Men and Memories
D. A. Rajapaksa—from farmer to minister
by Buddhika Kurukularatne

‘Make him a Man!’ implored Abraham Lincoln the man who rose from rag to riches to become a famous President of the United States, to the teacher of his son.

The same legend is inscribed in a plaque at the bungalow occupied by Dr. R. L. Haymon at S. Thomas’ College Gurutalawa.

My late father, though having played truant was a great lover of Shakespeare. Though the legal maxim, ‘eus dem generis rule cannot be applied to Lincoln, Nehru vis-a-vis my father, my father sent me a letter to the Centre for Labour and Social Studies in Rome where I was sent by then PM Dudley Senanayake, in 1966, to follow a political leadership course.

‘My son’ wrote my father’, remember! you are in a foreign country. But do not forget your values. Remember you are always a Ceylonese. Be respectful towards your teachers and courteous towards your colleagues.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa gave me a letter written by his father, the letter written by my own father came to my mind. As this article is about Mahinda’s father not mine, I shall proceed to narrate the event that made D. A. to write this letter to his eldest son Chamal.

Chamal had been selected for recruitment to the police. He sought his father’s permission and the father took several days to ponder over the issue. D. A. was a Member of Parliament at the time and he wrote to Chamal thus (the letter was in Sinhala. Although I can never capture the warmth and affection contained there in the English translation of mine).

‘House of Representatives


My dear son,

Please hear in mind that I am addressing this letter to you due to my profound love and affection towards you.

I need not stress on the fact that you are the eldest child in the family. You are aware that the eldest child inherits the father’s position and it is the eldest child who is bestowed with huge reponsibilities in family matters. As I fall ill frequently these days, considering the situation in the family, your fullest co-operation is very necessary for the future well-being of the younger brothers and sisters. I need not emphasize on the dire need to safeguard our name which has earned the respect of the people as also to improve the family’s standing. Please be informed therefore that I count on your co-operation towards this end.

‘Please bear in mind that this letter is written not because we have any doubt of your support but merely to serve as a reminder.

Son, when you sought my permission to join the police I gave my consent after considering the matter at great length. The general belief today is that the police is capable of corrupting any person with a good character. As the saying goes bees making their hive in a Margosa tree will not affect the sweetness of its honey (—-) a person who joins the police with an unblemished character will remain untarnished. Although consumption of liquor and acquiring notoriety have become the legacy of the police, I and your mother earnestly expect you to perform your services devoid of such evil.

Therefore my beloved son, please thoroughly bear in mind that we, your loving father and mother expect you to lead a just life in a manner that would dawn a radiant future both to you and the family.

We remain

Your loving mother and father

This letter reflects inter-alia, the values the Rajapaksa’s cherished so dearly.

I must say Chamal never failed his father. And this coming from a solid UNPer is indeed something.

Robert Knox, the British prisoner, must have had a premonition when he said of the Sinhala peasant, that when a ploughman’s mud is washed, he is fit to be king!

After the untimely death of his illustrious elder brother D. M., the family responsibilities fell largely on D. A. He therefore concentrated on looking after whatever properties that was left after various alienations. But the people of Giruwava, looked upon D. A. as the natural successor to ‘the lion’. This was more so, as D. M.’s elder son, Lakshman though politically inclined was not yet 21 (the age requirement of franchise then)

So, hoards of Rajapaksa loyalists went in search of D. A. who was ploughing a field, to get his signature for the Nomination papers.

D. A. washed the mud from his hands (Robert Knox must have been very pleased from wherever he was) and signed the nominations.

He was thus returned uncontested on 14-7-1945, to the Hambantota seat to fill the void of brother D. M. in the State Council.

In the second State Council he was appropriately made a member of the Executive Committee on Agriculture and Lands from the day he was elected i.e. 8.8. 1945 up to its abrogation on 01.7.1947, to pave way for the first parliament.

D. A.’s ‘Family Tree’ is as follows.

Waniga-Chintamani Mohotti Don Davith Rajapaksa. + Dona Gimara Weerakoon Rathnayake of Ihala Beligalla.

D. C. Rajapaksa D. M. Rajapaksa Don Alvin (D. A.) Rajapaksa Dona Karalien Rajapaksa, Dona Dandina Samarasinghe Dissanayake of Palatuwa, Matara. 1. Chamal 2. Jayanthi (Hettiarachchi — deceased) 3. Mahinda 4. Chandra Tudor 5. Gotabhaya 6. Basil 7. Preethi . Dudley 9. Gandini (Ranawaka)

Chamal tells me that D. A. who was a UNP MP until his defection with SWRD named a son after Dudley Senanayake, then the Minister of Agriculture in the D. S. Senanayake cabinet. This also proves the love he had for agriculture.

