Friday, 15 October 2004  
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How C W W Kannangara resisted the Bastions of Reaction

by Rohan L. Jayetilleke

On June 2, 1944 C.W.W. Kannangara, Minister of Education of the Board of Ministers of the State Council moving the 'Free Education Bill 'declared; "Sir, it was the boast of the great Augustus that he found Rome of brick and left it of marble, How much nobler will be the state of the State Council boast when he shall be able to say that we found education dear and left it cheap, that we found it a sealed book and left it an open letter, that we found it the patrimony of the rich and left it the inheritance of the poor" (Hansard 1944 pp 916-46).

Reminiscing on this episode in February 1966, Kannangara said to this writer, (his nephew) " I sat down under a thunderous applause.

The beneficiaries of free education

This was my greatest speech in my career. My erstwhile colleague and a pillar of strength to me A. Ratnayake, Member of Dumbara, passed a note, "Congratulations, Great Speech". M.S. Aney, the Indian Political Agent appointed to represent the Empire of India in Ceylon by the British government of India, who listened to me from the Distinguished visitors' Gallery, came down immediately after the speech to congratulate me. He took both my hands and said; "you would have been worshipped as a god, had you been in India".

This is nothing strange as Indians are born, live and die amongst a pantheon of thirty-three crores of gods (tunsiyakotiyak) and adding Kannangara to the pantheon is nothing difficult, for his services were more salutary than the boons granted by the Indian gods.

In July 1908 Kannangara passed the Proctor's Intermediate examination and two years later (July 1910) he passed his Proctor's Final examination and qualified to practice as lawyer in Ceylon Courts. In 1910 having left Wesley College he came to Galle and commenced his practice as a civil lawyer, staying with my family at Kohobagaha Walawwa, Kaluwella, Galle.

From 1911 to 1920 he was the secretary of Richmond College, Old Boys Union and was a committee member of the Galle Cricket Club and the Galle Gymkhana Club. He was a good Billiard player and along with my father patronized Billiard Table of the Lower Bar of the New Oriental Hotel, Fort Galle, still a landmark. During the week-end my father and he would motor to Nagoda to play at his aunts house, their favourite game 'Ajuta".

While a lawyer, he was the honorary secretary of the Galle Reading Room (next to the old Post Office in Fort, Galle) and in the library Committee and the Galle Poor relief Committee, Vice President of the Sinhalese Young Men's Association and General Secretary of the Temperance Union, Galle. Kannangara's entry to politics was fortuitous. In 1911 for the first time there was an islandwide election to elect an Educated Ceylonese to the reformed Legislative Council.

The vote was restricted to a few English educated Ceylonese. Ponnambalam Ramanathan and H. Marcus Fernando were in the fray. In the Southern Province Kannangara was elected as Honorary Secretary of the committee supporting Ramanathan. Ramanathan was elected. In 1917 elections too Kannangara supported Ramanathan against J.S. Jayawardena.

Kannangara pioneered the first political association in Galle - The Galle National Association in 1917. Then he joined the Ceylon National Congress. The statesman, Christopher Kannangara thus arose. On December 4, 1922 at the age of 38 he married Edith Weerasuriya, daughter of Gate Mudliyar J.C. Weerasuriya of Kandy.

On April 13,1923 O.C. Tillekeratna, of Bentara Walawwa, Bentara, a kinsmen of Kannangara, the member of the legislative Council for Southern Province, met with a fatal train accident at Wellawatte station. Kannangara contested the vacant seat on May 23, 1923 and was elected by a majority of 1854, with Kannangara polling 1969 votes and David de Silva 115. In the September 27,1924 election he defeated Francis de Zoysa by 1867 votes, Kannangara polling 4,177. In the June 13, 1931 elections C.W.W. Kannangara polled 14,009 votes and his rival S.H. Dahanayake 7369 and won by 6,640 votes.

In the 1936 election, Kannangara polled 13,318 votes and beat four rivals and emerged winner by 4,459 votes. He was representing the Southern Province. In 1936 he contested Matugama and won by 4,459 votes.

In the 1947 elections he contested Matugama again and lost to Wilmot A. Perera by 3,614 votes. He was not in the House when Ceylon gained independence in 1948. At the May 26, 1952 elections he recontested Matugama and won by a majority of 7,032. In 1944 he set up 50 Central Colleges, as Minister of Education and it was he who saw to it that second day of Vesak and Poson Day were declared government holidays.

He was the one who saw to it that there was a transfer scheme for teachers and teachers were paid direct on the paysheet and did away with the practice of channelling teachers' salaries through the managers of schools, some of whom misappropriated a quantum and became millionaires through this ruse. Galle had one such manager.

He commenced vocational training and agriculture in schools during the war period. He was vilified by the cartoonist Collette but never cared a brass button for such vilification but carried on regardless his mission in life. He pioneered the setting up of the university and the expansion of technical colleges and Medical College.

