Forty second death anniversary of D.A. Rajapaksa:
Charismatic and visionary leader from Ruhuna
It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I write this commemorative
article on the late D.A. Rajapaksa, one of the greatest sons of
Ruhunu-Giruwa-Magam Pattuwa, coinciding with his 42nd death anniversary
that was memorialised on 7th November 2009. I consider, I am uniquely
eligible to write about this gentleman politician for many reasons.
Firstly, I too was born and bred in Ruhunu-Giruwa-Magam Pattuwa, in a
small village called Mandaduwa, which is a hamlet sandwiched between
Buddiyagama and Medamulana, from where the Rajapaksa family’s roots
I too received primary education from the same small school,
Mandaduwa Primary School, from where D.A. Rajapaksa had received his
primary education. My father was a close acquaintance of the late D.A.
Rajapaksa and very often he related many great things about the
Rajapaksa family. So I have had long years of acquaintance with the
Rajapaksa family and had indeed associated with a few of the members.
I intend to pay my homage to D.A. Rajapaksa not only by giving a
narration of chronological events that had taken place during the late
D.A. Rajapaksa’s life but also by assessing his personal traits, conduct
and the role played by him at crucial moments of political history of
our country that had changed the political terrain forever over the past
7 decades, his social, political service to the impoverished region and
its disadvantaged and underprivileged people, and by appreciating his
political foresight of dedicating his sons to the political arena of the
country, who then have not only continued their father’s principles and
policies and but also liberated the country from ruthless terrorism and
paved the way for the country to look for its identity and character,
and to work towards becoming a sovereign nation free from influences of
neocolonial imperialism and also who have had the courage and political
will to tell the world that we Sri Lankans have the absolute right to
make independent decisions particularly with respect to territorial
integrity, national defense and international relations.
I wish to commence my article by giving a short description of the
geographical setting, people and social and economic status of
Ruhunu-Giruwa-Magam Pattuwa or Hambantota District in the 19th century
and early part of the 20th century, around which time evidence of the
humble beginning of the Rajapaksa family emerges in a village in
Giruwapattuwa of Hambantota District.
As cited by Dr. Tissa Abeysekera in his well researched outstanding
D.A. Rajapaksa Commemorative Article (2008), the first person in this
lineage to gain social veneration was Vaniga Chinthamani Mohotti Don
Hendrick Appuhamy who had been hailed as a hero who led the peasants of
Giruwa Pattu in the 1818 Rebellion. The family clan emerging from this
lineage established inhabitation in a hamlet, mainly in a village, known
as Buddiyagama and many decades later, towards the end of the 19th
Century, a notable member of this clan. Don Davith Rajapaksa, with great
reluctance of colonial administrators was appointed as the Vidane
Arachchi, of Marakade Ihala Welikakda Korale in charge of Village
Headman of village cluster surrounded by Mulgirigala, Kondagala,
Kasagala and Naigala Buddhist Temples and Education Centres.
By this time, Rajapaksas were belonging to a newly emerging social
class within the rural society. Elaborating further on this newly
emerging social class Abeysekera very eloquently said ‘the Rajapaksas
were neither aristocrats nor peasants, but belonged to a newly emerging
class of country gentry who were of a class in between. They were a
product of the social and economic liberation in the country consequent
to the Colebrook Reforms in 1833.
Having broken free of the fetters of a feudal social hierarchy and
through sheer personal enterprise accumulated enough wealth to challenge
the aristocracy who dominated the rural landscape through heredity, the
newly emerging bourgeoisie had certain radicalism ingrained in
them...Unlike the traditional aristocracy who collaborated with the
British and imitated them, the new rural well-to-do class remained close
to the people and to their roots. Their manors were open to the village
folk unlike the Walauwes which were out of bounds for the hoi-polloi.
This social transformation was further fostered by the Buddhist
Revivalist Movement, led by Anagarika Dharmapala and Sir D.B. Jayatilake
that was sweeping across the land.