That fateful day on the 12th of July 1951, when the Leader of the House, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike crossed the floor he didn’t discuss his crossing over with D. A. The very fact S. W. R. D. stated that D. A. was not one of those he spoke to, implies that he did speak to others and it is said that many promised to cross the great-divide, but only D. A. followed him like a shadow. Few others followed later.

If S. W. R. D. was pleasantly surprised at the unexpected support from D. A., the Prime Minister was surprised too. Chamal told me that the Grand Old Man had commented, ‘I am not surprised at what Banda did’. But I can’t understand why D. A. crossed over.’

D. S.’s remark was the result of D. A. hosting the Prime Minister and his entourage comprising Minister of Public Works Col. John Lionel Kotalawala, Minister of Finance, J. R. Jayewardene, Col, C. A. Dharmapala who was kinsman of the Rajapaksa’s to a grand lunch at his Medamulana home after several function in the Weeraketiya and Walasmulla areas.

There were many who thought D. A. was committing political Hara kiri when he left the ruling UNP.

In the run up to the first Parliamentary Elections, D. A. contesting as an UNP candidate secured 14,007 votes as against D. P. Atapattu (who was later to become a Deputy Minister in the UNP Government of Dudley Senanayake) who polled a mere 5,985 votes. A third candidate Eddie Fernando trailed behind D. P. with 4885 votes. Still two others P. Jamis de Silva and P. de S. Wickramasinghe polled only 362 and 270 votes respectively.

Although this election was fought on party lines, there were no symbols allocated on party basis. Perhaps almost by premonition, D. A. was assigned the ‘hand’ symbol, which was later to be official symbol of the S. L. F. P. Ironically the ‘hand’ that secured many a victory for the SLFP is conspicuous by its absence in the hustings today.

Symbols of other candidates were the ‘Chair’ (Atapattu), Elephant’ (Eddie Fernando), ‘Star’ (Jamis de Silva) and the ‘Key’ (Wickramasinghe).

A few months after S. W. R. D.’s cross over, Dudley who succeeded his father as the Prime Minister dissolved Parliament and called for a fresh mandate from the people.

Fresh from his cross-over, D. A. was one of the few rebels to be returned to Parliament. This time too from Beliatta.

In a straight fight with Don Peter Atapathu who by now had become D.A's. ‘traditional rival’, D. A. retained Beliatta contesting under the ‘Umbrella’ symbol defeating Atapathu whose symbol was the ‘Star’.

The detailed results are as follows

D. A. Rajapaksa (Umbrella) 17,382

D. P. Atapattu (Star) 13,750

In the People’s Revolution of 1956, D. A. was the candidate of Bandaranaike’s Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) yet his symbol was the ‘hand’ which got him elected to first parliament in 1947 albeit as an UNP MP.

1956 was also a straight fight between the ‘traditional rivals’.

D. A. Rajapaksa M.E.P. (hand) 26,215.

D. P. Atapattu U.N.P. (elephant) 10,382.

He was made the Junior Minister of Agriculture and Lands, a field with which he was thoroughly conversant and was the Minister of Agriculture and Lands for a mere 2 weeks. from the date of the brutal assassination of S. W. R. D. upto 10.10.59. The Prime Minister then was Galle’s W. Dahanayake. He resigned his portfolio on 10.10.1959.

In March 1960, Don Peter Atapattu was at last able to turn tables on D. A.

D. P. Atapattu is the father of the amiable and charming Dr. Ranjith Atapattu was the Minister of Health under the J. R. Jayewardene government of 1977. I remember meeting D. P. Atapattu in his Tangalle home as a small boy in the company of my father. D. P. who was a teacher before he took to law, had been a teacher at Maha Bodhi Vidyalaya in Maradana. He even told me that my father had a very bad ‘stammer’. Something both I and my mother didn’t know!.

The results of the March 1960 Beliatta electorate was D. P. Atapattu (UNP-Elephant) 14,379 votes and D. A. Rajapaksa (MEP-cartwheel) 12,685 votes. Five others polled less than 500 votes.

A mere four months later at the July 1960 general elections, D. A. was able to wrest Beliatta from D. P. in a straight fight.

D. A. Rajapaksa (SLFP-Hand) polled 15121 as against D. P’s (UNP-Elephant) 14074 votes.

On Nov. 6, 1962, upon the death of Deputy Chairman of Committees, Adhikari, D. A. was appointed to fill the vacancy. When the Speaker R. S. Pelpola resigned on 24-1-64 to accept a Ministerial portfolio, the then Deputy Speaker Hugh Fernando became Speaker. D. A. Rajapaksa succeeded Hugh Fernando as the Deputy Speaker which position he held with dignity and distinction until the ignominious defeat of the Sirima Bandaranaike Government in Dec. 1964.

The traditional rivals clashed for the last time at the general elections of 1965 where D. P. Atapattu (UNP-elephant) got the better of D. A. (SLFP-hand) with a majority of 5,862 votes.

