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Dr. N. M. Perera: A true visionary

Today marks the 28th death anniversary of Dr. N.M. Perera:

COLOMBO: Nanayakkarapathirage Martin Perera, better known as N. M. Perera (June 6 1905 - August 14 1979) was one of the founding leaders of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). He was the first Trotskyist to become a cabinet minister.

Perera started his schooling in the vernacular section of St. Joseph’s School, Grandpass and was later admitted to the English section. From there he was sent for one year to a Branch School of St Thomas’ College, then known as Cathedral Boys School, Mutwal.

In 1919 he entered St Thomas’ proper at Mt. Lavinia. He left in 1922 and joined Ananda College. At Ananda he played cricket for the school.

He entered the Ceylon University College in 1925 and got through the inter Arts in 1926 and he switched on to inter Economics in 1927 and then left for the UK on 10.08.1927 to join the London School of Economics.

There he was a student of the legendary Professor Harold Laski, and awarded a PhD for his thesis on the Constitution of the German Weimar Republic.

A further comparative study, of the Constitutions of the UK, USA, France and Germany, won him a DSc from the University of London. At the time Dr. N. M. Perera was the only person from Ceylon to hold the degree of Doctor of Science.

N.M confessed that he really became a socialist after he met Laski. He said, “He was the man who made a difference to my life; the first man to create an interest in socialism in me.”

“This thin, small built man with the encyclopedic brain, had a rare gift- he was one of the few who could write as well as he could speak, and the stimulation of Laski was incredible.

“Apart from his lectures, there were the Sunday tea-time discussions at his home, with his favourite students on various subjects, not necessarily, politics alone.” It was at the LSE that he also met for the first time Krishna Menon.

Inspired by Laski’s socialist theories, N.M. joined the India League to ask for Home Rule for India and Ceylon.

The work done by N.M as a member of the Suriya-Mal Movement in the Kegalle district during the Malaria Epidemic of 1934 and during the subsequent floods gained for him the support of the poor and caste-oppressed people of the area, who called him Parippu Mahathmaya after the dhal he distributed as relief supplies to the ill nourished people.

In 1935 Perera was one of the founder members of the LSSP. In 1936 he contested the Ruwanwella constituency, which at the time was comprised the Thun Korale areas of Yatiyantota, Ruwanwella and Dereniyagala and parts of the present Galigamuwa electoral division, from the LSSP.

His opponent was Molamure Kumarihamy of the Meedeniya Walauwa, the feudal manor which had tremendous power over the poor people of the Sabaragamuwa area at the time.

He was to hold this seat, or its Yatiyantota electorate on delimitation, continuously until 1977.

After his election, he and Philip Gunawardena (the other LSSP member of the State Council), acting as people’s tribunes, used the State Council as a platform to carry forward the party’s struggle to gain full independence for the country from the British.

At the time only people like N.M, Philip and the LSSP stood for complete independence for Sri Lanka: the leaders of the Ceylon National Congress were only concerned with obtaining concessions from the British.

He was imprisoned in 1940 during World War II, but succeeded in escaping on 5 April 1942. He secretly went to India and worked with the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, (BLPI) in that country’s independence struggle.

After the war, when the LSSP split, N.M. Perera was the leader of the faction that retained the party name. After the 1947 general election, he was elected Leader of the Opposition.

On reunification with the Bolshevik Samasamaja Party (BSSP), he remained with the LSSP when the Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party (VLSSP) split off under Philip Gunawardena.

N.M. was elected Mayor of Colombo in 1954. He was Mayor for only two years as he was ousted on a no-confidence motion . In 1956 he was elected Leader of the Opposition again, a post he held until 1960.

When the LSSP was divided over possible government participation in early 1960’s, N..M was the principal leader of the wing that wanted to enter into government with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which led to the LSSP’s expulsion from the Fourth International in 1964.

He was Minister of Finance in the short lived Coalition government of 1964 - 1965 and in the United Front government of 1970 - 1975.

In the general election of 1977, he lost his Parliamentary seat for the first time, (except for the period he was imprisoned during the Second World War) having won every single election from the Ruwanwella constituency or from its successor, the Yatiyantota electorate. A State funeral was accorded to him in August 1979 which witnessed one of the largest ever crowds seen in Sri Lanka.

N.M. commenced his trade union activities with the Plantation workers and led the strikes at Wewesse Estate in 1936 and Mooloya Estate. Dr N.M. Perera was the president of the All Ceylon United Motor Workers’ Union and of the Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL).

He was appointed their chief negotiator by the striking workers during the 1946 general strike. He also played a leading role in the general strike of Government workers and the clerical services on June 1946 and was injured in the police firing at Kolonnawa, where Kandasamy of the G.C.S.U was shot dead.

In 1939, he starred in the first ever Sinhala film ‘Rajakeeya Wickremaya’. An avid cricket fan, He captained St. Thomas’s college and Ananda College cricket teams. He became Chairman of the Board of Control of Cricket in Sri Lanka, and worked hard to obtain Test Status for Sri Lanka.

Courtesy: N. M. Perera. ORG

 

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