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A journey from the 'Political log cabin...'

A politician to survive sixty years, at highest echelons of politics in Sri Lanka is a remarkable feat indeed, considering the context of hostile politics practised in this country. In an ever changing political landscape only a handful reached that landmark.

Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Jayaratne who began his political career in 1949, soon after Sri Lanka gained independence, is an exemplary such individual who has achieved that historical feat.

 D.M. Jayaratne

The sharp narrow eyes and the deep throated voice, which has kept audiences glued to their seats over the years is still vibrant. The veteran politician considered to be the oldest living Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) member is yet to pass his best days.

The present Plantation Minister of the UPFA Government Jayaratne who has the rare political acumen being likened by friend and foe alike joined "Daily News" in an interview at a time close to a personal landmark in his glittering career in politics.

D.M.Jayaratne was born to D.M.Punchirala and D.M.Bandara Menike as the fifth child of an affluent family of nine in Gampola. From a very young age he was considered as an all rounder who professed his talents in many a discipline with education being his forte.

During his School days which was spent at Doluwa Maha Vidyalaya, Zahira College- Kandy and Mahatma Gandhi College, the young Jayaratne achieved a rare feat studying in all three languages Sinhala, Tamil and English. He was equally fluent in all three languages.

After leaving School, the young D.M.Jayaratne who began his career as a teacher and a Post Master soon entered his pet subject politics at the age of 19, through the formation of grass roots level organisations "community centres" in 1949.

Later being recognised as an emerging young talent Jayaratne was elevated to the post of Secretary of the Kandy district "Community Centre" Movement.

Being a popular young social activist in the area due to his untiring work through that movement that benefitted people, young Jayaratne, affectionately addressed as DM was chosen to contest the Village Council elections in 1950.

That was considered as the stepping stone for DM's entry into serious politics which later blossomed into one of the most outstanding careers of an individual in politics in Sri Lanka.

In his first election, the inimitable DM emerged victorious amidst stiff resistance from the opposition to be appointed as the Chairman with a majority of 63 votes.

With the first step of success in his long political career D.M. Jayaratne soon emerged as one of the leading young politicians of the hill country. In a short period he became the Chairman of the all island convention of Village Councils, defeating more senior colleagues.

The young DM who hailed from a respected Kandyan family was considered as a 'rebel' at an early stage. At a time when caste line was considered to be sacred, young DM took a hard stand against that discriminatory belief of man on man.

He was a vociferous member and used his oratorical skills to good use when combating inequality and ills in society. DM strongly believed that all human beings were equal.

During his School days at Mahatma Gandhi college in Kandy, he came under the tutelage of a senior lecturer who preached equality and was deeply influenced by that ideology. In his own words he became a different man.

The change in young DM drew an angry response from his immediate family, which even went to the extent of him being expelled from the family for not towing the family hard line as Kandyans.

Ambitious DM was not dettered by those setbacks and as soon as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was formed in 1952, Jayaratne joined the newest political force in the country as its 13th member.

According to DM what prompted him to align with the SLFP was ideology of the SLFP which was similar to his thinking as a budding politician.

Coming under the wing of veteran politicians such as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, DM's political career blossomed. Before long he was considered as one of the young and up coming politicians in the the country.

In 1960 DM got his major breakthrough to enter into serious national politics with the invitation coming personally by none other than former Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike to accept the post of chief organiser for the Gampola electorate.

Though he was ambitious, DM was never a selfish politician and that was a rare quality in politics where cut throatism pays at times. Thus, after an appeal by his close friend and more senior colleague R.R.D.Bandaranayake who was sixty years of age at that time, DM decided to forego the offer to make way for the former to handle the Gampola electorate.

Setting an example to others, DM who was close to 30 in age at that time personally intervened to assure Sirimavo Bandaranaike that the slot should be given to his more senior colleague as a respect, and had told the bemused lady that he still had time to make his mark.

But this decision by DM later drew an angry response from the party hierarchy as R.R.D.Bandaranayake had failed to win the seat at the 1965 elections.

