BY MAJ. GEN. (RTD) HARSHA GUNARATNE VSV
The so-called “Black July” riots of July 23, 1983, marked the culmination of a slow build- up of inter-communal violence over the years. Starting in 1956, going on to 1958 and growing in intensity by 1978, it saw the climax of this process in 1983.
Apart from the areas which were predominantly inhabited by the Tamil Community, almost the rest of the island was overwhelmed by the conflagration.
Anuradhapura District stood out as the one region that did not succumb to communal violence. Today, the then role of the Security Forces and the Civil Administration in Anuradhapura in successfully handling this crisis appears to have faded into the limbo of forgotten things.
The purpose of this narrative is two-fold. Firstly, to bring to notice the phenomenon of communal harmony that prevailed in one region, amidst the disturbing events of the time. Secondly, to show that in a Unitary State – there can be no other practicable constitutional arrangement- it is possible for all communities to live amicably if we only have the will to do so.
The morning of July 24, 1983, dawned bright and clear. I had returned home from Anuradhapura the evening before for an enjoyable weekend with my family, after a long stay there. I was the North Central Commander based in Anuradhapura.
While having my morning tea, I casually turned on the radio for the news. Then, I was astounded to hear the startling news that 13 soldiers had been ambushed and gunned down by terrorists at Neeravali Junction, Jaffna, the previous evening.
I immediately surmised, that this event boded ill for our Island and that Prabhakaran would succeed in orchestrating a stunning communal backlash – as intended – if immediate counter measures were not taken.
The District of Anuradhapura was my responsibility.
I therefore, packed my bags and left for Anuradhapura via Kurunegala within the hour. On the way I noticed people huddled in groups by the wayside talking in an animated manner. Their attitude and gestures confirmed my premonition that matters could soon get out of hand.
I reached Anuradhapura in double quick time and held a conference with my Detachment Commanders, the Police and the Civil Authorities. They all agreed on the need for immediate action to forestall trouble.
The Tamil population in Anuradhapura numbered a little over 5,000. Most were concentrated in the City and the rest scattered around. They were mostly traders and government officers. They could be easy prey to designing mischief makers within the District as well as elements infiltrating into the region. Kekirawa, had about 13 Tamil families – isolated and vulnerable.
Our intention was to ensure maximum normalcy in the region without resorting to the setting up of “Refugee Camps” or moving the Tamil population to safe havens outside the District.
Accordingly, the following measures were adopted for immediate activation.
Patrolling to commence immediately within the city and the outlying areas.
The three main approaches to the District i.e. Kekirawa, Kurunegala and Puttalam to be kept under round-the-clock surveillance by joint Army-Police teams. They were given clear orders to apprehend and to deal firmly with intruders.
Known trouble makers were summoned to the Police Stations in their respective localities and sternly warned against resorting to acts of mischief. They were also subjected to the closest surveillance by the Police.
Mobile patrols fanning out from the local Police Stations monitored progress and gave Situation Reports to my HQ at Anuradhapura.
The services of the local Gramodayas were harnessed to supplement the efforts of the Army and the Police. They enthusiastically, joined in organizing vigilance groups and kept a close watch on possible flash points.
The troops were addressed by their respective commanders and the gravity of the situation as well as the need to maintain the highest standards of discipline was impressed on them. The gist of this address was to point out that the killing of the soldiers was a matter to be dealt with professionally by the military and not by civilians killing civilians through outbursts of impotent rage. Such a reaction would in the long term be counter-productive and without a doubt disastrous.
On the evening of July 24, whilst our activities were under way, I was appointed Coordinating Officer for the North Central Province with full powers under the Emergency laws to ensure the peace. Since our plans were already in motion, keeping the peace caused no difficulties.
Eventually not a single Tamil was hurt in the entire District of Anuradhapura which continued to be a haven amidst the turmoil and carnage around.
Our success was mainly due to the enthusiastic cooperation of all the principal actors.
The District Minister, the late Chandra Bandara, in his enthusiasm, even tried to assume overall control of operations! I had to tactfully remind him that as the ultimate responsibility for maintaining law and order was entirely mine, I needed to exercise the necessary powers commensurate with that responsibility. He fully appreciated the position and gave me his fullest cooperation. He assured the Tamil government servants that they had no reason to fear for their safety or that they were being abandoned to lawless elements. He even occasionally accompanied me on patrols and was alert to keep me briefed on possible trouble spots.
