Are you really a political prisoner?
Yes. In the recent times I was placed under remand custody under various allegations. As soon as the new government came into power I was arrested at my own house. Then I was placed under remand custody for 10 days. After one and a half years the AGs department issued a new charge sheet against me. The most notable faction in these indictments is that I have been charged under the National Human and Civil Rights Act that has not yet been practically enforced in the country so far. The charges include creating ethnic disharmony, attempting to prevent President Maithripala Sirisena's victory in the election and producing a false document to media with the knowledge of forgery. All of them are political issues. I had to stay in remand prison for 45 days. It was a sorrowful time.
Do you think that this was an act of revenge based on your cross over?
Yes. I have not changed my party. During the last presidential election the UNP decided to support SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena. He is the present leader of the SLFP. When disputed broke out regarding this issue I decided to support Mahinda Rajapaksa who was the chairman of the SLFP at that time. So the question was about supporting the General Secretary and the chairman. Apart from deciding to support another candidate, I did not change my political party nor did I obtain SLFP membership. This is how it all started. What I did was revealing details of a discussion that was alleged to have happened. So the act of revenge is very clearly visible here.
The issue of politicians enjoying privileges inside prisons is widely discussed in the society these days. Did you also enjoy such privileges?
No. Most people are shouting without knowing what the true facts are. There are limitations for those who are placed under remand custody to meet outsiders. The food are given according to medical recommendations. I obtained permission to get food from home. Even that was given to only two people. Even when the food it brought the prison authorities mess up the food as a check. The same was with water. Apart from that there was nothing special. But during those 45 days I was able to read and write a lot. I was able to finish writing 2 books. I hope to publish them next year. They contain the details of how the previous government was toppled and what actually took place during the Presidential Election. The other book is titled "prisoners are also humans". In reality these prisoners are not treated as humans. Their problems are really pathetic. In the prison hospital there are some HIV patients and they don’t have proper medicine system.
You have once again started politics after you were sent to jail. If it had not have happened, would you be starting your political career again?
I think these continuous harassment motivated me to step back into politics. But I had always wanted to come back to politics some time.
During the Rajapaksa regime you were at the front line of criticizing their administration. But what changed you?
I never had a deal with them. There were no gifts or privileges. Before taking my decision I only had spoken to then President Rajapaksa two days. This was entirely carried out on policy grounds. We agreed upon the protection of the rule of law, putting an end to corruption, treating everyone equally and stopping acts of political revenge were among those policies. After hearing my proposals the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that he too was thinking of implementing such policies. So I was satisfied with my decision.
What do you think about your decision now?
There are two sides to think about. If I had remained with the UNP I would have become a powerful member of the government by now. But I do not worry about losing such privileges. But I am saddened by the continuous revenge taking. I have stood beside our current prime minister for over 30 years. I have risked everything to protect his party leadership. Those who are in the UNP know that. But the promises given by the UNP to the people at that time have not been kept so far. Even the belief people had about the economy doing well under a UNP government has also shattered. In the near future we may have to face a severe foreign exchange crisis. I'm doubtful as to whether the present government can meet up to this challenge.
Why do you think the UNP government has failed?
The government has failed to appoint the right people for the right job. Secondly it is hard to take firm decisions inside a coalition government. Thirdly the government has so far been unable to take adequate measures to prevent corruption and waste. Finally it was unwise to increase the privileges of MPs when the country is in an economic crisis. So the people believe that the government has forgotten their problems.
As a veteran politician, don't you think that your decision to support the wrong candidate has cost you a lot?
I never take a decision by thinking of victory or loss. It was a decision taken within 48 hours. On the evening of December 06 I thought that the dispute in the party over the candidacy issue is going to cost the safety of the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as there are going to be inevitable conflicts between the party and the President Maithirpala Sirisena. So I had to do what I thought was best for the party at that time. Sometimes we have to take decisions without thinking about our own gains. It is true that I made a bad gamble but it was a political decision.
Are you starting your new political journey with anger?
During the past few months I had totally given up politics. But when I was continuously harassed I thought of retaliating. I would start a new journey in the New Year.
To which Party are you planning to support this time?
I never deserted the UNP. When I was expelled from the Party I went before the Supreme Court to save my membership. Last time I was removed when I was in prison. However there is still respect for me in the party. But if the leaders do not want me there then I cannot be in the party. I must make a stand in politics. But I would not be a SLFP er. I can sense that a considerable force in building up in Sri Lankan politics at present that could lead to a change in the near future. I am ready to play my part in this movement.
But in our political history, breakaway groups have not been able to survive for a long time?
Since1948 there were only two major parties in this country. But we can see that there had been alliances against the UNP than against the SLFP. The Unity Front is a good example for it. In 1994 Chandrika Kumarathunga won from the People's Alliance. In 2001 the UNP was able to win the election under the United National Front. Again the SLFP came into power as the UPFA. SO the next change would come in the form of an alliance.
Are you talking about the "Podu Jana Peramuna"? and is it true they are playing to offer you the General Secretary?
We have not had any discussions on the matter. I do not know how it would turn up. But the people's blessings are still with this front.
Are you planning to play an active role in the oncoming local government elections next year?
Ye I think that I would have to take a decision by then.
If the UNP invites you back what would you do?
That is a different story. But since the top brass of the party has made their own estimates they do not know where the public opinion lies.
What do you think about the war crime allegations that have been raised against the country?
I do not say that these are fair. But the previous government could have minimized these problems if they had maintained cordial relationships with the international community. But instead of overcoming these problems the present government has yielded to their demands. But we can still solve these issues through negotiations.
What is your opinion about the government's foreign policy?
The Prime Minister had a talent to build friendly relationships with the international community. Since the international community wanted to remove Mahinda from office, they are not going to intervene with our affairs any longer. It was not the result of a change in policy. We have lost aid from China. Unfortunately the West is currently not in a state where it could help us. The US is like an old mansion nowadays.
Finally, will the political revenge takings continue under a new administration?
I would not allow it to happen with my conscience. But here I do not mean protecting those who have committed fraud, theft and other crimes.
Photo: Thushara Sanjeewa