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People cherished his youthful leadership

by P. Rajaratnam - Daily News Wed Mar 27 2002

One of the country's foremost political figures, Gamini Dissanayake was assassinated almost two weeks prior to the Presidential elections of which he was a presidential candidate.

The entire country and particularly the hill country was grief stricken over his brutal killing.

Gamini Dissanayake whose Birth Anniversary falls on March 20 was a multi-faceted figure, started his political career in Nuwara Eliya electorate in 1970, prior to which his father Andrew Dissanayake represented this electorate as an SLFP MP. In both the 1970 and '72 by-election, Gamini Dissanayakae defeated his political rivals with a resounding majority with the plantation workers and specially the youth who rallied round him and cherished his youthful leadership qualities and his charm.

With the support of the plantation lot and the rural voters, he became the first member of parliament, pushing Mr. Anura Bandaranaike and the CWC chief the late S. Thondaman to second and third positions respectively in this multi-member constituency.

It was in the era of the 1970s that the radicals with different approach and thinking emerged and among them were leaders like Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and others, and with such positive ideals, the DUNF emerged.

Gamini Dissanayake won the respect and admiration of his onetime political and trade union rival. CWC leader S. Thondaman, and kept him in good humour, when he described him as that "Thondaman, words were like the letters engraved in stone...." and thus kept the balance of power both in the political and trade union fields in the plantation sector of the hill country.

Dissanayake even got men like S. Sathasivam, the former CWC vice president and former MP for Nuwara Eliya to join him, and it was his approach that eight of the CWC members in the Central provincial Council joined Gamini Dissanayake and others to defeat the Council with an abortive no confidence motion.

These eight members thereafter became the dissidents of the CWC since they defied the orders of the high command of the CWC organisation. They continue to remain in the rival unions against the CWC at present.

Mr. Gamini Dissanayake was once again after a lapse of nearly three years joined the United National Party Government to which Party and government he gave his entire youth and service as an MP and as a cabinet minister for an unblemished period of over twenty years.

As Sri Lanka's youngest cabinet minister Gamini Dissanayake shouldered the country's important portfolios including the Mahaweli Scheme. He was the closest ally and disciple of former President J.R. Jayewardene.

Gamini Dissanayake who was a vegetarian, and representing the island's major tea growing hillcountry of Nuwara Eliya - Maskeliya constituency in the National State Assembly, was also a keen follower of Gandhian philosophy. He had represented the Nuwara Eliya constituency for twenty years or so. He also contested Kandy district and won with a large majority.

At the time, the government was concentrating on efficient management and organisation of the plantations, consisting of tea, rubber, and coconut, as it was mismanaged as usual and almost ruined at the time, the late Gaimini Dissanayake started the various development projects and successfully accomplished them within a given period.

As Minister of Plantations Industries, Dissanayake introduced drastic changes including the Cluster Systems and to man them, he hand-picked some of the senior planters, most of them were his colleagues at Trinity College. By the cluster system, he believed the tea industry would become viable units in certain areas in the major tea producing district of Nuwara Eliya.

He also successfully set up the Waterfield Armstrong Educational Institute in Nuwara Eliya, which Institution has produced several graduates with the assistance and knowledge imparted by the expatriate staff. He also introduced the Hatton Pool Bank to train youth in technical fields.

In the plantation sector, he created a formidable trade union, the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers' Union, which at the time completely erased the theory, that the plantation Tamil workers should essentially belong to a Tamil oriented trade union, and thus this important segment of the working class was gradually brought into the national stream.

As Sri Lanka's youngest cabinet minister, Gamini Dissanayake shouldered the country's important portfolios including the Mahaweli scheme. He was the closest ally and disciple of former President J.R. Jayewardene.