Philip Gunawardena: The Lion’s Roar | Daily News
A tribute to the inimitable socialist on his 48th death anniversary Philip Gunawardena: The Lion’s Roar K K S Perera Under British Colonial Governor Robert Chalmers, several national leaders were arrested under the guise of containing the Sinhala

Philip Gunawardena: The Lion’s Roar

Under British Colonial Governor Robert Chalmers, several national leaders were arrested under the guise of containing the Sinhala-Muslim riots in 1915. The motive behind the colonial masters’ aim was to suppress a possible anti-British movement from springing out of the disturbances and also use the opportunity to identify and eliminate regional nationalistic leaders. A few selected heroes were executed under martial law by firing squads.

Boralugoda Don Rupasinghe Gunawardene Ralahamy from Seethawaka was one such brave man who was taken into custody and earmarked for trial and execution. Schoolboy son of lion of Boralugoda, Philip was only fourteen years old who accompanied his mother travelling in a horse carriage which took both of them straight into Queen’s House. They presented a petition to Chalmers, who had no hesitation in releasing his father who was sentenced to death, tyrannically imposed on a few leaders.

On completion of his school education at Price of Wales College and Ananda College, Philip proceeded to the Universities of Illinois and Wisconsin in the USA, where he read Economics and passed out from the University of Colombia with a doctorate in Agricultural Economics. During his undergraduate days Philip Gunawardena joined the anti-imperialist league in the US and became an active member. He was led into Marxism in US by Prof Scott Nearing along with rebellious batch-mates of Jayaprakash Narayan of India and Jose Vaz Gonzalez from Mexico. Later in London he met Jawaharlal Nehru, from India and the Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta.

In early 1930s the Spanish revolutionary movement became very active. There were some secret documents that needed to be delivered to Spanish rebels, an extremely risky task that none of the rebellion youth in America came forward to undertake the Herculean assignment. The lion-hearted Philip in early twenties, who acquired Panthera leo genes from Boralugoda ancestry, felt like there was a prodigious courage pushing inside him, demanding to volunteer in meeting the challenge of crossing the Pyrenees range of mountains, the natural border between Spain and France, risking the security checks. Our Leo cub, fluent in English, French, & Spanish, crossed the hills that reached a height of 3,400m at the peak, by himself on foot carrying a bundle of secret documents for the Spanish comrades.

Attacking the Imperialists and the conservatives as a regular speaker in Hyde Park Corner, Philip became popular. The British Government once impounded his passport. Ending a successful carrier as rebel in America and Europe, Philip returned home in 1932to play an important role in forming the Lanka Samasamaja Party along with his Marxist friends NM, Colvin and the rest whom he met in London. Youth Leagues grew into a nucleus of Marxists who had been predisposed by the ideas of the Left led by Leon Trotsky. Philip enthusiastically contributed to the radical activities of the new Youth Leagues.

Malaria Epidemic 1934/35

During the malaria epidemic in 1934-5, Suriya Mal activists did relief work in the disease-stricken areas where over 150,000people died. The protest movement later became helpful in the anti-malaria campaign: Suriya Mal workers encamped in the affected areas and did valuable relief work in the malaria-stricken villages. Philip Gunawardena, in the State Council, blamed the Board of Ministers for “killing” 180,000through “cutting down, especially in matters pertaining to health”, that made the epidemic so acute.

The new party LSSP contested the State Council election in 1936and Philip was elected to Avissawella defeating one of the powerful men at the time Speaker Forester Obeysekera. The LSSP convinced by Philip accepted in principle that the administration of the country should be in Sinhalese and Tamil. Consequent to this Philip in 1936introduced a motion in the State Council advocating that the work in police courts and Municipal courts should be conducted in the vernacular, in Sinhalese and Tamil.

Once he addressed a meeting of newly formed LSSP. The Fiery Marxist who Valued Local Culture said: “We swear by our national conquerors, our heritage and our literature. We are proud of King Rajasinha, who kept the Portuguese at bay for a quarter of a century, and of Puran Appu who attempted to free the Ceylonese from the repression of the British Imperialism. Yes, we are proud of our national heroes.”

NM, Philip, Edmund and Colvin were taken into custody on June 18, 1941. After two months in Welikada, and following a hunger strike against prison conditions, the four detainees were moved to the British prison at Bogambara, Kandy, where they planned their strategy of defiance. The prisoners, with the connivance of Ceylonese prison guards, left jail on two occasions for all-night party meetings. They even attended a secret party conference attended by 42delegates. On the night of April 7, 1942the four prisoners made a daring jail-break. They escaped along with one of their guards, Solomon, who had been won over to the cause. Philip, N.M. and Colvin crossed over to India in fishing boats from Velvettiturai.

