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 Post subject: They called him Lokka
 Post Posted: Tue Sep 19, 2006 3:35 am 
They called him the chief (Lokka)

J.R. Jayewardene was called the ‘Old Fox’ with valid reason. Through his shrewd manoeuvring he single-handedly managed to resurrect the United National Party from political oblivion in 1956 and 1970. It was his cunning political tact which ensured that his main political rivals remained in disarray for many years after their defeat in 1977. JR’s eventual place in Sri Lankan history may still not be clear and his role in shaping the destiny of our country will be debated for many years to come.

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LL/RH Sep 2006

His supporters called him "Lokka" (The Chief). The sobriquet never uttered in his presence was a mixture of both awe and affection. Junius Richard Jayewardene lived up to the description as though in some mysterious clairvoyant way he was aware of it. The reverence was not demanded; it was poured out to him voluntarily.

J.R. Jayewardene was a remarkable man. A totally committed disciplinarian. Perhaps it was this rigid discipline, cold but pragmatic, that helped him to wait in the wings, composed and unagitated. His sense of discipline he later tried to impose on his colleagues and supporters. To what extent he succeeded in this endeavour would be able to record, he may have had his moments of despair but his vision of discipline was unerroneous. He may have thought you could lead a horse to water but can't make it drink.

Perhaps he was preordained for the role of "lokka" and also the disciplinarian, from the time he guided and directed his brothers and sisters as the eldest in the family while he was still schooling. It must have been a good, solid, regimented grounding for the man who would finally end up being the 'Lokka' of the nation, ruling it for 13 years.

It is no easy task for a man in his 71st year to launch a gruelling election campaign, rising, as it were like a Phoenix from the ashes of a disgraceful land and an utterly devastating polls defeat in 1970. But JR, characteristically, was equal to his task of re-building the United National Party which in the early seventies lay ridiculed and written-off.

He made the rare distinction between what was said of him publicly and his vulnerable personality and the need to absorb criticism as part of the game he was playing. He was able to be stoic because he had a superb sense of humour and an unerring eye for the absurd. JR was different. He knew looked down upon fellow-politicians with sardonic tolerance much like a very patient parent indulging in the immature antics of little children.

After that great victory in 1977 which gave JR and his Party an unprecedented parliamentary majority of five-sixths, he drove to the then Queen's House in the Fort to take his oaths. When Governor-General William, Gopallawa asked the usual and traditional question whether he would accept the office of Prime Minister, JR smiled sardonically.

JR climaxed his political life with the assumption of the executive presidency, and shortly before that he appeared in parliament for the last time as Prime Minister to bid farewell. It was a poignant moment. He read a very short statement and as members rose to give him a standing ovation, walked out, - his receding, erect back giving you an emotional thud. He did not look back. Perhaps this refusal to look back was characteristic of him.

By liberalising the economy, JR ensured freedom from queues and initiated development projects that are still shaping our economic growth and industrial development. In his decade in office, JR managed to completely transform Colombo’s skyline, changing it from being a sleepy capital to a bustling metropolis with skyscrapers and other massive construction projects.

The ‘Black July’ will undoubtedly be the worst moment of President Jayewardene’s political life. It was a moment when a highly respected statesman was converted in to a human rights violating villain. It was a moment when the man who came to power with the promise to deliver prosperity to the country instead delivered an ethnic conflict which is yet to be resolved. Twenty three years since the events of ‘Black July’ people still debate over the role played by the President during these events.

President Jayewardene’s inability to take control over the spiralling violence and his seemingly inaction with regard to discrimination against the Tamil minority contributed immensely to justify the armed struggle undertaken by organisations such as the LTTE against the state. Also Jayewardene’s attempts to pin the blame for the riots on the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and other leftist’s parties ensured the resurrection of the JVP as a militant organisation. This forced the JVP to go underground and once again rebel against the state which resulted in the deaths of over 30,000 mainly Sinhala youth.

J.R. Jayewardene was called the ‘Old Fox’ with valid reason. Through his shrewd manoeuvring he single-handedly managed to resurrect the United National Party from political oblivion in 1956 and 1970. It was his cunning political tact which ensured that his main political rivals remained in disarray for many years after their defeat in 1977. However the ‘Old Fox’ had to use all his skills against a greater threat in the form of India to ensure this country remained a sovereign state rather than a satellite of its giant neighbour.

Once again the ‘Old Fox’ played a master stroke by signing the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987. The accord carried the necessary clauses which ensured that the Indians are responsible in getting the rebel movements including the LTTE keep their part of the bargain. Immediately after the signing of the accord the Indian Peace Keeping Force landed in the country and before long was facing the unenviable task of ensuring that the LTTE gave up its arms. By October 1987 just a matter of months after the Indians saved the LTTE from being destroyed in Vadamarachchi they were fighting the same organisation. In a twist of fate the Indians who once harboured the LTTE, trained and supported them had to sacrifice over a 1200 servicemen in the fight against the rebels. The once aggressive big brother was ‘foxed’ and dragged in to a conflict it did not anticipate.

On August 18, 1987, at a time when the country was gripped in an atmosphere of fear and terror caused by a Southern rebellion engineered by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, bombs exploded inside the House of Parliament in Sri Lanka. This incident rocked the nation causing great panic and tension in the country. The blasts which nearly killed the then Executive President of the country J.R. Jayewardene and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa along with a few Ministers and Parliamentarians in one swipe took place at the Government Parliamentary Group Meeting held that day in Committee Room A. It was a miraculous escape for President Jayawardene, Prime Minister Premadasa and others. If the two hand grenades had exploded on the table where they sat, the country would have lost its top rung leadership in one swell sweep.

JRJ’s eventual place in Sri Lankan history may still not be clear and his role in shaping the destiny of our country will be debated for many years to come. Even though JR and his able lieutenants like Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali had been able to transform Sri Lanka into a vibrant economy during the first five years of his presidency, it will be the events of July ‘83 and ensuring violence later which would define the legacy of JRJ.


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