Posted on April 7th, 2021


Garvin Karunaratne observed that it was one thing to make hair raising speeches, another thing to be an efficient minister in a government. Philip was very efficient as a Minister, he said.  I worked in his ministry throughout the MEP  government period and I can say that the forceful ideas that he uttered in his fiery speeches at last got channeled into action.

 Ananda Meegama agreed. He pointed out that revolutionaries do not normally do well in office. Philip was different. He did well as a Minister. His ministry did the work of about twenty ministries of today, said Garvin.    

 Philip was one of the ablest minister seen in independent Sri Lanka, said Ananda Meegama.   He showed a disciplined attitude towards work. This was rare. It was not normally seen in a minister.  Very few other ministers can match up to Philip.

Philip impressed everyone by his performance as Minister. His clarity of thinking, his immersion and absorption in the intricate details of legislation, his dynamism in formulating and implementing programmes inspired all around him, continued Meegama.   News of his ability and dedication soon spread to the periphery and he was able to inspire the normally slumbering creaking bureaucratic machinery to rise to the task, concluded Meegama.

BP Pieris of the Ceylon Civil Service,   who had worked with many Ministers, made special mention of Philip. BP Pieris said Philip was the only minister who came for cabinet meetings fully prepared. He would bring with him Sessional Papers, Administration reports and other official documents.  He came prepared on papers submitted by others as well.

Philip Gunawardena as minister had a very firm and close grasp of what was going on not only in his own ministry but in the government as a whole, said Sarath Amunugama. He had a lot of detailed information on matters outside his ministerial portfolio. In a speech he made on 28 September 1960, more than a year after he had left office, he related what went wrong with Kantalai sugar factory and the   Gal Oya factory. .

 His breadth of knowledge was without parallel among Sri Lanka politicians, agreed Meegama. 

In State Council, Philip spoke on agriculture, industries, irrigation, land settlement and colonization. He was able to pronounce a progressive point of view on all these. He spoke with a thorough understanding of the subject, said Wiswa Warnapala. Whenever he spoke, he never failed to make a useful contribution to the discussion said Meegama.

To a social scientist, an endearing feature of many of Philip’s speeches is the copious use of statistics to establish a point, said Sarath Amunugama. Witness for example his speeches on the Insurance Corporation Bill (9 December 1960), the Petroleum Corporation Bill – where the statistics extend to the global oil industry (21 April 1961), the Agricultural Products (Guaranteed Prices) and Control of Hulling and Milling Bill (9 May 1961) and the Tea Research (Amendment) Bill (7 June 1961).

The student of politics who reads these will not find    rambling speeches, petty slogans and cheap invective. He will find political, economic and social analysis supported by a wealth of facts, coming from a highly intelligent, well-read and acutely observant master of trade. The language and the style will be well-crafted and never dull, continued Amunugama.

Philip took his Parliamentary business seriously. To him, Parliament was quite a different from the public political platform. His Parliamentary role was not that a slogan peddling rabble rouser. It was serious business. It required research and preparation. Opposite points of view had to be countered with solid facts and logical argument and not just by trying to shout down your opponent. Therefore, reading his speeches is an educational experience, whether you finally agree with his point of view or not. In either case your horizon of knowledge would have expanded concluded Amunugama.

Philip was certainly the master of the spoken word, the telling phrase and the almost poetic style, said Amunugama. Philip was the master of epigram, satire and invective both in and out of Parliament. He never minced his words – for praise or abuse. A spade was a spade. I have no doubt he would have been, even better, the master of the written word as well.  In the cut and thrust of debate Philip was equally effective and witty in Sinhala as well said Amunugama.

 In State Council Philip, was a passionate impetuous, fiery figure, creating great excitement but also very erudite and a great debater, said Meegama. So much so that even thirty years later when it was known that Philip was scheduled to speak the Parliament would fill up with members. 

Philip was equally effective on the popular front. My father held the contract to supply the public address system for LSSP meetings and often I had to go along with the equipment, said Garvin Karunaratne. I have listened to Philip, NM and Colvin a few hundred times. They were very factual and could convince anyone with ease that the downtrodden masses must have their day.

The workers union at Tripoli Market, Colombo, where Garvin worked had invited him for a meeting, a pin drop silence could be heard when Philip took the floor. After a few quiet sentences   he started roaring like a lion and we felt the entire stage with all of us, shaking. The poetic words he used, the force with which each word was pronounced, the forceful move of his forearm, the stern look on his face with his disheveled, the manner he dashed his fist on the table, all activate the audience. Many times I have seen his spectacles dashed on the table, never have I seen it break, continued Garvin.

In Philip we had the most fiery speaker that one could ever imagine. NM, Colvin and SA Wickremasinghe were forceful speakers but they did not have the pungent force of Philip. Each word was uttered with venomous force which took possession of those who listened concluded Garvin.

Philip was very popular with the general public. Meegama had campaigned with him in 1963.       Travelling with him to many parts of the country off the main roads and well into the interior on by ways, Meegama noticed that no sooner Philip got down from the car, people recognized him, whether they were villagers in the depth of Sammanthurai and the Wewagama pattu in the Ampara district or farmers in Yatinuwara, or the Magama pattu, for he was a famous figure. People gathered round him and looked at him with awe and admiration. 

Once Philip was late for a meeting at Medawachchiya and arrived there at midnight to find that a small group of people including an aged farmer were waiting patiently to see the legendary figure. Such was his charisma and the confidence, loyalty and love he aroused in people, recalled Meegama.   (continued)

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