‘I wish to live a free man in a free society’
‘I wish to live a free man in a free society’
C. P. de Silva is a rare politician who spent his entire working life to serve the poor while living under harsh and trying conditions. Yet, he remained unassuming and abstained from publicity and deception.
He was an exceptional politician, a civil servant with first class Honours in Mathematics, a statesman and above all a good man with mellowed and genteel qualities.
It would certainly require several chapters to do justice in writing to C. P. de Silva’s 40 years of enthusiastic service to the poor and the landless. In the circumstances, this article seeks to highlight an entirely different aspect of his political life, very important to the life of a democratic nation.
History will record the courageous role C. P. de Silva played on December 3, 1964 in a young democracy which had obtained independence only 16 years before.
However, C.P.’s life time service cannot begin without stating how when Agriculture and Lands Minister D. S. Senanayake began resurrecting what was known as the granary of the East gone to almost 800 years of ruin, handpicked young C. P. de Silva to implement his policies.
C.P. did not let him down. He personally presided over the opening up of the Raja Rata and the Polonnaruwa district in particular, to a renaissance in agriculture.
Human settlements started taking shape. Abandoned reservoirs became full and irrigation channels began flowing once again. As years progressed drinking water, sanitation and electricity began arriving and schools and hospitals were established. Roads were constructed for the people living and new settlers to move about easily.
An exceptional statesman
Today, Raja Rata comprising of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts virtually feed the entire nation. During the restoration and rehabilitation of the past splendor such as the huge Minneriya tank and the Parakrama Samudraya, Giritale and Kaudulla tanks, rehabilitated Elahara canal designed to feed 27,000 acres of land hitherto neglected in Polonnaruwa district alone, he did not fail to protect the jungle canopy and wildlife whereever he opened land for agriculture.
C.P. personally over saw the establishment of Buddha Yaya, Jayanthipura, Kirimatiyawa, Bandiwewa and Kadawalawewa colonies fed by the Minneriya tank to name a few and created Ambagaswewa, Meegaswewa, Diyasenpura and Biso Bandara colonies in Medirigiriya fed by the Kaudulla tank in Madirigiriya.
C.P. worked in Jaffna and Kalutara before settling in the North Central Province as the Assistant Government Agent and the Government Agent.
He rose to become the Assistant Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry in 1939, Assistant Commissioner of Lands and Land Development director by 1950.
C. P. de Silva’s service to the nation bloomed after he became a minister in 1956. Becoming a highly influential minister in the government from 1956 to 1970 under both the SLFP and the UNP, C. P. de Silva always held the portfolios dealing with Lands, Lands Settlement, Agriculture, Irrigation, Power and planned and commenced the Mahaweli and continuously held the post of Leader of the House.
He was the brains behind the birth of Udawalawe multi-purpose development project, the Galoya Development Board and the gigantic Mahaweli diversion scheme all of which, were highly successful and beneficial to the country’s irrigation, agriculture and hydro electricity generation.
Shifting his attention to the South, he developed the Walawe basin. The Walawe river fed Chandrika wewa named by CP in recognition of the youngest daughter of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike which in turn fed a number of small tanks in Hambantota and Embilipitiya.
The establishment of sugar cane farms in Kantale, Galoya, Udawalawe and Hingurana and the 50 acre Hingurakgoda government farm are only a few examples of agro industries that commenced in his era. His achievements in establishing Royal College of Polonnaruwa, Madirigiriya MahaVidyalaya and even allocation of land for the establishment of Mahanama College in Colombo are only a few in the field of education. In Anuradhapura, C. P. de Silva established the Padaviya scheme amongst many other restoration work on abandoned reservoirs and canals in Medawachchiya, Kalawewa and Kekirawa.
C. P. de Silva never used his unbridled power and influence to grant to himself or any member of his family even a perch of land, anywhere in the island. He purchased three contiguous small blocks of land in Hingurakgoda in the late 1960s owned by free hold land owners to build a house for himself.
At one time, he resigned from Civil Service due to a difference of opinion with his friend but Minister Dudley Senanayake and purchased a block of land in Tabbowa in the Puttalam District and went into retirement to a life of a farmer.
It was while he lived in this farm that S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike tracked him down and persuaded him to join him and contest the 1952 elections from the SLFP. It is significant that although the rebirth of Polonnaruwa was due to the great leadership of D.S. Senanayake and subsequently Dudley Senananyake and the UNP, people chose to elect C.P. de Silva repeatedly from the SLFP, solely due to the close relationship he had with the people as their hard working well educated and respected leader.
