I was a UNPer from my school days there were politicians from
the ‘wrong side’ I came to admire. Amongst them were Pieter
Keuneman of the CP (whose brother-in-law the UNP stalwart from
Kandy — Dr. C. D. L. Fernando was a good friend of mine) and for
sheer oratorical skills, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and Stanley
Stanley Tillekeratne who emulated Colvin so much
was known as ‘Pocket Colvin.’
In 1965 I had just joined the staff of the
‘Observer’ as a stringer at a princely Rs. 15.00 per day.
The Editor was that doyen of Journalism, Denzil Pieris and the
News Editor was the genial D. C. Ranatunga (Rane).
‘Rane probably to give me my initial training as
a prospective law-student asked a senior staffer who did the
‘lobby’ for the ‘Observer’ and occasionally covered
Courts, Stanley Wickramasuriya to take me to the Coroner’s Court
as there was an interesting inquest taking place.
The date was January 8, 1965 and the inquest
that ‘Rane’ referred to was that of the Ven. Dambarawe
Rathanasara Thero who was killed as a result of a shooting
incident whilst participating in an opposition organised protest
march against the regulations framed under the Tamil language
(special provisions) Act that were being presented to parliament
The protesters marched towards parliament and
the Opposition went to town over the death of the priest who as
the opposition alleged was killed by ‘Dudlige meeneemaru
aanduwa’ (The murderous government of Dudley).
In the 1965 UNP government (National Government)
of Dudley Senanayake there were two Opposition MPs who were
eternally disturbing the proceedings of the House by their
incessant interruptions. But interruptions those days though
they irked the Chair were full of wit, sarcasm and good banter
unlike the vulgar abuse that parliamentarians from both sides
indulge in today.
The leading heckler was the diminutive Stanley
Tillekeratne (Kotte) ably assisted by Hakmana’s Roy Rajapaksa.
I think the City Coroner at the time was A. H.
M. Ismail and the opposition assigned Stanley to watch the
interests of the deceased. Roy Rajapaksa’s brother, George who
later became a Minister in the Sirima Bandaranaike Government of
1970 was assisting Stanley. George always conducted himself with
dignity and decorum in and out of parliament whilst Roy was the
mischievous school boy type.
Dr. W. D. L. Fernando, my friend Bulla’s (C. P.
de Silva’s) father-in-law and Kamalini’s father was the JMO
Colombo and it was in Ismail’s Coroner’s Court that I, an
aspiring law student, learnt my first lesson in forensics
-thanks to the expert evidence of WDL and the piercing but
unsuccessful cross-examination of Stanley.
That was the first time I heard of (and saw) a
‘ricochet’ bullet. Dr. Fernando produced a bullet shell which
had a dent in it.
Holding it up, Dr. Fernando said that the
deceased was hit by a ‘ricochet’ bullet. Dismissing suggestions
made by Stanley that it was a direct shot, the JMO said that the
bullet has hit a hard surface and bounced off striking the
deceased sideways. He had examined a lamp post on the Galle Road
at Kollupitiya, opposite the Methodist College and observed
marks caused by the impact of the bullet in the lamp post. He
also explained in great detail the injuries that are to be
expected in a direct shot hitting a person as opposed to an
indirect hit. I am sure Stanley was probing Dr. Fernando’s
evidence not so much as to shake it. He was considered an expert
in the field of forensics in the SE Asian Region, then himself
as a leading criminal lawyer to learn something from the JMO’s
This first lesson I learnt in the Coroner’s
Court of the General Hospital served me in good stead in later
years. I also had the benefit of opposing Stanley in a murder
case in the Gangodawila Courts and I am told that the case after
18 years is yet pending in the High Court of Colombo. Stanley
appeared for the Defence in this case and I was surprised when
the learned Magistrate Committed the accused to stand trail in
the High Court without discharging him.
Stanley was a LSSPer from his university days
when Philip Gunawardena broke away from the LSSP, he joined
Philip who formed the VLSSP. After this clash with the LSSP at
Havelock Town where the present Lumbini MV is situated. Then the
VLSSP joined the CP. But this alliance was short lived and
Philip again broke away. However Stanley remained with the CP
and was under the Communist Party banner that he unsuccessfully
contested the Kotte seat in the March 1960 General Elections.