The able Government Agent, the late T K Dissanayake, saw to the smooth functioning of the Civil Administration and gave all possible assistance to the Security Forces. He also ensured that the supply lines to the Province were running smoothly and that there was no dearth of food, grain or other essentials.
The police under SSP Sumanasekera were to me a tower of strength during this crisis.
On the personal side, my Staff Officer major – later Maj Gen Rtd – Vasantha Perera rendered yeoman service liaising with the Civil Authorities and coordinating arrangements.
My overall Commander Operations – later Maj. Gen – Vijay Wimalaratne, meticulously attended to all arrangements in the field and tirelessly monitored operations.
I have gone into detail about personalities because I feel that ours was a truly unique achievement which was solely due to their cooperation. There were no recalcitrant elements among them.
Our efforts at keeping Anuradhapura as a zone of communal harmony did not go unnoticed by either the media or the public.
I quote one excerpt from the editorial column of a principal daily newspaper – “the advance measures taken in Anuradhapura, a sensitive border area in terms of communal differences …….., the preventive action to preserve law and order, to protect the minorities, is deserving of study, of praise and of emulation.”
Finally, when I took leave of Anuradhapura shortly afterwards to assume duties as Commandant Military Academy Diyatalawa, a grateful public led by the District Minister, the Government Agent, the Police and other notables gave me a most moving send off.
This gesture remains firmly etched in my memory.
Reflections on the SLFP
by Uditha Devapriya
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party was not the second or even third party to be formed in Sri Lanka: it came after the LSSP in 1935, the Communist Party in 1943, the UNP in 1946, and the Bolshevik Samasaja Party in 1946, among others. Yet within a mere five years of its founding it had become more popular than many of its predecessors.
1956 marked probably the first time a dominant political party had been swept away by a grassroots led movement. If there was no parallel in the other ex-colonies, it was because no one expected, even as late as 1954, that the UNP could be defeated. The SLFP’s victory was the product of circumstances that would have favoured any party that incorporated them in its programme; in that sense, the UNP failed to read the writing on the wall.
To understand how these circumstances came about, and how they contributed to the defeat of the UNP, it is imperative to understand the position Sri Lanka enjoyed prior to the 1956 elections. In 1947, foreign assets were decreasing, and the trade deficit had begun to widen thanks to a recession in the US and an earlier decision to devalue the rupee.
By 1950 economic prospects had rebounded, and rubber price increases were leading to surpluses which enabled the government to expand welfare schemes. By 1952 the Korean War boom had contributed to an unprecedented rise in foreign assets to Rs. 1,209 million. But following the end of the boom, they began to decrease at an unprecedented rate of Rs. 30 million a month; they were to reduce soon to an unremarkable Rs. 676 million.
It was against this backdrop that S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike resigned from the UNP and crossed over and J. R. Jayewardene announced a substantial cut to the rice ration. The latter decision was taken on the advice of the World Bank, but what is often forgotten was that the rice ration cut was preceded by the halving of the food subsidy vote (from Rs. 300 million to Rs. 160 million) in the 1952/1953 budget, which was still felt to be inadequate to achieve the goal of curtailing expenditures and balancing the budget.
What is also forgotten that the reason for the hartal to erupt in such intensity was that J. R. refused to minimise the magnitude of the cut. In this he was being sincere or rash, but it cost the government dearly, so much so that the subsequent power tussle between Jayewardene and John Kotelawala after Dudley Senanayake’s resignation was resolved in favour of the latter, since the outgoing Prime Minister blamed the former for his downfall.
Had J. R. succeeded Dudley, it is possible that Bandaranaike would have faced a tougher competitor in 1956. Both Bandaranaike and Kotelawala were incongruous figures (more incongruous than J. R.), but it is to Bandaranaike’s credit that he made attempts to reach out a section of the population who felt they were being ignored if not sidelined.
But with his Buddhist upbringing (unlike Bandaranaike, who renounced it long after he entered politics, J. R. renounced Anglicanism in his youth), J. R. may have made the race tougher for the SLFP. As it turned out, Kotelawala not only misread the mood of the moment but did so despite all advice to the contrary by colleagues: this was symbolised by no less a figure than Dudley withdrawing his support for any party at the 1956 election. To examine that, however, one must examine the cultural forces at play here at the time.