His influence was so great that when he left the SLFP and had to face an election within two months under a new party with an unknown symbol, he was re-elected. When he resigned from civil service due to policy differences with his minister, C. P. de Silva lived in a simple little house in his Tabbowa farm supervising his staff headed by Arthur and his mother Mary.
He brought amendments to 1907 Forest Ordinance
He returned to this farm after his defeat in 1970, although I suspect he was heart broken after the election result. C.P. de Silva never did politics to gain wealth despite the hardships and comparatively primitive living conditions then. He did not even have time to marry and have a family of his own. The rented house he lived while campaigning did not have electricity, phones or toilets facilities within the house or water on tap. The only luxury was a kerosene fridge, which was stocked up once a week after a visit to Matale.
Once the settlements were established and all plans were on stream, C. P. de Silva brought amendments to the 1907 Forest Ordinance in 1966 to modernise the law and protect the country’s forest cover in the face of expanding population straining forest reserves.
He predicted human elephant conflict and was concerned with how to mitigate conflicts with competing interests. He also introduced the Nindagam Bill in 1968, to abolish compulsory service to Nindagam land owners by dwellers living in Nindagam lands. This law bought immense relief to the poor.
Brains behind Udawalawe, Galoya and Mahaweli schemes
Our political history knows of great politicians loved by the nation for their services rendered to the people. Titles such as Father of the Nation in D.S. Senanayake and Father of Free Education in C.W.W. Kannangara and Bath Dun Piya in Dudley Senanayake, are some. King Mahasen from amongst a long line of kings earned the encomium Mahasen Deviyo for the considerable services rendered by him to his people. But C. P. de Silva is the only politician who became accepted and recognised as a deity, by the people and called Minnery Deviyo.
No one did ever match him for the selfless sacrifices he made then or now to the people of Polonnaruwa. C. P. de Silva always lived up to his reputation as a statesman. At a time Sinhala nationalism had taken root bordering on Sinhala racism, C. P. de Silva remained true to his convictions and was refreshingly enlightened.
In a report appearing in the Lankadeepa newspaper of August 31, 1957 addressing the Earth Sciences Department of the University of Peradeniya, C.P. as the Lands Minister stated that he favoured 50/50 settlement of Sinhala and Tamil people in colonisation schemes to settle the national question.
He appealed to the Left not to destabilise the country by raising racist slogans and said for the national economy to grow, productivity was the only answer. He also chided Sir John Kotelawala and said our trade relations with Britain and the tea industry should not be jeopardized and the tea industry should be protected for the country’s growth.
Due to his statesmanship, he became the first politician who sacrificed power and position and a future in politics, to protect the freedom of the press in Sri Lanka. Many have been written about the events that unfolded up to the date he painfully took a final decision to part company with his party he helped to establish with his leader S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, to whom he willingly handed over the leadership of the SLFP for the July 1960 elections, once in power diluted Bandaranaike policies and began to tinker with democratic ideals to consolidate power under the influence of Marxist parties who had joined the government against the wishes of C. P. de Silva.
When Sirimavo Bandaranaike did not accept his advice and finally decided to nationalise the Lake House Press, it broke the camels back. She failed to realise C.P. was not only very well accepted in the NCP but also the natural leader of his Salagama community spread in many parts of the country and specifically in his birth place Balapitiya.
Realising his worth, capabilities and capacity for work, S.W.R.D. Banadaranaikr respected him and confided in him and treated him as his right hand man. In later years, Dudley Senananayake too adopted C.P. for the same reasons.
But, despite the strength of the SLFP government comprising 75 MPs, six appointed MPs and a few maverick MPs out of a House of 151 MPs and despite C.P. leading the party in Parliament, Sirimavo Bandaranaike made the fatal error of ignoring C.P.
September 1963, a Press Commission was appointed to examine the role played by the Press in Sri Lanka. In September 1964, the Press Commission recommended several steps to regulate the free press and take over Lake House and convert it to a state owned corporation. Despite the protest by C.P. de Silva and the UNP led opposition, legislation was brought under strange circumstances to the senate and passed by October 1964.
It was only thereafter introduced to Parliament. The UNP in a master stroke obtained two opposition MPs Naina Marikkar (UNP) and Lakshman Rajapakse (MEP) to move the Bill as an opposition Bill and scheduled the Second Reading for February 2, 1965 to delay the passage of the Bill. When Chief Government Whip M.P. de Z. Siriwardena wanted to expedite the passing of the Bill in 1964 itself targeting the elections due in 1965, master mind J. R. Jayewardene objected on the basis that the government can't interfere with a Bill moved by the opposition. The government lost its first battle when Speaker Hugh Fernando held with the Opposition. Finance Minister Dr. N. M. Perera led the government resentment against their own Speaker and prepared a Vote of No Confidence on the Speaker. Dudley Senanayake then raised a “Point of Order“ that a Speakers decision cannot be challenged. The Speaker held with that too.