Stanley lost to UNP’s Youth League’s General Secretary Jinadasa
Niyathapala by a margin of 1,740 votes. However the March 1960
Dudley Senanayake Government lasted only 33 days and another
General Election was held four months later in July.
By this time Stanley had changed over to the
SLFP from the CP and he defeated Niyathapala (UNP) by 4,142
votes. He again beat Niyathapala in the 1965 General Elections
by a margin of 2,348 votes. The duo met again in 1970 when the
SLFP ‘tsunami’ secured for Stanley’s victory by 7,843 votes.
Electorates were delimited at the 1977 General
Elections and Stanley opted to contest the newly carved out
Maharagama constituency where he was wiped away this time by the
UNP ‘tsunami’ by debutante Premaratne Gunasekera who defeated
him by 6,717 votes.
Elections during the ‘first past the post’ era
were keenly fought than in the present day district system. The
candidates were personally known to the people more then than
now. Although there was character assassination from almost
every platform the crowd flocked to listen to the speakers.
Almon Pieris, one time Western Provincial
Council UNP Minister was a key speaker for Niyathapala. Once he
said of Stanley referring to his diminutive physique that
Stanley didn’t possess the height of two oranges. (Dodangedi
dekak tharm usa ne!)
Stanley retorted by saying ‘yes!’ if my two
oranges are squeezed he can have enough juice to bathe! and the
audience roared with laughter.
During the March 1960 elections, there was an
ardent supporter of Stanley’s who was an English Assistant
Teacher. The school he taught was by the side of the road and he
saw the green shirt clad UNP supporters engaged in door to door
canvassing. He was teaching English to small children in the
Junior grades and as the UNPers neared the school he addressed
his young wards and said that they would now learn ‘pronounciation.’
‘I will spell the words and you must shout out its
The teacher started with ‘C’. ‘A’. ‘T’. and the
class yelled ‘Cat’. It was the same with ‘D’. ‘O’. ‘G’. — ‘Dog’
and ‘B’. ‘A’. ‘T’. — ‘Bat’. As the green shirts passed the
school, the English Teacher spelled ‘W’. ‘H’. ‘O’ and the
children greatly inspired by its pronounciation yelled ‘Hoo!’.
The Master repeated the spellings and the children yelled out
the pronounciation. This happened until the UNP supporters
passed the school. But Niyathapala contradicts this position and
says the teacher was ‘disciplined’ by the UNPers. Stanley much
later reminiscend. As far as I could remember he was Gunasekera
In 1970, the SLFP government ‘punished’ Stanley
by making him the speaker. He so loved the role of heckler that
as speaker he found himself ‘gagged’ by the dignity and decoram
In England the speaker seeking re-election
ceased to be a party candidate and joined the fray as an
‘independent’ with the other parties not fielding an opponent
against Mr. Speaker seeking re-election. This convention was
observed in the breach in Sri Lanka and the UNP fielded
Premaratne Gunasekera against Stanley who contested as a party
candidate. After their victory, jubilant UNP supporters paraded
the road in front of Stanley’s house chanting ‘Kathanayaka —
Katha no (Speaker speaks no more).
I was a witness from the Press Gallery to an
incident where the then Prime Minister, like Cassius Clay dealt
a knock out blow to Stanley which silenced him for the day
amidst a housing roaring in laughter.
Dudley was on his feet in full steam and Stanley
interrupted with the question. "What about the split?" That was
a reference to Dudley’s disagreements with J.R his deputy which
at the time were very well known.
Dudley paused mid-sentence and addressing the
chair said," as for splits my honourable friend is at an
advantage over me. He seen them at eye level!"
The house erupted in laughter
Years later I had to accompany Wasantha
Aluvihare who was to take his oaths as a central provincial
councillor to Stanley who was then the Governor of the Central
Province. After the swearing in was over we talked about this
incident and Stanley good humouredly said ‘Aiyo’. those were the
When Stanley was the speaker in the 1970
coalition government of Sirima Bandaranaike he gave a historic
ruling which very nearly cost him his job because the ruling was
against the government. It was not on a minor issue but on a
question that was the most talked of issue of the day.
The Press Bill
Stanley held that the constitutional court was
not properly constituted after considering the submissions of J.
R. Jayewardene who was the leader of the opposition, W.
Dahanayake (Galle), Mudiyanse Tennakone (Nikeweratiya), R.