The cultural revival which began here in the late 19th century had, by the mid-20th century, split into two ideological strands: a neo-traditionalist and a reformist. The former aimed at restoring pre-colonial monastic privileges while maintaining a separation between the clergy and the laity, and the latter sought to make all clergymen more active in social, political, and cultural issues. The UNP had identified and then condemned the latter as political bhikkus; this was only to be expected, given that the bourgeoisie were not in favour of monks agitating for radical changes which could affect their social position.
However, the UNP did play a part in empowering the revival. In 1954 monks from Burma convened a Buddhist Council and to this end invited Buddhist leaders from Sri Lanka. Four years earlier, the World Fellowship of Buddhists had been formed at the behest of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. In 1953, after Kotelawala assumed power, the ACBC urged the government to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s passing away.
Surprisingly for the UNP and more surprisingly for Kotelawala, the request was complied with and a year later, at the time of the Buddhist Council, the Lanka Bauddha Mandalaya was set up. Together with the ACBC and YMBA, this organisation was to have a decisive impact on the 1956 elections. The result was the Buddhist Commission of Inquiry, the findings of which were presented to a massive audience at Ananda College in 1956.
As a critical indictment of the status quo, the Commission probably influenced the rural petty bourgeois intelligentsia to rally against the UNP, and around the SLFP, which by that time was on the cusp of entering into no contest pacts with the VLSSP.
In hindsight, and in that sense, the LSSP’s and the Communist Party’s mistake was to ignore if not relegate the issue of linguistic equality in the 1950s, especially considering that both of them and their erstwhile foe, Jayewardene, had raised it in the State Council in the 1940s. It led them to a crevice where they had no choice but join hands with the SLFP, even though splinter groups challenging these alliances would begin to break away from the mainstream. To say this, however, is not to deplore or indict any of these outfits too harshly.
What aggravated it all even more was the Commission’s critique of the government’s insensitivity to cultural grievances. That was not so much antipathy as apathy, a misunderstanding of the political forces at play whereby the government, as Judy Walter Pasqualge points out in her book on Rhoda Miller de Silva, saw the Left, rather than Sinhala nationalism, as the bogey in the room. It was a mistake that would cost them dearly.
Newton Gunasinghe among many other scholars have demolished the myth, a myth demolished first by Denzil Peiris in his account of the 1956 election, that it was the rural poor, the underclass, who rallied around these forces. That they did to some extent is beyond denial; but the classes the election ended up entrenching, far removed from peasantry though not totally cut off from it, belonged to the petty bourgeoisie, sections of which would drift back into the UNP and again revert to the SLFP not too long afterwards.
In the end the revival which had been supported by the UNP turned against the UNP. The SLFP was helped here in no small measure by Kotelawala’s increasing detachment from the world around him; when the Queen visited the country in 1954, for instance, he bent over backwards to ensure she and Prince Philip were kept amused throughout the ceremony. It cannot be said that he was deliberately hostile towards Buddhist interests, as detractors would argue later on: he was being indifferent, if not ignorant. His reading of the issue of linguistic parity, made evident at a speech in Jaffna in 1955, therefore angered Buddhists.
The SLFP did not just happen in such circumstances to absorb and vent out the frustrations of a community which, more than any group barring Indian plantation workers (who had been disenfranchised by the UNP to “ward off” the Leftist threat), had been discriminated against and deprived of opportunity in the colonial era. Yet it read the mood of the moment far better than any establishment at the time. This is a testament to the fortuity of its leader.
The 1956 election epitomised a coming together of cultural, social, and economic forces that conspired to dislodge the status quo from power. Yet if the SLFP in 1956 defeated the UNP, it did so while empowering J. R. Jayewardene, the bête noire of the UNP who was to rise in the next two decades and who, had he competed with Bandaranaike, would have given him a tighter race, though Bandaranaike may have won anyway. Two points were in J. R.’s favour: his Buddhist background, and his zealous hostility to the Left, which would have endeared him to more conservative-traditionalist Sinhala Buddhists. As fate would have it, however, a Jayewardene-Bandaranaike tussle was not, and never, to be.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE CITIES OF SRI LANKA – WHAT’S BEHIND A NAME ?
Known in ancient times as ‘Kolon Thota’ meaning the port on the river Kelani, Colombo has over the centuries been well known as an entrepot port. Traders from far distant shores such as Abyssinia, Persia, India and China, arrived here to barter their goods for spices. It was they who charted the sea lanes referred to as the Spice Route or Maritime Silk Road. However the question arises as to how Colombo got its name?
