Dinesh Gunewardena : Gem of a parliamentarian | Sunday Observer

Dinesh Gunewardena : Gem of a parliamentarian

Minister Dinesh Gunawardena
Minister Dinesh Gunawardena

“ One should associate with a noble person who is intelligent, wise, learned, virtuous and dutiful, just as the moon follows the path of stars ” - The Dhammapada (SukhaVagga)

This verse from The Dhammapada comes to my mind, whenever, I see Minister Dinesh Gunawardena among the general public during his numerous political activities. Dinesh is affectionately called so by those who know him as the fearless son of the Lion of Boralugoda. He cut his political teeth by entering Parliament on May 18, 1983 elected as a Member of Parliament in the Maharagama by-election as the Leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna. Since then, the historic services rendered by Minister Dinesh Gunawardena as a Member of Parliament, being the voice of the people, are too numerous to be elaborated in a short article like this.

History bears testimony to the great service rendered by him to the country, nation and religion during the past 37 years of his parliamentary life always preserving the traditions and practices of the House. Today, he holds the important Ministerial portfolio of Foreign Relations and Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations contributing immensely to boost the image of the country dispelling many a myth created by unscrupulous elements

In his long political career Minister Gunawardena has held numerous positions such as the Cabinet portfolios of Transport, Environment, Urban Development, Water Supply and Drainage, Sacred Area Development and Foreign Affairs, Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations dedicating himself fully to the task entrusted by respective governments. It is well known how he endeared himself to the electorate through his services in those capacities, very successfully devoting his time and knowledge of the affairs of the country. He never abused his power or position for his own personal gain.

Dinesh Gunawardena, the distinguished Royalist, can truly be identified as one of the most vociferous and yet truly honest parliamentarians who graced the Legislature in the past three decades. Even his worst enemy will find it difficult to point an accusing finger at him as far as integrity, moral conduct, moral rectitude and decency are concerned.

In his distinguished political career he represented the House of Parliament from 1983 onwards except during the period of the Government in 1994. I have had the opportunity to listen to his voice in Parliament from the day he first entered the House. He always raises his voice for the electorate, in particular, and the common good of the country in general whenever the interests of the country are at stake.

Respected political leaders

Minister Gunawardena can be regarded as one of the respected political leaders and a person of integrity who deserves the respect and honour of the people of Sri Lanka. He is an eloquent speaker and is always armed with a thorough knowledge of the subject, with facts and figures.

His greatest quality as a gentleman in politics is the sincerity with which he speaks and all the speeches he has made in the House bear testimony to his multi-faceted personality, characterised by the love and affection he has for the downtrodden masses.

Like his father, he never tolerates injustice to anybody and particularly when the integrity of the Motherland is at stake, he becomes the most vociferous speaker, the mighty warrior at the forefront, taking cudgel against the powerful, whoever, it may be. His kind of politics transcends ethnicity, religion, language, class/caste or any of the many identities which divide the people. The key qualities that his character embodies are the love of the country, the respect for people – including his political opponents, practical common sense, simplicity in dress and language, honesty, integrity and above all, the value of the Rule of Law and Democracy.

Significant role

When he was assigned the position of Chief Government Whip of Parliament in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, he played a significant role for the smooth and efficient functioning of Parliamentary democracy.

He was responsible for maintaining discipline among the Government Members of Parliament, playing the role of advisor to back-benchers on matters relating to parliamentary practice and procedure. He also functioned as the Leader of the House in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government contributing his might in full measure as a key figure in the affairs of the Government and Parliament until the recent dissolution of Parliament.

Dinesh Gunawardena, a progressive nationalist and patriotic populist Parliamentarian, follows in the footsteps of his father the late Philip Gunawardena (Father of the Socialist Movement in Sri Lanka) and his mother, the late Kusuma Gunawardena both parliamentarians. His father is a national hero who brought colour and dignity to politics. Minister Dinesh had the opportunity and the benefit of learning from his father from his tender age.

He hails from a great political family in Boralugoda which was the seat of political giants of the day, including his uncle the late Robert Gunawardena and aunt, the late Vivienne Goonawardene, well-known Socialist icons. Influenced by those great personalities, he earned a wealth of political experience throughout his life which have always stood him in good stead.

He and his Mahajana Eksath Peramuna worked closely with Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike in the 1980s and in the Presidential Elections in 1982 and 1988 he battled against the then Government of President J.R. Jayewardene. Being a longstanding close comrade and parliamentary colleague of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, he has served in the Cabinets of both, Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Chandrika Kumaratunge in the past two decades.

In 2015, after the defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister Dinesh Gunawardene’s balanced and mature style of politics helped him to bring most of the progressive parties in the country together and to build up a strong Opposition in Parliament. He is considered as a veteran on parliamentary practices and procedures and Standing Orders of Parliament. He is known among his colleagues as a parliamentarian who respects and treats alike both the Government and the Opposition benches.

He served as Chairman of the Election Reforms Select Committee of Parliament under two governments and recommended a mixed election system for Sri Lanka which has been accepted virtually by all sections of society.

His experience ranges from trade unionism to Parliament, from Opposition to Government and armed with such a vast experience, he speaks with authority making his arguments with facts and figures. Possessed with a full grasp and understanding of current international affairs, he is a national democrat who is committed to a mixed economy and social welfare, looking after students’ and workers’ rights and trade union rights in general.

Historic decision

As Foreign Relations Minister in President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s Government , Minister Gunawardena’s recent speech at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on ‘Withdrawing from the Co-sponsorship of UNHRC Resolutions’ was the outcome of a historic decision taken on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka for which his name will go down in the annals of history of Sri Lanka.

Mother Lanka is proud to have a son in the calibre of Minister Dinesh Gunawardena among her many worthy sons and daughters who have all contributed their might to make what she is today. Long is the way she has to travel to achieve the ultimate goal of true prosperity free from the shackles of external influence.

It is the fervent hope of all Sri Lankans that Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, who completes 37 years after entering Parliament today, (May 18) will walk a long way on that journey.

The writer is a former Librarian of Parliament and Secretary to the Chief Government Whip of Parliament and former Director (Documentation) of the Presidential Secretariat.