Men and Memories Buddhika Kurukularatne
Who tipped off President Premadasa of the
S.L.F.P. front bencher Stanley Tillekeratne
himself told your columnist that when he saw the impeachment
motion, he saw ‘stars’. As a former Speaker he realized its
gravity, he emphasized. He wanted the document to study it. But
Mrs. Bandaranaike would not let him have it. Then Colonel, now
General Anuruddha Ratwatte who was with Mrs. B at the time did
not allow Stanley to take even a photo-copy of this volatile
So, Stanley claiming a deep civic sense informed
But by that time President Premadasa had already
been tipped off.
There were two Coorays who were absolutely loyal
to him. Evans and Sirisena (they are not related to one
another). - Of those two, Evans was like an ‘one master Alsation
dog’. He started his career as a journalist on the Lankadeepa
then under Donald Ranaweera’s control. It was Premadasa who
raised Evans to the dizzy heights that earned for him wrath
rather than plaudits, envy instead of praise. He was physically
beaten up for being a Premadasa loyalist. But as the one master
Alsation, he bore it all on behalf of the "boss".
It was to Evans that the top secret manoeuvre
was first conveyed by the brother of a VVIP SLFP politician from
the deep South — obviously the information was to be passed on
to Premadasa. This was promptly done by Evans.
I am realiably informed that Evans — a
journalist of no mean repute would shortly be releasing a book
in Sinhala ‘Premadasa and I’.
In this book, which is still in the proof stage
Evans mentions this incident although he has not disclosed the
name of his informant for obvious reasons.
No doubt this book which contains many such
hitherto unknown and undisclosed incidents would be a best
Though a government MP at the time, I was a
critic of Premadasa.
Somewhere in July 1992 I received a letter from
Premadasa which had been addressed to all UNP MPs informing them
of their appointment as UNP organisers to the various
electorates they represented. He had wanted our acceptance to be
in by letter before Aug. 31, 1992.
I was fed up of being a MP and openly criticised
Premadasa in the Parliament lobby. Premadasa had wanted each UNP
MP to enrol 10% of the voters in his electrorate as UNP members.
To implement this at Rs. 2 a membership ticket at the time I
would have to spend Rs. 20,000 as it was well nigh impossible to
get the voters to dole out any money.
I didn’t have money to throw about as Premadasa
had imposed a ban in my doing any court work. I told my senior,
Mr. Eardley Perera, that I wanted to resign and revert to the
His reaction was a curt ‘pissuda bung’? (Are you
mad)? I also discussed this matter with Hemakumara Nanayakkara,
SLFP MP who also confided in me that he too was not going to
contest the following General Election but would not resign his
seat as it would be a betrayal of the trust that the people
placed on electing him for 6 years. ‘If you resign who is going
to take your place?’ asked Hema.
Lalith Athulathmudali has been my teacher at Law
College and I had the highest respect, regard, love and
affection for him.
"Sir, Premadasa must be thinking that we are
plucking money from trees," I told Lalith ventilating my
‘I say you are complaining of having to raise Rs.
20,000. Tyronne (Tyronne Fernando MP-Moratuwa electorate leader)
has to dole out Rs. 50,000!’ was Lalith’s reply.
‘Sir, Tyronne has money — unlike me!’ I lamented
and Lalith said ‘Hush! walls have ears!’. (Indeed I later learnt
that walls, at least in Parliament had ears!)
Premadasa was like a pint-sized dictator. Most
of the MPs had been in Parliament during the J. R. Jayewardene
era and had been used to various perks like the allocation of
government land, 2 vehicle permits (one to sell and the other
for the MP and most sold both!) They also made use of their
power to amass ill-gotten wealth with Jayewardene turning a
Premadasa put a stop to all this. He told me in
no uncertain terms that I could make up my mind whether to be an
advocate and earn my money in courts or to be a politician. The
fool I was I opted to be the latter.
At Government Parliamentary Group Meetings he
used to tell us that when he was the Prime Minister he had
observed many a government MP using the lobby telephones to put
through business deals and to find out whether the "lorries had
Obviously those who got re-elected in 1989
expected the same good times but Premadasa put a stop to such
unsavoury activities. Recentment against Premadasa was simmering
and an eruption seemed imminent.
As I had always been a loyal party man, I told
Premadasa — ‘Sir, I have heard that when you were Prime Minister
you always provided a link to the President for the MPs. Mr.
