27 June, 2019

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Lalith: An Invincible Legacy

By Krishantha Prasad Cooray –

Krishantha Cooray

The twenty third day of April, 1993 is among a handful of blots in our national hall of shame. It was the day on which a lone gunman, perhaps with conspirators yet unknown, acted to neutralize a political threat by depriving all Sri Lankans of the intellectual gifts, charisma, service and dedication of one our finest politicians, Lalith William Samarasekara Athulathmudali.

Much like Gamini Dissanayake, slain on October 24, 1994, and President Ranasinghe Premadasa, killed on May 1, 1993, Lalith was targeted and snuffed out because his vision, mission and political savvy made him so dangerous that his opponents realized they could only ever prevail against him in the public arena by violently ending his life.

Twenty-five years later, the pattern could not be clearer. By killing Gamini Dissanayake, the LTTE spared themselves of a fierce opponent with unmatched local and international support to eradicate them. The LTTE, having killed President Premadasa, rid themselves of a leader who had even belatedly wisened up to their treachery. Those who killed Lalith were spared of the relentless onslaught of a parliamentary dynamo who could at whim rally politicians of any stripe to his cause. This he aptly demonstrated through his role in assembling the 1991 impeachment motion against President Premadasa, who himself was brought to a violent end on May Day in 1993, just days after Lalith was shot dead.

Lalith Athulathmudali

I was first introduced to Lalith Athulathmudali by my father. From that moment to this day, I still remain in absolute awe of the man. I remember that first day. I was nervous. I was hesitant. I was afraid I would say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question, and be quelled by his signature repartee. When Lalith spoke to me, his distinction as a man, a politician and an intellectual giant was apparent from his first words. His voice projected culture, clarity of mind and confidence. He articulated and enunciated every word he spoke, with a measure and delivery that seemed subconsciously tailored to his audience. It was no accident that people found it extremely easy to understand him.

While I remember Lalith as intellectually arrogant, he was open to new ideas. Like a judge in a courtroom of yore, he would listen carefully and patiently, and ask probing questions, and at the end of a fruitful dialogue, he would adapt new ideas into his own worldview. In this way and others, he always projected himself as a leader. He was convinced that he was invincible. Those around him drew the same conclusion.

At first glance, he could appear aloof and unapproachable, but everyone who knew him well has their own story of how he warmed to them in his own unique way. Once you got to know him, he was always amiable. He always made time for you. It was easy to get close to him.

Even as a school boy, I vividly recall that one could call Lalith, leave a message and he would always call you back. Of that you could be certain. His interest in the children and youth of this country was altruistic. He believed in inculcating the next generation with the correct values, skills and drive to elevate Sri Lanka to be first among its peer nations.

Just talking to Lalith was an education in itself – no matter what the subject, just talking with him or even listening to him opened entirely new vistas, hitherto unexplored by the limitations of our own minds. A brilliant combination of Harvard and Oxford, he firmly believed that education was the only way to rid Sri Lanka – and for that matter, the world – of poverty, and he sought to further that belief through action every chance he got.

Lalith was already the stuff of legend by the time I first met him. My association with him only confirmed that the legend was true. He never let any setback, or any person get him down. He always rose above whatever hand fate dealt him. When he was “demoted” to Agriculture Minister, he bravely compared himself to four former Prime Ministers who had also been Agriculture Ministers during their tenures. He did the best he could in that position, got the best people possible, and fought all the way to make a difference and serve people in that portfolio.

I was once privileged to listen to, what I then thought, was the finest Parliamentary speech ever given on the ‘no confidence’ motion against M.H. Mohamed. That brilliant oration went down in history, but sadly, it happened to be his last speech in the House. That was not just his last speech, but his last great Parliamentary speech. A perusal of the Hansard in the 16 years he was in Parliament would show that he was among our best and certainly the finest intellectuals in Parliament in the post-1977 period. Those ‘from-the-heart-and-mind’ speeches of his would make most present day, self-proclaimed academics and intellectuals, in and out of Parliament, look small indeed.

Lalith had a tremendous capacity to identify talent but he also made the mistake of trusting people too much, sometimes to his own detriment. This was a weakness to which, of course, he would never confess. He never admitted to being wrong about anything.

