The wife of former cricketer Hashan Tillekaratne spoke to Dailymirror on her sudden decision to cross over to the SLFP, the alleged injustices faced by her husband in the UNP and of her future plans in politics. . .
Q: What prompted your decision to obtain membership in the SLFP?
By Lakna Paranamanna
My obtaining membership in the SLFP was a spur-of-the-moment decision but the issues that led me to make that decision had been developing over the years.
For the past few years, my husband and I have been extremely disheartened with the manner in which we were being treated in the UNP. Both Hashan’s and my parents have been SLFP supporters throughout the years, although Hashan decided to commence his political career from the UNP due to the respect he had for Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Q: What are these ‘issues’ you are referring to?
My main concern was the manner in which Hashan was being constantly and deliberately sidelined by the UNP leader as well as the seniors. When Hashan accepted the invitation extended by Ranil Wickremesinghe to enter politics in 2009, the start itself was quite muddled. Although he was a district organiser, the Awissawella electorate into which he was appointed was divided between Hashan and another individual who was the former organiser. This move disappointed Hashan as he knew it would lead to a bitter clash with another party member and even refused to contest for the provincial elections initially.
That was not all. Although we were dedicatedly working to strengthen the party and securing its supporters, the UNP’s leaders did not stand by us when we needed their support. When we faced issues due to being related and having associated with Danuna Tillekaratne, none of the party seniors came to our aid. Except for Rukman Senanayake, not a single UNP senior or a leader enquired of our wellbeing.
These are only a few among the countless injustices and issues Hashan faced in the UNP up to now. The party seniors have deprived Hashan of many opportunities to progress in his political career. It is clear the sidelining and harassments are being carried out to fulfil the demands of district organisers as they are on a mission to eliminate all those who pose a threat to them in the battle for preferential votes.
I will make sure he never contests from the UNP nor allow those in the UNP to exploit his popularity and good name to secure votes for the party any longer
Q: How was Hashan deprived of chances to progress in his political career by the UNP?
Once Hashan returned to Sri Lanka following the settlement of Danuna’s issue, he was asked to contest at the general elections, which he refused. He had legitimate reasons to reject it as we, as a family had undergone extreme emotional distress. However, the party administrators responded to his refusal, with an order for him to resign as the district organiser.
Afterwards, in 2011 he wrote to the party seniors, requesting them to assign an electorate to him to resume his political career. He was made to undergo an interviewing process as a response to his request that puzzled many party members and seniors because they were well aware of the sacrifices he made to remain in the party. Thereafter, despite him being promised the Ratmalana electorate, several weeks later we heard it was being given to Srinath Perera.
It was then we got the message loud and clear that the UNP had no interest in Hashan or what he had to offer them. Those in the selection committee had chosen individuals deported from foreign countries, credit card fraudsters and other crooks over Hashan and under those we felt extremely humiliated and disappointed.
Due to being in the UNP, not only was Hashan deprived of progressing in his political career but in 2008 when he was invited to join as the national cricket team manager, then Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge said he would not be permitted to accept the position unless he steps down from politics. Due to the promises he had made to his supporters, Hashan declined the offer although it was a good opportunity.
Q: Why didn’t Hashan contest the upcoming provincial elections?
Apart from the fact that it is extremely tough to carry out election campaigning for someone without an assigned electorate, disheartened by the lousy treatment of the UNP Hashan made a decision to refrain from contesting the upcoming elections. However, up until this date not a single party senior except Karu Jayasuriya enquired of us as to why Hashan was not contesting.
Meanwhile, we were informed by several others in the party that there was talk of me being approached to contest the upcoming elections instead of Hashan, as they were well aware of my close working relationship with the supporters of the party and the public. During the period Hashan was the Awissawella organiser, I have visited every house in that electorate and a lot of supporters gathered around me. Hashan and I took steps to establish Lakvanitha and Youth Wings in every grama niladhari zone of the electorate. However, up until this day, the Lakvanitha movement has not invited me for a single meeting or a project except when they need to attract crowds for their events because they were well aware that I maintained a good relationship with Hashan’s supporters.
Anyway, a few minutes after I was informed of me being considered to contest the elections, another UNPer phoned me and strongly advised me against accepting the invitation. I felt even more revolted and thought, ‘why should we continue to remain in this party?’
“The party seniors have deprived Hashan of many opportunities to progress in his political career. It is clear the sidelining and harassments are being carried out to fulfill the demands of District organisers
Q: But you mentioned earlier that your decision to cross over to the SLFP was spontaneous?
Yes it was. A very close relative of ours is contesting from the UPFA in Kolonnawa and I was attending one of his meetings on February 12 to extend our support. UPFA MP Namal Rajapaksa was also present at the event and I decided then that it was the right time for me to join the SLFP. It was so abrupt that I had not even informed Hashan when I expressed my interest to join the SLFP that day.
Q: With allegations mounting against the government on corruption and human rights violation charges do you believe crossing over to SLFP was the right course of action?
I know it is the right thing to do because during every instance that my family was facing an issue, the President has always been there for us. He knew Hashan from the time he was a cricketer.
It is because of the President’s prerogative to end terrorism that we move around the country so freely. As a mother, I am no longer in fear of my children’s lives when they step of the house. It is time we rallied around the President to support him to face the threats posed by the international community against Sri Lanka because if we fail him, all of us as a nation would have to face the repercussions.
Q: What was Hashan’s response to your sudden cross over?
We have been married for 19 years now and he knows very well that I would never do anything that would impact us adversely. He is well aware of the reasons that prompted me into taking this decision and the disappointment I was facing over the years. I have his complete trust and he told me that he did not have any objections to my decision.
Q: If you faced so many issues, why didn’t you voice them earlier?
We have immense respect for the UNP and Hashan specifically does not wish to criticise issues in the party while being part of it, as it would only deepen the existing rifts in the party.
He does not wish or believe in the type of politics where its participants constantly have to fight or murder each other to get to positions. We did not and still do not wish to destroy the voter base of the UNP to further our issues.
Another UNPer phoned me and strongly advised me against accepting the invitation. I felt even more revolted and thought, ‘why should we continue to remain in this party’?
Q: Is Hashan going to follow suit and join the SLFP as well?
We haven’t discussed it yet. But irrelevant of whether or not he decides to remain in the UNP, I will make sure Hashan never contests from the UNP nor allow those in the UNP to exploit his popularity and good name to secure votes for the party any longer.
Q: What if someone accused you of crossing over in expectation of perks and benefits of being part of the governing party?
My decision was not in the least prompted by perks or benefits that would follow upon my cross over to the SLFP. As I mentioned earlier it was an abrupt decision. If it was pre-planned I definitely would have at least mentioned it to the President.
Q: Do you think Hashan’s political career could flourish in the SLFP?
The President is a leader who always gives credit where it’s due. If he feels that Hashan can be of service I am sure he would be given a chance to prove his abilities. In fact, this government has already recognised his talents and despite his allegiances to the UNP, he was appointed as a member of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board Select Committee and the National Talent Manager.
Q: What kind of responses have you received concerning your crossover?
I received a lot of phone calls from MPs and UNP members who have all praised my forthrightness. They all said it was a decision I should have made a long time ago. But it’s interesting to mention that neither the UNP leader nor Colombo District Chief Organiser Ravi Karunanayake has commented or made inquiries about my decision.
Q: Do you have plans to further your political career?
I haven’t decided on it yet but if I get the chance, I would really like to work on projects that would ensure the wellbeing and uplift women. For now I am dedicated to getting Hashan elected into Parliament because then he would be able to realise his aspirations of doing some service to the local sports sector.