20th Death Anniversary of Dr Chanaka Amaratunga
Reminiscence of Chanaka Amaratunga
Dr Chanaka Amaratunga founder leader of the Liberal Party died under tragic circumstances on 1st of August 1996 at Kaluthara. When I heard the bad news from the radio, I was getting a hair cut at the saloon. Chanaka usually does not drive any vehicle and therefore my mind generated number of thoughts against Mr. Nihal Athukorale , his driver but at the same time I was wondering how a very competent driver like Nihal would have met with an accident to end the life of Chanaka. I called Rajiva and others to know what really occurred. In those days the mobile phone was not available as a mode of public communication and I rushed from Kurunegala to Colombo round twelve a clock. Nihal was at Rosmead Place and he had not gone with Chanaka to Kaluthara to meet his fatality and destiny. He related me the story of Chanaka’s fatal journey to his death.
I spoke to Mrs. Swarna Amaratunga his mother and understood her plight. Rajiva told me that we had to take a quick decision and that he had spoken with others in the party. Ms Shalini Senanyake was at Rosmead and she was his administrative secretary of Chanaka for quite some time. New secretary Miss Sonali Pathirana had gone to USA for two weeks and missed the funeral.
Next day many of the politicians attended the funeral house. As scheduled the clergy attended and Ven Galaboda Ghanissara Thero of Gangaramaya headed the religious observations. Amaratunga family is a leading a dayaka family in that temple, and to our joy, Chanaka was a “ Nilame” on elephant back at Gangarama Perahera. On the funeral day we all walked to Kanaththa from Rosmead. I can remember D.Sidarthan, Douglus Dewananda, M.H.M Ashroff and many of the minority party politicians walking towards Kanaththa with the funeral procession. Mr Anura Bandaranaike delivered the funeral oration at Kanaththa. It was a cremation. It was the physical end of Chanaka.
We came back to Rosmead and had meals served by Amaratunga family. Few of us in the party committee, Chandana Ukwatta, Gen Y.Balarathnarajha, Harim Peiris, A. Weerarathne , Nirgunan Thiruchelvam spoke of the future actions and our immediate determination was that Rajiva should have been elected as leader. Although he was not a party member, Chanaka’s friend well known dramatist Jith Pieris also joined in the informal discussions.
Close associates of the party maintained different view as to the future of the party. Ms Sitha Wijekoon the treasurer of the Liberal Party was to leave first. She said that she joined the party because of Chanaka and that she lost the purpose. I knew that Chandana would leave the party soon, because he was Chanaka’s personal friend rather than a political friend. In joining the party many of our members had short term goals.
Though Chanaka formed the party in 1987 with a group of highly educated intellectuals, by 1996 among them only Rajiva and myself were left with the party and Chanaka to discuss politics and political theory and other related fields. However Rajiva was out of Colombo most of the days.
My discussions during the year 1996 with Chanaka had a long range of topics including party development, future leadership, organizational aspect, fund raising methods etc. On the other hand we had lengthy discussions on liberalism, liberal ideology and liberal economic philosophy and many more.
Rajiva as president of the party called us for a committee meeting and we invited Ms Amaratunga to be a member of the committee for which she agreed gracefully. In that meeting we took number of decisions and one was to hand over the party office at Castle Street, Bambalapitiya back to Ms Muktha Wijesinha, Rajiva’s mother. Some of the furniture was sold out and important files and documents were brought to Rosmeaad Place. We elected Rajiva as leader and Ms Amaratunga was appointed a committee member, A. Weerathna as the secretary general and Harim Peiris as Deputy secretary general. The party had some debts up to 1.4 million and Ms Amaratunga paid all these liabilities.
Thereafter national committee meetings were regularly held at Rajiva’s residence, “Lakmahal: , Alfred House Road, Colombo 3.
Ms Swarna Amaratunga did a yeoman service to the party after Chanaka’s death. She had a will to keep the party going. Although Rajiva was a reluctant leader in the aftermath of Chanaka’s death he did a great service to the Liberal Party. My initiation to contest provincial council elections from 1996 to 1999 paved the way for Rajiva to contest 1999 presidential elections.
Ms Swarna Amaratunga continued to pay our membership fees for the Liberal International in London and Rajiva and few of us jointly paid the membership fee for the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats. After Chanaka’s death the three main figures who contributed to the survival of the party were Rajiva, Kamal and Mrs Amaratunga. Could we fulfill his desires?