In this day and age of political infamy and demoralizing behaviour by the powers that rule, it is heartwarming to meet a gentleman politician of yesteryear.
Those were the times when gentlemen governed the country and politics was a respected profession and when politicians were respected as people of integrity who revered country before self and people before personal power. Indradasa Hettiarachchi is an example of a gentleman politician of that bygone era.
Born to a planter family, Indradasa, along with five sisters and two brothers, grew up under the stern eye of their mother and indulgent father who owned many acres of tea, coconut and rubber on Don Pedris Estate. He recalls that at that time, native proprietary planters were referred to as ‘Europeans” by the locals.
As time passed, the Hettiarachchi family settled down in Horana and Indradasa attended Ananda and Nalanda Colleges before completing his studies at Pembroke- a now defunct ‘finishing school’. The elder Hettiarachchi soon became involved in community affairs and local politics.
In 1948, aged 18, Indradasa says that D.S. Senanayake petitioned the local Gam Sabawa because the villagers of Horana wanted to oust the Chairman of the VC who was a relative of Sir John Kotelawela. “The villagers felt that the Chairman was too old to handle the affairs of the VC,” he says. The elder Hettiarachchi, a staunch supporter of Senanayake was in the thick of things.
Later on, Indradasa attended a reception held for Senanayake in lieu of the upcoming local elections.
It was also attended by Herbert Wickramasinghe, MP for Bandarawela and the main topic of discussion was the need to infuse ‘young’ blood into the VC. Therefore, much to Indradasa’s chagrin, Senanayake invited him to contest. Along with another cousin, Indradasa contested and won a seat on the Horana VC propelling him into the world of politics. One year later, the Chairman resigned from his much maligned seat and Indradasa took over as Chairman and held that position for the next 18 years. “I was planter by daytime and politician after hours,” he chuckles.
During that time, Indradasa developed Horana and the Kalutara districts. He initiated the widening of the roads by encouraging the people of the area to voluntarily give up part of their lands for this purpose. Then, he acquired 400 empty tar barrels, which were cut in half and used for culverts.
In addition, numerous health clinics, dispensaries and child care centres were constructed proving his commitment to his people. “In 1960, Dudley Senanayake insisted I contest the Horana seat. Meanwhile I was hiding in Bandarawela because I did not want to get into mainstream politics,” he says. Senanayake rebuked him saying, “Why can’t you help me and the UNP? Remember, I can also live in England like a Lord. But I want to help our people.” Unable to refuse, Indradasa contested and won, defeating M.D.H. Jayawardena, who was then the Minister of Finance.
One of Indradasa’s main feats was developing the Kalutara Hospital by adding 11 new wards through donations.
Indradasa was also implicated in a political conspiracy and was named as one of the “Horana Horde” that included, Jinadasa Samarakkody, M.J. Perera, S.J. Walpita, P.K. Dissanayake, D. C. L. Amarasinghe, W. D. L. Mahathanthira, Sunil Rodrigo and S. W. Walpita. “Our crime was that we, the Horana Horde, were considered the danapathiyo (the wealthy). The Davasa newspaper wrote a few defamatory articles about us but we managed to vindicate ourselves,” he says.
Indradasa recalls the many ‘leaders’ who visited his ancestral home in Horana. “JRJ came to the Kalutara District 34 times and one time, during a visit he got wet in the rain. He came home to change, stayed for lunch, had a nap and spent time talking to us about the district before leaving. President Premadasa too was a regular visitor who would never fail to stop at our home for hoppers.”
During JRJ’s tenure, Indradasa managed to get the Horana Industrial Estate underway. With plans drawn up by UK based engineer, Dr. Sarath Gunasekera, the Industrial Estate began with 25 industries in Waulugala. By 1994, 80 industries were in operation. “This was a great opportunity to solve the unemployment situation,” he says. That same year, Indradasa gave up politics to make way for ‘young’ blood.
However, for Indradasa, this did not stop him from serving his electorate. He initiated the Dikhena Housing Project with 1000 affordable mid-range housing for his constituents. He overlooked the completion of 550 daham pasal which accommodates 250,000 students. As an encouragement to tea small holders, Indradasa started the 10,000 acre Tea Plantation Project in Agalawatta. Then, in exchange for free food from the FAO, village labour was used to build and improve roads in Agalawatta. He was also instrumental in developing the Halwatura Bridge across the Kalu Ganga.
“Presently I am working on completing a Language Library with 40,000 English books at the Kalutara Bodhiya. I aim to increase it to 100,000 books in the future,” he says.
Encapsulating his tenure in politics, Indradasa claims, “During my stint at politics, I have never asked for personal favours, taken commissions or resorted to untoward practices. Unlike this day and age, politics was clean, uncorrupted and a respected profession. We believed in team work and together we became rich as a nation.”