With the sudden death of Periasamy Chandrasekaran, Minister of Community Development and Social Inequity Eradication, the plantation community in Sri Lanka has lost a fearless voice and a gentle leader who was dear to their heart.
The massive crowd of ordinary people from the plantation community and different walks of life who came to pay their final respects to the leader at his funeral in Talawakelle, was a fitting testimony to his work, advocacy and the respect in which he was held by the people. It is noteworthy to mention that this was a unique occasion when members from the entire plantation community devoid of union affiliations participated in their leader’s final journey.
My association with late Mr. Chandrasekaran began in 1980 when I was the Manager of a tea estate in Kotagala. He was an official of the Ceylon Workers Congress at that time and was running a business at Talawakelle. He would often accompany S. Thondaman on his visits to the estates and came by my bungalow on a number of occasions and thereby we became well acquainted.
At that time, he was called the firebrand of the CWC because of his emotional, passionate and stirring speeches. Through his eloquence in the language and fiery delivery he aroused the younger generation and made them aware of conditions in the plantation sector and empowered them to take action and take part in the democratic process to achieve their goals and aspirations.
Due to certain differences of policy and strategies with his own CWC party, he reluctantly left the party and his mentor Mr. Thondaman and formed one of his own - the Upcountry Plantation Workers Front. When he formed the party, the educated community and the reform- oriented workers in the plantation sector especially the teachers rallied round him and his union emerged as a viable alternative to the CWC which had a history of more than 40 years in the plantation sector.
His open and transparent statements with regard to government policy towards the North and East people were construed by the then government that he was supporting the terrorist movement and he was sentenced to prison for more than three years. Though, he was incarcerated in prison his spirit and determination did not wane and thanks to the democratic rule that exists in Sri Lanka, he contested Central Provincial Council election in 1993 from prison and was elected as a member of the Central Provincial Council which clearly demonstrated the love and affection the electorate had for him.
On his release from prison, Mr. Chandrasekaran boldly extended his support to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to form the Government.
He was appointed Deputy Minister for Housing. Since his vote was very crucial to form the Government he could have demanded a Cabinet portfolio.
But his desire to serve his constituents through the provision of adequate housing, which was their dire need, made him take up the Deputy Minister post for plantation housing. In his period as Deputy Minister for Housing he initiated and implemented a programme to build around 40,000 single houses for estate worker families-- an achievement indeed. Thereafter, in all the subsequent elections he was elected by the people of Nuwara Eliya to represent them in Parliament.
In my association with Mr. Chandrasekaran, I have been amazed by the kindness and empathy he showed towards the members of the plantation community. He was a man from the community and he listened to his constituents in the union office, his house or in the Ministry.
He knew the trials and tribulations of the peoples and identified with them in their sorrows and happiness. Here was a man who never forgot his roots, where he came from even though he was a Minister in the National Government. He was truly a people’s Man.
As a Minister in the National Government he never showed any partiality towards the workers of other unions. He used to inform all Ministry staff that Ministry activities should be impartial and must be beneficial to not only the estate community but to neighbouring villages as well. I used to accompany him to the estates when he went to open projects implemented by the Ministry. It was amazing to see how people rallied around him.
He led a simple life and was attached to his family. He is one of the very few Cabinet Ministers who did not surround himself with security guards and hangers-on. He was of the firm conviction that he was elected by the people and he should be protected by them and not from them. He believed that Tamils in Sri Lanka should not face any differences whether they were from the upcountry or north east. He believed in the commonalities of all Sri Lankans and that they should live peacefully in harmony with all communities.
The plantation community lost a genuine leader and active trade unionist and caring politician. His family lost a loving husband and father. The country lost a caring politician who tried to build on commonalities and not differences.
May his soul rest in peace