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Sunday, 9 November 2003  
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A witty voice is stilled

Sunday Essay by Ajith Samaranayake

H.G.S. briefly held a post at the Puttalam Kachcheri but soon became a full time member of the Communist Party.

The death of H.G.S. Ratnaweera deprives the Communist Party of one of its most senior leaders and the left movement of one of its most powerful speakers.

The hallmark of H.G.S. was the blend of politics and wit that he brought to his speeches. He was certainly one of the best political speakers that Sri Lanka has produced.

In a tribute to H.G.S. on his 80th birth anniversary, D.E.W. Gunasekera, the Communist Party's President has recalled that H.G.S. was born on May 5 which was also the birth anniversary of Karl Marx although in different years. Born in 1992 in the village of Bandaramulla, Mirissa in the Matara District, Hikkaduwa Gallappathilage Sugathapala Ratnaweera who had his preliminary education at the Mirissa Maha Vidyalaya came to the Big City of Colombo under the wing of his brother H.P.M. Ratnaweera who was the station master of the Maradana Railway Station. They had quarters near the Maradana Tower Hall which at that time was a focal point of both nationalist and radical movements.

Perhaps, Providence may have been mapping the future movements of H.G.S. for his brother was a friend of M.G. Mendis who at that time was a co-secretary of the LSSP, M.G. Mendis who later became MP for Ratgama and a leader of the Communist Party initiated H.G.S. into Communist politics. H.G.S. briefly held a post at the Puttalam Kachcheri but soon became a full time member of the Communist Party.

This was the period in which Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe and Pieter Keuneman returned to the country after their education in Britain. Pieter Keuneman who began life as a feature writer and leader writer at Lake House under D.R. Wijewardene soon gravitated to Communist Party politics. Being a Burgher he could not naturally speak in Sinhala and H.G.S. was his interpreter.

Political folklore has it that H.G.S. not only interpreted but also added spice to Pieter's speeches. As a result Pieter Keuneman came to a position of speaking in Sinhala without the need of an interpreter. H.G.S. was a pioneer in radical newspaper journalism. He was associated with all C.P. newspapers such as 'Janashakthi' 'Maubima' and 'Aththa' and held the consultant editorship of the last newspaper for a long time.

'Aththa' was perhaps the most spectacular and popular Sinhala newspaper of its time. There again H.G.S. showed his skill by exploiting the time. B.A. Siriwardena who was the leader writer of the 'Dinamina' in the late 1950's had left on a matter of policy and it was H.G.S. who went and invited him to join the 'Aththa'. he also invited Jiffrey Yoonus who also had left Lake House where he was cartoonist to the Tamil daily, 'Thinakaran' on the same issue.

With Siriwardena, Yoonus, Surath Ambalangoda, Kulasiri Rajapakse, Sirilal Kodikara, Jackson Senaratne, and others, H.G.S. was able to make the 'Aththa' into the most formidable political newspaper of its time. The credit for that has to be shared by both H.G.S. as well as B.A. Siriwardena. The late Mervyn de Silva is on record as saying that Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake had made it a point to read the 'Aththa' newspaper while Manik de Silva former editor of the 'Daily News' is on record as saying that Mr. Upali Wijewardene read and admired the 'Aththa' editorials.

H.G.S. Ratnaweera always moved with the times and had the feeling and sentiments of the younger generation at heart. The Communist Party still recalls that as far as its Youth League was concerned the golden age was when H.G.S. and the late Sarath Muththettuwegama gave leadership to the party's Youth League. H.G.S. who was a Central Committee member of the party and a member of the Secretariat and the Politiburo of the C.P. was also widely travelled. He is perhaps one of the last Sri Lankans to have met Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung and Fidel Castro, some of the most charismatic leaders of the Left movement.

Coupled with the death of Harry Abeygunawardene sometimes age and that of H.G.S. the Sri Lanka Communist Party is bereft of its most senior leaders and parliamentarians. The last lone figure is Premalal Kumarasiri who was the MP for Hakmana in Sri Lanka's first parliament in 1947.

Both Kumarasiri and Abeygunawardene ceased to be communists whereas H.G.S. upheld the cause to the last. However, in retrospect it will be clear that H.G.S., M.G. Mendis, Pieter Keuneman, Harry Abeygunawardene and Premalal Kumarasiri personified the heroic period of the Communist Party.

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