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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
That was the beginning of the famous rebellion which gripped the
country at that time, putting the Government and the people into serious
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
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,
"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
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
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
According to this veteran politician the strength which drives him
forward has been and would be his wife, family and the masses of this