The author of the oldest Sinhala grammer – Sidatsangrava written in the 13th century mentions ‘Kolamba’ meaning harbor or ford which is derived from the ancient Veddha language. Robert Knox in his book ‘A Historical Relation of Ceylon.’(1681 ) refers to ‘ Colambo’ and explains that the name is derived from a tree called by the ancient Sinhalese as ‘Ambo’ meaning mango. This tree bore no fruit but had leaves in plenty. Hence ‘Cola’ meaning leaves and ‘ambo’ meaning mango gave rise to the name ‘Colambo.
It was the Portuguese who when they invaded ‘Kolon Thota’ in 1505 under the explorer and military commander, Lorenzo de Almeida and realizing its strategic importance made it their administrative capital and changed the Sinhala name to a western one of their of their own liking. Thus ‘Kolon Thota’ became Colombo which it has been claimed was in honour of Columbus. Christopher Colombus, to give his full name, was not a Portuguese. He was an Italian which in that language was written as Christoforo Colombo. And he was married to a Portuguese noblewoman, which explains the connection to the name of Colombo. The Portuguese it must be remembered had two main objectives. Conquests and conversions. Having succeeded in the former they now sought to achieve the latter for which they built churches. The first such church was built in Gintupitiya/Kotahena. It was on that site that the British in later years, built an Anglican Church dedicating it to St Thomas. It is recorded that Gintupitiya, was formerly called ‘ San Thome Pitiya’ because it was believed that St Thomas the Apostle had visited this place and preached to the people. Hence the name of the Church.
But Colombo was destined to be a continuous and integral part of the island’s history and indeed world history when our island was occupied by the British.
But before that let’s go back to the Dutch period which commenced in 1640 and ruled the country until 1796. They too made Colombo their stronghold and called it their Operational Centre. Amongst other things, they also did what the Portuguese did. They built churches. The best known is the Wolvendaal Church, which according to Dutch tradition was called the Wolvendaalse Kirk. Another edifice built by them was the Dutch Hospital which is considered to be one of the oldest buildings in Colombo Fort. It has now been converted to be a most imposing and impressionable shopping arcade and dinning outlet.
Unfortunately the present Covid – 19 pandemic has made this popular rendezvous where tourists happily mixed and moved with Sri Lankans into a lonely, deserted place. Yet another remnant of the Dutch period is the Old Town Hall located in Pettah. It was reconstructed to be a Dutch Museum with aid from institutions such as the Netherlands –Sri Lanka Foundation in Hague and the Netherlands Alumni Association of Sri Lanka. Opened on July 10, 1982 by President J.R. Jayewardene it houses a fascinating collection of memorabilia reminding us of the Dutch period, such as street signs, steam rollers and printing presses. It is hoped that the authorities will ensure that it is well preserved because it is an excellent tourist attraction specially those arriving from the Netherlands
But the pages of history turned once more and as mentioned earlier the Dutch were replaced by the British who ruled from 1796 to 1948. They too made Colombo their main city but went further by establishing it as the island’s Capital. At the risk of being sad and somber it needs to be stated that one of the many things the British granted to Colombo was the 48 acre burial grounds referred to as Kanatte. This was in 1866. Here among the many thousands who lie in peaceful slumber is the prominent science- fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Also seen is the tomb of Sri Lanka’s valiant martyr Henry Pedris who was executed for treason by the British on July 7, 1915. In keeping with British Military tradition his body was buried in an unmarked grave in a secret plot far from Colombo. But in 1987 his relatives unearthed the body and buried it in Kanatte.
So much for British Military tradition and British justice. But let’s give credit where credit is due, for among the well known landmarks built by the British in Colombo are the Galle Face Hotel, Cargills Building , the University of Colombo Building which was originally built for Royal College, the Joseph Frazer Nursing Home, the old House of Parliament, Temple Trees, the President’s House, the former General Post Office, Lloyds Building, and the National Museum.
Mention must also be made to another British contribution to the city of Colombo. This was the tramcar network. There was no other town in Sri Lanka which had this mode of transport. The tramcars operated on two main routes, Fort – Grandpass and Fort – Borella and was discontinued 1953.
