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The battle of the Gulliver and the Lilliputian

Buddhika Kurukularatnae

Alick Aluvihare is a six-footer and the most senior Member of Parliament from both sides. In the 1989 government he was the minister in charge of Ports and Shipping.

President Premadasa had quite rightly decreed that all appointments to the government and state sectors should be on merit alone. The ‘Janasaviya’ recipients, irrespective of political affiliations were given priority in such appointments. Premadada erred gravely when he ordered that, even the teaching appointments should be given to ‘Janasaviya’ recipients on a priority basis.

Most of the Janasaviya recipients were anti-UNP and the majority of those who were benefited by the Premadasa doctrine, did not barter their political allegiance just because they got a job. The vast number of jobless UNPers were up in arms against this Presidential decree which in fact was the outcome of a proposal by the Presidential Commission appointed to inquire into the incidents of ‘Youth Unrest’. It was this Presidential Commission of which Prof. G. L. Pieris MP was a member that recommended that Govt. and state sector appointments should be devoid of any political patronage. The Ambalangoda Deshapremi Sanvidhanaya, giving oral evidence before this commission proposed this measure.

Hardly had the cinders of Premadasa’s pyre died down than UNP ministers notably Alick started packing the Port with his supporters from his home constituency of Matale. This is being continued by his successors in successive PA and UPFA governments with impunity.

I was a back-bench MP then representing Ambalangoda in the coastal belt and had to face volatile UNP youths who demanded ‘jobs’ in the Port. A fair number of office and factory workers travelled daily to work by the ‘Samudra Devi’ and ‘Ruhunu Kumari’ to their work places in the city from Ambalangoda.

I made inquiries and learnt that 25 persons from the Minister’s District in Matale, 12 of whom were from his own village ‘Aluvihare’ have been recruited to the Port through the "back door".

Matale is the most fertile district in the entire island. Tea, rubber, cocoa and even coconut plantations were found in the district whilst cloves, cardamoms and other spices grew in abundance. The choicest of gems were found in places like Laggala in the district. Matale produced the finest dolomite. Matale lime was only second to Akurala quicklime produced in my district. There was extensive paddy cultivation too in the district. The average peasant in Matale with their garden produce of spices, fruits and jack was comparatively better off than most of their counterparts in the rest of the island. There was no starvation in Matale.

Unlike the weather beaten southerner, the workers so ‘planted’ in the port from the salubrious environs of Matale could not survive in the ‘concrete jungle’. After a few days of sight-seeing in the big city they vacated post.

My own friends from the port primmed me with all the information and I first raised the issue of political ‘monopoly’ exercised by the minister at the government group meeting which Alick artfully dodged.

This then gave me an opportunity to give notice of a question for oral answer in Parliament.

My question was simple and straight forward.

I only wanted to know how many workers had been recruited from the Matale district and their addresses.

Alick got his amiable Minister of State M. E. H. Mahroof who was gunned down by the LTTE to ask for three months time to answer the question. I took umbrage at this and said it was no wonder that the port was facing difficulties when the minister wanted three months to answer such a simple question.

Addressing the Speaker (M. H. Mohamed) I said ‘Sir, I have been in the private sector for over 25 years handling ‘personnel’ and if my Personnel Manager did not give me that information which was readily available by way of a computer print out within 15 minutes I would have sacked the man.

The Speaker too agreed that three months time was an unreasonably long period and ordered that the answer be given in the following ‘Parliament Week’.

Alick himself gave the answer which read ‘25 have been recruited from the Matale district and according to the addresses 12 are from the village of Aluvihare’.

Asking a supplementary question I asked how many persons have been recruited from the Ambalangoda electorate which is by the sea to which the hapless minister stated that there was no record of a single person recruited from Ambalangoda for the period in question.

Quoting a sanskrit stanza I yelled.

‘Athee Deergho — Maha Mugdakh

(Those who are very tall are very stupid) and followed it by saying that ‘people who had not seen the sea have been engaged in the port!’

This acid remark brought cheers from the Opposition benches and I well remember the burly Royalist ruggerite. C. V. Goonaratne (SLFP Colombo) loudly remarking to the Chair, ‘Sir! coming events cast their shadows!’ and the then SLFP fire brand now turned UNP Hema Kumara Nanayakkara from when I learnt the Sanskrit phrase much earlier, jubilant for it was his weapon that I was using against the minister.

