I had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Anil Moonesinghe for 60 long years. We knew each other as second cousins, and we were in very close touch during his 27 years in Parliament.
My mind goes back to the halcyon times when his parents, Piyadasa and Beatrice Moonesinghe, would visit my parents’ home in Havelock Road, bringing Anil with them. His father would bring along a tin of Huntley & Palmers biscuits – an indication of the family’s background and social level.
Anil received his education at Royal College, Colombo, under the strict and discerning eye of Principal E. L. Bradby, the last of Royal’s British pedagogues. While at Royal, he won his colours in athletics, at which sport he later excelled in his short stay at the University of Ceylon, Colombo.
Anil represented the university at the All India Universities Athletic Meet, which was held regularly in those years. Soon, Anil was seeking greener pastures abroad and, thanks to his generous and affluent parents, he found his way to England where he joined the Middle Temple. He passed out as a barrister and was enrolled soon after.
It was in those early formative days that Anil showed a distinct penchant for left-of-centre politics and found himself closely involved with a young Labour Movement. He joined the British Communist Party in 1946 and the British Labour Party in 1948.
Possibly the early beginnings of his association with Trotskyite politics in Ceylon began there. Unknown to many, Anil cut his teeth in municipal politics and contested a seat at the Colombo Municipal Council elections.
Also involved in local politics at the time were such stalwarts as Dr. N. M. Perera, Mrs. Vivienne Gunawardene, T. Rudra, Dr. Osmund Jayaratne and Robert Gunawardene. Anil joined progressive groups, working to improve the conditions of the poorer sections of the community.
The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), which boasted such distinguished politicians as Dr. N. M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Goonawardene and Bernard Soysa, welcomed into its ranks the young, dashing and debonair Anil, and nominated him for the Agalawatte seat.
The Young Turks of the Sama Samaja movement called him the Aneurin Bevan of Sri Lanka. He won the Agalawatte seat in the historic 1956 elections.
In 1960, following the assassination of the then Prime Minister in 1959, the country witnessed two elections in one year. Two general elections were held in a space of three months, March and July. Anil was successful at both elections, representing his Agalawatte constituency, and was invited to join the third Cabinet of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in June 1964 as Minister of Communications, when the LSSP allied itself with the SLFP. In March 1965, Anil won his seat from the same constituency again, but sadly had his election declared void two years later.
Anil was also a leading figure in the Trade Union Movement, and formed the United Corporations and Mercantile Union. In 1970, under Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s coalition government, he was made chairman of the Ceylon Transport Board. He served in that post till 1975, working with dedication, enthusiasm and commitment to give the harassed traveller a better service.
I recall a certain Saturday afternoon, when I had come to the Pettah bus stand to drop off a friend. There was Anil in the searing afternoon heat, supervising and directing buses and the movement of passengers, rather than giving directions from his air-conditioned office, something that others in his position might have done. By doing so, Anil demonstrated his commitment and his dedication.
In later years, Anil resigned from the LSSP, of which he was Secretary, and joined the SLFP. Soon after, in May 1983, when there was a by-election, he won the Matugama by-election and defeated the UNP candidate. Seated in the Opposition ranks, Anil performed a useful role, speaking articulately and examining issues with a focused mind.
In his final years in Parliament, he was Deputy Speaker. He was respected by both sides of the House for his fairness and impartiality. In later years, he was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Austria with accreditation to the United Nations and the Balkan countries of Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzgovenia.
A grandson of the Rev. Anagarika Dharmapala, Anil worked a lot for the revival of Buddhism and immersed himself in the activities of the Maha Bodhi Society, becoming the society’s president eventually.
Anil was highly respected for his honesty, integrity and efficiency. He was deeply committed to any cause he embraced. He had a great vision for a united Sri Lanka, which regrettably he did not see because of his untimely passing away.
He was a totally simple and approachable man. His many, many constituents of Kalutara District will bear testimony to this.