Features
Men and Memories
Rajapaksas of Giruwapattuwa - Lakshman’s Fluctuating Political Career
Buddhika Kurukularatne

There is a saying that if the mountain does not come to Mohamed, Mohamed should go to the mountain.

So, I went to see my ‘phone friend’, Mrs. Kamala Wickramasuriya, my ‘source’ of all the information or at least 90% of the information about the Rajapaksa clan.

I wore a green shirt. Expecting to see, a formidable lady, for her father ‘D. M’. was the ‘Lion’ of Ruhuna. I was greeted by a pleasant very small-made lady, very alert belieng her 72 years clad in a white sari.

I greeted her with folded plans of my hands in oriental fashion and before I could say who I was she jumped the gun.

‘Ah’! You must be Buddhika! Nobody else would dare to wear a green shirt to this house! she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Kamala Wickramasuriya - the third daughter of the legendary D. M. Rajapaksa, then gave me a white envelope.

It was a simple hand written invitation for her ‘Ordination Ceremony’ for she is to join the Order of the Buddhist Nuns next Thursday, the 16th December! Even this important news was broken to the first cousins - Prime Minister Mahinda et al via the ‘Men and Memories’, column of the Sunday Island.

After the last week’s article as usual I received a number of calls. My one time Boss at Maharaja’s ‘Ajit Sara’, a son of the famous P. Sarawanamuttu accused me of being racially biased for I only wrote about the Sinhalese and not the Tamil who have served the country with valour and great dedication. Thundered Ade, do you know that, the Hambantota Government Agent Hudson of whom you had written was my father’s successor in office.

‘Ajit Sara’s’ father is none other than the famous ‘P. Sarawanamuttu’ of the ‘Sara’ Stadium fame who held the offices of both the Tea Commissioner and the Rubber Commissioner simultaneously thereby drawing a salary which was only second to that of the British Governor!

Then there was another caller a Mrs. Savitri de Silva who took turns with her husband in speaking to me.

Lindamulage Anthony Christopher de Silva’s memory was rekindled by my reference to ‘Ratnawali’ the ‘Rodiya’ girl from Mulgirigala who was given a Vishakian education at the behest of D. M.Says de Silva:

‘My father was Takurtha Deva Aditya Gardiye Wasam Lindamulage Gabriel de Silva of Moratuwa. He was the Head Master of the Kahawatta Government Mixed School in the Ratnapura District way back in 1932.

‘The Government Agent at the time in Ratnapura was Mr. C. L. Wickremesinghe - the first Ceylonese Government Agent. C. L. Wickremesinghe was the paternal grandfather of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Those days in the Kahawatta area, there were a fairly large tribal population of Rodiyas (gypsies) who as custom would have it, were debarred from having access to any form of education.

‘C. L. Wickremesinghe asked my father to admit all the Rodiya children to his school. My father did so without any hesitation and infact my elder brother studied with the Rodiya children as I was not yet born then.’

At this point his wife Savitri took charge of the conversation.

‘You know Mr. Buddhika (we are total strangers and have not met ‘yet’. That explains the ‘Mr.’ Buddhika part). My mother-in-law was ‘expecting’ at the time.

Again her husband intervened.

‘A certain very powerful Kandyan aristocrat (name withheld by the writer) organised a protest campaign against my father - so much so after premature childbirth my mother became very ill. She died when I was a baby of just three months. My father who was faced with death threats levelled by this powerful Kandyan aristocrat asked for a transfer and took us all to safety!’

Mr. de Silva said that as I had written about ‘Ratnawali’ he should mention this fact about his father and Ranil’s grandfather.

As ‘Ajit Sara’ had told me that his father was the Government Agent at Hambantota before Hudson - The ‘Sudda’ and de Silva’s claim that C. L. Wickremesinghe was the first Sri Lankan Government Agent, I wanted to clarify who was senior.

I contacted Mr. Sam Wijesinghe, a ‘former Secretary General of Parliament, a vast repository of knowledge.