D. A. whether in power or no mingled with the masses until his death on 7th November 1967.

Unlike his brother D. M. who would erupt like a volcano in the face of injustice, D. A. was a comparatively mild mannered person who was addressed fondly as ‘uncle’ by most of his young constituents.

In his Richmond College days he captained the football team and was the vice captain of the cricket team. It is said that the record he established at the Richmond and Sebestinite encounter of Moratuwa is still to be bettered.

Since agriculture was his livelihood even before his advent to politics, he took great pains in improving the lot of the Giruwawa peasant.

Chamal remembers the day in 1957 S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike as the Prime Minister came to inaugurate the ‘Chandrika Wewa’ so named after the Premiers younger daughter. C. P. de Silva who was the Minister of Land and Lands Development. Mrs. Wimala Wijewardena, the Minister of Health and other VIPs were entertained to lunch at the Walakulu Bunglow of Lakshman Rajapaksa (now owned by Chamal) who was the Deputy Minister of Trade under R. G. Senanayake, the Minister. D. A. was C.P.’s Deputy Minister of Land and Land Development.

Chamal remembers attending the Chandrika Wewa inauguration in the company of Mrs. Wimala Wijewardena in her car. I even operated a bull-dozer at the inaugural soil cutting ceremony’, chuckled the amiable Chamal who has inherited most of his father's qualities, whilst his younger brother Mahinda, is more the street fighter type like his uncle and cousin Lakshman. However Mahinda with the responsibilities of Premiership, has hung his ‘fighting gloves’ perhaps to be donned later!.

D. A. was soft spoken and endeared himself to friend and foe alike.

Matara’s C. Justin Wijayawardena, an erudite Sinhala scholar who wrested the Matara Red-fortress for the UNP in March 1960 in an apt appreciation recalls D.A’s humbleness in victory and in defeat, his great dedication to the peasantry and his unflinching loyalty to the cause he believed in. ‘He never hurled abuse from the political platforms Wijewardena states in his tribute.

It was D. A.’s role as a peace maker that settled a violent dispute amongst fisher-folk at Kudawella.

I remember my father mentioning the tense situation which prevailed in the costal belt of Tangalle. One or two people had been killed for the people of Kudawella used their knives not only to cut fish!

The trouble erupted between two sections of fishermen who used different methods to catch fish. The ‘method’ was known as ‘Panna’ and depending on the method adopted, the mode of fishing came to be known by it. Thus ‘Riti’ panna — is ‘Stilt’ fishing. This is now found only along a small stretch of sea in Ahangama, by my friend Hema Kumara Nanayakkara’s Club Lanka Hotel’. The ‘fight’ at Kudawella was between the ‘Bileepithi panna’ fishermen who used fishing rods to catch fish-one at a time. As opposed to this form of fishing was the ‘madeal panna’ — the catching of fish by using the nets. This method caught the big and small fish alike, depriving the ‘Bileepithi’ panna fishermen of their catch.

As the dispute rose to uncontrollable proportions ‘D.A.’ went as emissary in quest of peace between the warring sections of fishermen. By gentle persuasion he was able to bring about an amicable settlement.

What is most significant of the success of D. A’s mission was that, he had to face a hostile tide. The Karawa community. The fishermen of Kudawella, Tangalle and its environs are fiercely caste-consclous. The vast majority of these Karawa fisher falk harboured a deep rooted enmity towards the Goigama community and it was indeed a miracle that a representative of the Goigama community was able to settle a dispute between two factions of Karawas.

Even today from the southern coastal belt we hear of clashes between ‘Light Course’ (the method of catching fish with a light) and ‘Alagodu course’.

However the Bileepithi Panna form of fishing is now only confined to Kudawella and Unapuruwa beaches. What has taken its place is ‘Kotan course’ (log method) I was told that in the deep sea there are rotting logs washed away from India and other countries. These rotting timber attracts small fish and the small fish in turn attracts the large fish. ‘Madelpanna’ however continues to thrive at Tangalle, Kalametiya, Welipathanwila, Pattiyawaraya and Uraniya fishing grounds in the south.

Coming back to our ‘Hero’ — D. A., he left his political legacy complete with his shawl of Kurakkan colour to two of his off spring. Chamal and Mahinda.

The legacy of the Giruwapattuwa was continued in the 1970 general election, by a young man-barely out of his teens in Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa who was elected to represent the Beliatta constituency of his father (SLFP-Hand) securing 23,103 votes as against my friend and fellow UNPer the amiable Dr. Ranjith Atapattu (UNP-elephant) who polled 16,477 votes.


Mr. B. M. Amith — Editor Hansard

Mr. N. M. C. Thilakaratne — Librarian — Parliament

Mr. C. Kuruppu Deputy Librarian — Parliament

Next: The present generation of the Rajapaksas


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