By Anura Bandara Rajaguru
United National Party MP Ranjan Ramanayake, in an interview with our sister paper Mawbima said, there was a plot to assault him at the Hiru TV debate and he left in order to avoid an unpleasant incident.Following are excerpts:
What actually happened at that television debate? What happened behind the scene?
A: I must thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about what happened. There was a scheme behind the incident. Our intelligence sources scented it. I was aware that my telephone conversations were being recorded. I was under surveillance. My Facebook account was hacked and information extracted.
I continued to express my views via television debates and social media. I discussed the budgets of the Head of State and extravagances of the offspring. I criticized the ministers. Although I did not complain to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, I had done the necessary thing. As a result, Chief Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara is seeking Rs 500 million in damages from me. Nimal Lanza is seeking a damage of Rs 1 billion. There are others too.
Were the cases meant to silence you?
A: One of the UNP MPs from the hill country also had a case filed against him, but the file vanished as soon as he joined the government to strengthen the hands. Some others are controlled through lawsuits. The foreign embassies know about these. The media have exposed them and the people know about them. But nobody can speak of these things.
What happened at the television debate?
A: I was invited for a political debate by Hiru TV. I inquired who the other participants were and I was informed that Minister Bandula Gunawardena and Minister Johnston Fernando were the others participants.
Was Minister Johnston’s name mentioned?
A: Yes. They said most probably he would come. I prepared questions for Minister Bandula Gunawardena. I made copies of the letters the minister had ordered to prepare for university student intakes. There were some other questionable files also. I received questions to be asked from Minister Johnston from the party office. I was ready for a debate.
I was aware that the Channel belonged to a brother of an MP monitoring a Ministry. I went with two persons from my office. When I was in the make-up room, Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena entered. I asked the organizers why Minister Abeygunawardena was there. They said that Minster Bandula Gunawardena was suffering from a stomach-ache.
By then, I had been informed by a public official via SMS that there was a plan by the ones who disliked my political speeches to make me angry and then assault me. A number of persons were ready to put this plan into action.
I was aware of the danger, but I could not refuse to take part in the programme and leave. I told Sudewa Hettiarachchi, who invited me, that it was wrong to change the participants in the debate at the last minute. I said I had come prepared. Sudewa said, ‘Don’t worry Ranjan Aiya. You all are friends and let us do this well.’ From the very first few minutes of the debate, they were provocative. Minister Johnston repeatedly said he had come to resolve the problem today and to engage with me.
I received SMSs repeatedly updating me and you could see I was reading them during the programme. The last message was, ‘Everything is arranged. Don’t fight. Step back. They are on the ground floor.’
I asked ‘Who?’ The reply was, MP Arundika Fernando and former Provincial Councillor Ananda Sarath Kumara, who made a teacher to kneel down. They had come to the World Trade Centre with a non-Army, non-STF group wearing t-shirts. There were two white vans and one red Benz.
A senior official attached to the Government Information Department and a non-Sinhalese journalist had come to the 37th floor to inquire whether any incident had taken place.
With these developments, I understood that they were trying to compel me into a fight and get into a brawl. I thought of tactfully retreating and said, ‘You carry on speaking. I only quoted what the Chairman of the Bribery Commission said.’ I said I was speaking about the B report related to the Minister Johnston Fernando after consulting President’s Counsel, Rienzie Arsecularatne. But, they became provoked and stood up from their chairs several times like they were getting ready to fight. It was not like a political debate. I thought it was a show of martial arts. If I was not patient, it could have ended up in a bloodbath. There could have been an open fire like in the incident of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. Therefore, I kept mum and let them speak. I wrote this to a weekend newspaper the next day. When the BBC asked whether a group came to Hiru TV that day to assault me, Minister Johnston admitted the fact and said they had come to see him.
The video footage of this incident was aired by TV stations and was in social media too. Everybody watched it. I did not use filthy words, while I was being insulted. They used many bad words to refer to me. I was insulted like that as I appeared for the downtrodden masses of this country. I spoke about this to the world via Facebook and diplomatic offices. I have 128,000 followers on Facebook.
This Government is afraid of the truth. They attacked the Opposition MPs who visited the Hambantota Port, Mattala Airport and the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery. The same thing happened when I spoke in Parliament during the Budget debate. I was not allowed to speak. Sigmund Freud has said that if a person gets angry when they are questioned, there must be at least 60% truth in what is said.
Let us look at what is happening in the diplomatic service. Dr. Chris Nonis was attacked. The Minister of Higher Education says the protesting students were not attacked due to elections. The government MPs themselves say that Negambo has been converted to another Chicago. There are brothels, drug, ethanol etc. and they expose that there are godfathers and Gin Bands etc. Threats and suppression has become a part of government agenda.
How did you escape after that incident?
A: After a shooting, I usually wash out the make-up in the washroom. I heard the crowd that gathered on the 37th floor were calling my name and challenging me. The officials of the TV channel had asked them to leave. My security officer told me they were waiting for me on the ground floor. After some time, they escorted me down safely and transported me to my official residence in Madiwela.
Did you complain about this to the Speaker?
A: Opposition MPs have complained about similar incidents in the past, to no avail. They had come with the blessings from a very important place in the country. Therefore, there is no use of complaining.
Is it good to be silent?
A: I have informed the relevant authorities. I don’t want to speak about them to a newspaper right now. But, I did not wish to complain to the individuals who were responsible for the incident. When the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka complained about threats to his life, no action was taken. I worked based on these experiences. When Kumar Gunaratnam disappeared, the Australian Embassy could mediate and find him.
Did you report the incident to your party leader?
What was his response?
A: He said he had taken necessary actions and that my safety has been guaranteed by international elements.
Are you speaking the truth?