The implicit faith he placed in people was remarkable. During the politically tumultuous time of President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s impeachment, he would have confidential discussions with my father, despite the fact that my father’s brother was even then attached to the Presidential Secretariat. Yet, he confided in my father without the slightest doubt or suspicion that he would be quoted or that someone would get the better of him because of those disclosures.

In the theoretically flawed lexicon of politics, Lalith would be classed right-wing, but he did more by way of redistribution of wealth than most avowedly socialists did or envisioned.

Mahapola was his brainchild and thousands upon thousands have benefited from this scholarship scheme. He was a senior minister in a government that was dubbed ‘anti-nationalist’ but was staunchly patriotic in intent, conduct and in the results he delivered to his electorate and his nation.

He was more than just a statesman who towered above his colleagues in this country. He held his own anywhere in the world. He lectured in the Law Colleges of Singapore, Malaysia and even Israel, and delivered his first speech in the German language to a standing ovation when he was Trade Minister. Intellectually, Lalith was truly invincible. This country has not seen, and sadly may never see, the likes of him again.

Well, he’s gone. Today, our duty is to rise above the temptation to indulge in fruitless reminiscing, and indeed to ponder deeply on the paucity of such leaders in our country and remember that had Lalith lived, he would have taken this country to great heights. In him, this nation saw the intellectual capacity and the indomitable will-power to make Sri Lanka live up to her full potential.

Now, two and a half decades after his murder, and the murder of nearly every other mind in his league of extraordinary leaders, and given a political landscape utterly barren of talent, competence, energy and vision, one is persuaded to think of the ‘what ifs.’

It is perhaps a tragedy that ours was not to be a world in which the likes of Lalith, Gamini Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa could combine their talents to take Sri Lanka forward. Sometimes political territories are too small for several giants to inhabit at the same time. Arrogance gets in the way. Egos get in the way. They were human, after all. Sadly.

The death of these three political heavyweights within a short space of time, is a loss from which the United National Party has since never properly recovered. Since their demise, the party has struggled to find politicians who could straddle the political stage with such prowess and oratorical brilliance; it has struggled to find leaders who can walk among the people, and feel their joys and their fears. And the country has suffered deeply as a result.

Perhaps the poverty of our circumstances makes him look larger in retrospect than he truly was and persuades us to extrapolate further than we ought to. But whichever way one looks at it, he was exceptional.

Where today, could Sri Lanka point to a political leader who is punctual to a fault, brings intellectual horsepower, creativity and political savvy together to a policy decision-making process, and who would support their ‘troops’ with gratitude when they succeed together, and with fierce loyalty when things go wrong. Lalith never left his people hanging out to dry.

Lalith, when the long history of our post-Independence era is written, will receive the plaudits of even the most acerbic of his critics. As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of this great man’s supreme sacrifice today, we are saddened and reminded of everything Sri Lanka could have been under his direction and leadership.

In his death, 25 years ago, Lalith Athulathmudali rendered us a poorer nation indeed.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    The supposed assassin of Lalith who appeared in front of the stage could not have shot Lalith as power got disrupted just before the shooting. Besides there were many on stage and in the dark could not have been able to single out Lalith. Lalith was obviously shot by someone who was on stage close to him. The decoy who appeared in front was a red herring. Lalith’s bodyguard Banda was in front of the stage who had supposedly fired at the assassin where his gun had got jammed but quickly recovered to shoot the assassin who was running away with the crowd. How Banda identified the assassin in the dark running away with the crowd, where he momentarily looked away at his jammed gun is beyond explanation. However Banda is supposed to have shot the assassin among the crowd running away in the dark. The funny part is the assassin is supposed to have turned around and shot Banda on his leg. The end of the story is that the bullet found on Lalith, matched the weapon found with Ragunathan who had run away with a bullet embedded in his spine and committed suicide and not died of the gunshot that was fired by Banda. Banda’s weapon tallied with the bullet found on Ragunathan. Case closed. For the information of all, Banda the key witness, was never produced for the non summary inquiry, nor to check the truth about getting hit by Ragunathan’s weapon. If Banda is alive today he should have a scar, if as stated he got shot and why he was not subject to examination at that time is suspicious, like how Wassim Thajudeen died in a motor accident. Here Lalith’s bodyguard Herby Seneviratne a Senior DIG a relative of Lalith’s, vouched for the weapon of Banda that he personally handed over. Why he did not produce Banda for the Inquiry remains a mystery. What intrigue, where people can be bought for money, be they friends or relatives.