The government with the advice of its golden brains, decided to introduce a new Bill. The Opposition objected on the basis that there would be two Bills on the Order paper on the same subject. Having got run out at every given opportunity to bat, the rattled Sirimavo Bandaranaike hell bent in taking over Lake House Press, in consultation with her confidante Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Left allies, decide to prorogue Parliament and bring a new Bill to nationalise Lake House.
In a mad rush, Parliament reconvened in a couple of days, on November 2, 1964. The main item of the Throne Speech was the take over of ANCL and the way to regulate the Press. C. P. de Silva was a mere spectator in this mad rush, orchestrated by a clique hell bent on controlling power. The vote on the Throne speech was fixed for December 3, 1964. Opposition to this dangerously high handed act of governance gathered momentum.
An amendment to the Throne Speech was moved by the opposition. Vote on the amendment enabled C.P. de Silva to resign his portfolio in the morning and cross over to the opposition benches in the afternoon and vote against the government in the evening.
As time approached for the vote on the amendment to the Throne Speech, a frantic Prime Minister arrived in Parliament and persuaded two stalwarts from Rajarata not to cross over at the last moment. As excitement mounted, disgruntled SLFP MPs had begun crossing over at various times.
They were egged on by excited UNP MPs. Three MPs were not seen around despite a frantic search for them. All three were to cross over.
By the time the vote was taken, 13 MPs holding allegiance to CP and influenced by his brave act had either crossed the great divide or abstained. Those who crossed the floor were C. P. de Silva (Minneriya), Mahanama Samaraweera (Matara), Laksman de Silva (Balapitiya), A. H. de Silva (Polonnaruwa), Charlie Edirisuriya (Tissamaharama), M. S. Kariappa (Kalmunai), Indrasena de Zoysa (Ampara ), Wijebahu Wijesinghe (Mirigama ), Edwin Tilakeratne (Ratgama), Asoka Karunaratne (Rambukkana ), S. B. Lenawa (Kekirawa), Singleton Salmon and Sir Razeek Fareed (appointed ). Those who did not come to vote were Lionel Gunasekara (Kalawana ), Amaranananda Ratnayake (Passara) and Alfred Duraiappa (Jaffna ). S. Thondaman abstained.
CP refused prime ministerial portforlio
When the most prominent figure in government crossed over in dramatic fashion across the floor, Philip Gunawardena was on his feet. A huge roar of approval shook the chamber. These were rare moments in the Sri Lankan Parliament. When C. P. de Silva rose to speak, pin drop silence prevailed. He said: "It is my painful duty to state and I say so in all responsibility, that from what I know and what I have heard and what I have seen, in the inner circles of the coalition government of Mrs Bandaranaike, our nation is now being inexorably pushed towards unadulterated totaliarinism….”
It was indeed, a harsh indictment on the government. This statement was really an insight into his thinking as a politician. Referring to an uncertain political future and the power and influence he was leaving behind, he said: “I am foregoing all my power and position today in order to live a free man in a free society.”
It was known later that of the three SLFP MPs who did not come to vote,one had a tyre puncture and could not arrive in time, the other was in the toilet when voting was taking place and the other stayed back in his room in Fort allegedly having a stomach upset. Appointed MPs Singleton Salmon and veteran Sir Razeek Fareed crossed over to the opposition while Thondaman abstained.
There was more drama to follow. R. G. Senanayake crossed over to the government. E. L. Senanayake arrived from a London hospital in the afternoon in time to vote. The government lost by one vote.
After an inordinate delay due to a long stand off, Bandaranaike advised the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. In the ensuing election in 1965, the UNP under Dudley Senanayake won and formed a National Government in which C. P.dDe Silva retained all his portfolios and even the post of Leader of the House. C. P. de Silva refused to accept the post of Prime Minister offered by that gentleman politician Dudley Senanayake.
Those were the days gentleman politicians existed. Their actions were based on policy and principles. If not for that courageous decision taken by C. P. de Silva in December 1964, Sri Lanka’s democratic landscape would have certainly been different today. A National Government was formed in 1965 under Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake.
Last edited by sriyanj; 01-04-16 at 03:33 PM.
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