If not for Kannangara there would never have been a common man's day through education. This great statesman crossed to the Great Beyond on September 23, 1969. His last public office was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Indonesia. In his last stages he was in penury and subsisted on an honorarium by the government and the financial assistance of his closest of kinsmen.


I would earnestly submit, when in New Delhi I admire the Jawarharlal Nehru University, and feel sorry there is no university named after Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara. I trust that Kelaniya University would be named after him and also the International Cricket Stadium of Galle, be named after C.W.W. Kannangara.

The latter suggestion I humbly direct to the Southern Province Governor Kingsley T. Wickremaratna and the former to the President. UNP never appreciated Dr. Kannangara's services, at least I hope SLFP and its allies would appreciate Kannangara and immortalize his name.

In the 1952 general elections although people of Galle wanted Kannangara to contest Galle and be returned to Parliament, he opted to allow his junior compatriot Wijayananda Dahanayake of the LSSP to contest Galle and wished to present himself to the voters at Matugama, where he was defeated earlier.

This time round he was returned as Member of Parliament for Matugama. Though he held the office of Minister of Education for 26 years the leader of the UNP and the Prime Minister would not give him the portfolio of Minister of Education and relegated him to be the Minister of Local Government.

The post of Minister of Education was assigned to Major E.A. Nugawela, who was only a volunteer officer of the British Army, not even qualified at the Cambridge Junior Examination. Only qualification he had was to be from the caste hierarchy of Kandy and be and old boy of Trinity College, a cadet and a ruggerite. Senanayake knew, had he made Kannangara the Minister of Education, his next move was to take over all schools by the government.

However, Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1970 fulfilled the wishes of Kannangara. In 1956 Kannangara was 70-years old and did not wish to continue a political career. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in March 1963 moved a resolution in Parliament and Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara was granted a lump-sum gratuity of Rs. 10,000, a princely sum then, in view of his services to the country without gathering anything for himself. On November 5, 1965 Parliament again approved an all inclusive pension of Rs. 500 per annum (non-statutory pension awards granted by resolution of Parliament).

On this occasion. S.M. Rasamanickam (Member of Parliament for Paddirippu) supporting the grant of a pension said; "He is one of those statesmen, may I say, who has devoted a good portion of his life to the welfare and well-being of the people of this country." (Hansard 1965 (Volume 63) Column 2,457).

The Education Reforms Bill of 1947 to implement the Free Education system was introduced by Kannangara on January 23, 1947 (An ordinance to amend the Education Ordinance No. 31 of 1939). There was a hue and cry from missionary schools and the bourgeois.

At a meeting of the Old Boys' Association of S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia, in the presence of the old Thomian, then Leader of the House, D.S. Senanayake, the Principal of S. Thomas', Canon de Saram said; "The implications of the new Bill are nowhere early set forth on the proposed Ordinance.

All that is done is that through the amendment powers are sought for the educational authority to lay down regulations by Code.... rules. In other words what is sought now is that the educational authority should be handed a blank cheque to be filled as it likes.

Some of the proposed amendments are very dangerous and if passed will put our very existence in peril." ('Ceylon Daily News' February 1, 1947). All in all, Canon de Saram's objective was not the betterment of the educational system of the country but the existence of so called prestigious fee-levying missionary schools.

The three men who bore the brunt of the campaign for the justification of the 1947 Education Ordinance, referred to by some of the newspapers at the time, were, Dr. E.W. Adikaram, Dr. G.P. Malalasekera and Ananda Meevanapalana., caricatured as 'Curious Trio'.

At the inaugural meeting of the 'Defence Committee' Dr. Adikaram said; "that the two points brought out by the opponents of the Education Bill or the amendment to the Education Code as it was called were that the opponents were in favour of free education but they were opposed to certain provisions in it and that the country could not afford it.

The first argument was a trick and the second a myth.... They were attempting a subterfuge to get the Bill postponed or defeated. Under the new system of government it was the belief of a large section, Mr. D.S. Senanayake would be the Prime Minister. Then he would have the right to select his Ministers and it was generally believed that Mr. Senanayake's choice would not fall on Mr. Kannangara for the Education portfolio.

The free government schools would then be starved of furniture, equipment and teachers and later when those schools become unpopular they would jibe at the architects of free education" (Ceylon Daily News, March 28, 1947).

True to these prophetic words of Dr. E.W. Adikaram, Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara was defeated at the 1947 elections and when he returned to Parliament in 1952, he was not given the portfolio of education and assigned the useless portfolio of local government. These were the machinations of the Old Tie Brigade, State Council Labour Party Member R.E. Jayetilleke referred to.

And ironically, people of such intrigues and subterfuge are now recorded in the history books as 'Fathers of the Nation' and statues raised for them and venerated annually. Dumping the architect (single handedly) of Free Education, Dr. Christopher William Wijekoon Kannangara who crossed to the Great Beyond on September 23rd 1969. May he not attain 'Deathlessness' for Sri Lanka needs his commitment and services to humanity.


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