Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 16 February 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette


UNP could no longer exploit Hashan - wife Apsari

Hashan’s wife Apsari Singhabahu Tillakaratne (centre) after obtaining the SLFP membership from the Hambantota district Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa (right) at the UPFA rally held at Gothatuwa New Town on Thursday to support the candidature of Ajith Subasinghe (left).

The UNP supporters, especially those in Colombo, Piliyandala and Avissawella areas were shocked when former Sri Lanka cricket captain and the outgoing UNP Western Provincial Council member Hashan Tillakaratne's wife, Apsari Singhabahu Tillakaratne obtained membership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) from parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa at a UPFA political rally in Gothatuwa New Town last week.

The Sunday Observer had an exclusive interview with Apsari Singhabahu Tillakaratne to find out the circumstances that led her to join the SLFP and why her husband is not contesting the Western Provincial Council elections.

Q: Your husband Hashan Tillakaratne comes from a left-wing family. What made him to join the right-wing UNP when he began his political career?

A: Hashan's family always had been with the left wing politics for the past 80 years. His parents, grandparents and the family were actively involved in politics in Kesbewa, Piliyandala areas.

His parents were contemporaries of respected politician in the area, Somaweera Chandrasiri and served the common people in the area together. My own family was also strongly and actively involved in left politics for decades.

Hashan Tillakaratne

The involvement of left politics of his family was so strong, when Hashan announced, for the first time, that he is commencing his political career with the UNP, most of the people in the area were genuinely astonished. In fact, the question is still asked frequently why Hashan chose UNP over UPFA. However, over the years both of us had supported persons involved in politics irrespective of the party politics, but purely on personal grounds.

Q: Before Hashan joining in the UNP campaigns, have you taken part in UPFA campaigns before?

A: Yes, in the year 2000, when Arjuna Ranatunga entered party politics with UPFA, Hashan was still playing for Sri Lanka. Despite his heavy cricketing schedule, Hashan guided me to involve myself with Arjuna's campaign.

I managed to gather the area stalwarts in aid of Arjuna which secured a substantial number of votes in the Kesbewa electorate which had the second highest vote base in Colombo district at that time.

Q: What happened to the Cricket Aid project initiated under Hashan's leadership after the tsunami devastation?

A: When Hashan retired from national cricket in 2004, Thilanga Sumathipala, the then president of Sri Lanka Cricket, who has identified the dedication, commitment and the leadership skills, invited him to lead the 'Cricket Aid Project' as the Head of the program.

This project was one of the best development programmes introduced to Sri Lanka.

Project was aimed at developing young, talented school cricketers in tsunami hit areas, and Kilinochchi, Batticaloa, Matara and Kalutara districts were chosen. The program was to build 50 houses in each district with a playground and to provide a 1000 rupee financial assistance for 10 years to 1000 selected students from these four districts.

Former Sri Lanka cricket captain and ex-UNP Western Provincial Council member Hashan Tillakaratne with his family

More importantly, Reeds College in London, England offered a four fully expensed scholarships to four talented young students to study in England for this program. Hashan travelled to these four areas and with relentless effort, selected four deserving students to come to Colombo for training. Hashan was so committed to the task of uplifting the lives of the chosen students, he travelled to England spending his own money to meet the authorities of Reeds College and arranged everything for the students. I was pregnant with my youngest but got myself fully involved in the project spending time relentlessly. Almost all cricketers and their wives too were involved heavily and volunteered to assist.

Soon after these arrangements were made with Reeds College and the 1000 students were given their first scholarship payment of Rs. 1000/-, an invisible hand abruptly stalled the entire project, to the dismay of everybody involved.

The programme was carrying on successfully till then, when the orders came to shut down this extremely valuable project. We believe that the project was closed down due to a personal grudge of a higher up in the authorities of the then Government with the then SLC President.

Had the project been successful, it would have been continuing to date and Sri Lanka would have had an important and effective message for the world community who are making a hue and cry for equality for the North, as the benefits were distributed to North and East equally.

The million dollar question is where have the funds for the project gone? The puzzle has not been solved as yet. Persons who have jeopardized this nationally beneficial program on personal grounds are still with the opposition and the laughing matter is that they are the ones who are talking about developing the country.

Question for me is to think how we can work hand in hand with these villains who betrayed a national interest for personal gain are still remaining in the opposition.

Q: What prompted Hashan to enter politics?

A: Hashan was so bitter and disappointed over the premature end to his Cricket Aid project.

That prompted him to commence his political career in 2005 with the UNP. However, he was given only a section of the Avissawella electorate. The other was given to Sagara Senaratne.

Q: Was Hashan happy with the manner in which he was treated by the UNP?

A: We were not at all happy about it as we presumed that the breaking the electorate into two will result in a division among common voters which was proven correct later. Due to this factor, Hashan initially refused to contest and offered to help Sagara instead, in order to ensure a win for the party.

