It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing away of comrade
Indika Gunawardena. He had been gravely ill, when we saw him last year.
Comrade Indika and I had a broad consensus on many socio-economic and
political issues. Of course, we also had our differences of opinion. It
was our consensus that prevailed in working together for the purpose of
building a fairer world. We will remember him for his contribution
towards achieving human and democratic rights for the people in Sri
He came from a well-known progressive family in Sri Lanka. He was the
eldest child of late comrade Philip Gunawardena, a pioneer of the Sri
Lankan Socialist Movement, the founder of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party,
and also known as ‘the Lion of Boralugoda’ due to the firebrand nature
of his political activities.
Indika’s mother late comrade Kusuma Gunawardena also embraced
Socialism, supported the struggle against imperialism, and actively
engaged with the Sooriya Mal Movement in the 1930s.
Both comrades Philip and Kusuma had to flee Sri Lanka to escape the
wrath of the British colonial rulers. Later comrade Philip held
ministerial positions in several post-1944 governments in Sri Lanka, and
comrade Kusuma was also a powerful parliamentarian.
my youth, I had heard of Indika as a leader of the trade union movement
of the Communist Party of Ceylon (CPC), which later became the Communist
Party of Sri Lanka. When I played a leading role in the political
activities of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the late seventies,
we thought of Indika as a young member of the Community Party more to
the left than other members of his party. In 1968, the CPC with the LSSP
joined the SLFP to form the United Front. In 1970, it accepted
ministerial positions in the government. While comrade Pieter Keuneman,
a leader of the CPC became Minister of Housing and Construction,
Comrades Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe and Indika Gunawardena limited
themselves to maintaining a line of critical support for the coalition.
I believe it was in November 1977, just after our release from
incarceration, comrade Indika met me at the JVP headoffice in Colombo.
He had played an active role in the campaign for the release of
political prisoners at the time. He later became an active member of the
Human Rights Organisation we established and supported many of our
political activities. He expressed his desire to become a member of the
JVP, however, comrade Rohana Wijeweera was not keen to accept him,
mainly due to political infiltrations that had been taking place during
However, comrade Indika continued to support the public activities of
the JVP. He was actively involved in carrying out JVP political
activities in Colombo suburbs, supported Songs of Liberation
performances, and even took part in the JVP election campaigns.
While leading the Songs of the Liberation group, I had the occasion
to work with him and in fact, we were organising our first tour to
perform in the German Democratic Republic, but unfortunately we could
not progress with this matter further, as the then government proscribed
our public performances.
In 1978, I took the initiative to transliterate ‘Internationale,’ the
song Eugene Pottier wrote just weeks after the crushing of the Paris
Commune, in June 1871 and which had become the most recognizable and
popular song of the socialist movement since the late 19th century.
I had to rely on the original French song and its German version when
writing Sinhala lyrics of the song. Comrade Indika received his
university education in the German Democratic Republic. It was Indika,
who helped me in the German to Sinhala transliteration due to his
excellent fluency in the language.
I have fond memories of staying at his Kirulapona house in Colombo
whilst he had I transliterated this classic song.
With regard to the national question, particularly the issues
affecting the Tamil people of Sri Lanka both of us were politically on
the same wave length. I was detained receiving ‘Guantanamo treatment’
under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1985 for ten months.Comrade
Indika was also held under house arrest for several months, and then
held in prison for the rest of the period under the same draconian
legalisation. The so-called ‘patriots’ of Sri Lanka even attempted to
physically harm him while in prison. Despite this enmity, his views on
the national question remained unwaveringly consistent throughout his
In the mid-1990s, comrade Indika was elected a Member of Parliament
and joined hands with the People’s Alliance coalition government led by
Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. At different periods, he held
cabinet responsibilities as Minister of Fisheries, Higher Education,
Information Technology Development, and Housing and Construction. Once
he tried to convince me to accept the responsibility of a Chairperson of
an important Corporation in Sri Lanka under the Housing and Construction
Ministry, but being aware of the strong corrupt practices that have been
prevailing, I had to politely decline his kind offer. With regard to his
participation in the government, we had quite different political views,
but we held no animosities towards each other.
I want to express our condolences to his family, in particular, to
Padmini, Diyath and Yasith, and also his comrades and friends.
We will remember him for all that he had done for the betterment of
the lives of the people in Sri Lanka, especially the poor. His
contribution, experience and political integrity at such a crucial
juncture in the history of Sri Lankan politics will be solely missed.
Farewell dear comrade Indika!
Lionel and Chitra Bopage