    • 4
      1

      It is well known that Lalith was murdered by a strong man in UNP at that time and his son in law, without the knowledge of president Premadasa. When Lalith asked for permission to have his meeting in Kirillapone park, he was refused and given a mudukku joint at the top of Mugalan road. Lalith asked for police protection for the meeting, but no policeman was posted. During the meeting street lights around the venue were turned off. How can LTTE turn off street lights which are centrally controlled. How can LTTE influence police not to be present or deny an open space for the meeting. All these point out to involvement of influential people in the then government. Ranganathan was arrested by EPDP for ransom a few days before, from a lodge in Kotahena. He was killed by EPDP and his body was dumped the next day, a few yards away on Mugalan road. On the day of the incident, when people searched for the assassin, no such body was lying there. It rained that night and clothes on body of Ranganathan was bone dry. Gun that was used to assassinate Lalith was placed by the dead body of Ranganathan, but the gun did not have his finger prints on it. Lalith’s bodyguard was threatened and he went into hiding. The gun used by EPDP to kill Ragunathan was forced onto Lalith’s bodyguard, who mysteriously appeared claiming that he shot Ragunathan with that gun. Thus truth will come out only if Lalith’s bodyguard speaks out, and there is none to fear as the perpetrators are no more a threat to him.

      • 1
        4

        Doctor,

        You can insult yourself, but don’t insult the education you’ve had or the profession you claim to be in.

        The street lights and the policemen not being present are what you call circumstantial occurings that have nothing to do with the Murder.

        I had just stepped down from the Army when this happened. There were no Policemen that day because the MSD had alerted that it was no safe enough for the meeting. Lalith did not heed this warning. Actually, it may have been a political gamble for him.

        It was done by the LTTE. You fellas try to whitewash the LTTE but the redness of blood can’t be whitewashed so easily.

        • 1
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          Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera / “You fellas try to whitewash the LTTE”

          You fellas had a good scapegoat LTTE .

          All the political murders were planned and executed by the Sinhala politicians of all colours inside the High Sceurity Zone with the help of the STF, Army and the police.

          LTTE was made the scape goat

        • 0
          0

          MSD- Ministerial Security Division is It? How come they warned him when he was not a Minister.

  • 5
    2

    One UNP minister said Recently, Lalith Athulathmudali used to make disappear whole ships. That minister inherited that left over fortune. I think, Ranil learnd from it. UNP has a well know history. So, do you want to follow the same route.

  • 2
    3

    UNP is unique party. Lalith Athulathmudali was a good politiciasn. so, I am because I like him. My father was a popular politicians.SO Iam, Because I am his son. Sri lanka way to find employment until the death.

    • 1
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      Jimmy,
      ” My father was a popular politicians”
      So where was his electorate?

      • 1
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        Raman: You can folow it. sorry for my english.

  • 5
    5

    Lalith William Samarasekara Athulathmudali. was in fact a great intellectual. Unfortunately he was also an anti Tamil racist to his bone.His great intellect mind was weaker than his racist mind. The end product he was a waste to Sri Lanka.

    There are many like him ….among Tamils, Sinhalease and Muslims

    • 5
      1

      Rajash

      “Lalith William Samarasekara Athulathmudali. was in fact a great intellectual. “

      What was his contribution or addition of any fresh ideas to knowledge, how had he enriched people?

      He was the baron of nasty barrel bombs rolled out from flying machines.

      • 2
        2

        Native Vedda – I did qualify that he is racist to the bone and he was a waste because of that.

        Were you at the Chiswick Town hall for the SCOT Lunch on Sunday. Mano Ganesan was the chief guest.

        • 4
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          Rajash

          “Lalith William Samarasekara Athulathmudali. was in fact a great intellectual. “

          What was his contribution or addition of any fresh ideas to knowledge, how had he enriched people?

