5 December, 2022

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Philip Gunawardena – A Beacon Of Light In Sri Lanka Politics

By Rusiripala Tennakoon –

Rusiripala Tennakoon

Fifty years is a very short period in history. And it is also too short a period to lay to rest the great memories of our illustrious sons. Today we commemorate the 50th Death anniversary of Don Philip Rupasinghe Gunawardena, a name written down in golden letters in the History of Sri Lanka. His unrivalled excelling role as a true representative of the masses shining so bright above all was a true beacon throwing light meaning progress for the future of the country in every sense. And we recall his innovative visionary and his analytical approaches to serve the oppressed always standing for truth and fairness detesting injustice at any cost.

Philip Gunawardena

I do not think it is fair to confine ourselves only to sing praises at a time like this. A heroic son of the soil Like Philip should be honoured by reflecting upon the devotions, sacrifices and self-less commitments with which he stood up with others to serve the fellow beings in a true humanitarian spirit. He was born on 11th January 1901 as the fourth son in a family of 8 children, in the famous Boralugoda family of Don Jaccolis Rupasinghe Gunawardena and Dona Liyanora Gunesekera. Philip Gunawardena had his schooling starting from Awissawella and continued later in Prince of Wales College (Moratuwa), Ananda College (Colombo) before entering the University of Colombo. Without completing his his higher education in Sri Lanka, he traveled to the United States to study Economics at the University of Illinois.

His born qualities for entering politics and getting involved in radical political activities emerged during the University days and became an activist of the anti-imperialist League of USA where he played an active role as an agitating under graduate among those protesting against the colonial regimes. His cosmopolitan political involvements pioneering as the most outstanding rebel among the International Students came to peak with his moving into UK, where he got the opportunity of associating with personalities who later became renowned world leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Jayaprakash Narayan and Krishna Menon all from India, and Jomo Kenytta of Kenya, Jose Vasconcelos of Mexico and many others of international fame and reputation from many parts of the world as contemporaries. He excelled among his colleagues and generally in the radical political movements active in those days as an orator, trade unionist and as a writer who also contributed as a political columnist in UK. What we recall today in reminiscence is the activities of a great son of Sri Lanka who Played a dominant role in the World Politics that gave rise and formed the nucleus to many National Independent Movements in many parts of Globe.

Before he took to give leadership to Sri Lankan politics he encountered the other luminaries in the annals of local political scenario such as, Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Leslie Goonewardene and Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe during his sojourn in England. It is with them that he commenced his radical political movement in Sri Lanka later. He started the first leftist Political party, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) in 1935 with many of these colleagues which was a milestone in the rebellious movement against Imperialism and Colonialism. Philip has faced many political whirlwinds than any of the well known political leaders in this country. He was out spoken, forthright and more than anything else a daring fearless character because of which he came to be known as the Boralugoda Lion. And a fitting tribute it was for a man like Philip who did not care to shed his cloaks of honor for the sake of truthfulness.

It is very rare to come across personalities of this caliber in politics. Positions was not what Philip was after. He had a mindset to serve the oppressed. He has made sacrifices second to none during his journey to achieve this objective. In his illustrious carrier there are many instances which exhibit this great quality. In the 1930s while he was in UK, his passport was impounded by the British Government for the alleged offence of socialist work and anti-imperialist activities. He was allowed to depart only after the Intervention of Sir D.B. Jayatilleke making representations to the highest authorities. In 1940, following the banning of the LSSP Philip was imprisoned by the Colonial Government with other leaders of the Party and his rebellious brother Robert Gunawardena. After a jail break in 1942, he fled to India where he was caught again and imprisoned there. They were brought back to Sri Lanka in 1943 and sentenced to a term of 6 months in Jail. His life was not a bed of roses only because he chose to fight for the sake of the others. Born to an affluent family, educated in achieving high standards, what he chose to do was to forget all those in renunciation and stand on his ideological grounds sans the benefits and facilities he was bestowed with.

The political events and history associated with him is too long to narrate. But it would suffice to state that even after he became an elected representative of the people of Sri Lanka, by getting elected to the First parliament in 1947, he continued his struggle for the rights of workers, and got expelled from the parliament for his involvement in the famous 1947 general Strike losing his Awissawella seat as well as his Civic rights for seven long years.

Philip Gunawardena was a visionary of the period during which he got involved in Sri Lanka politics. He always took a lead in the elimination of poverty and emancipation of poor farmers who had become slaves of the land owners. His Paddy lands Act freed the “Ande” farmers and provided them the consolation and the pride of working in the paddy fields as co-owners and not as slaves of the masters. He loved to develop the Co-operative movement which indirectly served as the source of unity at the village level in their collective efforts to improve their life conditions. His long acquaintance with India provided the impetus for him to promote the Co-operative movement here and did it in the most innovative manner by setting up and introducing the Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society system. These MPCSs became the central distributing and supply agency at the village level inculcating a self- managed development culture to our village society.

He expanded the system to Cooperative Banks and his vision culminated in the formation of Cooperative Federal banks and later to the formation of the People’s Bank. Serving as a cabinet minister in the SWRD, MEP government he was instrumental in the establishment of the Transport Board, Nationalization of the Harbor and laying the foundation for the formation of the Insurance Corporation and the Peoples Bank. When he became the Industries and Fisheries Minister in a subsequent national Government he introduced many novel concepts like the Industrial development Board, Sate Industrial Corporation as well as the private sector industries.

