Remembering Gamini


"Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them."

- William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Since the days of the Independence struggle in the early part of the twentieth century and thereafter we have had the opportunity to study the lifestyles and dispositions of many Sri Lankan leaders who paved the way for Independence. Some were politically savvy while the others contributed in their own way towards the political emancipation of Sri Lankans.

Starting from Sir D.B Jayatilleke, F. R. Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, E. W. Perera, Ananda Kumaraswamy, D. S. Senanayake we can recall many others who were born great while others achieved greatness through sheer dedication to the assigned task.

Gamini Dissanayake achieved greatness through sheer hard work. It is a privilege bestowed upon me to pen a few words about one of the most versatile and dynamic politicians Sri Lanka produced during the late 1960s.

Gamini, my dear friend, originally belonged to an aristocratic Kandyan family which had leaning towards the SLFP. Late Mr. Andrew Dissanayake was his father who showed him the way in politics. Mr. Andrew Dissanayake was a deputy minister of a coalition government led by late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike.

Although Gamini’s family had leanings towards the SLFP he chose his political career with the grand old party the UNP. A newspaper magnate was the person behind the Dudley -Gamini relationship which flourished during the 65-70 regime of the UNP.

Accordingly Gamini as a novice in politics first contested the 1970 general elections under the UNP and won the Nuwara Eliya seat to be one of the 18 members returned to Parliament.

The UNP faced a crushing defeat at the hands of the United Front coalition led by Mrs. Sirmavo Bandaranaike but Gamini was able to show up some courage as a political opponent to the strong government of the day and could be named as one of the icons that revived the UNP after the demise of former Prime Minister Dudley Senanyake.

Gamini had an extra ordinary talent of making speeches that kept his audience spell bound. Once he made a fiery speech in Parliament after the 1971 insurrection that compelled Mrs. Bandaranaike as the Prime Minister to move an army platoon to guard the Horogolla Monument of late SWRD Bandaranaike.

After the 1977 landslide victory of the UNP, Gamini was given the portfolios held by Maithripala Senanayake to accomplish the task of completing the Mahaweli project within six years. Gamini was ably assisted by then Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel to raise the necessary funds to achieve the target in six years much to the benefit of the people of the Rajarata, PahalaUva and the Eastern Province.

As part of the Mahaweli Diversion scheme Kotmale, Victoria, Maduru-Oya Rathkinda. Rantambe Projects were simultaneously launched as per the election promises given by the UNP.

The Mahaweli Project gave birth to a new Mahaweli culture embracing the entire Rajarata and the dry zones of Uva Province and helped convert the dry lands in these areas into fertile land. Under the Mahaweli Accelerated Programme, people were able to re-cultivate paddy fields and the government was able to raise the living standard of the people through this giant irrigation project, making once abandoned rural hinterlands rich and fertile.

It also paved the way for the creation of new settlements in the Eastern Province and the North-Central Province. The accelerated Mahaweli Project helped revive the national economy and the architect and the visionary behind the project was none other than late Gamini Dissanayake, the versatile politician of all times.

The revival of Rajarata and the East was entirely due to the efforts made by Gamini and the UNP government. It is time for the UNP to launch a campaign to educate the people on what they have done for the well being of the people in the country.

Gamini had differences with President Ranasinghe Premadasa, but he rejoined the UNP after a lapse of nearly one and a half years to revive the party following the assassination of President Premadasa. Gamini was brought to Parliament once again after he left the UNP through the national list following the resignation of late M. H. Amith. I had the opportunity to act as a go between Gamini and Amith for necessary negotiations to make the UNP dream a reality and bring Gamini back to Parliament via the National List.

Gamini took the initiative to promote cricket in Sri Lanka and to raise its standards to international level. His efforts yielded results owing to his lobbying at the high echelons of international cricket and his sheer dedication to the game of cricket.

Gamini proved he was a true Trinitian in spirit that he achieved in 1982 the full membership on the International Cricket Council while he was still the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka. The first test was played between Sri Lanka and England in 1982 in Colombo. Although Sri Lanka lost the match, it created history as the first test being played with England.

Gamini’s dedication to uplift the lives of the rural peasants and his contribution to promote cricket has left an indelible mark in the contemporary political history that he was a giant in every field that he represented.

If Gamini had lived longer he would have achieved many other goals. Gamini’s tragic death has beendifficult to fill.


Mayor of Colombo

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