Men & Memories
How Ranjan Wijeratne saved my life
by Buddhika Kurukularatne

Although I have been involved very actively in UNP politics from the time I was a mere brat of 13 years (my 1st outstation political event was at Ratnapura in 1958 where the All Ceylon UNP Youth League held a 2 day session at Seevali College) and was the youngest electoral leader of the party in 1970 (Ambalangoda). I resigned in protest of the ‘unholy’ agreement that Dudley Senanayake had with J. R. Jayewardene against whom we demanded disciplinary action.

This was because he was flirting with the SLFP and had told Dudley that the UNP should join with the SLFP and if the party was not willing to consider his proposal that he would do, what today would have been termed a Rohita Bogollagama. Rohitas were no where there in the political scene then as were many others including Ranil.

J. R. was called the ‘Nijalingappa’ of the UNP after the reactionary figure in the Indian National Congress and our local ‘Nijalingappa’ who was ironically the most senior Vice President of the party besides being the chairman of the UNPs disciplinary committee publicly announced at a meeting at Matara then Uyanwatta Esplanade (now Sanath Jayasuriya esplanade) that in a few day time, his services would be available to the people in a significant way. Mind you this was during the SLFP regime of Sirima Bandaranaike.

The youth league whose leader was the indefatigable Jinadasa Niyathapala, political guru to many of us up in arms against this ‘betrayal’ and we had the support of a considerable section of the party including R. Premadasa.

The UNP, in the past had taken disciplinary action against party members for lesser ‘offences’. ‘Patty Mahattaya’ (W. D. S. Abeygunawardene) of Galle who brought credit to the party by defeating a sitting Prime Minister ‘W’ (as the ‘great man’ Dahanayaka was affectionately called by the ‘Gallans’) was sacked on the recommendation of J. R. for the former’s failure to honour a Mayoral agreement that he had with a non UNPer Dahanayake (‘W’ was not a UNPer then!)

But the 2 leaders Dudley and J. R. hugged and kissed each other, cried over each others shoulder at UNP MP Paris Perera’s Thimbirigasyaya house and the party high command expected us to follow this decision made privately without the endorsement of even the working committee (initially) like a flock of sheep. Well I was the black sheep in that flock and I promptly submitted my resignation from the membership of the UNP and organisorship by telegram!

Rukman and Niyathapala still tease me on the contents of the telegram which according to them upset ‘Lokka’ (Dudley) a lot.

The same incident led to the resignation of Premadasa from the Party’s working committee and he went on to form the original citizens’ front (Puravesi Peramuna) of which I became a founder member and a key speaker along with people like Gamini Fonseka, Prof. Tilak Ratnakara, D. J. Maha Kumarage and the Ven. Welletota Pannadassi Thero.

UNP was anathema to me mostly because of the ‘Nijalingappa’ (J.R.) who succeeded Dudley as the leader in 1973.

In early 80’s I was with Balfour Beatty Nuttall the British contractors to the victoria dam and Hydro-electric project as the legal and personnel advisor. I believe at the time I was one of the highest paid mercantile executives in the country my employers treating me on far (or even at a higher pedestal) than some of the expatriates-so much so-even when my pet Golden Retriever died I was sent to England to bring a dog and the chief buyer at the May Day road head office in UK. Nick Dowlin congratulated me on being the man responsible for getting the Purchasing Department of Balfour Beatty’s (then) 75 year history ‘to purchase a 8 week old Golden Retriever female puppy for BK!’ This canine record still holds good at BB.

Although my friend, Gamini Dissanayake is often credited by the friends for ‘landing’ me this plum job, I must state emphatically and with gratitude that it was a former employer R. (Killy) Rajamahendran of Maharajas who secured this lucrative position for me. He got Nimal Cooke a co-director to summon me from Taiwan where I was on a private visit arranged by yet another friend Eamon Kariyakarawana of Lake House fame.

During the referendum in 1982 Gamini was touring the country by helicopter to coax the people to vote for the lamp. The referendum was one of the many mistakes committed by J. R. in my opinion.

Gamini asked me to meet him at a meeting at Hasalaka where Tissa Attanayake’s uncle R. M. B. Attanayake was the MP as well as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education.

