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I. M. R. A Iriyagolla - daring political pioneer

JANUARY 7 marks the 33rd death anniversary of I.M.R.A. Iriyagolla, former Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs in the Dudley Senanayake Government. He was also a journalist, writer and translator.

I. M. R. A Iriyagolla

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since the death of this patriot, national leader and writer whose manifold contribution to the enrichment of cultural, social and political life of post colonial Sri Lanka, is needed to be measured against the backdrop of the political atmosphere prevalent at the time.

He belonged to the generation of political leaders who inherited the island state from British colonialists. The country left by the British was not a unified one in the real sense of the word but one with divisions resulting from decades of British rule and the divide and rule policy.

It is not an exaggeration that one of the important portfolios in the Dudley Senanayake Government was the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs given the impact the Ministry had on the political and cultural life of the country.

I.M.R.A Iriyagolla was appointed Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs as it was the natural choice of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake.

Imiya Mudiyanselage Raphael Abhayawansa Iriyagolla had been in Sri Lankan politics since 1947.

Having been elected from the Dandagamuwa electorate as an independent candidate in 1947, he held the seat till 1960. He was a founder member of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) of late S.W.R.D Bandaranaike and was appointed Junior Minister of Home Affairs.

However he resigned from the MEP in 1957 and joined the opposition in Parliament and subsequently formed his own political party named Samajawadi Mahajana Peramuna (Socialist Front). Though the Mahajana Peramuna fielded 40 odd candidates, the party could not succeed as a major force in politics.

In spite of his short-lived political party, Iriyagolla campaigned for his cherished dream of forming a socialist government without Marxists.

Later he joined Dudley Senanayake having disbanded his political party to launch a countrywide campaign for the course of democracy. Iriyagolla, however, lost his constituency Kuliyapitiya in July 1960 by a narrow margin of 45 votes.

Perhaps the peak of Iriyagolla's political career was his appointment as the Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs under the Dudley Senanayake Government. He was instrumental in establishing Teacher Transferring Boards to streamline teacher transfers in diverse parts of the country.

He was also bold enough to stop some shady contracts and granting of tenders with regards to construction of building in public schools which came under the purview of the Ministry of Education.

However, the establishment of Teachers Transferring Boards and the stoppage of some constructions in certain public schools were severely criticised by the then opposition.

It is now a part of political history of this country that those were the grounds for the ill-conceived no-confidence motion moved by the opposition against Iriyagolla in 1965. However it was defeated in Parliament by 40 votes.

Iriyagolla was an old boy of Ananda College Colombo and Vidyodaya Orient College. He had a short stint in journalism and was the Editor-in-Chief of the 'Sinhala Bauddhaya' and the 'Buddhist Weekly'.

This abiding interest in journalism led Iriyagolla to literature and thus he had associated himself with the revival of the Sinhala language in post colonial Sri Lanka.

Apart from a number of important official documents, he had authored a number of short stories and translated several important world literary works into Sinhala including Victor Hugo's " Le Misarable". He was an uncle of Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa.



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