‘What are you talking Buddhika? C. L. was my father-in-law. I married Esmond’s sister (Esmond is the son of C.L. and father of Ranil).

‘My father-in-law indeed was the first Ceylonese Government Agent and in fact he was stationed at Ratnapura after his stints at Mannar and Kalutara’ added the amiable octogenarian. Sam Wijesinghe stating further that the Governor in a letter addressed to C. L. had wished him to be a trail blazer for many a Ceylonese to come.

Coming back to the eldest son of D. M. Lakshman Rajapaksa the ‘strong man’ in the family was popularly considered the natural successor to D.M. But at the time of D.M.’s untimely demise, Lakshman had not yet reached the age of adult franchise being a strapping lad not yet 21.

Therefore his paternal uncle ‘D.A.’, (Prime Minister’s father) became the automatic choice. ‘D.A.’ (Alvin) was returned uncontested to fill the vacuum created by the death of brother D.M. thus blazing a fresh political trail not only in the Ruhuna but also the country.

Unlike the other Rajapaksas, Lakshman’s political career had its ‘ups’ and ‘downs’. In 1947 he won the Tissamaharama seat in the first Parliament representing the Communist Party. His Kinsman the C.P. Leader Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe largely influenced the young Lakshman’s political thinking during these formative years. Lakshman was the youngest MP of the first Parliament and it was during the 1947 General Election he first clashed with Charles Edirisuriya, a powerful personality, popularly known as ‘Mole Mahattaya’.

‘Mole Mahattaya’ was so called because he was the owner of several rice mills. My father who had many building contracts in the deep south was a close friend of Mole Mahattaya and by implication a persona-non-grata with the Rajapaksas.

Tissamaharama and Hambantota seats like the Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia (previously Wellawatta-Galkissa) of you saw the political fortunes changing hands between two sets of individuals. Lakshman Rajapaksa and Charles Edirisuriya in the former and Dr. Colvin R. de Silva (LLSP) and S. de S. Jayasinghe (UNP) in the latter.

However, Lakshman Rajapaksa got the better of ‘Mole’ Mahattaya and upto the time of his demise counted 13 years and five months as a Parliamentarian.

Lakshman’s biggest win over his traditional rival was during the 1956 landslide where his majority was over 11,000.

In both March 1960 and July 1960, Lakshman retained the Tissamaharama seat as a MEP candidate and he helped to topple Mrs. Bandaranaike’s Government by voting with the opposition motion of Galle’s W. Dahanayaka in Dec. 1964.

Mr. Dudley Senanayake, the leader of the UNP declared that he would not field UNP candidates against any Parliamentarian who voted to out-vote the Sirima Bandaranaike Government.

To ‘Mole Mahattaya’s dismay, he was deemed UNP nominations of the 1965 General Elections. ‘Mole’ Mahattaya, the ‘Warrior’ he was then sought and secured SLFP nominations.

Due to the decision arrived at by the UNP, it was decided that Robert Gunawardena one of the most colourful and rebellious MPs of the Post Independent era was not to be contested by the UNP at Kottawa. A Joint Secretary of the UNP, M. D. H. Jayawardena was Kottawa UNP Organiser and he revolted against the leader’s decision threatening to resign from the party, if he was not given nomination. This put Dudley is a tight spot and a cordial meeting with Robert saw Robert agreeing to meet the six foot giant of the UNP. M.D.H. has been a good friend of mine from my school days who openly predicted that I would one day represent Ambalangoda in Parliament! (I did better by representing the entire Galle District!)

However, we of the UNP Students Union were unhappy with M.D.H.’s decision to contest Robert and decided not to join his campaign. But this was not to be - for one evening M.D.H. ‘caught me at Sirikotha asking me where the hell I had been hiding and hijacked me in his own car (a Black Mercedes) to several of his meetings. I had no escape. At one such meeting I was to see Manivel Saviriappa Themis, a postal employee fielded by Mr. Bandaranaike in 1956 - waxing eloquent on the virtues of the UNP - mostly for the benefit of Mr. Dudley Senanayake who was in the chair!

