A popular thinking among the SLFP supporters in particular was that the second leader of the SLFP was Sirimavo Bandaranaike but the party history indicates it was C.P.de Silva. The article below discusses this issue extensively to prove that it was in fact the latter.
After the assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in September 1959, the SLFP continued to suffer from time to time, from self-inflicted political wounds.
The SLFP was established by SWRD in 1951 as an alternative to the UNP. He felt that he could not aspire to become the leader of the UNP and subsequently the Prime Minister, despite many credentials he had, due to the competing interests of personalities close to D.S.Senanayake and the UNP.
At the 1952 general elections, the newly-formed SLFP emerged as a formidable party with 8 seats in Parliament. SWRD, timing the next election in 1956 cleverly targeted the newly-independent Sinhala Buddhist majority. He urged the Sinhala elitist and the left-oriented Sinhala Buddhist majority to form a SLFP/MEP government in order for the Sinhala majority to regain its rightful place in the body politic of Ceylon.
World history has proved to Sri Lankans 50 years later, that overriding on the back of race and religion in a multi-ethnic society, would drag the nation down by the same number of years spent under foreign domination. Thankfully, we have today the two leaders from the SLFP and the UNP genuinely striving with the twin objectives of bringing all races together and preventing the two major parties from competing with each other, at least during the next 5 years of this government.
However, if the SLFP under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena, is to work with the UNP and lead the process of reconciliation and give the due place to all irrespective of politics, race and religion, the SLFP should study the history of its own party. It must at least recognize who its own Party leaders were, first. If not, the black marks of the SLFP’s past would remain. Future generations would judge the Party’s inability to rise above petty politics, ethnicity and religion.
The SLFP celebrated its 65th anniversary in Kurunegala recently under the leadership of a new party leader President Maithripala Sirisena. The occasion was celebrated in grand style obviously to ward off the challenge mounted by the defeated leader Mahinda Rajapakse and his acolytes. It was an occasion to rekindle the romanticism surrounding the SLFP’s Bandaranaike image and the hand symbol. Soon thereafter, the SLFP commemorated the life and times of the 3rd leader of the SLFP Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who died on October 10, 2000.
At both events -- despite the new leadership outside of family politics -- the deliberate act of ignoring the memory of SLFP’s second leader C P was nauseating. History recalls that he was persuaded by S W R D to enter politics from premature retirement to face the first election after the SLFP was born in 1952. He contested
C P soon became the trusted second in command to SWRD. Silently he worked for the famous 1956 victory of the SLFP -- considered as the victory of the common man. ‘Ape Banda’ was sworn in as the Prime Minister. C P retained Polonnaruwa easily with 10,072 to UNP’s G. L. Kotalawala 3,948 and was made the Land and Land Development Minister and Leader of the House. Soon SWRD faced strike after strike orchestrated by the left who had grand designs of entering government through the back door. He was called by various unkind names by the leftists and other vested interests. C P stood by SWRD and once in his absence broke the Port strike by calling the Army and challenged the strikers with serious consequences. When the famous Cabinet strike took place in 1959 against MEP coalition partner Minister Philip Gunawardena, the latter resigned from the Cabinet with P.H. William de Silva (Minister of Industries and Fisheries). SWRD appointed C P to take over Philip’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Before long, SWRD’s enemies from within the SLFP, led by Buddarakkitha Thera and Minister Wimala Wijewardena succeeded in physically eliminating SWRD in September 1959 for not heeding the many demands of those who bank- rolled him to power. The conspiracy plotted by his enemies within the SLFP was not to assassinate him but poison him, during a Cabinet meeting on August 25, 1956, based on a famous horoscope reader who predicted that the next leader of the SLFP would be a woman. Unfortunately, the poisoned glass of milk was pushed towards C.P. by SWRD who sat next to him in Cabinet. Soon after, C P collapsed unconscious in a toilet. He was airlifted to England from Ratmalana Airport for treatment in a semi conscious state. Unashamed and unbowed and exactly one month later, on September 25, 1959, SWRD was shot by a gunman named ‘Somarama’ draped in robes. When SWRD passed away on September 26, CP was being treated in London and could not return to take oaths as the PM.
At the time of the assassination, Stanley de Zoysa (Minister of Finance) was in Washington. D. A. Rajapakse was acting Minister holding C P’s portfolio. The day after SWRD died, Sir Oliver Goonetillake appointed Dr.Wijayananda Dahanayake as the Prime Minister.
Another view expressed elsewhere was that SWRD was due to go to the US late September. Since his trusted second in command was being treated in a hospital in London for poisoning, he did not trust anybody, and hence, had requested Sir Oliver to appoint nondescript Dr. W. Dahanayake to act for him while he was in the US. But Sir Oliver used that request to appoint Dr. Dahanayake as PM when SWRD was assassinated.
The CP held the party together at a very difficult time. Even Sirimavo Banadaranaike who was appointed patron of the party, was not in a frame of mind to play any role in politics. Even D. A. Rajapaksa, father of former President Mahinda, who was a Deputy Minister in the SWRD cabinet, left the SLFP and joined the MEP, led by Philip Gunawardena.
On his return, having escaped death narrowly, C P was appointed Minister of Home Affairs from which he soon resigned. Nevertheless, he was retained in Cabinet and as Leader of the House. When some Ministers started revolting against the PM, they were summarily dismissed. Premier Dahanayake escaped a no confidence vote in Parliament by one vote. News spread that he was aligning with the UNP for his political survival. A speech made at the Tamil Union Cricket Club grounds where he said that Dudley Senanayake would be the next PM, was quoted extensively by his detractors. Dr. Dahanayake formed a new Party and named it ‘Lanka Prajathanthravaadi Paksaya’ (LPP). Some insultingly referred to it as the Lanka Pisthola Party and Lanka Pissange Pakshaya. Finally, he advised the Governor General to dissolve parliament after a mere 6 months in power. An election was scheduled
for March 1960.
C P enjoyed widespread support in Parliament with the LSSP and Communist Party and even the Tamil parties expressing support in writing. However, for the second time, he had missed the opportunity of becoming the PM. Sir Oliver on March 25, 1960 called upon Dudley Senanayake to form the government. C. P. became the Leader of the Opposition. Sir Oliver faced an avalanche of criticism for not appointing C P de Silva as PM because of his caste and not permit a stable government at a difficult time for the country. As expected, the UNP lost the Throne speech vote and Parliament was dissolved with another election announced for July 1960.
Being a honourable man never craving for power, C P voluntarily offered his resignation from the Leadership of the SLFP to pressure Sirimavo Bandaranaike to take over the leadership of the SLFP. The SLFP had a resounding victory with 75 seats and the UNP 30 in a Parliament of 151 members. She took oaths as the world’s first Woman Prime Minister on July 21, 1960. C P was re appointed to the same Ministries he held before and was also re-elected Leader of the House.
With such overwhelming evidence to prove that C P was the leader of the SLFP after SWRD and led the Party at the 1960 March general elections, its downright dishonest to deny the fact that C P was in fact the second leader of the party. CP’s high academic qualifications with Maths (Honours), being one of the country’s youngest civil servants and a politician who sacrificed his personal life for the peasant farmers in inhospitable geographical locations from the 1930s to 1950s, would have added value to the SLFP. Already, the people of Polonnaruwa had recognized him as ‘Minneriya Deiyo’.