by Rajiva Wijesinha
Well over 20 years ago I resigned from Peradeniya University as the only thing I could do to show how deeply critical I was of the removal of Mrs. Bandaranaikes Civic Rights. I was accused of being melodramatic by some, and by others of making a meaningless gesture, since it was thought I could well afford to resign. Both accusations may have had something to them, but my simple point was that others who could afford to resign, or even to protest, kept deafeningly quiet.
More depressing was the suggestion that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Some claimed that Mrs. Bandaranaike deserved to be punished for the awful mess she had made of the country. To me the answer to that was very simple. The country had given its verdict at the polls, and kangaroo courts and punishments in violation of the fundamental principles of the constitution were not to be countenanced. And, more seriously, I felt that the measure was not only vindictive, it was a preparation for worse acts of authoritarianism.
It is tedious to claim one was right, but I have to admit to some satisfaction when W J Fernando, a strong supporter of the UNP, who had indeed been ill-treated by being transferred as Government Agent to Moneragala in 1970 (when Bradman was sent to Ampara), told me in 1982, when JR announced the referendum, that I had been right, and he was wrong to have chided me in 1980. And one reason why I stood by Chanaka Amaratunga over the years that followed was because he alone of UNP stalwarts opposed the referendum openly.
I had told him, sarcastically, that I assumed he would justify the referendum just as he had justified the deprivation of Mrs. Bandaranaikes Civic Rights in 1980. But he said very firmly that the referendum was wrong, and he would oppose it to the utmost. I remember then meetings with Rukman Senanayake and A. C. Gooneratne, both of whom were shocked by the referendum, but neither of whom dared to express opposition openly.
AC I believe was critical in private, and this was reported to JR, which led to his removal shortly thereafter from his party position. But I had already tasted JRs vengeance. In 1980, after my resignation from Peradeniya, I had applied for a Research Post at the BCIS, and been selected by the BCIS Board. This had to be ratified by the main Board of Management of the Bandaranaike Hall, but I was told that this was a formality. If I recollect aright, the Chairman of the Board was the President, but the rest had been appointed by Mrs. Bandaranaike, and were likely to support me.
Around March however, when I was abroad, the then BCIS Director, Premadasa Udagama, rang my mother and told her that I should come back urgently since there might be a problem. As was often the case in those days, when I had no money to phone while abroad, my mother could not reach me, but when I did get back and called Udagama he still told me that he did not envisage any problem. It was good however that I was back, since the Board might insist on an interview.
A few days later my fathers old friend Noel Tittawella, who had been sacked from the Supreme Court when JR reconstituted it, told me that I might not be appointed. His claim was that JR disliked me intensely because I was the only person who, without any political allegiance, had criticized him on a matter of principle.
I put this down to Tittawellas intense dislike, but I was wrong. A few days later JR had the BMICH Act changed so as to reconstitute the Board, and appointed my uncle as its Chairman. The previous recruitment process was stopped, and it was only much later that the research post was readvertised, but of course I could not apply.
JRs vengeance did indeed go deep, and extended to trivialities too, for he also put a stop to a weekly literary column I contributed to the Sunday Times. My uncle, who was I think slightly ashamed of the whole process, told me that this was not JRs doing at all, but he had had to respond to complaints at the Working Committee. The story was that a gentleman called Almon Pieris (later a Provincial Minister) had raised the issue of what he claimed were subversive articles written by a bearded communist in praise of revolutionaries.
Whether it was my uncles sense of humour or JRs I cannot say, but apparently JRs response was that he could not speak for Dr. Wijesinha, but he could assure Mr. Pieris that Galsworthy, the subject of my piece that week, was by no means a communist and had not sported a beard. Still, the matter it seemed had come up again, and JR had issued instructions to poor Rita Sebastian at the Times to stop me.
I was upset about the BCIS job, which I think I would have enjoyed at the time, and where I am sure Udagama would have allowed me to embark on several innovations that I felt higher education in Sri Lanka badly needed. The Times articles meant less, though I remember thinking how sad it was that no one in the Working Committee realizing, I thought, that JR had set the whole business up himself, and only my poor nave uncle had been deceived had dared to oppose the boss. No wonder we were heading for disaster the surrender of all judgment to one individual, which led inevitably to the appalling misjudgments of 1982 and 1983 from which we are all still suffering.
And that, I hope, provides sufficient excuse for this long and very personal trip down memory lane. My uncle, who had a delightful sense of humour, thought the whole business very amusing but I saw him in July 1983, drinking more than I had ever seen him drink before, because I think as a humane person he found it difficult to put up with the consequences of what his old friend Cyril Mathew had initiated.
If Prabhakaran gets the Eelam he wants, it will be largely because of what happened in July 1983, the tremendous sympathy that Tamils and hence the LTTE received internationally as a result, along with the single-minded determination of the Tamil diaspora who had left Sri Lanka when their families were attacked, their homes burned. Who can blame them? Certainly not those who bear responsibility for what happened then. But that is why the UNP as a whole, all the new faces who do not share in that hideous past, or those who strove to redeem themselves by a more pluralistic outlook during the Premadasa years, should be wary about committing the errors of the past again.
Marginalizing the moderate opposition, and using that as an excuse to build up an authoritarian structure of leadership, is a recipe for disaster. My resignation in 1980, and the subsequent persecution, may have been both trivial in their impact, but after many years, at the BCIS opening, I remembered those youthful days and felt immeasurably proud.
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