An unwilling pawn of political violence | Sunday Observer
MP Gunapala Rathnasekera:

An unwilling pawn of political violence

26 June, 2022
The destroyed house where the party office was
The destroyed house where the party office was

The depressing memory of the violence that erupted on the evening of May 9 will haunt people’s minds for a long time. Among the victims of that violence was MP Gunapala Rathnasekera, former State Minister of Cooperative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection.

Before the May 9 incidents MP Rathnasekera, making a special statement in Parliament, said that he decided to resign because there should be stability in the country before continuing to hold a ministerial post.

Despite his resignation his house too was set on fire on May 9. Gunasekera was a well-known tutor and a university lecturer, before he became an MP.

Following is how he expressed his sorrow on Facebook:

“I did not earn a single rupee through politics”.

“Everything I earned by imparting knowledge to others have been reduced to ashes.”

“Never in my life will I do politics again. Even today I believe people are looking for honest, incorruptible, educated and intelligent politicians who love the country.

I think I am one of them. However the incidents that happened on May 9 makes me wonder what kind of politicians people are looking for.

I entered politics because of my desire to do some service to the country for a period of five years. I believed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be the leader whose policies will become the country’s turning point – that is by 2025 we would be an almost developed country”.

The events of May 9 dashed all such hopes. Except for the office equipment an MP is entitled to, all the rest Rathnasekera had earned by sheer hard work. Anyone who knew about him would have never taken part in this wanton destruction. Having studied up to Grade 9 at the Bandara Koswatte Maha Vidyalaya in Panduwasnuwara Rathnasekera entered Hettipola Maha Vidyalaya to to sit for his O’ Levels.

He was also fortunate to be the first student to be admitted to the university from the school’s A/L commerce class.

“I entered the University of Jayewardenepura on October 5, 1981 and earned a Special Degree in Management after which I studied at the Institute of Chartered Accountants”.

“Shortly after graduating from the university in 1985, I joined a private auditing firm and received several months of practical training.

Thereafter I was appointed an Auditor of the Auditor General’s Department”.

“After working there for a while I served as an accountant in the Government Accounting Service. I also worked for a while as an accountant for the Department of Imports and Exports, and from 1989 as a lecturer in the Faculty of Public Sector Management at the University of Jayewardenepura”

In the meantime Gunapala Ratnasekera went abroad for higher studies and returned after completing his postgraduate degree. He again joined the University of Jayewardenepura as a Senior Lecturer in the Accountancy Department. By this time, Rathnasekera had completed 30 years as a university lecturer.

“I also produced several films and also worked in the construction industry for some time. All this, helped me to gain some financial strength. I joined the Viyath Maga Movement with the idea of doing something for the country. Since I had not been treated unfairly by society I wanted to give something back to the community.”

“When I was involved in the Viyathmaga, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wanted me to get nominations and enter Parliament.

At the time there was no Podujana Peramuna Party Organiser in Panduwasnuwara, where I played a significant role in the first Pradeshiya Sabha Election. We did our best during the Presidential Election as well. But I had no real intention of entering politics”.

Yet destiny made him to enter politics. He was elected to Parliament getting the third highest number of votes in the Kurunegala District. His chairmanship of the Kurunegala District Development Committee during the Covid-19 pandemic was also a challenge.

“At the time, my biggest responsibility was to prevent deaths of people from the pandemic. Vaccination programs were carried out throughout the district through the committee after setting up nine treatment centers. For almost a year, I engaged in this work without thinking of anything else”.

“The economic catastrophe came at a time when we were focused on development work after the Covid threat receded. Consequently, we have not been able to make any headway in achieving economic stability.

Although we expressed our views at Government group meetings and suggested solutions they did not materialise”

About a year ago, I was the only MP to say that we would have to go to the IMF. But the then Finance Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal told me, it was not the Government policy and not to mention it again. Saying the right thing according to one’s conscience leads to problems. ”

This was the situation on May 9, when violence erupted. MP Gunapala Rathnasekera recalled the terrorist acts of that day.

“I had a suspicion that there would be a problem when I thought about the people that were invited to Temple Trees.

I therefore did not go attend the meeting that day. I also did not ask anyone in our group to do so but some people from our constituency had gone there without my knowledge. They went voluntarily guided by others”.

“I heard about the troubles they got into. A bus which came from our area was pushed into the Beira Lake. Its owner is an innocent person whose vehicle had been hired for the trip.

Now he is suffering without a livelihood because he has no way of getting spares for the damaged vehicle. I feel sadder for him than I feel about my losses.”

Gunapala Rathnasekera was at the Madiwela MP’s residence with a group of other MPs when the rioters set fire to their houses.

“When I heard that the situation was getting worse, I came safely to my home in Maharagama. In the evening when I heard that some gangs were creating trouble in the Hettipola Town, I requested the officer in charge of the area police station to give protection to my house. He said he had insufficient police personnel to control the situation.

“Later I realised that the culprits had planned something like the events of 1988-89”

The gangs set fire to the house near the town in which MP Gunapala Rathnasekera’s party office was situated, completely destroying it.

The place where the public meetings were held adjacent to the house was also destroyed. Some office equipment had been looted. All of this destruction has been done after completely disabling the security camera system.

“There were no casualties as the occupants of the office had left before the rioters came. I heard the rioters belonged to different parties.”

The property damage has been estimated at Rs. 5.6 million but it is a bigger loss at current prices.

“I doubt we are now in a situation to do politics.”

His daughter Sewwandi Darshika is a doctor at the Colombo National Hospital. His son Pasindu Lakshan, a graduate, is in business. The youngest son Damidu is scheduled to sit for the GCE Ordinary Level examination next year.

“My family members insist that we need not suffer any more because of politics.”

“However, until an election is held I will remain as an MP”.