Though a staunch supporter of Marxist/Trotskyite principles, and one who professed that social development basically should stand on scientific lines of Marx-Engels, Philip who was known as the “Father of Socialism”, for his introduction of earliest Marxist/Trotskyite ideals to this island, was not a blind follower of ideology unlike his contemporaries. He always maintained strong relations with native cultural roots, which often led to clashes within the group.

In fact he disagreed with his LSSP colleagues in judging that all Bourgeoisies are capitalists with whom they should not have any attachments. Philip meticulously separated the Comprador Bourgeois from Nationalistic segments of the rich, which led to his joining hands with SWRD Bandaranaike in 1956in changing the course of our nation, while those who opposed his move then followed his footsteps eight years later by entering a coalition with Bandaranaike’s widow Sirimavo. Perhaps they understood the social and cultural facts and the importance of the realistic approach initiated by Philip Gunawardena.

The eloquent speaker, Philip displayed his debating expertise in the House and overpowered his opponents and appraised every Bill before it was passed. With sympathy towards the under-privileged, depressed, and the oppressed masses, he used every occasion to take steps to set free the poor from the shackles of paucity. He also changed the co-operative movement expanding its range to multiple services by establishing thousands of Multi-Purpose Cooperative Societies.

Paddy Lands Act

One of the main accomplishments of Philip Gunawardena, as Minister of Food Agriculture and Cooperatives was the Kumburu Panatha [Paddy Lands Act] in 1958that gave security of possession to the tenant farmer who toiled on the fields and was required to part with half the crop to the landowner, whose mission was only to hold on to the deed. The cultivator was given an assurance of the contract by State plus a three fourths share of the harvest; which obviously the land-owners hated. There was severe resentment from an influential section in the government too. However, a watered-down Act got through the Parliament making a vast social change.

He proposed the bill to set up the Cooperative Development Bank, which was opposed by the super rich but supported by the common man. It was eventually sabotaged by rightwing politicos. Later this bank was established as the People’s Bank, the giant bank of our country today.

Unlike his Marxist colleagues, NM and Colvin, Philip Gunawardene derived insight from both Marxism and Sinhala nationalism and local culture and it was in this context that he differed from the traditional Marxists. 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 to submit his resignation from the post of Vidane-Aratchi.

Criminal Defamation Case: Sydney de Zoysa Vs Philip

Philip, at the MEP’s May Day rally in 1959, as a Minister exposed the senior DIG Range 2Sydney de Zoysa as a conspirator against the Government insisting on PM Bandaranaike to remove the Police officer who was the brother of the Minister of Finance Stanley de Zoysa. The

Attorney General appeared for the Police Officer and told court that there is a prima facie case against Philip. Sydney sued him over this issue. In a landmark judgment the Court held that Philip had a right as a responsible minister in cautioning the PM of an impending threat and that he had accomplished his rightful authority. The bench delivering the judgment made a comment on the honesty and integrity of the Minister referring to cross examination by Sydney’s lawyers. The District Judge dismissing the complaint declared that Philip was an epitome of truthfulness and integrity.

Dinesh Gunawardena in Geneva

On February 26, 2020,  Dinesh Gunawardena, Son of Philip and Minister of Foreign Relations was in Geneva to formally inform the Council Members the decision of the Government of Sri Lanka to withdraw its treacherous co-sponsorship of Resolution 40/1of March 2019on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, which also incorporates and builds on preceding Resolutions 30/1of October 2015and 34/1of March 2017.

“Constitutionally, the resolution seeks to cast upon Sri Lanka obligations that cannot be carried out within its constitutional framework and it infringes the sovereignty of people of Sri Lanka and violates the basic structure of the Constitution. This is another factor that has prompted Sri Lanka to reconsider its position on co-sponsorship”, the minister roared.

When the President chose him to the job, no wonder he felt, ‘lion-hearted with acquired Panthera leo genes from the Boralugoda ancestry and felt like there was a prodigious courage pushing inside him, demanding him to volunteer in meeting the challenge’. Before leaving the Minister said that the shackles imposed by the West on us must be unchained one by one and President Gotabaya has received a massive mandate to do so. We need more lions and cubs with heroic genes in Mother Lanka.

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