Premadasa (Colombo Central), V. N. Nawaratnam (Chavakachcheri),
Gamini Dissanayake (Nuwara Eliya) and Dudley Senanayake (Dedigama)
Dr. N. M. Perera (Minister of Finance), Colvin R. de Silva
(Minister of Constitutional Affairs) and Felix Dias Bandaranaike
(Minister of Justice) argued the contrary.
Vernon Tillekeratne a lawyer brother of the
Speaker, told this columnist that he sensed that Stanley was
going to hold against the government in the Controversial Press
Bill that he met, his brother at his official residence Mumtaz
Mahal and said ‘Aiya, you can make any decision according to
your conscience. But please inform the Prime Minister who
appointed you to this position as a mark of respect and
courtesy’. Vernon who is a UNPer said that Stanley was
non-committal but he said he had a hunch that Stanley did infact
confide in Mrs. Bandaranaike. Subsequent events tend to support
In his historic ruling Stanley observed as
‘It is my ruling that sub-sections 3 and 4 of
S:54 should be read together with S:65. This means that in the
absence of a decision from the Constitutional Court within 24
hrs. in the one case and 2 weeks in the other as laid down in
the constitution, the National State Assembly has the right to
proceed with the Bill appearing on the agenda of the assembly.
Where the court does not give a decision within
the time limit set out in the constitution, there is nothing to
bind the Speaker. (N.S.A. proceedings 19.1.73 para 3058/9)
As this order was made pandemonium reigned
supreme in the house. Dr. N. M. Perera who was highly agitated
tried to canvass the ruling. But the pint sized Mr. Speaker cut
the Double Doctor in mid-sentence and ruled that he could not
make a statement at that stage.
Dr. N. M. Perera continuing said that he was not
accepting the ruling and that he was going to move a Vote of No
Confidence in the Speaker. He also said that they could not have
another Hugh Fernando! ‘At this pronouncement the ‘old fox’ J.R.
jumped up and asked the government whether it was the decision
of the government or of the Minister of Finance alone to move a
vote of no confidence against the speaker.
The Prime Minister, Mrs. Bandaranaike to the
utter consternation of Drs. N. M., Colvin and others said quite
clearly and unambiguously that it was not a decision of the
government. (Proceedings of N.S.A. 1973 Jan. 19th paras 3107/8).
This gives credence to Vernon’s notion that his
brother in fact had confided in the Prime Minister. According to
Vernon, there was disenchantment amongst the Marxist partners of
the government that the Prime Minister being privy to the
speaker’s ruling did not confide in the cabinet.
Not being successful in going at the speaker,
prominent government ministers led by Hector Kobbekaduwa tried
to find a scape goat in the clerk to the N.S.A. Sam Wijesinha
who by his geniality and impartiality had friends in both sides
of the house. The attempts to ‘impeach’ Sam failed due to lack
Sam Wijesinha recollects that when democracy was
thus being tested and upheld by a fearless speaker a British
parliamentary delegation was watching the proceedings from the
Soon after his ruling the house adjourned and
Mr. Speaker passing the Prime Minister bowed slightly obviously
as a means of showing his respect to the courageous stand she
I had the good fortune of being in the same
parliament as Stanley in 1989 albeit in opposing sides. My
children were highly appreciative of the contributions he made
in parliament and would often ask me,’ why can’t you speak like
As the well known adage goes, ‘politics makes
strange bed fellows’, Jinadasa Niyathapala the UNP stalwart who
election after election did battle with Stanley were now on the
same side. Disillusioned with J.R.’s leadership, Niyathapala, a
Dudley loyalist had joined the SLFP and contested the Colombo
district under the first ever P.R. system in 1989 on the P.A.
ticket. Both Niyathapala and Stanley were returned.
Then came the impeachment saga. Mrs.
Bandaranaike sent word for Stanley and Niyathapala to see her at
her Rosmead Place residence. Both Stanley and Niyathapala went
Mrs. Bandaranaike then gave a document to
Stanley which she took from (then) Col. Anuruddha Ratwatte and
told Stanley that was a document calling for the impeachment of
the President (Premadasa) and asked Stanley to sign it. Stanley
was aghast at this request and poured through the document. He
then asked for a copy saying he wanted to study it. Col.
