25 September, 2020

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An Unfinished Life – My Father Ossie And Vijaya

By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

The 25th death anniversary of Vijaya Kumaratunga falls on 16th February. In order to honour this fearless leader, I thought of contributing an appreciation. Vijaya and my father Ossie Abeyagoonasekera were very close friends and I remember him visiting our place almost every day and working together until his death in 1988. My father was always very supportive for his political cause. Even though I was quite young when he died, I remember how people gathered to see him. His personality was such that he managed to bring happiness to everyone, be it through his life as an actor or as a politician. Some who didn’t like his politics loved his movies. Vijaya along with my father and few other members of the party were jailed in 1982 as Naxalite prisoners during J.R. Jayawardena’s period in office. They went through many hardships in their political journey and one could call Vijaya’s was an unfinished life. He was assassinated at a young age of 43.

Vijaya Kumarathunga and Ossie Abeyagoonasekera during their visit to Jaffna in 1986

He was the founder of Sri Lanaka Mahajana Party (SLMP) which used to be the third largest party some years ago. Unfortunately the SLMP almost died down as it lost many members, totally about 117 who were assassinated during the 88 insurrection. Vijaya was the first to be killed.

Vijaya’s courage became evident when he made a journey to Jaffna in 1986 to meet the LTTE leaders such as Kittu and Raheem. My father and Felix Perera accompanied him. The intention of this journey was to engage in a political discussion in order to free Sri Lankan soldiers who were detained by the LTTE. They managed to win the hearts of the Tamilians of Jaffna. While delivering one of his most memorable and remarkable speeches, Vijaya stated that “Sinhalese and Tamils are one …” For a politician to utter these words in the political context which prevailed in 1986 requires courage.  It should be noted that he never changed his position. He was called a traitor by some in Colombo after this journey. Before his death Vijaya was about to create a grand political alliance which was later created with the leadership of my father – the “United Social Alliance” under which my father contested for the Presidential election in 1989.

Vijaya was not afraid to meet Tamil political leaders to discuss solutions for the ethnic problem. He had a very close relationship even with South India. I remember seen one photograph where he was pictured with M.G. Ramachandran. He had the charisma to win people and people gathered to see him and listen to his speeches where ever he visited.

Vijaya did not go behind money or luxuries in life. He could not be bought by anyone. He was a true politician with a kind heart. My father commemorated Vijaya each year until his death in 1994. He built the statue at Polhengoda where he was assassinated which was later taken to Kandana. He also opened a museum so that people could see and remember this impressive leader. He released a stamp, a sports trophy on behalf of him and every time he spoke of Vijaya, he was emotional. He loved his dear friend. Every single speech I have listened to had a bit about Vijaya and the slain heroes of Sri Lanka Mahajana Party.

Vijaya was a courageous leader. He epitomized qualities of a courageous leader by fearlessly adapting and changing with the intention of ensuring a greater benefit to the society without running behind popularity. Vijaya believed in a multiethnic society and in devolution of power. He expressed his support to the Indo-Lanka Accord which brought about the 13th amendment very publicly. When it is difficult to find a handful of politicians who would be courageous enough to engage in a constructive debate on the 13th amendment even today when it had been implemented for over 25 years, the challenge Vijaya took in 1985 was enormous. One might think that most of the Sri Lankan Sinhalese politicians did succumb to popular politics of engaging in ethnic politics. But Vijaya was one of the few exceptions. ‘To stand against the tide when the tide is high is foolish and irrational’, one might say. Leaders sometimes need to make unpopular decisions as it was with Abraham Lincoln who implemented the 13th Amendment in the US constitution to give rights to the African Americans. It was not the most popular thing to do at that time. It will be history which decides whether you are a great leader or not, as it is the case with Abraham Lincoln. In the Sri Lankan case where ethnic harmony connotes how much inter-ethnic and communal trust you can build, actions of individuals such as Vijaya meant a lot for all the communities in Sri Lanka. Memories of Vijaya still bring hope and stands for the reality that not all Sinhalese are bigoted.

Had Vijaya and many other leaders who lost their lives were alive today, we could have witnessed a transformation in our political culture. He never had a price tag for him; he was honest and was truly dedicated to solve the ethnic problem. Vijaya introduced many politicians. However most them do not represent his party or ideology today. Only a few mention his name. In his death anniversary, we can pay tribute to Vijay by being introspective on what we can carry and introduce to the younger generation from his personality, from his political career and from his life.

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Latest comments

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    Vijaya was a populist leader and did not indulge in power politics. His actions mirrored his thoughts and feelings for the greater good of the country. Hence he was able to look above the parochial ethnic and religonist politics and reach out to the tamil people. Sadly we miss his type of politicians today where power, corruption, nepotism are the key ambitions of the ruling elite.

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      I recall the day Vijaya was killed clearly. I was a teenager, yet understood the importance of Vijaya’s message. And was moved by the relative honesty that was shining through. In his politics.

