C. P. de Silva — a victim of ‘Back Stabbing’

On August 25, 1959, Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was presiding over a Cabinet meeting. Although he did not ask for it, nor was it usual for him to have a glass of milk when the cabinet was in session, a glass of milk was brought to him.

The prime minister declined the milk and instead offered it to C.P. de Silva, the Leader of the House, who was seated next to him.

‘C.P.’ accepted the offer and drank the contents of the entire glass and collapsed. He was rushed to hospital in a state of unconsciousness. Although he regained consciousness his condition was so serious that it necessitated specialized medical attention. The prime minister himself arranged for his trusted and able lieutenant to be flown to England for treatment.

Those days there were no direct flights to the continent and passengers took wing to an Indian Airport from Ratmalana from where they took a connecting plane to their destination.

C.P. was brought right upto the Tarmac at the Ratmalana Airport in an ambulance and was taken on a stretcher with a pretty nurse in attendance. The prime minister himself came right upto the plane to see C.P. off and always a man to crack a joke pointing to the pretty nurse told C.P. with a mischievous grin on his face, ‘you can bake her!’

My friend and C.P.’s nephew Jayapriya de Silva had been a mere kolla but he distinctly remembered the P.M.’s words. He did not know what it meant then nor now. Nor do I and I should leave it to the fertile imagination of our readers.

Exactly one month after the ‘milk’ incident, the prime minister was shot and he died on September 26, 1959. Even from his hospital bed the prime minister joked with the doctors and nurses.

When S.W.R.D. died C.P. was still in the UK. That was how ‘W’ (Dahanayake) as the Leader of the House in the absence of C.P. was called in by the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleka to form a government.

It was fate that stabbed C.P. in the back on this occasion.

However C.P. though not fully recovered immediately emplaned for Ceylon on hearing of the P.M.’s death. C.P. was met at the airport by Prime Minister Dahanayake who conducted him out of the airport personally and proceeded to get him sworn in as a minister immediately after he paid this obeisance to his dead leader at the Horagolla Samadhi.

Now ‘W’ had the habit of sacking his ministers in their sleep. He did it in ‘instalments’ and C.P.’s head rolled with the second batch of casualties!

Charles Percivel de Silva was born on 16-4-1912 at Randombe in Ambalangoda. His father C. R. de Silva was originally from Ahungalla in Balapitiya but settled down in Randombe after the marriage to Obinamuni Adlin de Silva, a product of Musaeus College, Colombo. Although boys from affluent families were educated in Colombo S. Thomas’ and Royal then later at Ananda, it was indeed extremely rare for a girl from the outstations to be so educated in Colombo.

C.P.’s father was a Proctor with a large Civil Practise in Balapitiya and Galle. One of the sons, ‘A.H.’ who took after the father is today the leader of the Bar in Balapitiya. C.P. was the eldest in a family of 4 boys and 2 girls. His sister Gladys married R. T. de Silva who was at one time the chairman of the CTB. The other sister Stella is the well known paediatrician. Of the 4 boys only the youngest ‘L.B.’ shunned politics although it was he who brought in Felix Dias (later Bandaranaike) to the SLFP. L.B. was a PhD in Chemistry and worked for the Medical Research Institute. Two of C.P.’s brothers A.H. and Merryle were elected as members of parliament.

Following the tradition of children of well to do families ‘C.P.’ too was admitted to that primus inter pares of all educational institutions S. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia. where his forte was Mathematics. Canon R. S. (‘Cunji’) de Saram was the warden at S.T.C. at the time and C.P. carried away almost all the prizes at each prize giving including the prizes for Science, Latin and Mathematics. He was awarded the Gregory scholarship for his outstanding academic achievements which entitled him to free board, lodging and tuition.

C.P. was 2 years junior to another illustrious Thomian, Dudley Shelton Senanayake. Both C.P. and Dudley before him crowned their career at the school by the sea, by becoming head boys in their respective years!

‘C.P.’ proceeded to England for higher studies where he secured a first class in Mathematics in the BSc.

