Reggie Perera

November 19 marked the 24th death anniversary of late Reggie Perera, a pioneer of the Left Movement in Sri Lanka. After being imprisoned with the Left Leaders during World War II, Reggie Perera was elected to the first Parliament of 1947, representing the Dehiowita electorate, as a Member of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. He was a Member of the Senate in the then Upper House of Sri Lanka from l959, until its abolition in 1972. Thereafter, in 1971, Reggie Perera was appointed as Ambassador to the Arab Republic of Egypt by the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

Reggie Perera had his education at St. John’s College, Panadura, a leading educational institution of the day, now re-named after the illustrious Cyril Jansz.

Reggie Perera was soon attracted to the left movement then taking root in the country to spearhead the anti-colonial struggle against British rule. Having joined the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) as a youth in the 1930s, Reggie Perera actively engaged himself in the youth league activities of the party. This was a period when the left movement in Sri Lanka drew inspiration from the Indian freedom struggle. Reggie Perera represented the LSSP at the sessions of the Congress Party of India in Tripura in the late 1930s.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the left leaders were taken into detention by the British authorities. N. M. Philip and Colvin could not be confined behind prison walls for long and with their escape to India, the next rung in the leadership, including Reggie Perera, were rounded up and detained. This was a few months after Reggie Perera’s marriage to Yasoma from Imbulana in Ruwanwella, who was his life-long companion. Reggie Perera served almost five years as his Majesty’s guest in the Badulla and Bogambara prisons.

In the General Election to the First Parliament of independent Ceylon, in 1947, the left leaders fresh from their release from prison, were elected to Parliament with overwhelming majorities. Reggie Perera was elected to Parliament with a comfortable majority, resulting in all the opposing candidates losing their deposits. The LSSP was to hold the Dehiowita seat thereafter until it disappeared from the electoral map in the late eighties.

The Parliamentary career of Reggie Perera was marked by a series of measures he initiated for the social and economic advancement of the rural poor of Dehiowita. He was acutely aware of their problems, having been closely involved in the work of the LSSP to alleviate their suffering during the malaria epidemic which had raged through the Kegalla district.

Reggie Perera identified himself closely with the International Socialist movement and its struggles in different parts of the world. He was one of the first to visit the People’s Republic of China in the early l950s, soon after the revolution and to meet with the Chinese leadership. This excursion had nearly resulted in the then Kotelawala administration impounding his passport. Similarly, soon after the Cuban revolution, Reggie Perera was among the first to visit Havana and to meet with the Cuban leadership.

Reggie Perera’s sympathy with the Socialist ideals led him to espouse cause of the International socialist movement from the floor of the Senate. He took an active part in the work of the Senate on Foreign Relations matters. He was in the forefront of the campaign for the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the then Provisional Revolutionary Government of North Vietnam and the then German Democratic Republic (GDR). A Motion he introduced in the Senate for the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the GDR led to a foreign policy debate in the Upper House, contributing richly towards the realization of the very objectives for which the Soulbury Constitution created a Second Chamber.

An equally important facet of Reggie Perera’s life was his abiding interest in traditional art and culture. Reggie Perera’s brainchild "Sandella" — International Cultural Centre, was a centerpiece of the cultural scene of Colombo in the heady sixties. It played host not only to commemorate the Birth Centenary of the great savant Ananda Coomaraswamy, but also brought to centre stage little known artists from the backwoods of Sri Lanka giving them the strength to later hold their own at prestigious venues. Sandella also gave the Colombo elite the opportunity to marvel at the beauty of Gok-Kola and Habarala art by the talented and unsophisticated artists from the villages of Sri Lanka.

He also took an active interest in Theater and Cinema, and produced the film "Sadol Kandulu" (Tears of the outcast), which won several national awards.