Gamini Abhaya Iriyagolla

Patriot and Visionary In Commemoration Demise 03-01-2003


Gamini Iriyagolle

By D. C. Liyanarachchi
(Former administrator)

Some believe that it is easier to talk about a person of worth and greatness than to write about him. This perhaps is caused by the emotional surge that disturbs the admirer in relation to the departed. The late Gamini Iriyagolle is one such person much admired by those who were fortunate to know him. The writer believes that the public still remain uniformed about the sacrifices Gamini made to convince the J. R. Jayewardene Government that "Terrorism is Terrorism — The devil’s weapon to destroy humanity" It is an infectious destructive social disease around the globe. As a consequence the repeated errors made by the state or adopted attitudes — lingering, indecisive, time lacking and lackadaisical — has paid the price of inadvertently supporting and protracting terrorism in this country much to the dismay of genuine patriots, and intellectuals of that period. This article is not about politics and Gamini. He was not a politician, on the contrary, he rejected requests and injunctions to push him into political power. However, he did advise and voice his opinions on national issues when requested.

He fearlessly advised only after serious study of national issues, analysed and confronted his critiques whenever the public wished to know more, be it about the war or on other issues of the state.

After 2009 when the war ended in May there were hundreds known to him who reminisced the courageous and advisory role this patriot played in helping the state and the public comprehend "terrorism" a subject new to this country. These persons recalled the man and wished he was alive to enjoy the news of the end to a gruesome war.

In the 1970’s it is through the media — electronic and print that he educated a sleepy nation on the evils of terrorism and enlivened the nation to understand their destructive role. Patience, sacrifice, (by the Armed Forces and Civil Society) truth and justice appeared as new reflections in the horizon.

Gamini’s commitment to the country was matched by his ambition to challenge any danger that would chart a destructive course to hurt the nation. The nation to him comprised all ethnic communities ( excluded terrorists) In times of violent civil commotion he braved danger to save the lives of his Tamil friends and their families, the former whom he knew from school days to University onwards.

Terrorism, he analysed as the unofficial and unauthorised use of violence, in whatever gruesome form, and the intimidation and sadist destruction of humanity in an attempt to achieve political gain. No reason, cause or explanation had a place in such mercenary action to pursue destruction of the nation and territory.

The writer, wishes to analyse a few selected episodes from Gamini’s role on other national issues of vital importance. The very first came came about in the publication" THE TRUTH ABOUT THE MAHAWELI" It was the first detailed study (With maps, tables, calculations and prognostication), that presented collated material to challenge the dangers ahead for the nation, financially not viable and as a national project not feasible, He met the then President of Sri Lanka and the Minister in charge to warn of the dangers ahead, to no avail. A review of the book in the Sunday Observer 1978 presents "The first detailed study of this irrigation…. a book that every person interested in the development of the country should read …….the author is eminently suitable to undertake a study of this nature ……… The Truth about the Mahaweli is a very provocative book. It is very detailed and collates a lot of material from a variety of original sources into a single report – This book should give some administrators and experts, both local and foreign, many sleepless nights. Iriyagolle is no respecter of persons or reputations."

Mathematical calculations, finer analysis and recommendations presented by the author were never disputed even by foreign experts "imported". On the contrary several of them met the writer anonymously to learn more.

Gamini was a member of the Ceylon Civil Service and appointed in 1959. He served for 13 years in the service and retired prematurely for a legal career. Gamini graduated from University of Peradeniya with a Law degree, later obtained a LLM Post-graduate degree from the University of Cambridge ,where he also researched on civil liberties.

He had varied experience and a rich career as Deputy Land Commissioner responsible for major irrigation settlement projects throughout the country, Senior Agricultural Development Planner (M/Agriculture and Food),Founder Director ARTI, Secretary Ministry of Agriculture responsible for the Kandyan Peasantry Rehabilitation Programme Director Industrial Policy in the M/Industries, Chairman of the IDB etc etc.

He was a genuine patriot, never sought publicity and served with love in the districts of Kandy, Anuradhapura and Jaffna. In Jaffna he was placed in charge of the Civil Administration during a period of emergency. He often complimented the Jaffna Tamil community for their cultural affinity, perseverance and strength of character.

This presentation would remain incomplete without special references to his indepth studies on the ethnic issue "Tamil Claims to Land Fact and Fiction. This publication earned him fame as an authority on the subject. The publication sold nearly fifty thousand copies, locally and abroad. It commenced with the original newspaper article "The Fiction of Traditional Homelands and Land use" later developed into a major study and popular publication that enabled the public to understand the complex issues of the concept, the claims, and repurcussions that would follow to the demand for separate "Traditional Homelands " for the different communities in the island."Most non-Tamil and the Tamil people are still not aware of the basis of the claim of "Tamil extremists" for a separate territory" said Gamini. Note "extremists" and not "terrorists" the latter terminology came into the open much later. The claim is certainly not founded on allegations of ethnic harrassment and discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. It is a mumble jumble of ancient and modern history by a few so called academics not based on reliable sources material, he said.

Very few provided publicity to the 88 page memorandum Gamini rushed with, at his own expense to India, on 3rd June 1984 on the so-called "ethnic" problems of Sri Lanka on the eve of talks to sign an Agreement between Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India and J. R. Jayewardene, President of Sri Lanka, who was on his return from a visit to USA. Gamini was thankful to Dr. Neville Fernando, patriot and friend for the encouragement given to this move. They were able to stall a dangerous situation.

This international intervention helped to stall the signing of the Agreement between India and Sri Lanka on this occasion. There is much more to write about our admirable friend and administrator.

In the last few years prior to his demise he commenced a few publications titled "The Kandyan Convention,a conditional Treaty of Cession between the Sinhalese and the British 2nd March 1815"He analysed this as an International Treaty. Prior to his demise he commenced writing a book titled "From the Beginnings of Dutugemunu" but failed to continue it as a historical work.

I would failed in my duty if I do not acknowledge the exhaustive support Gamini received from his wife Indrani as Research Assistant.Today she plays an outstanding role implementing educational and reconciliation projects in the Northern Province leading the Sinhala Women’s Foundation for Welfare and Development.

We miss you Gamini

May you attain Nibbana

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