3rd February 2002

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  • He will never truly fade away - Gamini Athukorale
  • Those were happy days - Wellington Sirilal Rajapakse
  • Never lost common touch - Rohan Hapugalle
  • He will never truly fade away

    Gamini Athukorale
    The man was furious when self-exiled JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe arrived last year, and he was doubly furious when Amarasinghe left the shores before the general election results were announced. His contention was that Amarasinghe should have been tried in a court of law. And unlike the majority who would feel safe in speaking under a veil of diplomacy, Gamini Athukorale felt no need to pretend or censor what he said.

    Many would disagree and even find Athukorale, the charismatic assistant leader of the UNP rather brash as he spoke his mind. But such was his character that he plainly expressed exactly what he felt. And that itself was a novel experience to us scribes who are used to politicians who are often careful and untruthful in their utterances to the level of hypocrisy.

    My first glimpse of Gamini Athukorale has remained deeply etched in my mind. As a cub reporter nine years ago, I was watching the legislature in session from the Press Gallery and immediately noticed a white national clad, bespectacled minister, locking horns with a legislator.

    Somehow, that image of the furious minister has remained. And over the years, we developed an extremely comfortable professional relationship so much so that he shared his candid views with me, and though not necessarily in agreement, I found his approach rather refreshing.

    For those in the UNP, Gamini was the one who sweated, toiled and laboured to bring a UNP government into office. While other leaders were recognised for their ability to govern, Gamini certainly was recognised as the driving force behind the UNP's electoral victory last December. 

    As Ranil Wickremesinghe said in his funeral oration, perhaps Gamini's untimely departure was brought about by the excessive workload he shouldered, the burdens he silently bore on behalf of the UNP. And having done his supreme duty by the UNP, of securing electoral victory, Gamini Athukorale was so jubilant that he claimed that he was even ready to leave the world in a spirit of victory.

    The UNP, a party that is often seen as a monopoly of of the traditional ruling class, experienced a difference when Gamini Athukorale came along. He certainly belonged to that same class. Yet he was the man with the common touch, the man who knew public feeling, felt their pulse. Undoubtedly, it was he who had that essential Sinhala identity that many found lacking among UNP politicians, and the man who embodied the fighting spirit the UNP seemed to lack. 

    When a group of UNPers while in opposition advocated a national government with the PA, Gamini Athukorale declared war on such thinking, openly claiming that a few portfolios should not lure the UNP. He felt strongly about the UNP being the single largest party, and felt that agreements based on portfolios was not something the UNP should go for. 

    It was Gamini's Jana Bala Meheyuma last July that provided the UNP the necessary impetus and the winning streak to a party that was languishing in opposition. It was his show, his opportunity to display his skill in mobilizing people, his undaunting spirit and indefatigable effort that saw the end of the road for the PA administration.

    His finest hour in politics was when he was made the UNP General Secretary following the dismal defeat in 1994. And the new General Secretary had a massive rebuilding operation entrusted to him. He began with an ambitious membership drive, met grassroot level organizers, revamped the party and rebuilt the party organisation that had been neglected during a 17- year administration.

    Having built it up from scratch, he injected the UNP with new vigour as he continued to hold protests and take up issues headlong. In Parliament, his voice rose against corruption and malpractice. That was his forte. He was in his element when he was providing leadership to the masses. Just three months short of celebrating 25 years in politics, the dynamic Ratnapura legislator undertook his final assignment last year- to seal the PA administration. And having done that, his joy knew no bounds.

    Gamin Athukorale's detractors would concede that he was candidly honest, outspoken and loyal to his party. And often there were moments that reminded me of our first meeting- the angry legislator taking on the opposition years ago.

    If there was a prize for loyalty among UNP ranks, my contention is that Gamini Athukorale would have won it uncontested. Such was his unswerving commitment to the party and loyalty to the party leadership. The mantle of high office sat lightly upon him.

    At 51, Gamini Athukorale shared the enthusiasm of a kid, and had strong likes and dislikes- things that made him easy to associate with. And over the years, I have got used to seeing him in the Parliament lobby, taking quick steps and flashing his ready smile. There are a million things that flit through my mind as I write this piece on Gamini. 

    And one thing is true about Gamini Athukorale. As we mourn his loss, as the UNP struggles to recover from the devastating shock, Gamini Athukorale could never truly fade away. He had so much of vitality. Such men never die.

    Dilrukshi Handunnetti

    Those were happy days

    Wellington Sirilal Rajapakse 
    Cheerful smile - caring thoughts 
    Are no more from you, our dear "Willie"! 
    But, we cherish the happy days spent with you 
    And will always remember your sweet smile! 
    You're in our hearts forever 
    May you attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana. 

    Loved ones 

    Never lost common touch 

    Rohan Hapugalle
    It is with a profound sense of sorrow that I learnt of the demise of Uncle Rohan, while I was out of the country. On my return, one of my first deeds, was to pay my last respects to Aunty Neelakanthi and the family.

    Uncle Rohan, was gifted with many qualities. He was a gentleman par excellence and humble person. 

    Despite the high positions he held in Jaycees, Rotary and the field of commerce and industry, he never lost the common touch. 

    When I attended the funeral of a fellow Jaycee, who died under tragic circumstances, I was surprised to see among the many friends, Uncle Rohan. When I expressed my surprise he said, "It was my duty to pay my respects to a colleague, although I did not know him personally." This was his humanity .

    Another remarkable thing was that whenever I sent him congratulatory notes on his successes, he would make it a point to acknowledge them despite his busy schedule. 

    It is my earnest hope and prayer that younger generations will follow Uncle Rohan's example.

    May his soul rest in peace. 

    May Aunty Neelakanthi and his family be given the strength to bear this loss.

    Amyn Chatoor

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