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Jeevan sets a record as Lanka’s youngest-ever Cabinet Minister

28 January 2023 02:30 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Jeevan Thondaman accepting his portfolio from President Ranil Wickremesinghe


The CWC contested the August 2020 elections on the SLPP list. The 5’9 tall Jeevan with features resembling South Indian actor Siddharth became hugely popular with voters

Though young in years, Jeevan was bold enough to request a Cabinet Minister post in the Rajapaksa Govt of 2020

In a TV interview, Jeevan pointed out that the allocation for the Water Supply Ministry was 73 Billion Rupees whereas the allocation for Estate Infrastructure was only Rs. 5 billion 


D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and Nuwara-Eliya district MP Jeevan Kumaravel Thondaman, was inducted as Cabinet Minister into the Government headed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe last week.   He was sworn in as the Minister in charge of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development by the President on January 19, 2023.  Known popularly as Jeevan, the new Cabinet Minister is from the fourth generation of the Thondaman family that has played an immensely important role in the political and trade union spheres of Sri Lanka for eight decades.  


In becoming a Cabinet Minister Jeevan set a record of his own.   

Jeevan Thondaman born on November 9, 1994, is the youngest Cabinet Minister Sri Lanka has had. Earlier that record was held by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. himself. In an ironic turn of events, Ranil has helped Jeevan break his own record now.   

Ranil, born on 24 March 1949 was 29 years and 5 months old when he was appointed as Cabinet Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment by the then President J.R. Jayewardene in September 1978.   

Jeevan was 28 years and two months old when he was sworn in as Cabinet Minister by President Wickremesinghe.   

Incidentally, several news reports have stated erroneously that Ranil was appointed a Cabinet Minister in 1977.   
Ranil who entered Parliament first in July 1977 as MP for Biyagama and served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs before he became Cabinet Minister.   

When the United National Party (UNP) swept the polls in 1977 J.R. Jayewardene became Prime Minister and appointed Ranil first as a Deputy Minister.   

Ranil was made Cabinet Minister in the reshuffle after the 1978 Constitution was adopted in September 1978. J.R. was then the President.  

Jeevan Thondaman, who first became an MP in August 2020 functioned as the State Minister of Estate Housing and Community Infrastructure in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government.  

Interestingly Jeevan’s great-grandfather Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman and Ranil Wickremesinghe became Cabinet Ministers together on the same day, 7 September 1978.   

S. Thondaman served as Minister of Rural Industrial Development in the JR government.  
Thonda as he was widely known, had been elected to Parliament from the CWC as the third MP for the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya three-member constituency.  

The record for youngest Cabinet Minister before Ranil was held by Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike.   

Felix born on November 5, 1930, entered Parliament in 1960 as MP for Dompe winning both the March and July elections.   

When Sirima Bandaranaike became Prime Minister in July 1960, she appointed the nephew as Minister of Finance and Parliamentary Secretary to the Defence and External Affairs Ministry.   

Felix was 29 years and 8 months old when he became the youngest Cabinet Minister.  

There is also a “Personal Touch” of sorts in the relationship between President Wickremesinghe and his youngest Cabinet Minister Jeevan. When Ranil was Prime Minister from 1993-94 under President DB Wijetunge, Jeevan’s great-grandfather Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman was a member of that Cabinet.   

Later when Ranil was Premier from 2001-2004 under President Chandrika Kumaratunge, Jeevan’s father Arumugan Thondaman was a Cabinet Minister holding powerful portfolios in that Cabinet.   

Now, Jeevan Thondaman has become a Cabinet Minister in President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government.


Thondaman family role
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s links to generations of Thondamans are indicative of the important role the Thondman family has played and continues to play in the political affairs of Sri Lanka in general and the Malaiyahath Thamizhar (Hill Country Tamils) in particular.   

The Plantation patriarch Saumiyamoorthy (Spelled as Savumimoorthy and Saumyamurthy also) Thondaman was for several decades the undisputed leader of the CWC, which is the largest Trade Union cum political party representing the estate workers/ up country Tamils of Sri Lanka.   

