|Sunday, 25 December 2005|
D. A. Rajapaksa Memorial Oration delivered by Sam Wijesinghe :
People and State Power
We are all gathered here today to recollect and reflect on the life of Mr. D. A. Rajapaksa who died on the 7th of November 1967. This is an annual expression of abiding gratitude to an outstanding gentleman of noble qualities.
It was the good fortune of the people of Ruhuna that he was there to succeed his elder brother, D. M. Rajapaksa, who represented the people of the Hambantota District in the Second State Council of Ceylon from the 7th of March 1936 till his untimely death on the 18th of May 1945.
On his death in the morning of that Friday there descended a gloom over the Ruhuna region. The Leader of the State Council, Hon. D. S. Senanayake, in moving a vote of condolence said that, "From the day, D. M. left Wesley College, during the First World War (1914-1918), he made the backwood people of Ruhuna his own cause.
He devoted his whole life to them with courage, independence and straightforward dedication." The Member for Dumbara, Mr. A. Ratnayake, followed the Leader's speech and mentioned that in the previous night, whilst having dinner in the House premises, D. M. was relating to the few Members around him of his sufferings of the poor peasants of Ruhuna whose cause he had championed throughout his life. Ratnayake "felt that D. M. would be born again to resume his earthly mission." Ratnayake was a lifelong friend from his Mahabodhi College days during D. M.'s stay at Wesley.
The vacancy for the Hambantota seat had to be filled. The mourning people there looked for a successor from the same family. D. M.'s eldest son, Lakshman was barely 21 years of age, the 2nd son, George was still a student at Royal College.
The only one to turn to was D.M.'s younger brother, D. A. Rajapaksa. He was a dedicated supporter of D. M.'s political life, but a most unwilling Rajapaksa to get involved in politics. D.A. had to be motivated, induced and persuaded to the ultimate conviction that it was his bounden duty, by his brother and his family and the peasants of Ruhuna, to follow in his revered brother's steps.
Finally it was with great difficulty that he was literally lured to the Hambantota Kachcheri to submit his nomination for the by-election. On the 14th of July 1945, he was duly declared elected uncontested in place of his brother's vacancy.
I want to divert a little to mention something about the Hambantota District - the home of the Rajapaksa family.
At the time when D.M.'s father decided to send his three sons to Richmond College, Galle, a few years before the war broke out in 1914, Hambantota was divided into three "pattus" - Giruwa Pattu West, Giruwa Pattu East and Magam Pattu.
The home of the Rajapaksa's was in Buddhiyagama, a village near Weeraketiya in Giruwa Pattu West where the Mudaliyar was Harry Jayawardene of Kataluwa, Galle. H. E. Amarasekere, Mudaliyar of Giruwa Pattu East, was also from a place outside Hambantota, and the 3rd Mudaliyar, B. H. Doole was a descendant of the Malays of long ancestry settled down in Hambantota Town.
There were four large irrigation works in the District, namely Kirini ganga, the left bank scheme of which could irrigate over 6,000 acres at Tissa and Magama, the Walawe ganga right bank scheme which could irrigate over 5,000 acres in East Giruwa Pattu and the Kirama and the Urubokka schemes in West Giruwa Pattu. Besides, there were around 4,000 small village tanks being restored by using village labour.
The chief cultivation was paddy, producing almost a million bushels per year, along with kurakkan, corn, meneri, sweet potatoes and chillies. The principal industry was the distillation of citronella oil largely in West Giruwa Pattu with over 200 distilleries. The other industries were making coconut oil in chekkus, manufacture of furniture, brass and lacquer works.
It is from this rural deep South that D. M. was sent to Richmond by his father, Vidana Arachi (akin to a Korale Mahatmaya in the Kandyan Kingdom) of Buddiyagama. D.A. once told me that Mudaliyar Jayawardene had asked his father whether he did not love his sons, in that he imprisoned them in the school hostel. He had replied that he imprisoned them in school only because he loved them.
At Richmond D.M. turned out to be a moderate student, but a good cricketer. He had played in the college team and in the year when he was due to be elected captain (a practice at Richmond), a very liberally spending team-mate from an affluent family, resorted to extensive treating and unheard of bribery. Needless to say, the poor boy who was rich in high principles lost the much coveted captaincy.
The English Principal of Richmond in his unostentatious way arranged with Richmond's sister school in Colombo. Wesley College, for D.M. to be accepted as a scholar. Thence began D.M.'s career at Wesley, which was well-known for cricket, but better known for the greater opportunities that Wesley provided for the development of a student's inborn aptitudes rather than the mere study of books.
He met on the playing fields, boys from the then established schools like Royal, S. Thomas', Ananda, Zahira, St. Joseph's, St. Benedict's and Trinity.
