13th Amendment: It is far too late now to offer so little- CBK
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
February 16, marked the 20th death anniversary of the founder leader of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP), the late Vijaya Kumaratunga. Kumaratunga, a popular actor who turned into a visionary politician was killed during the bloody JVP insurgency of 1989 whilst campaigning for the establishment of provincial councils and extensive power devolution as a means to ending the ethnic strife. His wife, former President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in this interview speaks extensively about the political ideology of her late husband, his commitment to devolution and extreme popularity that led to his assassination 20 years ago. In this exclusive interview, she also calls for prudent and non-communal politics espoused by the late Kumaratunga to help heal Sri Lanka. Excerpts of the interview by Dilrukshi Handunnetti for the Sunday Leader of 17 February 2008:
Q: A significant and well-documented aspect in the political life of your late husband, Vijaya Kumaratunga is his commitment to sharing power. He stood for power devolution when the majority of the population showed an allergy to even discuss the concept. What made Kumaratunga place faith in a negotiated solution when his contemporaries considered it treacherous?
A: Actually, it is I who convinced him of the merits of sharing power.
When he came into politics, Vijaya had a desire to solving the conflict. He did not have the opportunity to study the question or solutions in depth. At that time, the war had just broken out and many did not have a clear idea on how to solve it.
What shocked Vijaya and sent a chill down his spine was the manner in which District Development Councils elections were conducted in 1981. It was completely undemocratic. Stuffed ballot boxes were discovered from under the beds of government politicians. It shocked us because we have never experienced such open election law violations before. There had been the occasional stuffing of ballot boxes to rigging polls but not this systematic, extreme rigging with the government doing all in its power to achieve an already perceived result.
Those days, Vijaya and I held extensive political discussions. This was before the children were born and the SLMP was formed. One such evening, I mentioned the best solution to be the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and Vijaya asked me to explain it in detail. We obtained a copy of the agreement from the parliament library through Lakshman Jayakody. We discussed the main document extensively.
Vijaya was firmly convinced that something similar could effectively end the conflict that was turning militant. We discussed the structures in place and Vijaya bemoaned the fact that the Sinhalese feared a large presence of Tamils in higher positions. I have worked for four years at the Land Reform Commission with a 480 member staff that did not have a single Tamil. It is I who employed one Tamil as chief accountant. The Sinhalese stiffly opposed my decision and made it impossible for him to stay on. This excellent officer migrated soon afterwards.
After being convinced on the merits of shared power, Vijaya did not waste a moment. One of the finest gifts he possessed was his ability to improve on a concept proposed by another. He was intelligent, had the gift of the gab and had genuine warmth. He could propound something better than any other. I used to feel awed by this ability. He had tremendous presence and a unique ability to win people over with his sincerity and clarity of thought. Often I was left to pick up the thread of his argument. Vijaya remained true to his political belief to the very end.
Q: As he began speaking on the merits of sharing power, did he enhance and alter the concept discussed with you?
A: He certainly did. He evolved the concept of power sharing to something that the people felt comfortable with. Vijaya had the ability to spin ideas in his head that would capture the imagination of people. He had tremendous mass appeal and I must say, his presentation was extraordinary. In short, he got them in the guts. With time, Vijaya and I became the two best proponents of ethnic integration, equality and political power sharing.
Q: Did your late husband acknowledge a need to share power as a means of ethnic harmony or is it something that he accepted much later?
A: He was minority sensitive. He was a great liberal and a democrat who believed that diversity was key to development. He had a big heart and though he wanted to resolve the problem, for a while he did not know what could effectively end the conflict. That's when we discussed devolution. He strongly believed in creating an equal society for all communities. At the outset he did not know how this could be achieved. Once he was convinced, he was going to spearhead a campaign to convince the masses. There was no turning back for him from that moment.
Q: Do you think that part of the problem is Sri Lanka not being a secular state?
A: We had a secular state until recently. When we gained independence, Sri Lanka was an extremely secular country. D. S. Senanayake's cabinet had some Tamil and Muslim members and the Sinhalese constituted about 60% of that small cabinet. What Senanayake did wrong was to settle the Sinhalese in Gal Oya seeking to alter the prevailing ethnic ratio. He did not colonise those areas with all three communities. At that time, all three communities lived there. It is something the Tamils still quote as an infringement with territory in Tamil dominant areas being taken over for Sinhalese colonisation.
