Hector Kobbekaduwa’s 28th death anniversary:
Champion of peasant rights
The 28th death anniversary of Hector Kobbekaduwa falls tomorrow(17).
He was born on August 29, 1916 in Kandy, the last kingdom of the
Sinhala kings and was a member of a legendary family from Yatinuwara who
fought against foreign rule. His father Dr. Tikiri Banda Kobbekaduwa was
the first Kandyan to qualify from the prestigious British Medical
College and his mother was Sangamitta Dullewe Kumarihamy from Matale. He
completed his education at Trinity College, Kandy, joined the Law
College and passed out as a Barrister in 1942.
He embarked on his political career from Kandy in 1947 when he joined
the Mahanuwara Samajawadi Peramuna which was started by Queen’s Counsel
H. Sri Nissanka and T.B. Illangaratna and was a member of the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party from its inception in 1952. Hector Kobbekaduwa contested
from the Ampitiya Ward and became a member of the Kandy Municipal
Council in 1954 and served until 1960. He was appointed to the
fact-finding mission for the formulation of the Paddy Lands Act
presented by the Mahajana Eksath Party of the late S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike. In 1960, Ms Sirimavo Bandaranaike appointed him as the
Chairman of the Public Services Commission.
He won the Yatinuwara Electorate at the 1970 General Elections and
became a Member of Parliament for the first time and was appointed
Agriculture and Lands Minister by Ms Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
When Ceylon became a colony of British rule, under the ‘Bare Lands
Ordinance’ the people of this country who were the rightful owners were
deprived of their lands and the ‘British Raj’ established a large
plantation sector with cash crops, such as, coffee, tea, coconut and
rubber changing the traditional planting patterns in the country.
To correct this unfair ‘land grab’, Hector Kobbekaduwa presented to
Parliament the Lands Reforms Act in 1972. Through this Act, private
owned land was limited resulting in his close relatives and friends
becoming eternal enemies. In 1975, he was able to nationalize private
owned and sterling companies completing the nationalization process of
lands even though the British threatened to refrain from buying our tea
to cripple our economy. The affluent and privileged blamed him but he
stood firm in his resolve to provide the landless peasants ownership of
land. Thus, he was hailed by the poor and the downtrodden who were
deprived of their basic needs of land and shelter.
Hector Kobbekaduwa could be considered a champion of the Kandyan
peasants in the recent history of Sri Lanka politics who worked with
dedication and sincere commitment for the upliftment of the masses.
When J.R. Jayewardene gained power in 1977 defeating the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party, he deprived Ms Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the most powerful
political opponent of her civic rights.
His next target was Hector Kobbekaduwa - saying he abused his
political powers, Kobbekaduwa was taken before the Presidential
Commission. Though the Commission tried to implicate him by dragging on
the investigation for about one year, he defended his own case without a
lawyer and was able to prove his innocence.
Even during the difficult times experienced by the Sri Lanka Freedom
Party after its defeat in 1977, Hector Kobbekaduwa stood firm and steady
supporting Ms Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Due to his loyalty to the party, he
was nominated as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party candidate for the first
Presidential election on October 20, 1982.
Though the South rejected him, it is clear from the analysis of the
results of the elections that people in the Jaffna district was in
favour of Hector Kobbekaduwa. There is ample proof to this effect from
the results in the Jaffna District where even Kumar Ponnambalam, the All
Ceylon Tamil Congress Party candidate who fought for the cause of the
Tamils received only 4,984 votes and J.R. Jayewardene 3,546 votes with
Hector Kobbekaduwa receiving 13,768 votes.
The reason being that the Northern people appreciated the
agricultural reforms introduced by Hector Kobbekaduwa, specially the
drive to be self-sufficient in chillies, onions, rice and other
After the Presidential elections the government caused mental and
physical discomfort to Hector Kobbekaduwa. A large number of his
supporters including Vijaya Kumaratunga, D.M. Jayaratne, Ossie
Abeygunasekera, Felix Perera, Mervyn Silva were falsely accused of being
a Naxalite group and were imprisoned. Under a detention order, Ratnasiri
Wickremenayake who was the Secretary of the party at the time was
questioned at the Fort Police Station for many months. Hector
Kobbekaduwa too had to visit the fourth floor of the CID daily and was
questioned regarding a Naxalite conspiracy and issue of false rice
ration books. During this reign the first attack on voter franchise was
exhibited when soon after the 1982 Presidential elections a referendum
to extend the government was held where Hector Kobbekaduwa’s vote had
been already cast before he went to the polling station.
Hector Kobbekaduwa was truly an honest and dedicated politician whose
wealth was accounted not in rupees and cents, but by the appreciation
and gratitude of the people. He spent his personal wealth to help the
poor and the under privileged to make their lives better. His political
ideals of honesty and integrity is an example to be followed by the new
generation of politicians who seem to believe that getting into politics
is just like any other vocation and will make them wealthy.
Hector Senarath Rajakaruna Bandara Kobbekaduwa passed away on
September 17, 1983 but we will remember him as a politician who overcame
all obstacles before him with a strong character to serve his