Wijetunge has not been able to do that. Why don’t you invite the
MPs for a cup of tea once in 2 months or so, so that they would
be able to talk to you freely?’
"Yes — Buddhika, we’ll do that. Wait till the
war is over" was his response.
It is in this back drop that Lalith
Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake who each had an axe to
grind with Premadasa for not considering them for the prime
ministry, was able to muster the support of many UNPers for the
Many a person had asked me to write the inside
story of the impeachment. I refrained, because I was not privy
to the controversial move unlike its prime mover, Speaker M. H.
Mohamed, and others like, Sirisena Cooray (who cut short his
visit to China to be by Premadasa) the late A. L. M. Aboosally
who worked very hard to bring the prodigal sons home to the UNP
and Ranil, the shrewd tactician who called for a Vote of
Confidence at the very Cabinet meeting where President Premadasa
was informed by the Speaker that he had received a motion
calling for the impeachment of the President. This caught Lalith
and Premachandra (Gamini Dissanayake had been dropped from the
Cabinet ostensibly to enable him to proceed overseas for higher
education as Gamini himself had asked for 6 months leave)
unawares and they both voted to express confidence in the very
man they wanted hounded out.
This caused ripples in the impeachment drama
with Speaker M. H. Mohamed feeling more betrayed than let down.
Ranil’s deft more signalled the beginning of the end of the
Impeachment procedure is laid down in article 38
(2) (a) of the Constitution which inter alia states that any
Member of Parliament may by a writing addressed to the Speaker,
give notice of a resolution alleging that the President is
permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office
by reason of mental or physical infirmity or that the President
has been guilty of
(i) intentional violation of the constitution
(iv) misconduct or corruption involving the
abuse of powers of his office
(v) any offence under any law involving moral
turpitude and setting out full particulars of
the allegation or allegation made and seeking an inquiry and
report thereon by the Supreme Court.
It further stipulates that no notice of such
resolution shall be entertained by the Speaker or placed on the
Order Paper of Parliament unless it complies with the provisions
of sub-paragraph (a) and
(i) Such notice of resolution is signed by not
less than two thirds of the whole number of Members of
(ii) Such notice of resolution is signed by not
less than one half of the whole number of Members of Parliament
and the Speaker is satisfied that such allegation or allegations
merit inquiry and report by the Supreme Court’ (The emphasis is
Try as they would the prime movers of the
impeachment, Lalith, Gamini and G. M. Premachandra were unable
to get the 2/3 although a fair number of Government MPs
disgruntled with Premadasa’s strong arm rule signed.
The whole exercise was engineered by Speaker
Mohamed. He was neatly caught behind the wicket when a prankster
telephoned him introducing himself as a MP and asked in Sinhala
‘Sir, what is this document that has to be signed against
Premadasa?’ to which an enthusiastic Mohamed had said ‘Yanna I
say yanna, anna Lalith gava eka thiyenawa!’ (‘Go man, Go, there
it is with Lalith!)
Meanwhile the pro-Premadasa lobby led by
Sirisena Cooray were leaving no stone unturned to prevent the
resolution from appearing in the Order Paper. Once an
Impeachment Resolution appears in the Order Paper, the President
is precluded from either dissolving or proruging parliament.
Premadasa intelligence service then unearthed a
valuable piece of information. Having, according to him
entertained the Impeachment Motion sans the required 2/3
signatories, Mohamed went overseas leaving an undated letter
with Saumyamoorthi Thondaman which disclosed the fact that there
were ‘not enough signatories’. Mohamed had got Thondaman to
promise that it should not be handed over to the President until
The very night Premadasa got this information,
he along with Sirisena Cooray and Paskaralingam went to meet
Although Thondaman showed them the letter he was
reluctant to hand it over to Premadasa. Describing the incident
Cooray in his very readable book ‘President Premadasa and I —
our story’ at page 123 states that at long last Premadasa was
able to obtain this vital document from Thondaman on the
undertaking that it would not be made use of without Thondaman’s
Mohamed who was overseas returned to the island
and summoned a press conference ostensibly to announce the
receipt by him of an Impeachment Motion. It was evident that by
this time Lalith and Gamini, both President’s Counsel, had
convinced Mohamed that as the resolution, though falling short
of 2/3 signatories had more than 1/2 the total number of members
(the Opposition plus the UNP renegades) he could act on it if he
felt that the allegations contained therein merited
investigation by the Supreme Court.