Minister Gamini Dissanayake did the same in Weli Oya and R.G. Senanayake followed the same path by settling Sinhalese in Trincomalee. Sinhalese were all over the East but these were conscious efforts to alter the existing ethnic ratio. If there is migration, it is a natural process. But this was forced and in violation of others’ rights.
Just look at India. The country has 16 languages and over 30 dialects. Several thousands of tribes happily live there. The principalities were abolished and people were brought under one identity - Indian, whilst acknowledging their ethnic and linguistic identities. When India gained independence, it had the intelligence to make India a secular state. Or else, India would have disintegrated into pieces. What's more, they recognised English as the link language that binds all communities together. This meant one language would not remain dominant.
My father, though, in 1956 brought in a sea change in Sri Lankan politics. He did much good. But it was a colossal mistake to do away with the link language. It was unintentional, but when Sinhala gained overarching dominance, the result was that.
To put things into context, though we have been secular in practice for so long with each administration making its mistakes, it is only the present administration that has shamelessly paved the way for racism. Other governments may have done so, but covertly. The Jayewardene regime did this during the 1983 riots, though some within the government opposed it.
It is sad because Jayewardene led the most secular political party in Sri Lanka. We must admit that the UNP was that all along. Likewise, it was the UNP that had the most secular stance regarding the national question.
However, the UNP was not liberal in other ways. It set fire to some 10,000 households of political opponents post 1977 election victory. Its liberal attitude towards the ethnic issue altered in 1983 with the country going up in flames. Circumstances compelled the same government through Indian intervention, to devolve power through the 13th Amendment. Despite that, the UNP remains an authoritarian and largely non-liberal political force that had caused society's fragmentation.
The secular UNP got stuck in racial politics for a while. But it resurfaced and took up the concept of power sharing seriously.
Those traits are in stark contrast to what we witness today. There is no social liberalism or pluralism in the Rajapakse administration. This is also the first government that openly denies the existence of genuine issues affecting the Tamil community and refuses to acknowledge their political aspirations in anyway. That is a depth that no government had ever sunk to.
Q: Despite serious political differences you had with President Jayewardene, the Kumaratungas supported the chief executive on devolution and campaigned in support of the 13th Amendment when the JVP violently opposed it. What made the SLMP run such a huge risk?
A: People believe Vijaya was killed for it. Do not forget, not only was there violent opposition but also violent killings due to this.
The JVP put up posters saying Vijaya would be killed. When he was killed, they brazenly claimed responsibility for the assassination. They labelled Vijaya a traitor. Leaflets under the name of Keerthi Vijayabahu were distributed explaining why he was killed and justifying it. But there were other reasons besides Vijaya's open advocacy of the 13th Amendment to end conflict. Rohana Wijeweera, I believe was jealous of anyone who proved a threat or a significant competitor.
The question you are raising is important even today. We supported the provincial council system because of our belief that power sharing was the only way out. Though politically victimised we did not quarrel or play politics with President Jayewardene. It is our bounden duty to support what is right for our country.
We believed in equality and hoped this would lead to a new order. The Tamil community has been excluded for so long. They would not be satisfied with better opportunities in employment or education. We needed something more concrete and one that catered to the political aspirations of a community.
The problem had been festering for too long for Tamils to be just happy with some crumbs off the tables of the Sinhala majority governments. Tamils have been cheated time and again and there is a huge lacuna in trust.
At least if we could give them substantive political power to govern their areas, their political rights could be constitutionally safeguarded. That's what the 13th Amendment sought to do. That would have also given them a sense of identity and an opportunity to be part of the administration. Most importantly, that would have prevented separatism.
Extremists argue that devolution leads to separatism. We countered that devolution meant unification of communities. Vijaya used to beautifully explain to the masses how devolution defeated separatism. Our call was to 'share power to defeat separatism.' If power is properly devolved, there is no question of a country being divided.
Whatever the conditions under which the 13th Amendment came into being, whether India forced Sri Lanka's hand or not, here was an opportunity to right some historical wrongs.
The SLMP's position was, whatever our problems with the UNP administration, we would support a move that could benefit the country. Irrespective of how power sharing was force fed, it was still necessary to Sri Lanka. We welcomed it and wanted to strengthen President Jayewardene's hand though soon after Vijaya was released from jail.
We all knew that he was jailed unfairly on trumpeted Naxalite charges. But Vijaya had the bigness of heart to put country before self. I wish the present politicians would have half that magnanimity of his generous spirit. There was no Naxalite movement. But Vijaya refused to play the conventional opposition politician's role and oppose a beneficial government move.
Q: What made him a huge political target of many? The UNP was comfortable enough.
