Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekara, MP for Kalawana electorate at that time, came home late in the night after a visit to his electorate. He was resting when then President J.R. Jayewardene called him and told him to come immediately to discuss an important matter which could not be discussed over the phone.
Gunasekara being an Opposition MP was reluctant to have discussions with the President late in the night and consulted the party General Secretary Peter Kenaman. With the approval of Kenaman he checked with Anura Bandaranaike, then Leader of the Opposition, who told the MP that he himself got an invitation from the President and planning to go there.
Once he arrived at the Ward Place residence of the President, Gunasekara realised that even the President’s security officers were not aware of his visit. When he met the President there were a very few people present, including then Prime Minister R. Premadasa, Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, Foreign Minister Shahul Hameed and the younger brother of the President, H.W. Jayewardene. They were joined later by then Leader of the Opposition Anura Bandaranaike and MP Dinesh Gunawardane.
Letter from India
The point of discussion was a letter sent by then Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi. What he said was due to the military operations in northern Sri Lanka, there was a severe shortage of essential foods, which was of a great concern of Tamil Nadu, and due to the pressure of the politicians of Tamil Nadu, it had become his problem. Hence he warned if quick action to supply food items to north would not be taken, he would take action to do so.
The opinion of the President was the best place to reply would be the Parliament where the Prime Minister would make a statement that the Government of Sri Lanka would take immediate steps to supply food items to northern civilians.
Opposition MPs were summoned to get their consent rather than debating it in the Parliament. D.E.W. Gunasekara said that since this was a matter of national interest although he was an Opposition MP he was in favour of the suggestion and prepared to back the Government in this difficult hour. Anura Bandaranaike and Dinesh Gunawardane also consented.
Then the President informed E.L. Senanayake, the Speaker, to summon Parliament the following day. The statement to be made by the Prime Minister on the following day was also drafted.
The following day at his chambers of Parliament, the Prime Minister persuaded Gunasekara to make a statement in Parliament in this respect. The MP responded that he had made his stance clear the previous day and there was no necessity to make a statement.
At last the Prime Minister rose to make the statement. To the surprise of the persons who knew the ground situation, without making the prepared statement, he criticised India heavily with his own aggressive style. At that time Indian diplomats also were in the Gallery.
After the thundering speech of the Prime Minister, which lasted for an hour, when the MPs were going home leaving Parliament, they were informed via news of the Broadcasting Corporation that the Indian Air Force had invaded Sri Lankan air space and was dropping dry rations on northern Sri Lankan soil.
This is how Prime Minister Premadasa jeopardised a problem which could have been solved with ease. This is how he sacrificed the future of the country for the cheap popularity expected at the upcoming elections. This is how he replaced the non-aligned diplomacy of Mrs. Bandaranaike and friends-aligned diplomacy of President Jayewardene with Mariyakade diplomacy of his own.
Why did he lose patriotism, generosity and tact which were displayed by the three Opposition MPs including D.E.W. Gunasekara? That is because a bunch of people who misinterpret patriotism were prepared to listen to him in the capacity of voters who were capable of determining his political future.
Invasion of sovereignty
This is the prevalent situation of the country today as well. Sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva have started and it is scheduled that the issue of Sri Lanka where there were previous resolutions passed will be taken up towards the latter part of the month. In case a resolution as requested by the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to have an international inquiry is passed against the will of Sri Lanka, it would be an invasion of our sovereignty.
It would not only be the invasion of “sovereignty of the ruling elite” if there is such a thing as thought by the majority of the people here, but also the invasion of sovereignty of the nation in true sense, unfortunately.
India invaded our sovereignty by dropping dhal in the northern part of the island, unilaterally and illegally, but the so-called friends of President Jayewardene did not take any step even to criticise the action of India and we were lectured to settle the differences with India. The situation today is far more serious than that. If the resolution is passed in Geneva it would be a legal resolution approved by the majority. This situation has not emerged all of a sudden. It has been evolving over a period of time.
All this time the Government was doing what Prime Minister Premadasa did at that crucial moment. That is to criticise foreign dignitaries who visited us in true Mariyakade style in order to satisfy a bunch of voters who unfortunately lack common sense whether they are educated or not and do not know head or tail about patriotism although they claim to be patriots. The ruling elite in power do not hesitate to sacrifice the sovereignty of the nation to satisfy the said bunch and in return to be in power.
After the unpatriotic statement of Prime Minister Premadasa and invasion of Sri Lankan air space by Indian Air Force, President Jayewardene said that India can conquer Sri Lanka only after the death of 18 million people and himself. He may have meant that according the situation prevailed at that time.
He had to say that since his Prime Minister has messed up the situation. President Rajapaksa also claims that he is prepared to go to the electric chair on behalf of the nation. He says that after messing up the situation with his approval. It seems to be that he does not mean it and no one wants him in the electric chair. His statement is also a part of the mess.
Therefore people should know what patriotism is. Patriotism is not something like the idiotic friend of the king attacking a fly with a sword in order to chase it away from the sleeping king. Patriotism of the politicians and the officials of the present regime is like that.
Patriotism is to save the nation, not to put it in danger and not to save a race within it. For this, one has to be intelligent, wise, with strategic thinking, and not emotional and without too much bravery. This can be understood by examining the American policy of former Iranian President Ahmadinejad and present President Rauhani. In relation to the diplomatic mess created by the Sri Lankan State with the Western nations, we need a policy like that of Rauhani.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura. For this article, the writer interviewed Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekara to establish the factual situation he faced during the time of President Jayewardene. The rest of the article comprises the views of the writer.)