Ratwatte said that there were no copies. Stanley’s request to
remove the document to have a copy made too was denied.
The long and short of it was that Stanley did
not sign the impeachment much to the consternation of Mrs.
Bandaranaike and Col. Ratwatte.
Mrs. Bandaranaike then gave the document to
Niyathapala and asked him to sign. Niyathapala proceeded to sign
the document even without bothering to read its contents.
‘Niyathapala! why didn’t you read before
signing?’ asked Mrs. B.
The loyal supporter that he is, Niyathapala told
Mrs. Bandaranaike,’ Madam I know that you would never ask us to
lend our signature to something improper. So when I have
explicit faith in you as the leader why bother reading it?’
This may have been an innuendo at Stanley who
was the more senior SLFPer of the two.
When the ‘impeachment’ story leaked everyone
knew how the leak occurred and who leaked it.
Stanley himself told me, ‘Michchan, I have been
a Speaker of Parliament. Impeachment of the President is no
I told Madam that it was a very serious thing.
So I told the ‘Lokka’ (Premadasa).
But Niyathapala says that Stanley first leaked
the news to Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi as Premadasa was out of
Colombo (Maligawila in Buttala). Upon hearing from
Mallimarachchi Premadasa contacted Stanley and got to know how
his own people tried to stab him behind the back.
In fairness to Mrs. Bandaranaike and the SLFP it
must be said that neither Mrs. Bandaranaike who is said to never
forget nor the SLFP penalised Stanley for his betrayal. He in
fact was rewarded with the governorship of the central province
in recognition of the services he had rendered in the past to
When Anura Bandaranaike joined the ranks of the
UNP, there was a cold reception from at least some UNP
parliamentarians proberbly fearing for their own position and
political security. I was the only UNP MP to proceed to Rosmead
Place to greet him as he was a personal friend and a warm
hearted one at that though we differed politically.
However Anura started skipping parliament and
was absent during many an important debate. My colleagues gave
vent to their anti-Anura feelings on me and were suggesting that
I go and conduct him into parliament in the same way he was
welcomed into the UNP.
I took up the issue of Anura "cutting"
parliamentary sessions with him. ‘How can, I sit in the back
bench with Rupa Sriyani — Buddhika’ was Anura’s response.
Although I did not agree with him on the reason adduced by him
to dodge parliament, I went and met President Wijetunga who I
knew had given Anura certain undertakings which had not been met
Anura was shortly made the Minister of Higher
Education and had insisted on my being appointed as the co-ordinating
MP for his ministry unaware that President Premadasa had already
appointed me as a co-ordinating MP both to the Ministry of
Education and Higher Education. Richard Pathirana, a former
Minister of Education, used to brand the co-ordinating MPs as
‘Kangani Ministers’! I liked this epithet for a Kangani was a
very important man in a plantation. If the Ka didnot do his
duty, the estate would invariably run at a loss!
Mrs. Bandaranaike too seldom attended parliament
during the latter part of the UNP government due to reasons of
ill-health. On rare occasions she did attend sittings she had to
be helped by ever-faithful Victor Unantenne and a younger set of
parliamentarians notably S.B.
Once Mrs. Bandaranaike had to attend a very
important debate on the extension of the emergency and she
hobbled into the chamber and slumped into her chair. Next to the
seat of the leader of the opposition was Stanley’s seat. As
Anura too was present in the chamber I was keenly observing the
reaction of the mother on her prodigal son who deserted ranks to
join the government.
As Mrs. Bandaranaike sank into her seat she
leaned towards Stanley and asked something. Stanley in turn
pointed in the direction of Anura whereupon Mrs. B, opened her
hand bag, doned her spectacles and graned her neck in the
direction indicated by Stanley.
She again leant towards Stanley and whispered
something in his ear. I knew that the subject of her attention
was Anura and later in the library I asked Stanley what Mrs. B
said to him.
Stanley said, ‘Machchan, she told me’ Stanley
show me my son. Then I told her there he is madam in the back
bench seated next to that lady Rupa Sriyani Daniel from Hewaheta.
She then put on her spectacles looked at the son and told me,
‘Stanley’! He must be terribly uncomfortable. He is not used to
sitting in the back bench!"
Grateful thanks to Mr. N. M. C. Tillkaratne —
librarian — parliament and to Mr. C. Kuruppu — Deputy Librarian