Although the government front bench was visibly displeased, if not angry, the government back bench was full of praise. They openly lamented the fact they did not have the guts to tackle a top rung cabinet minister.

Well, as they say ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’.

Having said my piece I collected my books and rushed out for if Alick caught me that day he would have made minced meat out of me. Whilst rushing out my friend from the other side Kapila Abeyaratne (SLFP Ratnapura District) asked me at the ground floor lift ‘Umba Koheda Duwanne?’ I replied ‘Alick! Alick!’ and ran for my dear life. Kapila remembers this incident to this day’.

The next day in Parliament, Ranil left his seat and passing mine which was an aisleseat in the last but one row in the government back bench told me, ‘Buddhika come to any room!’

I followed him to the prime minister’s room and he said ‘Sit down!’. This was unusual for he knew that I needed no invitation to sit when ever I came into see him.

He then started to admonish me.

‘Buddhika, yesterday you went at Alick not respecting his position. He is a very senior member of the cabinet. You should never have gone at him like that!’

"Ranil! you do that! And I would go at you is the same way I retorted.

The prime minister then very politely asked me to leave the room. I stormed out!.

A few days later Anura Bastian (UNP-Colombo) thanked me for finding an answer to give the hundreds of youth who came in search of jobs in the port. He told me that as they were all from Wellawatta, they had all seen the sea and jobs in the port are given to persons who had not seen the sea as established by the ‘Ambalangoda Manthreethuma’.

I did not even apply for UNP nominations for the General Elections of 1994 but instead operated from ‘Sirikotha’ attending to various courts throughout the island from the Primary Court at Palapathwala to the Highest Court the Supreme Court (my turf is S.C. the C.A., 10 High Courts and at least 20 Magistrates Courts even the L.T. and a few Commissions) looking after the interests of hundreds of UNP supporters who were hounded out and persecuted by a revengeful PA government.

The fact that I achieved 100% success in all the matters I handled was due not because of my cleverness as an Advocate, but due to the absurdity of the charges. A fisherman by the name of Pinto in Marawila had both his hands severed for the ‘sin’ of voting for the UNP and the police filed action under S:314 of the Penal Code for causing simple hurt until I moved in and got the case turned into an inquiry under S:300 for attempted murder.

It was during this time that the Party’s Legal Secretary Daya Pelpola asked me to handle all the political cases on behalf of the UNP at ‘Matale’.

At that time Matale, was the political fortress of Nandimitra Ekanayake (now turned UNP) and ‘Nandi’ packed the police stations in the district with officers who were at the beck and call of the PA government.

Alick was charged with the robbery of a vehicle jack valued at Rs. 2500! This case was thrown out by the A.G. of Alick’s children, only two escaped being charged in courts. Mahoranjani, alecks only daughter and Sahan the youngest son, who was a planter —the entire Aluvihare family was at the receiving end of political violence unleashed on them.

As I am ‘Manda Buddhika’, I do not charge any fees from the party or the clients. Alick and his sons Ranjith, Wasantha and Duljith are free to do politics today because of me. Ranjith is a MP today whilst Wasantha was the Chief Minister of the Central Provincial Council until recently and now its leader of the opposition. Duljith was private secretary to the minister father.

All in all there were 17 cases filed against the Aluvihares. In one case Alick was charged for mischief by throwing stones at a house occupied by a woman! Then son Wasantha was falsely implicated in a murder by the Matale police.

I consented to appear on behalf of the Aluvihares because of two reasons.

One was that Alick was one of the few politicians who did not amass wealth by engaging in politics.

The other reason was that even Ranil would think that I declined to handle Matale cases because of the incident in parliament involving me and Alick.

One day Gamini Athukorala told me, ‘I say you fellows charge unconscionable fees. For Adhikari’s case (A. M. S. Adhikari was a suspect in a murder case at Kalawewa and learned President’s Counsel when the UNP retained got him out at the M.C. stage itself!) I myself took Rs. 50,000 and gave the lawyer!’

I told Gamini, that the lawyer retained by the party was worth every cent he charged and asked him the question,’Well if his charges were unconscionable, how much should I charge?’