He attended meetings at the YMCA and YMBA and enjoyed public meetings at the Town Hall and the Colombo Masonic Lodge where he heard the famous speech of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam on the 2nd April 1917 when he made his memorable speech on "Our Political Needs" to the Ceylon National Association of which D. R. Wijewardene of Lake House fame was the organizing secretary.
Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was a reputed Hindu who concluded one of his addresses to the Ceylon National Congress with the exhortation, "May the beautiful Chant of Universal Love, the
Karaniya Metta Sutta be realised".
Sabba satta bhavantu sukhi tatta
Sukhino va khemino hontu
(Let all living beings be joyous and safe
May it be theirs to dwell in happiness)
Ceylon National Congress
This was a decade of high political activity, the era in which the efforts of Ponnambalam Arunachalam to unite the Ceylon National Association, the Ceylon Reform League, the Chilaw Association and the Jaffna Youth Association led to their combining together and making a united bid for Reforms.
The result was the birth of the Ceylon National Congress in 1918, which unanimously elected Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam as its first President. He was a man of outstanding ability, erudite scholarship and dedicated to public service.
He was the first Ceylonese to succeed in the newly introduced examination for entry into the Civil Service in England in 1874. He had a brilliant career in Cambridge University as a scholar from Ceylon. 1918 was a year when the Ceylonese be they Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or Burghers looked upto Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam and his elder brother, Ramanathan, as truly representing the culture and aspirations of the Ceylonese people.
I will now briefly trace the history of the Government set up under British control, leading up to its development to the Reformed Legislative Council of 1920.
After the British East India Company came into possession in 1796 of the Dutch possessions in Ceyon, they were authorised by the British Government to recoup their expenses in that exercise - a sum of 20,000 pounds as reckoned at that time.
The Company Officials were not successful and the British Government took over those possessions as a Crown Colony in 1798. The first Governor sent from London was the Hon. Frederick North (afterwards the Earl of Guildford), the third son of a one time Prime Minister Lord North. The complete legislative power was left in the hands of the Governor, who was to form a Council of five persons to consult before passing any legislation, so that it might be understood that the laws were passed by the Governor in Council.
After the entire country went under the British in 1815 following the Kandyan Convention, the newly acquired provinces also came under the Governor's jurisdiction. The first English Agent in Kandy was John O'Doyly, the reputed Sinhala scholar. The Colebrook-Cameron Commission was sent to Ceylon in 1828 and t hey made their recommendations for a Legislative Council of 15 Members.
It provided for six Unofficial Members to be appointed by the Governor, three of whom were to represent the Non-Official European community in the Colony and one each to represent the Sinhalese, Tamil and Burgher communities respectively.
This composition of the Legislative Council remained till 1912, except that in 1889 two more Unofficial Members were appointed to represent the Kandyan and the Muslims respectively.
Meanwhile, the Colony which was divided into five provinces for purposes of Government in 1833, had the five provinces increased to nine by 1889 with the creation of the new North Central, the North Western, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces. These were British creations purely for their administrative convenience and not for any ethnic or religious or such other basis.
In 1912, due to the agitation of a number of people who had got well educated and of people who had advanced in plantations and trade, meagre reforms were made by introducing the elective principle in the form of changing the appointment of four of the Unofficial Members - two for the British interests, one for the Burgher and one for the "Educated Ceylonese" interests - This was as peculiar notion to election by educated Ceylonese to enable both educated Tamils and educated Sinhalese to elect one Member, needless to say by an electorate limited by stipulated education and property ownership qualifications.
Reformed Legislative Council
The Reformed Legislative Council of 1920 did not have provisions for a seat for the Tamils in the Western Province, something that was tacitly promised as a condition for the Jaffna Youth Association to join the National Congress. The elections under the new Constitution resulted in Sinhalese and Tamil Members being elected as follows:-
1. Western Province (Division A) - Mr. W. M. Rajapaksa
2. Western Province (Division B) - Mr. E. W. Perera
3. The Town of Colombo - Sir James Peiris
4. The Central Province - Sir A. C. G. Wijekoon
5. The Northern Province - Sir W. Duraiswamy
6. The Southern Province - Mr. O. C. Tillekeratne
7. The Eastern Province - Mr. E. R. Tambimuttu
8. The North Western Province - Mr. C. E. Corea
9. The North Central Province - Mr. E. R. Krishnaratne
10. Province of uva - Sir D. H. Kotalawala
11. Province of Sabaragamuwa - Rev. W. E. Boteju
12. Low-Country Products Association - Sir H. L. de Mel
But there was no seat for a Tamil in the Western Province. The seat that could have been given to a Tamil in the Western Province was the seat for the Town of Colombo for which Sir James Peiris appeared, and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam was not considered.