Gamini went by chopper from Colombo along with Joe Abeywickrema who was one of the key speakers on the UNP platform and I drove my 11 Sri 5996 ford escort via the 18 (really it is 17 now) hair-pin bends along the old Mahiyangana Road. When I arrived at the meeting place Gamini was about to conclude his speech and to my utter surprise and astonishment concluded his speech announcing that the next speaker would be ‘Advocate Buddhika Kurukularatne’.

I obviously could not let the side down-least of all my friend (although many of his ‘so called’ friends did just that!) and I though unwillingly became part of the notorious referendum compaign of the UNP. I was then a registered voter of Nuwara Eliya and travelled all the way up with my wife to commit the felony of voting for the UNP’s lamp!

Having thus tasted the forbidden fruit (again!) there was no turning back.

There was no ‘District System’ then and my political interest was obviously focused at Ambalangoda where I was born, bred and buttered! Mr. Dudly Senanayake looked upto me to be a UNP candidate as was stated by him in a letter he wrote to Prof. Brian Buckley Director of studies at the centre for labour and social studies in Rome, in recommending me to a political leadership training in Sept. 1966.

By the time, I returned ‘home’ to the UNP Dudley was no more.

Ambalangoda electorate was represented in 1977 by Ryter Thilakasekera, who like Manivel Savariappa Themis of Colombo central in 1956 was swept into parliament with the tsunami of 1977.

Ryter Thilakasekara though not a man of any academic achievement or social background as compared to the Kularatnes, William Silvas and Saddasenas who represented this southern electorate with distinction was indeed a maestro at Machia Vellian tactics.

He was the live wire of UNP activities and apart from being a sales assistant in the Bata Shoe agency his father, uncle Robert owned he never did a job. Nevertheless, a man with tremendous organisational skills, he saw himself elected to the Board of the Ambalangoda co-operative society.

It was he who took me in Fairly Wijemanne’s Borgward to campaign for Percy Samaraweera’s by-election where the latter clashed with ‘Bhasha Boy’ K. M. P. Rajaratne. I cut school to proceed to Welimada.

However it was at Percy’s Wemulla Estate, that I fell out with Ryter over an incident which endeared me to Percy, Capt. Seneviratne and Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe who were in charge of Percy’s campaign. I was invited by Percy to occupy a room in the Wemulla Bungalow with Capt. Seneviratne (‘Bindu’ — Lakshman Seneviratne MP’s father) and Manawasinghe whilst Ryter slept in a mana thatched house with Almon Pieris, Nimal Rohana and others.

Ryter knew that I was a threat to him politically and he was close to JR as I was to Dudley. However Dudley never liked him which was yet another reason for him to throw in his lot with J.R.

With me out of the political arena in 1977 and J.R. as the party leader, the abject corruption and nepotism of the Sirimavo Bandaranike regime, the UNP tsunami hauled the likes of Ryter to parliament.

As the UNP ‘lost’ the referendum at Ambalangoda a by-election was held and I took 3 weeks leave from my employer to lead the UNP’s campaign at Batapola area (the largest vote bank in the Ambalangoda electorate) which saw the UNP candidate M. H. K. Jagathsena, the only son of Dr. M. H. Saddhasena a former MP, win by a razor thin margin. Jagath who was too fond of the bottle died before his parliamentary term was completed and Ryter, to the amazement and utter surprise of many was again selected to parliament via the ‘chit’. The ‘chit system’ was yet another curse introduced by the UNP.

Mr. M. S. Amarasiri along with the District Minister G. V. S. de Silva both had a soft corner for Ryter who had the knack of making the right connections with the right persons.

This was the time that nominations were being called for the first provincial council elections. Although the JVP which mercilessly carried out their threats to kill those who participated in the treacherous provincial council elections, I decided to submit my nominations to contest the P.C. elections to the Galle district from the UNP ticket.

My application found favour with Sirikotha and the nominations board got down Amarasiri who was the chief ministerial candidate, G. V. S. de Silva the District Minister and Ryter Thilakasekera, the UNP MP to Sirikotha.

When the desire to field me as the party’s candidate was proposed by Premadasa, Ryter whole heartedly agreed stating that I had the backing of many young people because of the NGO that I headed, the Ambalangoda Deshapremi Sanvidhanaya.

Both Amarasiri and G. V. S., who knew that Ryter and I were not seeing eye to eye on many matters were visibly moved by Ryter’s what they believed was a magnanimous gesture. Premadasa then asked Ryter himself to propose my name which he undertook gleefully.

