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K. W. Devanayagam - the gentle politician

by Supun Perera

Amidst the eager expectancy of everlasting peace to our beloved motherland and just a few days prior to the dawn of another Christmas; the gentle, suave sportsman, gentleman politician, former Minister of Justice Kanapathipillai William (BILL) Devanayagam made his quiet exit from this earthly scene leaving behind not only his remarkable trail of political and sporting prowess but thousands of near and dear ones in silent tear on the day of 17th December 2002; he may have surely heard the call from his creator in heaven while relaxing at his residence. It's death that many a person dream of but becomes the preserve of only the best.

Born on 26th of March 1908; besides excelling in studies at St. Joseph's Bill Devanayagam displayed his skills in the field of sports of representing cricket, soccer, tennis and athletics. He captained Josephian cricket in 1930 and marshalled his men to a memorable victory over Royal College whilst losing to St. Thomas' by one run! His contemporarians are worthy of mention. They showed sports simply had the essence and the ingredients to make you a better person for the future.

Derrick De Saram, Koo De Saram, 'Sargo' Jayawickrema of Royal and Hon. Dudley Senanayake (The former Prime Minister), Robert Seananayake of St. Thomas' were his opponents on the cricket field. But later became closest of companions in the field of politics.

Political career

On leaving St. Joseph's after a successful academic career; he brought to bear his knowledge & skill imbibed in the legal profession which really proved another successful "stepping stone" for his future. At Law College too; besides pursuing legal aspects & jurisdictions he took time off for his passion, cricket & many other sports.

As a young and a handsome lawyer 'Bill' Devanayagam returned to his native town Kalkudah; a salubrious tropical town in the eastern part of the island and practised as a lawyer for more than three decades. At this conjuncture; he conceived an idea towards the field of politics since the intention would have certainly been to serve the people & general public with a much more purposeful and an enriched manner.

In the year of 1947; he contested the Kalkudah electorate as an independent candidate. But was defeated. It was conspicuous that his ways & means of his perception in politics would have tallied with the concept of United National Party and contested the Kalkudah electorate on UNP ticket and was returned with a majority of 470 votes in March 1965.

Then came the general elections in May 1970; Bill Devanayagam retained his seat with a majority of 2785 votes against his rival Mr. P. Manickavasagam of the Federal Party. In 1977 too; he was re-elected to the Parliament and was made the Minister of Justice in 1979 by the late President J. R. Jayewardene.

After becoming the Minister of Justice he cleared the Aegean stables of the Ministry of Justice and later appointed as the Minister of Home Affairs in February 1980. As the Minister of Home Affairs he successfully manifested his administrative drive and resurrected the administration of the then 24 districts in the island.

Incidentally the Home Ministry was the co-ordinating centre for development work of all the other ministers.

Public service

He was also a member of the special committee that drafted the 1978 constitution. The invaluable service, commitment and dynamism of 'Bill' Devanayagam towards the Development of Agriculture-oriented projects is still spoken about.

This particular interest has paved the way for him to be a member of the Central Board of Agriculture. In addition, he was also a leading co-operator and was president of the Batticaloa co-operative district and multi purpose union and the vice president of the All Ceylon Co-operative Federation.

Just before the conclusion, it may be a great influence and an example for the young and energetic politicians and those who wish to embark on politics on a future date since "Bill" Devanayagam and those noble politicians of yesteryear no matter whatever the race, colour or party they belonged to rendered a yeoman service to their beloved motherland.

And we bid farewell to a man who was a sportsman, politician and about all a gentleman; once who moved with the highest and lowest with consumer base exercising integrity, commitment, modesty and determination as his vertex.

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