Ultimately he contested on request of many and secured 34,000 votes to win the seat in the Provincial Council at a time when the Government was at the height of popularity with the inevitable win of the war in 2009.

Q: Hashan has been a non-controversial character in politics too?

A: I have to point out that we worked in harmony with many Government candidates such as Sumith Soyza during this period.

It is sad, but, as we presumed Sagara Senaratne lost due to the division of the party men in the electorate resulting a total political career loss forever. I think, the leaders may have killed Sagara's career, never to return.

The only person gained benefits from that was the district leader who had secured or increased his vote base.

I think that all these acts were a well planned strategy to weaken strong and performing candidates in the UNP. It is during this period we have commenced a 'Vidwath Mandalaya' (Panel of Intellectuals) for the UNP gathering up educated intellectuals and getting them together for the betterment of the masses with their guidance and advices.

Q: Your family too had a difficult time after January 2010 due to Danuna Tillakaratne's disappearance?

A: There was a period when we came up against many challenges due to Hashan's close relationship with Danuna Thilakaratne. Let alone help, nobody from the party even discussed the problems prevailed.

I am still grateful to Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera and Rukman Senanayake who kept calling me time and again offering support. The pressure was such, Hashan went overseas for two months and I fought a lone battle with my baby son and my father. However, several persons who were with the government also helped me.

Q: Hashan lost his chance of entering parliament as he had refused to contest the last general election. That cost him his UNP organiser post as well?

A: Hashan decided not to contest the 2010 April General Election as we were still going through the trauma. Also, the entire family, mine and Hashan's were vehemently against contesting. The party wanted us to resign from even the 'half' the UNP organiser post he held. It was sad as we have sweated amply to secure the electorate by canvassing house-by-house day and night and gaining confidence of the people in the area.

Since the day Hashan took over as the UNP Organiser for Avissawella, we managed to establish many branches, get Women's Movements activities going successfully through Lak Vanitha Movement, organise youth forums and many other social activities.

Q: Why wasn't Hashan, being a Provincial Council member, given an electorate by the UNP leadership even after the party lost the 2010 General Election badly?

A: Due to the respect we both had for Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe, as the leader of the UNP, we continue to trust him. We firmly believed that he is a gentleman, we wrote to the Party stating Hashan's willingness to work again with the party as an organiser.

He was invited for many discussions and was promised an area to organise but we now realise that the party was leading up the garden path. It is depressing that we have not given such a responsibility as yet.

There was a request to contest the oncoming PC Elections but it was too late. I have to mention here that Karu Jayasuriya gave a patient hearing and understood our situation.

As I have explained earlier, many in the UNP hierarchy do not want to field strong candidates. They want weak personalities so that they can secure their own vote base but ignore the party votes.

Q: When Hashan's captain in the World Cup-winning team Arjuna Ranatunga became the chief of Sri Lanka Cricket, was Hashan invited to manage the Sri Lanka team?

A: Yes, he was. In 2009, Arjuna Ranatunga offered the post of Manager of the Sri Lanka Cricket Team. But Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge had other ideas.

He said that he will ratify it only if Hashan leaves politics completely. This may be because of the challenge he was facing in Kesbewa.

However, I am thankful to Mahindananda Aluthgamage, the Minister of Sports, who realised the value of the contribution Hashan can offer to Sri Lanka Cricket, installed him as a National Selector and the National Talent Manager.

His Excellency the President always had close and cordial connections with Hashan long before the Presidency, as His Excellency was a keen supporter of cricket and a strong promoter of sport. He once held the position of the President of the Hambanthota District Cricket. His Excellency helped us on many occasions and was with us whenever we had problems.

Q: Do you think Hashan has been ill-treated by the UNP?

A: Yes. The party promised to re-appoint him as a party organiser since its 2010 general election debacle. But the party leadership has not done so far, reasons best known to them.

Finally, I have to regrettably say that I will not allow the UNP to exploit Hashan again. I will be against him working with hypocritical, inconsiderate members in the party. I know for a fact that certain elements in the party will not allow him to come up as a performer because they think that he is a threat to them.

Q: Finally, what made you to make a sudden appearance on the UPFA stage to obtain the SLFP membership from parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa?

A: I have joined the UPFA stage at the inaugural rally of Colombo District UPFA candidate and leading businessman Ajith Subasinghe at Gothatuwa New Town, in order to help my close relative. He is the spouse of my first cousin sister and thought that I should extend my fullest support to him and the UPFA team in the Western Province.

Ajith's father-in-law S.R. Podiralahamy was intensely active in left politics for over five decades.

Ajith Subasinghe is considered a thorough gentleman with principles.

He is a millionaire businessman who does not want to earn through politics. Namal Rajapaksa whom I knew personally for many years was also there on the platform with a few other parliamentarians and I am glad that I did what I did.

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