United Nations

Amunugama served for four years as Director IPDC and built up a strong support system for Third World news and information organizations. He also co-ordinated the work of an inter-governmental council on information. At the height of the Cold War, the IPDC organized an annual meeting in Tashkent, in the then USSR, which was attended by all the hardline cold warriors of the Reagan administration. They came to the meeting full of fears of communist infiltration of UNESCO, but left for home with undoubted satisfaction.

The inter-governmental council of IPDC had a large number of influential Ministers and advisors from all parts of the globe including G. Parathasarathy who represented India as a special envoy of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Gamini Dissanayake informed J.R. Jayewardene of the friendship between Parathasarathy and Amunugama. As a result many a confidential message was conveyed to Parathasarathy in his Lodhi Gardens home in New Delhi. A few months later the President requested Amunugama to return to Colombo to help in his negotiations with India. At this time Prime Minister Premadasa, Foreign Minister Hameed and Minister Athulathmudali were not in the loop - which was the root cause of later dissension on the Indo- Lanka accord. On returning to Sri Lanka, Amunugama was appointed Additional Secretary General of World View International Foundation, which was a global NGO in the field of communication and development. At the same time he functioned as an advisor to the President. With his WIF assignment he had to travel extensively in order to seek funds for information projects. It was somewhat similar to what he did in UNESCO. Around this time his professor and mentor during his Peradeniya days, Stanley J. Tambiah arranged for him to spend time at Harvard University. As a visiting fellow in the Department of Social Anthropology, Amunugama spent a pleasant period of his life working on several research papers. The Widener Library, facing the Harvard yard, provided an ideal setting for his intellectual enterprises. He also fondly remembers the many acts of kindness of his ‘Guru’, Tambiah.

“Amunugama served for four years as Director IPDC and built up a strong support system for Third World news and information organizations. He also co-ordinated the work of an inter-governmental council on information.”

Many of the papers written during this period have been published in journals such as Religion (University of California) and Social Science Information (EHSS, Paris).

During his stay in Paris with UNESCO, Amunugama had enrolled with the Ecole des Haute Etudes en Science Sociale in Boulvard Raspail which is affiliated to the University of Paris, for a Doctorate in Social Anthropology. He was fortunate in getting the advice of Louis Dumont whom he had met earlier on one of the professor’s visits to Sri Lanka. Dumont who was the head of EHSS, and one of the greatest anthropologists of all time, was on the verge of retirement. He was looking forward to leaving his small apartment in Rue de Bac in Paris for his country cottage. However he was kind enough to approve Amunugama’s suggestions for a thesis and appoint as supervisor, his favorite scholar Jean-Claude Galay, an act of courtesy not normally undertaken by a retiring professor.

Amunugama was also greatly assisted by his friend, Professor Eric Meyer, also of the EHSS. Great oriental scholars like Collette Caillat and Andre Bareau also helped. After three years of intensive work, Amunugama obtained his Doctorate from the University of Paris.

The last years of the President Jayewardene regime saw difficult times. With the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord the JVP began its second insurrection and at the same time the Indian Peace Keeping Force arrived in Jaffna. Having failed to persuade the LTTE to comply with the provisions of the Accord, the Indian defence forces began to engage the Tamil rebels. Faced with a two pronged armed conflict in the north and south of the island, the President also began to lose support among the senior members of his cabinet, including the Prime Minister, who were swept by anti-Indian feelings which were fanned by the local media and the JVP. At this juncture the President fell back on a small group led by Gamini Dissanayake for both political and administrative support. Amunugama was soon co-opted into this group as testified by JN Dixit who was the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo at this time. In his book ‘Assignment Colombo’ (1998) he writes about the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord in the following way. “Jayewardene asked me to be in touch with Gamini Dissanayake and an intellectual associate of Dissanayake, Sarath Amunugama for working out the details”.

“The launch of the DUNF was a significant event in the political history of post-independence Sri Lanka. It created a new opening in social democratic politics of the country. With a refreshingly new manifesto prepared by a committee which included Amunugama, the new party started an aggressive political education campaign based on public meetings which drew record crowds.The DUNF leaders toured the length and breadth of the country much to the ire of the President.”

The conflict in the governing party of the time was to have serious consequences later on. After the President was prevented from seeking a third term, the Prime Minister became the grudging choice of the party to succeed him. After a strenuous election campaign, waged amidst gunfire in both the South and North of the island, Premadasa emerged the winner. However the scars of internecine warfare in the UNP remained and after some time a direct challenge to the new President was launched by some disaffected Cabinet ministers and their camp followers. This took the form of an attempt to impeach the President. Amunugama, who was a close associate of Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali, was drawn in to this move though he had no personal animosity with Premadasa. He was appointed a Vice-President of the Democratic United National Front which was set up to accommodate the rebels who were soon expelled by the President.