And here is how Colombo became a part of world history. World War II (1939 – 1945 ) was ravaging across Europe and the Far East. The Japanese had already taken over Singapore and the next stop was to have been Ceylon, from where she could take control of the entire Indian Ocean. Meanwhile Sri Lanka and Colombo in particular, though being a front -line British base, was still safe. However the British military presence and the restrictions imposed like nightly black-outs in Colombo were continuous reminders that the War was on the verge of engulfing the Island. On Sunday ( Easter Sunday ) April 5, 1942 the worst fears of the British and Ceylonese military hierarchy became a reality.
The Japanese air armada headed by Mitsuo Fuchida who led the attack on the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, flew in. Their primary targets were the Colombo Harbor, Ratmalana Airport and the Kolonnawa oil installations. Fortunately for Colombo and no doubt the entire country a lone Catalina piloted by Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall of the Royal Canadian Air Force, while flying along over the South Western coastal belt on a routine reconaissance flight spotted what he later recalled as a ‘tiny speck’ on the horizon. Flying closer he observed that 300 nautical miles away from our islands South Western coast the ‘tiny speck’ was indeed the Japanese fleet comprising battleships, aircraft carriers, and cruisers.
He had just been able to send a warning to Colombo before he was shot down, sending his plane crashing into the sea. He survived the crash but was captured by the Japanese, and held in a Prisoner-of-War Camp. Birchall’s warning prepared the Allied aircraft stationed in Colombo to meet the Japanese threat. For the first time residents in Colombo watched the overhead aerial combats referred to as ‘dog fights.’ The attack lasted just 20 minutes. Yet within that short space of time 17 service personnel and 85 civilians were killed, among them seven inmates of the Mental Hospital, Angoda.
The Japanese aircraft carriers made a tactical withdrawal. Colombo once again safe. However the island was still in danger. There was Trincomalee to consider. In the meantime panic stricken residents of Colombo began a quick evacuation. Traveling by train, car, bullock carts and even rickshaws which at that time was a common mode of transport, they just wanted to get out of Colombo. Some even crossed over to South India by taking the ferry from Talaimannar. Soon Colombo was a deserted city and it took several weeks for a return normalcy.
To realise the danger which Colombo faced, it is relevant to quote the British wartime Prime Minister Sir. Winston Churchill who admitted that “The most dangerous moment of the War and one which caused me the greatest alarm was when the Japanese fleet was heading for Ceylon and the naval base in Colombo harbor.”
Today Colombo has been transformed to such an extent making it almost unrecognizable from what it was in 1948 when the country was freed of the British yoke and won Independence. And it is not only the skyscrapers, condominiums, arcades and roads. It is now the center of protests marches and placard waving hordes who defy the Covid Prevention regulations and try to grab the main spots in the media. But even as this is written, September 13, Colombo is under Lockdown. Or so it seems.
But this story does not end here. After the war, on his release from the Japanese prison, Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall was made an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and an OBE.
AndMitsui Fuchida? After the war Fuchida became a Christian convert and evangelist and travelled across USA and Europe talking about the experience of his life. He later settled down in USA. Did someone say ‘All’s Well that End’s Well’ ?
How D.B. Wijetunga became Executive President of Sri Lanka
by Nihal Seneviratne
Dingiri Banda Wijeunga (born February 19, 1922), hailing from Pilimatalawe, Udunuwara was one of the most popular politicians at that time. He endeared himself to others by his stark simplicity and his very affable manners. The people were so fond of him that his initials DB were used by people to call him Dearly Beloved and even Dunnoth Baraganan.
In the Nineties, he was chosen to be Prime Minister by President R. Premadasa overlooking two outstanding UNP politicians of that time Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali- a very adroit move. Mr Wijetunga had a Parliamentary service of over 25 years having served as Minister of Power, Highways and Energy; Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Minister of Agricultural Development in the seventies and eighties.
On Tuesday, May 4, 1993, the Speaker announced the assassination of His Excellency President R. Premadasa. “It has been a brutal and cowardly act not just in the personal sense but also because it is directed at the Head of State, therefore at the Government and the entire nation. The loss of the Head of State of any country affects its citizens, irrespective of caste, creed and religious and political affiliations…. We Sri Lankans cherish democracy and we must all join hands to ensure that the reasons for such insane acts do not recur – the Secretary General of Parliament will now make an announcement,” he said.
I then announced that as a vacancy in the post of President had arisen and that under Section 2 of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions )Act No 2 of 1981 a new President had to be appointed and under Section 5, the Secretary General of Parliament has to keep Parliament notified.
