Rookantha Gunathilaka: Back in active politics | Sunday Observer

Rookantha Gunathilaka: Back in active politics

Rookantha Gunathilaka   Pic: by Thilak Perera
Rookantha Gunathilaka Pic: by Thilak Perera

Rookantha Gunathilaka is considered the ‘uncrowned king’ of Sinhala pop who changed traditional Sri Lankan music in the 1980s with his brand of popular songs. The veteran musician in an interview with the Sunday Observer gave his reasons as to why he accepted the UNP electoral organiser post for Dambadeniya. He said the UNP will secure victory at whatever election to be held and strongly feels that the UNP should field its own candidate at the forthcoming Presidential Election.

Q: Being a musician what made you to enter politics at this decisive time?

A: Earlier too I was engaged in politics as a mere supporter of the UNP. As a result I fell victim to some ugly incidents which finally led me to flee the country. After a lapse of 13 years I returned to the country. During those 13 years in the US I retained my interest in doing something for my country. So when I got an invitation from the UNP to be the organiser for Dambadeniya I thought it was time for me to play an active role in politics and do my best for the well-being of our people.

Q: What are your plans for ensuring victory for the party?

A: I have already started my campaign. I held my inaugural meeting with most of the UNP Pradeshiya Sabha members as well as organisers, campaign managers and other stakeholders. It was very successful. I will officially launch my campaign on February 22 and will have an office opened at Narammala to cover Dambadeniya, Narammala and Alawwa, the principal towns in my electorate.

Q: Is the UNP in a position to win at elections to be held this year?

A: Of course we are going to win. Whoever comes to me or speaks to me is very keen in taking the party to victory.

Q: Do you think the UNP needs a leadership change as claimed by some UNP heavyweights?

A: I don’t think so. I think the present leader is pretty good. He is a bold and courageous leader with wisdom and experience. The only thing the incumbent leader needs is power to run the country successfully.

Q: Do you think the UNP should field its own candidate or a Common Candidate at the next Presidential Election?

A: I strongly feel the UNP should field its own candidate.

Q: What do you think were the key reasons for the collapse of the UNP-SLFP Unity Government ?

A: This is somewhat a difficult question to answer but the fact remains that certain elements were behind sabotaging the efficient performance of the UNP led Government probably due to the success of the ‘Gam Peraliya’ program under which each village got a massive sum of Rs.200 million for development. It was just before that the Unity Government collapsed. The Government which came back to power after the 52 day ‘political coup’ increased the Rs.200 million provision to Rs.300 million to develop the infrastructure facilities of villages. I think ‘Gam Peraliya’ is the right answer to sort out the outstanding issues faced by the underprivileged people, particularly in rural areas.

Q: Some say the Government should declare a snap Parliamentary Election to overcome the current political deadlock. Your views?

A: No. I don’t think so. This is not the time to go for a General Election. The Presidential Election should be held first and be followed by the General Election or Provincial Council Election.

Q: How do you look at the incidents that affected you 16 years ago. Was justice meted out to you and your family?

A: The case went on for 13 or 14 long years in courts. In fact the convicts were not the real culprits. Those who were actually involved in acts of criminal intimidation and physical harassment went scot-free. They committed those offences on the instigation of their masters. They were well armed with weapons when they came to our residence. Actually, some of them didn’t know what they were up to. When the attackers on their way back had questioned their leader, Baddegane Sanjeewa as to why Rookantha’s house was attacked, he had bluntly told them “ It is none of your business to question me, I have received my orders from the top…...” . With evidence being proved, the offenders were sentenced to two-and-half-years to three years. So out of compassion we pardoned them because they were merely carrying out the orders of their masters.

Q: Some politicians and civil society members are highly critical of the inaction on those responsible for killing Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, the disappearance of journalist Prageeth EKneligoda and assault on senior journalists Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon. Is there any inordinate delay on the part of law enforcement authorities in this regard?

A: I have hardly any facts to speak about this. Even if there is evidence, I think it is too late for them to take action to bring those culprits to book. The country needs to ensure justice. I think this process has started now as seen in the past few months. We want it to continue as it is vital to restore democracy and good governance in the country.

Q: You also closely worked with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. What made you to leave him and join the UNP?

A:When I was in the US, as a response to a request by former President, I helped him. There is no truth that I was brought here by him. Eventually we returned to Sri Lanka and held a musical show which was attended by over 5000 people. Two months after the show, we went back to the US. Five or six months after the end of the war against the LTTE, President Rajapaksa sought my help for his election campaign. I composed a song and sang it during my one-month-stay in Sri Lanka. Though I am a UNPer, I had to get on to his political stage. He was so friendly with us that he asked what help we needed when we faced that unfortunate incident. However, politically I may criticise his actions. After his victory, I was compelled to stay back and accept a position at Rupavahini. I thought I should have power to introduce something new. However all my efforts were in vain as two higher-ups were not in favour of my proposals. They were afraid of their positions because perhaps they might have thought I might succeed them. Then I decided to go back to US even without tendering my resignation or informing anybody.

Q: Some are not happy with artistes entering politics. How do you look at this?

A: They might feel that they are losing their favourites. I got so many telephone calls and text messages from my fans promising their support and saying they need people like us to serve the country. Some of them don’t like it that I am not contesting from their party. Although some people don’t accept my political views, yet they commend my entry into politics. Now I am an active politician and simultaneously a musician as well.

Q: At every election, a large number of artistes extend their support to bring Presidents or Governments to power but later on they complain that those leaders and Governments fail to fulfill their promises. What is your view?

A: Yes that is true. That is what has happened all this time. All their morale and efforts have been in vain. I think I am going to be the person who will change this scenario. I have not been given the authority as yet. Already there are several invitations and they want me to act as a mediator between the Government and the artistes. If I am officially invited, I will take that responsibility and I will act as a mediator to fulfill their wishes. The artistes need us to sort out their issues such as a pension scheme and housing problems. I have been a musician for long and have come up the hard way.