Features

Men and Memories
Stanley Tillekeratne, ‘the mighty atom’
Buddhika Kurukularatne

Though 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 Tillekeratne.

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 that day.

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 disclosures.

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 pronounciation.’

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 or Gunawardena.

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 of office.

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 days men!’

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 Vernon’s thinking.

In his historic ruling Stanley observed as follows:

‘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 of support.

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 speaker’s gallery.

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 took.

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 ‘uncle Stanley’?’

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 together.

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 joke.

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 the SLFP.

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 upto then.

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 of Parliament.

 

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