A: No. The UNP strategy was to divide the SLFP to have a weak opposition. They achieved this end quite effectively. Maithripala Senanayake, Stanley Tillakaratne, Mahinda Rajapakse and Anura Bandaranaike were used against Kobbekaduwa in this exercise. Mahinda Rajapakse sent his brother Basil to join the UNP and board the green stage. This group was used to create dissension within our party. Their argument was that Mrs. Bandaranaike was deprived of her civic rights and therefore lacked the right to lead the SLFP.
It had no legal basis but this argument destroyed our unity. Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranji Handy were the think tanks though the likes of Maithripala Senanayake and Anura Bandaranaike were used as a front in this destructive operation.
But we moved in and united the SLFP. That's why Maithripala and Mahinda opposed Vijaya being in the party. They turned the heat on so much that Vijaya was expelled. I too left. The dissension caused at that time continued. We then formed the SLMP.
Just before that, the SLFP rebels campaigned against Kobbekaduwa. Mahinda sent Basil to work against our candidate from the UNP platform and did not work to support Kobbekaduwa. The proof of this is that SLFP presidential candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa appointed DEW Gunasekera as election agent in Hambantota despite Mahinda being the district leader. SLFP's golden rule was to appoint the district leaders as election agents. Rajapakse did not lift a finger to support Kobbekaduwa. In fact his mission was to defeat the SLFP candidate. Despite all that, the margin between the candidates wasn't huge.
Vijaya did a dynamic campaign for Kobbekaduwa with Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who played a crucial role as party general secretary.
Both of them were jailed in November 1982. Wickremanayake was released within a week. Vijaya was kept in solitary confinement for months. Common criminals had visitors but Vijaya was not allowed any visitors. I fought until they allowed me the opportunity to visit him daily for a few minutes and took his meals for I seriously feared for his life. There were various theories that he would be shot dead inside his cell or his food would be poisoned. I had no way to prevent him being shot but I wanted to minimise his risk of being poisoned.
Vijaya suffered so much quietly for a crime never committed. He was not plotting to topple governments but his charisma and his political vision naturally attracted people. Small-minded leaders could not tolerate this.
Five years later came the 13th Amendment and Vijaya did not pause or waver. His mind was made up. The SLMP politburo discussed this till 2 a.m. The next day, out of some 20 odd members, four resigned in protest having opposed our stance. They could not understand why we wished to support a UNP move. But Vijaya was adamant that we were doing it for the country and not for the UNP.
In protest Party President T. B. Ilangaratne, W. Kularatne, Vice President Karunasena Jayalath and W. A. Abeysinghe resigned. Other southern political parties including the LSSP, CP and NSSP supported our stance.
There was a dubious outfit called the 'Maubima Surakeeme Sanvidhanaya' that campaigned against us. We were called KGB agents and many more. It is the same group that divided the SLFP and caused Viajya's expulsion. As bad publicity grew against us, we decided that we would also explain our motive in supporting the 13th Amendment.
Some of Vijaya's finest speeches were made during that period. He was passionate about sharing power. We had brief meetings with just three speeches. I made a speech explaining the concept of power sharing followed by Ossie Abeygunesekera. Vijaya summed up the relevance of devolution. This campaigned proved truly effective. We attracted thousands of people. Most of them listened to Vijaya's soothing speech offering a solution to the conflict as opposed to the rabid racist speeches that were heard from many other platforms at that time.
Most meetings were held in predominant Buddhist areas like Galle, Kandy and Matara. The UNP did not have the courage to do it at that time. In fact, we did the government's job. Vijaya and I travelled the length and breadth of this country advocating devolution.
The SLMP, despite losing its senior politburo members stuck to the principle that for once, the UNP was doing something beneficial and it needed to be supported. We did not wish to sabotage the effort. There were several firsts. Leading Sinhala politicians were able to look at the country's interest and overlook party or individual interest. We wanted to seize the moment.
Look at what has happened today. The ethnic conflict was never resolved due to bickering. This is what Vijaya and I wanted to prevent then.
My father tried to solve it through a pact that was stiffly opposed by the UNP. The same happened to Dudley Senanayake's efforts, Mrs. Bandaranaike's efforts and my own. Ranil Wickremesinghe did not let me have those vital eight votes and put a new constitution in place. He now claims that I did not give an undertaking on abolishing the executive presidency. Even to do that, a two third majority in Parliament was needed.
