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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2555

S L Gunasekara: Officer (Nationalist) and Gentleman (British)

By Susantha Goonatilake

I cannot quite remember when I first met S L Gunasekara. As I recall,it was a few decades ago at an embassy cocktail party, at a time when heads like me of scientific associations were also invited. He recalled his correct stand at the Thimpu talks which I had dismissed as Indian interference after Indian subversion. I knew the Indian academic scene reasonably well and I explained to him how Mrs B, (once co-fighter with Indira) and her SLFP were being denigrated in Indian circles.

I also mentioned how that excellent Dr Mackie Ratwatte had on hearing this complaint of mine had taken me to meet Mrs B.And when I suggested to her that she send around India someonefrom her party to explain, she replied that they did not have the money. And that was a time when a round India trip would cost around Rs. 10,000. The then ruling family was more cultivated than the recent one but had similar “money problems”. Over the embassy drink, S L and I shared his hearty laugh.

But the time we interacted most was when I was living largely abroad and saw the false anti-Sri Lanka propaganda being spread around the world by the LTTE and by paid Western elements in the form of NGOs. S L and a group including Lieutenant Col. Anil Amerasekera and Dr.AnulaWijesunderawere then working tirelessly in villages threatened by LTTE barbarity while the then government buried its head in the sand. I, with others in the expatriate community also began visiting these areas to give help. We gave CDMA phones with our family funds (that was before mobile phones) and motorcycles to threatened villages, helped build irrigation tanks for displaced villagers and repaired their schools. I remember well one such visit to a repaired school accompanied among others by Venerable MadulwaweSobhitha, S L and ChampikaRanawaka.

The laypersons rested for the night in a farmer’s house and SL pullout a bottle of arrack, I did sip a bit as I don’t like hard liquor and Champika conversed-unprotesting.

These welfare actions were mostly by middle-class professionals. But when two former students involved in the late 1980s anti-Indian protests met me and my wife, we arranged a meeting between them and the middle class activists. This turned out to be the beginning of the National Movement against Terrorism (NMAT) which frankly we wanted only to be a discussion forum to remove the falsities generated by foreign funds.

Later, in spite of misgivings by several of us, NMAT turned into the JHU and contested. Some of us were disappointed that Buddhist monks would contest instead of acting as a pressure group or advisers as they had done for millennia. And when the then general elections came about and I heard that JHU grassroots were campaigning against SL, their first leader I felt downcast.

When at their last election meeting, SL was being ignored and others being pushed into the front, I telephoned SL and said “your own people are undercutting you”, his response was that it was too late. And later SL was removed on the false pretext that he, an atheist with a Christian background was drinking alcohol. I had not heard such an accusation when he had his arrack at the farmer’s house.

At the time of Chandrika, we with SL through the expatriate group World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka (WAPS)organised a series of meetings against LTTE propagandaincluding a couple at the BMICH and one in Norway. Speakers included also non-Sri Lankans. One telling audio recording we played was the Norwegian Ambassador in cahoots with local officials smuggling transmission equipment to the LTTE. We also invited political figures to the audience which included Dinesh Gunawardene, Moulana, Anandasangaree and a big contingent from the JVP and JHU. We had sniffing dogs to prevent LTTE attacks. But we did manage to get the truth out including later in a seminar in Norway.

Perhaps the greatest favour that SL did to the country was when Sri Lanka expatriates wanted to sue the LTTE on behalf of the innocents they had murdered. I had missed the meeting in Washington with the US lawyers but back in Sri Lanka, I put SL in contact with them. SL got legally binding statements from the farmers who were attacked in the region of Anuradapura and forwarded them to the US lawyers. The case is still pending.

A related personal event was when he represented me. I had published through a well-known international academic publisher a book on foreign funded NGOs in Sri Lanka as subverting our sovereignty. Over 10 years,I had collected much data from different sources around the world including on International Alert (IA) which had published a map of their future Tamil Eelam, much larger than the area claimed even by the LTTE. My information included some incriminating correspondence supplied by IA employees in London who were dissatisfied with the then Sri Lankan head of IA.

When my book came out, a prominent lawyer meeting me at the OPA asked me to brief him about NGOs because he said he was to appear on a TV program. I said I could not summarise but he could borrow a book from a library. Shortly I found articles in the Daily News written under a pseudonym and in a florid style attacking the Sri Lankan ex- director of IA. Before long I found the writer being appointed politically as an ambassador to a Western country. Soon too, I found myself sued for half Rs. 1 billion by the IA gentleman for the anonymous article I had not written. SL agreed to appear for me free and his reply truly frightened me. He said that the suing gentleman had no reputation to lose. SL said not to worry. The case dragged for years and ultimately was withdrawn simply because I did not write the article.

We shared much irreverence. SL an ex-Christian and I, a secular Buddhist who had once being suspended from my job for one year as the founder editor of the Peoples Bank’s Economic Review for publishing a computer in a meditating pose. This was to illustrate how current computer developments were challenging the mind cultures of Buddhism and Hinduism. When I heard that SL had fallen and was in a near coma, I was advised not to visit as he would not recognize.

SL would have also been amused at recent events when our Buddhist MR went to the IndianThirupathy Hindu Kovil to pray to non-existent gods and fixed political events based on astrology. SL an ex-Anglican would also have been amused at the current Pope’s visit where the latter called for investigation to the very war conducted by MR and his brother Gota. Both had gone on bended intellectual knees to the very Vatican that had destroyed Buddhist culture so much so that Buddhism had to be imported later from Siam and Myanmar.

SL would have been truly amused at the Catholic areas voting heavily against MR (and indirectly against MR’s Catholic wife). He would have been tickled at Siam Nikaya monks getting up to the Pope at the BMICH meeting, remembering that the very same Siam Nikaya had once denounced monks of so-called lower castes getting up in respect to our then KandyanKing. SL would have also laughed at the very monks from the Kotte chapter from the very temples that were set on fire by papal instructions (Bulls) that demanded the destruction of other religions. He would have been especially amused at the silence of the JHU monks at the papal visit. The JHU had objected to SL’satheism and alcohol but ignored the Catholic practice of drinking wine as the blood of Christ. I am sure SL would have called it a cannibalistic rite.

SL and I, both secular from different religious backgrounds in all probability would not meet again. Hewalked the lonely road and departed upright and unafraid. I only hope when the time comes, people could say the same of the likes of me. I hope.

- Asian Tribune -

S L Gunasekara: Officer (Nationalist) and Gentleman (British)
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