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Gamini Dissanayake - Man who was born to be great

by Premasara Epasinghe

But be not afraid of greatness, some are born great; some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon' em. - Shakespeare -

My recollection about this Gamini Dissanayake, will be never erased from my mind. This is due to the fact, his personality is indelibly etched deep within me.

Although penning a few lines on late Gamini Dissanayake, gives me some consolation, I feel, it is like trying to fit in a mustard seed where a mountain is required. Gamini Dissanayake was born on 20th March, 1942, as the eldest son of a family of seven children, to Andrew Dissanayake and Welegedera Samaratunga Kumarihamy of Kotmale, in the Nuwara Eliya District, Central Province. His origins was in Maswela, a quiet village in Kotmale Valley, on the right bank of the Mahaweli.

He had his education at Trinity College, Kandy. He was greatly benefited from three aspects of the Trinity heritage - Debating, social work and sports.

He decided to study law and in 1961 joined the Law College, Colombo and took oaths as an Advocate in 1966. He was then only 24 years. He took his oaths as a President's Counsel in 1988. In 1992, he completed his matters of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge.

Rising young star in the Political Horizon

Gamini Dissanayake gave up a lucrative legal career to enter politics in 1970, when he was only 28, as the youngest member of Parliament. His re-entry into Parliament in 1972 after being unseated in an election petition is, of course, political history.

In the year 1977, he contested Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya, a multi-member constituency and won easily. His Leader J. R. Jayewardene saw the potential rising young star and gave him the gigantic task of completing the Mahaweli Ganga Diversion and appointed him the Minister of Irrigation, Power & Highways. In 1978, he was offered the portfolio of Minister of Mahaweli Development in addition to being the Minister of Lands and Land Development.

He took up the challenge and completed the accelerated Mahaweli Scheme in six years, although it was scheduled to be completed in thirty years. In short, Mahaweli was Gamini and Gamini was Mahaweli.

Mahaweli civilization

Gamini Dissanayake was a man for all seasons. This great leader was born to serve the country. He was instrumental and was the force behind the construction of Kotmale (Gamini Dissanayake Reservoir), Victoria, Randenigala, Rantembe, Ulhetiya, Rathkinda, and Maduru oya and large number of canals and tanks.

Today, a new civilization has blossomed in the Mahaweli Areas and this was one of the proudest achievements of the native son of Kotmale.

Test status for Sri Lanka

His name will always be remembered till such time cricket is played in Sri Lanka. He was appointed President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka for 11 years, longest period of office after late Robert Senanayake. Gaining Test status for Sri Lanka was his greatest achievement. Political affinities, religion, race and caste were put aside. He never politicised cricket in Sri Lanka.

Charismatic Personality - Unblemished Political Career

He was a noble human being with a charming, pleasant and charismatic personality, and a person who was full of compassion and love for humanity. He was a good listener and always maintained a "cool temperament".

He displayed ever increasing skill as a Parliamentarian on the floor of the House. He was among the best speakers both in Sinhala and English. His contribution to Parliament was not only in debates, but also in committees. He was a vociferous reader and a fine debater. Further, he was a fine human being.

Politics is a continuous turn of the wheel of fortune. It has to be judged in victory and defeat. One has to endure very high praise in speech or writing, abuse and insults. This great leader in his unblemished political career experienced all this, yet this great son of Sri Lanka endeavoured to work according to his ideals, place his skills and experience at the service of the Nation.

Family man



Today, a new civilization has blossomed in the Mahaweli Areas. Here is the Kotmale reservoir when it was under construction and (inset) the native son of Kotmale Gamini Dissanayake. 

His beloved wife Shrima Dissanayake was the wind beneath his wings. Their two sons are Navin (Present Deputy Minister of Plantation), Mayantha and daughter Varuni. They were brought up in the best Buddhist traditions. If the inherent affinity I have for the field of cricket is part of Sansara, in my sansaric sojourns, Gamini Dissanayake stands out as the most noble and eminent person who guided me.

I remember the year 1985. One day, he told me "you must to go to Pakistan day after tomorrow to give live commentaries from Pakistan." He sent me to Pakistan and thus Sri Lankan listeners were able to listen to first ever live commentaries in Sinhala broadcast over the air-waves of SLBC from a foreign soil, thanks to the magnanimous patronage of late Gamini Dissanayake.

Obtained the services of experts

As the President of the BCCSL, he obtained the services of Sir Garfield Sobers & Les Lenham and prevailed Dr. Rudi Webster, one of the foremost cricket psychologist in the world to come over to Sri Lanka and enhance the mental stability of our cricketers.

He was responsible for the construction of the Board of Control headquarters the Indoor Cricket Complex Asgiriya Stadium, Kandy and took the initiative in inaugurating the Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation to look after the welfare of the cricketers. Another notable feature of service rendered by this great leader was the construction of playgrounds at Galnewa, Bakamuna, Dehiattakandiya, Welikande and Embilipitiya enabling Mahaweli settlers of those areas to engage in sports activities.

A good Buddhist

He took a special interest in religion and culture. He was a true practising Buddhist. He always respected other religions and their cultures. Mahaweli Centre was his brain-child, where he promoted Education and Culture.

Kotmale Maha Seya his dream

One of his dreams was to see the completion of Kotmale Maha Seya sited on an escarpment overlooking the Kotmale Reservoir, now known as Gamini Dissanayake Reservoir. Like the great king Dutugemunu who could not complete the Ruwanveli Maha Seya, Gamini Dissanayake too could not complete the construction of Mahaweli Maha Seya at Kotmale.

Another Gamini, the present Minister of Irrigation and Water Management, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera took the initiative - and commenced the work again. He earnestly appeal to all well-wishers here and abroad to contribute to this worthy cause by way of cash or material as the entire structure will cost Rs. 300 million. Completion of Kotmale Maha Seya will be a great tribute to the great leader Gamini Dissanayake.

As long as the sacred Tooth Relic remains safe in Kandy; As long as Mahaweli waters flow and paddy fields and farm lands bear bountiful crops; As long as cricket is played in Sri Lanka, Gamini Dissanayake's name will be remembered.

(The writer is a senior Journalist, Author, Broadcaster, Commentator and Marketing and Media Personality in Sri Lanka. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and Diploma in Marketing. Presently, he is the Media Consultant of the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management).

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