Vijaya Kumaratunga in retrospect
The Leader of the Opposition and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R.Sampanthan welcoming the appointment of Reginald Cooray as new Governor of the Northern Province mentioned that the government has made an appropriate choice by appointing a person with liberal views as the Governor of the Northern Province.
Beginning his political career in the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP) founded by the late Vijaya Kumaratunga, Reginald Cooray always expressed his views in favour of political rights of the minorities as well as agreeing on adequate devolution of powers to the North and East.
During the early stages of the Tamil militancy, militants, the SLMP Leader Kumaratunga along with his wife former President Chandrika Kumaratunga travelled to Chennai in the early eighties and met some of the Tamil militant leaders such as leader of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) K.Pathmanabha, one of his political ‘think tanks’ Ketheeswaran Loganathan and People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) Leader Uma Maheswaran who were in exile in Tamil Nadu.
Apart from the hardcore Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) almost all the Tamil militant outfits which had emerged in the early eighties possessed a sensible political thinking in reaching a durable solution to the North and East crisis.
Attracted by their liberal outlook Kumaratunga had even accepted that an adequate devolution of powers to the North and East will only pave the way for a meaningful solution to the ethnic crisis.
However, the Tamil militant leaders who had come in contact with the SLMP Leader did not live long to see their dreams becoming a reality with the introduction of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The LTTE gunned down EPRLF leader K. Pathmanabha, PLOTE Leader Uma Maheswaran and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) Leader Sri Sabaratnam for their stances in reaching a political solution with the guidance of India.
Vijaya’s first visit to Jaffna
When the late Hector Kobbekaduwa contested as Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) candidate in the 1982 presidential election, Kumaratunga joined his campaign trail and visited even Jaffna and addressed the election rallies in the peninsula.
In the mid-eighties when the LTTE established itself as a dominant outfit neutralizing other Tamil militant organizations in the North, Kumaratunga was even handpicked by the J.R.Jeyawardene Government to negotiate with the LTTE militants to release the bodies of the soldiers who were killed in clashes with the LTTE and to release the soldiers apprehended during the clashes as Prisoners of War (PoWs).
Kumaratunga in themid-eighties visited Jaffna on several occasions when Major General Ananda Weerasekera was the Jaffna Commander. The army at that time was based inside the Jaffna Fort and was almost under a siege.
Major General Ananda Weerasekera who ordained as a Bhikkhu after his retirement and one of his aides Captain Kotalawela were even permitted to come out of the Jaffna Fort due to the good rapport the LTTE’s late Jaffna Commander Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu had with Kumaratunga.
The LTTE admired Kumaratunga for his liberal views and he would have even been the first politician from the South for the LTTE to accept as a credible person.
The gun toting LTTE cadres had even taken Kumaratunga around and made him speak to the press in Jaffna. Kumaratunga even addressed a brief meeting at the Nallur Kanthaswamy Kovil premises in the presence of LTTE’s Jaffna commander Kittu and the outfit’s political stalwart Thileepan who later fast-unto- death following the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987.
Kumaratunga was even described as an “LTTE agent” in the South for the understanding he had with the LTTE.
Kumaratunga believed unwaveringly that a maximum devolution of powers under a federal framework could only bring an acceptable solution to the ethnic question and he even supported the Indo-Lanka Accord which introduced the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
28 years after Kumaratunga’s death, one of his followers Reginald Cooray has been appointed as the third Governor of the Northern Province. Cooray also becomes the first politician to become the Northern Province Governor.
As far as Kumaratunga’s Jaffna visits during the LTTE period were concerned, he once took a delegation of Bhikkhus to Jaffna and had a meeting with the LTTE’s Jaffna Commander Kittu at the Old Park Mansion of the Government Agents who served in the city.
The Old Park Mansion of the Jaffna Government Agents was first built in the 19th century by the British Government Agent Percival Dyke. Several iconic Lankan Government Agents including Neville Jayaweera and N.Srikantha had resided in the mansion surrounded by 27 acres of beautifully laid out urban forest area by Dyke.
The last Sri Lankan Government Agent to live in the mansion was Lionel Fernando who was highly respected by the Northerners for his integrity with the people in the peninsula.
The historic mansion gradually became dilapidated with the escalation of the war. With the end of the war in 2009, the first Governor of the Northern Province Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri built a new residence for the Governor adjoining the historic old mansion within the Old Park premises where Kumaratunga held one of his meetings with the LTTE’s Jaffna commanders in the early eighties.
The new Governor Cooray succeeding his predecessor H.M.G.S.Palihakkara, the second and the first civilian Governor of the Northern Province will be residing in his official residence situated in the vicinity of the historic old mansion.
Soon after taking his oaths as Governor of Northern Province before President Maithripala Sirisena last week, Reginald Cooray without any reservation has clearly stated that by going ahead with the 13th Amendment and beyond will only fulfil the political aspirations of Tamils.
Being a veteran politician groomed in the political thinking of his mentor Kumaratunga, Northern Governor Reginald Cooray could contribute immensely towards solving the ethnic problem when the government has embarked on the task of bringing out a new Constitution.