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Philip Gunawardena - an illustrious statesman

by W T A Leslie Fernando - Daily News Tue Mar 26, 2002

The 30th death anniversary of Philip Gunawardene, an illustrious son of the soil, great statesman, colourful personality and a man of destiny who influenced the course of history in our country falls on March 26, 2002. Father of socialism in Sri Lanka, he was called the Lion of Boralugoda.

Philip was born on January 11, 1901 at Boralugoda on the outskirts of Kelani river in the Hevagam Korale. His father was Donn Jakolis Rupasinghe Gunawardene a vidane arachchi known as Boralugoda Ralahamy. He was married to Dona Liyanora Gunasekera from Dompe in Siyana Korale. Philip was the third child of a family of three boys and seven girls.

Philip had his primary education at Boralugoda Temple and Siddhartha Vidyalaya, Kaluaggala built by his father. He had his secondary education at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa and Ananda College, Colombo.

Boralugoda Ralahamy was a partriach who raised his children to be devout Buddhists proud of their ancient Sinhala heritage. Even as teenagers Philip and his brothers were attracted to national movements.

Philip was 14 years old, when Boralugoda Ralahamy was falsely implicated in the riots of 1915 and condemned to death under the Martial Law. Over this injustice tears gushed from the eyes of the boy Philip and he was determined to oust the British Raj from our soil.

He accompanied his mother in a horse drawn coach and unheeded by the shouts of "Halt" by the security guards drove straight into the premises of the Governor's residence and handed over a petition on behalf of his father. The Governor accepted the petition as true and released Boralugoda Ralahamy.

Boralugoda Ralahamy lived long to witness the heroic deeds of his brave son and take pride of the achievements of his illustrious off-spring. Philip in his life time was able to witness even the last vestiges of colonial rule removed in our country.

While at Ananda College, Philip and his brother Robert took up residence at the house of T.B. Jayah, a statesman involved in the freedom struggle who was a teacher at Ananda. While being there Philip came into contact with Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisinghe Harischandra and John de Silva at the residence of W.A. Silva and he was inspired by their patriotism.

After passing London Matriculation from Ananda, Philip joined the University College and followed a course in economics. As a young student Philip attended the meetings of National Congress but later became a sympathiser of "Young Lanka League" a radical organisation led by Victor Corea, A.E. Gunasinghe and C.H.Z. Fernando.

Boralugoda Ralahamy now wanted to send his brilliant son to England to become a Barrister-at-law. But Philip went to United States. He studied two years at the University of Illinois and then at the University of Wisconsin and obtained a doctorate in agricultural economics.

While in Untied States Philip studied at the feet of Scot Nearing the pioneer Professor in socialism. He also worked in collaboration with Indian socialists Jayaprakash Narayan Seyed Hussain, J.B. Kumarappa and the Mexican revolutionary Jesu Vase Gonsales. In New York he participated in trade union struggles and once some Negro workers in the city carried a huge photograph of Philip in a procession for leading them to win their demands.

In 1928 Philip came to England and participated in the activities of the Indian League with Krishnon Menon. He organised anti-imperialist activities with Jomo Kenyata of Kenya, Tuan Malacca of Malaya and Ram Goolam of Mauritius. Philip was a fascinating speaker who expounded socialism attacking the imperialist machinery at Hyde Park Corner used to reverberate with his thunderous voice.

At this time there was a revolt against the rule of Alphonsus in Spain. Philip undertook to take some secret documents to the rebels in Spain risking his own life. He went alone, crossed the Pyranese range on foot with only a map in his hand and accomplished the task. This is now a legend.

Leslie Gunawardene and Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe formed the nucleus that was become the LSSP in Sri Lanka. The British government had impounded his passport because of his anti-imperialist and socialist activities. It was only after the intervention of Sir D.B. Jayatilleke at the request of Boralugoda Ralahamy that Philip was allowed to return to Sri Lanka.

Philip landed in Sri Lanka on November 01, 1932 and began to organise a broad-based movement against the colonial set up.

