|Wednesday, 27 November 2002|
Lalith Athulathmudali - a talented leader snuffed out in his prime
by S.N. Dissanayake
Lalith Athulathmudali, a smart and intelligent scholar, sportsman, academic, legal luminary and a very popular politician and parliamentarian, who like all the social revolutionists and talented leaders of the world, sad to mention, was cruelly assassinated and is no more with us.
The politically unstable climate that prevailed in Sri Lanka during this very unfortunate period prompted, the probable unknown plotters to secretly plan his killing, and the moment the heartless gangster/murderer pulled the trigger of his firearm, perhaps not knowing the great value of this great man to our motherland, may be, on the implicit instructions of an enemy of Lalith, took away his life in a moment.
He was born to an affluent, respectable family in the Kalutara District, in the Western province of Sri Lanka. His father D.D. Athulathmudali a distinguished lawyer, was also a member of the then Ceylon State Council winning the Matugama legislative Council seat in 1931. D.D Athulathmudali, just like his son Lalith was very much respected by the people of Matugama. Lalith was the eldest in the family and was born on the 26th of November 1936. He had a younger brother named Dayantha, who later in life became an engineer, and a sister named Sujae, a medical doctor practising in the U.K. who are still amongst the living.
Everybody in Sri Lanka knew that Lalith was happily married to Srimani De Saram, who later became the Minister of Transport and Environment in Sri Lanka, and had a daughter named Serala Athulathmudali. It is now well known that he was educated at Royal College, Colombo -7, during the prosperous and peaceful times between 1940-1954 in Ceylon. During his College career, he had a brilliant academic record, whilst being an interschool debator, and winning school colours, and all Ceylon records in sports activities too. This reminds us of the Sinhalese proverb, "A growing tree will be known from the first or second pair of its leaves."
But the cruel illicit treefeller cut down and killed this valuable tree during the prime of its life, on the 23rd of April 1993 between 7-8 P.M., at Kirallapone, in Sri Lanka, when it was about to profusely bloom and bear many fruits of benefits and social advancement to the general masses.
Lalith William Samarasekera Athulathmudali, by which name he mostly preferred to be recognized, was to show to the world, that he not only inherited his blessings in life from his beloved father, but a highly esteemed, respectable, very intelligent assortment of genes from his much loved mother also. He finished his primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka, and entered the Oxford University Law College where he had a distinguished academic career at Oxford (Jesus College), and was the secretary of the Oxford Union in 1956, treasurer in 1957, and the President in 1958, a unique feat not achieved by any Sri Lankan so far.
Thereafter, he was called to the bar at Grays Inn in 1959 and later obtained a L.L.M degree from Harvard, USA.
Thereafter, before he returned to Sri Lanka he was a lecturer in Jurisprudence at the University of Singapore and many other distinguished international universities. In the year 1972 the former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka the Late Dudley Senanayake invited Lalith to join the UNP, and made him the chief organizer for Agalawatte.
Later in 1977 the UNP nominated him to the Ratmalana seat and threw a challenge at him to win the Ratmalana leftist red fortress of Mrs. Vivienne Goonewardene, which he captured with a majority of 7000 votes.
He became the Minister of Trade in 1977, the shipping portfolio was added the year after and later he held the ministries of National Security, Agriculture, and Education. An assassin almost claimed his life by throwing a hand grenade at him in parliament.
It was a miracle that he recovered according to the opinion of his doctors and his friends. Later when Mr. R. Premadasa contested the presidential election, after J.R. Jayawardene's retirement, Lalith supported him and canvassed for his election in all the electorates in the Island.
But Mr. Premadasa did not appoint him probably because he wanted a low key man who would listen to him, as his prime minister which resulted in an impeachment against President Premadasa organized by Lalith which was unsuccessful.
Thereafter he left the UNP crossed over to the opposition, just like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike his old Oxford political predecessor in Sri Lanka and formed the DUNF which was just about to capture power in Sri Lanka when the people lost him forever.
Produced by Lake House