The newly created seat for the Low-Country Products Association, with an electorate of eleven voters, went on to elect H. L. De Mel unopposed, the brother-in-law of James Peiris, who appears to have entered National politics for the first time. Sir James Peiris was a brilliant student from Cambridge University, the first elected Ceylonese President of the Cambridge Union and the first Vice President of the Legislative Council of Ceylon in 1925.
Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the architect of the 1920 Reforms, the brain behind the creation of the Ceylon National Congress, became a sad disappointed man. The Tamils were made to feel that they had no recognition in the Western Province, which had become the home to thousands of them.
Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam resigned the Presidency of the Ceylon National Congress. Lesser men took over, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam then went to India on a pilgrimage. In the midst of his devotions at Madurai in South India, after a brief illness he passed away on the 9th of January 1924, leaving behind him memories of an illustrious life, well spent in the service of his country and its people.
This was the Colombo that D. M. Rajapaksa left behind to return to his remote village home to start a lifetime of dedicated service. He went round the region on a voyage of discovery and found great suffering, which he felt it was his mission to alleviate.
He got interested in politics and took part in the first public election for a member for the newly created Hambantota District seat in the Reformed Legislative Council of 1924. V. S. de S. Wickramanayake, a resident Proctor in Tangalle was contested by a Barrister living in Colombo, he was Mr. G. K. W. Perera, University Scholar in 1904 from Ananda College with B. A; and LL.B. Degree from Cambridge University, U. K. He was one time the President of the Ceylon National Congress. D. M. took a hand in the elections and supported the known resident of the area rather than the prestigious outsider from Colombo.
The election was won by the local Proctor. The story goes that G. K. W. was first declared the winner by a very small majority, but he challenged the count stating that he should have won by much more and demanded a recount. At the recount, some of the discarded votes as 'spoilt' were admitted as 'unspoilt'. The resultant final decision declared V. S. de S, the winner by 17 votes.
D. M. had developed his own novel methods of electioneering. He used the local music with trained singers and dancers in troupes and organised competitions to make Sinhala versed (Kavi Maduwas). These became the novel techniques of winning friends and influencing people. His increasing popularity was cause for concern amongst the powerful and the privileged.
It was around this time that the Assistant Government Agent at Hambantota, whilst on what was then called 'being on circuit' in the Middeniya area, received a complaint from a man of the village, Singho Appu by name, that D. M. had threatened to shoot him with a gun.
The A. G. A. the first Ceylonese member of the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service to be appointed to the Hambantota District directed a police headman to produce D. M. before him. When D. M. was duly produced, the AGA whilst still on circuit in Middeniya, acted in his other capacity as Police Magistrate, Tangalle, and stated that as all the parties were present, he thought it desirable to try the case at once.
He recorded the complaint of Singho Appu and appearing to have assumed jurisdiction as magistrate, framed the charge upon which he tried and convicted the accused, D. M. Rajapaksa. The Supreme Court heard this case in appeal.
It came up before Justice T. F. Garvin, K. C., who found it quite clear that in effect the accused had been tried by the very person at whose instance he was prosecuted. The Supreme Court further found it hardly necessary to observe that if confidence in the administration of justice is to be preserved, even the semblance of unfairness to which procedure of this nature gives rise, should be avoided. The proceedings were set aside on the 28th of November 1928 (NLR-Vol. XXX, p.348).
Soon thereafter came the fresh elections in 1931 after the grant of adult franchise and the creation of the State Council under the Donoughmore Constitution. Elections were planned for fifty territorial seats for constituencies in the country. Hambantota District was one of the seven electorates of the Southern Province.
The Hambantota election was held on the 13th June 1931 with only two candidates. V. S. de S. Wikramanayake of Tangalle won with a poll of 15,384 votes and the retired Mudaliyar, H. Jayawardene of the W. G. P., obtained only 4,467 votes thus yielding place to the Proctor a 10,917 majority. D. M. who supported the Proctor assisted his own relation and friend, Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe of Aturaliya for the adjoining Morawaka seat, which he won. It was during the Morawaka elections in 1931 that D. M. and Dr. S. A. came to our home in Getamanna to discuss elections with my father. It was then, as a 9 year old boy, I first set eyes on these two public men.
Dr. S. A
Dr. S. A. won the Morawaka seat, a constituency in the Matara District to which our Getamanna village was attached from the Hambantota District, probably because it was shown on the map as jutting out from the Hambantota District as its most western placed village. Incidentally, Dr. S.A. was one of three doctors who was retrenched during the depression at that time. The other two were Dr. M. C. M. Kaleel and Dr. M. V. P. Peiris who later was a consultant surgeon at Colombo. They both also took to politics later and were Ministers in UNP Governments.
D. M., now feeling confident to enter national politics contested the sitting member in 1936, along with Mr. L. G. Poulier, a practising Proctor, a long resident of Tangalle. D. M. won with 17,046 votes beating also the sitting member, V. S. de S. Wikramanayake to third place.