When the LSSP was formed on December 18, 1935, Philip pushed Colvin to be the first President. Nevertheless all were conscious that Philip was the leader of the movement. (Dr. N.M. Perera - "Philip Gunawardene; The Father of Socialism in Ceylon" - 1972, reprinted in "Daily News" - January 13, 1999).

Philip was a dynamo of activity and he was the directing force of the LSSP. People were attracted by his fire-brand speeches that mesmerised the audience. They were taken up by his charismatic personality and sincerity of purpose.

In 1936 State Council elections Philip comfortably won Avissawella defeating the Speaker Forrester Obeysekera and N.M. won Ruvanwella. N.M. has expressed that if not for Philip he would not have contested Ruvanwella and if not for the support he got from Philip and Robert he would not have won.

At this time N.M. took the lead from Philip whom he admired to the point of hero worship. (Charlles Wesley Erwin "Philip Gunawardene - Making of a Revolutionary", Page 34). The political duo Philip and N.M. vociferously championed the cause of the underpriviledged in the State Council. The reactionary forces who now got alarmed tried to suppress the Samasamaja movement. They sent thugs to break up the LSSP meetings. But Philip and his brother Robert used their brains and brawn and with the assistance of harbour workers made those hirelings run for their lives.

During the World War II (1939-45), the colonial government proscribed the LSSP and imprisoned its leaders Philip, N.M., Colvin and Edmund Samarakkodi. On April 05, 1942 when the Japanese bombed Colombo, the LSSP leaders broke the jail and escaped to India. In India Philip lived under the assumed name Gurusamy and later his wife Kusuma fled to India and joined him there. Their eldest son was born in India and they named him as Indika.

After some time, the Samasamaja leaders were arrested in India and in 1943 brought back to Sri Lanka. They were sentenced to six months imprisonment for breaking the jail. In the prison Philip husked coconuts and learned to rattan chairs. When the War was over in 1945, the LSSP leaders were unconditionally released.

In 1947 parliamentary elections, Philip won Avissawella with an overwhelming majority as the candidate of the LSSP. However Philip forfeited his seat when he was sentenced to three months rigorous imprisonment over an incident in the South Western Bus Strike. Kusuma was returned uncontested to Avissawella to fill his place.

In 1950 when the LSSP and the Bolshevic Samasamaja Party re-united Philip broke away with his supporters who were mainly harbour workers, peasants and swabasha teachers to form the VLSSP. In 1951 VLSSP formed a united front with the Communist Party. In 153 the LSSP and the CB-VLSSP United Front jointly organised the famous Hartal.

Philip was not an ideological dissectionist and he had a pragmatic approach in politics. He was prepared to take lessons of history. In 1956, the VLSSP led by Philip joined hands with the SLFP led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to form the MEP to bring about a social order through the ballot. The MEP was returned to power in the general elections 1956.

As the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Co-operatives in the MEP government (1956-59) Philip forged ahead with a radical agenda. He introduced the Paddy Lands Act to emancipate the tenant farmer and increase the yield, Multi-purpose Co-operative Scheme to ensure proper distribution of produce and the Co-operative Bank which was later re-named as the Peoples' Bank to uplift rural masses.

Philip was the force behind the nationalisation of Bus transport and the Port. He was also instrumental in the take-over of British Air Force base at Katunayake and Naval basee in Trincomalee to remove the last shackles of colonial rule.

In 1965, Philip joined the national government of Dudley Senanayake and served as the Minister of Industries and Fisheries. He streamlined many public corporations from 1965 to 1970 to make them viable institutions. With the help of Soviet Union he developed Tyre and Steel Corporations. He improved Plywood Corporation with Rumanian aid. He got Japanese and Chinese aid to facilitate mechanised fishing industry. It was he who put Fisheries Corporation into operation.

To the surprise of many Philip lost the Avissawella seat in 1970 elections. But he was not disheartened. He wanted to re-orientate the MEP to the changing times, when he unexpectedly fell ill. He passed away on March 26, 1972.

