ALSO HE HOLDS FEW OTHER FIRSTS IN SRI LANKA POLITICS
112TH BIRTH ANNIVERSARY OF DR. N.M. PERERA
In 1956, N.M., as he was affectionately known, had to leave the House under police escort and protection to escape the misguided mobs gathered outside the old Parliament after he vehemently opposed the Sinhala only Bill presented by the SLFP and co-sponsored by the UNP. This visionary along with other leftists who constituted 15 per- cent of the seats in the House made an enduring but futile effort in spite of becoming unpopular, to convince the representatives of the importance of parity status for the two languages.
The 112th birth anniversary of Nanayakkarapathirage Martin Perera falls today. N.M. holds the record as the first local to obtain a PhD and DSc –‘Double Doctor’ in the island. Dr. N.M. Perera was the first Marxist/Trotskyite to enter the State Council along with his party colleague Philip Gunawardena in 1936. He contested the Ruwanwella seat and defeated Adeline Molamure, sitting member and daughter of J.H. Meedeniya Adigar, former member of the Legislative Council. He was also the first Marxist/Trotskyite to take oaths as a Cabinet Minister in 1964. He was privileged to attend St. Joseph’s, St. Thomas’ and Ananda College; the only politician to do so. The Colombo Municipal Council was ruled by the UNP from the inception of the party in 1946, with only a two-year break in 1954, when the LSSP won the local government elections and N.M. accepting the prestigious position as holder of ‘Key to the City’ until 1956.
Sportsman, N.M. captained the Ananda College Cricket team in early twenties—played tennis and was the President of Nondescripts Cricket Club and as the Chairman of the gentlemen’s game, he ran the Ceylon Cricket Association [as the SLC was known then], with a clean record as its President from 1978-80. One great quality in N.M. was that he never mixed his politics with sports or club affairs.
Moved for Sinhala/Tamil parity
N.M. understood that language parity for Sinhala and Tamil was essential for reconciliation and national unity. On October 19, 1955, N.M. moved a motion to the effect that Sinhala and Tamil should be state languages. Speaking on his proposal, N.M. said the ‘Sinhala only’ policy would lead to racial clashes, carnage and division of the country. The three-decade war was the miserable outcome, and it could have been avoided if Tamil Language was also made an official language in 1956.
Criticised the 1978 Constitution-EP and PR
He vehemently criticised the 1978 Constitution stating that the fake attachment of the executive presidency would lead to everlasting conflict between the Executive and Parliament, led by the Prime Minister, and the result would be worse if the two were political opponents.
N.M. saw that the process of globalisation and open economy initiated by the UNP Government in 1977 would lead to increasing misuse of our markets. The UNP under JRJ wanted to reverse the policies of SLFP/LSSP UF Coalition of 1970-77 by cutting the welfare state and burdening the poor people, to facilitate abuse by the wealthy. The hastily rushing of 1978 Constitution through Parliament in an undemocratic fashion prompted N.M. to guide the LSSP’s protest against this autocratic and destructive Constitution, as he predicted that the circumstances of conflict between the Executive and PM would drag the country to disaster. Commenting on the new Proportional Representation [PR] electoral system, he said it would distance the voter from their MP. Dr. N.M. Perera and the LSSP continued to oppose racial, caste, religious, gender and class inequity, and professed the elimination of the Executive Presidency.
Dr. N.M. Perera who was appointed the Head Prefect at Ananda showed leadership traits at a very young age. This charming, charismatic, honest politician was a colossus among our national leaders. At the Colombo University, he played cricket and also took part in drama. From there he proceeded to England and entered the University of London for his Doctorate. His professor was internationally-renowned Harold Laski, who converted him to Marxism. His research for a thesis on the comparative study of the Constitutions of the USA, UK, Germany and France won an award of DSc by the London University. There he joined hands with Indian freedom fighters and socialist leaders. As a true Marxist/ Trotskyite, N.M. Perera, on his return, led the people against the imperialism with comrades Philip Gunawardene, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Gunawardena, Edmund Samarakkody, Pieter Keuneman and Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, with whom he formed the Lanka Samasamaja Party in 1935. N.M. was jailed by the colonial rulers during WWII, along with revolutionary leaders Dr. Colvin R. De Silva, Philip Gunawardena and Edmund Samarakkody. However,Leslie Gunawardena and Vivian Gunawardena, assisted by Robert Gunawardena, broke jail and all of them fled to India. There, N.M. worked as a bank clerk. After they returned to the country, they continued their socialist struggle.
During the economic gloominess in the country, the malaria epidemic spread into plantations in the Seetawaka range. The young LSSPers, led by N.M., rendered yeoman service to the affected workers and peasants in the Yatiyantota, Dehiowita, Ruwanwella and Kegalle areas distributing medicine and dry food to them; the people affectionately called N.M. ‘Parippu Mahattaya.’ He continued his winning streak changing from Ruwanwella to Yatiyantota for forty years in Parliament. He was a man of principles, who did not earn a buck from corrupt practices. He was sincere, honest and with a high degree of integrity. N.M. was an excellent orator. It was a treat to listen to him during budget debates. He belonged to the category of gentlemen of the highest order and great speakers like J.R. Jayawardene, Dudley Senanayake, Chelvanayagam, Bernard Soysa, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.
His discussion and pleasant grin had affable appeal. He was lovable, polite, witty, accomplished and warm-hearted. Dr. N.M. Perera, the vibrant personality, academic, economist and man of the people, passed away on August 14, 1979.