His kinsman, David Wanigasekera was re-elected for Weligama, but Dr. S. A. lost Morawaka to Mr. R. C. Kannangara, a newcomer to National Politics, who was a superintendent of a Tea Estate in Deniyaya. On his death, a few years later, Dr. S.A. was returned at the by-election for Morawaka.
The new State Council of 1936 met on the 17th of March and proceeded to elect the Speaker. The old stalwarts of the Ceylon National Congress felt bound to honour.
Mr. Francis de Zoysa, K. C. with the Speakership and the certainty of a knighthood and proposed his name, but the new enthusiastic intellects of the rising generation led by Philip Gunawardena, Dr. N. M. Perera and D. M. Rajapaksa, fresh from the hustings, having defeated the sitting aristocrats in the form of Forester Obeyesekere and Mrs. Adeline Molamure from feudal Ruwanwella and the veteran Wickramanayake of Hambantota were determined to oppose the old stalwarts.
At the first ballot for the Speaker, Mr. C. Batuwantudawe, who was the Minister for Local Administration and the brother-in-low of Sir D. B. Jayathileke, was eliminated with 14 votes. At the second ballot, the remaining two candidates, namely Mr. Francis de Zoysa and Mr. W. Duraiswamy tied with 29 votes each.
At the resultant third ballot, Mr. Duraiswamy got 30 votes as against Mr. Francis de Zoysa's ballot of 28 votes. The secret of the manoeuvre, which gave the extra vote for victory was recealed by Dr. N.M. in Parliament, when N.M. made his moving speech on the death of Sir Waitialingam Duraiswamy in 1966.
He said that the one vote victory was due to the persuasion of Philip Gunawardena, the member for Avissawella. In fact, it was a little more than mere mental persuasion that was made on the member for Nuwara Eliya, Mr. E. W. Abeygunasekera.
After D.M. got into the State Council, I, as a school boy used to go to the Council meeting with some friends, got passes from him and watched proceedings in the house. It was an exciting revelation to us young lads to watch these gentlemen in debate. Then the war came and by that time, D.M.'s son, George Rajapaksa was a student at Royal College and boarded at the Maha Mudaliyar's house-'Maligawa', directly opposite Royal College.
At that time, I believe, his elder son, Lakshman was at Wesley. In 1944, when George captained Royal, I was watching the Royal-Thomian cricket match played that year at the old SSC grounds seated along with D.M. I was a student member of the SSC at that time.
Whilst watching the match, George was bowled out by Sam Elapata for a very small score and for the second time in the match. D.M. with a slight smile mentioned how Sam Elapata's father, who was later a Rate Mahatmaya of Atakalan Korale in Ratnapura, got him out also twice in the Wesley vs St. Thomas' match during the Martial law days of the great war.
D.M. was in an expansive mood and I asked him about his school days. He said they were exciting times with Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam leading us, how his speeches attracted big crowed and he laboured to from the Ceylon National Congress.
Then he said that it was sad the way our people let him down, in not giving him a place in the Reformed Legislative Council of 1920. That was the beginning of our present ethnic troubles, he thought. It was around this tie that he had seriously reflected on politics and went back to the village to take part in public life and to seek pastures new, but he found them withered.
After D.M's death in May 1945 and the entry of his brother, D. A. into politics, I took George, who had just passed the entrance examination, to the University hostel (Brodie), which was then at Ward Place. He completed his first exam in 1946 and started on Law studies and remained with me at Brodie.
D. A. as a new Member of the State Council used to come to the hostel to see his nephew. On one occasion, I was reading from Nehru's book "Discovery of India", when he dropped in, I left the book aside and was talking to him. He casually mentioned that his wife was expecting another baby. I told him" - "Uncle, that will be a son of the Member of the State Council".
But he said that he already had a son and a daughter and then I humorously suggested to him that they were born before he entered Parliament, but this one will be the son of the Parliamentarian. Then I showed him the page of Nehru's book, which I was reading when he came in and read out' - "Emperor Ashoka's messengers and ambassadors went to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, etc. conveying his greetings and Buddha's message.
They went to Central Asia and Burma and Siam and he sent his own son and daughter, Mahendra and Sangamitta to Ceylon in the South". I asked him rhetorically - "Why don't you call him - Mahendra?" Several months after, when he met me, he said, "I gave that name".
Member of Parliament
Now I want to get back to D.A.'s life as a Member of Parliament after the historic election of 1947 when the era of Independence began.
He was one of the earliest members who took up residence at the newly created hostel for Members of Parliamentary at Sravasti - the impressive mansion of the late Dr. W. A. de Silva, Member of the State Council for Moratuwa from 1931 till his death in 1942.
Continued next week
Produced by Lake House