Charismatic, captivating and superlative politician Gamini Dissanayake who was cruelly killed by a LTTE female suicide bomber on the night of the 23rd of October 1994, in Thotalanga along with many UNP stalwarts who were canvassing a last ditch campaign for his own presidential race. The news of his tragic sparked instantly island wide and also worldwide death which shattered all hopes and thwarted people’s dream and aspirations of their fascinating and gentle leader becoming the President of the country which otherwise was inevitable, with the presidential election just two weeks away. It was an irreparable rout to the entire nation, as during his 24 year tenure of service in dynamic affairs of state, he had achieved more than a lifetime’s worth of milestones, goals and accomplishments, much perhaps more than any other politician had achieved in the annals of politics in the country inside such a relatively miniature span in politics.
From the attack which killed him instantaneously he had not sustained wounds but only two little holes on his forehead and chest were found on his static dead body caused by the pellets of the powerful bomber. The potential president to be, had been assassinated ruthlessly along with UNP bigwigs – Dr. Gamini Wijesekera then UNP’s General Secretary, Parliamentarians, Mawatagama Premachandra, Weerasinghe Mallimaarachchi and M V Christy Perera. It was a devastation of an almost an integral part of the UNP elite community.
On this momentous day the family members of the Gamini Dissanayake had joined the ranks of over 50,000 other families who had lost very precious lives in these hollow racial hostilities that were fought.
At the raw age of 28 years he had begun a practice as a lawyer working in Neville Samarakoon’s Chambers who was later appointed as the Chief Justice.The then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake had courageously amid self-confidence had opted him to compete in the Nuwara Eliya seat although those of the UNP high command then including the deputy leader, J R Jayewardene, were not contented with the option.
The sitting member then was Donald Ranaweera,a wealthy proprietary planter, an imperative financier of the party, and also the then chairman of the Times Group of Newspapers. On Gamini Dissanayake’s nomination, Donald Ranaweera much to the embarrassment of the UNP contested in the adjoining Maskeliya seat as an Independent candidate. Donald Ranaweera in anger to take revenge had spent his ‘money strength’ just to thwart his ballot votes in Nuwara Eliya.
The Nuwara Eliya campaign of May 1970 and the by-election that followed in October 1972 as a result of Gamini Dissanayake being unseated via an election petition were the toughest political campaigns faced as he only a was novice and his first foray in politics having commenced a career as a lawyer. In the May 1970 with the exception for the blessings of the then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake he had only a diminutive grasp from the party hierarchy. He was nicknamed as a “parachute karaya” as his father Andrew Dissanayake was an ex MP of Nuwara Eliya over two decades earlier under a SLFP regime of SWRD.Bandaranaike.
As a young and energetic politician and the people’s representative in the Nuwara-Eliya district, he extended yeoman service to all constituents with devotion, obligation and absolute dedication using his characteristic charismatic loom, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, despite of each person’s political affiliations. It would be tricky to find one more solitary politician in the archives of history of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, who was so vastly commended and held in sky-scraping esteem by his contemporaries and so cherished by his political opponents, predominantly due to his impartial and unbiased mind-set predominantly owed to his unprejudiced stance.
He was a unique and extraordinary politician who listened to the masses, solved their problems, and touched their lives in a very affirmative and compassionate mode. Anyone who was eager on meeting him had very uncomplicated access, irrespective of their political affiliations
He never resorted in pity, insignificant, diverse and partisan politics. He was eternally enthusiastic to have sensible debates. He possessed a very comprehensible, self-motivated dynamic vision and had no intention in making false and hollow promises. His humility and friendly disposition endeared him to magnetize a large cross section of friends. He never differentiated between the rich and the poor and his hospitality to a poor and rich person was comparable. He listened to the masses, solved their evils.
Much has been already printed about Gamini Dissanayake and his contributions to national progress and sports, cricket in particular. Significantly, his accomplishment of what came to be called as the Accelerated Mahaweli Programme which he spearheaded by completing it within a short span of six years what had been premeditated for 30 long years.
