Lalith Athulathmudali

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Lalith Athulathmudali
Minister of Education
In office
1990 – August 1991
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives
In office
Minister National Security and Deputy Minister of Defence
In office
March 1984 – January 1989
Minister of Trade and Shipping
In office
1977 – March 1984
Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament
for Colombo
In office
15 February 1989 – 23 April 1993
Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament
for Ratmalana
In office
21 July 1977 – 15 February 1989
Personal details
Born26 November 1936
Colombo, Ceylon
Died23 April 1993(1993-04-23) (aged 56)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
NationalitySri Lankan
Political partyUnited National Party
Other political
Democratic United National Front
Spouse(s)Srimani Athulathmudali
ResidenceInner Flower Road, Colombo 7
Alma materHarvard University
Jesus College, Oxford
Royal College, Colombo
St. John's College Panadura

Lalith William Samarasekera Athulathmudali, PC (Sinhala:ලලිත් ඇතුලත්මුදලි; 26 November 1936 – 23 April 1993), known as Lalith Athulathmudali, was Sri Lankan statesman. He was a prominent member of the United National Party, who served as Minister of Trade and Shipping; Minister National Security and Deputy Minister of Defence; Minister of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives and finally Minister of Education. Following a failed impeachment of President Premadasa, he was removed from the UNP and formed his own party.

Early life and education[edit]

Born to a family of lawyers hailing from Kaluthara, his father D. D. Athulathmudali was a Member of the State Council of Ceylon and his mother was Dona Elisiyana (Elisa) Perera née Weerasinha. He had two siblings, a brother Dayantha who became an engineer and a sister Sujae who became a doctor.

Athulathmudali received his primary education at St. John's College Panadura and Royal Primary School; before moving to Royal College Colombo from 1948 to 1955 for his secondary educated, where he won the Steward Prize and excelled in athletics.

He then went on to read jurisprudence at Jesus College, Oxford from 1955 to 1958. He graduated with a BA in 1958 and continued his post-graduate studies at Oxford. In 1959, his father died and he had to return due to a lack of funds. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike on hearing his case, provided him with a Ceylon Government Scholarship. He gained a BCL and MA in 1960 from Oxford winning the Lord Sanky Prize in 1959. While at Oxford, Athulathmudali joined the Oxford Union, serving as its Secretary (1956), Treasurer (1957) and became the first Sri Lankan to become its President in 1958. In 1962 he entered Harvard Law School on scholarship and graduated from Harvard University with a LLM in 1963. He was fluent in Sinhalese, English, Tamil, German and French.[1]

Academic and legal career[edit]

Athulathmudali was admitted to the bar as a Barrister to the Grays Inn in 1959. From 1960 to 1962 he served as a law lecturer at the University of Singapore. In 1963 he became the Associate Dean of the legal faculty of the University of Singapore. From 1960 to 1964 he had served as a visiting lecturer at the Hebrew University in Israel, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Allahabad. Returning to Ceylon in 1964, he took oaths as an Advocate and started his legal practice. From 1967 to 1974, he was the lecture in jurisprudence at the Ceylon Law College. In 1985 he was appointed a President's Counsel.

Political career[edit]

Minister of Trade and Shipping[edit]

Lalith Athulathmudali entered politics in the early 1970s. He joined the policy planning committee of the United National Party in 1973. He contested the 1977 general election from the Ratmalana electorate and was elected to Parliament. J.R. Jayewardene appointed him to cabinet as Minister of Trade. In 1978, he received the additional portfolio of shipping, as Minister of Trade and Shipping, which he held till 1984. During this time, as Minister of Trade, he introduced Intellectual Property Law; established the Sri Lanka Export Development Board and the Ports Authority. He established the Mahapola Trust Fund in 1981 to provision of financial assistance to students undertaking higher education.[2]

Minister of National Security[edit]

In 1984, he was appointed Minister of National Security and Deputy Minister of Defense. He started reforms in both the police and army. During his tenure the armed forces were exptaned and reequipped, with the army increasing from 6,000 to 24,000. The most controversial of his measures was to call for Israeli assistance.[3] He organised several offensives against territories held by the LTTE including the Vadamarachchi Operation and was apposed to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.

