Sinhala script by Devsiri P. Hewavidana in London
Translated by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
Prins Gunasekera was seen as the first Parliamentarian in Sri Lanka to come out to the streets, with Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, protesting against the UNP package known as the ‘Dudley-Chelvanayagam pact’. On the very day the UNP decided to present the Tamil Language Special Provisional Act in Parliament, Prins Gunasekera fearlessly led a protest march on the streets. The police opened up tear gas and started shooting live bullets at the protestors. Unfortunately, Venerable Dhambarawewa Ratanasara thero, who participated in the protest, became a victim to a police bullet. Prins continued carrying the blood-stained robe of the slain venerable monk and forced into the Parliament building while the motion was under debate, and made an emotional speech condemning the provisions in the Tamil Language Act,and the inhuman pursuit by the government. Finally, the Speaker of the House ordered Prins Gunasekera to be removed from the Parliament premises.
The passionate speech made inside the Sri Lanka Parliament by Prins Gunasekera was transmitted over the Radio Ceylon waves to the entire nation later. J.R. Jayawardena was the Minister of Defence at the time . He became enraged after listening to the speech and ordered the Director General of the Radio Ceylon, Mr. Vincent Panditha, to discontinue the services of Palitha Pereraand Amarabandu Rupasingha, the two members of staff who were responsible for the broadcast. The Director General, being a fair-minded person, spoke on behalf of his staff to try and explain to J.R Jayawardena what the two members of his staff did was to discharge their duty, as such, he could not possibly take any action against them! Infuriated J.R Jayawardena then ordered the Director General, Vincent Panditha, to be sacked from the Radio Ceylon! This goes to show to what extent Sri Lankan politics has been rotten and contemptible even at that time.
Subsequently Prins Gunasekera carried the blood-stained robe of the slain Dhambarawewa Ratanasara thero to every corner of the electorate, with a view to build up a massive campaign against the UNP.Prins Gunasekera’s fighting spirit was further displayed, outside the Parliament, by his performance of a daredevil act by shunning the black’ gown’ lawyers and barristers wear, and presenting himself in an immaculately white national dress. The magistrate barred Prins Gunasekera entering court rooms in that fashion. Not giving-in, an inch, to such orders, Prins brought a new motion in the Parliament, seeking permission for all lawyers to don the national dress in Courts. Finally, even the Chief Justice had to knuckle under.
Although Prins Gunasekera was a firebrand inside Parliament, he never ignored his constituents for a moment. In a private Bill in 1969, he proposed new schools, libraries, bridges, etc., for his people at Habaraduwa electorate, and managed to get the Act sanctioned through Parliament with 184 votes in favour.
Prins Gunasekera owned a house in Colombo, but unlike some of the present-day parliamentarians, he travelled to his electorate every week-end by Ruhunu Kumari train. In doing so, he spent the whole of Saturday and Sunday visiting every village in his electorate, enquiring after people’s problems and jotting down each complaint with the promise that he would get those difficulties resolved through the officials in Colombo. Prins Gunasekera never possessed any partisan attitude towards anyone in his electorate.
Often when he visited Hawpe and Angulugama villages, he made it a point to have lunch at our Waulugala Estate bungalow, where he discussed with my father on estate worker problems. During such an instance, having learnt that my brother and I were attending Ananda College, Colombo, he said, he too attended Ananda College for some time and gave us a cordial advice,which learnt at Ananda College:‘Never to forget your country, your race and your religion’. Then he mischievously added, “It does not matter, even if you were to get involved in politics, but one thing you both need to remember is never to become an opposition party member in the Sri Lanka Parliament, because Ananda College Principal will never allow any opposition member of parliament to take part in any of the school functions”. In giving such fatherly advice, he quoted the plight that had befallen the opposition party members such as the late N.M. Perera, Philip Gunawardena, Robert Gunawardena and himself as ‘old Anandians’.
Win with an increased Majority
People in Habaraduwa electorate were immensely grateful to Prins by exhibiting their gratitude and re-electing him at the 1970 general election, with an increased majority of 9600. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike showed an interest in appointing Prins Gunasekera as the Speaker of the House in Parliament, but Messrs. N.M.Perera and Colvin R de Silva were dead against such a nomination, which resulted in Mr. Stanley Tillakaratne being appointed as the Speaker. Subsequently, Prins Gunasekera declined the invitation to take oaths as an MP, declaring that he could ‘never take oaths in favour of the Queen of England,’ thus, resigned as a member of Parliament.
Duringthe 1971 JVP insurrection, deaths totaling 11,700 youths and 60 security forces broke his heart. He had to do something about it, so he invited Lord Avebury, the Liberal Democrat Peer in England, who pursued human-rights cases, to Sri Lanka. First and foremost, Prins accompanied Lord Avebury to Kataragama where Premawathie Mananperi was crudely and brutally assassinated and buried alive. During Lord Avebury’s Sri Lankan tour, he and Prins attempted to visit Rohana Wijeweera, the leader of the JVP in Jaffna prison. This made Mrs. Bandaranaike to go ballistic and ‘blow a fuse,’ and to expel Lord Avebury from the country. At the same time, Prins was banned from her political party.