The Gamini Dissanayake’s “swarnabhoomi”, land titles programme for the underprivileged landless people and the solitary pains shouldered in securing Test status for Sri Lanka cricket in the year 1981 and the establishment of the “plantations trade union organization” of the UNP and other accomplishments were published in a felicitation volume published by his admirers to coincide with his 50th birthday which minute all these and his other supplementary accomplishments in a book launched “50: A Beginning”.
On April 11, 2003 as recognition of his genuine and untiring commitment to the Mahaweli Programme, the government resolutely opted to name the Kotmale Reservoir as “Gamini Dissanayake Reservoir”. At that ceremony, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe graciously spoke of Gamini Dissanayake’s contribution to national development. The Kotmale naming was supremely appropriate since his 77own ancestral homes and lands that of his kith and kin were also submerged in the vast development under his subject purview that was implemented.
It had been a practice every year since his death, to place floral tributes at his statue near Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo. In 1996, his wife, Srima, established a school in his name, first in Kandy and now operating in Nuwara Eliya. Every year nearly 100 underprivileged but awfully gifted urban students pass out of that school having mastered English, management and occupational skills and in computer literacy.
It is firmly reported that all of them find fitting jobs. None of them are made redundant. This superlative nod on Srima’s part in management a school in her husband’s reminiscence is far more important than granite statues, annual floral tributes and almsgivings, and even commemoration lectures organized which are attended primarily by the Colombo’s elite and privileged.
When one reminisces about Gamini, Dissanayake, just a handful would rebuff that he was very much cherished, accepted and admired. With his in-born charisma, his well-behaved and transmittable grin, his aptitude to paddle a person on his shoulders as if he knew him well and his knack of saying things which positioned people at easiness, made him an appealing outgoing person. He was real gentleman, a living icon by people-orientation and a doyen in the political arena .The chemistry between him and his public were never more evident than in the collective reaching out of people from upcountry villages and tea plantations; from Mahaweli homesteads and Swarnabhoomi lands.
He was an excellent orator who spoke sense, maintaining all audiences spellbound. The contents of his speeches spelt out his promises, inspiring the desperate with hope for their lives. The firm foundation built and the confidence gained by the people of the electorate, in particular, helped in his stride to nurture and mature in to an ideal politician. When the United National Party came into power in the year 1977, he was entrusted with many Ministerial Portfolios, monumental goals and tasks during the tenure of the government. The Ministerial Portfolios entrusted to him were Irrigation, Power, Construction, Lands, Land Development, Mahaweli, Plantation Industries and Highways.The late Gamimi Dissanayake had once confessed that the word ‘development’ meant developing of infrastructure such as roads, industrial factories, schools, playgrounds, transport and, the end result of ‘development’ is upliftment of the livelihood ethics of the masses in physical, mental, moral, social and cultural advancement.
The most gigantic task he confronted was, of course, the historical accelerated Mahaweli Project. The toughest challenge in its implementation was the evacuation of approximately 3000 families from over 50 villages, who lived in the valley of the Kotmale reservoir. This also included about 15 places of religious worship. The late leader too sacrificed his own ancestral lands. Those villagers were forced to leave their traditional homes to breathe in foreign environments. The Kotmale reservoir was one among other reservoirs, Victoria, Randenigala, Rantembe, Ulhitiya, Rahkinda and Maduruoya; which were built and commissioned under the accelerated Mahaweli development programme. This multipurpose diversion scheme also included the amalgamation of several canals and waterways. This gigantic Mahaweli scheme, with foreign collaboration, was manned by proficient personnel deployed both locally and internationally, using innovative and pioneering technology under the close scrutiny of the giant leader.
The gigantic exercise was initially, targeted to be completed in 30 years. However, due to his enormous skill, the charismatic approach and untiring leadership, it was completed in an unbelievably short period of just seven years The Kotmale reservoir was commissioned on August 24, 1985, fulfilling a dream of the late Gamini Dissanayake. Those who sacrificed lands have now settled and are living freely and independently, having had their basic needs fulfilled like jobs, shelter and food, while making maximum use of the golden waters of the reservoirs for their agricultural needs. The speech he delivered on that day was emotional and fascinating. While paying great tribute to those who sacrificed lands engulfed in the reservoir, he emphasised that it was made in the national interest with a vision towards a unambiguous development revolution. He said “I believe the agony and the pain of mind the people of Kotmale and my relatives suffered as a result of the loss of ancestral lands; will be compensated when they witness the vast benefits that this project will fetch to the next generation.”