The Don Davith Rajapaksa, Vidane Arachchi Ralahamy and his wife had
three sons and a daughter. He was wealthy and wise enough to send all
three of his sons to a English medium school in Galle, Richmond College
and all three excelled in studies as well as in sports and other
extra-curricular activities. After completing studies, instead of
seeking employment under the colonial administration all three returned
home to be with their own fellow village populace. The eldest, Don
Charles Rajapaksa became the Cornel Ralahamy (Inspector of Sudden
Deaths) and the second son Don Mathew Rajapaksa devoted himself full
time for social work and the youngest, Don Alvin Rajapaksa decided to
move a few kilometres interior of the country, settled down in a village
called Madamulana, and devoted himself to mixed farming such as growing
paddy and rearing cattle and buffaloes, and lived a simple, charming
life, engaging in religious and social activities. However, all
Rajapaksas had one unique trait and that was they all were caring and
benevolent to poor peasants in their own villages as well as in
Lion of Ruhuna
Because of his aggressive and fearless campaign for the cause of the
oppressed and suffering peasants of Giruwa-Magam Pattuwa, very soon he
was called as “The Lion of Ruhuna” or “Ruhune Sinhaya.” He was attracted
to national leadership, agitating for independence such as Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam, F. R. Senanayake, Sir D. B. Jayatilake, D. R.
Wijewardena, D. S. Senanayake and also with new emerging national
leadership of social democrats like S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and C. W.
W. Kannangara and Socialist and Marxist leaders such as Philip
Gunawardena, Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe and Dr. N. M. Perera. He was
deeply attracted to their ideologies and had got acquaintance with the
socio-political changes and trends that were sweeping across colonies
against the imperialists. Unfortunately, his fearless and forceful
campaign for the oppressed came to an abrupt end with a sudden illness
suffered while attending a session at the State Council and his demise
on 18th May 1945.
The sudden demise of D. M. Rajapaksa, has pushed a reluctant and
almost unprepared D. A. Rajapaksa into active politics. Though he
closely associated with his brother and national politics and also with
the newly emerging national political leadership, which helped him in
his social development activities, he preferred to pursue a quiet,
familied life as a contented person, pursuing his righteous and
religious life closely associating with the people and helping the
downtrodden in their pressing needs. He reluctantly entered politics not
to fulfil any of his ambitions, but to oblige the request of the
reverend Mahasangha and common man of Giruwa-Magam Pattuwa, who pleaded
with him to accept nomination to fill in the vacancy in the State
Council created by the demise of his elder brother. But his heart was in
the tranquil, but socially and economically handicapped village setting
and in the paddy field and with its downtrodden peasants and tenant
farmers and certainly was not in the high stratum of politics. That was
why the people themselves had to prepare nomination papers and rush to
him while he was in the paddy field, enjoying his daily routine work. He
was elected uncontested to the Hambantota seat of the State Council at
the by-election held on 14th July 1945
If, for some reason, the entry of D. A. Rajapaksa into national
politics had not happened, the last 7 decades of political history that
has progressively changed, forever the political landscape of the
country could have been invariably different from what it is today.
The charismatic personality inherited from his birth, his resilience,
honesty and coupled with his desire and willingness to help the
downtrodden peasants of entire Ruhunu-Magam Pattu region has made him so
different and unique even from his own brother, the late D. M. Rajapaksa.
Further, he has commenced his long political journey with great sense
of optimism and believing in and aligning with the newly emerging
national progressive leadership, led by social democrats and socialist
and Marxist leaders and others. He was more and more getting closer to
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike than others and when it came to the 1947
election for electing the people’s representatives to the first
Parliament of independent Sri Lanka, he opted to contest Beliatta
Parliamentary Electorate under the United National Party banner, but
from the Bandaranaike fraction and D. A. Rajapaksa had chosen his own
symbol, hand or atha as his campaign logo. He won the election
convincingly and was elected into the first parliament of Independent
Sri Lanka. The political journey that he embarked reluctantly in 1945,
which lasted over the next 20 years uninterruptedly till 1965, and
holding of Deputy Ministerial portfolio (1956-1959) and the post of
Deputy Speaker (1960-1964) and he had remained consistent as regard to
his policies and principles, allegiance to national political leadership
that he had chosen.
Moreover, he had played a key role and taken unprecedented and very
important decisions which paved the way for achieving far-reaching,
progressive, irreversible changes in the political landscape and
socio-economic and cultural spheres of the country.
