Kovilage Anton Vijaya Kumaratunga ( 9 October 1945 – 16 February 1988), also known as Vijaya Kumaratunga, was a Sri Lankan film actor and politician, married to former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaranatunga from 1978 until his assassination in 1988.
Kumaratunga’s first film was Hanthane Kathawa, in which he played the lead role. In a career that spanned nearly two decades, he acted in 114 films, including Eya Den Loku Lamayek (1975), Ponmani (1977), Bambaru Avith (1977), Ganga Addara (1980), Baddegama (1980), Paradige (1980), Maha Gedara (1980), Kedapathaka Chaya (1989), and Kristhu Charithaya (1990). He acted in one English-language film, The God King, and one Tamil film, Nanguran.
He also performed as a playback singer in several films; recorded more than 100 songs; and produced one film, Waradata Danduwam, which was released after his death.
Kumaratunga started his political career in the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). He later joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and became its first national organizer.
In 1977, he ran unsuccessfully for the Katana seat in Parliament. Five years later, he was active in the 1982 presidential campaign of Hector Kobbekaduwa. After the election, he was accused of being a Naxalite and jailed under the emergency regulations of President J. R. Jayewardene, but he was never charged.
He ran as the SLFP candidate in a by-election in Mahara in 1983 and was threatened by United National Party (UNP) supporters. An attempt was made on his life, and one of his friends was killed. Kumaratunga won the first vote count, and a recount was ordered. At that point, a blackout occurred at the counting centre. By the time electricity was restored, the UNP candidate had recorded a victory by a few votes. The opposition alleged that someone had “eaten some of Vijaya’s votes to ensure UNP victory”.
He founded the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP), which campaigned for peace in the Sri Lankan civil war. Under his new party, he contested a Minneriya by-election and finished second, behind the UNP candidate—relegating his old party, SLFP, to third place. The SLMP went on to contest several other by-elections, including in Kundasale and Habaraduwa, but did not live up to expectations.
in 1986, Kumaranatunga visited Jaffna, then controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He visited the Nallur Murugan Temple and met with local Tamil civilians, as well as several LTTE youth leaders.
In his final public address, to a large crowd in Colombo’s Campbell Park on 28 January 1988, Kumaratunga lashed out at the UNP, SLFP, and Janatha Vimuthki Peramuna (JVP) parties for failing to address the needs of the hour. He also voiced concerns about the SLFP’s links with the JVP, a Marxist–Leninist party involved in two armed uprisings against the Sri Lankan government.
In 1988, the SLMP reached an agreement with several other left-wing parties—including the LSSP, Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), Sri Lanka Communist Party, and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF)—to form the United Socialist Alliance (USA). A few days prior to the establishment of the new alliance, Kumaranatunga was assassinated. The agreement was signed by party leaders at his funeral.
The USA won a large number of seats in the newly formed provincial councils in an election boycotted by the main opposition SLFP. However, in the 1988 presidential election, the USA candidate, Ossie Abeygunasekera, finished in last place. In the 1989 parliamentary elections, USA candidates won three seats, but none of the winners represented the SLMP.
In 1978, Kumaratunga married Chandrika Bandaranaike, with whom he had two children. Bandaranaike was the daughter of two former prime ministers, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and would later become president of Sri Lanka.
Death and legacy
Kumaratunga was shot in the head with a Type 56 assault rifle outside his home on the outskirts of Colombo on 16 February 1988 by Lionel Ranasinghe, alias Gamini. Ranasinghe confessed to the murder under questioning by the Criminal Investigation Department. In a 141-page statement, he said he had been carrying out orders given to him by the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya (Patriotic People’s Movement), the military arm of the JVP, which was responsible for multiple assassinations in the late 1980s. However, a presidential commission report concluded that President Ranasinghe Premadasa of the UNP and two government ministers, Gamini Lokuge and Ranjan Wijeratne, were behind the Kumaranatunga assassination.
Kumaratunga’s funeral, on 21 February 1988, attracted huge crowds and was the first funeral to be broadcast live on Sri Lankan television (by the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation). It was held at Independence Square in Colombo as a state funeral, even though he represented the opposition to the UNP government. The day of his assassination is widely known as “The Horrible Tuesday” or “The Darkest Tuesday in Sri Lankan History”. His death is still mourned by many people in Sri Lanka.