Then in 1970, though RRD wanted to contest again the party hierarchy stood firm against the move, and took a decision to appoint D.M.Jayaratne as their choice for the Gampola electorate.

The confidence that the party hierarchy placed on him proved correct as he cantered home winning the seat for the SLFP with a majority of 2400 votes.

Before the 1970, election DM vividly recalls his connections with a communist student group aligned with the Peradeniya University, which later was instrumental in changing the political and social landscape of this country.

A faction of this group which later became the JVP launched an armed struggle against the State, causing violence and loss to life with the ultimate result being the transformation of the political and social fabric of this country.

The Minister recalls that due to a split in the group, one party had decided to support the SLFP led as the United Front and the other party had gone to form the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

According to him the popular belief that the JVP was formed in Akmeemana, Galle was wrong. The birth of the JVP had taken place at Peradeniya, initially under the leadership of Kedella Wijerathne alias Pody Wije.

During its formative years a large student population from the South was aligned with the party and later due to their influence, Rohana Wijeweera had joined the group.

Immediately after being elected as a Parliamentary member of the United Front Government D.M.Jayaratne was in hot water due to his early connection with the Marxist group.

He vividly recalls that on the morning of April 03, 1971, he was surprised to see that his car was missing from the garage as he prepared to go to Parliament that day. Finally he had to board the train from Peradeniya to Colombo.

Later he had learnt that his former colleagues at the University, now belonging to the JVP had taken his car and had used it to transport their colleagues to launch an attack against the Wellawaya Police station.

That was the beginning of the famous rebellion which gripped the country at that time, putting the Government and the people into serious tragedy.

Later, the then Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike had even ordered the arrest of the Parliamentarian Jayaratne over the incident. But the intervention of his colleagues had prevented such a misadrenture.

During his initial stage as a Parliamentarian the MP had an 'Army' at his disposal numbering over 5000. This young brigade was not for battle but for development activities.

When he assumed office as the Organiser for the Gampola electorate there were only 3 major roads in the area. With the young brigade at his disposal he made a remarkable change in the structure of Gampola. Expansion was not confined to Gampola but also reached Kandy.

He was instrumental in providing land for the landless in the area and had to face many a hurdle in his effort to find viable land. There was occasions where he appeared before the judiciary for his honest intentions for his people.

But all these hurdles never detterd him. He stood loyal to the SLFP. Due to his involvement in various activities on behalf of the party, he had to face 39 legal battles in Court. He also had to serve jail sentences on five occasions. In addition, he was shot at and sustained serious injuries.

He was also assaulted on numerous occasions by Opposition supporters and was hospitalized several times.

He never buried political ideologies that he stood for. He stood by the party at good and bad times.

Perks and positions never attracted him. Numerous offers by the UNP to join were refused point blank. According to the Minister, UNP leaders like J.R. Jayawardene, R. Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake had invited him on various occasions to join the UNP, Jayaratne claimed.

"My intention is to serve the people as the 13th member of the SLFP till the time of my death," he added.

He was also instrumental in creating the Peoples Alliance and to date holds the General Secretary post of the PA.

The Minister strongly believed that the two main political parties in the country should get together to find a viable solution to the problems the country face.

As the incumbent Plantation Minister of the UPFA Government has also held various Ministerial posts at various times under SLFP led Governments.

The Minister says that the scourge of terrorism would soon be wiped out and a prosperous era would dawn. But, he strongly believes that a political package based on devolution of power should be the ultimate solution to the national question.

According to him the country could have reached greater heights if petty politics was eliminated.

According to the Minister, one of the main causes for the current crises is the present constitution, by which the elected legislators focus to sustain power instead of working for the greater good of the masses.

After 60 years in politics, Minister D.M. Jayarathne feels that he still has a long way to go and to continue to serve the people of this country.

According to this veteran politician the strength which drives him forward has been and would be his wife, family and the masses of this country.


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