“Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.”
~Thomas L. Holdcroft
Gamini Dissanayake, one of the patriarchs of Sri Lanka’s modern day politics was a victim of a brutal attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). On October 24, 1994, while he was bidding adieu to a sizeable gathering
after a lengthy speech at a Presidential Elections meeting at Thotalanga, a heartbeat away from the city center of Colombo, an LTTE suicide bomber triggered off her explosion device and fifty four (54) people lay scattered.
Amongst the departed were, the Presidential Candidate of the United National Party, Gamini Dissanayake himself, the firebrand speaker and Kurunegala district MP, G.M. Premachandra, Colombo District MP Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, Dr. Gamini Wijesekera, the UNP General Secretary, Christie Perera, the UNP Organizer for Colombo North and his daughter.
The massacre at Thotalanga left the UNP virtually leaderless- it continues that way to date- taking away one of the most fearless and adored leaders that Sri Lanka produced in recent times. J N Dixit, the controversial one-time Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka described Gamini Dissanayake, in his famous book ‘Assignment Colombo’, as a “nation-builder” hinting that he, Dixit, had more perceptive clout about Sri Lanka’s political leaders than most of the local pundits.
Well, that was then, almost twenty years ago. Now in 2013, in the early morning hours of Friday, August 23rd while Gamini Dissanayake’s younger son Mayantha Dissanayake who is a contestant on the UNP ticket in the Maha Nuwara district was on his way to Kandy, just past the sleeping Mawanella town, it was noticed by Mayantha’s chauffeur that a black colored ‘Defender’ vehicle was following their KIA jeep in a most provocative way and trying to overtake them a couple times. The ‘Defender’-driver was noticed to be not only aggressive but at times appeared to be reckless and belligerent.
According to those who were in candidate Dissanayake’s’ vehicle, Mayantha had asked the driver to drive faster in order for them to reach the next closest Police Station which was Kadugannawa. But it was not to be. As soon as it overtook Mayantha’s vehicle, the ‘Defender’ cut across and maneuvered it in such a manner so as to intimidate the KIA jeep and causing it to hit a tree on the side of the main Colombo-Kandy road. If this was not an attempt to cause grievous harm and injury, if not sure death to the passengers of the KIA vehicle, the police would have to find some other employment where reasonable inferences are not accepted as reasonable and fair.
Mayantha is Gamini Dissanayake’s second son who contested the General Elections in 2010 and failed to get into Parliament by a very narrow margin. On the
night of that election when the votes were counted, UNP had secured five (5) MPs, but the General Secretary of the UNP prevailed upon the Elections Commissioner to hold a mini-election for the Nawalapitiya electorate on account of some irregularities recorded there during Election Day.
When the mini-re-election was over, the UNP was totally swept away in the Maha Nuwara district and the number of MPs allotted to the UNP came down from five to four and Mayantha was the fifth man out- thanks to the electioneering tactics adopted by the General Secretary of the Party. Once the elections were lost in such a landslide manner as was evident at that time, at the hands of the most formidable political team the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) fielded in the country in the 2010 General Elections, the UNP would stood no chance whatsoever in a re-election scheduled just weeks after that debacle.
Mayantha Dissanayake at the time of his crossover from the Government circles to the UNP was promised much. There is more than one witness to this conversation that took place in Ratmalana-
that he would be made a Working Committee member soon after the Presidential Elections at which the UNP supported the candidature of General Sarath Fonseka. The UNP General Secretary also promised Mayantha the electorate organizer-ship of the Patha Dumbara electorate which had 78,688 registered votes then but went back on his word and awarded him the Udu Dumbara electorate which had only 55,629 registered votes.
One would be invariably drawn into the anxieties and anguish that Mrs. Srima Dissanayake, Gamini’s wife, is experiencing right at this moment. She would pray and wish that what happened to her beloved husband would not
befall, leave alone her second son, any other politician in this country under any circumstances. There are no words that could pacify or comfort the agony that Srima is going through now. Srima Dissanayake, in her own way, is a very brave lady. After the brutal assassination of her husband and at the request of the Party stalwarts and its grassroots supporters, she stood in her husband’s place for the Presidential Elections in 1994 and still managed to secure more votes than the UNP secured under the present leader in 2010. Here are the statistics:
UNP PA UNP UPFA
2,715,285 4,709,205 2,357,057 4,846,388
Added to this is the increase in the voting population in 2010 from the earlier 10,945,000 to 14,088,000; almost a whopping thirty percent (30%) increase.
Nevertheless, Mayantha Dissanayake and the Maha Nuwara district would respond to this near-debacle with the resilience and courage that is equal to Gamini Dissanayake’s. Politics is a journey; it is not a station and if one treats politics as a station at which perks of rest and recreation are to be gained and spent, then one would lose at the end. If the politician treats politics as a continuous journey, he would not only enjoy the peaks and valleys of the ride with its usual stones and cacti but he would also surely enjoy the fruits of his long run and he would be well-equipped to pass on to the next generation a handful of experiences and anecdotes only the rare-few is privileged to live through and savor. I am sure Mayantha Dissanayake will continue his late father’s unfinished journey to a finish, a finish worthy of dignity and honor.