Those days the civil service examination was held simultaneously in both Ceylon and England. C.P. sat the C.C.S. from England and as expected passed the exam without any difficulty. Upon his return he was posted to Jaffna as a C.C.S. ‘Cadet’ — as new recruits to this plum position was then called. At the time most of the Government Agents were Englishmen. After completion of his cadetship he was appointed as A.G.A. Puttalam from where he was hand-picked by D. S. Senanayake who was later to become Independent Ceylon’s first prime minister and who was at that time the minister of agriculture and lands to be the A.G.A. Polonnaruwa district. At the time there was one Government Agent to the entire N.C.P. consisting of both Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts.

‘C.P.’ served as A.G.A. Polonnaruwa under the first Ceylonese Government Agent, Sir Richard Aluvihare, who was also ‘brought in’ by D.S. Sir Richard was later to become Ceylon’s First Ceylonese Inspector General of Police. Sir Richard was a personal friend of D.S. and had been one of the riding companions of the prime minister (the other being G.G. ‘Ponna’) that fateful day 21st March 1952 when the prime minister fell off his mount whilst riding on Galle Face Green. He died the next day.

‘C.P.’ helped D.S. to realize his dream of restoring the dry-zone once again to its pristine glory that it boasted of. As the A.G.A. Polonnaruwa he was responsible for the successful implementation of the first of the massive projects — the Minneriya Colonisation Scheme.

D.S.’s land policy was two pronged. The population was doubling every 20 years and he realized that the land hunger could be solved by village expansion on the one hand and opening up the dry-zone for cultivation and resettlement. Under the village expansion scheme land was distributed amongst the peasants under the direction of the Government Agent. However the available land was scarce and the demand was very heavy. The only viable alternative therefore was to open up new land in the dry zone.

But this was easier said than done. The entire dry-zone was infested with malaria which was the Number One Killer disease in the entire country. The Marxists were shouting themselves hoarse accusing that D.S. was sacrificing human lives in the Malaria infested jungles of the Dry-Zone. The excellent irrigation systems of yore had fallen into disuse and were the happy breeding grounds of mosquitoes.

D.S. knew that to lure the peasants to settlements in the newly opened up dry-zone it had to be made habitable, free from disease and the infrastructure befitting a new settlement such as safe drinking water, water for irrigation, decent houses to live in, provision of land for both paddy and highland cultivation, medical facilities, educational and recreational facilities should be provided.

D. S. as the minister of agriculture was happy that he had a young officer of the calibre of C.P. who spared no pains in discharging all the tasks assigned to him. These tasks by no means, confined to the restoration of ancient irrigation canals and looking after the ‘new life’ of the settlers — but also catering to their various beliefs and customs.

The peasants of Minneriya firmly believed in the Tank Building Sinhala King Mahasena who is said to have built so many (if I remember my history 16 in number) tanks that the dry zone was known as the ‘Kingdom of Tanks’ (‘Wev bendi rajjayaya’)

He was believed to be not merely a demigod-but a fully fledged God.

Many were the customs and rituals associated with Mahasen Deyyo, that C.P. had to not only offer encouragement but also provide facilities for their performance.

An ‘original settler’ in Hingurakkgoda, Mallawa Appuhamilage Martin Singho (95) who inspite of being a nonagenarian still pedals a push bicycle to the Hingurakgoda town 2 miles away from his ‘original’ colony house has very pleasant and fond memories of C.P. Martin Singho was a settler from Ruwanwella and he was employed as the tea boy in the AGA’s office, whilst his parents looked after the land and the cultivations — both paddy and highland.

In his capacity as ‘tea boy’, Martin was privy to a number of incidents involving the ‘Disapathi Hamuduruwo’ — what does it matter if C.P. was only the Upa Disapathi Hamuduruvo — but to him, C.P. was ‘Disapathi Hamuduruvo’. Not that Martin was eavesdropping but can be shut his ears when the ‘Disapathi Hamuduruvo’ was vexing eloquent in the vernacular? Martin Singho says that he enjoyed these discussions which he listned to being seated on the floor at the foot of the ‘Disapathi Hamuduruvo’.

There was another ‘Hamuduruvo’ that Martin Singho spoke of. He was a ‘de jure’ priest. They called him the ‘Sigiriye Unanse’.

