DEW, the Left colossus | Daily News


DEW, the Left colossus

Six decades in politics

Sixty years is indeed a long time in the political history of a country. Taken in the context of the 70-year post-independence period, it gains an added significance. D.E.W Gunasekera is celebrating 60 years of politics on July 10, an achievement of no mean significance.

His contribution to politics, the country and the Left movement, in general, must be measured alongside the overall political developments that have taken place after independence.

While Sri Lanka has many positives to be proud of such as the social indicators in the field of education and health, there is also the downside which has to be addressed. National unity and communal harmony which was our proud heritage at the time of independence has suffered a beating as a result of the 30-year war and more recently, the Easter Sunday attacks and their aftermath.

Amidst the travails faced by the nation, D.E.W. Gunasekera has been a voice of reason passionately arguing for the rights of minorities, but not forgetting to point out the fascist character of the LTTE. Some of his speeches on the topic, both in and out of Parliament are a must-read for a political analysis of the repercussions of the Northern conflict.

Since D.E.W. entered Parliament in 1986, following the untimely death of another shining light of the Communist Party ­− Sarath Muttetuwagama − in 1986, he has adorned the Legislature with distinction. The fact that despite D.E.W. hailed from the deep South, he was nominated by his party to the Kalawana constituency in the Ratnapura district is a measure of his party’s estimation of his value to the Left movement.

Like his other colleagues from the Left before him, he has used Parliament as a platform both to advance his political ideology as well as to shape the national discourse with his well-thought-out contributions.

Unfortunately, despite his being on the UPFA’s National List, he was not nominated to Parliament in August 2015. His presence in the current Parliament would certainly have enhanced the quality of debate which is sadly lacking today. President Maithripala Sirisena himself would have greatly benefitted from his participation in the government and would have been able to draw from the rich experience of the veteran Communist leader.

One of the key factors that have contributed to the governance deficit in the country is the absence of a strong Left movement. The national political discourse both in Parliament and outside is greatly handicapped by this void in the polity. While the JVP is valiantly trying to fill this vacuum, they are unable to win sufficient acceptance from the people to make a strong impact.

The Left movement headed by D.E.W.’s illustrious predecessors like Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, Philip Gunawardena, Pieter Keuneman, Bernard Soysa and Sarath Muttetuwagama made a profound impact on the political landscape by their enlightened contributions in and out of Parliament.

They played the role of the watchdog of the marginalised and oppressed keeping the government of the day on its toes and ensuring that the grievances of the poor were at least heard, if not resolved. It is this great tradition that D.E.W. followed during his Parliamentary career.

Another feature of D.E.W.’s politics from which budding Parliamentarians can learn is the manner and style of criticism of the political actions of his opponents.

While he has been trenchant in his criticisms of governmental actions during his political career, it has always been backed by political analysis. He never resorts to cheap personal attacks so characteristic of current politics. When personal references are made, they are only in relation to policy failures rather than personal conduct.

Another characteristic of D.E.W. and the Left movement has been the fact that they never make decisions based on political opportunism. Whatever decision is made on an issue, it is made only after a thorough discussion at the Politbureau from their perception of what is best for the country and not on the basis of the whims and fancies of an individual or any benefits that may accrue to one or more such individuals.

After entering Parliament, D.E.W. has served with distinction both in Opposition and in the government. At the time he entered Parliament, he had to sit in the Opposition alongside eight other members against an all-powerful government with 168 members backed by an all-powerful Executive Presidency.

Undeterred by the strength of the government, D.E.W. championed the cause of the minorities as well as the working class with great enthusiasm.

Later on, the Sri Lankan Parliament lost the opportunity to obtain his services as the Speaker of the House when after being nominated for the post, he was defeated by one.

During his 60-year political career, D.E.W. had the distinction of holding three Ministerial portfolios, namely Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, Rehabilitation and Prison Affairs, and Human Resources.

During the 10 years of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, he acted as the Foreign Minister in the absence of the Foreign Minister in the country. In his capacity as the Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Minister, he was entrusted with the responsibility of rehabilitating 12,000 LTTE cadres after the end of the 30-year war.

His commitment to national unity was further evident by his attempts to ensure a bilingual public service when in 2007 he made Tamil proficiency compulsory for public servants to obtain promotions. He also established the National Institute for Language Education and Training in order to facilitate public servants to achieve bilingualism.

During his long political career, D.E.W. has earned a name for integrity and has never been tainted by any accusations of corruption. He is one of the few role models left in politics where aspiring politicians can learn how to look at the national interest with a principled approach rather than fall prey to the lure of public office. 

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