Philip Gunawardene was man of vision. He realised that it was the general consensus among the people in Sri Lanka, that socialism should be effected by the democratic process.

By no means was Philip a racist or a communalist. He was in the Cabinet when Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact was signed in 1957 and a member of the Cabinet when Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact was formulated in 1966.

Philip was man of stern moral rectitude. The District Judge who dismissed a defamation case filed against Philip by a senior D.I.G. declared that Philip was an embodiment of honesty and integrity.

Philip led an unostentatious family life. He and Kusuma were blessed with four sons and one daughter. They all are shining stars in their respective fields. The personal life of Philip epitomized the cream of high moral values found in our rich cultural heritage disciplined by Buddhist way of life.

Dr. N.M. Perera, one time his close ally in and later a bitter foe in politics has expressed thus on the greatness of Philip - "History will no doubt accord him his rightful place in the political life of this country. In the years to come, when lesser mortals like us have played their evancent part and vanished into the limbo of forgotten, a grateful socialist Ceylon will remember him with pride and place him in the worthy pedestral due to him".

Charles Wesley Erwin, an authority on the History of the Trotskyist movement in India and Sri Lanka, analyzing his achievements writes on Philip: "He was towering political personality, a fiery, charismatic, energetic visionary, whose brilliant mind often raced far ahead of his comrades. In his prime he was a trailblazing revolutionary who created from scratch a vigorous Left party in an insular country where Left politics barely existed before.

In his later years Philip lost his revolutionary fire and faith. Even though he ended his days in political defeat, he never betrayed the cause of socialism as he understood it". (Philip Gunawardene - The Making of a Revolutionary). Philip Gunawardene was a statesman par-excellence.

(The writer is a former High Court Judge

31st Death Anniversary of Philip Gunawardena : The fiery Marxist

by Willie Wijeratne (Office of the Leader of the Opposition)

Daily News Sat Mar 29 2003

The Thirty-first death anniversary of one of the most colourful personalities in the political field fell on the 26th March 2003. One of the most fiery Marxists that ever lived in Sri Lanka was Don Philip Rupesinghe Gunawardena. He was in the political field both as a Trade Unionist, a State Councillor and a Parliamentarian.

He was one of the eight children (3 sons and 5 daughters) of the well-known Boralugoda Appuhamy Don Jacolis Rupasinghe Gunawardena. Philip's father too was a very straightforward and feared none. During the 1915 riots he was jailed and sentenced to death, and was only freed due to the Abolition of Martial Law. Philip was born on 11th January 1901 and he was the fourth child in the family.

He studied at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa, Trinity College, Kandy and Ananda College, Colombo. He went to the University of Wisconsin USA for higher studies. Even while studying abroad he took an active part in the political discussions and demonstrations held in the both London and the USA.

Philip was the founder of the LSSP in 1935, and led the Suriya Mal Campaign in 1934-1935 together with other LSSPers like NM, Colvin, Leslie Gunawardena, Robert Gunawardena (brother of Philip) and many others. During the war years he was very active as a State Councillor. In the year 1932 he was jailed for Trade Union activities and lost his seat in the State Council. He was jailed again for speaking against the British Government and Ceylon's involvement in the War.

He was so outspoken that together with his other LSSP colleagues he was jailed. It was left to his brother Robert to organise the famous Jail-break together with Jalior Solomon and they all surreptitiously left for India and were hiding, till finally they were caught. He was elected to the Avissawella Seat at the first General Elections in 1947 with a majority of 22,252 votes.

At a by-election held in 1948, his wife Kusumasiri was elected to Parliament uncontested. Such was the power that Philip had that no party contested the Avisawella seat. In May 1956 saw Philip blossoming as a partner in the MEP Government led by the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.

