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 Post subject: Lalith and Gamini bury the hatchet to fight Premadasa
 Post Posted: Sun Apr 09, 2006 4:11 pm 
‘Politics makes strange — bed-fellows indeed!’
Lalith and Gamini bury the hatchet to fight Premadasa

Buddhika Kurukularatne
@ The Island / 09APR2006

Lalith and Gamini, though they appeared in public together feared each others talents. Maharajas who were the local agents for Balfour Beatty construction and Edmund Watall Ltd. had won the prestigious tender for the Victoria Dam and Hydro-electric project. Immediately after the Cabinet meeting Mr. Rajamahendran walked into my office then at the Crest Group and told me, when I asked you to join me you refused! You said that through Maharajas Balfour Beatty (the BBN Joint Venture) was offering you a job! So get ready, we just decided to award the contract to the BBN J.V.!

I immediately went to the Bankshall Street Head Office of Maharajas where I met ‘Killy’ Rajamahendran (now the Chairman of Maharajas very much in the news these days!) in the Big Bear’s (Ajit Sarawanamuthu — the 6 footer General Manager/Director) room. R.R. asked me whether I would join BBN if ‘we’ win the tender!’. It was obvious that even the agents were not privy to this information at that time and when I broke the news that the Minister personally came to tell me of the Tender had been awarded to the British Contractors the only reaction that R.R. displayed was a slight flicker of the eyebrow (very much like Jeeves, Bertram Woosters’ valet in the Woodhouse stories, when confronted with a bit of news that surprised him) before he summoned Nimal Cooke, his Project Director who himself was a great ‘buddy’ of Gamini, to break the good news of winning the Victoria Project Tender.

Thus I embarked on a very rewarding career as the senior most local employee of the joint venture which entitled me to a very lucrative salary and fringe benefits negotiated by Maharajas, that included a fully furnished 3-roomed bungalow. All meals — whether eastern or western were free. Although it was Maharajas who recommended me, if Gamini Dissanayake, as the Minister in charge wanted someone else for the job, then obviously the Minister’s choice prevailed as happened in the Samanalaweva project years later. Gamini was indeed happy that I was associated in one of his key projects and I did not fail him. During the entirety of the project we lost only 1 1/2 ‘man days’ due to industrial unrest that too, due to the stupidity of an expatriate who was immediately disciplined. Once the Chairman of the Mahaweli Authority Mr. Panditharatne asked me as to how I managed to run the project in absolute industrial harmony whilst the other Mahaweli projects were plagued by strikes.

‘Simple’, I said ‘I kept the J.S.S. (the UNP trade union) out!’.

Gamini, who was with ‘Pandits retorted, ‘Hey’! I am a Vice President of the J.S.S.!.

‘And I am the Chairman of the Party!’, ‘Pandits’ joined in.

Gamini was very keen in the progress of the project and would often visit the worksite. On all such occasions, he met me and on one occasion be made the blunder of bringing the Project Director to my house at the Digana Housing Complex, the compound of which was overgrown with weeds whilst the other 268 houses occupied mostly by the British expatriates had well kept gardens. Buddhika why don’t you rear a cow? At least it will eat up the garden!’, said Frank Kennedy the Project Director sarcastically.

Amongst the fringe benefits that I enjoyed was unlimited entertainment. Since the only beer I consumed was ‘Ginger Bear’ only a very few of my friends visited me.

I had invited Lalith, who had recently married Srimani as my guests but Lalith put it off under one pretext or the other.

One evening at the pool side restaurant which we called the ‘Club’ house there was an exclusive party being hosted for the Board of Directors of the main company — Balfour Beatty Construction International Limited (BBCIL) and their spouses. I was an invitee, being the senior most Sri Lankan, but had to proceed to Talatuoya off Kandy for a Mahapola function where both Lalith and Gamini were invitees. Anura Daniel of ‘Gold Bar fame’ was the local MP for the area (Hewaheta). When I proceeded to the venue Gamini was delivering his speech and I occupied a seat on the stage next to Lalith. Then Lalith without any ‘provocation’ from me said, ‘You are always asking me to visit the project. O.K. I’ll come for dinner today!’

I just couldn’t tell Sir not to come that day since there was an exclusive dinner party for visiting Directors. I said, ‘O’ you are most welcome!’.

Just then Gamini finished his speech which was the last speech and he asked Lalith, ‘Lalith what are your plans?’ Lalith said with tongue in cheek, ‘Buddhika has invited me to dinner at BBN’. To this Gamini good-naturedly retorted, ‘I say I am the Minister in charge and you don’t invite me’ to which I said that for one to come home’ no invitation was necessary.

