If asked who is the single individual in politics whose life affected me most, the choice with no hesitation would be Lalith Athulathmudali.I live in Claessen Place and he moved in to Paget Road as Minister of National Security and was my rear neighbour, once removed on the left. (Interestingly President Sirisena’s residence is now a rear neighbour, once removed, but on the right).
.During walks either in his home or the SSC grounds,the changing political scenario was the main topic with Lalith On the morning of the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord he told me he is boycotting the ceremony at President’s House and then added, “by midnight the Indian troops will be in Jaffna “.I went to the Sunday Times office and rushed Tyronne Devotta and photographer Pushpakumara Matugama to Jaffna and their exclusive reports and photos helped establish the Sunday Times.
Wondering how to turn disaster into truimph, the arrest of the 13 LTTE leaders by the Indians and his insistence to JR and the IPKF that they must be brought to Colombo was a turning point.
The suicides led to the LTTE blaming the IPKF and he was overjoyed when the IPKF were attacked and the LTTE began fighting the Indians. “All going according to plan,” he beamed .When columnist Suranimala (Lassnatha Wickramatunge) wrote that Sirisena Cooray had refused President Premadasa’s request to help him form the cabinet , Premadasa was furious saying I was trying to divide him from Sirisena and targeted me and attacked me publicly at Gangarama. On the night that Richard de Soyza was abducted, Lalith phoned me and said,”You are next on the list” and asked me to move into his Inner Flower residence. I chose instead to move into the Oberoi for a few hours through my friend the GM Ranil Bible until I could take the first flight to Singapore. A few hours later he phoned my wife and said, “They found Richard’s body. There is turmoil.You can ask Vijitha to come back”
These three episodes of many illustrate how Lalith worked with friends, specially in the media. When Professor Ravindra Fernando, who is the author of Murder in Ceylon (the famous Sathasivam Case) and Murder in the Vicarage ( the sensational double murder byFather Mathew Peiris) said he wants to write a book on the truth of the murder of Lalith,
I was one of the first to welcome it.
He goes into meticulous detail, but this book is different in that the murderer is already dead and there was no trial.But there are many questions unanswered too. Lalith who was wearing his bullet proof vest the whole day, had taken it off in the car before the Kirilapaone meeting. He said it was too hot. Was it fate? But the assailant did not know the bullet proof vest was not there and the bullets were fired from one side. Secondly the presence of Lalith’s key security person, SSP Muthu Banda, has been ignored except for one instance when he had chased off the stage Tilak Shantha, an army deserter who had been employed in Lalith’s security team. Shantha then waited under the stage and was next involved in the drama when he shot at the assailant, injuring him.But in the first statement made to the police, he did not say he had shot the assailant. It later transpired the gun was unlicensed. It was only in a second statement he admitted that he had a gun which jammed but he said he had shot the assailant.He also says he has never fired from this gun earlier.
Next day, the body of the assassin, Ragunathan, was discovered on a side road, Mugalan Road. The Scotland Yard team accepted that Ragunathan had scaled over the wall due to blood marks on the wall and the bullet found on Ragunathan’s body had been fired from Tilak Shantha’s pistol.
At the accident ward, the trouser of Shantha which may had signs of powder burns.or smoke had been discarded. Strangely Lalith’s clothes were removed at the accident ward and were discovered in a dustbin in a black plastic bag at the exit of the accident ward. The author does not think this is suspicious as it commonly happens, “as the staff are not concerned on saving the trouser for medico legal purposes but the welfare of the patient”.
Years later, a LTTEer, Jebanesan, arrested in 1996 at Thandikulam confessed that he was associated with Ranganathan who killed Lalith. A special Presidential Commission inquiring into the assassination of Lalith.heard of him through the media, took charge of him and strangely released him the next day
The Presidential Commission ridiculed the Scotland Yard report which confirmed Ragunathan as the assassin. They felt that Sirisena Cooray was “directly concerned and a member of the conspiracy to assassinate the late Mr Lalith Athulathmudai, procurement of police officers and making up a false scenario in respect of Ragunathan’s death”.
The Commission said that President Premadasa himself was directly involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Atulathmudali and that others did his bidding”. Three of the main suspects, Sothithi Upali, Wellampitiye Sudumahattaya and Nandasena were mysteriously assassinated.
Courtesy:Lanka Monthly Digest