Gamini Iriyagolla: True patriot and social reformer

Gamini Iriyagolla passed away peacefully exactly one year ago on 3rd of February 2003. He was no ordinary mortal. He was a true patriot; a fearless social reformer and above all a selfless defender of the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. I had the unique privilege of delivering the one and only oration at the funeral of Gamini at Kanatta. I understand that it was the unanimous choice of the family members to invite me to speak for three reasons. Firstly, it was because of my long association of nearly 50 years with Gamini and his loving and caring wife Indrani. We came to know each other at the age of 18; that was when we entered Peradeniya University as Freshers in 1955. Secondly, it was because we were both colleagues in the Ceylon Civil Service; a mantel which he bore with great pride, responsibility and humility. Thirdly, and most importantly it was because both of us held identical views on how the once a proud and prosperous Sinhala-Buddhist nation is threatened with extinction through negligence, lack of articulateness, a forlorn want of spirit and above all 50 years of shameless political buffoonery.

In my speech, I expressed the view that after Anagarika Dharmapala, Gamini Iriyagolla was the greatest patriot and social reformer that Sri Lanka was blessed with. He was indeed a fearless defender of the causes he believed in. I always had a lingering suspicion that Gamini was Anagarika Dharmapala reborn. The first half of the 20th century was a period of vigour and patriotic sparkle with scores of national minded men coming forward to speak and act on behalf of the true sons and daughters of our motherland. The second half was marked by an era of make surrender of nationalism to revamped forces of imperialism, modernism and globalization and a week kneed compliance in the face of the claims of those who championed the cause of the minorities backed by inventors of fictitious history. He eschewed power, position and wealth and dedicated himself to save the country from fascist and separatist forces. Sadly, he died a disappointed man for he fought alone and experienced the agony of spirit that afflicts those who have the misfortune to see their best expectations belied.

He was a prolific writer on many controversial national issues such as the flagrant violation of the Kandyan Convention; the myth of the traditional homelands, separatism backed by terrorism and misinformation and citizenship by affidavit to name a few. Gamini had a clear vision on the resolution of the national problem. He saw no justification whatsoever to hand over 1/3 of the country and 2/3 of the coast line to the Sri Lanka an Tamils who constitute only 12.5% the population of whom more than half are permanency resident outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces or abroad.

He was of the view that Sri Lanka being a small country should maintain its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity at any cost. He opposed any form of dismemberment or redemarcation of the country through a federation or a confederation. It was his position that the whole of Sri Lanka is the home of all communities inhabiting her. In his numerous writings he proved beyond reasonable doubt that the theory of a traditional Tamil homeland in the Eastern Province is a myth. He was vehemently opposed to the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. He denounced all forms of violence, terrorism and ethnic cleansing that has ruined our country. He supported the broadest form of devolution subject to land, defence, law and order, harbours and airports remaining under the preview of the government. As a means of resolving the national problem he had in mind extensive electoral reforms, abolition of the executive presidency and maximum power sharing both at the centre and at the periphery.

His services to the country were many and varied. He was one of the sharpest minds I have come across. He was an intellectual par excellence. His life and work was multifaceted. He was a thinker, historian, constitutional expert, lawyer, public administrator, debater, writer, political analyst, public speaker and critic, an amazing combination of ten in one. His book on the Mahaveli was an eye opener to many who turned a blind eye to the far reaching and irreversible adverse environmental and social impacts of such major transbasin irrigation, power and land development projects. He was a prolific writer to newspapers and journals. His TV appearances were a treat to watch. Among the books he published are truth about Mahaveli; Tamil Claims to Land; Fact and Fiction and a Brief History of Ceylon up to king Dutugemunu. His greatest endowment was his ability to think and act freely and independently. This was his greatest failing as well; for quite often compromise was difficult and evasive.

Gamini did not live by precept alone. He lived both by precept and example. He led a simple but elegant life. He did not amass wealth. He only earned enough to satisfy his basic needs and to serve his country, people and religion. At the entrance to his humble home was a wooden plaque engraved with the following words of John F Kennedy the illustrious President of the United States. "Ask not what the country has done for you; rather ask what you have done for your country".

He could have coughed and crowed on behalf of the almighty politicians and obtained titles such as Deshamanya, Presidentís Counsel or Ambassador. He was such a strong willed character with a piercing mind that any one who dared to approach him to buy him up to do the dirty work for them would have got a kick in their pants.

The curse of this country is the lack of leaders with good breeding, education and discipline. Gamini was an embodiment of all these endowments, values and virtues. He was the illustrious son of an illustrious father; I. M. R. A. Iriyagolla, writer, scholar and Minister of Education. He was brought up in the true Sinhala - Buddhist tradition and environment. He was educated at Ananda, Royal, Peradeniya University, Law College and Cambridge University. He received his training as a Civil Service cadet under outstanding and exemplary Civil Servants. He acquired many skills at the Bar, in the highest echelons of the Public Service and gave invaluable advice as an advisor to several Ministers, Prime Ministers, Presidents and at times even to the Maha Sangha. The void left by the demise of Gamini will not be filled in the near future. May he attain Nibbana.

K. H. J. Wijayadasa
Advisor to the Prime Minister
on Sustainable Development