Posted on May 18th, 2023


Ranasinghe Premadasa was born on June 23, 1924 at Dias Place in Keselwatte, Central Colombo. His parents were Richard Ranasinghe of Hegalle, Kosgoda and Jayasinghe Arachchige Ensina Hamine of Batuwita, Horana. Premadasa was the eldest of five children.

Premadasa had told Sarath Amunugama that his father had a hackery transport business near Colombo harbor,  where he rented out hackeries (rickshaws) for transporting people and goods.  Colombo was developing at the time and the business would have flourished.

There is a photograph of Premadasa when he was one year old, in a hackery. The best reproduction of this photograph is in Bradman Weerakoon’s book Premadasa of Sri Lanka, 1992 (see photo facing page 48)

One-year-old R. Premadasa with his parents in 1925

The photograph makes is clear that Premadasa did not come from a poor home.  Premadasa was not ‘the son of the urban poor’ as he is presented in the media. He came from a comfortable middle class home. In the photo, his father and mother look confident. They carry themselves well and they are well dressed. His mother wears many chains and his father displays the comb expected of southerners. Baby Premadasa also is very smart. He is dressed from head to toe, in western costume, including leggings. The child pulling the rickshaw is the only one who is poorly dressed.

 Premadasa had his primary education at Harvard Methodist Girls School and Lorensz College. Lorensz College, which does not exist today, was situated at Skinners Road, Maradana.    It has been described by Henry Jayasena as the poor man’s English school. Premadasa‘s   secondary education was at St.  Joseph College, where he studied up to the Cambridge Senior.  Premadasa had also attended Hewavitarana Daham Pasala in Purwarama temple in Pettah.

When he was fifteen years old, Premadasa started the Sucharita Children’s Society, to help needy families, especially those in shanties. This later became the Sucharitha Movement.  He started a night school for school dropouts. This became popular and he moved the school to a rickshaw garage close by, probably his father’s. It is Sucharita Hall today.  At 17 years, he chaired the anniversary meeting of Sucharita Society.

Mrs. LSB Perera, a relative, told me that she had gone to Sucharita Hall as a young girl to help out. She knew the young Premadasa. She had studied at Ladies College and her doctor father owned the Private General Hospital in Ward Place, Colombo. This shows that Premadasa had the support of some at least, of the upper class in Colombo for his charities.

Premadasa first entered politics through A.E. Goonesinghe’s Ceylon Labour Party.Premadasa’s father came from the same village as AE Goonesinghe in Balapitiya and Goonesinghe had helped him establish his hackery transport business, Sarath Amunugama said.

Premadasa joined   the Ceylon Labour Party as a full-time member in 1946   and campaigned for Goonesinghe in the 1947 general election.  In 1949, Premadasa was elected to the Colombo Municipal Council from the San Sebastian ward, a UNP pocket borough.      He   continued to represent this ward till it disappeared.In 1955 Premadasa became Deputy Mayor of the Colombo Municipality.

Premadasa    joined the United National Party in 1956.  His political talents were quickly recognized,  specially his superb speaking skills and organizing ability. Premadasa was easily one of the best speakers on the UNP platform. He was a brilliant attacking speaker. UNP pitted him against SWRD who was also a brilliant speaker but without the Sinhala language skills that Premadasa had, said Sarath Amunugama.

 Premadasa made his mark as a pugnacious fighter.He contested Ruwanwella against NM Perera in the 1956 elections, though he had never even visited there. The first time he had ever gone there was to hand over nomination paper. His election campaign was so good that he gave a good fight to NM.  Premadasa’s   organization ability was legendary. He undertook tasks that others shirked, continued Sarath.

Premadasa never forgot his supporters from Ruwanwella. He helped them even after he had established himself in Colombo Central and had no intention of ever going back to Ruwanwella. Premadasa had great respect for the left leaders specially NM Perera and Colvin R. de Silva and did not attack them with the venom reserved for SWRD, concluded Sarath.

 Despite many obstacles Premadasa   forged ahead. There was the usual issue of caste, Premadasa was non Goigama, but that did not deter Premadasa .In the March 1960 General election, Premadasa was elected to the multi member Colombo Central  seat. This was a   difficult multi-member seat, observed Bradman Weerakoon.

In 1961, Premadasa also returned to Colombo Municipal Council having been elected from the Cinnamon Gardens Ward .This ward was in   a   fashionable part of Colombo, but it also had pockets of poor and disadvantaged.He held this position till 1964 and during this time he opened pre-schools for poor families and initiated vocational training centers in sewing and tailoring for the youth, said Bradman.

Premadasa married Hema Wickramatunge in 1964. Premadasa said that after 1964 he never suffered an electing defeat, his wife had brought him good luck.

 In 1965 he was Member of Parliament for Colombo Central and in 1968 he was appointed Minster for Local government. Premadasa entered the Cabinet, within a few years of entering Parliament, observed Bradman. It was a quick rise.  Nihal Seneviratne, then Clerk of the House of Representatives, recalled that soon after, Premadasa had told Nihal that he wanted to learn the parliamentary procedure as he did know anything about them. He learned fast, said Nihal.  

Premadasa was very active as Minister of Local Government. He impressed at all levels of local government, village, town, urban and Municipal, said Bradman Weerakoon.He became known in the local governments in the island. He thought up imaginative projects, such as the ‘instant bridges project’, small bridges across streams, which were of great assistance to local people. 

Premadasa set up a Rural road and Bridges Division in his Ministry for the purpose. This Division completed 22 pre- cast bridges in 22 districts, ‘in one day’, said Evans Cooray. Within a year he had completed 80 pre- cast bridges.  Further, Premadasa    converted the Maligawatte swamp into a flourishing low cost housing scheme, with a school, health facility, playground, park, post office and shops. This is not remembered to day, but I think that this was one of his best achievements.(continued)

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