He has been both an elected and appointed member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister for many years. His son Ramanathan Thondaman was elected to the Central Provincial Council and served as a Provincial Minister.   
Saumiyamoorthy’s grandson and Ramanathan’s son Arumugan Thondaman was also prominent political leader.   
He was elected to Parliament from the Nuwara -Eliya District continuously from 1994 to 2020. In addition to being the CWC leader, Arumugan has been a Cabinet Minister for many years.  

Arumugan’s only son Jeevan Thondaman, who was elected an MP after his father’s demise in 2020 is currently a Cabinet Minister in the Wickremesinghe Government. He is also the CWC General-Secretary. Arumugan’s nephew (Sister’s son) Senthil Thondaman is also in politics and was a Minister in the Uva Provincial Council. He is currently the CWC President.

Thus the cousins both of them great-grandsons of S. Thondaman are leading the CWC currently.

Rajalakshmi and Arumugan Thondaman have three children. The eldest two daughters Kothai Nachiar and Vijayalakshmi are medical doctors. Both are married with children.   

The youngest, Jeevan, was born on November 9, 1994. After kindergarten and Grade One at the Gateway Primary School in Colombo, Jeevan joined the Lady Andal Venkata Subba Rao School in Chennai, Tamil Nadu in grade two.   

After studying up to grade 12 in the Chennai school, Jeevan went to the Chinmaya International Residential School in Coimbatore for a year.   

Thereafter he enrolled for an LLB Degree at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. He graduated with a Law Degree in 2017 and interned in a lawyer’s office in London with the intention of sitting for his bar at law exams later.   

Jeevan’s ambition was to become a lawyer. ‘Appa’ Arumugan had wanted the son to enter active politics and contest elections but Jeevan had steadfastly refused to do so.  


109,155 preference votes
Life changed drastically for Jeevan when his father Arumugan passed away suddenly due to a heart attack in May 2020.   

The party, trade union, family members and friends wanted him to contest elections in Nuwara Eliya District as a substitute for his father.   

Jeevan adhered to their wishes. In June, Jeevan was elected unanimously as CWC General Secretary.   
The CWC contested the August 2020 elections on the SLPP list. The 5’9 tall Jeevan with features resembling South Indian actor Siddharth became hugely popular with voters.   

He topped the preferences with 109,155 votes.  
Young Jeevan’s entry and rapid rise in politics as MP, State Minister and Cabinet Minister are very much due to his family background. However, his elevation as Cabinet Minister became a reality only after a few twists and turns.   
As stated earlier the CWC was aligned with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the 2020 elections. It won only two seats in the hustings. Jeevan however became a State Minister.  

When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his SLPP-led Govt became extremely unpopular in 2022, the CWC pulled out of the Govt and sat independently in the Opposition.   

It did not join the grouping of ex-SLPP allies led by the Weerawansa-Gammanpila-Nanayakkara trio.   
The CWC hitched itself to the Ranil Wickremesinghe star after he was appointed Prime Minister in May 2022. The CWC also firmly backed Ranil in the July 2022 Presidential elections in parliament  and has stood by him loyally ever since.  


Delay due to two factors
Still, Jeevan had to wait for five months to become Cabinet Minister. This delay was due to two factors. One was the Opposition within Govt ranks to the appointment. The other was Jeevan’s insistence on acquiring the Water Supply Ministry as a Cabinet Minister.  

Though young in years, Jeevan was bold enough to request a Cabinet Minister post in the Rajapaksa Govt of 2020.   

He said there would be no member of the Malaiyahaththamizhar/ Indian Tamil community in the Govt if he was not appointed.   

It was turned down because the first time MP was too young and inexperienced to be a Cabinet Minister.  
After quitting the Rajapaksa Government and teaming up with Ranil Wickremesinghe, Jeevan requested that he be made a Cabinet Minister.   

Ranil was willing to appoint him as Estate Infrastructure Minister. This is a Ministry that has been long coveted and held by Hill country Tamil MPs for many decades. But Jeevan wanted a ‘National’ Ministry encompassing the entire Island.   

He eyed the Water Supply Ministry. Many senior political leaders like Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dinesh Gunawardena, Rauff Hakeem, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Keheliya Rambukwella had been in charge of the portfolio at different times.  