          • 1
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            As I said he wasted his intellect on racism

            • 2
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              Yes Lalih was an inborn racist though educated at Royal, Oxford and Harward. He was responsible for the mini riot in 1981 against Tamils, and was part of the team of UNP cabinet which organised and executed 1983 riots against Tamils. He used to time imports of onions and chillies to clash with their harvest by Tamil farmers in order to cripple their agriculture. He was totally against power sharing with Tamils, and boycotted signing of Indo-Ceylon accord of 1987. He said that he will bash the head of Tamils and finally his head got bashed by some of his own Sinhalese.

              • 3
                1

                In July 1983 he was personally supervising the burning looting destruction of Tamil homes , businesses and lives in the Mt. Lavinia area. He was supervising this from the Mt. Lavinia Police Station that is situated in Ratmalana. He used to come to the refugee camp that was organised for the Tamils at the Ratmalana airport to gloat on the misfortune of the Tamils and the organised murder of Kuttimani and others at the Welikade prison. He is a nasty evil anti Tamil and an out and out racist ironically with a Tamil derived name. Mudali is derived from the Tamil caste title Mudaliyar. This means his ancestors are immigrant Tamil Mudaliyars from Tamil Nadu. What is the point of all this education , when he was such a racist and a thug. He organised so much violence against the Tamils and ultimately died of violence. He even organised violence against people whom he considered had personally insulted him in someway.

              • 0
                3

                “Though educated at Royal, Oxford and Harward”
                You bogus Dr Gnana, it is not Harward you old fart, it is Harvard . You are a disgrace to us, Eelam Tamil intellectuals. Thalaivar could have whipped your sorry ass for your bogus PhD.

                • 3
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                  Eelam Tamil intellectual

                  I am told Tamils are proud of their last two intellectuals one is dead and gone in 2009 and the last surviving one is SJ.
                  If you are not SJ you disqualify yourself as an intellectual. It appears you are the bogus one.

                  Have you mastered Lenin’s complete work (54 Volumes, each about 650 pages on average), Marx/Engels Collected Works 50 volumes, Mao’s 9 volumes, ……………… enough information to drop names, ………………? Will you be able to put across contrarian view even though you agree with others? ……………………..
                  If you haven’t done any of the above you cannot call yourself an Eelam Tamil intellectual.

                • 0
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                  Old Colonial fart! spelling is often a typo!

              • 0
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                The damage done by LA, is what the UNP is suffering today for.Since 1977, UNP did not win a single seat in UVA until Harin Fernando stepped in.Lalith killed the local industry and local trade. That is why the UNP is struggling to get back.The UNP never had to beg for votes as it happens today.
                When Lalith took over the trade ministry, the Colombo pavements -note- pavements were flooded with grapes from Jaffna, we had Sour plaintains, Onions, and Red chillies from Jaffna. Lalith destroyed all that He destroyed the local agriculture for imports..
                I feel sorry for the manner of his death, but he was a curse for the local agriculturist and industrialist.

      • 0
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        He was very arrogant.He helped no body, where his help was legally required.

    • 2
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      I did not know he was an intellectual: but I knew he was a racist.

  • 5
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    Lilith an old Royalist, thug and a murderer!

    • 4
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      He organised acid to be thrown on the face of his ex wife’s lover. Goodness this woman was his ex wife and she can do what she likes. . Shows what a nasty mean thug he was. What is the point of all this education, when you cannot learn from but behave like an animal

  • 0
    1

    Gamini: Ranil knows m,amy secrets. I heard that one very ambitious politician who knew that LAlith Athulath mudali would be a leader instigated it.

  • 4
    1

    Would Lalith have been able to defeat terrorism and unite Sri Lanka as one country where all races, religions, castes, genders etc can live in peace and harmony.

  • 1
    0

    Jim
    Can you please let me know the UNP politician who sad Lalith Athulathmudali used to make disappear whole ships.

  • 4
    1

    Jimmy; You are all over the place no? like Kilroy! How rarely do you sleep?
    Anyway getting back to the essay. Even after 25 years, it appears, there is no finality on the true killers of Lalith A. The official and convenient version was to identify the LTTE.
    AND with it the case was closed!