D. A. Rajapaksa, reluctant politician by character never looked for
positions and prominence but quietly and silently contributed
unparalleled changes that occurred in all spheres of Sri Lankan society.
His aim was to serve the oppressed and downtrodden people of his region.
He was not much impressed with the UNP led first parliament and the
government in addressing pressing needs of ordinary masses, and
particularly the failure of the government to give required priority for
development needs of the deep South.
This led to greater disillusion within himself about the government.
This was categorically demonstrated on 12th July 1951.
On this historic day, in the Parliament when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
denouncing the post of Leader of the House and Ministerial portfolio and
crossed to the Opposition side there followed, another lonely
parliamentarian, and he was none other than D. A. Rajapaksa. This
courageous and unprecedented act he did without having any prior
discussion or agreement was hailed by many contemporary politicians and
political historians. Desamanya M. D. D. Pieris, one of the most
distinguished civil servants, in his D. A. Rajapaksa Commemorative
Article (2008) described D. A. Rajapaksa as a political pioneer and said
“1951 led to 1956 and beyond and the lonely courage shown by Mr. D. A.
Rajapaksa in July 1951 is a signal and singular act in the political
history of Sri Lanka.” Of course few critics at that time described this
was a political suicide.
S W R D
He then closely associated with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and others
in the creation of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and on 2nd September 1951
Sri Lanka Freedom Party was officially inaugurated and the hand symbol
chosen by D.A. Rajapaksa for his 1947 election became the party logo. At
the election, subsequently held in 1952, D.A. Rajapaksa contested the
Beliatta seat as the candidate from Sri Lanka Freedom Party and he was
one of the 8 members of parliament elected under this newly created
political movement. Peiris (2008) in his article elaborating further
said, “D.A. Rajapaksa then became a political pioneer.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party was just as much his creation. The
political history of the country was altered forever. Sri Lanka saw the
emergence of a two party system.
The people had a wider choice. Ideas, attitudes and ideologies which
were not represented elsewhere were represented here. The democratic
framework was broadened and deepened. Different policy choices were now
available to the people, and competitive parliamentary and later
presidential democracy built a welfare state of substance with human
development in the forefront.”
D.A. Rajapaksa was very much instrumental in drafting party policies
and manifesto for the 1956 election and he was instrumental in
convincing the party leadership for forming a wider front by bringing
all other small groups and creating a coalition with established Marxist
political parties for the 1956 election.
This resulted in reaching no-contest agreement with Sri Lanka
Communist Party led by Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe and Samasamaja Party led
by Dr. N.M. Perera and bringing a sizable group led by Philip
Gunawardena of the Revolutionary fraction of Samasamaja Party and
forming a broader front, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna to face the election
held in April 1956.
The Mahajana Ekasath Peramuna had won convincingly and formed the
first Socialist Democratic Government in Sri Lanka whose adherence was
more towards nationalistic, socialistic and welfare oriented policies
and programmes aimed at granting due rights and privileges of the common
masses who were subjected to well over 400 years of colonial tyranny.
Today we are proud to declare that we have a free, independent
country with distinct national and cultural identity in the world
socio-political arena and the contribution made by D.A. Rajapaksa in
this context in the country’s post-independent turbulent journey has
been hailed by contemporary politicians, political historians and
There are many more aspects of D.A. Rajapaksa’s political mission and
his contribution to development of Ruhunu-Giruwa-Magam Pattu region.
His main concern had always been to bring immediate relief to the
down-trodden people of Ruhunu-Giruwa-Magam Pattuwa by improving health
care facilities, public roads and transport network and repairing and
rehabilitating dilapidated minor irrigation facilities to relieve the
farmers from frequent droughts and to bring a relief for tenant farmers
who were exploited by land owners.
As recorded in the Hansard, during his two-year tenure as a
legislator of State Council, he presented many important proposals at
the State Council that resutled in Public Works Department acquiring
many rural roads from Village Councils and in establishing rural
industries such as coir and handlooms as a means of creating employment
for rural youth in Giruwa-Magam Pattuwa.