Lalith, Gamini and I went up to the Club House, where we were greeted to a rather forbidding notice prominently displayed ‘Private Party — Strictly Invitees Only’. On seeing this notice Lalith blasted me, ‘I say why didn’t you tell me? I am not getting down!’ No amount of cajoling from me and Gamini could make Lalith get down. Gamini said that he was the Minister in charge — but Lalith insisted that with the British you must follow protocol and since he was not an invitee he would not alight from the vehicle.

Leaving the two Ministers behind, I then walked up to Derrick Wild, the J.V. Director at the time and explained that Gamini and Lalith were brought by me, but they refused to get down as they are not invitees.

Then Uasit Cordan, the Turkish Administration Manager with only one arm (we called him the ‘one armed bandit’ — Never trust a turk’, Gamini would often tell me narrating the story of a Turkish naval captain who betrayed his entire navy in a mid-sea conspiracy against his compatriots. Uasit, though having only one arm did the work of 10 men and in spite of his incapacity would drive his car right round the Island engage in swimming and squash!) led the Directors up to the car and cordially invited the Ministers in. The duo were conducted into the Club House flanked by the Directors who performed a sort of ‘Guard of Honour’.

Since Gamini was a frequent visitor to the Project he needed no introduction, but the cynosure of all eyes was Lalith who was on his first visit. To his pleasant surprise one of the UK Directors, Dr. Paul E. Beck MBE (he was awarded the MBE by H.R.H. The Queen due to his designing the double curvature concrete Dam at Victoria — not of ‘Australia’ but ‘Victoria falls’ near Mahaberiya Tenna in Teldeniya) Lalith found out that Dr. Beck had been a contemporary of his at Oxford and soon, the ex Oxford Union President held sway, swapping anecdotes with Dr. Beck about their undergraduate days at Oxford.

In the scenario Gamini looked more like a fish out of water and the next day senior expatriate managers were incessantly asking me who that Minister who had been with Paul Beck at Oxford was. Although my official designation was legal and personnel advisor — I was also the ‘Odd Job Man’ — playing ‘Santa Claus’ at Kidies X’mas Parties riding a baby elephant shouting ‘Yo! Ho! Ho!’ and ringing a bell, taking the wives of the Directors by Helicopter to the ruined cities etc. But my principal use to the Joint Venture was as an ‘influence peddler’ as most of the ministers and top officials were my personal friends.

R. C. (Bob) Rankin, the London based Managing Director met me and asked me to invite Lalith and his wife anytime to the project. They will be accommodated in the Directors ’Bunglows,’ ‘Bob’ said.

As I myself had invited Lalith and Srimani many a time without any response I now made a rejuvenated request of Lalith. Lalith too, impressed by the cordial reception he received made a solemn promise that he would accept my invitation.

It so happened that we were hiring the Upali helicopter on a regular basis. Capt. Manamperi was the regular Pilot. On a certain weekend we had hired the Upali chopper to bring down Jack Thompson, a senior foreman from Katunayake Airport to Digana. The Chopper could accommodate 6 packs and only Jack was coming ‘down’. I invited 2 couples, Lalith and Srimani, ‘R. R. and Canice Raja Mahendran to join the helicopter from Colombo. Lalith’s security officer ‘Muthu’ (Muthu Banda) was also to join the flight. . R.’ who fights shy of any publicity shuns site visits and promptly declined. Lalith initially accepted the offer and said he, Srimani and ‘Muthu’ could be ‘picked up’ from the Airforce Grounds.

He however rang a little while later and said that it would not be proper for a government minister to travel in a helicopter provided by an expatriate contractor and since he had to fly to Trincomalee on an official assignment on Sunday he will come by an Airforce helicopter and asked me to make arrangments for the pilot to stay overnight.

Jack Thompson came to Digana in the Upali helicopter as its sole passenger.

Early morning on Sunday Lalith took off to Trincomalee. Just then there was another helicopter hovering above waiting to land until the helipad was cleared. In the 2nd chopper was Gamini. He had not announced that he was visiting the project and I happened to be at the helipad to see the Athulathmudali’s off.

‘Who was that?’ asked Gamini.

‘Lalith and Srimani’ I replied.

‘Why did they come?’, Gamini wanted to know.

‘Because I invited them,’ I replied not wishing to involve the J.V. as from the manner Gamini was asking those questions, I know that he was not happy.

We did not have facsimile facilities then. But the site office was bombarded with telexes from both the Ministry of Mahaweli Development as also from Maharajas as to who paid for Lalith’s chopper. A complaint had even been lodged with the May Day road head office of Balfour Beatty in London and the Telexes from London said Minister Gamini Dissanayake was annoyed that another Minister had been hosted without the line Minister’s approval and the project going as far as hiring a helicopter! When the Project Director showed me the telexes and asked me ‘Buddhika aren’t these 2 guys in the same party?’ I felt acutely embarrassed. This could have had bigger ramifications if Lalith and Srimani accepted my offer to make use of the virtually empty flight carrying only Jack Thompson.

