Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Major General Janaka Perera

Saluting a soldier, politician, diplomat and an Aiya

Major-General Janaka Perera

It was with stunned disbelief that I heard the news, on October 6, that you and Vajira had been killed in an explosion at Anuradhapura. As I absorbed the shock and took in the enormity of the tragedy, my mind went back 16 years to the day I heard that my husband Mohan had died in a landmine blast. I wept then, and I weep now as I write this appreciation of someone I had known all my life, and had the privilege of addressing as “Janaka Aiya”.

Sleep eluded me that night, as it did for many nights and days after, as I looked back on those days of our carefree childhood – growing up together, enjoying our idyllic, fun-filled teen years, and then going our separate ways on reaching adulthood.

You were the patriotic one among us, the one who made the sacrifices. Instead of enjoying a university education, you chose to join the Army. You cut a very dashing figure in your military uniform as you left for England for your cadet training at Sandhurst. We, the younger ones, gazed upon you with awe and wide-eyed wonder.

Whenever you were home on leave, you would entertain us with your stories of Army life in faraway places, and we would listen enthralled. When I married Mohan, also a serviceman, you and my husband would get together and swap Army stories for hours on end. It was wonderful to see the two of you taking centre stage at family functions and talking about your lives as servicemen, but always careful to censor and edit your stories to suit your audience!
In Vajira – your charming wife and companion for 25 years – you found the perfect partner. She was your soul mate. She complemented you in stature, temperament and intelligence.
We enjoyed your gracious hospitality countless times – whether it was at the Army married quarters, or at your Poorvarama Road home in Colombo, or at the High Commissioner’s residence in Canberra, Australia. It was always open house at your home, even to the most casual of acquaintances. Everybody who visited you and Vajira was given a very warm welcome. Your home radiated great warmth and hospitality.

Together, you nurtured a lovely family, instilling in your children the values and moral principles you believed in. They have in them the best of both of you. Their stoic acceptance of the double tragedy in their family, and the courage they have shown in this time of great grief and loss, is proof of the fine legacy you have given them.

When Mohan was killed in a landmine explosion in the North, you came home to pay your respects. I remember asking why this had to happen to Mohan. That was perhaps the only time I ever saw you at a loss for words, but in your eyes there was a profound sympathy and understanding. After Mohan was gone, you and Vajira were so supportive and helpful to us. With all your heavy duties and responsibilities, you would somehow find time to be present at all important family functions.

When you told us about your intention to enter politics, I feared for you, I implored you time and again to be careful. Another family tragedy could not be borne. But being what you were, you wanted to do more – even after giving 35 years of your life to the service of your country. You wanted to make a difference. For all our sakes, I hoped and prayed you would. I believed you could. Alas, it was not to be.

As I paid my last respects to both of you, it was with a profound sadness that I visualised the two of you impeccably dressed just moments before the explosion, and now what remained within your sealed caskets.

Major-General Janaka Perera, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP, rcds psc – soldier, diplomat, politician – and to me, Janaka Aiya – I bid you farewell.
May you rest in eternal peace.

Nangi
====


Sunday Times Oct 12 2008
May your roar reverberate in the echoes of time

The loss of Major General Janaka Perera is a devastating blow to a country now devoid of learned, respected and beloved leaders who potentially could have united all the races of Mother Lanka under one banner. With his untimely demise, another shining light has gone out, only to be remembered in memory by generations of Sri Lankans to come. His life of service to the nation will be part of the great historical record that is the exclusive preserve of the privileged few, who served a grateful nation; never for personal reward or recognition, but to answer a call of duty, that for this Lion of Sri Lanka, was too loud to ignore.