He was severely wounded in an attack inside the Parliament complex in 1987. The biggest debacle of his political career came in May 1988 when he declared a truce with the rebellion JVP. The main brokers of the so-called truce were a lawyer called Kelly Senanayake and Fr Thissa Balasooriya who later found had no mandate to represent JVP. He received the portfolio of Trade and Shipping again in 1988. His status in government changed upon Jayewardene's retirement in 1988, he tried to obtain the UNP's nomination for the presidential election, but was defeated by Ranasinghe Premadasa who went on to win the presidency.

Minister of Agriculture and Education[edit]

In 1989, he was appointed UNP chief organizer for the Colombo electorate and was elected to parliament in the 1989 general election. Premadasa retained Athulathmudali in his cabinet, but demoted him by appointing him as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives. In the following year, he was appointed as Minister of Education, in which capacity he remained until 1991.

Conflict with Premadasa[edit]

Athulathmudali became disenchanted with Premadasa's leadership. Soon Athulathmudali ran into conflict with Premadasa. Premadasa tried to have Athulathmudali removed from his UNP party positions. He was accused by Premadasa as being one of the cabinet ministers behind the Burning of Jaffna library in 1981. Athulathmudali resigned from his cabinet position in August 1991 and in September 1991 he and several UNP MPs brought forth a motion to impeach Premadasa. The impeachment which was supported by members of the UNP and other parties in the opposition failed as Premadasa adjourned Parliament and the Speaker Mohamed dismissed the impeachment stating a lack of signatures.[4] Premadasa expelled Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake from the UNP.

Athulathmudali together with Dissanayake formed a new party, the Democratic United National Front with both serving as joint president in November 1991. Under the DUNF, Athulathmudali handed over his papers to contest the 1993 Provincial elections seeking the chief ministership of the Western Province Council.


Athulathmudali was assassinated when he was shot by a gunman on 23 April 1993 after an election rally at Kirulapana. Initially, the government blamed the LTTE and produced the body of a Tamil youth named Ragunathan which was found near the scene of the shooting the following day. He had apparently died from taking a cyanide capsule. However, these claims were later proved to be false.

A Presidential Commission carried out by the Sri Lankan Government concluded that Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa was directly responsible for the assassination. It also concluded that the Tamil youth Ragunathan, was murdered by the same people who killed Athulathmudali, by forcibly administering him with cyanide.[5]


Lalith Athulathmudali met his future wife Srimani De Seram in March 1978 when she was attached to UNCTAD in Switzerland. She was a friend of his brother Dayantha Athulathmudali. After a romance that lasted several years, they got married in December 1981 in Geneva. They had one daughter, Serela Athulathmudali.[6]

Historical reputation and legacy[edit]

SLIIT Lalith Athulathmudali Auditorium Commemorative Plaque.

Athulathmudali is considered as one of the most distinguished Sri Lankan statesmen in recent history. He is still remembered by many in Sri Lanka as a gentlemen and as one of the few well educated politicians of that era. In his honour a statue and memorial has been erected in Colombo. His contribution to the education of the country is eminence, the Mahapola Fund he established has greatly contributed to the development of higher education and provides scholarships for needy students annually. The Lalith Athulathmudali Auditorium at the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology and the Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Prize which is one of the prestigious prizes awarded annually at Royal College, Colombo (his alma mater) (awarded for the Most Outstanding Royalist (Student of Royal College) of the Year) are named in his honour.

Monuments and memorials[edit]

The statue of Lalith William Samarasekera Athulathmudali is located at 6°54′21.7″N 79°51′33.2″E / 6.906028°N 79.859222°E / 6.906028; 79.859222 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A trailblazer in Sri Lankan politics Lalith Athulathmudali
  2. ^ Roberts, Adam (2012). Democracy, Sovereignty and Terror: Lakshman Kadirgamar on the Foundations of International Order. I.B.Tauris. p. 38. ISBN 9781848853072.
  3. ^ United States. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, United States. Joint Publications Research Service (1985). "Near East/South Asia Report Page 177" (85128). Foreign Broadcast Information Service.
  4. ^ Unsuccessful Impeachments and legal arguments
  5. ^ SRI LANKA: THE UNTOLD STORY Chapter 58: Premadasa indicted
  6. ^ Trailblazer of recent times
  7. ^ "The photograph of the statue of Lalith William Samarasekera Athulathmudali, July 2018". Independent Travellers. Retrieved 12 December 2018.

External links[edit]