I told the Director to inform, the London Head Office that the Minister of National Security and his wife were my guests. The matter ostensibly rested there although Gamini was fuming that a project under him should play host to a colleague of his without his conseat!

As this was Gamini’s attitude towards Lalith we, the ‘anti Dasa’! clique decided to bring them together to fight the ‘common enemy’ — Premadasa.

Harsha Abeywardene and Nandalal Fernando, the former was the chairman of the party and the latter the General Secretary both were key players in this game. I was the ‘go between between Lalith and Harsha whilst the amiable Nandalal Fernando ‘tackled’ Gamini.

After weeks of intense negotiations Lalith and Gamini agreed to meet and iron out any differences they had. The problem was the venue, I suggested my house — although Lalith was agreeable Gamini said since access to my house was via a narrow lane, it would arouse the suspicion of neighbours. He suggested the house of a Muslim friend of his (was it Nuski Mohamed’s) — opposite the J.O.C. in Flower Road but Lalith said ‘My God No, that guy would plant a microphone in a flowerpot’. Then Harsha said the ideal place would be ‘Sirikotha’ the UNP Headquarters as nobody could find fault with the 2 ministers coming to party headquarters. Although Lalith and Gamini did not dislike the Sirikotha venue, Nandalal Fernando said that there were persons ‘planted’ by Premadasa at Sirikotha and ‘Dasa’ would come to know of it in no time. Harsha said that he was staying with his sister at Kirillapona it was not a convenient place for this pow wow. Then Nandalal offered his house at Anula Road, Kirillapona forewarning of 2 obstacles. Nandalal, a bachelor lived with an aged amme was obstacle number one, whilst the other was Anura Bastian MP who used to drop in at Nandalal’s almost daily. The 1st obstacle was solved by giving the amme a day off but not before getting her to make short-eats and sweetmeals. The 2nd obstacle was eliminated by Nandalal telling Anura Bastian that he was going outstatinos and would not be at home.

The responsibility of bringing Lalith to the rendezvous from his Polhengoda Terrace residence was entrusted to me whilst Nandalal undertook to bring Gamini from the latters’ 5th Lane residence in Colpetty.

The date fixed for this crucial meeting I cannot now remember — but it was the day that Lalith was the Chief Guest at the S. Thomas’ College Prize giving and Gamini Dissanayake was the Chief Guest at the Royal College Prize Giving (both events took place on the same day, same time).

Lalith was a man who believed in punctuality unlike the present day, politicians. Once due to a misunderstanding about the time I was asked to come to the Airforce grounds, I unintentionally kept Lalith and Srimani, waiting for 45 minutes and I had to be located by the Police ultimately! This was some years before I became a MP.

When I went to his Polhengoda residence sharp on time 10.00 p.m. I believe he came running down the flight of steps with his security officer, ‘Muthu Banda’ in hot pursuit. I was at the wheel of my Ford Escort 12 Sri 2002, and Lalith crept into the front seat with some difficulty. As ‘Muthu’ attempted to get in Lalith said that he need not come. I could still picture the ‘Gal look’ (Stony Stare) that ‘Muthu’ threw at me.

As we ware turning to Anula Road, we saw Nandalal with Gamini in the front seat of Nandalal’s double cab taking the turn. ‘Sweet timing’, Lalith said upon seeing Gamini. ‘I hope it will be a sweet meeting!’ I interjected.

Having dropped our distinguished passengers at Nandalal’s door step, Nandalal and I retreated to Harsha’s place at Kirillapone and commenced a waiting game.

Nandalal said that he had laid on a bottle of brandy apart from the short-eats. It was agreed that after their ‘discussions’ they would telephone us to come to pick them up.

If the waiting period is short then that means our efforts have failed quipped Harsha. We waited for well past 2.00 a.m. and of course every minute spent in, waiting we knew was for a ‘good cause’ to build up an ‘anti-Dasa Front’. ‘Perhaps you should have kept an other bottle of brandy for them’, Harsha jokingly told Nandalal.

The telephone rang around 2.30 a.m. and this time Harsha too joined us to pick up the duo. We saw both Lalith and Gamini a very friendly mood — they took leave of the other by hugging and both profusely thanked me, Nandalal and Harsha for our efforts. Harsha asked ‘Is there any more trendy left’ and Gamini said that they could have polished another bottle!

The two of them had come to an understanding that if one hears of any derogatory remark attributed to the other, they should immediately check up as it was felt that there were interested parties bent on distancing these 2 young leaders!