As a gesture of national gratitude, on April 11, 2003 the ‘Kotmale Reservoir’ was appropriately renamed as the ‘Gamini Dissanayke Reservoir’ by unveiling his statue at a glittering ceremony presided over by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe with the participation of Cabinet Ministers, VIP’s, Madam Srima Dissanayake, Chairperson of the Gamini Dissanayake Foundation., Navin Dissanayake, Director of the Gamini Dissanayake Foundation and the then Minister of Investment Promotion and other distinguished invitees. This event became more significant, as it took place at a time when the farmers were blessed with a bumper paddy harvest that they had been deprived of for a stretched phase of time. This made a tremendous impact on the economic revival of the country.
Besides being actively engaged in our development process, he found the time to be enthusiastically involved in the game of cricket; having held office as the President of the Board of Control of Cricket in Sri Lanka, BCCSL (now known as Sri Lanka Cricket) from June 1981 to June 1989 and thereafter, for a brief period of four months, immediately prior to his tragic death in 1994; during which period he made many significant contributions. During the tenure of past Presidents of the then BCCSL, Robert Senanayake, held office for 17 years, T.B.Werapitiya and General B.R. Heyn who held office for comparatively shorter periods, made the utmost gentle persuasive efforts to the ever relentless International Cricket Council (ICC), the governing body of world cricket, to qualify us as full members of the ICC to play Test cricket.
The labours of his predecessors were not given any compassion but proved futile year after year. It was England and Australia who had the joint rejection power, who stood against flanking us. They were absolutely liable in spiralling down our frantic pursuit for full membership of the ICC. The then President of the Pakistani Cricket Board Abdul Hafeez Karder made valiant labours towards our laudable reason and, in vertical intense anxiety, accused the ICC of ethnic discrimination in the year 1975. It was the suggestion of our then late BCCSL President to form the Asian Cricket Council along with India, to counteract the white supremacy of the ICC. It was beside this bleak environment that he was persuaded to acknowledge the post of President However, for him, no task or goal was impossible. He altered the then existed infrastructure, which remained untouched for years. He placed new trends and values in conducting the behaviour of the then board. He inaugurated The Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation and was adamant that at any cost he was obtaining us full ICC Test status with full membership.
He then embarked on a programme of exertion with a visualization to achieve what he felt was preeminent for Sri Lankan cricket. This included the construction of a building to house the headquarters of cricket at Maitland Place, construction of modern indoor net facilities, development of the Asgiriya stadium and other grounds at provincial venues to play International and domestic cricket, inaugurated a programme to send young cricketers for training overseas, launched a cricketers’ benevolent fund and commenced intensive teaching for umpires, coaches and curators etc.
He was similarly an impeccable orator in English. The mode in which he proved our eligibility for full membership at the ICC meeting at Lords in 1981, held the audience spellbound. Ultimately, Sri Lanka was finally elected as a full member of the ICC. This achievement was even more remarkable in the context that he held office as the President of the then board, only for a couple of months The ICC knew very well that we were eligible to enter the elite. But they meted out step-motherly treatment to us. After doing all the spadework, it was very unfortunate that he could not live until 1996, when Sri Lanka won the plum of world cricket, the Wills Word Cup in 1996, only 17 months after his tragic demise.
At the conclusion of the 9th edition of the Asia Cup in July 2008, staged in Karachchi, the late Gamini Dissanayake who was chiefly instrumental in our achieving full Test status was awarded a life award by the Asian Cricket Council, as he was a pioneer member who formulated the concept of the Asian Cricket Council.. Srima Dissanayake the Chairperson of the Gamini Dissanayake Foundation and her son Navin Dissanayake, the present Minister of Plantations, collected the award from the CEO of the Asian Cricket Council, Ashraful-ul-Haq’
May he attain supreme bliss of Nirvana!