By Lalith Athulathmudali Foundation to commemorate the 84th birth anniversary fell on November 26
Lalith Athulathmudali was indefatigable in his quest for knowledge and was continuously opening windows for our youth to the modern world of knowledge and technology. With the Mahapola concept, he demonstrated the fact that school was not merely an institution concerned with distributing prescribed learning but rather that it was motivated towards creating an awareness of ever-expanding human horizon in the world of today & tomorrow. Communication & information were central to Lalith’s vision of realizing his goals. His steadfast ambition was that our youth be equipped to take their place in the global village of advancing technology.
Lalith’s enduring mission was to provide facilities for our young men & women with high ideals and higher hopes emerging each year on the threshold of life with no hope of assistance, falling back in frustration because they were being defeated by the system. The creation of the Mahapola Scholarship Trust Fund was a major step towards defeating the cynicism of the system. But even that was insufficient for Lalith. He wanted more for these young men & women particularly because he truly believed that the eventual alleviation of poverty could only be achieved thru enhanced education and narrowing the gap in educational facilities. Through the provision of a dynamic educational system complete with English as its cementing language and developing technical & vocational skills to meet the mismatch in the employment market.
Lalith did not overlook the business community but created lucrative openings for them. The business community benefitted by his pragmatic vision and innovative ideas. Modernization of commercial laws, Export incentives, introduction of the Export production villages, Exporter’s forum and the Presidential Export awards, lying emphasis on exports, Development of the Port as a modern container port and equipping it for transhipment are some of the few initiatives he took to develop the economy.
In his short span as the Minister of Agriculture, he introduced many novel ideas such as Agricultural Export villages, the soil & climate cropping system & the concept of growing for the market. His stint as the Education portfolio he introduced many reforms with the student being the priority.
His political ideology for the country was of national, secularism, democracy & market economy with a safety net for the less privileged. He insisted that the voice of the people their needs their aspirations and their priorities must become the cornerstone of the edifice of planning. Scholarships for postgraduate studies, grants and other special awards will be included in the Foundation’s educational programmes.
It’s appropriate to look back at his life’s work and vision, pragmatism and the vigour he displayed during his relatively short span of life.
"Lalith Athulathmudali was a democrat in every sense of the word. He spent his formative years in a liberal environment where free-thinking, the rule of law, democracy was paramount. However, his liberal thinking did not blind him of the limitations it could have on a developing country like Sri Lanka"
With the onset of the Eelam War, National Defense and Security (1983-1988) was a diverse subject for this intellectual. However, he accepted the challenge. Restructuring of the Armed forces from Ceremonial to fully-fledged combat forces, recruitment, training, equipping and establishing new units was his priority. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Special Task Force, Rapid Deployment Force, National Auxiliary Force, expanding Commando units, equipping the Navy with new modern fast crafts to strengthen the protection of the sea routes. The Increasing of camps up in the war zone, Teaching the Tamil language to soldiers, Welfare schemes for soldiers Keeping up the morale of the soldiers by visiting camps regularly were some others he was involved in. He also gave political leadership to the Wadamarachchi battle.
He was the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock & cooperatives for a short stint (1989-1990) The framework for “farming for the Market”, Concept of “YALA- for cash- MAHA for rice” Evolving cropping systems for different climatic zones & soil condition, Introduction of Agricultural Export Production Village Scheme Introducing the export-oriented agriculture to the farming community, Organizing livestock farmers into cooperative societies, Introducing the concept of Cooperative banking & insurance business were some of the concepts he introduced to the agriculture sector.
His Crusade to re-establish Democracy
Lalith Athulathmudali was a democrat in every sense of the word. He spent his formative years in a liberal environment where free-thinking, the rule of law, democracy was paramount. However, his liberal thinking did not blind him of the limitations it could have on a developing country like Sri Lanka. He believed that every citizen is equal in dignity and should enjoy the freedom, privileges and basic facilities in equal share. The rule of law should be equal to all from the highest & the lowest in society. Independence of the judiciary has to be protected at any cost. And strived to create a society where “freedom without fear” shall prevail.
In pursuance of these goals, he sacrificed his precious life on a political platform-23rd April 1993
“Look for WHAT IS RIGHT- not WHO IS RIGHT”
He was young enough & tough enough to confront and to enjoy the winds of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance & national danger; He died of exposure. But in a way that he would have settled for, in the line of duty, with his friends and enemies all around supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in a like position, that he did not fear the weather & did not trim the sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and cause it to blow more softly & more kindly over the nation and its people.”
Courtesy- JFK Memorial