Killing of Vijaya


On 12 Feb. 1988 Vijaya Kumaratunga participated in a ceremony organised by the H.R. Jothipala Commemoration Society, where he declared open H. R. Jothipala Mawatha. He made one of the most emotional speeches I ever listened to. He spoke at length about his friendship with Jothipala and revealed how he as an actor benefited from Jothipala’ voice. He also acknowledged the fact that his popularity was largely due to Jothipala’s playback singing. Most of the members in the audience were moved to tears. Even at that meeting there were security personnel keeping a watchful eye on the audience. When I inquired from Secretary of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, Premasiri Perera, who had come with Vijaya why such security measures had been adopted, he told me there was a serious threat to Vijaya’s life from the DJV, which was the armed wing of the JVP.

It didn’t buy into Premasiri’s claim because I never thought the JVP would want to harm an innocent person like Viajaya. But, four days later, Vijaya was assassinated. The whole country mourned his death. Large crowds attended his funeral. Everybody in the Mahajana Party believed that the killing had been carried out by the DJV, which was the armed wing of the JVP. Some of the leftist outfits which had armed wings, resorted to revenge killings.

Even my life was under threat as the People’ Revolutionary Red Army (PRRA), which took up arms against the JVP, had my name second on their list, after the late Ranjith Abeysuriya’s, because of the role I played in the campaign against the killers of Wijeyadasa Liyanarachchi, a young lawyer. I was mistaken for a JVP sympathiser. A few months after the assassination of Vijaya, his alleged killer was arrested. I met the then IGP Earnest Perera, who confirmed the arrest. He told me that the suspect had confessed to the killing of, not only Vijaya Kumaratunga, but also several others. He said the assassin had been living on the streets and as such he had worked as a hit man for the JVP. I was told that the suspect had maintained a diary with the names of all he had killed and VJ had been written for Vijaya Kumaratunga. The PRRA made several attempts to kill the suspect. But, he was handed over to Chandra Jayawardena, Director of the CID, who was known to be one of the best investigators that the CID had produced. He had an unimpeachable character.

Chandra Jayawardena recorded a detailed statement from the alleged killer and that ran into 179 typed pages. But, even Chandrika Bandaranaike, after being elected President, kept on accusing the UNP of having had a hand in the Vijaya assassination. This she did, though the Mahahana Party was convinced that the suspect, named Palamullage Lionel Ranasighe, had carried out the assassination for the DJV.

Chandrika established a Special Presidential Commission to investigate the killing of Vijaya Kumaratunga. As Desmond Fernando, President of the BASL said that "the target was identified and a circle was drawn around the target so that the entire endeavour of the Commission was to implicate the UNP and the Premadasa Group in the UNP, with murder and to exculpate the JVP. The friends of Vijaya met me and urged me to appear before the Special Presidential Commission. I said, "I must make my appearance on behalf of the aggrieved party. They suggested the most aggrieved person is none other than the person Vijaya loved most, Mrs. Beatrice Kumaratunga, his mother. Vijaya in spite of his busy schedule used to visit his mother every day. Sometimes, whenever he could find the time he used to come and feed her. That was the extraordinary kind of relationship he had with his mother. We decided to meet Mrs. Kumaratunga and went to Polhengoda where she was residing at that time. When she saw Sarath Kongahage and Dayan Jayatilleka, who accompanied me, tears welled up in her eyes. Why are they trying to exonerate the JVP? We all know the JVP killed my dear son! When we asked whether she was willing to give evidence, she said that the best person who could testify before the Presidential Commission was Premasiri Perera, and that she was too feeble to answer questions but was willing to answer questions if the commissioners came to her home. Then she scribbled a letter to the Chairman of the Commission. In that short letter she said, "When my son was living he had threats from the JVP and several times he received letters that he will be killed." The Commission did call Premasiri Perera. Premasiri was treated like the murderer himself; they questioned him about his attire. They scorned the slippers he was wearing. He was ridiculed and could not answer most questions as the manner in which the questions were asked even the toughest witness would err. The worst was reserved for Chandra Jayawardena, former DIG of the CID, when he was in the witness box. The Commission treated him like a common criminal and pooh-poohed the confession he recorded from the murderer.

The Commission’s findings were against the Premadasa Group. It was a sad day for our judiciary. The confession recorded by Chandra Jayawardena gave a lot of details and it was corroborated by evidence. But, the Commission would have none of it. On page 60 of the Confession, this is how the suspect Ranasinghe described how Vijaya was assassinated: "We took the bag and came on a motorcycle near a boutique. After having parked the motorcycle, we were looking at the road. After about five or six minutes we saw Vijaya Kumaratunga coming out of his house. He came alone and was talking to someone near the gate. That person was wearing a sarong and a shirt. Thereafter, Herath and I got on to the motorcycle. I took the bag onto my lap and opened the zip and took the gun out and released the safety catch while sitting on the pillion. We stopped the motorcycle about twenty yards away from where Vijaya was standing. Vijaya Kumaratunga was standing in front of his gate. He had some papers and a file in his hand. He was talking to the person who was there. I then took the T56 rifle and shot him twice in his back. He was not facing me. When the shots hit him, he fell onto the ground. Then I got down from the bicycle and went near him and shot him twice to his head. When I got down, the man who was talking to Vijaya Kumaratunga ran towards his house. Then I shot at him. There was a double cab parked near the house and there was one person seated behind the cab. I shot at him, too, and saw some papers in a file lying near Vijaya Kumaratunga’s body. I took this file and dropped it on the ground. Then I took the bag in which I brought the gun was there and jumped on the pillion of the bike. We rode towards Polhengoda".

The CID was able to corroborate almost everything that this man has stated. They found evidence not only regarding the killing of Vijaya, but 14 other killings.

On 16 Feb. 2018 we commemorated the 30th death anniversary of Vijaya, perhaps the only politician the entire country has ever loved so passionately.

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