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C. P. de Silva,advocate of a ‘free society’

Today, October 09, 2008, falls the 36th death anniversary of a true gentleman and ‘Man of the Era’ (Yuga Purusha), C. P. de Silva.

He was born on the April 16, 1912, at Randombe in Balapitiya in the Galle District to the very famous and respectable family of C. R. de Silva, a famous lawyer, originally from Ahungalla, but who resided in Randombe after his marriage to Mrs. Adlin de Silva, a founder of Musaeus College, Colombo.

Charles Percival de Silva was the eldest in a family of four boys and two girls. He obtained his primary education at Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda and moved to St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, where he shone as a brilliant student. He won the prestigious Gregory Scholarship and subsequently the Miller Award for brilliance in mathematics and science.

After graduating with a BSc, Special Degree in Mathematics (first Class) from the University College, he proceeded to London University to continue his higher studies. He returned to the island in 1935 and entered the Civil Service under the British administration as one of the youngest Civil Servants in the history of Civil Service of the country and commenced his career in Jaffna as a Cadet. He was the Asst. Govt. Agent in Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Polonnruwa and finally at Kalutara for a short time.

He served as the Asst. Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture under Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake prior to being transferred as A. G. A. Anuradhapura. He served as Asst. Land Commissioner in 1945. In 1949 he was a elevated to the position of Director of Land Development, when Dudley Senanayake was the Minister of Agriculture.

While working in the jungles of Polonnaruwa, he lived at a Rest House overlooking the Giritale tank. There was no electricity and as a result, the basic comforts politicians and government servants enjoy today were unknown to him. He had to walk miles and miles into the jungle supervising the labour he brought down to clear the jungles and build irrigation canals. So much so that the people of Polonnaruwa District even today saY that C. P. de Silva knew each farmer by name, each significant tree by its location, which way the irrigation waters should flow, which part of the jungle should be cleared for paddy cultivation and who should be settled there.

C. P. de Silva was elected Member of Parliament for the Minneriya constituency in 1952 in his first attempt. He was re-elected to the constituency in the 1956 general election and became the Minister of Lands, Land Development and Agriculture in the Cabinet of ministers of the Government of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and was also appointed Leader of the House. Further he was considered Bandaranaike’s able lieutenant. On many occasions he acted for the Prime Minister. He was not a man for publicity. He worked hard, worked tirelessly. He spent most of his time with the people in Polonnaruwa, Minneriya or Medirigiriya.

He mysteriously fell ill during a Cabinet meeting on August 25, 1959 and had to be flown to England for treatment. Exactly one month after this incident S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated on September 26, 1959. C. P. de Silva was still in the United Kingdom. That was how then Member for Galle, W. Dahanayake, in the absence of C. P. de Silva, was called on by the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetillake to form a government. Destiny had it that C. P. de Silva was not available to be sworn in as the Prime Minister when Bandaranaike was assassinated. It was fate that stabbed C. P. de Silva on this occasion.

He on hearing of the death of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, though not fully recovered, immediately emplaned for the island. He was met at the airport by W. Dahanayake who conducted him out of the airport personally and proceeded to get him sworn in as a minister immediately after he paid his obeisance to the dead leader at Horagolla.

After being a minister in the Cabinet of ministers of the Dahanayake government, he was sacked from the ministerial post by W. Dahanayake as was done to some others in their sleep.

Wijayananda Dahanayake did not stay in his post for long. He dissolved Parliament and called for a general election which was fixed for March 19, 1960. However C. P. de Silva led the tottering Sri Lanka Freedom Party in the general election and gained 46 seats as opposed to 50 seats gained by the United National Party led by Dudley Senanayake. The life span of this minority government was only 33 days. He advised the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call for a general election in July 1960.

C. P. de Silva proceeded to the Queen’s House and met the Governor General and made representations to the effect that without holding a general election, C. P. de Silva should be invited to form a government as he had the majority of members in the House of Representatives. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke did not heed it. If the Governor General responded to C. P. de Silva positively, no doubt he would have succeeded Dudley Senanayake. Actually, that is how it should have been, had the constitution been followed.

The reason he was not given the chance, was perhaps because Sir Oliver Goonetilleke was the Minister of Home Affairs in the government of D. S. Senanayake, where Dudley Senanayake was the Minister of lands and Agriculture. He responded positively to the Prime Minister’s advice and dissolved Parliament. Fate thus stabbed C. P. de Silva once again in his back.

C. P. de Silva then proceeded to the residence of Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike at Rosmead Place and requested her to lead the Party in the forthcoming general election. She responded negatively, insisting she would devote her time to the children who had lost their father.

However C. P. de Silva with some loyal personalities managed to persuade her and led the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in the general election and handed over the leadership magnanimously to Mrs. Bandaranaike, with a no-contest pact with the leftist parties which did not facilitate the SLFP headed by C. P. de Silva.

The able lieutenant of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, C. P. de Silva, spearheaded the campaign that brought an inexperienced lady to power as the world’s first woman prime minister. Mrs. Bandaranaike was appointed to the senate and she became the Prime Minister. That was how she became the Prime Minister. If she opted to seek election to the House of Representatives she could have easily romped home , but not without being brushed by Missily Silva, the widow of David Silva of Beruwala who was reported to have been killed by police in the 1958 riots.

Mrs. Bandaranaike reigned from ‘upstairs’ (Senate). Felix Dias Bandaranaike who represented the Dompe seat became the lieutenant of Mrs. Bandaranaike who preferred Felix Dias Bandaranaike to CP de Silva. He obviously knew where the wind was blowing but in his own calm and collected manner continued to serve the people who elected him.

C. P. de Silva was an honest gentleman- politician. He never amassed wealth through politics. He did not acquire land or a paddy field for himself anywhere in the country. His only aim and ambition was to serve the people he represented in Parliament. A brilliant scholar cum administrator, whatever C. P. de Silva did, he did systematically and according to a plan.

The gigantic Mahaveli project was given birth by C. P. de Silva. He constructed the Polonnaruwa Royal College on the lines of Colombo’s Royal College. One has to see the school, the grounds, the hostel, the staff quarters etc. to believe that there is a Royal College in Polonnaruwa. In fact, C. P. de Silva took greatest interest to improve the standard of education in the Polonnaruwa District, although he was the Minister of Lands. Many are unaware that he was responsible in improving Mahanama College, Colombo. He acquired the land adjoining the Walukarama Temple to build this school. C. P. de Silva was a person who acted according to his conscience.

In 1964 when the Press Bill was introduced in Parliament to take over Lake House, he vehemently opposed it and crossed over to the opposition, leaving behind all the power and position he enjoyed in order to live ‘a free man in a fee society’. Those words still drive honest politicians on the path to a true democracy.

Even today, after 36 years, this great leader is remembered with gratitude by the people of Sri Lanka and particularly by the people of Polonnaruwa, Minneriya, Medirigiriya, Anuradhapura, Kantale and Udawalawe.

He counted 17 years as a hard working, honest, dedicated government servant and 18 years as a gentleman- politician. What he has done for the people of Rajarata needs several more paragraphs to explain. Name of C. P. de Silva will go down the annals of history as a great and honest statesman.

He breathed his last on the October 09, 1972 leaving behind his people with great sorrow and the Polonnaruwa District with a void. Undoubtedly, his demise is an irreparable loss to the country. His last wish had been that his ashes be mixed with the soil in Minneriya paddy fields, which wish was carried out.


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