Wanigasekara Bandaranayake Wasala Mudiyanse Ralahamilage Udawalawwe Alick Aluvihare — simply known as ‘Alick’ was born on 20th December 1926 to an aristocratic family in Matale. His father William Aluvihare married Seelawathi Hulangamuwa. The family properties originally extended from Mandandawala junction to the Aluvihare town. 44 years in politics has left him with only about one acre of land where his house now stands.

This was the main reason why I buried the hatchet and took up residence in Matale. My friends R. K. Chandananda de Silva, the Gen. Secretary Defence and Rajaguru then I.G. were constantly awoken in the dead of the night by me and I remember Chandananda once ask me whether I was going to contest Matale instead of Ambalangoda.

Alick wanted to be a Sub-Inspector of Police in 1947 when his paternal uncle Sir Richard was the first Ceylonese Inspector General of Police. However another uncle Bernard who was elected to represent the Matale district in the 2nd State Council in 1936 wanted Alick to succeed him in politics. Alick then gave up his ambition to join the police. He thus became the understudy to his uncle who was elected to the State Council with a host of freshers that included Dudley, M. D. Banda, Francis de Zoysa, E. A. Nugawela, Razik Fareed, R. G. Senanayake, P. B. Bulankulame and W. Dahanayake.

Bernard Aluvihare was the secretary of the SLFP and just on the eve of the 1956 general elections he did a Rohita Bogollagama and joined the UNP. With the uncle, the nephew too joined what our ‘W’ termed ‘the Uncle Nephew Party’ (UNP). This resulted in a celebrated Pieter Keuneman remark "normally rats jump off sinking ships. This is the first rat who jumped into one!"

With the ‘stabbing behind the back by his own General Secretary, S.W.R.D. was in a quandary and had no one to pitch against the mighty Bernard. He had gone to Matale to assess the damage caused by the great betrayal and accompanying him was a young journalist from the Lankadeepa — Nimal Karunatilaka.

Finding no suitable man from Matale who was willing to challenge the colossus in Bernard, S.W.R.D. turned to young Nimal and said ‘Nimal’ you contest Matale! Nimal Karunathilaka thus became the M.E.P. candidate for Matale.

The main accusation against Nimal Karunathilaka was the fact that he was a rank outsider with no roots in Matale. He hailed from Kegalle.

Not to be outdone Nimal conceded that he was a stranger to the area but vowed, that if elected he would become their relation by taking a ‘Kethalen Mallak’ (meaning Matalen Kellek). The M.E.P. landslide in 1956 started with the election results of Matale which shocked and rocked the nation of a rank outsider little known except in journalistic circles becoming a ‘Giant Killer’.

Nimal kept his word and married a Miss. Ratnayake from Matale. However Nimal’s best gift to the nation and to the profession he so colourfully represented is his son Varuna.

Coming back to Alick, his father was approached by Dudley Senanayake, A. C. L. Ratwatte, E. L. Senanayaka, M. D. Banda and the Matale Bus Magnate — Mant to request that Alick be released for political work. William Aluvihare ‘offered’ Claude his other son who being the VC Chairman of Matale was already in politics. But Dudley and company would have none other than Alick. Ultimately they had their man.

Alick was a good volleyball player and a champion boxer in his Wijaya College days. As a student he beat a better known boxer by the name of Khan, representing the government railway. Perhaps he would have used me as a punching bag had he got hold of me that day in Parliament.

Alick never ran away from a fight though occasionally he would start one. One such instance was when a UNP propaganda meeting in Matale during the SLFP regime of Mrs. Bandaranaike was teargassed, he held the HQI (Ronnie Gunasinghe) by his collar which earned him a full blast of a teargas shell. He went to the hospital and returned soon after to the tumultuous cheers of the vast crowd. Over an incident that took place during a procession in Mandawala he was remanded in the Bogambara Prison for 13 days.

In the height of the 1971 and 1987-89 insurrection, he never sought refuge in safer climes unlike most other politicians of the day. He would stand bare bodied with his sarong tucked up by his gate like a lion protecting its den. This instilled confidence in his supporters.

Alick, though a giant in physical appearance is a man with a kind heart. Ramya Siriwansa, who retired as GA Matale speaks of his experience with Alick.

