“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”
- William Shakespeare from Twelfth Night
From the days of the independence struggle in the early part of the twentieth century and thereafter we had the opportunity of studying the lifestyles and the political disposition of many Sri Lankan leaders who set the necessary environment to achieve independence through their hard work. Some were politically savvy while the others contributed in their own way for the political emancipation for the people in this island nation.
Starting from Sir D.B Jayatilleke, F.R.Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, E.W.Perera, Ananda Kumaraswamy, D.S.Senanayake we can recall many others who were born great while others achieved greatness through sheer dedication to the assigned task.
Gamini Dissanayake belongs to the genre who achieved greatness through sheer hard work. It is a privilege bestowed upon me to pen a few words about one of the most versatile and dynamic politicians Sri Lanka produced during the late 1960s and whose political life spanned for nearly thirty years. Gamini and his political disposition have created a niche in the Sri Lankan body polity as a man who did his best for the rural peasantry probably after D.S.Senanayake the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.Though Gamini’s family had leanings towards the SLFP he chose his political career with the grand old party the UNP.
Accordingly Gamini as a novice to politics first contested the 1970 General Elections under the UNP and won the Nuwara Eliya seat to be one of the 18 members returned to parliament by the UNP at the 1970 General election. The UNP faced a crushing defeat at the hands of the United Front coalition led by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, but Gamini was able to show up some courage as a political opponent to the strong government of the day and could be named as one of the icons that revived the UNP after the demise of former Prime Minister Dudley Senanyake. Gamini joined hands with leaders such as J.R Jayewardene and R. Premadasa and lead the UNP back to the victorious path. The relentless efforts by late J.R.Jayewardene, Premadasa and Gamini brought the party back to the limelight and the invigorated UNP won many by-elections held between 1970 and 1977. Gamini himself was a victim of an election petition but managed to defeat all efforts by the then government to grab the Nuwara-Eliya seat.
After the1977 landslide victory of the UNP, Gamini was in charge of the portfolios held by Maithripala Senanayake to accomplish the dream of President J.R.Jayewardene, to complete the Mahaweli project in a short span of six years, when it was originally planned to be completed in five stages and in thirty years by the previous government headed by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Gamini Dissanayake was ably assisted by the then Finance Minister Ronnie De Mel to raise the necessary funds to achieve the target in six years that brought about new dimensions to the life of the peasantry of the Rajarata, Pahala Uva and the Eastern Province.
In short, the accelerated Mahaweli Project was a feather in Gamini's cap. Gamini was second to none in his versatility and ability as a politician. Though he had differences with late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, he rejoined the UNP after a lapse of nearly one and a half years to give the necessary punch that was needed to the then politically rattled UNP.
In 1994, when the UNP went into the opposition, losing the Parliamentary General elections by a narrow margin, Gamini was elected the leader of the opposition. As the leader of the opposition, Gamini was far-sighted to see that the executive presidency was tailor-made for J.R.Jayewardene and no other, hence he extended his fullest cooperation to Chandrika Kumaratunge to revert to the Westminister system of parliament. Unfortunately, no leader who came into power thereafter wanted to shed the powers arrogated to the presidency and continued with the system which has today become a burden to the country.
Gamini the versatile politician would have changed Sri Lanka's political destiny if he lived long enough to achieve this target!