Today, a grateful public irrespective political differences would join in commemorating the 49th death anniversary of a true patriotic son of Sri Lanka, who had gone down in the annals of the island nation’s history as a man with an analytical mind and innovative vision and loved by the people.
Don Jacolis Rupasinghe Gunawardena, [Boralugoda Ralahamy] and Dona Liyanora Gunasekara, the well-known family in Boralugoda in Seetawaka were blessed with ten children. Don Philip Rupasinghe Gunawardena, was born on January 11, 1901, as the third in the family. Little Philip had his primary education at a village school and later attended Prince of Wales College, Ananda College and University College Colombo. He was only 20 years when father sent him to University of Illinois in the USA where he read Economics and subsequently for his second degree he joined University of Wisconsin. Finally, a doctorate in agricultural economics from the Colombia University in New York with.
Philip’s agility in glowing oratory and writing skills outclassed contemporary politicians. As a trade unionist in the UK, he engaged in journalism before he met Drs. NM Perera, Colvin R de Silva, S.A. Wickramasinghe and Leslie Gunawardena and sowed the seeds that became the Sri Lankan Marxism movement in 1930s. Philip acquired radical ideas during his stay in US and UK where he joined the Anti-Imperialist League and made a considerable input by involving in struggles in 1920s along with rebellious students like Jayaprakash Narayan, Jawaharlal Nehru, Krishna Menon, Jomo Kenyatta all future world leaders to mention a few.
Several national leaders were arrested under the guise of restraining Sinhala-Muslim riots in 1915. The motive was to suppress a possible anti-British movement out of the disturbances and also use the opportunity to eliminate regional leaders. Under ruthless Governor Robert Chalmers.
a few selected heroes were executed by firing squads following a court marshal under martial law. Philip was a fourteen year old schoolboy when his father became one such brave men earmarked for execution. The young Lion of Boralugoda, accompanied his mother in a horse carriage straight into Queen’s House and presented a petition to the Governor, and got his father released. Philip repeated his heroism during his struggles in Europe by undertaking an extremely risky task.
The Spanish revolutionary movement became very active during this time. Spanish rebels needed someone’s help in delivering some secret documents that needed to be delivered to, for which none of the rebellion youth came forward. This herculean assignment was undertaken by the lion-hearted Philip who was in early twenties. The youth who acquired Boralugoda ancestry’s Panthera leo genes, equipped with fluency in Spanish and French volunteered to meet the challenge and cross the Pyrenees range of mountains, the natural border between Spain and France that separates the two countries, risking the security checks. Our hero crossed the hill on foot, which stood 3,400 meters at the peak, carrying the bundle of secret documents for the Spanish comrades.
Philip who returned in 1932, played a significant role in forming the Lanka Samasamaja Party [LSSP] along with his Marxist friends NM, Colvin and the rest whom he met in England. The new party, [the oldest surviving], contested the State Council election in 1936. Philip and NM were elected to the Avissawella and Ruwanwella seats, where Philip defeated the Speaker, Forester Obeysekera, one of the most powerful men in the island at the time. Convinced by Philip, the LSSP accepted in principle that the Administration of the country should be in swabasha, Sinhalese and Tamil; he followed this in 1936 by introducing a motion in the State Council advocating that the work in police courts and Municipal courts should be conducted in the vernacular.
Being a staunch supporter of Marxist/Trotskyite ideology though, who professed that social development basically should stand on scientific lines of Marx, he was not a blind follower of ideology unlike his contemporaries. Known as “Father of Socialism”, for his introduction of earliest Marxist/Trotskyite ideals to Sri Lanka, he always maintained strong relations with local cultural roots, which often led to clashes with the rest of his colleagues in the Party. In fact he disagreed with LSSP front liners in categorizing all bourgeoisies as capitalist with whom they should not have any connection. Philip carefully separated the Nationalistic segments of the rich from Comprador Bourgeois; which ultimately led to his joining Bandaranaike in 1956. Those who opposed his move, NM, Colvin and others followed his footsteps eight years later by entering a coalition with Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of SWRD. The social and cultural facts and the importance of realistic approach in local politics, perhaps, they learned from Philip Gunawardena.
