Father of Left Movement and Statesman | Daily News
Philip Gunawardena’s 118th birth anniversary falls today :

Father of Left Movement and Statesman

In early 1930s a young staunched Marxist/Trotskyte activist was carrying a bundle of secret documents for Spanish revolutionary movement. A product of American University, and a self-confident independent revolutionary, he was brave enough to fight for what was right and rely on his own strength, when he crossed the Pyrenees range of mountains on foot. Pyrenees is the natural border between Spain and France that reached a height of 3,360 metres at the peak— he endured the strenuous task by himself to avoid security checks.

Political leaders of five or six decades ago were men who adhered to the letter and spirit of the law, rule and morals. They were role models for our younger politicians to draw inspiration from. SWRD, Dudley, NM, Colvin, Keuneman and several others [the list is too long] were products of British universities.

Philip Gunawardena, a product of Illinois and Wisconsin Universities is indisputably one of the top most shining examples of the politicians of above calibre in the bye-gone era. The intellectual parliamentarian, trade unionist, humanitarian, father of socialism in Sri Lanka and statesman, Philip made use of the legislature under the Donoughmore Constitution to participate in a noteworthy position as a chosen representative of the masses. It is indeed extremely difficult to justifiably summarise the colourful and illustrious career of a political colossus in Boralugoda Philip Rupasinghe Gunawardena, a gentleman ‘par excellence’, into a newspaper article of average length.

In 1931 Sri Lanka became entitled to exercise universal franchise. The people though not thorough with its inherent value as a powerful weapon of economic and social change in a state which was passing another phase of colonial domination and constitutional development, took a keen interest in casting their vote in a comparatively wise manner. Comparatively, in the sense, they rejected uneducated film-star clowns, thugs, rowdies, butter knife-chilli powder gangs, jewellery snatchers and even the ‘educated robbers’. The leaders in turn reciprocated by not appointing the people rejects to State Institutions, Legislature, Cabinet, or as Provincial governors. Contrary to the practice of some present day politicians, opportunism, religious bigotry, racism, deceit, castism, cowardice and gutter politics were never heard then.

The Donoughmore Constitution

The Donoughmore Constitution though it failed in its attempts to bring in positive results, had its own merits, and it laid a steady foundation for further progress in freedom movement of the country, under colonial suppression. The Donoughmore ‘trial’ symbolized another temporary effort in constitutional progress in the island’s political history. If there was any, its success, it was purely due to the class and quality of local representatives, appointed or elected to this legislature which enjoyed limited powers, which was in operation from 1931 to 1946.

Three young Marxists - Philip Gunawardena, Drs. S. A. Wickremasinghe, and N. M. Perera, along with W. Dahanayake sat in the legislation exercising pressure on ruling class to obtain concessions and for certain social and economic restructuring. Philip Gunawardena, stood tall among his contemporaries in The State Council of Ceylon in late and early 1930s and 40s respectively. Sri Lanka’s fire-brand Marxist Philip’s innate sympathy with the oppressed village peasantry of the country remained undaunted even during his tenure as a Cabinet minister in Dudley Senanayake’s 1965-70 National government where this controversial statesman ended his political carrier.

The victory for young rebellious Philip who dethroned a member of a powerful feudal family in Hewagam Korale to enter the Second State Council in 1936 was the beginning of a series of such progressive happenings in the years that followed. Philip Gunawardena through the floor of the State Council began to press for more social and economic reforms.

His persistent struggle in respect of such issues that resulted in the introduction of social welfare legislation in the country. Philip once described senior politician Sir D. B. Jayatilleke as a ‘bootlicker’. Unlike his Marxist colleagues, NM and Colvin, Philip Gunawardena derived insight from both Marxism and Sinhala nationalism, local culture and it was in this context that he differed with the traditional Marxists. Therefore, Philip saw the potentiality of the rural peasantry, and he, unlike his contemporary Marxists, struggled hard to examine the issues of the rural peasantry from a point of view of Marxism combined with the cultural desires of the peasantry. He advocated the abolition of Headman system as he was convinced that it oppressed the village peasantry. It was his speech on the Headman system which influenced his own father, Boralugoda Ralahamy to submit his resignation from the post of Vidane-Aratchi.

Ample evidence to prove this point is his radical piece of legislation, the Paddy Lands Act.

Philip as a member of the State Council spoke on those issues with a thorough understanding of the topic and this, obviously, was a remarkable quality of a great politician.

Criminal defamation case – Sydney de Zoysa

Minister Philip Gunawardena exposed the senior DIG Sydney de Zoysa as conspirer against the government, at governmemt’s May Day rally in late 1950s, and demanded Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to remove the senior Police officer cum the brother of his Cabinet colleague Stanley de Zoysa, minister of finance. Philip had to face a criminal defamation case when Sydney, a member of powerful De Zoysa family sued him over this issue. In a land mark judgment the court held that Philip as a responsible Cabinet minister had executed his rightful authority in warning the Head of State of an impending danger. Also the bench delivering the judgment made a comment on the integrity of the defendant which Philip articulated in response to his cross examination by the plaintiff’s lawyers.

Philip was no more in the government when the conspiracy and subsequent assassination of Prime Minister was carried out. The right wing led by CP de Silva and Buddharakkita ensured his exit before that, thus weakening the left wing of MEP government. DIG Sydney de Zoysa’s name transpired in the assassination investigations.

One of Sydney’s brothers FR de Zoysa, a businessman was arrested on suspicion, for his other brother in the cabinet Stanley, to tender his resignation. Sydney was sent on compulsory leave. However, FR de Zoysa was cleared of suspicion and released later. Three and a half years from the May Day warning, on January 27, 1962, Sydney de Zoysa DIG [Retd] was arrested, convicted and sentenced for his role in the aborted Coup de’ Tat to topple SWRD Bandaranaike’s widow’s democratically elected government. [Privy Council later released all accused on a technical point]

Jailed for the second time

South Western Transport Company was the country’s largest passenger operator until 1958, when the Nationalisation of the passenger transport service under Bandaranaike’s government. SWT Co., was owned by philanthropist and SWRD’s friend Sir Cyril de Soysa, a born fighter Philip who was the Member for Awissawella seat in 1947 under the first Soulberry Constitution led the bus employees struggle at Ratmalana. The DS Senanayake government prosecuted him under the civil law in the Disctrict Courts. He was found guilty and convicted to three months imprisonment.

Consequentially, he was unseated as MP for Awissawella as he lost his Parliamentary membership. At a bye election held to fill the vacancy, Philip’s wife Kusumsiri Gunawardena submitted her nomination, but no one dared contesting her and was elected uncontested.

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. It would be interesting to record here; a speech in Sinhala by any member in the history of Sri Lankan Parliament was by Bandaranaike himself who accomplished the mission just before Kusuma on the same day. They were happy parents of Indika, Dinesh, Prasanna, Githanjana and Lakmali. His first experience in jail was when the Japanese bombed Colombo in 1942 April—LSSP leaders including Philip were jailed by the British rulers, as political detainees.

The teenage school boy, Philip, travelled in a horse- carriage, with his mother straight into Queen’s House, and presented a petition. Governor Robert Charmers promptly released his father who was sentenced to death during the martial law of 1915, tyrannically imposed on national leaders by the colonial rulers.

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