During his tenure, a cricket foundation was established to help the cricketing community around the country
“So, when a great man dies for years beyond our ken, the light he leaves behind him lies upon the paths of men.” - Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
Very few politicians since independence have left the kind of indelible mark that Gamini Dissanayake has on Sri Lanka. In the early 1970s when Gamini entered politics, having left a lucrative legal career, he was a very charismatic and erudite young man with a magnetic personality that drew people towards him. He had the ability to listen to people and touch both their heart and mind.
He impressed me as a man who was filled with wisdom. His knowledge and understanding of politics were exceptional. I believe that if he had lived, he would have one day become the president of this country and ruled the land with wisdom and understanding.
I do not say this merely because I knew him but because I worked with him closely, experienced what he was capable of, and saw how he turned vision into reality.
Gamini Dissanayake was born on March 20, 1942, in Kotmale. He completed his education at Trinity College, Kandy and then entered the Ceylon Law College. He took silk as a President’s Counsel in 1988. Later in life, he completed an MPhil Degree in International Relations at Cambridge University, UK.
He entered Parliament at the age of 28 for the first time in 1970 from the United National Party (UNP), after his victory at the general election from the Nuwara Eliya electorate
He entered Parliament at the age of 28 for the first time in 1970 from the United National Party (UNP), after his victory at the general election from the Nuwara Eliya electorate. Amidst all efforts by the Bandaranaike regime to defeat him in the 1972 bi election, Gamini held his seat. My close association with him began at the time of the bi-election.
He was gifted with the ability to think out of the box and advocated for government departments to engage in commercial activity if and where the capacity existed. Almost all the corporations under him diversified their activities.
Gamini was a notable figure in the J.R. Jayewardene administration of the 1980s. He was a peace maker, and many were the times that this talent was used by President J. R. Jayewardene to the party’s favour.
Gamini had the ability to ‘walk with kings yet keep the common touch’. In 1982 during the visit of the queen of England, Gamini Dissanayake was appointed as the Minister in Waiting. He was ideally suited for the job as a charming and personable young man but also as the minister leading the Mahaweli project where the Queen was scheduled to visit.
He completed his education at Trinity College, Kandy and then entered the Ceylon Law College. He took silk as a President’s Counsel in 1988. Later in life, he completed an MPhil Degree in International Relations at Cambridge University, UK
In the 1977 general elections which played a pivotal role in shaping the subsequent new era, Gamini secured his Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya electorate seat with ease, and was appointed the Minister of Irrigation, Power and Highways, and later Mahaweli Development.
The Mahaweli Development Project, the largest of its kind in post independent Sri Lanka was a massive project that impacted the entire country targetting key focus areas such as irrigation, hydro power generation, agriculture, and town and country development. Gamini was put in charge of leading the Mahaweli Development Project. Due to the mammoth proportions of the project, the timeline set for its completion was 30 years. However, with his skill, untiring efforts, and charisma Gamini was able to complete it in just 7 years.
One of the most difficult tasks in its implementation was the evacuation and resettlement of approximately 3000 families from over 50 villages, who lived in the valley of the Kotmale reservoir. This also included around 15 places of religious worship. Large extents of ancestral lands including his own were to go under water, under the plan. It was a development revolution and Gamini went ahead for the greater good of all. While he understood the pain of mind of those who had to sacrifice, he also saw the greater benefit and a bigger vision for the country.
The Kotmale reservoir as well as other reservoirs such as Victoria, Randenigala, Rantembe, Maduru Oya and Ulhitiya as well as Iginimitiya and Lunugamwehera reservoirs were constructed well ahead of the estimated duration, and were built and commissioned under the Accelerated Mahaweli Project (AMP). Gamini was the key force behind the AMP and strived energetically to ensure that in addition to the required specialized technical support, the necessary funding was also in place. He also succeeded in winning over those who objected to the project.
To date, a major portion of the electric power generated for the country’s local consumption is generated from the hydropower plants set up through the Mahaweli project, while a large majority of the rice cultivation in Sri Lanka is conducted in the Mahaweli areas.
His impeccable English oratory skills led to Sri Lanka receiving full membership in the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 1981 after years of unsuccessful efforts
The Swarna Bhoomi land title deeds are another legacy of Gamini. The deeds converted permits given to settlers from ancient irrigation projects into title deeds. This transformed them from colonists who were cultivating on alienated land with no title deeds, to landowners with rights. While previously they could not sell, mortgage or pass on to their children the land they were cultivating and living on, the Swarna Bhoomi deeds gave them the right to inhabit, cultivate and utilize it as their own.
He was not an engineer, yet he was able to lead a host of engineers to the fruition of the Mahaweli project
He took what was once a game that was restricted to Colombo’s elite, and carried it to the provinces, and to children in far flung locations around the country. This was done by establishing a network of young cricketers through the school system and thus paving the way for children in distant provinces to represent Sri Lanka in national and international level cricket.
He was instrumental in constructing the Sri Lanka Cricket head office at the premises of the Sinhalese Sports Club at Maitland Place in Colombo, and the construction of modern indoor net facilities to support and nurture the sport. He also took steps to upgrade the Asgiriya stadium in Kandy into an international cricket stadium and developed other grounds at provincial venues to facilitate international and domestic cricket, and inaugurated a programme to identify and select young cricketers for training overseas. He also spearheaded the launch of a cricketers’ benevolent fund and commenced intensive training for umpires, coaches, and curators. During his tenure, a cricket foundation was established to help the cricketing community around the country.
His impeccable English oratory skills led to Sri Lanka receiving full membership in the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 1981 after years of unsuccessful efforts. As chairperson of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board in the early 1980s, he was instrumental in obtaining Test Status in cricket for Sri Lanka. He was also a pioneer member in the formulation of the concept of the Asian Cricket Council. It is unfortunate that despite his efforts towards the development of cricket in Sri Lanka, he was not alive to witness Sri Lanka winning the cricket World Cup in 1996.
He was a very charismatic and erudite young man with a magnetic personality that drew people towards him.
Interests There were three factors that Gamini gave emphasis to:
He was not an engineer, yet he was able to lead a host of engineers to the fruition of the Mahaweli project. He also maintained implicit trust in the people that he appointed to undertake jobs.
He was blessed with a wonderful wife, Srima. She was equally charming and charismatic and was a strong pillar in his path to success. Together, they had three children Navin, Mayantha and Varuni.
He was well accepted by the Buddhist hierarchy in the Kandyan provinces. He believed that solutions to problems and grievances could only be found through sincerity and understanding.
Gamini was a cabinet minister for just 13 years from 1977 to 1990. But the impact he made in that time for Sri Lanka and its people will last for many generations and decades into the future.
Rama Krishna Somasunderam. Monday, 20 March 2023 10:01 AM
I worked as Senior Assistant Secretary and Additional Secretary under Gamini Dissanayake at the Ministry of Mahaweli. I remember him as a great listener and he had the ability to move with everyone irrespective of age, agenda, ethnicity or religion. He had a great personality and a lovely smile. In fact if he was not assassinated he would have been a great President of Sri Lanka. I am eighty seven plus at present and live in Perth, Western Australia in retirement and I miss him greatly. His contribution to Sri Lanka especially irrigation was great in my opinion.
Rob Thursday, 23 March 2023 04:44 PM
Sri Lanka had some great politicians in the past majority was exceptional mid to late ninetys things changed now you find only few who are genuinely smart educated peace loving God's fear individuals its a hard task to replace the good people that have left or gone for good
S. R. Sankar Thursday, 23 March 2023 10:42 PM
I recall the memories of Jaffna Library.
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