My position was that abolition is possible if the Draft Constitution could be supported. To me, both were in one document and they needed to be supported in one go. Not in parts. The UNP refused to even consider my position. After 35 discussions on our devolution package, I decided to present the draft to Parliament. That's when I was hooted and the draft was burnt in an ugly display of political opportunism. That was after diluting some provisions to accommodate the UNP's wishes because we wanted consensus. The TULF opposed it then saying we have watered it down to suit the UNP.
I said if the UNP would support, I would go home tomorrow. Prof. G L Peiris, one of the architects of the Draft Constitution rejected my statement outright. He said to implement such, there must be a liberal executive president who would not cave into extremists' demands. Then I said the period should be one year from the day it is voted in. He did not even agree to two years. There was agreement on everything else and I had already made up my mind to agree to the abolition of the executive presidency if the UNP delegation demanded it.
When I queried whether they would vote in favour of the draft now that most issues have been ironed out, the UNP leaders agreed. That point was never discussed. Then I put the Draft before Parliament.
Q: Some of the meetings you and Vijaya addressed were marred by violence. Was it because the SLMP dared to campaign for a solution or were there other reasons?
A: Our meetings were bombed three times. Strangely enough, that happened after I got down from the stage to go for other engagements. The fear psychosis was such that our supporters told me to stay put until Vijaya finished speaking. Seating arrangement was such that I was made to sit closer to the crowds. That was the open side. Many felt that as long as I was on stage, the meetings won't be attacked because, to be honest, the SLFP and the JVP were working together at that time to get Vijaya. We gave him ample security, but were worried.
However, these were small grenade types. One person got killed and a few got injured. They are not powerful or sophisticated like the explosives of today. I am a little wary of bombs now that I have lost an eye in a bomb attack.
Q: Speaking of which, even after surviving a LTTE attack you still wanted extreme devolution. Why did you not consider it still necessary to talk to the LTTE?
A: I had requested Norway in February 1999 to move in before being attacked. We had a line of communication with the LTTE open to initiate a dialogue. There were no secret electoral pacts hatched though. By then, our government was militarily successful too. We promised to halt attacks if the LTTE wished to enter a dialogue. But they kept quiet. At that time, the Secretary of the Commonwealth offered to mediate. I did not mind. The LTTE rejected this proposal after a year or so because it was a massive organisation with over 60 member countries. I guess it felt intimidated.
Then we also tried individuals and organisations who had assisted the LTTE in the human rights front. Still nothing worked out. Then we requested the LTTE to propose names. India was never even mentioned by the Tigers.
England, Netherlands and Norway were among names proposed. We wanted a country that had no real interest. Norway fitted. It was small and independent. England had too much of economic interest. Norway seemed ideal and responded positively. Then there was a request if Anton Balasingham could be sent to Norway for kidney transplanting. One month after the bomb attack on me, I was told Balasingham would die if he were kept here. He was in a critical state and I responded positively.
I did not only decide to allow this on humanitarian grounds alone. I realised in my role as a head of state that I needed to keep focus. I wanted to keep a door for discussions still open. Despite the bomb attack, my faith on a negotiated solution remained unwavered. We needed trust building.
We had taught the LTTE their lessons. We had captured all districts in the north by then. Before that, there were only six government camps located in Kankesanturai, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Palaly and Point Pedro. To get drinking water during the drought, our personnel had to obtain permission from the LTTE to come out from the confines of their camps. Pirapaharan ruled from the Kachcheri.
It is we who drove him to the Wanni but did not gloat about our military feats. What have we today? Sampur is like a little handkerchief in size but the incumbent administration is all gung-ho about it.
As for the war, even respected Generals like Denzil Kobbekaduwa said it was unwinnable. Battles are won but wars never. He said it was unwinnable for both sides. The only way to win this war is through negotiations. Who has brought conflict to an end through war? This is why Vijaya's quiet commitment to peace becomes important. He made a political solution of a different government, his own. He put aside personal feelings and paid the price for his heroism.
He had letters from a Keerti Wiyabahu from the DJVP. His name was on posters as traitor number two, coming only second to President Jayewardene. I feared for his life. Already many of our electoral leaders including the Panduwasnuwara and Galgamuwa organisers were killed.
On the day of Vijaya's funeral, February 21, he was to do something massive. We were to hold a huge function at the Sugathadasa Stadium to mark the formation of an Alliance called the USA that included four and a half out of the five Tamil groups that were active at that time. The LTTE was just one of the five militant groups and certainly not considered 'sole representative' then. In the order of importance, it was Uma Maheswaran's PLOTE that came first. Then came the LTTE, EPRLF, EROS and TELO. Only the TULF was excluded from our exercise.