Whilst on his way to Polonnaruwa, C.P. had met this priest taking a short-cut to Polonnaruwa through the elephant infested jungles and offered him a lift. Thus started a friendship which was mutually beneficial both to the priest and to the entire colony. It is said, according to Martin Singho that ‘Sigiriye Unanse’ (the priest from Sigiriya) was well versed in witch-craft and the various modes of religions and not so religious customs and practises that the colonists indulged in. It is said that when the rains failed or the Malaria epidemic surfaced, or an auspicious event was to take place not only C.P. but also the ‘Maha Senanayake Unanse’ (this is a respectful reference by Martin to D.S. — not to a cleric) observed the rituals officiated by the Sigiriya Priest.

At D.S.’s request, C.P. was required to provide the priest with the 4 facilities required by a Buddhist priest i.e. food, shelter medicine and robes. This C.P. willingly performed until the priest’s death.

In the meantime there were some allegations against C.P. about some matters relating to colonisation housing projects. D.S. called for C.P’s explanation in writing which C.P. promptly furnished. During this time D.S. was the prime minister and Dudley had succeeded his father as the Minister of Agriculture and Lands. Dudley however passed some strictures on C.P. which completely upset C.P. In the meantime opposition to C.P. was also being registered in the Minneriya Colonisation Scheme where a powerful official — one Dedigama resigned over his disagreements with C.P.

Dudley insisted on transferring C.P. out of the district although the prime minister was bent on keeping him. At the end the younger Senanayake’s will prevailed and C.P. was transferred to Kalutara. It was then that C.P. decided to throw in the towel. No amount of pleading by D.S. would make C.P. change his mind and C.P. resigned from public service.

It was thereafter that H. Sri Nissanka the eminent King’s Counsel from Kurunegala who was the secretary of the newly formed SLFP got hold of C.P. and brought him to S.W.R.D. and the SLFP.

Soon C.P. won the confidence of ‘Banda’ and in 1956 was the SLFP candidate for Polonnaruwa. 1956 saw the MEP of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike sweep to power and Banda, made C.P. the Leader of the House apart from making him the Minister of Lands and Irrigation a subject which had been always close to his heart.

C.P. was thus able to provide the political leadership to the area where he was the administrative head and many are the heroic deeds associated with him.

In 1957 the entire NCP was inundated with a massive flood. The Minneriya tank was about to breach putting thousands of human lives in danger of death. The engineers could not point to the place the bund had to be breached to minimise the damage. The situation was very tense and precarious. The Dozor operators who were there were not prepared to risk their lives even at the bidding of not merely their M.P., Minister of Lands and Irrigation, but was the Leader of the House, which unlike today was a highly prestigious position second only to that of the Prime Minister.

Whilst onlookers gaped, C.P. jumped on to a waiting bulldozer and instinctively breached the bund at the correct spot which the irrigation engineers could not determine. Quickly making a vow he removed his gold ring and threw it to the surging waters. Like a trapeze artist he jumped to safety to the cheers of those present.

C.P. jumped out in the nick of time for tsunami like waves swept the bulldozer and some of its parts were recovered in Medirigiriya about 20 or 30 miles away from the site where the bund was breached.

The people believed that it was divine intution that made C.P. identify the exact point where the bund had to be breached and also it was nothing short of a supernatural miracle that saved his life and consequently the lives of tens of thousands of people.

As the rampaging waters of Minneriya gushed along the ‘C.P.’ made breach the entire surroundings rang with cries of ‘Sadhu! Sadhu!’ as a means of expressing their gratitude to the Minneriya Deviyo’ (The Minneriya Deity).

From that day the peasants of the Raja Rata (country of the kings) believed that C.P. was the reincarnation of the Great Sinhala King Mahasen.

Rumour has it, that whenever there was a drought in Polonnaruwa, C.P. loyalists would get down the ‘Amathithuma’ from Colombo and lo and behold there came the rains!

Be that as it may most of the peasants of Polonnaruwa still have a photograph of C.P. in their humble homes at which a lamp is lit both in veneration and also as a means of receiving his blessings — for he was the reincarnation of God Mahasen, according to their firm belief.