Rajan Wijeratne was to come to the Ambalangoda Rest House to decide on a Provincial Council candidate after hearing the views of party activists.

Ryter immediately went in to action. On the appointed day he packed the Ambalangoda Rest House with his henchmen and cronies and made them sit at different locations.

Ranjan took the chair with Amarasiri and G.V.S. on either side. Ryter as the MP was also seated at the head table.

There were three candidates who had applied. As the meeting had been convened to find the response of party activists the applicants themselves were not invited. I applied merely to register myself — If I had not applied for nominations for the provincial council and only applied for the parliamentary elections, I knew Ryter would then carry out a campaign that I was scared to come forward at a time ‘our people’ were being massacred. His game plan was obvious to me and I decided to exhaust all his ammunition at the nomination stage for the Provincial Council Elections so that he would not be able to fire a shot when I sought nominations to the parliamentary elections.

But another applicant Sarath Lamahewa too had sent his men to find out what happened at the meeting.

As Ranjan had concluded his opening address and invited those present to suggest a name to be the UNP’s candidate for the forthcoming Provincial Council elections, Ryter had jumped up and prasing me to the skies had proposed my name.

Ryter’s game plan worked according to clock work precision and led ironically by a classmate of mine who was also a colleague at Lake House, pandemonium reigned supreme with almost the entire audience howling in protest that they would cross-over to the SLFP if Buddhika was appointed as the UNP candidate!

Ryter wore a troubled look and won the immediate sympathy of Ranjan Amarasiri and G.V.S. Ryter had put up a great act in trying to reason out with his own ‘plants’, which impressed the visitors more.

Ranjan went back to Sirikotha with a report that said I was a Persona-non-grata with the youths of the area. Naturally I was not given nominations and I live today to fell the story thanks to Ryter and vicariously to Ranjan.

When news went around that I had applied to seek UNP nominations to the Provincial Councils a friend Leelaratne Bindu Hewa from Delgahabedda in Batapola in the Ambalangoda electorate met me to convey an important message.

‘Leele’ as we called him had been a JVP hardcore activist in the 1971 insurrection of the JVP. In Ambalangoda JVP activities were rampant as Rohana Wijeweera himself was educated at my alma-mater-Dharmasoka.

I had no less than 13 of my school-mates facing that 1st ‘Maha Naduwa’, as the JVP Trial-at-Bar was known.

Leele by this time had shed his revolutionary ideologies and was working with us in my NGO the Ambalangoda Deshapremi Sanvidhanaya. He took me to a side and said Sir I received a confidential message from ‘Aragollo’ (those people) in Hambantota, that if you were to submit your nominations to contest the Provincial Council elections that they would have to ‘remove’ you.

I told Leele, ‘Leele only a fool would die twice! Let tham kill me if they want to. But let them also continue my scholarship programme that I have launched for the poor students!

‘Leele’ went away a very worried man.

Unlike most people who jumped sides when they failed to get nominations, I was the first person to vote at the Pepiliyana Sunethradevi Balika MV in the Kesbewa electorate where I was a registered voter.

Kesbewa was also an electorate which was teeming with JVP activities. There were unofficial curfews imposed by the JVP bringing civil life to a grinding halt. Hand bills and notices announced death to the first five persons who came to poll.

This was the time, Malini was hospitalized under the care of Dr. H. H. R. Samarasinghe at Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital with a massive cardiac infraction or Heart Attack (so after all, she had a heart!)

The poll commenced at 7.00 a.m. and I walked the 500 meters from my house to the polling booth at 6.45 a.m. sporting a green shirt. Many people came out — not to go to the polling booth, but to see this ‘Manda Buddhika’ courting death.

When I reached the Sunethradevi Balika Vidyalaya there was no queue. In fact there wasn’t a soul. The officers themselves were not ready to receive any voters although it was 7 o’clock. Except for the officers there were no polling agents or candidates present.

The officers almost apologetically requested me to bear with them until they got ready.

So I waited for death. Nos 2,3,4 and 5 were not to be seen anywhere. That was how I missed my rendezvous with death — curtsey the JVP!

After I became an MP I told Ranjan as to how he saved me from being killed.

Never at a loss for words, Ranjan said, ‘yes men, I deliberately denied your PC nominations as I wanted you here! (Parliament)


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