Jeevan seeking the Water Supply Ministry was strongly opposed by sections of the Government.  Fellow Nuwara Eliya MP and senior politician C.B. Rathnayake were against the move. So too was Keheliya Rambukwella, who was Water Supply Minister in addition to being Health Minister.   

Some even raised the ever-familiar communal cry stating a national resource like water should not be left in the hands of a Tamil.  


Politics of brinkmanship
President Wickremesinghe advised Jeevan to take the Estate Infrastructure portfolio and be sworn in as Cabinet Minister.   

The Water Supply Ministry could be given in a future cabinet reshuffle. But Jeevan was adamant that if he were to be a member of the Wickremesinghe Government it would only be as the Cabinet Minister of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure.   

In this Jeevan displayed the boldness that the Thondamans are famous for. Both Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman and Arumugan Thondaman have adopted at times the politics of brinkmanship successfully in the past.  

As the weeks and then months dragged on without any ministerial appointment, there were many supporters and well-wishers who asked Jeevan to reconsider his stance and opt for the Estate Infrastructure Ministry alone.   

Jeevan did not budge and stood firm. Finally, President Wickremesinghe asserted himself and appointed Jeevan as Cabinet Minister in charge of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development.   

A helpful factor in this regard is the rapport between Ranil and Jeevan. The latter has genuine admiration and respect for the former. Furthermore, the possibility of Local Government elections being held soon also may have helped expedite matters. After several years the UNP and CWC are electoral allies once again.  


Down-to-earth openness
A remarkable feature of Jeevan Thondaman’s political style is his frankly forthright down to earth openness.   
This comes as a breeze of fresh air in the musty corridors of the political establishment. Jeevan was never secretive about his quest to become a Cabinet Minister in charge of water supply.   

He has stated so openly on public platforms and lamented the fact that the appointment was being delayed.  
In media interviews given before and after the Ministerial appointment, Jeevan Thondaman has explained clearly what motivated him into seeking the Water Supply Ministry in the cabinet. 

The Malaiyahaththamizhar/Hill country Tamil community is among the weaker sections of Sri Lankan society due to historical reasons.   

Though it has made commendable progress in recent years, it has a long way to go yet. Furthermore, the current economic crisis has made the low-income groups in this community extremely vulnerable. As such the community needs a presence and voice in the upper echelons of power and the decision-making process. 

Since the CWC is the only and largest Up Country Tamil party in the present Government, Jeevan Thondaman wants to be that presence and voice in the cabinet.  


Water Supply Ministry
Jeevan’s rationale for seeking the Water Supply Ministry was this.   

He wanted a Ministry that could be of service to the entire Sri Lankan nation instead of catering to the parochial needs of his particular community alone.   

According to Jeevan, only 64% of Sri Lankans have “access to clean drinking water” now. His goal is to provide that access to all within the next few years.   

He says there are several projects in the pipeline to achieve this. There is the availability of international aid for 30 schemes and he wants to streamline and accelerate them.   

A key priority would be to provide clean drinking water to all schools. Jeevan also wants to expedite the implementation of the ongoing de-salination project in the North.  

What Jeevan seems to be aiming at is to serve all of Sri Lanka on a national basis. In that process, his own hill country Tamil people will benefit along with the Sinhala, North-Eastern Tamils, Muslims and other ethnicities. 
At the same time, he is concerned about the particular needs of the Upcountry Tamils too. He hopes to improve their lot further through the estate infrastructure development ministry also with particular emphasis on the India-funded housing scheme for the estate sector.  

In a TV interview, Jeevan pointed out that the allocation for the Water Supply Ministry was 73 Billion Rupees whereas the allocation for Estate Infrastructure was only Rs. 5 billion. Therefore what is necessary is to think nationally and enter the national mainstream instead of being confined to the ghettoised mindset of line rooms.   


Younger generation
The younger generation of estate Tamils being better educated than their parents aspires to a better life outside the plantations. Jeevan being a young man himself represents that generation perfectly.   

Congratulations and best wishes to Jeevan Thondaman, the youngest-ever Cabinet Minister of Sri Lanka.  

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at [email protected]  

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