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V. Nalliah - a politician of common masses

Many in Batticaloa will note this month as the birth centenary of V. Nalliah who represented Trincomalee-Batticaloa in the State Council from 1943 and Kalkudah in Parliament till 1956, fell on July 1.

Batticaloa is indebted to Nalliah as the most vigorous motivator, contributor and inspirational force for the progress of education in the whole Eastern region and it has always been widely acknowledged and celebrated by grateful people.


V. Nalliah: State Councillor and Parliamentarian 1943 - 1956

Numerous small and large educational institutions all over the region including the Teachers' Training College in Batticaloa and the Central College in Vantharumoolai, now the Eastern University, bear testimony to Nalliah's conviction that the poor in the East, in many ways a neglected province at that time, must be given access to the benefits that education alone could bring.

In the State Council functioning under the Donoughmore Constitution, Nalliah became a member of the Executive Committee for Education and worked tirelessly to bring educational reforms, free education for all and to implement education through the Mother Tongue, without delay.

Nalliah was from a poor background outside the few established families in the East which, as in the rest of the country too at that time, had a monopoly of influential positions. When Nalliah won the election to the State Council it was therefore as a people's candidate and this he never forgot. With all the energy of the self made man that he was, his interventions on behalf of the poor and of the Eastern Province in particular were so vigorous and annoying to the establishment that D. S. Senanayake did not take long to see in him a meddling gadfly and to call him "a new broom". Such sneers notwithstanding, as a representative of his people, Nalliah did deed sweep very well and very widely.

He worked hard to open and expand hospitals, post offices, roads and culverts in places like Vakarai and Valaichenai where only the poor lived. He demanded water for rain dependent farmers and argued for the improvement of tanks and channels in the East. Many small tanks and channels were rehabilitated due to his efforts.

He refused to be satisfied with the State Council's offer of compensation to farmers affected by the floods which were then a regular feature in the East and insisted on construction beyond repair and maintenance.

It was necessary, he argued, to deal with the cause than to give farmers charity. Another example of his dedication in breaking the power of the wealthy in the area was his passionate advocacy in the State Council for a loving wage for Village Headman.

Nalliah argued that this crucial position of influence over the well-being of the poor was kept as the preserve of the rich and the corrupt because of the State's failure to offer a living wage to applicants.

Nalliah was inspired as many young Ceylonese at that time were, by the agitation in neighbouring India led by Gandhi and Nehru for national independence from colonialism, as well as by a deeply felt ideals of equality and dignity for the poorest in the land.

He argued for the use of the Mother Tongue - Sinhalese or Tamil, in schools and in the courts of the country as necessities for the freedom of our people, especially the poor: "There is absolutely no point in having a State Council and a Board of Ministers if no power has been transferred to the people... I hope the Members of this House will insist that... the languages of this country will be the languages of the courts in this country and that the legal system is made less expensive." (State Council Debates p.31 Feb 8, 1944.)

He endeared himself to his constituents not only by his efforts for them but also by his personal integrity. When he ceased to be a Member of Parliament in 1956 he was not a cent richer than when he was first elected, having already disposed of the entirety of his wife's little inheritance also for election expenses. He lived and died in a rented house.

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