The gang of eight
This scenario made Premadasa jump the gun and
make the letter public. This Machiavellian move, by Premadasa
effectively killed the Impeachment move. The gang of eight who
wanted to oust Premadasa found themselves ousted from the party
and consequently from Parliament itself.
Premadasa was a man who could not be shaken
easily. When he addressed Parliament after the Impeachment
exercise failed he gave an example of his courage in the face of
strong opposition — not the mild and passive opposition that we
see today — but a very volatile and vociferous opposition lead
by Anura Bandaranaike ably supported by Hemakumara Nanayakkara,
brother Vasudeva, S. B. Dissanayake, Mahinda Wijesekera just to
name a few.
At a Government Group Meeting he warned all of
us that whatever the provocation, we should not retaliate. As
expected the Opposition members trooped in with Anura shouting
‘What is this oil on our chairs? Black magic and hooniyan at
play’ pretending to wipe away non-existing oil from his chair.
It was widely believed by the opposition (and others as well)
that Premadasa who believed in the occult had brought in a
Malaylee poosari’ to perform some black magic.
Hemakumara later on told me that their strategy
was to provoke Premadasa to such an extent that he would turn
abusive and would engage in a verbal duel with the Opposition
thereby cutting a very poor picture of himself in the eyes of
the foreign diplomats who were present in the Speaker’s Gallery!
Instead Premadasa was able to turn tables on the Opposition in
the eyes of the diplomatic corps.
When Premadasa was being heckled incessantly, H.
R. Piyasiri — A man reputed more for his brawn than brain (whose
nick name was ‘the destroyer’ which he had earned during his
feats in the 1987-89 JVP insurrection) was gesticulating at the
Opposition hecklers with clenched fist inviting then to come
There is yet another explosive piece of
information concerning the impeachment resolution. When the
Speaker M. H. Mohamed informed the President (this communique
was received when the President was at a Cabinet meeting) that
he (the Speaker) had entertained a resolution calling for the
impeachement of the President, your columnist has it from a very
reliable source that it was not a factually correct statement
for Mahendra Amarasekera, Attorney-at-Law, a student and a very
close friend of Lalith and his doctor wife Suriyakanthi, the
anaesthetist of the Sri Jayawardenapura General Hospital were
sleeping on the impeachment papers that were hidden under their
As this story needs a separate article I shall
not attempt to narrate it here. Mahendra who is my batchmate and
a gentleman asked me not to divulge this until after the
presidential election was over as it would hurt Ranil’s cause
which both of us were espousing.
So leaving the story of Mahendra and
Suriyakanthi literally sleeping on a powder-keg for yet another
day, I shall narrate my own experience with the ill-fated
Gang of eight
Lakshman Seneviratne MP (Badulla District) one
of the ‘Gang of eight’ was a very good friend of mine — being a
Gurutalawa Thomian. He was the Minister of State for Labour and
Vocational Training and I took him to show the conditions of the
Labour Office in Galle, then housed in a ramshackle old upstrair
building in the Fort. ‘Bindu’, as Lakshman is affectionately
known picked me up from my Dehiwala residence and all along the
way we were discussing the political situation. We were critical
of the President as he was behaving like a pocket-dictator.
A few days after this trip I came home from
Parliament (I was the first to arrive in parliament and with
Azwer one of the last to leave) and Malini my wife, asked me
whether I crossed Bindu as he had just left.
Due to his rounded physique my children who were
very small then called Bindu, ‘Bole uncle’. Bindu as usual had
fun with the children and I asked Malini whether he just paid a
social call or had come for a particular reason?
She said yes. He said that ‘Sir’, wanted you to
meet him at 7.00 in the morning tomorrow!
I laughed and said that, that fellow must be
thinking that I am like other MPs who sleep till late. He little
knows that by 7.00 a.m. I am in Parliament doing my daily
constitutional of 4 miles! If ‘Sir’ wanted me see him, he would
The ‘Sir’ referred was Lalith Athulathmudali who
taught me at Law College.
The next morning as I was leaving the house, I
thought to myself what the hell, he only wanted me to see ‘Sir’
not the ‘President’. I would just say hello to Sir without
making him feel that I had fallen a victim to Bindu’s practical
I dialled 501007, Lalith’s Stanmore Crescent
official residence number and Srimani said, ‘Buddhika, where are
you’? Lalith is expecting you at Flower Terrace." (Lalith had
his chambers there).
So Bindu had been serious after all.