Philip, unlike his colleagues appealed to nationalistic emotions: The Fiery Marxist who Valued Local Culture turned his characteristic style, bordering on demagogy, said, “We swear by our national conquerors, our heritage and our literature. We are proud of King Raja Sinha, who kept the Portugese at bay for a quarter of a century, and of Puran Appu who attempted to free the Ceylonese from the repression of the British Imperialism. Yes we are proud of our national heroes.”
Philip who hated injustice and fought back to establish justice and fairness at all times was elected to the first Parliament to represent Avissawella with a huge majority of over 22,000 votes, but soon he was overthrown mainly due to his involvement in a worker strike in 1947 held at South Western omnibus Company, Ratmalana. The government filed action in courts, and he was deprived of civic rights for seven years where he lost his Parliamentary seat as a consequence. Kusumasiri Gunawardene his beloved wife and party activist handed over nominations to contest the vacant seat, but no one dared contest even from the newly formed UNP. Kusuma, as she was affectionately known holds an unbreakable record in the history of legislations, that she became the first woman MP to addressed the House in Sinhalese; she set it on July 24, 1948. Philip and Kusuma were happy parents of Indika, Dinesh, Prasanna, Githanjana and Lakmali.
Philip rejected political dogma and believed that social development should be based on scientific lines: care and concern towards the depressed, the oppressed and under privileged majority. He had one vision over four decades of his political life which he successfully executed ignoring race, religion or caste divisions, for him everyone was a human being.
Paddy Lands Act
One of the main accomplishments of Philip, as Minister of Food, Agriculture and Cooperatives in the Bandaranaike government was the Paddy Lands Act., or more famously known ‘Kumburu Panatha’ in 1958. The tenant farmer [Anda Goviya] who was required to part with half the crop to the landowner after toiling on the fields was given security of possession, plus three fourth of the harvest, which obviously the land-owner class hated. There was cruel hatred from an influential section in the Cabinet as well. However, a diluted Bill got through the legislator making an enormous social change. The reactionary forces, however, ensured Philips exit from the government before he could introduce further proposals in favour of the downtrodden masses.
Guaranteed Price Scheme for Paddy
Speaking in the house amidst interruptions and heckling from both sides on his introduction of a Guaranteed Price for Paddy he said,
“…Farmer lose the money before they go home. I like to help him save at least a portion of what he has realized from his crop for the next cultivation season. …Somehow or other we must stop this annual drain of Rs. 260 million that is sent out of the country for the purchase of rice. …
If there is a government contract going, one finds Buddharakkita and his agents hovering about like hungry jackals. …the political life of this country should be cleansed of these people. We were elected to serve the poor people of this country and we are not going to be intimidated or bullied by anybody however great he may be. So far I am concerned, I serve this government because I feel that I can translate into action some of the things for which I have been working for 20 or 30 years and as long as I am permitted to do that I will continue” —Hansard – May 6, 1958.
“In the years to come, when lesser Mortals like us have played their evanescent part and vanished into limbo of forgotten, a grateful socialist of Ceylon will remember Philip Gunawardena with pride and place him on the worthy pedestal due to him. History will no doubt accord him his rightful place in the political life in the country.” — Dr. N. M. Perera
Philip Rupasinghe Gunawardena, a political colossus, a great statesman, the fieriest leftist that ever lived in Sri Lanka, ending an illustrious political career, passed away at the age of 71 years on 26th March 1972, leaving to his sons the continuation of the progressive tasks that he undertook; especially, Minister Dinesh who has made his father very proud by carrying forward his legacy, he is committed to the task clearly with a true Lion’s roar as proved in Geneva sessions for the motherland.