Siriwansa during his Peradeniya days was the President of the Students’ Union representing the L.S.S.P. When the post of A.G.A. for Ambalangoda fell vacant the then Minister of Public Administration appointed Siriwansa as the Ambalangoda A.G.A. without extending even the courtesy of consulting me as the base MP. I had therefore thoroughly screened his background and found that he was an honest and efficient officer. To this day I do not know whether he still is a leftist or given away the bad habits that usually one acquires during undergraduate days.

Siriwansa indeed proved to be an excellent public servant and the two of us got on very well. I told him that it was very easy for me to work with people who did not follow my political ideology for as things stood then and more so now a public servant had to change the colour of the ties he wore according to the colour of the party in power. Siriwansa knew that I was a UNP MP and therefore he was constantly on the alert. If he had come with political patronage then he would ride the high horse and would run to his political master whenever he disagreed with me. This way I could get the best out of an official who has political leanings opposed to me.

We got on so well, that Siriwansa long after I ceased to be an MP (of my own volition) consulted me when a former colleague SLFP’s Nandimitra Ekanayaka, then a Deputy Minister invited him to accept the post of G.A. Matale.

Siriwansa told me that he had been a government servant all his life and had not made a red cent illegally and therefore being the father of three daughters was impecunious. If he accepted the post of G.A. then he would at least get an enhanced pension.

I told him that having worked with ‘Nandi’ as a R. D. O. Siriwansa would know the man’s pluses and minuses. I also told him, that every politician has three deadly enemies, first is the wife, next is the private secretary and last is the driver. If a politician could veer clear of these three, hazarts then he would survive in the political arena. I believe in the case of ‘Nandi’ his ‘Maraya’ happened to be the private secretary who having broken bread with Nandi joined Ranjith Aluvihare.

This man was the Key witness in the murder case in which Wasantha Aluvihare, then a UNP Provincial Councillor was falsely implicated. I reduced the man’s evidence to pulp in the MC and the man had the audacity to send word through Ranjith Aluvihare that he could change his evidence to suit the defence.

I admonished Ranjith for tolerating such an unreliable man and later told Alick of this overture and Alick in typical style said ‘Buddhi the b.... also sent me word that he wanted to meet me I told the fellow who brought the message to tell the S.O.B. that I would break his legs if ever he stepped into my garden.

Siriwansa says that having assumed duties as G.A. he never went to see Alick and had no dealings with him other than accepting nomination papers on election days. ‘Alick never interfered with the duties of the G.A.’ says Siriwansa.

When however after the 2001 General Elections Alick as Minister of Home Affairs became Siriwansa’s Minister, he paid a courtesy call on Alick at the latter’s Aluvihare Walawwa. Alick received the G.A. warmly and asked him how his health was as the G.A. had suddenly taken ill on the day of the election.

Siriwansa says that Alick was a righteous man who did not spare even his own supporters if they did anything illegal. He goes on to mention how a prominent UNPer from Moratuwa with the connivance of both the AGA and the Grama Sevaka had felled a huge ‘Kumbuk’ tree making false representations that it was on private property whereas the tree stood on State Land. Alick waded knee-deep in the mud to inspect the scene as he had been spoken to by many UNP high ups.

The person in question also telephoned me to put in a word to ‘Uncle Alick’ as I was now more or less a member of the Aluvihare household (Wasantha Aluvihare’s house has a room which he and his charming wife Samanthi the 2nd calls ‘Buddhika Uncle’s roon).

Alick told me, ‘Buddhi, it is a crime. The girth of the tree was so big that 10 people could take cover without being seen’. He instructed the police to file action and when Mr. Eardley Perera PC spoke to Alick he told Eardley, I am sorry Mr. Perera the matter is now in the hands of the police!’ He also asked Siriwansa to initiate disciplinary action against the A.G.A. and the G.S.

Wasantha Aluvihare speaks of an incident where Alick was deprived of having his nominees to contest the Yatawatta Pradeshiya Sabha election. On a directive by Ranil, the General Secretary Senarath Kapukotuwa was asked to delete some of the names recommended by Alick and substitute them with candidates of the C.W.C. and the S.L.M.C. Alick blew a fuse and tore the nomination papers in the presence of Sirikotha officials thundering that he was the district leader and he would not sacrifice his men to outsiders.

He, according to Siriwansa handed over only the Matale Municipal Council nominations and the Matale Pradeshiya Sabha nominations with no sign of Yatawatta being contested by the UNP. However just before the closing time the Yatawatta nomination papers arrived by special courier and at the ensuing elections, the UNP won all 3 elections. The Matale MC, the Matale P.S. and the Yatawatta P.S.

