As in the case of most of our departed leaders, we remember with deep respect year after year, the late D.A Rajapaksa, the father of His Excellency the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Accordingly, his 44th Death Anniversary, which falls on November 6, 2011, will be widely observed.
D.M. Rajapaksa, popularly known as the Lion of Ruhuna, who died 66 years ago, continues to live in the hearts of our people. He was a member of the Second State Council, his entire political career lasting less than fifteen years. Yet, the name of D.M. is near and dear to the people's hearts, particularly those of Ruhuna. This is also the case with his brother, who was called upon to carry forward D.M.'s struggle, which he did magnificently true to his conviction and conscience.
The political life and culture of D.A. and D.M. was so organically linked that they are remembered by the people of Ruhuna collectively. While DM was leading the anti-imperialist and progressive movement nationally, D.A. was the regional leader who maintained close links with the people at the grassroots level. If D.M. was the voice of the people of Ruhuna, D.A. was their pulse.
When his beloved brother suddenly died of a heart-attack in 1945, D.A. was confronted with the first challenge of his political life. The burden of looking after both families fell on D.A. at a time when all the children were at school-going age. The challenge was so overwhelming that D.A. refused to be drawn into the by-election for the vacant Hambantota Seat in the Legislature purely for economic reasons. However, he failed to resist the people's demand.
On nomination day at the Hambantota Kachcheri he was declared uncontested as member of the State Council for the Hambantota District. The impact of D.M.'s sudden death was so overwhelming that none of his political adversaries had the guts to face up to D.A. the silent. We as children recollect how he was taken in a motorcade to Medamulana - Weeraketiya from the Hambantota Kachcheri. The news flashed through the backwoods of Giruwa Pattu and Magam Pattu bringing relief and ease to the grief-stricken people. From then onwards, D.A. kept the people together with him, carrying forward his brother's policies. He was by nature silent and sober but strong and courageous in his convictions. He was gentle, affable and unassuming.
In spite of many vicissitudes in life, he stood up to the challenges through the strength of his personal qualities and political convictions. The environment in which he lived, and the culture in which he was nurtured, moulded his character.
D.A. held the posts of Deputy Minister, Deputy Speaker and for a very brief period Minister of Agriculture and Lands in the Dahanayake Government. He stepped down from office within 14 days of his appointment, at the height of the political crisis caused by the assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. He was so attached to the late Premier that he was not prepared to associate himself even with those remotely connected with the conspirators of his leader's assassination. His silent entry into the Cabinet and more silent exit from the Government eloquently symbolized his character.
D.M. and D.A. first entered the election fray in 1931, when they both supported Party Leader Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe who contested the Morawaka Seat at the first State Council Election. Sam Wijesinha, former Secretary General of Parliament, bears witness to the election campaign of Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe, recalling his visits to Sam's ancestral residence at Gatamanne, Beliatte together with the Rajapaksa brothers. The two brothers were then closely associated with the Sooriyamal Movement and with the Left Leaders in particular.
When D.M. Rajapaksa contested the Second State Council in 1936, he was joined, as a group, by the Left Leaders, Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe, Dr. N.M. Perera, Phillip Gunawardena and Leslie Gunawardena. The Hansards of the Second State Council show evidence as to how closely they were working as a group in the anti-imperialist and progressive movement.
Ever since D.M. entered the Second State Council - 1936, the Hambantota District has been continuously represented in Parliament till today by one or more members of the Rajapaksa family, except between 1977-1988, when the opposition was reduced to eight seats in Parliament with the steamroller majority of the U.N.P. under J.R. Jayewardene. They dominated the politics of the period, championing the cause of the oppressed people of Ruhuna.
It should be recalled as to why D.M. chose the brownish red as his colour at the election in 1936, while his left colleagues chose Red as their colour. The brownish red symbolized the colour of 'kurakkan', the staple food of the then peasants in Giruwa and Magam Pattu which demonstrated their commitment to the amelioration of the conditions of the peasantry.
In 1947, when D.A. contested the newly created Beliatte seat as a Sinhala Maha Saba candidate of the U.N.P. his rival was leading lawyer D.P. Atapattu, who belonged to the D.S. Senanayake camp of the U.N.P. While D.P. Atapattu used green, D.A., though a U.N.P. candidate, continued to use the 'Kurakkan' colour in his election campaign. Thus the symbol of the Rajapaksa family's commitment to Ruhunu's peasantry was maintained throughout.
Maintaining the political base of Hambantota for three generations provides testimony of their contribution towards the transformation of the Hambantota District.
As much as D.A. took over from where D.M. left off, Mahinda took over from his father D.A. History has now given him the opportunity not only to develop Ruhuna but the whole country.
To quote Mahinda Chinthana - Vision for the future, "The objective of our next massive leap forward is to transform Sri Lanka into a strategically important economic centre of the world. My determination, therefore, is to transform Sri Lanka to be the Pearl of the Asian Silk Route once again in modern terms using our strategic geographical location effectively, I will develop our motherland as a naval, aviation, commercial, energy and knowledge hub, serving as a key link between the East and the West."
The people of Ruhuna have always been in the forefront of the anti-Imperialist progressive movement and have given their unstinted support to the Rajapaksas in all struggles led by them. Equally, they in turn have a right to demand an accelerated development of Ruhuna.
That will ensure the realization of D.A's dream.
The Hambantota District with its historic Giruwa Pattu and Magam Pattu was not what it is today, when the senior Rajapaksas entered national politics in the 1930s through the Sooriyamal Movement. It has taken giant strides in economic and social development. This was so thanks to them liberating the people of Ruhuna from the shackles of colonialism and feudalism.
This is precisely why they are remembered each year with respect and honour so that posterity will also remember the men who pioneered the struggle for liberation.
(The writer is a Senior Minister for Human Resources)