Lalith Athulathmudali 25th Death Anniversary | Sunday Observer

Lalith Athulathmudali 25th Death Anniversary

Once in a way, we are called upon to celebrate or pay tribute to the lives of great Sri Lankan statesmen who went before, many cruelly snatched away before achieving their full promise. On each of these occasions, the paucity of our own time in terms of visionary political leadership is reinforced. The malaise in Sri Lanka’s body politic has borne out the suffering of this island’s people for seven decades after independence from colonial rule.

So this year, as we mark the 25th anniversary of Lalith Athulathmudali’s assassination, the time has come again to wonder wistfully about the country that might have been had these political giants lived out their lives to the fullest.

Lalith Athulathmudali was a man larger than life itself. And he had dreams that were even bigger. Determined and driven, had he lived out the rest of his years, this was a man who would have made sure each of those dreams were realised. To this day, the legacy of his visionary leadership lives on, in the Mahapola scholarship scheme for university students and in the remarkable pace at which the Colombo Port has expanded and developed to become the best performing harbour in South Asia over the years. As Minister of Trade he introduced intellectual property laws to Sri Lanka, long before the concept of a knowledge based economy was absorbed into the economic lexicon of this country.

The most remarkable feat of Mahapola at inception was that Athulathmudali went about fund-raising for the scheme by convening large trade fairs, rather than relying solely on the Treasury to foot the bill for the essential social welfare programme.

Athulathmudali is credited with creating the Sri Lanka Ports Authority in 1979 and the subsequent transformation of the Port of Colombo into a major trans-shipment hub in Asia. The transformation of the Jaya Terminal named after President J.R. Jayewardene and the Queen Elizabeth Quay made all this possible. The current Colombo Port expansion project still underway was first conceived during Athulathmudali’s tenure as Minister of Shipping.

Before his life was snuffed out by an assassin 25 years ago, the country had big dreams for Lalith Athulathmudali. He was to rise to the pinnacle of political office, and upon getting there, he was to take Sri Lanka to unparalleled heights too.

But of course this was not to be. With his death on April 23, 1993, closely followed by the death of Gamini Dissanayake, the bell tolled for a generation of political statesmanship in this land. As we memorialise his life and legacy in these pages today, we mourn not only the loss of Lalith Athulathmudali – leader and visionary – but also the country that might have been.

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