48th Death Anniversary of C. P. de Silva
C.P. de Silva belongs to the yesteryear’s old guard of great politicians of Sri Lanka. His 48th Death Anniversary falls on October 9. He did a lot to develop agriculture and irrigation thereby setting free the the poor farmer in the dry zone of North Central. The main part of this obligation fell on DS Senanayake who devoted himself to develop the abandoned water resources in the dry zone. DS was assisted in this Malaria-infested Polonnaruwa, by North Central Government Agent C. L. Wickremesinghe, R. L. Brohier and C. P. de Silva, the young civil servant, who was the Assistant Government Agent.
CP along with 13 other Parliamentarians, crossed over to the then opposition in December 1964. The controversial proposal by Sirimavo’s government to take-over the Lake House News Papers created a similar situation like the Gazetting of 20 A. Did CP, the Thomian contemporary of Dudley Senanayake, actually cross-over and voted against Sirimavo’s authoritarianism or totalitarianism in 1964? If that was the reason he could have opposed the idea of the Press Bill in his usual gentlemanly manner at the cabinet or at party level of which he was the second in command. The truth is that CP, who was somewhat disgruntled over obvious discriminatory treatment by PM Sirimavo and her feudal inner-circle over the caste factor. She even left out brilliant economist Ronnie de Mel from her Cabinet for the same reason. Finally, CP became a victim of a crafty conspiracy by two men, who used him as ‘cat’s paw’ and dealt deviously in achieving their desires, where he agreed to secretly play the role of Judas until the morning of the vote in parliament.
We are inherited with two caste systems, for Sinhalese and for the Tamils; they both having origins in India, though mild and humanitarian compared to Indian standards. Sinhala caste system is a feature of a feudal society. It divided people as per ‘Descent and Blood’ or according to the inborn roles and functions. Marriage bars persevere, as do other social prohibitions. Caste-based discrimination peaked during mid-20th century and applied to politics up to the latter part of it.
The Govigama ‘supremacy’ and selectiveness existed even during Dutch domination of coastal belt. The feudal Govigama elite of the early Legislative Council days is said to have sponsored Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan for the coveted post of “Educated Ceylonese Seat” in December 1911, to defeat Dr. Marcus Fernando, a non-Govi caste candidate. The Karawa/Salagama-Govi rivalry began in early 19th century. SWRD from the Low-Country Govigama aristocrats of Obeyesekere-Bandaranaike clans, married Sirimavo Ratwatte, from an up country govigama aristocrat family. She was the great granddaughter of William Ellawala, who was the Kandyan Sinhalese member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon [1870s] and Rate Mahatmaya, Ratnapura.
"C. P. de Silva, Leader of the House, and number two in the SLFP was a man trusted most by SWRD and he acted as Prime Minister on many an occasion and was billed to be PM after SWRD’s death"
Caste jostling for prestige had deep roots. From the mid-19th century Karāva and Salāgama personnel challenged the orthodox claims to superior ceremonial status attached to the Govigama. The caste factor has been comparatively irrelevant in politics of the recent past. Apart from caste conflicts there had been intra-class conflicts among Goyigamas as well. In the nomination of Sinhalese Representative for LC from 1839 to 1911, [72 Yrs] except for one member, all the rest were from ‘first class Govigama’ land-owning families.
“This continuing policy of making the Sinhalese seat a monopoly of one Govigama Mudaliyar family naturally led to resentment”. --Kumari J. 2007 :PP 323/5.
This destructive practice continued in the post-independence era under UNP and SLFP governments up to the 1970s. CP was virtually the Prime Minister in the Lower House of Parliament as Ms. Bandaranaike was in the Upper House or Senate [1960-64]; their healthy relationship continued for four years until the Marxist LSSP/CP joined SLFP forming a coalition in 1964, to the discontent of CP, Stanley, Dhaha and other right wing ministers. The political predators of the day, realizing his predicament, preyed on him, and convinced the man to back-stab Sirimavo at a No-confidence motion toppling her democratically-elected government in December 1964, eight months ahead of scheduled end to her term.
C. P. de Silva, Leader of the House, and number two in the SLFP was a man trusted most by SWRD and he acted as Prime Minister on many an occasion. He was billed to be the Prime Minister after the death of SWRD Bandaranaike, but was barred from doing so, as he was hospitalized in the UK for poisoning. The feudal order of the SLFP would have been happy that he was dying having taken ‘a glass of milk’, a month before SWRD was shot. SWRD who did everything to oust the cast hegemony of the UNP promoted men like CP, Mahanama Samaraweera, Karunaratne in SLFP. This unhealthy practice continued in the post-independence UNP rule up to mid-1950s, but comparatively less with Bandaranaike governments. In spite of the fact that both the Bandaranaikes and Ratwattes belonged to ‘first class Goyigama land-owning Mudaliyar families’; “…in a cabinet of 14, in each case, the Senanayakes had only one so-called depressed caste compared to four in Bandaranaikes”--Family and Caste in Politics of Sinhalese 1947-71- J Jiggins: Doctorate thesis-1973- pp 133/34.
Winning Minneriya in 1952 to enter parliament, CP was re-elected in 1956 and was appointed as Minister of Lands, Land Development and Agriculture in the Cabinet of Bandaranaike. He became Minister of Power and Irrigation in 1960 in Sirima Bandaranaike’s government. In 1964, after he crossed over, a new party was formed which entered in to an alliance with UNP and won the general elections in 1965. CP was appointed Minister of Lands, Irrigation and Power. C.P. de Silva was a man of high principles and had the ability to be the Head of State though not charismatic.
A conspiracy was hatched by JR Jayawardene-Esmond Wickremesinghe, who started negotiating with CP de Silva and a few other ‘low caste’ government members to vote against the press bill. “My ambition is to live as a free man among a free people.” –CP. JR used the opportunity. CP the Mathematician, son of an eminent lawyer, Minneri deiyo to his people in Rajarata, was demeaned to the status of an obedient faithful by the masters who even refused to allow him a speech explaining his reasons after he crossed the floor, but gave a short written script drafted by one Cooray to be read instead, which included the above statement, “My ambition is to live as a free man among a free people.”
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