To call SL a patriot in a country so full of pseudo patriots may not do justice to this giant of a man who passed peacefully away after a long and painful illness. He was a man in the true sense of the word. He left us having led a life of impeccable rectitude in [...]

Sunday Times 2

SL Gunasekera: An eternal hero in a battered land and his struggle for a sovereign state


To call SL a patriot in a country so full of pseudo patriots may not do justice to this giant of a man who passed peacefully away after a long and painful illness.

SL: The only way to end the cry for a separate state was to militarily defeat the LTTE

He was a man in the true sense of the word. He left us having led a life of impeccable rectitude in his proffesional, political and personal life. I have known him from the day we joined S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia on the same day in the 2nd standard almost 62 years ago. He went onto be one of Sri Lanka’s most eminent and independent lawyers, I went onto browner pastures in search of my own fortune. Our paths were to cross so many times in later life.

Today when Sri Lanka has been comprehensively united as a sovereign state, I would like to recount some incidents where he played a larger-than-life role in securing a sovereign state. My friend Ravi Jayewardene recommended S.L. to represent Sri Lanka to the First ever peace talks held with the warring terrorst groups in Thimpu. At Thimpu SL was uncompromising, fearless and articulate. A delegate told me that he heard S.L. berating an Indian official, with utmost arrogance behind closed doors. S.L was loud enough to be heard by those walking on the corridors of Indian power.

Notwithstanding the Late President J.R. Jayewardene selecting SL as a special envoy and his personal respect for him, their ways were to part again in the most dramatic fashion. JR summoned a high powered team of lawyers, which included the Thimpu team, to his Ward Place residence in Colombo and told them to draft the Indo-Lanka accord following Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention.

SL not only refused to do so, but walked out in high dudgeon. “I will not participate in this discussion anymore, not only do I disagree with you, from now onwards I will oppose you,” said SL in his loud stentorian voice and spun on his heels and walked out of Ward Place. JR the consummate politician noticed that SL had left his file behind on the table. “You may walk out SL but please take your file away and let this disagreement not stop you from having a drink with me.” SL told me that JR took the wind off his dramatic walk out with his aplomb! True to his words he walked out, joined Sirima Bandaranaike and went round the country opposing the accord. To him acting according to the dictates of his conscience was more important than holding the position of the Government’s special envoy. I cannot think of many people who would have done this.

SL truly believed that the only way to end the cry for a separate state was to militarily defeat the LTTE. He was the lone sentinel taking this position throughout the conflict. We all watched with dismay and disappointment the appeasement that went on and how the Government was slowly ceding to the LTTE and the other foreign powers the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

It was then that a band of us got together to form the Sihala Urumaya. This was not a racist Sinhala extremist organisation but simply a political force designed to resist any emasculation of the sovereign state. SL was the president; I was one of his vice presidents and Champika Ranawaka and Venerable Ratana Thera were founder members. Within a short period, the Sihala Urumaya emerged as a potent political force and foreign governments started taking notice of us.

Once, the Deputy US Ambassador, along with his political advisor and a young woman, came to SL’s Model Farm Road house. We walked in together. The discussion was at the rooftop. I could see raised eyebrows as much as to say “Oh these Sinhala types do seem to be living in style.”
The deputy ambassador started off with extreme arrogance condescending and patronising at one stage when he found that he was receiving blow for blow. He asked SL, “So what is your solution to the ethnic problem’ (his words not mine). Pat came SL’s reply, “Defeat the LTTE.”
“What! Kill all the Tamils?” the diplomat responded.

SL: “No ambassador, I never said that. Yours is the country that killed all the Japanese in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.”

The Americans were dumbstruck and speechless. They did not know what to do. Then the deputy ambassador regained his wits and replied, “If you are accusing the United States of genocide then I cannot remain in this discussion. I am leaving,” he said.

SL: “I did not ask you to leave but if you want to go, please finish your drink before you leave.”

They trooped out deflated.

Sihala Urumaya Central Committee members Tilak Karunaratne and General Paranagama were apprehensive. “No one talks to the Americans like that,” they intoned but SL did not care. They decided, however, not to let the world know about this discussion. On the way back to Galle, I mentioned this episode to Sinha Ratnatunga, the editor of the Sunday times with the request that the discussion be kept confidential. “This is a good story,” replied the editor, “let me publish it.” I agreed.

Advice to Sihala Urumaya

The Sihala Urumaya was struggling to find the money to fight an island wide election. Following the Sunday Times story, a foreign ambassador from a Middle Eastern country telephoned us and said, “What assistance do you need? Can we support you financially?” I was elated and asked SL whether we should accept this offer.

“There are no free drinks in this world, Malinga. If we take their money we have to do their bidding,” was SL’s reply. That was vintage SL Gunasekera.

This uncompromising rectitude may not have taken him to the paths of glory. But money never mattered to him. He had a lucrative legal practice but he spent his hard earned money on the people of the embattled villages in the North and East.

He was the ultimate agnostic who could relate to the Buddhist clergy better than the most sanctimonious Buddhists. The irreverent things he said about clergymen of all denominations are perhaps best left out of this eulogy. But he was nearer to God than all of us who belonged to different faiths.

Born a Christian he renounced his faith when his distinguished father died prematurely. To his young mind he could not understand or accept how God took away his upright father. Perhaps the answer may lie in the doctrine of karma!

SL leaves behind his wife who stood with him through his darkest days. She also tolerated his friends drinking late into the silent night. And we were not drinking water! His daughter Sunethra and Theodore and Sudath, his sons, looked after him to the end of his days with the utmost care and attention. To me who was his lifelong friend, his suffering simply ended.

The most fitting epitaph for this man is best symbolised by that famous poem by Thomas Gray.

The boasts of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth ever gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

In the hearts and minds of this our battered country SL will be the eternal hero. And Heroes are the children of history.

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.