Brainchild of Mahapola Fund | Daily News
26th year of Lalith Athulathmudali assassination falls today

Brainchild of Mahapola Fund

Athulathmudali joined the Cabinet of JRJ as Minister of Trade and Shipping in 1977, promoted Minister for National Security 1984-88, subsequently demoted Minister of Agriculture under R. Premadasa in 1988-90, also served as Minister of Education 1990-91.

The Gray’s Inn Barrister, Lalith lectured at the Universities of Singapore, Israel and Edinburgh, UK, before joining as a lecturer in the Sri Lanka Law College.

Athulathmudali became a member of UNP in early 1970s, and appointed organiser for Agalawatte, his father’s base— JR Jayewardene spotted young man’s talents, and he was asked to organise Ratmalana which he won comfortably in 1977. Athulathmudali joined the Cabinet in 1977. He left the UNP over differences with then leader Premadasa and became the co-leader of the Democratic United National Front 1991-93 along with Gamini Dissanayake.

Lalith after several rounds of failed peace talks with LTTE, led several offensives against the terrorists including famous Vadamarachchi Operation. He was seriously injured in a grenade attack by a JVP supporter inside the Parliament complex in 1987. Despite being gravely injured, Athulathmudali was back in the political fray. Though he lost a popular vote among party seniors in his bid for the party’s presidential candidate in 1988, he backed Premadasa at the Presidential election. Premadasa was not comfortable having men in the calibre of Lalith and Gamini, the popular and educated ministers in his Cabinet, hence the new Executive President demoted Athulathmudali, who became disenchanted with Premadasa’s way of governance.

Special Presidential Commission

President Chandrika Kumaratunga launched a Special Commission of Inquiry under (Special Provisions) Act No. 4 of 1978, into the assassination of Lalith, which had been one of her election promises.

The commission was to inquire into the circumstances relating to the assassination of Athulathmudali at a meeting held at Kirulapone, on April 23, 1993 and the persons responsible for such assassination and whether any persons conspired or aided and abetted in it, and also the circumstances relating to the physical attack on Athulathmudali during Premadas’s rule - on November 2, 1991 at Pannala; on April 23, 1992 at Madapatha, Piliyandala; on August 7, 1992, at the Fort Railway Station, and on August 29, 1992 at Dehiwala.

It was raining, around 8.20 pm at Kirillapone grounds; three shots were fired by the killer while he was addressing the meeting. Lalith was admitted to GH in an unconscious state. His heart was exposed and manual cardiac massage was given before he breathed his last at 9.56 pm.

In 1959, some UNP members opposed Bandaranaike’s proposal

When Prime Minister presented a proposal to Grant financial assistance to young Lalith William Samarasekera Athulathmudali in 1959, some UNP members opposed it. Young Oxonian appealed for assistance as he felt constrained by financial hardships after the death of his illustrious father D.D. Athulathmudali, former Member of the State Council who utilized his personal assets in the course of his political carrier. The debate which began at 5.30 pm ran for 42 minutes on February 24. SWRD, Dr. Dahanayake, and Federal Party made submissions in favour of the third-year student at Oxford. Dr. NM Perera LSSP leader and a few others spoke against it. Then it was put to vote - Deputy Speaker declared that the “Ayes” had it.

Leslie Goonewardene Calls for a Division

The house divided with Ayes, 38; Noes,13.

Surprisingly the four UNP members present, M. D. Banda, Hemachandra, C. A. Dharmapala and E. L. B. Hurulle, voted against. [The UNP had only eight members in the 1956-59 Parliament.] Born to a family of Lawyers on November 26, 1936 and educated at St. John’s College, Panadura and Royal, where he excelled at studies and athletics, this young man went on to read Jurisprudence at Jesus College, Oxford in 1955. He graduated with a Second Class honours; he was allowed to supplicate for Bachelor of Civil Law Degree. Lalith had the distinction of being elected the Secretary in 1956, Treasurer in 1957 and finally, as President of the Oxford Union in 1958, as the first Sri Lankan President of the Oxford Union. It was at this time that Lalith’s father, unfortunately passed away and the family ran into unexpected financial difficulty and Lalith had to seek government assistance to continue his studies in England. Bandaranaike, the first Sri Lankan to become Secretary of Oxford Union speaking on the motion presented by his Minister of Education Dr. Dahanayake said:

“When this application was made we did look into the circumstances of this young man. It is correct that a family misfortune has befallen him. But as has been stated by the Minster of Education, the sudden death of his father has created a difficult financial position for him. He is the first Ceylonese to be the President of Oxford Union, which is a rare and coveted honour, and his achievement has brought much credit to Ceylon….” He continued,

“Athulathmudali’s financial position was such that it was extremely difficult for him normally to find money required for the balance of his carrier in England, that is to take up the BCL as well as the Bar Final. The position was such that he would almost have been compelled to relinquish his studies in England. So we found it is not unjust to consider a sum of money— not a big sum, a modest sum - for one year.

I agree that we have not laid down any principle on which this type of grant is made--I certainly think it will be a generous gesture on the part of this House to pass this Vote in connection with a student who apart from the fact that he has distinguished himself to be the President of the Oxford Union, has also done very well in Law which will enable him to proceed to the B.C.L. and also, of course, the Bar Final which would enable him to practise as a Barrister. I feel, therefore, that no particular principle will be violated or any injustice done by passing this Vote”–Hansard—Feb. 24, 1959- folio: 1039.1055

SWRD knew Lalith’s father, the late D.D. Athulathmudali, member of State Council, surely, spotted great capacity in the making, and had he lived he wouldn’t be disappointed in the assurance he placed in him.

Mahapola Grants

Lalith Athulathmudali’s name will remain in the minds of two-three generations of university graduates and many more to come in the future as the greatest benefactor next to C.W.W. Kannangara. He will also be remembered as the most physically stressed and harassed politician of Independent Sri Lanka. Difficulties faced by a large section of poor undergraduates, combined with his own agonizing experience in Oxford days, he brought his most accepted programme, the Mahapola Scheme which became a fortune to low-income category university students. The Mahapola Scholarship is an educational fund established by Athulathmudali as Minister of Education through a ‘Trust Fund Act No. 66 of 1981’, with the objective of providing an attendance allowance to students in higher education. Originally funds were raised through personal donations and profits from regional fairs known as Mahapola.

Another milestone of Lalith is a blockade he introduced to stop exploitation and misuse of talents of artists, for which they are always indebted to him. The Intellectual Property Law. A large number of artistes in diverse fields were benefited by the Legislature. Export Villages was a far-sighted step taken by Lalith paving the way to the international market for the village folk. Lanka Milk Foods Company is also an achievement by Lalith as the Minister of Trade and Shipping. Lalith assured mothers of Sri Lanka that he would not authorize a single child to go hungry without milk when it was burnt to ashes. When the Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] was introduced to contain and suppress the terrorism, Lalith was accused of introducing a draconian laws which were contrary to civil society by the then opposition, Human Rights Activists affiliated to NGOs. However, the passage of time has recognized beyond doubt the foresight of Lalith.

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