The importance of Commemorating personalities like Philip Gunawardena lies in the focus it produces in the minds of the new generations not used to great political cultures and eternally exposed instead, to a culture of politics of survival. In the context of what we witness today, as basic elements of politics voiced often as pilferage, fraud, corruption, accumulation of wealth, nepotism and a host of other allegations and accusations, these reminiscences of sacrifices and the backgrounds of great personalities who had come forward to serve the masses, gives us a consolation in a way that at least our history is rich of such characters.

As a school boy I remember the shrieking voice of Philip Gunawardena speaking in public rallies gesticulating with his raised fist shaking his head making his hair shrivel encouraging and prompting our minds to wake up and stand for justice with no fuss or fear. A great man he was in every sense making us to ponder over of the values we have lost.

Let this short wring be a tribute to him on this death anniversary.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    Philip was a man with a mission at one time.
    One could call him a beacon-of-light in some way then.
    But the beacon dimmed and went extinct while he was very much active in politics.
    His arrogance and tendency to nurse grudges were not qualities expected of a mass leader.
    He wasa not always principled in his politics. far worse than joining SWRDB in the MEP alliance was his joining Dudley S’s ‘hath havula’.
    His arrogance cost the MEP (a name he stole from the ruins of the coalition to ditch the VLSSP) humiliation in 1960 March.
    He was principled in refusing to join the SLFP government as partner without the LSSP and the CP. NM Perera’s betrayal made him lose his head. What did he do? Joined the UNP!
    His utterances in Parliament on the language question were uncalled for and even offensive.
    All said, none of his children would stand knee high next to him, and what he did to his party is to blame for that.

    • 1
      0

      His arrogance cost the MEP…humiliation in 1960 July.

    • 2
      0

      If Philip was a man with a mission at one time, his son to be totally the opposite – is big question to me. No different to any other cheap men from the smaller parties, Diensh too joined most abusive Rajapakshe politics. How come ?

      Even Vasidewa to turn upside down and behaves like similar to an any low life- is also not acceptable. Had these men left from active politics, this country would have become a better place.
      .

  • 3
    0

    Rusiripala,
    .
    This is a serious request from me that you put a full stop to your writing of articles. Only a request – we readers can’t tell CT what to publish and what not to.
    .
    I’ve not really read your article, but I know who Philip G. was. It may be that he did some good things, but, given the dire straits that we are in why try to write “History” now?
    .
    I can think of only one reason why you (clearly an employee of the Rajapaksas) should be doing this now. Philip’s son, Dinesh, is in the SLPP. I have the impression that he uncritically approves of the Rjapaksas, who must be got rid of, if we are to survive.
    .
    Yes, survive
    . What is the alternative for us? To die. I mean literal death, to be followed by disposal of our bodies – either by cremation (where’s the fuel-energy even for that?), or burial, so that worms may feast on us.
    .
    Please stop these articles of yours!
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela

  • 3
    0

    Who is this man Philip Gunawardena?

    Anyone noteworthy?

    Never heard of him.

    Did he leave a lasting legacy for the betterment of the nation?

    If you can’t list his achievements precisely in less than a minute, 1, 2, 3, ……… then he is just a sentimental-hero to a few deluded souls …….

    • 0
      0

      Dear nimal,
      .
      It’s up to you to find out about Philip. Google! Wikipedia! He was supposed to be a Marxist, but one who appealed to racist sentiments as well.
      .
      His son, Dinesh, built on his racism. But he had another political son also – a quieter, less controversial guy: Indika:
      .
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indika_Gunawardena
      .
      I haven’t had direct contact with any of them.
      .
      The political views of a fairly large area from Maharagama to Avissavella, and a bit beyond, (that’s on the High Level Road) and from Piliyandala to about Kiriella on the other road to Ratnapura, show the influence of this family.
      .
      Vasudeva Nanayakkara adopted the Kiriella area, but he’s from the Galle District. He’s something like a sixth cousin of mine. I’ve met him, his late mother, and his sister – they are a very large family. His mother was a Wijesekera Dissanayake from Urala near Wanduramba; my maternal grandfather was a Wijeratne Dissanayake from the same village.
      .
      https://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/jinadasa-vijayatunga
      .
      My mother said that Vijayatunga wasn’t a relative. Don’t expect to learn much more from me, since I was born in Bandarawela!

  • 3
    0

    NM , Colvin , Peter , Philip , Wimal , Vasu , Leslie are beacon of light according to Rusiri just like Rajapaksas. He did not complete education in Lanka but was accepted in University of Illinois , where he joined Anti imperialist movement ( did he do the same in Lanka) Then he went to UK to hobnob with rest of the beacon of light for more anti imperialist action. Rusiri, “haven’t we heard it all and seen it alll.”.

    • 4
      0

      This brings us back to a pertinent question/ discussion we were having elsewhere. Rusiri, why did all these beacons go to UK, USA, West instead of Russia or China where there was a need for such people to organize anti imperialist actions. Bunch of hypocrites including you.

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