My ‘walking mate’, Frank Wickramasinghe who was at one time the Chairman of the Ports Authority narrated the story of how a strong supporter of Alick had submitted an appeal to the G.A. (not Siriwansa) and the supporter came back and reported to Alick that the G.A. tore his appeal which had the endorsement of the MP and dumped it in the waste paper basket in his (supporter’s) presence.

Enraged by this information Alick got the panic striken supporter to accompany him and strode straight into the G.A.’s room. G.A. promptly got up and paid his courtesies of which Alick took no notice. He picked up the waste paper basket and emptied the contents on to the G.A.’s table whilst a puzzled G.A. looked on. He then tediously went through all the contents so emptied but couldn’t find the appeal said to have been submitted to the G.A. and turn to smithers. Realizing that he had been duped he gave a resounding slap to the man who went reeling.

When he was minister in charge of the Port, the then president, D. B. Wijetunga called up Alick and introduced some prominent businessmen who wanted some land from the Beira Lake area. The president indicated that he was very keen that the request of his friends was met. Alick promised that he would look into the matter.

When he conferred with his officials, he realized that the land requested for by the President’s friends could not be released. This was in turn conveyed to the businessmen in question. That very Sunday when Alick was in his usual attire (bare bodied except for the sarong) the Colombo businessmen arrived in a luxury car with one of them carrying a large leather bag. Alick asked them as to why they came all the way to Matale, when they could have conveniently met him in Colombo. The man with the bag said ‘No Sir, we brought a small present for you!’ This infuriated Alick who chased them away using some choice Sinhala epithets. The men beat a hasty retreat nearly knocking down Alick’s parapet wall in the process of reversing their vehicle.

This story was narrated by my ‘Guru’ Thomian friend Bindu (Lakshman) Seneviratne MP and later I got confirmation from Alick. It had later transpired that there had been Rs. 2.5 million in the bag. Alick also told me something more about this incident which I being the lawyer I shall refrain from putting in print!

One day I walked into ‘Sirikotha’ and Alick who was in the company of UNP stalwarts like M. S. Amarasiri, Festus Perera, Wijepala Mendis and Harindra Corea seeing the bonhomous manner in which Alick, greeted me remarked ‘Ah now the two seen to be great pals’.

I replied, ‘of course! So much so if I were to contest Ranil, Alick would readily support me!’

Alick quipped to the amusement of those present ‘Buddhika, not only, would I support you! But I shall even propose your name!’ — So Ranil had better be careful.

After the UNPs defeat we had the Exco-Meeting in Matale.

A man approached me and asked me whether I was the youth leaguer from Ambalangoda during the Dudley Senanayake days. When I answered in the affirmative the man said that the Matale traders were mostly from the low country and they were jubilant over the attack I made in parliament against Alick. He then said that I should have lunch with the southerners and I obliged.

I mentioned this incident to Mr. P. B. Kaviratne who confirmed that there is a ‘cold war’ between the up-country people and those who hailed from the low-country.

Kaviratne’s wife is a southerner from Weligama and he said at every election, the ‘southern block’ en-masse voted for him.

After the National Executive Committee meeting referred to above I witnessed a scene I had never seen at a Party convention anywhere before.

Men, women and children fell prostrate at Alick’s feet to take his leave to go home.

Then there was a time when the leader of the UNP decreed that no two persons from the same family should be nominated to contest for public positions. At that time Alick who was in Parliament had his elder son as the Mayor of Matale whilst yet another son was in the provincial council. Renuka Herath was in Parliament whilst the husband was in the Provincial Council. Similarly Adhikari and Festus were in parliament whilst their wives Rani and Larine were in the Provincial Councils of Anuradhapura and N.W.P. respectively. Meanwhile former first lady Hema Premadasa was eying the Colombo district whilst son Sajith was politically active in the deep south.

I considered this decision most unfair and told Ranil, ‘Ranil I hope that Alick had about 10 sons to do politics in the Matale District’.

Without the Aluvihare’s, UNP would be history in the Matale district.

And this coming from the Lilliputian who challenged the mighty, Gulliver from the floor of the House is indeed more than a compliment!

 

 

 

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