Like his esteemed brethren Lieutenant General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Major General Vijaya Wimalaratne, and other dedicated and decorated service personnel before him, Major General Perera was a Sri Lankan patriot who served his motherland to the end, and vehemently believed that a return to greatness for our country was on the horizon. His success on the battlefields over 20 years will now be part of the essential reading on military strategy, and he was the true epitome of courage and perseverance. His leadership on the battlefield against all odds and adversity today is the stuff of legend. His colleagues in the Army will vouch with pride that in a lifetime of service to his beloved country, he never wavered in his duty and obligations to his troops and commanders, and he put our nation’s interests first.

In an age where moral values have been desecrated, and where politicians are the standard bearers for the prevailing social fabric of society, Major General Perera stood out like a beacon. While he was human and therefore vulnerable to human failings, he always strove for greatness, and his learned discourse and dialogue always smacked of hours spent reading on subjects that he couldn’t speak on with authority. His supreme self-confidence coupled with an unbridled self-belief was seen as arrogant by some, but viewed in general as the hallmark of all great leaders. He had that rare quality where he never expected anyone to do something, that he himself would not do first, and he always led from the front, even when it was strategically important that he manage his troops from the safety of his command centre. His loss will echo throughout the armed forces more than anywhere else, as he spent almost his entire life in their service, and
was one of their most beloved sons.

A record of distinguished service…

He had the unique distinction of being the Colonel Commandant of the Commando Regiment, Special Forces Regiment and the Corps of Sri Lanka Engineers. Major General Janaka Perera had been awarded the gallantry medals Rana Wickrama Padakkama and Rana Sura Padakkama, the distinguished service medal, Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya service medals, the Uttama Seva Padakkama, Sri Lanka Armed Services Long Service Medal, combat service medals Purna Bhumi Padakkama, North and East Operations Medal, the Vadamarachchi Operation Medal, the Riviresa Campaign Services Medal, and also the Republic of Sri Lanka Armed Services Medal, 50th Independence Anniversary Medal 1998, Sri Lanka Army 50th Anniversary Medal and President's Inauguration Medal.

His entrance into politics was controversial, and even when many of his family and closest advisors questioned his decision, he always said that he still had so much to give his country, and wanted to contribute even after completing his exemplary military service. While many will rue his decision in the coming days, it important to see his most dominant quality of self-sacrifice, shining through. One can only hope that his peers and colleagues alike will carry forward the legacy of this great man, as a testament to his sacrifice. What is now needed is not further political divisions and debates, but for Sri Lanka to go forth united together in her efforts to stamp out the scourge of terrorism, and bring peace and prosperity to all people of this island.

He was one to all…

He was dearly loved by the people of all races and creeds, and always expended his duties to ensure racial harmony was maintained wherever he or his division was based. Even in hostile territory, he always assured the minorities that he would never tolerate anyone, even his troops, to violate the rights of the very people they had sought to liberate from the evil clutches of terrorism. He had no patience for political masters, and refused to compromise himself or his troops for the petty political mileage that today has become the hallmark of politics and service in Sri Lanka.

His devoted and lifelong partner Mrs. Vajira Perera, who also perished in this cowardly attack, was his tower of strength, his harshest critic and his biggest fan. She always went everywhere with him, and made sure that in his battlefield absences, she raised a wonderful family that he could be proud of today. His children share his gregarious nature, and their mother’s charming and pragmatic approach. They will take heart that they had extraordinary parents who made the supreme sacrifice serving the country they loved so dearly.

Farewell Lion of Lanka, and may your roar reverberate in the echoes of time, and may your spirit inhabit the generations of patriotic children of our motherland. May you find in eternal rest, the peace for which you have worked so long.

Ashan Malalasekera.
Founder & Executive Director, Youth Progressive Foundation (YPF) - Sri Lanka. www.youthforlanka.org

Goodbye to a brave general, eloquent diplomat, popular politician and patriotic friend

I have known brave generals, eloquent diplomats, popular politicians and patriotic friends in my lifetime, but I can confidently say that there was only one person known to me who possessed all these qualities and that person is none other than the late Major General Janaka Perera. The country has lost a patriotic and dedicated military and political leader. He risked his life over and over again because he had a vision to regain the lost paradise in this country by defeating the LTTE both militarily and politically. The LTTE succeeded in assassinating him on October 6, 2008 at Anuradhapura in the most cowardly way through a suicide bomber, before
he could make his vision a reality.