    • 0
      0

      I gave a clue. Who knows RP too. He was so concerned about his caste issue.

      • 1
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        Jim softy Dimwit

        Dutta Gamani and Barrel Bomb Baron Laith were desperately trying to get rid of Kesselwatte man Premadasa.

  • 1
    3

    Krishantha Prasad Cooray’s eulogy to Lalith William Samarasekara Athulathmudali brings back lots of memories.
    Krishantha points out a speech by Lalith in German. Unfortunately Lalith never addressed in Tamil. Following the July 1983 pogrom, Lalith did not show any contrition. He failed to see the grievances of Tamils and so did not anticipate what followed. JR J quipped in June 1983 that he (JR J) does not care two hoots for Tamils. Did Lalith see anything wrong here? One wonders as to whether Krishantha’s description ‘statesman’ is appropriate?
    In late eighties Lalith used to be in planes indiscriminately bombing Jaffna.
    The untimely death is sad.
    .
    Krishantha says ~ “……….Lalith was targeted and snuffed out because his vision, mission and political savvy made him so dangerous that his opponents realized they could only ever prevail against him in the public arena by violently ending his life…………..”.
    The first commenter ‘gamini’ says something to this effect.

    • 2
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      K.Pillai! Yes lalith was noted for his specialty in ‘Barrel Bombs’ in Jaffna.

  • 1
    0

    The weapon that was used to shoot Lalith by someone close to Lalith on stage, was placed in the hands of Ragunathan. Banda’s weapon that was used to kill Ragunathan after killing Ragunathan was handed over by Herbie Seneviratne as if Banda shot. How much Herbie and Banda was paid by Sirisena Cooray for the job, is only known to them.

  • 0
    0

    Thanks Krishantha for a well written article. The present UNP lacks people like Lalith and Gamini. Ranil will not promote people like Eran and Harsha but will keep promoting his favorites. The UNP will have no future with Ranil.

    • 2
      1

      Saman,

      Did you mean the present UNP lacks Racists like Lalith and Gamini.

    • 2
      0

      Saman

      “The present UNP lacks people like Lalith and Gamini. “

      I understand, without racists like Barrel Bomb Barron Lalith and Dutta Gamani UNP definitely finds it difficult to win elections.

      We need more competitive racists in UNP in order to win elections. Navin Nayake is a potential candidate to lead the UNP to victory, he has the looks, his father’s looted wealth, an English Uni education, a UK trained Barrister, …………… and willing to take on the British establishment and supports war criminals. What else one needs to win elections in Sri Lanka?

  • 0
    2

    I disagree with some comments in regard to Athulathmuthali being a racist. He was a very highly intellectual and smart personality. I have personal experience in dealing with him in 1970s, I do not come to the conclusion that he was a racist.

    • 1
      0

      Bravo Thiru Thiruchelvam! You have the right to think the way you do. Now, that you have advanced your cause, could you give us reasons for, 1) he was (a?) very highly intellectual. (BTW the way, what does that mean?) 2) he was a smart personality (what does that mean?). If I am not asking for too much, for me to accept your opinion, could you provide any or more of your experiences of him. AND finally, for me to have faith in your reasoning, please give me an example or two of who in your esteemed evaluation falls within the category of a racist. Much appreciated, in anticipation!

    • 2
      0

      Thiru Thiruchelvam

      “He was a very highly intellectual and smart personality.”

      What was his intellectual contribution to the advancement of knowledge? Perhaps his multiple personality disorder must have hiden his other side.

  • 3
    0

    Lalith entered Politics in the early 70s. Felix Dias who was a powerful Minister at that time had him locked up over an Acid throwing case. The victim happened to be a very smart and handsome man who was in and out of Laliths home.

    As for his Racism, as pointed out by some readers, I must say it was well entrenched in him since school days at Royal. Some of his class-mates both Sinhala and Tamil would vouch for it. Strange for someone whose father was an MP IN THE OLD STATE COUNCIL DAYS and Lalith himself had no competition or other threats from Tamils in his age. Oxford then Harvard what was the cause for his criminal instincts?
    Acid case then Barrel-Bombs on School-children in the North when he was Minister of National Security. One can understand a thug like Cyril Mathew spewing venom but Lalith?
    Eventually, a man of such credentials ,notwithstanding his negative traits had to pay the price .Lumpen elements like Sirisena Cooray would have had no space in the Political landscape if Lalith was around. So there we have the reason for his assassination!

