Monday, April 16, 2012

'Minneriya Deviyo' - Born 100 years ago today - CP de Silva – he could have been the Prime Minister – born 16th April 1912

He was a Civil Servant, who was also a GA for Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa being junior to my Grand Father (CBP Perera who was a specialist in land development) and was a later an MP for Polonnaruwa from 1952 through to 1970. He was Minister of Land development, then Agriculture, Lands, Irrigation and Power from 1956 through to 1970(at which time he was my grandfather’s boss when he was CPs permanent secretary till he retired in 1963) under both an SLFP and later under Dudley Senanayake’s 1965 to 1970 UNP government, and deputy prime minister as well. It is said that when SWRD Bandaranayake was assassinated, CP should have been the automatic choice for Prime Minister, but owing to fate as noted in an article I extracted from the net, it fell to Mrs Sirimavo! How the fate of the nation could have changed had that happened:

“The senior leader of ability and stature in the SLFP was Charles Percival de Silva (C.P. de Silva). Born in 1912, CP as he was known was an old Thomian and an ex-civil servant. He retired early as a Government Agent and entered Parliament in 1952.CP was Minister of Lands, Irrigation and Power in the Cabinet and also Leader of the House. He was widely regarded as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s able deputy and potential successor.

However, CP was taken ill after a Cabinet meeting on 25 August 1959. He had drunk a glass of milk in the boardroom where the Cabinet met. It was suspected that the glass contained some vegetable-derived poisonous substance. The intended victim was supposed to be the Prime Minister himself. CP’s condition proved so critical that he had to go to London for medical treatment. It was in this manner that fate played a trick on CP.

While CP was yet in London, his Prime Minister too was scheduled to go abroad in late September. S.W.R.D. was to go to Britain and the USA. Prior to his departure, S.W.R.D. made arrangements for Education Minister Wijayananda Dahanayake to be sworn in as Acting Premier to be in charge during his absence from the country. Had CP been in Colombo, he and not Dahanayake would have been acting for Bandaranaike.”

The 100th Birth of Charles Percival de Silva falls today. He died on 9th October 1972. He was born to a prominant Balapitiya family. His sister the first female pediatrician, Dr Stella de Silva died days ago and whose funeral was yesterday.

It is sad that only MrKHJ Wijedasa who worked under him in the Civil Service is the only person who has remembered this date and contributed all the articles that have been written about him in all the Sunday publications and the internet. Such is the fate of the good! and

I recommend that an interested student of Rajarata history read this article, as it gives a perspective of the impeccable character of the man, someone we rarely find today. I quote from the first two paragraphs to give the reader a flavor as to why HE MUST read this article to better understand some of Sri Lanka’s understated heroes, so we can encourage future generations to emulate such persons.

Men of great distinction and high calibre such as Charles Percival de Silva are rarely born. Such men live in the hearts of the people long after their demise. Popularly and fondly remembered as C.P. he dominated the administrative, social and political life of Sri Lanka in the mid 20th century.

C.P. was an eminent civil servant, gentleman politician and above all, a lover of humanity. His sincere dedication and selfless service to the people of Rajarata in general and the people of Polonnaruwa in particular is indeed legendary. Even today people of Polonnaruwa fondly refer to him as “our Minneriya Deviyo”.

I believe it is important that young people who live in settlements he created know who originated this, what he did for them, how he lived amongst them, and how he really believed in his mission, infused with the original concept of regaining our agricultural heritage that DS Senanayake began as Minister of Agriculture in 1935 and CP a young Civil Servant sent to Polonnaruwa then to help follow it through.

Apart from the family connection, I stayed in CP’s bungalow over 12 years ago on many occasions in Minneriya when we were helping the forces to retain people in their homes, when they were terrorized by the LTTE to abandon their land and flee, to thereby extending the land under LTTE control.

In addition as my two properties in Ratmale, Minneriya and Raja Ela, Hingurakgoda are directly related to what he did for the area, as well as the Clock Tower roundabout, where I have historical connections with all 4 statesmen, Sir John as a friend of my other grandfather appointed him Director of Information and later an Ambassador and DS and Dudley who were known to us, completes my claim to a part of Minneriya history both past and present day.

This man who had two chances to become Prime Minister but did not, is worthy of more attention to historians than he has currently been given. Due partly to the fact that he devoted his life to the people of Rajarata with whom he developed an immense empathy, there is little written about him, as he did not marry and have children who were able to document all the events of his life, as all the stories and anecdotes would have been with the people with whom he lived, who never thought of penning his life, in that they felt he would live forever. He lost the election of 1970 in the Sirima landslide by 1000 votes for the Minneriya electorate.

1 comment:

TheCitizen said...

Serendipity has done justice to this great man whom I admire immensely as a man of principles and good judgment. However, Serendipity has missed one important point about CP: That is, he got a first class honours in Mathematics from the University of Ceylon and if he had chosen a university career instead of being a civil servant and politicians, we would have produced a mathematician in the calibre of famous Ramanujam in India and Oxford.
Recently I read that it was CP who persuaded his younger sister Stella to enter the University and do a Medical Degree paving way for her to become a specialist in paediatrics when it was the vogue in Ceylon that women should not go for further education to university because it spoilt them as good wives.
That is the progressive man in CP even in early 1950s.