By Rifat Halim –
Ranasinghe Premadasa was a fascinating leader, who deserves a much better biography than the ones that Bradman Weerakoon and Evans Cooray have produced.
There are three questions that come to mind on his 25th death anniversary:
(1) Why did he admire Hitler?
Premadasa served as the Parliamentary Secretary (colloquially known as the Deputy Minister) to the Minister of Local Government Murugeysen Tiruchelvam QC from March 1965 to September 1968. Tiruchelvam was the Federal Parry’s nominee in Dudley Senanayake’s Cabinet. He succeeded Tiruchelvam as Minister, when the latter resigned in September 1968.
In early 1968, the Frederich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a think tank controlled by German Social Democratic Party (SPD), invited Minister Tiruchelvam to study local government in West Germany. The Minister declined the invitation and nominated his Deputy Premadasa, Dr. Sarath Amunugama (who was then a coordinating secretary in the Ministry) and one more official. Dr. Sarath Amunugama is now a Cabinet Minister.
When they arrived in Bonn (West Germany’s capital), Premadasa asked Amunugama to purchase books on Adolf Hitler. Premadasa told Amunugama that he was a long-standing admirer of Hitler. This was the first and only time that Amunugama had met a fan of Hitler.
Amunugama had to look long and hard for books on Hitler in Bonn. The Americans had restricted all pro-Nazi literature from the bookshops. When a few books were produced, Premadasa was delighted. He exclaimed that he wished that his late mentor AE Goonesinghe (who modelled the Ceylon Labour Party on the Nazi Party) could have been in Bonn.
Former UNP MP Asoka Somaratne (who resigned after the accord) has written that Premadasa enjoyed watching Hitler’s speeches, even if he could not speak one word of German. Premadasa even adopted Hitler’s mannerisms in his own speeches.
(2) Why did he save Asia’s Hitler?
Nobody who values democracy can forgive Premadasa for giving Asia’s Hitler Velupillai Prabhakaran the lease of life during the Ali – Koti (Elephant-Lion) alliance of 1989-90. The IPKF had brought the LTTE to its knees, but Premadasa inexplicably entered into negotiations with them in April 1989.
He not only talked to the LTTE, but he armed them. Former Defense Secretary General Cyril Ranatunga has written in page 103 of his book From Peace to War, Insurgency to Terrorism that “President Premadasa had decided to give arms to the LTTE”.
When the TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam was killed by the LTTE on 13th July 1989, both President Premadasa and Minister of State for Defence Ranjan Wijeratne defended the LTTE. They absolved the LTTE of any responsibility.
When Mahathaya admitted that the LTTE killed Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran in October 1989, Ranjan Wijeratne still refused to blame the LTTE.
Eventually, their Karma caught up with them. Both Ranjan Wijeratne and Ranasinghe Premadasa were killed by the same organisation that they defended.
(3) Was his success due to luck or ability?
Premadasa, the only non-Govigama leader in the country’s history, had a generous share of good fortune.
He was lucky that his Minister (Tiruchelvam) was a Senator. Only the lower house can present legislation and Premadasa presented several important bills. This meant Premadasa had a much higher profile than any other Deputy Minister. He presented the Tamil language Special Provisions bill in 1966 on behalf of his Minister. Premadasa often quipped that he (a man without formal qualifications) was representing a Queen’s Counsel.
He was lucky that Tiruchelvam resigned in September 1968, which paved the way for his entry into Cabinet.
He was lucky to hold his seat during the UNP debacle in 1970. This elevated him to the top tier in the UNP hierachy.
He was lucky that the JVP disrupted the 1988 Presidential elections. Mrs. Bandaranaike would have won if the turnout was higher.