There is much controversy with regard to the recent decision made by Major General (Retd) Janaka Perera to contest as the UNP Chief Minister nominee at the North Central Provincial Council election. Some of his friends have even gone to the extent of labelling him a traitor for having joined hands with the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
|Maj.Gen. (Retd) Janaka Perera
Let me endeavour to look at this decision from the point of view of Major General Janaka Perera. I am well aware that he met the President after he lost his diplomatic posting and that he was offered the post of a Governor. However, being an ambitious person, he was, I believe expecting much more and this was possibly the point at which he decided to do it his own way. He had seen how Chandrika Kumaranatunga coming from the blue became the Chief Minister of the Western Province. She was not then a member of the governing party. From there she contested the Presidential election and was elected President. He may have thought that he could do so too in the future.
But does he not realize that Ms. Kumaratunga was not just another politician who became a Chief Minister but the daughter of two former Prime Ministers, who had much backing from the people at grassroots level. Only time will tell if the reputation of Major General Janaka Perera with all his victories in battle against the LTTE can match the reputation of a daughter of two popular Prime Ministers to win him the Presidency of our nation in the future.
However, if this is his aim, the path ahead is pitted with many obstacles. The LTTE will not be the only enemy he will have to contend with. He survived the LTTE threat when he was a serving officer in the army because he had the necessary security. As an opposition nominee to the post of Chief Minister who is considered a threat to the governing party, his security will never reach the level that he enjoyed while serving in the army. Therefore the question is whether he will be ever allowed to work his way up like Chandrika.
Though I do not agree with his decision and have told him so, I can never forget our long friendship and the good that he has done. When the Trinity College Rugger team played against the St. Joseph’s College team and I was the prop forward for Trinity, my opposing prop forward from St. Joseph’s College was Janaka Perera and I believe we would have exchanged a few words while scrumming down. However, we did not have the opportunity of meeting again until the commencement of the 1971 JVP insurrection
I was sent with 2(V) Gemunu Watch platoon to the Elpitiya detachment that also had 1st Field Engineer troops with Lt. Janaka Perera as a platoon com-mander. His platoon had a Staff Sergeant by the name of Sirisena, who thought it was not necessary for regular troops to report for muster together with the volunteer troops. Lt. Janaka Perera took immediate action in taking Staff Sergeant Sirisena to task and the regular and volunteer troops from then on worked as one detachment. Staff Sergeant Sirisena from this day onwards became very friendly with me and narrated a story of what had happened at Ruwanwella just before Lt. Janaka Perera’s platoon had been transferred to Elpitiya.
Several JVP members had been arrested by the Army and were marched in front of the Detachment Commander who happened to be a Major. He summoned Lt. Janaka Perera and ordered him to shoot the prisoners. He refused and had told the Major that he had no intention of shooting prisoners in captivity and had asked the Major to do so himself and to charge sheet him for disobeying orders if he so wished. The JVPers were saved and sent for rehabilitation, while Lt. Janaka Perera was sent to Elpitiya with his troops.
Our next encounter of any importance took place when Janaka was the Brigade Commander in Weli Oya. I was then a Staff Officer to General Hamilton Wanasinghe and used to attend the Mahaweli L System meetings in Weli Oya as a representative of the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. One day on my way to Weli Oya I was stopped by an Army checkpoint just past Kebithigollewa and informed that I had been requested not to proceed any further, but to return to the Kebithigollewa Police Station and contact Brig. Janaka Perera. I did so and Janaka informed me that there had been heavy LTTE infiltration in the area and that he was getting the roads cleared and would inform me as soon as it was safe to proceed.
While I was at the Police station the OIC brought a man to me who had gone to the jungle to saw timber and had been surrounded by LTTE cadres who had asked him for directions to Weli Oya and for security forces and Police deployments en route. He had given the information due to fear of death and had been asked by the LTTE to continue with his work and not to return to his village until nightfall. He had however returned to his village as soon as the LTTE cadres left and had come to the Police Station with the Grama Niladari.
As soon as Brig. Janaka Perera gave me the all clear signal, I proceeded to his camp in Weli Oya with the villager. The Mahaweli L System meeting had been cancelled due to the prevailing security situation and the informant was interrogated by Brig. Janaka Perera in my presence. After having done so he informed me that several others too had brought similar information to prove that there was a large LTTE presence in the area possibly for an impending attack that night. He then contacted Col. Sri Mudalnayake who was the Col GS to Major General Rohan Daluwatte and requested that the commando troops that had been withdrawn from Weli Oya a few days before be sent immediately. He was informed that the commandos would be sent the next day and I remember an angry Brig. Janaka Perera telling Col. Sri Mudalnayake that if he cannot send the commandos immediately not to send them at all.
He then made a firm resolve to fight the LTTE with the resources available and had lunch with me at around 4 p.m. before requesting me to return to Iratperiyakulama Army Camp, without risking my life unnecessarily, because he was certain that even his camp would be attacked that night.
On reaching the Iratperiyakulama Army camp I requested the radio operator to inform me of any developments in Weli Oya. It all started by 10 p.m. I was in the radio room listening to what was happening and reading the situation reports until the early hours of the morning. Brig Janaka Perera was calm and collected throughout the battle. His orders to the Detachment Commanders were very appropriate and precise. The result was a victory that could be well identified as the greatest victory in the history of warfare. For where else have the enemy losses been close to 500 with the death toll among our troops being just two. Only one of the dead was a soldier, the other being a Home Guard.
I was not in agreement with the decision of the then government to implement the devolution package in 1995. I wanted to exercise my democratic right to criticize the government and to create a public opinion against the devolution proposals. I could not do so in uniform and hence requested compulsory leave without pay. This was granted but all Army establishments were subsequently ordered not to allow me to enter. Only one man openly defied this order and that was Major General Janaka Perera, the General Officer commanding the East, who invited me to come and stay in his chalet, whenever I was in the Polonnaruwa area to restore ancient irrigation systems.
I have only narrated my own personal experiences and have not made any effort to speak of Major General Janaka Perera’s victories or other achievements while in service that I am personally unaware of such as his effort in saving Jaffna. I still persist in saying that Major General (Retd) Janaka Perera has made a big mistake in taking to politics. He will be only inviting criticism and trouble, which could be life-threatening. The mud slinging has already commenced and it will intensify as the campaign proceeds. Some of the mud will be washed away with the next north eastern monsoonal rains but that is a long way to come. A well renowned war hero being downgraded to be identified as a traitor through such mud slinging is indeed pathetic. How can the people in the North Central Province be expected to select a good egg when it is lodged in a basket of rotten eggs?
A one-time child soldier of the LTTE is today the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province with the backing of the government. A one-time war hero is now contesting to become a Chief Minister of the North Central Province with the backing of the opposition. Let us see if providence will allow a war hero too to become a Chief Minister just as much as it allowed a former child soldier to become one.