The nodus operandi was that if Gamini heard a comment made against him attributed to Lalith, Gamini would immediately contact Rukman Senanayake who in turn will contact me in order to communicate with Lalith. I do not know why the ‘nation’s grand son’ (Rukman) was involved in this as Gamini could have directly dealt with me.

There was an incident involving Lalith and Rukman. Each knew I was a friend of the other. Once, the ‘Old Fox’ had wanted to ‘fix’ Rukman and appointed a disciplinary panel, the Chairman of which was Lalith.

Rukman issued a stinging statement (the ‘sting’ directed more at the ‘Old Fox’ than Lalith, criticizing J.R. for appointing Lalith who was junior in politics to probe him.

This news was prominently carried in all the newspapers and upon reading it Lalith had got exited. He had immediately ‘phoned up Malini and on being told that I had gone to Colombo, had phoned Rukman several times and left a number for me to call him if I were to turn up at ‘Woodlands’. (Those were the pre-call-phone age!), As was my habit, I ended up at Rukman’s some hours later and ‘Ruki’ told me that Lalith wanted to urgently contact me and gave the contact number. Although I used Rukman’s telephone to speak to Lalith, Rukman asked me not to divulge that I was speaking from ‘Woodlands!’

I told Lalith, ‘Sir, Rukman had left this number asking me to contact you urgently" and a very impatient Lalith asked me,’ tell me where you are now! I’ll come there immediately!’

I told a white lie and said ‘Sir, I am at Kotahena’.

‘Tell me men where at Kotahena in 15 minutes I’ll be there’ was Lalith’s response.

Making his fertile imagination to run riot, I told him, ‘Sir I don’t think that you should come here!’ to which he responded by saying, ‘Oh! you are in that kind of place! O.K. now listen, I am about to be appointed to a very prestigious panel of International Jurists and your friend has issued a statement to say that I am a junior. (Rukman correctly had stated that Lalith was his junior in politics) what he has done will hurt me very badly. For heaven’s sake ask the fellow not to issue anymore statements touching on the issue. Rukman one of the very few gentlemen politicians in our midst was very sorry that the volley he fired at J.R. had in fact hit Lalith. Rukman did not issue any further statements on the issue, although he wanted to whack J.R. out of sight!

Rukman one day rang me and very excitedly told me, ‘I say Buddhika’ what is Lalith doing? He is going round saying that the ‘Asia Week’, magazine had listed Gamini, as the richest man in Asia!’ (the names of the sons of a very rich Muslim businessman having their famous shop at Wellawatta were also mentioned!)

I immediately rang up 501007, Lalith’s Stanmore Crescent official residence, and faulted him for toppling the ‘apple cart’. Lalith ‘ordered’ me to come and see me at once and I was at Stanmore Crescent in no time. He asked me to park my vehicle in his ample garden and to join him. Without asking where he was taking me I jumped into his official limousine and he took me to his ‘Centre’ at Inner Flower Road.

Calling Sharmila Perera, his loyal junior and Secretary of the Centre asked her to give me the past copies of the Asia Week magazine for the last 2 years, adding that a friend of his in Hong Kong contributed to the Magazine as a birthday present.

He asked me to go through all the magazines, saying that he himself thumbed through them, but did not see the offending news concerning Gamini.

For nearly two hours I turned page after page but there was no news item derogatory of Gamini by innuendo or otherwise. When I told this to Lalith he said, ‘so there you are’. I have asked you fellows when I taught you to always go to the source of the document. If there was no news item, then the matter ends there — for there cannot be a murder without a corps!’

At the next cabinet meeting Lalith had told Gamini that I was made to go through all the copies of the Asia Week to locate the news item in question and Gamini who had shaken Laliths hand warmly had blamed his Muslim business friend from Wellawatta’, in assentia’, like pick-pockets!

They became friends again, albeit albeit for only a short time. I am aware of others who tried in vain to bring this shadow boxers together. On Lalith’s behalf his student, friend and colleague, Mahendra Amarasekera left no stone unturned whilst the person acting on behalf of ‘Ga’ was Yoshan Saddhasena before the latter became a ‘persona-non-grata’ with the Dissanayake household.

When ultimately Lalith and Gamini got together to present an impeachment against Premadasa the Memorandum Of Understanding between the two was signed in the house of Upali Samaraweera in Welimada!

‘Politics makes strange — bed-fellows indeed!’

N.B. This story has never been told before; as almost all the key players are dead and gone and I too am likely to ‘kick the bucket’ pretty soon (what with 2 heart attacks and 2 strokes) I thought of penning this story for posterity, before I end up ‘pushing up daisies myself!’

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