Lakshman Jayakody 1930 - 2010

I am honoured to be able to speak today to record my appreciation of the service rendered by the late Lakshman Jayakody to this Parliament and the country. I got to know him in the seventies, when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the then Prime Minister, Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, whom he served loyally throughout his political career. Those were difficult days, when the JVP insurrection had just been overcome, but the socialist measures taken by the government led to hostility and misrepresentation in the West. I recall meeting Mr Jayakody in those days at the house of Tilak Gooneratne, our High Commissioner in London, who had served in the Commonwealth Secretariat, and could not understand the hostility that we then had to face.

I remember in particular efforts to claim that the government had used excessive force in overcoming the insurrection, ignoring both the danger we had faced and the manner in which government soon restored normality, leading to the respect in which the JVP, after undergoing trial, subsequently held our judiciary. The rehabilitation process then, though slower than what the present government has achieved, was thorough and much appreciated at the time.

Even more telling with regard to the challenges the then Deputy Minister of External Affairs faced was the concerted attempt of the British press to highlight conditions on the plantations and claim that these were due to racism on the part of the government. That was shortly after the plantations had been nationalized, and government was trying to improve the appalling treatment of estate workers which the British plantation companies had indulged in, while claiming – as has been graphically explained by Colomel Derrick Nugawela in his fascinating memoir, ‘Tea and Sympathy’ – that the welfare measures Sri Lankan managers proposed could not be implemented because of obligations to shareholders. But the balance sheet has always been more important than politicians will acknowledge, and I suppose we need to keep that in mind in analyzing and developing international relations.

Mr Jayakody dealt manfully with such criticisms, and I am reminded of his equanimity when dealing now with hypocrisies on an even grander scale. Subsequently, on the strength perhaps of our earlier acquaintance, it was he who contacted me on behalf of Mrs Bandaranaike, to ask if the SLFP could publicize my letter of resignation from state service following the deprivation of Mrs Bandaranaike’s Civic Rights, the precursor to the seven lean years during which democracy was in effect suspended in Sri Lanka. Those were the days in which, after elections in Sri Lanka were postponed, the Times claimed that this was not a problem, because ‘Capitalist Tea tasted sweeter’.

Given her trust in him, and his ability to assuage the concerns of the various factions in the SLFP, it was Lakshman Jayakody whom the SLFP nominated to the Attanagalla seat to replace Mrs Bandaranaike after she was summarily thrown out of Parliament in 1980, an act which sadly went uncriticized in the Western media, given their predilection for the antics of the Jayewardene government. However, despite his seniority, he was happy to allow Mr Anura Bandaranaike to become Leader of the Opposition in 1983, when the TULF members vacated their seats, following the introduction of the 6th Amendment to the Constitution. That, it will be recalled, was the reaction of the then government to the appalling attacks on Tamils in July 1983, which President Jayewardene seemed to condone in his address to the nation on July 28th, in giving in to what he claimed was the motivation of the attackers.

By the time the SLFP returned to office, in 1994, Mr Jayakody was seen as belonging to an older generation, so he did not exercise any great executive authority. However as Minister of Cultural Affairs, and as Minister of Buddha Sasana, and in other respects, he continued to perform dependably and honestly, and continued an example to the younger members of his party. Along with the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar, he did yeoman service for Trinity College, where he had been educated, and helped to establish its title to areas such as the Asgiriya Stadium which had been developed by the College.

His mild and conciliatory manner concealed a courageous commitment to his party and the democratic perspective on which his political career was based. Though short of stature, he stood firm with dignity and did not allow the serried ranks of government to cow him when, for five long years, there were just about half a dozen members of the opposition in Parliament. He had belonged to the days when Parliament was a forum for debate, and when a Speaker above the fray held the balance between forces that had an equal right to be heard. As we head back, Mr Speaker, to such a situation under your chairmanship, we should remember with gratitude the example of Mr Jayakody during those terrible days between 1983 and 1988 when Parliament was merely a tool to be manipulated at will, with only a few SLFP members to withstand the absolute power of an unelected overwhelming majority.