His military efforts to defeat the LTTE are numerous and among them his victory at Weli Oya is among the greatest, wherein nearly four hundred LTTE cadres were killed, while the losses on his side were only one soldier and one home guard. He was sent to defend Jaffna at a time the political leadership in Colombo were making preparations to withdraw the Security Forces from Jaffna, with the assistance of India. His leadership turned defeat into victory. While the whole country is well aware of these two victories of his, there are many other victories he achieved as a military officer that perhaps only those in the Security Forces would know.

The liberation of the east when the late D.B.Wijetunga was President, where he was one of the front line Commanders and the subsequent successful march via
Elephant Pass to Kilinochchi, which was implemented with him as the Operations Commander and his role in the capture of Rohana Wijeweera to end the last JVP
insurrection are just a few that I can recall from memory.

The Major General Janaka Perera that I knew was ambitious and nothing short of becoming the President of this country would have enabled him to make his vision a reality. In an article that was published in The Sunday Times of July 20 2008, I said, “However if this is his aim, the path ahead is pitted with many obstacles. The LTTE will not be the only enemy he will have to contend with. He survived the LTTE threat when he was a serving officer in the army because he had the necessary security. As an opposition nominee to the post of Chief Minister who is considered a threat to the governing party, his security will never reach the level that he enjoyed while serving in the army.

Therefore the question is whether he will be ever allowed to work his way up…” He was not allowed to work his way up, because the government failed in providing him with the necessary security and has to now take the responsibility for allowing the LTTE to assassinate such a valuable person. Let this be a lesson to the government to make an independent analysis of the threat assessment on very important persons, without considering political affiliations.

As a close friend I tried to persuade him not to take to politics at this point of time, but he was too strong willed to heed my advice. He even declined an offer by the President to be appointed as a Governor and made the mistake of taking to politics by joining the UNP and being nominated as the candidate for the Chief Minister’s post in the North Central Province. It was this mistake that paved the way for his assassination.

Major General Janaka Perera was very confident of victory and said on the political platform that he had never lost a battle and would therefore be victorious at the provincial council elections. However, though he was the candidate who polled the highest amount of preferential votes, his party the UNP was defeated and he was appointed to the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the North Central Provincial Council. He was preparing himself to serve the people in his new appointment
when the LTTE assassinated him.

As an army officer he stood by his men because he valued the lives of those under his command more than his own promotions. Therefore he refused to dance to the tune of politicians and as a result possibly even lost the chance of becoming the Army Commander. As a diplomat he succeeded not only in Australia and Indonesia but at all international diplomatic gatherings to eloquently show that the problem in our country was a terrorist one and not ethnic. As a politician he won the hearts of the people in record time and became the most loved politician in the North Central Province. Finally as a true friend of mine he went beyond the call of
duty when he was in the army to help me when I was in difficulty.

Though he is no more there are many in the army who were trained by him and who served under him to follow in his footsteps. Therefore, I am certain that the LTTE
has made another great blunder in assassinating Major General Janaka Perera, because though they were able to kill him, they will never be able to kill his vision of
defeating the LTTE both militarily and politically.

His determination to do so I hope will gather immense strength in the days to come with the support of both the government and the opposition. This, however, is unlikely to happen if the opposition tries to use the assassination of Major General Janaka Perera to gain petty political mileage, without keeping in mind that the common enemy responsible for death and destruction is the LTTE. May the late Major General Janaka Perera, his wife Vajira and all his supporters who were killed

by the LTTE in Anuradhapura on October 6, 2008 attain the bliss of Nibbana. I also take this opportunity to convey my heartfelt condolences to his children and his
family.

Lt. Col. Anil Amarasekera

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