Coming back to the General Election of 1965 where Charles Edirisuriya of the SLFP narrowly defeated Lakshman Rajapaksa who contested as an Independent by a margin of 200 odd votes an interesting incident was witnessed at the ‘Throne Speech Debate’.

Charles Edirisuriya, out and out a UNPer at the time of voting walked across the floor of the those from the Opposition ranks to where Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was seated, did a ‘U’ Turn towards Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike - the Leader of the Opposition and gesticulated at her with the palm of his raised hand resembling an egret. (fldld)

From that day he was known as koka (Sinhala for egret) Charli.

In the 1970 General Elections, my friend and kinsman Tennyson Edirisuriya contesting with the then SLFP ‘hand’ symbol defeated Lakshman who ran as an Independent by a majority of over 5000.

As in the General Election of 1952, Lakshman’s symbol at the 1970 General Election was the ‘Umbrella’.

Well-known leftist and Poet Lionel Sarath who was a popular speaker at all of Lakshman’s meetings used to recite ‘Kavis and Kamala remembers just two lines from one such Kaviya.

It was not possible to keep Lakshman away from politics or parliament.

When his younger brother George, who was the Minister of Fisheries and Health died, the SLFP picked him as the SLFP candidate for Mulgirigala. Due to some manoeuvring by specially some sections of the Rajapaksa women folk, the youngest of the Rajapaksa brothers, Niel was pitted against Lakshman. Poor Niel met his Waterloo and even forfeited his deposit. Lakshman romped home with a majority which even bettered George’s.

Lakshman with his Communist upbringing was a rebel. His paternal uncle D.A. was at one time the UNP MP for Beliatta. This was during D. S. Senanayake’s premiership and before the famous ‘cross over’ of S.W.R.D.

D. S. Senanayake was touring the Hambantota area and had been invited to lunch by his Party Man D.A. Along with the ‘Old Man’ his encourage was also lunching at the Meda Mulana house of D.A.

Immediately after the Prime Minister’s limousine travelled the Prime Minister’s strong man Col. C. A. Dharmapala, who was a very close relation of the Rajapaksas, left in his vehicle.

Lakshman Rajapaksa with a few youths wearing ‘Red Shirts’ laid in wait by the Kondagala house of Lakshman. He allowed the Prime Minister’s vehicle to pass and when the vehicle in which Dharmapala travelled approached, Lakshman got one Ovis Appu who had only one leg and hopped about in crutches to stand on the middle of the road, obstructing Dharmapala’s car.

Dharmapala’s driver veered to avoid running over the cripple and as the car passed him Ovis Appu at the instigation of Lakshman let off some raw filth at the big shots in big cars trying to kill innocent cripples.

The police were quick to arrest both Lakshman and Ovis Appu along with some other ‘red shirted’ youths. They were on remand for sometime and charged before the Magistrates Court of Tangalla.

Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who had been retained by the Rajapaksa Kinsman, George Weeratunga the leader of the Matara Bar called Ovis Appu to the witness stand when the defence was called. Ovis Appu in his evidence said that Lakshman Rajapaksa the first accused was never there and it was true he swore at the driver who paid scant respect to a cripple!

No wonder all the accused were honourably acquitted.

Ovis Appu may have repaid a debt he owed to Lakshman for saving his life. He had been afflicted with elephantiasis and to save this life he had to part with one leg. It was Lakshman who bore all the expenses connected with Ovis Appu’s tag amputation.

Dr. Colvin R. de Silva had to get Lakshman out in several other criminal cases most of which were total fabrications according to sister Kamala Wickramasuriya.

Once when Lakshman was returning home along the Tangalla-Hambantota Road, there was a bus on fire. Lakshman only saw the incident but soon he was arrested for setting fire to the bus.

On this occasion too he had to languish in remand for several days for something which he never did.

But then when his father’s creditors came to the Kotabowa fair to collect the rent Lakshman assaulted the representatives of the creditor who ran for their lives.

Lakshman Rajapaksa was a legend of his time though not in proportion to his illustrious father D.M.

Next George Rajapaksa.

 

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