The second notice I was called upon to read to Parliament was that under the Act, I name Friday, May as the date for receiving of nominations under the provisions of Clause 5 of the above Act. On May 7, the Speaker at the commencement of business announced that the Secretary General will make an announcement in regard to the election to the office of President.
I then made the following announcement: Under Section 6 (1) “I wish to inform the House of the provisions relating to the receipt of nominations to the office of President. The relevant Section 10 of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions ) Act No 2 of 1981 reads as follows:
6 (1)On the date fixed for the receipt of nominations, Parliament shall meet and the Secretary General should act as the Returning Officer.
2) A Member who wishes to propose any other Member for election to the office of President shall obtain the written consent of the Member indicating that such Member is willing to serve.
3) A Member addressing himself to the Secretary General shall propose any other Member present to the office of President. The proposal shall be seconded by another Member but no debate will be allowed.
4)If only one Member be so proposed and seconded to the office of the President, he shall be declared by the Secretary General to have been elected to such office. If more than one Member be so proposed and seconded, Parliament shall subsection of Section (3) find a date and time for the holding of the election, such date being a date not earlier than 48 hours from the date of receiving nominations.
In terms of Section 6 of the Presidential Election (Special Provisions) Act 2 of 1981, I shall now receive nominations for the Office of President.”
Election of President – Mr Wijepala Mendis, Minister of Transport and Highways said: “Mr Secretary General of Parliament, under the terms of Section 6 (1) of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No 2 of 1981, I have much pleasure in proposing the name of Hon. Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, a Member of the Honourable House for election to the office of President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. I tender to you the written consent of the said Honourable Member agreeing to serve in the said office if elected by the House.”
The Hon. A.C.S. Hameed, Minister of Justice and Higher Education – “The Secretary General of Parliament, I have much pleasure in seconding the name of Hon. Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, a Member of this Honourable House for election to the office of President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
The Secretary General: Are there any other names?
I then made this announcement:
“In terms of Section 6 (4) of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No 2 of 1981, I declare that Dingiri Banda Wijetunga has been elected to the office of President uncontested.
Congratulations to His Excellency the President.”
The Speaker: “Your Excellency, please accept my sincere best wishes on your assuming office today as the Third Executive President of Sri Lanka.
I wish to congratulate you on your election to the high office of President of the Sri Lanka which fell vacant following the tragic assassination of His Excellency Ranasinghe Premadasa. I have known your Excellency for nearly four decades. You are a gentle person with an ability to resolve any problem or issue on your own without causing injustice or harm to anyone. I am confident that you will be able to guide the destiny of the people of Sri Lanka towards peace and prosperity.”
The best speech was by Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister of Industries, Science and Technology and Leader of the House who made a long speech in Sinhalaese congratulating the new President.
After the day’s proceedings were over, the new President in his usual simple manner thanked me sincerely for all I had done to help him in his election. I responded: “Sir, I was only performing my tasks under the law and nothing more. But please Sir, please be kind enough to accept my warmest wishes and congratulations.”
I recall with nostalgia, the visit I paid him at his office at the Presidential Secretariat to say that I was leaving the office of Secretary General next week. He responded saying, “Nihal, we can’t afford to lose your services to Parliament after your distinguished service of over 30 years.” adding he would ask the Government to move a resolution to Parliament to extend my services, even after reaching the statutory age of retirement of 60 years. I politely declined his very kind offer and said my successor will be able to function as well I did. He then asked whether he could appoint me as Ambassador to a foreign country which too I very kindly declined and thanked him, saying I would return to my home in Havelock Road, Colombo 5 to spend time with my wife and two children. I thanked him profusely and left his office.
I will end with a note regarding his extreme simplicity and willingness to help. He had been approached by a Member of Parliament asking him to do him a favour – of getting approval of Parliament for him to have an extension from his telephone in his office upcountry to his home which was five miles away. The President himself phoned me and very affectionately addressing me as Nihal said, “I know you will find a way to help this Member and please do so.” I politely reminded him that I cannot do so as extensions to another place, apart from where his official phone is situated is only possible if that extension is within a few yards and that I could not approve it as I would have to face similar requests from other Members. In his own inimitable style he said, “I know this Nihal, but I also know that you will find some way of helping this Member” and rang off. The Member himself called me and said he had spoken to the President. I told him politely that I had already explained to him that I was unable to accede to his request. He left my office, not quite happy.
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