      I am not naive to believe even Vijaya could have won the racist heart of VP. I actually believe if JVP did not, LTTE would have taken Vijaya’s life in due course, any way.

      Vijaya rose above ethnicity and religion. He was a true son of mother Sri Lanka. A true patriot. That makes you a traitor among racists in Sri Lanka.

      Sri Lanka has millions of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims who are hungry for a new leader of Vijaya’s kind. A leader who has the charisma to unite us. Above all ethnic and religious lines. That new leader could be Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim.

      That new leader we long for is unlikely to emerge from abyssmal SLFP or UNP. Both parties are corrupt and are run by horrible political families.

      That leader will not emerge from racist parties such as TNA, SLMP, JHU or “Balu Sena” either.

      Yet, Sri Lanka should keep the hope alive. Never lose hope. Vijaya represented hope. For all our people. Not just your own, narrow ethnic group.

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    Tamils/Muslims may not be in this plight today had he been alive.

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    These two courageous truly Sri Lankan Sinhala leaders were murdered by southern chauvinists while the northern chauvinist VP murdered many courageous secular tamil leaders.

    The country is in this sorry state due to the actions of extremists on both sides. The curse is continuing in the form of Rajapaksa in the south. What a tragedy!

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    Asanga,

    My parents in Jaffna voted for your father when he contested the Presidential elections. There were many reasons, including that Ossie was with Vijaya when he visited Jaffna and that both were men who had no trace of chauvinism. But I couldn’t understand why Ossie later joined Premadasa, who was regarded as a thug–and a chauvinist– by many Sinhalese and Tamil alike. Maybe he was traumatized by the killings of Vijaya and other SLMP members by the JVP, and needed protection. But the action still seemed unprincipled to me–I would still have preferred him to remain outside and build up the third party alternative, even though it would have been a hard slog.

    Where are the Vijayas and Ossies in the younger generation today?

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    //Where are the Vijayas and Ossies in the younger generation today?//

    Huh! They don’t want to be found bleeding in a lake.

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    Young Asanga’s article is quite accurate.
    Ossie indeed was the best friend (Political) of Vijaya. The other closest friend was Maani Dhanayake who was Lalith Athulathmudali’s Private secretary. Maani was the first to be murdered/killed on the 24th of December 1983 while he was riding his motorcycle in Colombo.

    Asanga, you should write about the two By-elections that were contested by Ossie in Habaraduwa, and Vijaya in 1982. UNP used thuggery and fraud to win the elections which really was won by them. Especially Vijay who lost by 49 votes of so, after several recounts. Trucks were attacked and burnt.. Even Maani was beaten up badly with “Mol Gaha” and left on the roadside thinking he was dead. (In early 1982 Maani had resigned as Private Secretary of Lalith).

    Your mother would have more details of the early eighties and the 3 good friends. In 1982, I recall you were a very young kid.

    I agree with Agnos. I too was disappointed when my friend Ossie joined Premadasa government and the UNP. If he didn’t he would have been alive today, and would have become a strong minister in 1994 Chandrika/Sirimavo government. Ossie was a loyal supporter of them in 1977 when SLFP lost badly. There were no signs of the Rajapakses during that era of 1977 to 1988. lol.

    Anyway, that was fate. Nobody could change it.
    May all three RIP. It has been 20-30 years since they died.
    They were all loyal and sincere friends.
    Vijaya was a good and honest politician with a lot of charisma unlike even Chandrika.

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      Bet you also know about the acid attack on Vijaya too then. Also, about the time when a man tried to shoot him, to prevent him from going to the polling stations, and how he exposed his chest and ask the guy to shoot.

      Isn’t is sad how people in this country always fail to recognize the good leader until they are dead and gone. People who didn’t vote for him, when they had the opportunity, today lament that he is gone. I bet they would be sling mud at him if he happened to be alive today.

      Do you wonder what Mahinda Rajapaksa has to add about this era from his “40 year political career”?

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    Are we Sri Lankans such sinners that we lose leaders of honesty and commitment and always have the opposite type.

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    Viajaya and Occie had been VISIONLESS TRAVEL IN SRI LANKA’s POLITICS.
    Good will is not enough for Sri Lankan Politics, you need farreaching principles and policies too.This is world politics as well as it apply to Sri Lankan TOO.
    HE Chandirika Banadarake Kumaratunge ,HON Rajitha Senaratna, HON Regeinald Cooray are KNOW their survival tactic of politics ,WITHOUT ANY PRINCIPLE AND POLICIES or undertake any mission for people of Sri Lanka, REMAIN Politics who seek power and position money survive of their OWN.

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    By reading this article I have a doubt of you by praising your father and Vijey you are are trying to get into politics.

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    To Ben Hurling,
    How is that you are so sure LTTE would have taken his life if not for JVP.His popularity irked many in political arena including MIL & BIL.
    Vijay was a true buddhist not like the prime minsters & presidents of Srilanka ( including Chandrika ).
    Of Course Srilanka lost a very valuable son.

  • 0
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    A great Leader of class

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