    • 1
      2

      Pygmalion,

      Bombing the hell out of the North is not a criminal instinct. It is looking after the Security of his homeland. A job for which he has taken an oath and an obligation he has to meet.

      If you fellas don’t know what it is to govern a nation, just shut up and wait. No country’s Defense Minister is going to wait and do nothing when LTTE sarong karayas are lifting their sarongs and asking for a thrashing on their rear ends.

  • 2
    0

    Saman

    “The present UNP lacks people like Lalith and Gamini. “

    I understand, without racists like Barrel Bomb Barron Lalith and Dutta Gamani UNP definitely finds it difficult to win elections.

    We need more competitive racists in UNP in order to win elections. Navin Nayake is a potential candidate to lead the UNP to victory, he has the looks, his father’s looted wealth, an English Uni education, a UK trained Barrister, …………… and willing to take on the British establishment and supports war criminals. What else one needs to win elections in Sri Lanka?

  • 3
    0

    Do not mention his name to us Tamils. We saw him and Gamini Dissanayake near the Jaffna public library when it was burning down. We could only peep in horror from behind our walls while it was burning. In 1989 he was flying over when tar bombs were dropped on a boy’s school. Children came home with tar drops stuck to their ears and face and bodied through their white school shorts.

    Its a terrible irony that in front of the Colombo Public library he has a statue with children around him as we have Jesus portrayed In our Sunday School books.
    This petson was in prison for throwing acid on his first wife.

    I never understood how Srimani from our church in Polwatte married him. No confession nothing.
    May his memory be ever forgotten.

    • 1
      0

      Lalith Athulathmudali was a clever man with a brilliant intellect. Yet he oversaw the decline of a hitherto very carefully nurtured State enterprise – the CSC – through some utterly ill-advised brand new ship purchases.

      A lot of money was made over the New Building purchases and sale of the old ships for scrap. Where did all of that go?

      THis country has had many clever men; few Great Patriots and even fewer Statesmen.

      Meanness and racist thinking with religious overtones firmly ensured that Clever men remained Clever but never went beyond that.

  • 1
    0

    Thappu, NV, Dr Gnana, K Pillai , Sharla & others

    Thiru Thiruchelvam is not the only Tamil appreciates Lalith. Neelan Thiruchelvam too. In his write up under the title ” two irreplaceable leaders ” appeared in Sunday Times after the death of Lalith and Premadasa, he goes on to say about Lalith : ” within a short span of ten days two of the most important and influential leaders of modern Srilanka were brutally assassinated. Both President R P and L A had-dedicated their lives to the public cause. They both are irreplaceable. It takes a generation to mould leaders of their vision, extraordinary ability, energy and determination. “……….” Many recalled his awesome record as a scholar ,an athlete and a debater. One prize that he coveted at Royal was to become the chairman of the English Literary Association. He narrowly lost the election in an unequal contest with the cricket captain T Nirmalingam”…………..

    Neelan continues to praise Lalith about his educational achievements and his associates. Neelan does not condemn Lalith for his deplorable despicable actions against Tamils as a minister of national security from 1984 to 1989 but simply says ” during this period we had opposing points of view” .

    Now where do we place Neelan? A Tamil nationalist ,human rights advocate, MP from TULF, above all as a friend of butcher Lalith ?

    • 0
      0

      MR, You have asked, ‘Now where do we place Neelan?’. Place Neelan wherever you wish to. My questions still remain the same. Neelan was my contemporary at UoP. You don’t want to know where I had placed him!

  • 0
    0

    Old Colonial fart! spelling is often a typo!

  • 0
    0

    Dear Krishantha Cooray,
    .
    All that carnage was sad.
    .
    But what do you make of this?
    .
    https://youtu.be/p2Pq1GEi2ks

    .
    First Nandana Weeraratne speaks with great sensitivity and compassion. What follows is a Tamil woman speaking with excellent dubbing in English.
    .
    Worthy of Sophocles.

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