| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(April 13, 2014 Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) During the entire period of Ms Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency there was only one instance this writer can recollect her children’s photographs appearing in the newspapers. And that too with Yasodhara in plain cotton dress looking the typical lanky teenager and Vimukthi not caring that he was in front of the camera.
She did not tout her children for posterity and she kept them away from the prying eyes of the media in that she was a stateswoman first and foremost and she did not need the publicity as she hails from parents who were two Sri Lankan post-independence leaders; one who stood up to the British and the other the world’s first woman prime minister.
Her cabinet comprised learned individuals including the current Minister of External Affairs, Prof. G.L. Peiris and Lakshman Kadirgamar. That GLP fell under the magic spell of the Rajapaksas and forfeited his credibility and self-respect is indeed regrettable. She surrounded herself with intelligent people and had willing ears to listen to their advice.
She had this kind of brutal honesty about her. Her first action on becoming President in October 1994 was to hold four rounds of peace talks with the LTTE even as they were engaged in suicide bombings in the South such a the Central Bank attack in 1995 among others.
Not a single journalist was murdered or attacked during her tenure although there had been intimidation and threats from her junior politicians. Cabinet press briefings under her affable Media Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake were conducted with such bonhomie flanked by military spokesman Brig. Sarath Munasinghe (Boru Munasinghe) with his impish smile telling us they have captured x stretches of kilometres from the LTTE and Alavi Moulana translating in Tamil.
CBK is still a force to reckon with since she has the tenacity and conviction she can steer the island through its most turbulent times post Geneva resolution. That she is endowed with public spiritedness is something which cannot be disputed considering that in her post-presidential years she set about rendering her experience and skills acquired towards global issues.
Why CBK should make a comeback into the political arena is there is simply no leadership in the opposition and the populace are getting tired of Rajapakaa politics. Stifling and lampooning CBK has become a pastime for the ruling regime.
Percy Wickremasekera, PC and one time director of Lake House told this writer that she would rather type out her memos herself than depend on her staff who could not be arsed with such menial tasks. She is arrogant to a fault but honesty is her hallmark and she brooks no nonsense.
While she groomed MR to become President she did not envisage that he would set about destroying her reputation, placing blockades at every instance even though she posed no threat to his post-war popularity and would continue to thwart any of her attempts to tame his politics which is veering heavily towards an autocratic regime spelling doom for the future of the island.
The only relative in her cabinet was Anuruddha Ratwatte who as deputy defence minister made decisions which did not go hand in hand with her attempts to bring redress to minorities.
MR’s style of governance is taking a toll in the country’ politics, economy and most of all is subjected to international condemnation particularly following its UNHRC performance.
When Krishanthy Kumaraswamy was raped and murdered along with her mother, brother and a neighbour in June 1996 at a Jaffna checkpoint she did not prevaricate. She immediately ordered a Trial-at-Bar which resulted in apprehending the 11 soldiers in question.
When several Tamil youth who came to Colombo seeking employment abroad were found murdered in the toilets of army headquarters with tourniquets round their necks she did not shy away from exposing the culprits who were army officers. She also exposed Sooriyakanda mass graves and she staunchly believed in human rights whether they were violations by the LTTE or her own government politicians.
CBK’s reputation is impeccable in that she neither squandered public funds nor did she accommodate sycophants. Her peccadilos of arriving late for engagements and partying privately with politicians who were in her government and the opposition is small change and did not come in the way of her duties as President.
Despite the attempt on her life by the LTTE in December 2000 during which she lost sight in one eye she continued to engage with them to bring about an amicable solution to the ethnic problem. This is the hallmark of a leader and she showed no knee-jerk reaction.
Dogs chase cars but they cannot bite. As an observer who has followed leaders over the past 25 years this writer finds CBK to best deal with challenges.
(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)