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Sunday, 28 September 2014





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Government Gazette

The story of the silent MP

As one watches the mini screen day in and day out, the garrulous bursts of oratory of the present MPs, tinctured with much humour and less information, the silent MP of the 1860s stands out in stark contrast. He had been dead silent for almost the whole of his career as the only Sinhala representative in the Legislative Council.

The sources I read do not reveal the background in which he was chosen for such a singular post for which he proved utterly unsuitable subsequently. Of course he was never dismissed or reprimanded in public other than by the Sinhala press then burgeoning ahead.

Staple food

He made himself into an acolyte of the then British Governor to the extent that he pursued him even on the seas as the latter sailed home after his tenure of office. Plane travel was then unknown and so he had to take the next ship. Perhaps he settled down there or came back laden with a new title in return for keeping his mouth shut at a critical juncture.

This critical phase was triggered by an acute famine that even led to plunder of bags of rice from the boutiques. The turmoil spread to very populated places in Colombo as Malle Vidiya (Malay Street) and Hamban Wella (Moslim area) and Nagalagam Street (Tamil area) where rice bags hoarded by rich mudalalis were ripped by hungry milling crowds. There was much talk of the mayhem in the Legislative Council.

The Governor then was Hercules Robinson who blamed the rice shortage on native laziness in production of the staple food. Gnanartha Pradeepa that saw the printer's light during this period reports the long speech made by the Governor on this topic that degrades "The people living here", specially the laziness which is an impediment to the rice production in the island.

What is relevant to our topic is that "The Silent MP" was completely silent on this wild criticism of the native population. The above newspaper focuses on this silence as well as the issue, Satyamargaya, sprung from Mohittiwatte Gunananda Press.

They go on to focus on the positive attitude of a Tamil MP, Muthu Coomaraswamy who criticised the above declaration of the Governor regarding the natives. It is not the laziness that has caused the rice shortage but the trends involved with the growth of plantation economy and neglect of tanks and bunds constructed in the olden days, he argued.


Satyamarga went on to heap laurels on the latter's speeches and had some interesting remarks on the silent MP comparing him to a ghost who hovered speechless in the Legislative Council. Apparently of Kandyan aristocrat stock, this ghost, ,according to Sathyamarga or the Way of Truth, travelled up and down by train from the upcountry to attend meetings. The writer advised him not to bother travelling and spend State money but recline among the green hills of his hometown.

Gnanartha Pradeepa even became more severe in its indictment. He is called Dehigama Bada (Shortened form of Banda) and is accused of complete ignorance of the ways of living of the low country people. So he can never be reckoned as a true representative of the Sinhalas.

Though the opposition against the silent MP rises high, the governor takes no notice leading Hai Hai hoo, a columnist of Lak Rivi Kirana to do a full length satire on Dehigama Banda that was published on July 3, 1866.


It was published at the tail end of the Governor's period in which the much calamitous rice famine occurred. His departure was not much grieved due to his declarations.

Further there was the declaration he made against the Ceylon League's demand for more popular participation in governance arguing that the island was still immature for such.

Dehigama did not utter a word against this negativism of the Governor, trying to maintain his friendship with him, perhaps for future gain.

Lurking behind all this was the animosity between the higher-ups of the low country and the aristocrats in the upper country. Lakrivikirana reported about a procession in Kandy replete with drum beating and elephants just to honour the Governor, and to give him a IsthuthiPatra (Thanksgiving document).

It is evident that at this time there was a rivalry between the highland chieftains and the low country bosses to court the Governor, Charles Henry Zoysa's banquet in Kollupitiya added fire to fuel. Even an interesting caste battle seems to have gone on, the Goigama caste that included the Kandyan aristocracy against other castes.

The other castes seem to have had a festive season for some time showing off to the Governor that they were the foremost till tables turned somewhere at a juncture pushing the Goigamas ahead.

There was an interesting phase too when the Goigamas (the farmers, the higher strata of whom never stepped into a field) went on 'roasting their status' (Vamse Kabal gaama) silently while castes such as Karawas and Salagamas and Durawas hoarded the dough via new commercial enterprises, as barging into upcountry towns and forging much wanted business avenues. On the economy map of Sri Lanka these castes began to dazzle.


Back to the Legislative Council. Muttu Coomaraswamy apparently a Tamil emerged a hero out of all this but today probably overshadowed by another greater Coomaraswamy is almost forgotten.

As for Dehigama, he too and his lineage seem to have vanished out of the records of history. Did the silent MP do anything for his country to recompense for being chosen as the nominee of the Sinhalas? No. Nothing.except sit in the Kandy - Colombo train and go up and down every other day enjoying the brilliant scenery around and in the Assembly act dumb, for fear it would hurt the imperialists and spoil his future dreams he hatched for himself and his progeny.!

(Main source: Sri Lanka of the 19th Century by Siri Thilakasiri)

LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
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