By Namini Wijedasa –
Hirunika: did she ‘sell-out’ on the statue?
Won’t cave in even if mother does
Hirunika Premachandra, the daughter of assassinated SLFP politician Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, is unhappy that her mother recently accepted a coordinating secretary position from President Mahinda Rajapaksa but said she understands her reasons for it.
The young law student and aspiring politician also said she would not join the government and has not accepted any money from the SLFP for the erection of her late father’s statue. And she will continue to fight for justice in the killing of Bharatha Lakshman and three others in October 2011.
“Our official residence in Summit Flats and the vehicle we use was under my father’s name, allocated to the position he held as presidential advisor,” Hirunika said, in an interview last week. “Under normal procedure, we would have had to vacate the house and to return the vehicle three months after he died. But our own house in Kolonnawa is not suitable for us to move into.”
Hirunika said she advised her mother, Sumana Premachandra, to borrow money from her Canada-based cousins to rent out another space. This would have enabled them to move out of Summit Flats but Sumana was worried about security, particularly for her daughter. She felt the official residence was in a good, safe environment.
“So ammi met the president and told him,” Hirunika recounted. “The president said we would have to move out of the house because he couldn’t extend the facilities after three months. She said, ‘What should I do’. And he said, ‘Ok, I can give you a coordinating secretary position so that you keep the house and vehicle. This is what ammi did.”
There have been rumours of disagreements between Hirunika and her mother. “Whenever there is an argument in this house, it’s on this,” she admitted. “I don’t approve of it at all. I said that the only reason I can’t speak out is that we are living in a government flat. If there are rumours of conflict, this is the conflict.”
But, she said, she loved her mother. “As a mother, what she did is right,” she reflected. “She wanted to save the house and vehicle. Thaththi had wanted to demolish the Kolonnawa house after the local government election saying when I get married I can’t go out of a house like that. He had applied for loans but suddenly this thing happened and we couldn’t do anything. That’s the only reason we are here (official residence).”
Nothing left to lose
In any case, her mother was an independent person and she could not interfere in her decisions, Hirunika said. “And she cannot interfere in my decisions, or with whatever I speak,” she continued. “If I see injustice, I will fight against it. She, on the other hand, always says, ‘You are a girl and someone will throw acid at your face or kill you. But I always say that when I have lost the most important person in my life, I’m not scared of anything.”
On June 18, Hirunika was seen chatting closely with parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa at a function to lay the foundation stone for a statue of her late father. Since she had been openly critical of the government since Bharatha Lakshman’s death, she was immediately labelled a turncoat. There was speculation that she would now do politics through the ruling party and that she had struck a “deal” with the government.
Asked what her conversation with Namal had been about, Hirunika replied: “Definitely not anything political. We met after a long time, so it was a casual conversation.” “There is no political contract between me, the SLFP, the UNP, or anyone else,” she maintained. “I am still a member of the Mahajana Party.”
Several members of the Rajapaksa family and the UPFA attended the ceremony. Hirunika said she and her mother invited all the members of parliament including Ranil Wickremesinghe, who didn’t come but had sent his excuses. “Only a few came because it was held in the early morning on a week day,” she said. “Many ministers were also out of the country for a seminar.”
Didn’t she feel she was betraying her father’s memory by welcoming members of a government she had held indirectly responsible for his death? “Thaththi was in the political arena for 30 years and in parliament for ten years,” she replied. “They are all his friends. When I speak to them personally, they tell me, ‘Duwa, whatever you are doing is right’. Even Nimal Siripala said if it happened to his daughter he didn’t know what she would do. But they all say, ‘What you are doing is right but in this country you have to take the middle path’. You can’t be brutally honest and straightforward and go against the government. I said I’m not going against the government.”
“But I did say, especially to Nimal Siripala, that when you give nominations please first check the family background, how well educated they are, and whether they have at least passed A/levels,” she said. “These things are important. I told Namal as well. He didn’t utter a word. He smiled.”
Hirunika insisted, too, that she “had never accepted money from the SLFP”- not to commission her father’s statue, not for the new Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra Development Foundation. The statue is to be made in Thailand with money from a close relative and the late politician’s friends.
Asked whether she was using the foundation – and its funds – to further her political career, Hirunika replied, “The foundation is something else and politics is something else. I’m not sure when I will do politics (fully). At the moment, my focus is my father’s case. If I join a political party or, as people say, the ruling party, it would be the most idiotic thing I could do.”
“People all over the world are watching this (case),” she said, in explanation. “It was a daytime murder. If I contest a provincial council or any other election now, I think I will be out of focus. If I join the government or the UNP, JVP or whatever party, I won’t have time to concentrate on the case. I will keep talking on behalf of the party and their politics, not on behalf of my father. I always say first the case, then election. If I get justice for my father and the three others killed, I can concentrate on my political career.”
About her involvement in the Mahajana Party (MP), Hirunika said she attended meetings and gatherings but less often now because of exams. “It is not a big party and there is little they can do,” she admitted. “Sometimes, they use my name in posters when they have meetings so that people will come to see me! Since it’s not a big party, the main committee members are not that active at all. That is why it’s not going anywhere.”
She said she had laid some conditions on her joining MP – for instane, that she would only contest an election if the party remained independent of the government – and hoped these would be honoured.
Hirunika said former army commander Sarath Fonseka, who was recently released from prison, has not invited her to join him in politics. “He never did,” she confirmed. “But as a former army commander and the main person of the war victory, I respect him because he has a backbone. I love that. In a country where nobody has a backbone, he has.”
She loves a backbone
Asked about alleged threats to her life, Hirunika said she was informed through third parties of the danger. “For instance, a person got caught for drug peddling and was put into the same prison ward as the people who killed my father,” she recounted. “When he got bail, he told someone that he had heard these people saying that I’m trouble and that they have to take me out of the picture. That person called me and told me to be careful.”
A week ago, the government assigned two police officers to protect Hirunika but she said she was disappointed. They have received written instructions from the police department that they must only provide her security while she is at home. “They cannot travel with me,” she said. “I told the IGP there was no point because I go to Law College and out a lot. The IGP told me to write a letter to the defence secretary. You know that will never happen!”
Hirunika has been openly critical about the Rajapaksa regime, hitting out particularly at a breakdown of the rule of law. Was she foolish or brave? “If people think I’m foolish just because I’m trying to get justice in a country where ‘justice’ is just a word, then I’m foolish,” she reflected. “If people think I’m brave for the same reason, then I think I’m brave.” In the end, however, her immediate concern was to get justice for her father and the others that died with him.