The possibility of major Sinhalese parties coming to an alliance with Tamil parties sent shivers down the collective spines of our political rival groups. It was Vijaya's effort and his work. This was a huge political grouping and one that had much promise. On top of that, Vijaya had been nominated and announced as the common presidential candidate of those parties. I think this precipitated his killing.
Q: You mentioned earlier about Wijeweera fearing a strong opponent and that even the UNP leadership considered Vijaya Kumaratunga as competition. Was there a possibility of the SLMP becoming the third force?
A: That was quite definitely the reason. The JVP considered Vijaya as competition to Wijeweera as much as the UNP under President Premadasa did. Vijaya had the opportunity to break the UNP's young vote, the ideological and liberal vote much better than attracting the majority SLFP vote. Each day his popularity grew. The moderates would have heartily supported Vijaya due to his stance on the ethnic issue.
The Premadasa regime was not known for its democratic ways. That itself gave Vijaya an edge. Wijeweera already considered Vijaya a potential threat because none had Vijaya's charisma and the ability to touch hearts. On top of that, he had a remarkable way of presenting facts that appealed to the general public and made them think.
Vijaya was moving the masses towards sharing power, ending the conflict through promoting equality among communities and offering due respect to all. As for becoming a third force, we were already that. Hence the JVP's hatred for Vijaya. He has effortlessly elbowed the fire breathing Marxists with his gentle appeal and prudent politics.
In this backdrop, Vijaya was named the common presidential candidate of several parties and within a few days, a grand alliance was to be formed. This alliance was to include important Tamil political parties and this meant Vijaya would have culled the majority Tamil votes. He would have not won, but would have easily come second. Vijaya was fast becoming a force to reckon with and they eliminated him through sheer jealousy.
This country would have benefited vastly from a politician of his calibre. He was truly a patriot who believed in a just society where all communities live in harmony. That ideal was anathema to others who wanted to divide and rule.
Q: There was Indian intervention that led to the introduction of the 13th Amendment. Did both of you believe in a significant Indian role in resolving the Sri Lankan conflict?
A: It was necessary then and is necessary now, to bring India into the equation. Whether you like it or not, nothing can happen in the South Asian region without Indian involvement. I would prefer it not to be so. But this is reality and it makes sense for every Sri Lankan government to keep India on its good side. I think my administration managed that. So did my mother.
Q: In hindsight, do you consider the 13th Amendment sufficient to settle the conflict? Tamil moderates like V. Anandasangaree had rejected the APRC's move to reinvent a constitutional amendment introduced 20 years ago claiming that medicine to cure an itch was insufficient to cure a malignant cancer.
A: It's a joke. I saw statements by both Anandasangaree and Lakshman Kiriella on the new drama. What is given for influenza won't work for a blood cancer. It is far too late now to offer so little. As for this government, I don't even foresee discussions on devolution being possible. There is no dialogue on power sharing except the APRC bogus exercise.
In contrast, I did not force my Cabinet to raise hands for devolution at gunpoint. Instead, we held a series of seminars to educate our team and then marketed the concepts through the White Lotus and Thawalama movements. People have to feel connected with policy making. Concepts need to be shared with the masses. That's democracy.
But I can say one thing. When we did conduct these seminars, the only one who refused to raise his hand in support of power sharing was Mahinda Rajapakse. Of course he had a right to differ. A chauvinistic political monk recently stated that all Tamils should be thrown into the open sea to die. I believe he had the right to express this, rabid as it may have sounded. But he had no right to implement that wish. That's democracy.
We did a survey on public perception on devolution in areas excluding the northeast. Some 68% voted in favour and expressed willingness to vote at a referendum in support of the concept. If the opinion poll were conducted in the northeast, the figure would have been much higher.
The UNP had not made its stance public by then. If that also went into the census, then we would have had about 90% of the people supporting devolution.
The JVP and the JHU are marginal forces with less than 5% of the total vote.
It is this 5% that is making decisions today on behalf of about 90%. This is not even democratic. The JVP and the JHU survive on communalism. They have no existence if this basis is removed. They feed on hatred and divisive politics. They fear that if I intervened at some point, I might convince the government otherwise. So they oppose my very presence in Sri Lanka.
Q: In hindsight, do you think Ranil Wickremesinghe's government should have been allowed to continue?
