Asitha Perera, Chanaka Amaratunga, Council for Liberal Democracy, Gamini Dissanayake, Hugh Fernando, J R Jayewardene, Lalith Athulathmudali, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Rohan Edrisinha, S. Thomas’, Vijaya Kumaranatunga
Early in 1983 then I found myself without a job, and out of favour with much of Colombo. But by then it had become clear to me that Colombo had no standards at all, and one really had no moral option at all but to be an outsider.
This was not because of S. Thomas’ which, fascinating as it had been, was not at all significant in terms of the country as a whole. Rather, it was that while the whole esoteric drama of my dismissal was being played out, the country suffered the worst assault on its integrity it had had to face since independence.
This was the referendum of 1982, whereby J R Jayewardene extended for six years the life of the Parliament in which he had a massive majority. This was by virtue of the first past the post system, which he had recognized was unfair, so he had replaced it with a system of proportional representation. It was obviously also potentially destructive because, by having an utterly unrepresentative Parliament, there was a danger of dissent being driven underground. But then he decided to keep it going for a further six years through a Referendum, which he made it clear he would use all the powers at his disposal to win.
When I had resigned over the deprivation of Mrs Bandaranaike’s Civic Rights, which I saw as the first nail in the coffin of the country, most people thought I was exaggerating the danger. The following year, when we had the appalling thuggery of the District Development Council elections in Jaffna, with the burning of the Jaffna Public Library, more people saw the writing on the wall. And yet, most people in Colombo, including the Tamil elite, continued complacent. Most of them continued to believe in Jayewardene, and voted for him at the Referendum.
One of the few who understood the implications of the move was Chanaka Amaratunga. He had been a protégé at Oxford, where I had helped him get into my College, and then argued his case when he was in danger of being sent down for total academic indolence, which he justified on the grounds that politicking at the Oxford Union was more important. He did however get a degree, and then went on to do postgraduate work in London. He excelled at that, and what began as a Master’s degree was turned into a doctorate on the advice of his supervisor.