Later Prins supported JR Jayawardena, and organised an all-round satyagraha(protest) against the press sanctions introduced by the SLFP. However, the irony was that when JR came into power again, Prins was allegedly blamed for inciting racial hatred, between the Sinhala and Tamil communities, and held responsible for the infamous ‘Black July incident in 1983’, and imprisoned. That was how J.R. Jayawardena showed his gratitude to Prins Gunasekera for supporting him by taking part in protests against Sirimawao Bandaranaike at one time.
During the JVPs 2ndrebellion in 1989, the JVP protested vehemently against JR’sIndo-Lanka pact, which gave rise todemonstrations and protest marches island wide. It was such a tragedy that during such protests, thousands of youths, countless number of security forces, eminent government ministers, university dons, innocent government servants and administrators , journalists etc., had to become victims and die.
Prins Gunasekera worked for the Amnesty International and Institute of Prisoners Consciencein 1989. President Premadasa felt his (Prins) position with those organisations as a ‘headache’ for him. At the same time some suggested to arrest Prins at the airport itself, and be imprisoned, if he ever visited Sri Lanka.
My father once observing ‘Sil’at the Waulugala Ashram, with his Estate Proprietor, Mr. B.R. Dissanayake. Suddenly a ‘murderous squad’ of the JVP forced into the ashram and brutally murdered the Habaraduwa UNP member of Parliament, Mr. P.D. S. de Silva.
When several faultless youths were taken by the police and kept in detention Prins, with a team of young lawyers, started a campaign to work diligently in order to get the innocent youths released by making use of the legal right of applying habeas corpus writ. That was because they felt many youths were arrested and imprisoned without giving any cause or reason for their detention.
Ultimately some of those young attorneys-at-law, such as Wijedasa Liyanaarchachi, Charitha Lankapuara, Kanchana Abeynayake and Sarath Ratnayake were brutally massacred by the murderous gang of the JVP.
Suddenly a situation erupted, when on one on side, Prins was quite against the cruelties committed by the JVP, but on the other side, Government was under the impression that he (Prins) was in constant touch with Rohana Wijeweera, the JVP leader, who at the time was living in a hide out. His friends warned Prins about the impending and consequent dangers on his life very soon, due to such circumstances. It was a stroke of good fortune indeed that the British High Commission in Colombo stepped in at the right moment to save Prins and his and family. So, in double quick time, the British High Commission arranged Prins and family to seek political asylum in the UK and when they arrived in London, the entire family was accommodated at Lord Avebury’s residence.
Sometime later, Daily News, in one of the Lake House Group newspapers, published a deleterious article, labelling Prins Gunasekera as a traitor and one who defamed the reputation of Sri Lanka. He filed a law suit in London courts, against the Lake House Group, to clear his good name. London Courts found the article defamatory and ordered ‘Daily News’ to pay Prins Gunasekera£150,000 (Rs.300,000) as damages. But the Lake House Group declined to honour the London Court Order, which made Prins to file a case against the Associated Newspapers Ltd., at District Courts in Colombo, but he lost the case. Then he appealed against the District Court’s decision, and The Appeal Court gave a verdict in favour of Prins Gunasekera. The Lake House Group took the matter up with the Supreme Court. One of the members in the Supreme court panel of judges, Chandra Ekanayake, was the very same judge who rejected his case at District Court level. Prins Gunasekera was determined to fight the case as he believed the District Court verdict as improper and unjustifiable and requested a review of the case, but justice never prevailed over him.
He wrote to all Presidents in Sri Lanka, Prime Ministers, Minsters of Justice and almost everyone he knew in Sri Lanka about injustices meted out to him, but no one ever cared or listened to him. Even the JVP that had benefitted out of Prins Gunasekera at one time, did not utter a word in support of his case in the Sri Lanka Parliament.Simultaneously, some of the politicians directed an accusing finger at Prins Gunasekera, questioning as to why he could not return to Sri Lanka, ‘if he had such patriotic qualities’ ?
Asanka Sayakkara, a renowned journalist, who authored Prins Gunasekera’s biography, has given the answer to such accusation as follows:
“Although terrorism had faded away to a greater extent, it was always in Prins Gunasekera’s mind that there existed a residue of danger on his life. His main ambition was to clear his name from the fabricated subversive attacks on his character that emerged out of the court case, and return to his motherland and servehis people at Habaraduwa. However, Sri Lanka’s brutal politics did not allow it to take place.”
Finally, Prins Gunasekera, the outspoken, forthright and fearless Sri Lankan Parliamentarian, who focused his mind, pinpointedly and unselfishly towards his constituents, breathed his last in London recently leaving a huge vacuum of things unattended, which were only confined to his mind.
pic credit: Google photos