The Rediff Special
'The LTTE will wet their pants when they see my army...'
Ranjan Wijeratne was a daredevil defence minister. If the LTTE did not like him, it was with good reason. He never minced words. He did make anti-IPKF statements to pander to President Premadasa's short-sighted policy of luring the LTTE into agreeing to peace talks. But shortly before the IPKF left, he apologised saying he appreciated the sacrifices of the Indian army.
When the war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army broke out, he emerged as the country's leading spokesman. He invited foreign journalists to cover the war and "tell the world the truth". He even announced that LTTE chief Vellupillai Pirabhakaran was dead and he was replaced by a double. He worked out of a heavily fortified office. At three different points, security men frisked visitors. They even checked their ballpens. Ranjan Wijeratne was the most guarded man in Sri Lanka.
Roving Editor Ramesh Menon remembers meeting the doughty defence minister exactly ten years ago. Some snatches from their conversation.
On whether he expected the war to break out...
We were not anticipating the war. We were in fact de-inducting army detachments both in the north and in the east. We believed the LTTE when it said it wanted peace. But they were preparing for war. They stabbed us in the back.
On whether the Sri Lankan government triggered off the war...
Nonsense. In fact, I was blamed by the Opposition for going soft on the LTTE after the IPKF left. I sincerely believed them when they said they wanted peace.
On why the LTTE took on the Sri Lankan army...
After the IPKF left, the LTTE thought no one could finish them. But the IPKF came here to keep peace, not fight a war with the LTTE. The IPKF also did not want civilian casualties. The LTTE thought President Premadasa was weak and would not fight back.
On whether the war will last long...
The IPKF finished the hardcore. Only a baby brigade of young boys and girls are left. They will wet their pants when they see my army.
On the outcome of the war...
The LTTE will be brought to its senses. It cannot use the gun to take over the government.
One year later, on March 2, 1991, tragedy struck. Ranjan Wijeratne was in high spirits. After all, it was the eve of his sixtieth birthday. Sri Lanka had recognised him as its most powerful minister as only he seemed tough enough to take on the LTTE.
But on that fateful morning as he was driving in his bullet proof Mercedes escorted by a cavalcade of commandos, a stationary vechicle on the road blew up with 60 kilos of ammunition in it. It was triggered off with a remote controlled device.
Wijeratne's body was charred beyond recognition. Death had been instantaneous. There were shreds of 30 bodies around. Some pieces of flesh hung from the telephone lines alongside the street. One hundred and seventy two people were injured. He was hardly two kilometres from his house when the blast happened.
The LTTE hated him. He had vowed to finish off the LTTE in the same way he had eliminated activists of the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna. Nearly 80,000 JVP activists were brutally done to death. They were taken away at night, tortured and done to death. Often, their bodies would be found charred with the remains of a burnt tyre around them. As JVP terrorism had rocked the government, it had completed backed Wijeratne. Naturally, it looked the other way when human violations rocked the island every day.
Wijeratne had always fancied himself as one who would go down in the annals off Sri Lanka's history as the one who took on the LTTE. But fate had other plans.
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