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Nimal Siripala de Silva:

A politician dedicated to the cause of his party

The political odyssey of Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva spans over three decades and he has gained a reputation as a politician who has scarified his political career for the public well-being and his party. The thirty-year political journey of Minister De Silva is clear testimony to define him as a politician who always practises gentlemanly politics and fosters friendship and goodwill among Government and Opposition parliamentarians. The most characteristic feature of his political career is that he always remained faithful to his party and its Leader.


Nimal Siripala de Silva with President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Minister De Silva entered active politics in 1983 by contesting the 1983 Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) election and was subsequently appointed the Leader of the Opposition of the CMC on May 18, 1983. As the CMC Opposition leader he always raised his voice on behalf of the masses and highlighted the burning community issues of housing, health and sanitation. This paved the way for him to gain popularity among the masses as a politician who could be relied upon to place the wants and needs of the public above personal gains.

As a popular students activist, Minister De Silva worked closely with the SLFP and its Leader late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike since 1965. During his school days at Nalanda College, he had gained a reputation as a born orator who won accolades at many debating competitions held in the Colombo district and brought fame to his school.

His oratorical skills afforded him the opportunity to address the first SLFP rally at Town Hall, Colombo in support of Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1965 election by representing the students.

Though he had initially aspired to be an engineer, De Silva decided to follow a different path heeding the advice of his teachers who were convinced that he had the potential to be a successful lawyer considering his oratorical and social skills. Thus he entered the Sri Lanka Law College in 1967.

Having entered Law College, De Silva together with his contemporaries such as Dr. Jayatissa de Costa, Upali Samaraweera, Saddhatissa Wadigamangawa (who was elected to Parliament later) and Morris Rajapakse (who later became the Chief Minister of the Western Province) formed the SLFP Law Students’ Association and became its President.

He also functioned as the President of the Buddhist Brotherhood and Secretary of Sinhala Students’ Union of Law College. As a young lawyer who practised at Hulftsdorp, Minister De Silva together with his colleagues launched a successful campaign against the then UNP regime at all by-elections from 1967 to 1970. As a well-known youth representative, De Silva addressed most of the SLFP rallies and platforms around the country.


At a meeting with the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, as the National Organiser of Tri-Sinhala Students' Association. Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake is also in
the picture.

He was also a member of the Sinhala Tharuna Sanvidhanaya, a leading Sinhala Youth Organisation in Sri Lanka. He become the National Organiser of the Tri-Sinhala Students Association which led many successful campaigns to safeguard the students’ rights. De Silva featured prominently in a campaign that condemned the vicious practice of ragging in the universities and was instrumental in bringing about reforms to safeguard the rights of students entering universities. He also pioneered the District Quota System for university entrance to bring relief to the students coming from rural and underdeveloped districts. He was a member of the Central Committee of the All Ceylon Buddhist Students’ Federation which eventually led him to be elected as its Vice President.

This was a glowing tribute to his popularity among the student community. De Silva who launched an active campaign against ragging and discrimination of the new entrants to the Law College was instrumental in introducing a welcome ceremony, chanting “Seth Pirith” and other religious observances to the freshers.

In recognition of his untiring efforts to improve the lot of the students the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike nominated him to represent Sri Lanka at the International Conference on Employment and Vocational Training in an Expanding Society held in Tokyo, Japan in 1970. De Silva had a distinguished career as a law student gaining first class honour at the first year examination and passed out as a lawyer taking his oaths before Justice T. Thamotharan on January 13, 1971. A notable feature at his ceremony was that he deviated from the norms of the western tradition and was attired in the national dress.

In 1975, he proceeded to the United Kingdom to further his education in International Law. He passed out as a solicitor and practised for a while in London where he sharpened his skills and acquired the eloquence demanded of an Attorney. While in the United Kingdom he continued to engage in political and social activities reforming the UK branch of the SLFP and functioning as its President. After his stint in the UK, he returned to Sri Lanka to realize his cherished ambition from his younger days.


On the day of enrolment as a lawyer

De Silva recommenced his legal practice, but having cut his teeth in politics initially in 1969-1970 SLFP campaign under the watchful eye of political heavyweights such as Seevali Ratwatte and U.K. Edmond continued to show an active interest in politics. His dedication to the party had been much appreciated by the party hierarchy, especially Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike who held him in high esteem as a close family friend. Minister De Silva had to face numerous challenges due to the conspiracy hatched by the then UNP Government to deprive the civic rights of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. He was involved in the campaign against the conspiracy hatched by the then President J.R. Jayawardene who appointed a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to legitimise this reprehensible act. De Silva along with eminent lawyers such as H.L. De Silva, E.D. Wickremanayaka, V.W. Kularatna, Gomin Dayasiri, C. Thiagalingam, D.S. Wijesinghe, R.K.W. Gunasekara, Nimal Senanayake and Arthur Samarasekara represented Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the SLFP. However, madam Bandaranaike’s civic rights were deprived. He was also in the forefront of the agitation launched by the SLFP against this plot.