He was the Minister of Agriculture and wielded much influence in the country with his progressive measures. His famous Paddy Lands Act brought him much fame but some of his colleagues in the then Cabinet were not happy, and put every obstacle to thwart his stand on measures he took for the good of the people. It is said that the production of rice locally recorded a higher percentage as a result of his progressive measures.

A helpless Prime Minister stood by Philip but ultimately he too was pressurized to do something that he did not want to do. He changed his Ministry which Philip resented. It was a period of stress and anxiety for Philip who did so much during the short period of his tenure as Minister. Together with his colleagues William Silva (MP for Ambalangoda) and Lakshman Rajapaksa (MP for Tissamaharama) they left the MEP Government.

Soon after Philip left the Government he in a forthright speech, told the late Mr. Bandaranaike that very soon the very people round you would squeeze your neck and snuff you out of this world. He warned that this will happen sooner that you think. He was very critical of even the Buddhist monks who were trying various tricks to bring in racketeers to influence the Government.

He was even brave to name them. He believed that to move forward with sincerity was the best. In Parliament it was a treat to listen to him. It was then very easy to go to the Gallery in the old Parliament and the Policeman on duty just allowed us to go if there was room. He used to take off his glasses and with sincerity and force speak with all his might against the evil forces of democracy.

When Dr. N.M. Perera and other LSSPers joined the SLFP Government and formed a coalition Government, Philip was left out. Whether it was done purposely or not is not the question, but I believe, some had told Mrs. Bandaranaike, that it was very difficult to get on with Philip. Of course, Philip too was very critical of Mrs. Bandaranaike being the Prime Minister from the Senate and not from Parliament. Ultimately he joined the National Government of Dudley Senanayake, whom he described as one of the finest democrats and a Gentleman in politics. He became the Minister of Industries and he gave the local entrepreneurs a place in the industrial field.

Mr. Ronnie de Mel, a former Minister in a tribute to Philip Gunawardena has said that if any person enters his room, he or she comes out with a good feeling of pride and self-respect. The media was very critical of him, but he was not one bit worried and he gave them also a good tongue-lashing. The late Mr. J. R. Jayewardene, former President, has described Philip as one who brought a revolutionary tone and a "red colour" to the proceedings of the House. Philip always took the side of the depressed and oppressed.

He was scrupulously honest in all his dealings and because of his politics he has lost rather than gained anything for himself. It is fortunate that two of his sons are Politicians.

It is in the fitness of things that a son of his heads the Party he formed so sincerely and honestly. Dinesh himself was former Minister and during his short-term as Minister or Transport worked hard and it would have been a proud father who would have witnessed Dinesh becoming a Member of Parliament thrice and then a Minister of the People's Alliance.

Philip gave 35 years of his life to the service of the people, particularly those in the Hewagam Korale. He will be remembered for the Fisheries and Agricultural policies he was able to put into practice and was very instrumental in the Nationalisation Programmes that were set up by the then MEP Government.

He had some very fine Civil Servants who worked for him. I remember one of them - Mr. K. Alvapillai who carried out his policies to the letter. Once when a reshuffle of Permanent Secretaries was to take place, he insisted that his Secretary should not be removed.

However, it took me a long time to reconcile myself to the fact that I could never agree with the political beliefs of the MEP. As a Christian I used to think that the MEP were extremists. But I was strongly reminded recently by a Security personnel, that the MEP was a party that stood by the Sinhala Buddhist at all times, and never changed their policies to suit people as they like. He explained to me that Dinesh Gunawardena and his colleagues have never condemned the religious beliefs of any particular religion, but if the necessity arose, they would defend them at all time.

Don Philip Rupesinghe, the fiery Marxist who brought colour and dignity to politics died on the 26th March.

It was fitting that tributes and ceremonies were held at Boralugoda on this date. A Public Commemoration meeting will be held on Monday 31st March at the Public Library Auditorium at 4.00 p.m. where tributes will be paid for his services to the nation.

The writer gratefully acknowledges the assistance given by the staff of the Parliament Library to enable him to peruse relevant information regarding the late Mr. Philip Gunawardena).