A: Yes. I speak the truth and believe in truth.
Don’t you need the party permission to go before the media?
A: There are two ways to do this. Some private channels contact us personally. Some channels are linked to the ministers and they do not invite politicians who criticize them. Some call us when they want to criticize certain ministers.
Does that mean the government itself gives facts to you when they want to attack certain ministers?
A: Yes. For example, Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage’s file came from a government source.
Does the UNP have a plan when selecting and sending MPs for TV debates?
A: I think so.
Do you mean that it does not happen like that?
A: Recently, Saman Gamage and I participated in TNL’s Janahanda. We were informed that MPs Shantha Herath and Arundika Fernando would come from the government. Later they said Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkodi would come. But, none of them appeared and we had to speak to empty chairs. Although the UNP works according to a plan, the government changes their word and do not send who they pledge to send.
Do you think the TV channel is part and parcel of the conspiracy against you?
A: I think so. I thank that channel for giving the Opposition time. But, they were once banned since they aired false news that the Tamil Tigers had attacked Ranmihithenna. They restarted it after MP Duminda Silva switched allegiances. I am not a fool to think that they would take my side. If there was violence, I don’t think the producer of the programme or the monitoring MP would have helped me.
How must an Opposition MP be prepared in the future when participating on a TV debate? As you point out, there are no democratic dialogues and there is only fighting.
A: When Harin Fernando was assaulted by Dayasiri Jayasekara, no action was taken. The ratings of the relevant TV station went up. Some channels want to create such conflicts to be popular.
Is it the duty of the MPs to increase the ratings of the channels?
A: We have the right to represent our people and pose their questions to the government MPs. As a citizen of Negombo, I have the right to question about the godfathers and Gin Bands there, even though I was elected from Ratnapura. I ask them always not to take them personally. People witnessed the response.
Mayor of Hambanthota, Eraj Fernando, ran after UNP MPs with a pistol in his hand. But no action was taken against him. Finally, he said it was a toy pistol. That is one of the best examples to show that Sri Lanka has no rule of law.
Is it the lack of rule of law or the UNP’s failure to protect its MPs?
A: (Laughs) I don’t argue with you. Major General Janaka Perera, who received 110,000 more votes than the elected Chief Minister, Berty Premalal Dissanayake at the North-Central Provincial Council was killed in a bomb blast along with Doctor Johnpulle and 25 others. Was it the UNP’s fault?
Weren’t they lessons? But now we can say that terrorism is over.
A: No, it is not.
But you must learn a lesson. You are attacked again and again?
A: We must complain to the people.
Do you mean you must get attacked?
A: No. For example, I thought I failed at that TV debate. But when I watched the video later I understood the patience I showed and the anger the ministers displayed had been watched by the people. That is very important.
No one can reject now what they have done. We have technology to verify this.
You were asked by the government ministers to show proof for your allegations. You have recently accused a person called Krishantha Cooray in your party for not providing them with information when they request them. Doesn’t that make the MPs helpless?
A: It is a lie. I never accused such a person. That is a fabrication, Machan.
Did you correct it?
A: I explained to Krishantha also. What I can say about providing information is that the JVP is ahead of us in this regard. Wasantha Samarasinghe gets the information of a Tamil Tiger obtaining the contract of repairing the Sri Lankan Embassy in Switzerland through their network. Samantha Vidyaratne brings the copies of Minister Vijith Vijithamuni Zoysa’s liquor licences. The JVP gets files before us.
But, Anura Kumara Dissanayake is not the Leader of the Opposition?
A: Their network is strong. There was a time when we could also obtain such information from public officials. Earlier they came to Dayasiri. He was the UNP MP who questioned government dealings mostly in Parliament. We raised our questions through him. When we ask for information from public officials, they now say that they had to face problems when divulging information after Dayasiri changed sides. We have breached their trust.
When the UNP does not provide its MPs with information they needed for debates, especially when there is a presidential election around the corner, how can the MPs effectively engage in debates?
A: We can obtain Hansard reports. We can obtain information from the Parliament Library.
Such information is available in any public library.
A: We are also given information by the party media unit. I never underestimate their service. But we have to be ready when we send MPs for TV debates. In the past, we went alone with the file. Now the debates are like battles. We have to call 119 and get security to go to a TV channel for a programme. Hereafter, I request security from Madiwela to Colombo and back when participating on a TV debate. But I have doubts whether the police can protect me.
Do you trust the police?
A: At least there will be evidence if I get killed.
There were times the police used to look away.
A: Yes. I have now organized a camera crew. The government can change the CCTV recordings. But, my personal crew is vigilant about my moves. A friend of mine who lives in England has sent me some small equipment that works automatically.
That means you will come for TV debates in future like James Bond?
Has One Shot become James Bond?
A: In the movie world, we fought with the likes of Teddy, Michael and Sarath. Those fights were shot in fair conditions. We did not use banned stimulants and we had no hidden weapons. What happens today is a large group isolates one person and attacks him. All these happen using State power.
Is this the beginning of a tradition to surround TV channels during political debates?
A: I think incidents like this will increase in future. It will be a pattern. But, I am happy that people know we are being attacked because we represent them.
I can play a political summersault next week and live happily forgetting people’s problems. I can get the insulting mouths to praise me. But, I am a single man with no property, not even a single perch in my name. Some of the MPs in our party had to cross over due to the pressure from the household. But my life is different. I have no lands around the country. I have nobody to leave behind. I have no children to introduce to politics after me. I have no dreams.
Therefore, I speak the truth and do the right thing during my lifetime. I can die peacefully. I have no house to place my dead body. My friends will place my body in a funeral parlour and they will cremate me at the Borella Cemetery. Until then, I will live with the bitter truth of the people’s suffering.