Instead of proceeding to Parliament I drove my
double cab to Flower Terrace and after parking the vehicle with
difficulty on that narrow road I entered the compound through
the small gate.
In the compound were Sharmila Perera, Lalith’s
Coordinating Secretary, and with her was Lalith’s friend Damsiri
Fonseka whom Lalith had made chairman of Sathosa Printers. Both
Sharmila and Damsiri were lawyer friends of mine and upon seeing
me Sharmila went into the house to announce the arrival and
Lalith walked into the garden wearing a pair of white shorts and
a white T-shirt and merely told me ‘There it is inside. Go and
I then asked him, ‘What is it Sir?’
‘The Impeachment men, 40 of our people have
signed and the entire opposition is with us. We shall form a
government on the 28th of this month...’ he went on a monologue
as if I had been privy to this coup d’etat.
‘Sir, are you trying to topple the Government
with Anura Bandaranaike?’ I asked.
‘I say, that man will kill us men!’ said Lalith.
‘So, what? Only a coward is frightened to die’ I
retorted and told him "Sir, if you have a problem with Premadasa,
talk it over with him. I will go and meet him," I volunteered as
fools rush in where angels fear to tread!
‘No! No! don’t go to see him. Mutual friends
have tried and failed!’ He said raising his voice.
He again said ‘I can’t show you the signatures
of those who have already signed as it is not fair. Hurry up and
go and sign I have to hand it over to the Speaker by 10.00 a.m.
I disbelieved Lalith on two factors. Lalith and
I have been very close to one another and why did he ask me to
be the 41st to sign? I should have been one of the first to have
I was later told by Gamini Premachandra and
Bindu as to why I was asked last. Similarly on the same score I
did not believe him when he said, he had to hand it over to the
Speaker that day by 10.00 a.m.
Lalith unlike Gamini who was a charming and
friendly man was quick tempered and lacked finesse in his
approach. He got impatient with me and said ‘I say I have no
time to waste’. When I very politely declined and pleaded with
him to explore other avenues he erupted.
"I say on the 28th when we form the government,
prizes, will be awarded only to people who have supported us!’
I was angry at this implied threat and it was my
turn to tell him exactly where I stood.
‘Sir, you know that I never worked with ‘prizes’
in view. You have taught us to fight our opponents face to face
not to stab behind the back!’
Being a man who is not used to such retorts,
Lalith said, ‘I am surprised at your attitude. I thought you are
my friend’. I replied ‘Sir, I am surprised at your attitude’ and
Lalith said "OK I hope this would not be the end of our
friendship!" I pleaded with Lalith that we could always agree to
disagree without affecting our friendship.
I do not know how I drove to Parliament that day
from Flower Road. My head was in a whirl. ‘What shall I do?
shall I tell the President? What if ‘Sir’ doesn’t submit the
impeachment and I had told the President?’ These were some of
the thoughts that were spinning in my head.
That afternoon, after lunch I was to leave for
Samanala wewa Project where I was the Legal and Personnel
Advisor to the British contractors Balfor Beatty Construction
International Limited. As Lalith said that he was going to hand
over the impeachment motion by 10.00 a.m., time was indeed
Doing my four mile walk around the the Diyawanna,
I hit upon a plan. As I had so far not responded to President
Premadasa appointing me as the UNP organiser for Ambalangoda I
thought that I would in my letter of acceptance ask him for an
urgent and immediate meeting that morning itself to discuss
matters of utmost importance, both to the party and the country
to ‘guide the country forward with his enlightened leadership’.
I knew that a special messenger carried the mail
from parliament to the President daily. This dispatch is handled
by Jayasumana Dissanayake, an amiable officer with long years of
experience in the public sector. ‘Jaye’ was a trusted man of
I asked Jaye to hold back the mail to the
President as I had a very important letter to be sent. Jaye told
me that the ‘tappal’ dispatch had just left and being the
gentleman he without asking what the content of this most
important letter was, volunteered to send my letter by a special
messenger if it was so urgent.
I handed over the letter to Jayasumana
Dissanayake but did not tell him the contents of the letter.
Then I counted the seconds and the ministers and
waited and waited and waited nervously. I thought the President
being a man of lightning action would call me no sooner he read
As I did not get a response, I left immediately
after lunch for Samanalawewa. Premadasa could not respond to my
letter before the stipulated time as he was flying by helicopter
to Maligawila to oversee the work on the Buddha Statue he told
(to be continued next week)