Moreover, he brought a proposal at the State Council in November 1945
to extend the railway line from Matara to Tissamaharama. As a key member
of the 1956 administration, he along with his nephew, the late Laxhman
Rajapaksa were instrumental in convincing Philip Gunawardena, Minister
in-charge of Agriculture and Land Affairs to expedite the formulation
and speedy implementation of the Paddy Lands Act which was hailed by
many political analysts as one of the most progressive pieces of
legislation that were implemented by the Bandaranaike Administration.
He worked hard to implement Muruthawela Irrigation Scheme and in
constructing Chandrika Reservoir under the Walawe Ganga Scheme which fed
water for hundred thousands of acres of paddy lands. The minority
communities, particularly the Muslim communities’ pressing needs were
provided and problems such as education and land shortages were
Many of dilapidated Buddhist temples had been renovated and religious
activities and programmes at village level were promoted.
Another extraordinary trait of D. A. Rajapaksa had been his exemplary
personality and gentleman’s politics. It is well-known that he rejected
the kickbacks made from capitalist clans of politics in 1947 to get his
support at the election held for electing the chairman for the Senate.
He campaigned to convince the leadership of the newly formed SLFP to
join the “hartal” organised in protest against the unpopular measures
that were introduced by the UNP regime in 1953. He played a crucial role
to convince S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to invite and accommodate all
progressive and independent social democrats and Marxists and socialist
parties to form a unified front and hence forming Mahajana Eksath
Peramuna as a political front against the UNP and this move
unquestionably led to the resounding, historic win in the 1956 election.
It is well conceived that the 1951 and 1956 events had altered the
political history of the country forever and indisputably had brought
sweeping changes in social, cultural, economic and political landscape
of the country that had empowered indigenous people, and promoted
indigenous culture, indegenous religions and invigorated
post-independent upsurge for creating a truly Sri Lankan literature,
art, music, drama, theatre and cinema. He openly opposed S. W. R. D.
Bandaranaike for expelling Phillip Gunawardena from a cabinet portfolio
and flatly rejected the subsequent offer to accept the ministerial
portfolio that was left vacant with the expulsion of Philip Gunawardena.
He left the SLFP with many others as a protest after the
assassination of its leader S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike but rejoined
Sirimavo Bandaranaike for the 1960 July campaign.
He flatly refused and rejected the bribing attempts made by
capitalists and reactionary groups that toppled the SLFP-led government
He sacrificed whatever the modest wealth that he inherited and never
had a greed for money and power. As cited in literature, by the time of
his death, his assets were reduced to his house and a few acres of land
around the house and had to dispose his motor vehicle to pay his
creditors. Though, he lost the parliamentary seat in 1965, because of
unfaithfulness of his constituents, like what happened in 1947 to Dr. C.
W. W. Kannangara, he never left social services.
He spent time, money and sacrificed his health for serving the people
of Ruhuna even after he lost the electorate until his untimely death at
the age of 65 years.
Parallel to all those things mentioned above, D. A. Rajapaksa had
made another contribution to the Sri Lankan political arena by
introducing and promoting his sons to venture into diverse pursuits
while retaining greater interest in social work and politics.
His deeper insight and perceptions on the future, and his intuition
prompted him to provide them the best possible education in good
schools, while raising them in a very cultured, religious, homely
environment, exposing them liberally to ordinary folks of rural Giruwa
His eldest son, Chamal Rajapaksa chose a career in the police
service, his second son, Mahinda Rajapaksa ventured into the legal
profession while closely involved with his father’s social and political
activities. The next son, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa opted to pursue a career
in the armed forces.
One of the youngest sons, Basil Rajapaksa chose to follow his brother
Mahinda Rajapaksa and after completing his studies he too ventured into
social and political pursuits. With the untimely demise of his father in
1967, Mahinda Rajapaksa at the age of 18 years came forward to fill the
gap and contested the Beliatta electorate and was elected into the
Parliament in 1970 and became the youngest parliamentarian of that
constituent assembly. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s entry into national politics
is considered as the beginning of the current phase of the story of the
The political career of Mahinda Rajapaksa, as close resemblance to
that of his beloved father, D. A. Rajapaksa. His contribution to the Sri
Lanka Freedom Party is closely comparable to that of D. A. Rajapaksa’s
pioneering role in the creation of the SLFP in 1951 and the progression
of SLFP. that has dominated the political arena of the country since
Reviving the Party
Mahinda Rajapaksa, commencing his political life in a low key, took
the leading role to revive the defeated SLFP over the 1980s and early
1990s. He too consolidated the socialist democratic elements within the
party, stood against internal rightists, opportunist groups who were
working for their personal gains rather than forming a common front to
defeat the ultra-capitalist party which had been ruling the country for
well over one and a half decades.
