Appreciation – C. P. De Silva

A Politician Who Wanted To Live A Free Man In A Free Society

Continued from last week

Very soon CP was made the Additional Land Commissioner in charge of land development. That was in 1946. The Soulbury Commission also arrived in Ceylon and among the many places visited by the Commission was Minneriya. In fact Lord Soulbury attended a Minneriya Cooperative Society AGM. He was so impressed in the way the meeting was conducted, that he had said, “if in the backwoods of Ceylon the people could conduct a meeting of this nature in such a democratic manner, who could say the people are not fit for self government”.
On February 4, 1950, he resigned his office and retired to his farm in Puttalam much to the annoyance of his father. One evening, while he was watching paddy being stacked in his farm, CP had a visitor — the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. S.W.R.D’s mission was to persuade CP to enter politics. After much talk, strategist Bandaranaike succeeded in persuading CP not only to contest from Polonnaruwa but also give leadership to his community in Balapitiya. CP was one amongst a few in the SUP that managed to win in the 1952 general election.
But by 1956, C.P.De Silva was not only the leader of a significant Southern vote base but also the undisputed king of the Polonnaruwa District because of his personal affiliation to the farmers despite the towering presence of Dudley leading the UNP. The UNP was late in recognising the importance of CP in politics, both in the NCP and in the South. His thumping victories in the elections for 18 years proved his political worth. When C.P. De Silva as the Minister of Lands, Irrigation and Power presented the Bill in Parliament in 1970 to establish the Mahaweli Development Board, he stated “During that seven year period I lived and worked in the Rajarata, I saw while standing helplessly on the Manampitiya bridge just six miles away from Polonnaruwa, how the poor suffered when the Mahaweli over flowed its banks during the monsoons and suffer again without water to irrigate, drink or bathe during the Yala seasons. I dreamt for hours how to plan the diversion of the Mahaweli waters coming down the awesome Mahaweli river from the wet zone hills to the dry zone….”

It was this dream that resulted in the planning of the great Mahaweli Scheme by C.P.de Silva to be completed in 30 years in three phases commencing 1970. The Mahaweli Diversion scheme was readily supported by UN funding agencies and the UNP government led by Dudley Senanayake who had empathy towards agriculture. But CP was quick to caution the government that “the total estimated expenditure on the Mahaweli scheme at the time 1969/70 was three times the national income of 1968 and therefore all the agencies dealing with this gigantic project must be extremely careful about the expenditure associated with the project”. It was unfortunate that after CP lost in 1970, not much progress was made by the government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike from 1970 to 1977 until J. R. Jayewardene commissioned his young UNP Minister, Gamini Dissanayake to accelerate the Mahaweli diversion scheme. This he did with great efficiency.
To be continued next week.

Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku, Secretary,
Senanayake Foundation

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