Assassin Babu had free access to Sucharitha
Twenty five years ago, on May Day in 1993, President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was 68, was marching in a procession at the UNP May Day rally along Armour Street-Grand Pass Junction around 12.45 pm. The assassin suicide bomber, 23 year-old Kulaveerasingam Veerakumar alias Babu, left his push bicycle near President’s vehicle and walked towards the slain President. Mohideen had prevented the security men from stopping Babu - his friend - by signaling the security men to allow Babu to go near him. Babu who befriended E. M. P. Mohideen, President’s trusted valet was in and out of Sucharitha, the president’s private residence for more than a year. Veerakumar exploded the bomb strapped to his body, killing along with himself, Mohideen, SSP Ronnie Gunasinghe, President Ranasinghe Premadasa and several other men in his security contingent. Pictures published after the blast illustrated bodies scattered on the road, along with pieces of clothing, debris of glass and the shoes of men who had escaped.
Premadasa was famously known to be a hard working, self-disciplined man and was an effective administrator
The systems, which Premadasa had introduced, were not pursued by his successors who hadn’t his experience in governance. He believed in establishing structures and policies to guarantee continuity. Irrational amending of established policies, institutions and structures is detrimental to the country’s progress, a truth that President R. Premadasa firmly believed in.
When he took over the reins in 1988, a foreign force, the IPKF was occupying one-third of the soil in Sri Lanka at the invitation of his predecessor, JR Jayewardene. He pledged during his campaign that he would send the IPKF back to India. The IPKF who had been here two years by then decided to leave resulting in our relations with India dropping to a new low. President Premadasa further stated that the decentralization of power was a political course and that the IPKF had no responsibility in it. He faced the conflict with bravery.
Premadasa was famously known to be a hard working, self-disciplined man and was an effective administrator. However, one cannot deny the fact that his style necessitated certain carelessness around him. This facilitated him to sustain unusual contacts. His predecessors from both main parties operated from upper class uptown areas as Cinnamon Gardens, and Colombo 3 or President’s House in the Fort. Premadasa cramped himself to his working class pedestal in Pettah outskirts, a weakness on his part. This slackness enabled him to be very cautious about his associates and his ‘business’, which were critical to him at important times..
He faced opposition from within his own party after he was named the Presidential candidate, but he dealt with them successfully to survive
It would be recalled that the period within our country when occupied by IPKF was extremely sensitive one; the commanding officer of the IPKF, Gen. Kalkat once threatened that his forces would assault our army if they leave barracks, where they were confined as per the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayewardene Indo-Lanka Agreement of 1987. As tension increased, Ranjan Wijeratne, Foreign Minister rushed to India and had a chat with Narasimma Rao, his Indian counterpart and it was decided that the extraction of forces under a phased withdrawal would commence end of July to end in March 1990. Premadasa firmly and genuinely believed that he could build peace with Prabhakaran.
Sri Sucharitha Movement
Young Ranasinghe Premadasa founded the Sri Sucharitha Movement— he was a full-time organizer of the community project launched with the aim of economic, social and spiritual development of the poor people living in shanties of the capital in 1930 and 40s. Premadasa the teetotaler, enrolled youth in his development movement. They all refrained from consuming liquor, smoking and gambling. Premadasa at the beginning of his political carrier supported the Labour Party, headed by veteran labour leader A. E. Gunasingha. In 1955, he was elected Deputy Mayor of CMC. In 1956, Premadasa joined the UNP and impressed leaders with his capacity to work and get things done. He contested LSSP leader in 1956 at the Ruwanwella electorate.
He was elected second Executive President in 1988 election when JR stepped down. He successfully endured an impeachment attempt by some of his party rivals together with the opposition. When he took oaths as President, the country was in turmoil with a terrorist movement led by the JVP in the South and the IPKF fighting LTTE in the North and East. After overcoming the challenges he concentrated on economic development. Premadasa tried to reduce the gap between Sinhalese and Tamils. In trying to device a political settlement, he set up a select committee. He paid no attention to his cabinet, took most decisions by himself and kept ministers in the dark. Most of them were forced out or left of their own accord. Lalith Athulathmudali, the Oxford-educated lawyer and a senior UNPer who attempted to impeach Premadasa, was assassinated eight days prior to killing of President. Athulathmudali, 57, was shot in the chest by an LTTE gunman at an election rally at Kirulapona. DUNF, his new party accused Premadasa for the crime, leading to political turmoil.
Like other important elite political leaders of Sri Lanka, R. Premadasa was not born in a high caste privileged family but belonged to an ordinary one
Million Houses programme
President Premadasa wanted to replace the Indo-Lanka Agreement with a new treaty of Peace and Friendship with India, but the Indians wanted to strengthen the Indo-Lanka Agreement for it provided the necessary safeguards that favored Indian interests and purposes. Premadasa was a keen supporter of SAARC. He believed in establishing close relations with all neighbours. Premadasa had the insight to create an order and a scheme for everything. Discipline was his top priority – he introduced methods and practices that were significant. Today due to lack of discipline, we are experiencing an extremely dreadful situation today; breakdown of law and order is unprecedented; the economy is in disarray with inflation and the CoL skyrocketing.
President Premadasa believed that people should be encouraged to achieve whatever maybe the objective. He was above caste, creed, ethnicity or religious differences. He openly declared on several occasions that, “Whatever the race, religion, caste that any individual belongs to, we must realize that he/she has an inheritance to a share of this nation. We must therefore resolve our problems through debate, consultation and compromise; Unity could only be obtained by treating citizens as equals not by crushing on the rights of any group of persons. This nation belongs to all who exist in it”.
President Premadasa pledged during his campaign in 1988 that he would send the IPKF back to India
He faced opposition from within his own party after he was named the Presidential candidate, but he dealt with them successfully to survive. He encouraged garment-related small-scale industries in poor areas by giving factory owners loans and textile quotas for export to Europe and United States thereby providing jobs for young females in the villages. Like other important elite political leaders of Sri Lanka, R. Premadasa was not born in a high caste privileged family but belonged to an ordinary one. After making a mark in Colombo Municipal, he finally became an MP. He remained so representing Colombo Central for many years. During his career, he introduced an assortment of welfare schemes for the poorest of the poorer sections of the population. He was instrumental in construction of affordable homes for the poor and that remains one his utmost legacies.