A: Certainly yes. It was one of the three biggest political mistakes I made. I haven't made too many. If I did, the party I brought into power from the very depths of incompetence and defeat won't still rule. The PA is still there because of me. I must have done something right or else we would have got voted out. I also made the PA win 12 out of 14 elections. I am not God, so I made mistakes along the way. One colossal mistake was to send Ranil's administration packing home.
But there were reasons. I came under serious pressure from my party seniors. There also was rampant corruption. Some SLFP supporters were victimised immediately after the new administration came in. I was isolated with many of our people critiquing me for going soft on UNP corruption and overlooking political victimisation.
Some 90 SLFPers had been killed within three months since the UNP assumed office and some 2000 odd houses torched. I paid compensation from the President's Fund a year after, because the government did nothing to help the victims. We documented these incidents and released them worldwide. Corruption was on the increase. I had to take a decision.
In hindsight, I should have overlooked all other concerns and given priority to the UNP's stance on the ethnic question. When under pressure to dissolve, I banged my fist on the table and said: "Please answer to the consequences of this decision. I am not keen to dissolve." But I was a lone voice.
If the UNP was there, the CFA could have remained. The CFA had three significant flaws that needed rectification. Those provisions gave the LTTE additional opportunity to indulge in terror tactics. Just as we supported the 13th Amendment, we should have identified the CFA as a necessary tool. It was the first time the LTTE signed something and agreed to a big international presence through the SLMM. As a concept this was good. They also had a ceasefire with me, but this was a bigger version.
I rejected the argument that the CFA needed to be abrogated. What we should have done was to amend the CFA. If the overall thing was good, we should have had the political vision to support it but with the necessary alterations. But I was not supported on this one. Also, we should have not chased a government from office which is what I did. Also please note, very few leaders would admit their political mistakes soon after going out of office. I honestly regret my mistakes. They were not willfully committed. I don't think any other Sri Lankan leader would openly admit to mistakes the way I do. Beside myself, only my father would have done it. I am honest enough and courageous enough to own up.
Q: When in government, you also formed a powerful coalition with the JVP. Did you find the JVP more amenable and moderate when dealing with you?
A: They appeared so. But I knew it was fake. They badly needed to come into government and showed flexibility. We discussed with the JVP for a full year before I let the SLFP sign a MoU. They agreed with our economic policy. The only contentious issue was the stance on the ethnic issue. I wasted so much of words, energy and time on the JVP to convince them on the concept of devolution. They had feeble and politically immature arguments. I was unwilling to sign anything until they came out with a clear-cut policy on devolution. What Marxism for this rabid outfit? They detest sharing power. But the SLFP kept pressurising me.
I told the SLFP my vision included sharing power without which I did not wish to bind myself to any agreement. Commitment to devolution has always been a big part of my political ideology. Eventually, the JVP agreed to share power within an 'undivided Sri Lanka.' Devolution is not possible within a unitary state. This I needed to impress upon them for a long time. But they went back on the pledges soon after coming into government. Those who advocated this political marriage were the ones who got disillusioned first.
Q: Is this the end of Bandaranaike politics?
A: Yes. My children will not come into active politics. There is Anura playing an active role. But a new dynasty is being created. The Rajapakses are hell-bent on destroying even the memory of the Bandaranaikes and to create their own dynasty. I have always opposed dynastic politics. It is a backward concept. Our parents were already in politics and there was Anura. I resisted the call. I only wanted to work for the party without a position. I sought no leadership though fate simply kept elevating me.
Thrice our party seniors visited me in England, post Vijaya's killing to take over the reins. They complained about conspiracies by the likes of Mahinda Rajapakse and the party being rudderless.
I was happy to promote Anura and help him. In fact it was I who made a policy decision as SLFP leader not to give nominations to close family members of an elected representative. I disliked nepotism and I still do. I have brainwashed my children against entering politics. We have lost too many to violent politics and suffered so much as a family. Let them lead peaceful lives. After Anura, the Bandaranaike dynasty will certainly come to an end as it should be.
Q: Twenty years after his assassination, what is the relevance of Vijaya Kumaratunga's brand of politics?
A: It is crucially important. The message he gave to the people were to help this country heal and progress. He called for an end to ethnic strife. There had been divisive politics for so long. Vijaya spread the message of brotherhood, unity amongst all communities, extensive power devolution that will foster communal trust, all of which go well beyond the comedy enacted by the Rajapakse administration today. Vijaya represented the finest qualities possessed by statesmen who were truly patriotic in spirit. Such thinking is relevant and such politicians are needed today more than ever, if Sri Lanka is to end this strife and begin to heal.
[Courtesy: The Sunday Leader]