Commemorating the 'Lion of Boralugoda'
January 11, 1901 Dona Liyanora Gunasekara gave birth to her fourth child
and the father, well-known Boralugoda Appuhamy, Don Jacolis Rupasinghe
Gunawardena in Avisswella, named their son Don Philip Rupasinghe
Gunawardena. He later became an outstanding loyalist and a true
patriotic son of Sri Lanka with an innovative vision, analytical mind
and was a down to earth representative of the people, detesting
injustice and struggled always to establish the truth, with impartiality
and fairness. After an illustrious political career he died on March 26,
1972. On his 40th death anniversary this column focuses on 'The Lion of
Boralugoda' whom people in this country dotingly loved.
Philip Gunawardena had his early education at Prince of Wales
College, Moratuwa, Ananda College and University College Colombo before
proceeding to the USA at the age of 21 to read Economics at the
University of Illinois, where an element of radical ideas began to run
in his blood circulation. Being young and aggressive he became actively
involved with mass struggles at Illinois 'Urbana-Champaign' which
infuriated the US at the time.
Later at Wisonsin-Madison University, he joined the Communist Party
of the United States. In 1925 he was at the Colombia University on
post-graduate studies and in 1927, he joined the League Against
Imperialism in New York where he acquired the art of 'making hair
In the UK, in 1929, Philip Gunawardena became an active member to
protest against colonial movements along with a flock of such rebellious
international students, namely, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, Jayaprakash
Narayan and Krishna Menon of India, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Tan Malaka
of Malaya, Jose Vasconcelos of Mexico, and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of
Mauritius, who later became prominent rulers in their respective
His dexterity in radiant oratory and journalistic skills made him a
brilliant speaker, trade unionist, and political columnist in the UK.
After coming across Dr. N. M. Perera, Colvin R de Silva, Leslie
Gunawardena and Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe in England, they formed the
nucleus that was to become the LSSP in Sri Lanka. For his
anti-imperialist and socialist work, the British government impounded
his passport and it was only after the intervention of Sir D. B.
Jayatilleke that Philip Gunawardena was allowed to land in Sri Lanka in
Once he returned home, he became actively involved in the Suriya Mal
Movement which had been formed to assist the poor during the Malaria
epidemic in the early 1930s. He was the founder of the LSSP in 1935, and
led the Suriya Mal Campaign in 1934-1935 together with other LSSPers
like Dr. N. M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Gunawardena, Robert
Gunawardena and many others.
The LSSP broke up following the entry of the USSR into the war
against Hitler's Germany and the Communists supporting the war. The
Communist elements were expelled and the LSSP became a Trotskyite
movement. Philip Gunawardena was so outspoken that the colonial
government banned the LSSP and he was imprisoned together with other
LSSP leaders in 1940. His brother Robert Gunawardena organized the well
known Jail-break on April 5, 1942 with the help of Jailor Solomon, and
they all secretly escaped and were hiding in India. Finally, they were
caught and imprisoned and in 1943 were brought back to Sri Lanka and
jailed for six months. Following his release the LSSP split again with a
section led by Colvin R de Silva leaving the LSSP on ideological grounds
and joining the Bolshevik Leninist Party (BLP) of India.
In 1947, Philip Gunawardena was elected to the first Parliament to
represent Avissawella but his involvement in the General Strike in 1947
cost him his status as a MP.
In 1951 he formed the VLSSP (Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party) and
joined hands with the SLFP led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to form the MEP
(Mahajana Eksath Peramuna). The coalition won the historic 1956 general
election reducing the UNP to eight seats. He was appointed Minister of
Agriculture, Food and Co-operatives in the coalition government after
being elected as MP for Avissawella.
As the Minister of Agriculture his vision was to implement several
audacious steps to emancipate the poor masses from the shackles of
poverty. Ratification of the Paddy Lands Act met with his ideas to
remove the obstacles in the way of agricultural productivity. He was
influential in establishing the Multi Purpose Cooperatives to help the
farming community and supported the establishment of the Ceylon
Transport Board by nationalising the bus companies. He activated the
nationalisation of the harbour, established the Ceylon Insurance
Corporation, and The Peoples' Bank to develop the country in a
systematic and wholesome way. He was also implicated in the takeover of
British Air Force Base in Katunayake and Naval Base in Trincomalee to
remove the last manacles of colonialism.
Philip Gunawardena became the Minister of Industries and Fisheries in
the National Government under Dudley Senanayake during 1965 - 1970 and
established the Industrial Development Board to enhance state industrial
corporations and private sector industries.
Philip Gunawardena was an eloquent speaker, always armed with an
overwhelming knowledge of the internal affairs of the country. He
exhibited his debating skills in parliamentary affairs and managed not
only to overpower his opponents' with a 'Lion's roar' inside Parliament,
but ensured that he scrutinised and evaluated every legislation before
any white paper went through to become law in the Statue Book. At times
he assisted the Speaker of the House to sustain discipline among members
of the assembly during boisterous sessions which managed to earn him the
reputation of the Boralugoda Lion.
He cast aside old fashioned dogmatic ideas and developed modern
social development based on scientific lines. During his political
career over four decades, he successfully executed his mission
selflessly by treating everyone on a human level.
He never abused his power or position for his own personal gains or
benefit. In 1970 he lost his Avissawella parliamentary seat, yet without
being disheartened wanted to re-orientate the MEP when heunexpectedly
fell ill and passed away on March 26, 1972. He had a magnanimous heart
with full of enlightened thinking and some superlative qualities which
he left behind for modern day politicians to emulate.