Know who’s Dinesh Gunawardene, the new PM of Sri Lanka, whose parents fought in India’s freedom struggle

Seventy-two-year-old Dinesh Gunawardene is the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. The Leader of the House in Parliament took oath as the Prime Minister on Friday. He was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Education in the previous Gotabaya-Mahinda government.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is facing heavy public opposition to his elevation as head of the nation, may go for a national government if all political parties agree to join. If that happens, he can later appoint a new prime minister.

A veteran of Sri Lankan politics, Gunawardene is known for his outspokenness. He is a close confidant of ousted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and as leader of the United Opposition, he held the opposition flag high during the regimes of Maithripala Sirisena and Wickremesinghe between 2015 and 2019. By a quirk of fate, he is now the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka under President Ranil Wickremesinghe whom he fought for decades.

Educated in the United States of America and the Netherlands, Dinesh Gunawardene is a trade union leader and a fierce fighter like his great father Philip Gunawardene, who is known as the father of socialism in Sri Lanka.

Philip Gunawardene’s love for India and efforts towards independence against imperialist occupation began in the United States in the early 1920s.

He was a classmate of Jayaprakash Narayan and VK Krishna Menon at the University of Wisconsin, where he advocated independence from imperialism in American political circles, and later led the Anti-Imperialist League of India in London.

But very few people know that his family has close ties to India and the whole family has pro-India leanings.

The prime minister’s father Philip and mother Kusuma emigrated to India after fleeing Sri Lanka (then a British colony, Ceylon) during World War II.

He had joined the underground activists who were fighting for freedom and escaped arrest for some time. In 1943, they were both captured by British intelligence, who kept them in Bombay’s Arthur Road Jail. A year later, he was deported to Sri Lanka and released only after the end of the war.

It is a matter of great pride for them because Philip, Robert and Kusuma all participated in the freedom struggle of India and went to jail in Bombay. Their association with India began nearly a hundred years ago to liberate South Asia from the British Raj.

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited his family home in Sri Lanka to personally thank him for his continued support for India’s independence movement and his personal sacrifice.

After Sri Lanka gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, both Philip and Kusuma became members of parliament. Philip was the founding leader and cabinet minister of the People’s Revolution government in 1956. All four of his children have also held high political positions including Mayor of Colombo, cabinet ministers, MPs etc.

Dinesh Gunawardene, who has a clean image like his parents, has been a powerful cabinet minister for over 22 years, arguing for better relations with India.

Culturally, socially, historically and even mythologically, India has been Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor for thousands of years and it is important to maintain excellent relations. Some of his close aides say that there is much more to be done in the days to come.

Sri Lanka are in great turmoil and Gunawardene will not be able to do anything that will leave his mark.

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