When Prime Minister Bandaranaike was felled by an assassin’s bullet, the new Prime Minister who sacked most of his cabinet of ministers in their sleep, dissolved parliament and called a general election which was fixed for March 19th, 1960.

After the death of their leader the SLFP was in complete disarray and C.P. though not completely recovered after drinking that mysterious glass of milk on 15-8-59, was made the leader of the party and was called upon to lead the party.

At the General Elections of March 1960, Dudley Senanayake the leader of the UNP emerged as the leader of the party commanding the most number of MPs (50 as opposed to 46 parliamentarians elected on the SLFP ticket).

Mr. Dudley Senanayake who came to be sworn in as the prime minister for the 3rd time formed a minority government which had a life-span of only 33 days.

Dudley advised the Governor General to dissolve parliament and call for a general election in July 1960. C.P. met the Governor General and made representations to the effect that without going through the motions and expense of another general election within a space of 4 months, he (C.P.) should be invited to form a government as he had the ‘majority of members’ in the House of Representatives.

Sir Oliver Goonetilleka who was the Minister of Home Affairs in the D. S. Senanayake cabinet where Dudley was the Minister of Lands and Agriculture responded positively to the prime minister’s advise and dissolved parliament.

Fate thus stabbed C.P. once again behind his back.

At the July 1960 elections C.P. met Mrs. Bandaranaike who was yet grieving at the death of her husband and requested her to lead the party. Mrs. Bandaranaike refused point blank insisting she would devote her time to the 3 young children who had lost their father.

C.P. along with a few hard-core members ultimately managed to persuade Mrs. Bandaranaike to be the leader of the SLFP and gave an assurance that she would not be exposed to the hustings. The loyal follower he was, C.P. spear-headed the campaign that brought a naive, inexperienced housewife to power as the World’s First Woman Prime Minister albeit through the ‘Back Door’ as claimed by the Opposition. Mrs. Bandaranaike was ‘appointed’ to the Senate. If she opted to seek election to the House of Representatives she could have easily romped home comfortably from the family borough of Attanagalla, but not without being bruised by Missilin Silva, the widow of David Silva of Beruwala who was reported to have been killed by the Police in the 1958 riots. That veteran politician I. M. R. A. Iriyagolla, who teamed up with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in 1956 to herald the people’s era was now a bitter enemy and he threatened to run David Silva’s widow, Missilin against Mrs. B. wherever she contested.

Mrs. B, would have thought that prevention was the better than cure and opted to ‘reign’ from Upstairs (the Senate).

C.P. was virtually the ‘de facto’ Prime Minister having not only to lead the government from the Front Benches but also to face a barrage of criticism from a formidable UNP opposition.

C.P’s brother — the famous Thomian athlete cum BSc-Chemistry Honours graduate brought in a young man named Felix Dias and introduced him through his brother (C.P.) to the mainstream of SLFP politics. Felix Dias was asked to contest Dompe, a Bandaranaike stronghold. ‘Felix Dias’ agreed but insited that he should have the Bandaranaike name ‘tag’ to be in politics in the Bandaranaike territory.

So, Felix Dias became Felix Dias ‘Bandaranaike’ and he was a key player in the political chess board of Ceylonese politics in the S.L.F.P. government. He is also the man (dis)credited with many a Draconian Legislation. A very astute man he soon edged out C.P. to be more the ‘power behind the Throne than an advisor to the prime minister.

After the ‘poisoning’ incident C.P. virtually lost his voice and his speech was slurred. Felix being a lawyer was a brilliant speaker and an excellent debater who could take the mighty opposition single handed.

Mrs. Bandaranaike at the commencement of her political carrier did not have any experience. (In fairness to her, it must be said that she acquired the political acumen of a world leader in a surprisingly short period and reached political maturity to hob nob with world leaders and also host the non-aligned Summit which put Ceylon in the world map.) She had to depend more and more on her nephew — ‘FRDB’. At every conference local or foreign, Felix always sat behind the Prime Minister so that he could whisper advice to her unobstrusively.

It must be said of Mrs. Bandaranaike that she preferred Felix Dias to C.P. for more reasons than one. Mrs. Bandaranaike who always maintained her Radala status did not take kindly to persons of other castes reaching positions of importance.

