Vernon Botejue

Vernon Botejue

Philip Gunawardene – 39th death anniversary:


* Upright politician

* Sincere TU leader

* Industrious Cabinet Minister

* Advocated Trotskyism, Stalinism in 1930

* Co-founded LSSP in 1935

* Early education at Prince of Wales, Ananda

* Became interested in politics at age of 14

* Became Young Lanka League member in 1920

Vernon Botejue

Philip Gunawardene delivering the inaugural address to the 14th
session of the ‘Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science’ on
December 18, 1958, in his capacity then as the Agriculture and Food
Minister said “My pleasure at being invited to open this session is
two-pronged. Firstly I shall speak quite frankly – that you have chosen
a man known to be a dissenter in the political life of our country and
known to have concerned himself with the aspirations of our most humble
citizens. Dissension – argument controversy – these are food and drink
to ‘science’ as conformism is starvation.

“And I have assumed, that you have demonstrated by this invitation,
that as scientists, you are concerned not only with theoretical problems
but also with human beings. As long has you are thus concerned, all of
us can have full confidence that the knowledge you possess will never be
used for inhuman and anti-human purpose that advance of science and
technology promoted in an era gone by, of making rockets and lethal
weapons including the atom bomb.”

Dedicated service

“Secondly, I am pleased that you have chosen Agriculture and Food
Minister to open your Congress. Again I assume, I hope correctly – that
this was your way of expressing a fact that is of great significance to
our country: that our scientists and technologists have appreciated that
the development of agriculture and food production is one of the most
critical and urgent problems to which you must now put your individual
and collective skills, techniques and knowledge.”

Dinesh with his legendary and visionary father Philip
Gunawardene at the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna May Day
procession in 1956. File photo

These graphic words of Philip express, not only his thoughts but also
most certainly underline his acts and deeds that epitomized his
character, politics and life’s mission through many years of dedicated

It can be said without fear of contradiction that these words of
Philip are equally relevant to Sri Lanka today in the context of the
aftermath of the LTTE terrorist war that ravaged the country for over 30
years, in addition to the recent climatic changes occurring due to
global warming casing heavy rainfall and floods and land slides,
resulting in not only loss of lives but also destruction of agricultural
land and food including future threats of sea erosion and tsunamis, that
calls for the immediate attention of our own experts in their respective
fields concerned.

Political arena

Philip Gunawardene strode across the political arena of the country
like a colossus for over four decades and it is well nigh impossible to
condense into this short discourse all his achievements and
contributions to the fabric of social and political life of his
Motherland – that he served as an honest and upright politician, sincere
Trade Union leader, Honourable Minister and Member of Parliament and an
industrious Cabinet Minister on two occasions.

The words of the Roman poet Horace aptly applies to him – “integer
vitae scelerisque purus” – “The man of upright life unstained by guilt.”

History records

In fact Philip did receive such testimonial from no less an authority
that the District Court of Colombo when he was honourably acquitted on a
charge of criminal defamation against a senior DIG Police. The Learned
Trial Judge in the course of his judgment observed inter alia that the
accused was an “innocent without guile” and “that he had acted in the
public interest,” which attribute underlined Philip’s action and
decisions in politics throughout his life.

Philip Gunawardene

Philip’s interest in politics was aroused early in life when he was a
lad of 14 years.

The year was 1915 when history records riots that occurred in Ceylon
and the British Colonial Regime suspecting that it was an uprising
enforced Martial Law and arrested and imprisoned and executed several
prominent Sinhala citizens.

Colonial rulers

Philip’s father, Boralugoda Ralahamy, had been sentenced to death,
but later reprieved. It was at this point of time that patriotic feeling
was kindled in young Philip’s breast.

Perhaps, inspired by the words of poet Sir Walter Scott, “Breathes
there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, this is
my own native land.” Grieved by the repressive wrongful deeds of the
Colonial rulers, Philip dreamt a dream to free his Motherland from the
shackles of British imperialist rule.

In realizing his dream, Philip certainly faced many iniquities and
made tremendous sacrifices. However, Philip did not make use of his
talent for self-aggrandizement but magnanimously gave much of his time,
talent and treasure for the public weal.

To be continued

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