He worked hard to bring socialist elements into the common front and
attracted youth into the SLFP movement. Though, he was very pessimistic
of his chances of gaining the leadership of the party, as he was not a
Bandaranaike he never left the party even though inheritors of the
Bandaranaike legacy abandoned the party for different ventures. Although
the revival of the SLFP in early 1990s after the 1977 defeat was largely
due to efforts led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the newly formed SLFP led
People’s Alliance Government in 1994 was reluctant to offer a key
cabinet portfolio to Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Yet from whatever was offered, he made into very visible enterprises
and finally he succeeded in becoming the Prime Minister of the 2005
Government and then secured the party nomination for presidential
election. All these deserving victories for him, were unquestionably
secured through his sheer determination and patience, good judgement and
political wisdom that he inherited from his father.
Further, what Mahinda Rajapaksa had done after securing the Executive
Presidency within 3 years to this country, through his vision, Mahinda
Chintana which was conceptualized and expanded on his father’s vision,
is undoubtedly a fulfilment of D. A. Rajapaksa’s dream. By careful
comparison of Mahinda Chintana with D. A. Rajapaksa’s vision, one can
very clearly see that Mahinda Chintana is in fact D. A. Rajapaksa’s
vision converted into a broad-based socio-economic-political development
agenda, compatible with today’s complexities and needs.
It is well conceived that the last phase of social-cultural-economic
revolution that was set in motion in 1956 by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
has commenced with Mahinda Rajapaksa coming to power in 2005. Within a
short period of three and half years, his statesmanship has provided the
leadership along with three brothers to liberate the county from
ruthless terrorism and liberate the oppressed Tamil and Muslim
communities of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Two generations of political leaders have contributed to the success
achieved so far, For this success story the contribution made by D. A.
Rajapaksa, as I elaborated above and stated by many historians,
political analysts and intellectuals is exceptional and unmatchable.
His son, Mahinda Rajapaksa has now embarked on the final push to
create a harmonious society without any ethnic, religious and political
divide and a prosperous and righteous society free from corruption,
unruliness, drug addiction, and alcoholism.
However, many reactionary and anti-national forces both within and
outside the country are making cowardly attempts to sabotage this final
push. As we had to traverse a rocky, bumpy and turbulent path to achieve
these gains, the length that we have to traverse in the future may be
even more difficult.
We all will have to rally around him to provide courage and strength
and there is no doubt that the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration could
conclude the final phase of the journey to achieve what his loving
father had envisioned.
D. A. Rajapaksa, though he had non formal training in politics or in
an allied field, was a unpretentious, accessible, perceptive, and
extraordinary statesman worthy of emulation by generations. He had an
intrinsic knowledge about inevitable socio-cultural and political shifts
and trends that are very likely to sweep across the post-independent Sri
Lanka over the coming few decades.
He took extraordinary, some times very risky decisions and
contributed to landmark changes that had brought irreversible but
progressive shifts in the political landscape of the country. He
liberated the oppressed and down-trodden people of Ruhunu-Giruwa-Magam
Pattuwa and empowered them to be the saviours of Sri Lanka as heroes of
the past from ancient Ruhuna had done. He prepared his children to be
the leaders of the future. Most importantly, he reluctantly started
politics, but charmingly performed his legendary role as a patriotic
Southerner and died gracefully as an ordinary person leaving behind a
great treasure; that is honest, dedicated and patriotic sons who now
have liberated the country from the shackles of brutal terrorism and
neo-colonial interference and ensured our nation’s self-determination
and sovereignty. Let me finally pay my tribute to the late D. A.
Rajapaksa and pray.
May He Attain Nirvana.
(Prof. Harischandra Abeygunawardena, former Vice Chancellor of the
University of Peradeniya (2006-2009) is currently a member of the
University Grants Commission)