A people’s politician

posted on: 3-04-2014

Daily FT, October 30, 2013

The 71st birthday of senior politician and Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa falls today, 30 October
By Dharman Wickremaratne

Chamal RajaA people’s politicianpaksa was born on 30 October 1942. It was Poet Panditharatna Amarasena of Beligalle who named the baby Chamal. He entered Little Flower Convent in Tangalle at the age of three and stayed there until he was taken to the convent at Matara. From a very young age he was trained to attend to his personal needs in an orderly manner, without depending on others.

In 1948, he entered the primary class at Richmond College, Galle. Having decided to strengthen his Buddhist upbringing in the village, Chamal’s father admitted him to a Dhamma School in Galketiya, Galle. It helped him to get a good grasp of Buddhism and Buddhist ethics and thereby improve his moral stature.

Family

Chamal Rajapaksa’s father D.A. Rajapaksa was a one-time Minister of Agriculture, Lands and also Deputy Speaker. His mother was Dandina Samarasinghe Dissanayake. The couple had nine children, six sons – Chamal, Mahinda, Chandra, Gotabaya, Basil and Dudley – and three daughters – Jayanthi Hettiarachchi, Preethi Chandradasa and Gandhini Ranawaka.

The Rajapaksa family enjoys the highest position among Sri Lanka’s 18 political families. Chamal’s paternal uncle was D.M. Rajapaksa who represented Hambantota in the State Council in 1936. It was the villagers of Giruwapattuwa who gave moral strength to the Rajapaksas then as now.
Political leaders

From a very young age he was fortunate to be in the company of political leaders. Among them were D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotalawala and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. He gave straight answers to their questions. Since the time he was a child he helped his father D.A. Rajapaksa in his election campaigns.

Chamal used to place his hand on pieces of paper and draw around it with a piece of charcoal to get the image of the hand which was his father’s election symbol. Chamal saw how his father conducted the election campaign. The experience he gained thereby would guide him in his political future.

While continuing his studies at Richmond College, he had the opportunity of cutting the second sod of soil after the then Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike cut the first sod for the construction of the Chandrika Wewa to develop the South Bank of the Walawe River. This gave him a vision of bringing prosperity to the rural sector through agricultural development.

Political career

As a Sub Inspector of Police, Chamal observed the law to the letter and did not get involved in politics while in Police service. After the UNP came to power in 1977 he also worked for Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. The latter ignored the many complaints made against Chamal by UNP supporters, since the Minister knew his honesty and integrity.

Chamal entered active politics by becoming a contestant in the Mulkirigala by-election in 1985. The election was held on 12 September that year and UNP thugs engaged in robbing votes, causing Chamal to lose the election by 1,329 votes. The UNP candidate got 26,037 votes while Chamal received 24,708 votes. In fact the thousands of UNP hoodlums coming from Colombo hijacked the entire election.

But it was a good experience for Chamal in his future political career and in 1989 he became MP for Hambantota. His knowledge in agriculture earned him the respect even of Opposition politicians. President R. Premadasa appreciated Chamal’s service. But the then Government failed to meet the needs of the people of Hambantota. The wastage and corruption greatly depressed Chamal.

Irrigation projects

On 16 August 1994 the United People’s Freedom Alliance came to power ending a 17-year UNP rule. Although Chamal was not appointed to any position in the new Government, he actively participated in a program to develop Hambantota.

The main problem of the people of Hambantota was water, a problem that had existed since the days of his father. Chamal had a strong desire to solve the problem since he deeply felt the suffering of the farmers. Since Chamal already had a plan in mind he decided to implement it at the first opportunity. It was the Mauara water supply scheme.

Chamal still recalls with pleasure how he with the help of his friend William of Walasmulla harvested a paddy land after building a dam at Andupelena across the Urubokka Oya.

A number of dams and tanks throughout the district were repaired parallel to the launching of the Mauara project with the help of local engineers. In addition, the construction of a canal to divert the water from the Lunugam Vehera reservoir to Ikkapallama and repairing of nine tanks including Bogamara, Boondala, Udamalala, Katuwewa, Hammanawa, Palugaswewa, Attakkawa and Karambagahaara were undertaken by the National Irrigation Reconstruction Project.

Development of the Walawe left bank to develop 6,500 acres of land, reconstructing the Liyanagastota Dam which had not been repaired for 115 years and repairing altogether 60 odd ruined tanks throughout the district were tasks successfully accomplished. Funds received from Kuwait were utilised for the development work associated with the Uruboku Oya and the Kiramba Oya.

Chamal took steps to introduce new agricultural techniques to farmers by establishing an Agricultural Centre at Weligatta. All over the district 5,000 commercial farms were established and six fishery villages in Tissamaharama.

Chamal Rajapaksa does not believe in temporary expenses. He knows that such expenditure brings no real benefit. He sees far ahead and works on a long-term plan. He provided the people of Tissamaharama with avenues for self-employment by forming people’s export companies. Seeing boxes made of palmyra leaves in India he bought a few of them and introduced them to the people of Hambantota. Today around 50,000 such boxes are made in Hambantota, bringing benefits to a large number of people.

After visiting vineyards in India he encouraged Hambantota farmers to do the same. Today the venture is highly successful and two groups of Sri Lankan farmers visit India annually for training in this connection. These projects have made a major contribution in strengthening the people’s economy.

National resources

He strongly believes that development should be based on national resources. The major irrigation projects throughout the country clearly reflect his efforts to develop the agricultural and irrigation sectors.

Supplying water to the Lunugam Vehera reservoir via Kirindi Oya, the Hambantota Harbour, the Udamattala International Airport, the Iranian-funded Uma Oya Project to boost the National Grid, the Rambakum Oya project in the East and the Deduru Oya project covering Wayamba (North-Western Province) are examples of his dedication to the development of the country. The last mentioned projects will go a long way in boosting the island’s agriculture and power generation.

A number of major development projects were launched following his appointment as Ports and Aviation Minister. Among them are the first stage of the accelerated Hambantota Harbour project fully completed by 2013 and work on the Colombo South, Galle, Trincomalee and Oluvil Harbours. These will undoubtedly lead to the realisation of the people’s dream of a new Sri Lanka. He is a politician who has identified the nation’s real needs and truly understands the sentiments of the rural masses.

Humble politician

Chamal is not only keen on national development but also on the need to protect the environment and natural resources. A good example of this is his decision to move the international airport project (which was earlier scheduled to commence at Weerawila) to Udamattala in the interests of agricultural needs.

Chamal Rajapaksa performs an immense service for social, economic cultural and spiritual progress of the masses. He is grateful to the humble villagers of Giruwapattuwa who spent their time and energy to help him in his political career.

As a humble politician and a giant of Ruhuna he has dedicated his future too for the well-being of these people. In the sandy plains of Hambantota he has been an oasis. There is no doubt he will continue to bear his responsibility and perform his duties to the best of his ability in the years to come.

(The writer, who has known Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa closely for nearly 30 years, is an environmental journalist who can be reached at ejourna[email protected].)

 

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