By Rajasinghe Bandara –
Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated on 16 February 1988. On the day, I was in the accident ward of Colombo General (Ward Place) Hospital, by the bed of my friend who was admitted to the hospital due to a head injury. While I was talking to him, suddenly a shocking news was spreading among the patients and the visitors. The news: Vijaya Kumaratunga had been shot and he is being brought to the general hospital. I said to my friend ‘I must go and see him’ Some people started running through corridors and, I also joined them to see Vijaya. But I had no idea where to run. People were running up and down. As I was running a bystander asked me ‘Where are you running?’ ‘To see Vijaya’ I said. ‘You are running to the opposite; his body is being brought to the mortuary. It is on the other side. Follow me.’ The little hope I had about his survival, gone. The man’s words mean Vijaya is no more….
When we entered a middle road, we saw a long van (I cannot remember whether it was a hearse) was carrying his body on a stretcher. I looked through the glasses closely. Tall, broad-shouldered Vijaya’s body was covered with bloodstained white cloth (as I remember) and shaking on the stretcher as the vehicle was moving slowly. Hospital watchers at the morgue entrance blocking people who were trying to enter the premises. I remember Jeewan Kumaratunga (well-known actor and nephew of late Vijaya Kumaratunga) was standing in front of the doors of the morgue, his terrified face turned black and no other people was around him. I was devastated, as Vijaya was one of my heroes and most admired persons as a film star and genuine politician who tried hard to bring a negotiated peace settlement to the ethnic conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).
I can still feel the agony I had on the day, no one was with me to share the grief. After his body was taken in, on my way back to the place where I lived, I had to pass Pettah (Colombo) and was walking in front of the Fort Railway Station. There, I saw mounted police on a rehearsal. Then I looked at Manning Market, people were on their usual business, many people were walking on the pavements in a rush, some other people were shopping. I felt, they were all ungrateful. Why can’t these police, people stop for a while and pay respect to the much-loved actor and politician?’ He was extremely loving, friendly character. After his political mission with the Tamil Tigers in Jaffna, I met him in a catholic church in Maradana – Colombo, when he came to deliver a talk about his mission to Jaffna. The Church’s conference hall was full of people, there were many young nuns. Those days I had been doing a research on the ethnic-conflict and wanted to get some thoughts from Vijaya Kumaratunga after the talk. When I addressed him ‘Vijay’, he put his arm over my shoulder and asked with gentle voice, ‘Ei Malli’ this was the way he won hearts of people. He agreed to give a time for me.
As the main actor, Vijaya’s role in Hanthane Kathawa, inspired me to do my first degree at Peradeniya University. Since I had best Advanced Level results in the district, my class teacher told me ‘You can apply to any University, would you like to apply for Colombo University law faculty, so, one day you can be a barrister’ I said, ‘No Sir, I want to go to Peradeniya University, it is one of the most beautiful Universities’ So I applied to enter my dream University, the image was formed in my mind after Hanthane Kathawa. The scene and the song on the top of Hanthana mountain, as Vijaya was singing with friends around him including Swarna Mallawarchchi and Tony Ranasinghe ‘Anantha Wu Derana Sara.. still echoes in the hearts of young lovers of Peradeniya University. It is a story of love and young spirits of students, as the director Sugathapala Senarath Yapa says.
Vijaya was silenced by the evil politics of JR Jayewardene regime to prevent him becoming the president of the country. It is still a mystery who ordered the Killing of Vijaya and whose desire was to destroy his beautiful face to prevent mourners to see it after his death. After the assassination state funeral was held at the Independence Square with full live coverage on the television to get maximum political advantages accusing Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was responsible for the Killing. But former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga alleged the UNP government was behind the assassination of her beloved husband and was pointing her finger at then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. She had been the President since 1994-2005 but I do not know any person was brought to justice regarding the killing. Time to time different versions appear on the media. Some still accuse Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. So, Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga has a duty to expose the real killers during her lifetime as best tribute to her slain husband.
Vijaya will be remembered as one of the great political leaders who sacrificed his life for the ethnic harmony and democracy in Sri Lanka.