Madam Bandaranaike impressed him to enter active politics and decided him for the mayorship of Colombo in 1983 Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) election. However he became the Opposition Leader of the CMC. That gave him the opportunity to engage in politics at grass roots level. He was appointed the SLFP organiser for Borella electorate in 1983. He contested the 1989 election along with stalwarts like C.V.Goonerate, Kinsgley T. Wickremaratne, Halim Ishak, Stanley Thilakaratne, M.H. Mohamed and Ranasinghe Premadasa. The 1989 General Election was a watershed in the life of De Silva as he was elected to Parliament polling over 35,000 votes from the Colombo district. As a young Parliamentarian he had raised the most number of questions in Parliament and has moved the maximum number of adjournment motions.

He ended his six years in the Opposition after 1994 General Election and was re-elected from Colombo district by polling 111,730 votes. He was later appointed Housing and Public Utilities Minister by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Minister De Silva had appeared on behalf of the oppressed people who were thrown out from their jobs and politically victimized by the then UNP Government. He had appeared in a number of prominent cases including the one in which Vijaya Kumaratunga was accused of launching a Naxalite conspiracy to overthrow then UNP Government.

He appeared for Ossie Abeygunasekera and a number of party supporters for their alleged involvement in the fraudulent ration cards episode in 1982. As a result De Silva was taken to the infamous 4th floor of the CID where he established his case with his legal acumen and walked away unscathed. Immediately after the 1982 Presidential Election, De Silva’s services were sought to fight the court battle for Hector Kobbekaduwa who challenged the election results.

He did a commendable job appearing for Kobbekaduwa free of charge. However, Kobbekaduwa paid his professional fee by a cheque which he never encashed and has preserved as a souvenir to date. He was also a member of the legal team that filed a number of election petitions against the alleged rigging of by-elections in Mahara, Mulkirigala, Beliatta, Akmeemana and Hakmana. He took the lead in various opposition campaigns such as “Pada Yathras” which were launched against the social injustices and violation of the fundamental rights of the people at that time.

He was also responsible for bringing Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunga back to the party.

A group of SLFP stalwarts along with De Silva who met at Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana’s house had invited her to join the party. Thereafter the SLFP-led alliance achieved a landslide victory by bringing Kumaranatunga into power at the 1994 Presidential Election. Minister De Silva has held several ministerial portfolios such as Housing, Construction and Public Utilities, Post and Telecommunications, Social Services, Healthcare, Nutrition and Uva-Wellassa Development and Irrigation and water Management. He was appointed by then President to be in charge of the rebuilding process of Jaffna. On his twelth visit to Jaffna, a LTTE suicide cadre exploded a bomb targeting him.

It killed Commander of the Security Forces in Jaffna General Hamangoda and 29 others. Minister De Silva who was seated beside Hamangoda was seriously injured and taken to Dr. Richard Haved in the United Kingdom for specialized neuro-surgical care. However the sheer courage and determination saved his life.

Minister De Silva brought fame to Sri Lanka as the first Asian President of the World Health Assembly and Chairman of the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation. He has also served as the Vice President of the World Health Organisation and Chairman of the Coordinating Committee on Health which comprised World Bank, UNICEF and all powerful agencies working in the area of health. Today he firmly stays with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and fully supported him to come to power in 2005. He always believed that he should strengthen the party and its leadership. He doesn’t believe in any crossovers for any personnel gains. President Mahinda Rajapaksa also appointed him as the Leader of the House of Parliament. He had also the opportunity of becoming Senior Vice President of the party. That he once obtained more than 90,000 votes and later 145000 votes at the last General election is clear indication that the people of Badulla have reposed implicit faith in him.

Since he had started his political career from the Colombo Municipal Council, his contemporaries including the present Mayor and the members of the CMC have organised a ceremony to felicitate him on May 17. SLFP organisor for Borella MP Thilanga Sumathipala along with old party supporters of the Minister had organised another felicitation ceremony at Campell Park, Borella. His Media Secretary Janaka Jayasinghe has compiled a collection of his speeches, “Mathisabaye Ranahanda” during his first five years as an Opposition Member of Parliament titled. The first copy of the book was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 09. It will be launched at the main felicitation ceremony to be held at BMICH, Colombo on May 20 at 3.30 pm under the patronage of Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. Both the Government and the Opposition Parliamentarians, friends and well-wishers will participate in this ceremony. The voters and supporters of the Badulla district have organised religious ceremony on June 01 to be attended by 550 Buddhist monks, one Buddhist monk from each temple in the Badulla district. A big rally will be held at Badulla on June 02 under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to mark his advent in politics.

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