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
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
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