I remember my relation Mahinda Wijesekera once telling me (when he was a fire brand SLFPer) that Mrs. Bandaranaike who was his leader at the time was envious that a ‘Karawa’ was elected the Basnayake Nilame of the Devundara Maha Devale and asked him, whether he went in the Perehera wearing the ‘Thuppottiya’ the headgear worn by the Kandyan chieftains!

C.P. obviously knew which way the wind was blowing but in his own calm and collected manner continued to serve the people who elected him.

He built two outstanding schools, (besides many others) at Medirigiriya and at Polonnaruwa each standing in an expanse of 100 acres. Both Minneriya Central College and Polonnaruwa Royal College had hostels for both boys and girls apart from fully equipped quarters for the Principal and staff. The Polonnaruwa ‘Royal’ even boasted of a huge hall with a centre stage beneath which was an enclosure to seat a 50-60 member Orchestra. The only other school in the island to boast of such a facility was the Royal College in Colombo 7.

On the eve of the July 1960 election, my friend ‘Uncle’ A. H. told me that he received a telegram from brother C.P. to come to Polonnaruwa immediately. He thought that the elder brother was wanting a lawyer to oversee the legality of the nomination papers.

Little did he realise that he was being summoned to contest the new Polonnaruwa seat in Parliament whilst brother C.P. contested the ‘Minneriya’ constituency.

Uncle A.H’s wife knew that her husband had tendered nominations to contest the General Elections only via the radio and the newspapers! Both brothers won their respective seats.

Uncle A.H. also told me of the story how a strong supporter of C.P., Linton de Zoysa brought a man from the Badulla District and insisted that the man be given nominations. The man was a sarong clad rural and rustic peasant. More to appease Linton, C.P. gave him nominations. And the man won! The person who was most surprised of his victory was the victor himself. He could not believe his ears when the Disapathi Hamuduruwo declared him elected. He promptly took the towel, he always put around his shoulder as most peasants do when embarking on an important mission and spreading his towel on the kachcheri floor, fell prostrate at the feet of the highly embarrassed G.A. and asked ‘Ane Hamuduruwane, Mama Dinumda?’ (My Lord! Have I won? Would be a mear translation). The name of this MP is withheld for sake of decency.

Meanwhile certain sections of the SLFP were sharpening their knives to stab C.P. behind the back. As a prelude to this conspiracy Jaya Pathirana (SLFP — Kurunegala) made a scathing attack on his leader of the house from the floor of the house. A considerable number of SLFP MPs made written representatives to Mrs. Bandaranaike that disciplinary actions should be taken against Jaya Pathirana for before raising any issue from the floor of the house he should have first raised it at the group meeting.

These representations fell on deaf ears.

C.P. had always been opposed to the Marxists. When the Marxists played Pandu at Nuwara Eliya with Anura Bandaranaike and slowly but surely crept into the government, C.P. was very unhappy.

C.P.’s first cousin, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva was himself a member of the coalition government that was formed with the C.P. and LSSP inspite of the famous words of Mrs. ‘B’ who publicly declared ‘Mage Semiya Nomara Meruwe — NM’ (It was N.M. who killed my husband metaphorically).

The last straw was the Press Take Over Bill and C.P. crossed the great devide on the 4th of December 1964 with a large number of MPs to bring down with a crash the government of a stubborn aristocratic lady who boasted that ‘nobody could control her!’

In the 1965 General Elections that followed C.P. threw in his lot with the UNP and when the UNP along with several other smaller parties was victorious, Dudley asked C.P. to be the Prime Minister. C.P. was the leader of the SLFSP. C.P. who had no time to lead a family life was married to his people in the ‘Raja Rata’.

Thus when the party to which he gave succor, his life and blood stabbed him behind the back, it was the UNP and its leader who recognised the services he rendered to the nation in defeating the Press Take Over Bill, mooted by the Maxists.

To end this narrative I shall record an amusing incident that occurred during the 1965 election campaign.

‘C.P.’ was billed to speak at a UNP political meeting and the man in charge of the public address system not being used to C.P’s rather incoherent voice which was the result of his close call with death, thought that the wires were disconnected and yelled to a mate ‘Yako! wire eka galavila’ (Hey, the wire has come off!)


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