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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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)