP of allegedly manipulating the JVP for purposes of political expediency it seems is seeing a repeat, some 16 years later.

Chandrika in exile

The absolute mistrust of the JVP was not confined to Kumaratunga alone - his wife Chandrika too did not see the JVP as a political party with a mission or a true desire to settle the country's burning issue.

In the aftermath of her husband's brutal killing, the then SLMP Leader Chandrika Kumaratunga sought refuge in London with her two young children, a decision that met with stoic approval with the party cadres who feared for their life.

Kumaratunga reportedly led a life of seclusion grappling with the reality of losing her husband at a time when their political creation, the SLMP showed all-potential of emerging as an alternative to both the feudalistic UNP and the SLFP. In addition, she had to cope with the personal grief of having to be both parents to two vulnerable children who had witnessed their father being killed in broad daylight.

Breaking the silence, in a letter to the SLMP politburo during her period in exile, Kumaratunga was explicit about the identification of his killers and was aghast that the country despite loving her film idol husband had failed to rise up against the JVP elements in the villages.

Her letter dated October 11, directed to the politburo members of the SLMP sought to discuss the deficiencies of the SLMP and suggested practical ways and means of strengthening the party's political position. Besides the political ambitions that were clearly spelt out in the letter, what emerged in the letter was her absolute mistrust and dislike for the JVP which she called "a group of murderous fascists."

In her lengthy letter, she had appreciated the efforts of the SLMP members to help the party grow despite the immediate setback of losing Vijaya Kumaratunga to an assassin's bullet. "I am enormously grateful to the party cadres who fearlessly continue to face the threats of the fascist JVP murderers and UNP goons to further the interest of a political party that is at its infant stage, but showing tremendous potential in becoming a true alternative to the two main political forces in Sri Lanka," she wrote.

Strangely, she has also given a firm pledge that under no circumstances would she leave the SLMP created through the sweat and blood of true leftists: "I shall not change this decision until death," she affirmed.

Ironically she has not only changed her decision but joined hands with the very murderers of her leftist allies including her husband, Vijaya.

Chandrika Kumaratunga also critiqued the lack of organisation within the SLMP and declared that such political complacency would only help create a political platform for the UNP and the murderous JVP, which she saw as an unforgivable political omission.

On an emotional note, the widow of Vijaya Kumaratunga had further stated that while millions of Kumaratunga fans flocked to Colombo to pay their last respects to the much loved film star, there was not a single person at village level willing to raise a hand against a JVP member in defiance of the brutality associated with the JVP.

At a time when the backdrop to the Kumaratunga assassination is being swept aside for purposes of political expediency, the "Vijaya Loyalists" are planning to take action against the spreading of falsehoods and explain to the public the true circumstances under which Kumaratunga was gunned down.

With Kumaratunga's tale of death being rewritten to suit a political situation, the Vijaya loyalists have decided to end their silence. With some of the members of the collective deciding to go public with the knowledge they possess regarding the circumstances of their leader's gunning down, fresh posters have come up in the city bearing Kumaratunga's handsome visage that boldly stated: "Vijaya, I did not betray you." Underneath is a smaller image of Chandrika Kumaratunga clad in white and pledging to further the political cause of her late husband, her hands brought together in a Marxists' salute in front of Vijaya's coffin.

The Loyalists have planned to hand over a transcription of Kumaratunga's final speech along with a VCD to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shortly.

A senior member, speaking to The Sunday Leader said that they were simply unable to associate themselves with some of the former members who are today in the PA-JVP collective and twisting Kumaratunga's assassination details to suit their current political need.

"It is disgusting. We cannot believe how they can get on  the same platform knowing in their hearts that they killed our leader and over 100 members," he said.

The Vijaya Loyalists' group includes former adviser to the SLMP, Ven. Wellawatte Sanghabhiwansa Thero, Ven. Madampagama Assajee Thero and over 50 senior SLMP politicians.

Besides the Buddhist monks, the group includes former chairman of the Central Provincial Council and Parliamentarian Sarath Kongahage, former PA Deputy Minister Athula Nimalasiri Jayasinghe, former opposition leader of the Southern Provincial Council, Cyril Dharmawardene, Eraj Fernando, former opposition leader of the North Central Provincial Council, Dhammika Lenawa, J. R. P. Suriyapperuma, Rusiripala Tennakoon, former Southern Provincial Councilor Somapala Ekanayake, Vijith Anuradha, Anula Herath, Sarath Dambawinna, W. P. M. Dissanayake, former Western Provincial Councillor Peremasiri Perera, media personnel Bandula Padmakumara and Mulan Perera, Shanthini Kongahage, Padmasiri Kodikara, former chairman of the Medawachchiya Pradeshiya Sabha, Nalin Wijeratne, Dehiwala-Mt.Lavinia Municipal Councillor Ananda Perera, Wijaya Neranjan Perera and others. 

While nobody denied the JVP's inherent right to indulge in mainstream politics and to be politically accepted, what these loyalists say is that such a right could never extend to a mandate to rewrite history, particularly the death of their revered leader Vijaya Kumaratunga.

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