Veteran leftist Vasudeva Nanayakkara this week joined the chorus of ministers speaking out against the moves to curtail the powers of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, saying that he could not be part of a government that would do so.
"Vasu is the only senior leftist minister with a portfolio in the Cabinet while his colleagues, Tissa Vitarana and D.E.W. Gunasekera who share Nanayakkara’s views on this controversial issue are non- Cabinet Senior Ministers"
The Minister of National Languages and Social Integration is the only senior leftist minister with a portfolio in the Cabinet while his colleagues, Tissa Vitarana and D.E.W. Gunasekera who share Nanayakkara’s views on the issue are Senior Ministers.
Nanayakkara’s remarks may be just one more voice joining the cacophony surrounding the 13th Amendment. However, he is a minister who is likely to carry out his threat to leave the government, unlike many others who make such declarations for the sake of publicity and rhetoric.
Delgahawattage Vasudeva Nanayakkara, now seventy four years of age, hails from Ratnapura and is a lawyer by profession. But the lure of politics beckoned him at an early age. Always a man with left-leaning tendencies, he joined the then vibrant Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) in his early twenties.
Nanayakkara contested the seat of Kiriella for the LSSP at the 1970 general election and won comfortably, polling over 19,000 votes and recording a 6,000 vote majority against his opponent from the UNP, Leonard Kiriella and entered Parliament at the age of thirty one.
After the LSSP left the United Front government following policy differences with Prime Minister Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike, Nanayakkara had his own share of differences with the LSSP leadership, and decided to chart his own political path.
He, and other stalwarts including Wickremabahu Karunaratne banded together to form the ‘Nava Sama Samaja Party’ (NSSP). It was to be the first of many parties that Nanayakkara would be part of in later years.
Nanayakkara contested the 1977 general elections for the newly carved out Eheliyagoda seat. He was defeated at that election as he lost to that brought the United National Party (UNP) in to power, losing to Mervyn Kularatne but came second ahead of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) candidate.
Cast into the political wilderness with a party that was still in its infancy, Nanayakkara soldiered on. His next assignment was to contest the country’s premier election, the first presidential election held in October 1982.
Nanayakkara, representing the NSSP was in the list of candidates that included J. R. Jayewardene, Hector Kobbekaduwa, Colvin R. de Silva, Rohana Wijeweera and Kumar Ponnambalam. He finished last, polling just 17,000 votes, only 2,200 more votes than what he polled at Eheliyagoda.
Further disaster awaited Nanayakkara. Following the 1983 July riots, the government proscribed the NSSP and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), accusing the parties of organising the riots. Nanayakkara, along with other leaders, went into hiding until 1985 when the proscription was lifted.
In 1987, Nanayakkara and the NSSP joined with the LSSP, the Communist Party (CP) and the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP) led by Vijaya Kumaratunga to form the United Socialist Alliance (USA). Tragically, at the inception of the USA itself, Kumaratunga was assassinated.
Nanayakkara was to contest from the USA for the Ratnapura district at the 1989 general elections, the first held in the country under the proportional representation system. He was the sole member elected from the USA, polling 13,000 preferential votes.
Shortly before the 1994 general elections, Nanayakkara left the NSSP that he had formed to rejoin the LSSP that was contesting the polls as a partner of the People's Alliance (PA). He contested from the Ratnapura district where he polled the highest number of preferential votes for the PA, nearly 63,000.
Nanayakkara, though a ruling party parliamentarian, was a vocal critic of the government and on numerous occasions spoke against the policies of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Upon being subsequently suspended from the LSSP, he crossed over to the opposition.
He formed another political party, styled the “Left and Democratic Alliance” and his differences with Kumaratunga prompted him to contest her at the Presidential Election in 1999. He finished seventh, polling 23,000 votes in an election which Kumaratunga won comfortably.
The Left and Democratic Alliance was reconstituted by Nanayakkara as the Democratic Left Front (DLF) and with Kumaratunga relinquishing the presidency and Mahinda Rajapaksa taking over the reins, Nanayakkara again joined the ruling coalition, the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
Rajapaksa used Nanayakkara to try and break the stranglehold the UNP had on the Colombo municipality, nominating him as its mayoral candidate of the UPFA at the 2006 local government elections, even though he had no vote base in Colombo, having done all his politics in Ratnapura.
Ironically, the UNP nomination lists were rejected by the Commissioner of Elections, and it supported an independent group led by a twenty-two-year-old three-wheel driver named Mohamed Imitiyas.
Nanayakkara and the UPFA polled second highest while Imitiyas was elected mayor.
At the 2010 general elections, Nanayakkara had an easier ride to Parliament, polling 56,000 votes and coming fifth in a list that included SLFP stalwarts Pavithra Wanniarachchi and John Seneviratne. He was appointed Minister of National Languages and Social Integration by Rajapaksa.
It is a portfolio that has assumed greater significance since the conclusion of the Eelam war and Nanayakkara has been promoting causes such as the equitable use of Sinhala, English and Tamil in state institutions. However, with a meagre budgetary allocation, his scope has been quite limited.
Nanayakkara’s stance on the 13th Amendment is hardly surprising. Throughout his political career he has been a supporter of equality for minority communities and has previously recognised some of their claims for greater autonomy and devolution of power.
However, Nanayakkara is on record stating that he too endorsed the government’s proposal to amend the 13th Amendment to prevent a merger of two or more provinces. Any further changes, he argues, should be referred to the Parliamentary Select Committee studying the issue.
Vasudeva Nanayakkara is seen by some as a maverick politician who changes parties at the drop of a hat, and some others will accuse him of not standing by his principles. For that reason, he may be the first minister to lose his portfolio as a result of the 13th Amendment.