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Unforgettable personalities - Comrade Colvin



Dr. Colvin R. de Silva

In 1940, Colvin along with the other LSSP activists were thrown behind the bars. They succeeded in breaking free from their incarceration at Bogambara prison and fled to India where they lived incognito for a considerable period of time. Their freedom was short lived; the Police swooped on them and they found themselves back on Sri Lankan soil, behind the bars. Colvin did not idle while in incarceration. He came up with a fine book titled 'Brithanya Palanayata Yatahwu Lankawa' (Ceylon under British Rule). Colvin continued his relationship with Bolshevik, Leninist party - in India and extended his fullest co-operation to the strike launched by the Madras Worker's Union at the Buckingham and Carnatic Factory.

In 1947 he ignited the revolutionary fervour and fires in the workers movement in Madras through his fiery oration at a workers' rally. His agonies continued, as he stepped down from the stage he was placed under police custody. Colvin was an avowed revolutionary; he feared none; he cared least whom he took on, devil or demon it did not matter; in fact the devil would have found his match in Colvin.

Once, Comrade Colvin was addressing a political meeting, in the Southern part of the country displaying his usual fire and fury. The vituperative onslaught angered the rich UNPers of the area. They set in motion a plot to disrupt the meeting and ridicule Colvin. So the unexpected took place. A thug of well built proportions jumped into the ground and faced Colvin with a drawn knife in his hand. Filthy, foul language leapt out of his mouth in torrents. He threatened to kill Colvin, if the need arose. Colvin faced him and stood motionless, as if in a trance. Then he ran his hand along his shirt. People in the crowd stood transfixed and expected the worst to come, a brawl and exchange of bodily blows and punches. Colvin unfastened his shirt button one by one; he jumped down and proceeded towards the thug, shirtless. He stood right in front of him; took a deep breath and shouted at him at top voice “Enapan yakko, enapan” (strike me, you devil).

Colonial white rulers

The unexpected happened, Colvin's mighty sound had a telling effect on him; the thug lost his bearings; he became meek and mild like a lamb. The knife in his hand landed on the ground. Colvin the challenged became the conqueror; the threatening thus ended up the vanquished.

Rich and wealthy, turn-coat, local whites, ably assisted by the colonial white rulers made every effort to disrupt the meetings which proceeded on full steam. Thug invasion became a common occurrence. Ruthless attacks were unleashed against LSSPers and their leaders; Philip ended up bleeding and limping. But they remained undeterred, amidst blood and toil they took the campaign forward. Impediments in their numbers and intimidations in their different forms and patterns failed to dampen their indomitable spirit. United as one, they kept the onward march, displaying true devotion and total dedication to their cause.

The LSSPers of the day, the Marxists of time remained true to socialist principles unlike the present day followers who pay a mere lip service to the cause and ideology. On comparison, the present day lot pales into insignificance. The working class of the country found true champions, in the LSSPers and Marxists of the yester era who rendered a yeomen service to uplift them.

Colvin's oratory skills served the Marxist cause richly. Colvin attracted people; he mesmerized one and all; his arguments were convincing; solutions he proposed were practical; his thinking was pragmatic. He could hold people on hours end sans fatigue and boredom. People were glued to him and he was effectively used by the leftist movement as the bait to attract people and swell attendance at their political rallies and meetings.

Ideological differences

It was in 1936 that Philip made his maiden attempt to enter an election fray. Philip's opponent at the election for the 2nd State Council was Forestor Obeysekera, a judge by profession, wealthy and powerful, closely related, as an uncle to S W R D Bandaranaike. Two rallies of the contestant were in progress in locations in close proximity to each other. Obeysekera's meeting was sea of heads. People kept on crowing his stage. Philip's meeting was in shambles, with a meagre attendance.

Colvin saw the gloom and he bloomed up instantaneously. He pushed back the speaker doing his turn on the stage and planted himself as the speaker. “Sahodarayanee! Oya hora gollo langata yanne nethiwa, hari gollo langata enna” (“Comrades! Don't go to the wrong people, but come to the right people”). He continued his speech; kept his rhythm and tempo with dance like bodily movements. Fire and brimstones he poured out, but failed not to add little doses of salt and sugar with his sarcastic and spicy phrases. The inevitable happened; the numbers at the rivals rally dwindled into a few at no time. Gyrating movements, wild gesticulations and disheveled hair added to his credentials as a captivating and enslaving speaker.

Colvin, Philip, NM and Edmund entered prison as members of a leftist party i.e. LSSP, but soon after their exit ideological differences surfaced and a split followed soon. Philip and NM continued with LSSP but Colvin and Edmund made their way out and formed a new party - Bolshevik Leninist Party. In 1947, nominations were called for the first ever parliamentary election. Colvin's new party too entered the fray, but Colvin ensured that no conflict arose between his party and other leftists, notably joint front made up of LSSP and CP. Other leftists too followed similar no contest like strategy. However, in some electorates they filed their own candidates and an atmosphere of un-easy peace prevailed.

Bolsheviks had Edmund at Mirigama, Bernard at Colombo South, Henry Peiris at Panadura, Cholomondely Gunawardena at Kalutara, P H William De Silva at Ambalangoda/Balapitiya and Jack Kotalawala at Badulla. Colvin's domain turned out to be Wellawatte/Mount Lavinia.

Bandaranaike policies

Colvin had six opponents against him. His onetime teacher at Royal College Major L. V. Gunaratna was amongst them. A. P. de Soysa, a former State Councillor opposed Colvin's party at Colombo South. Wellawatta/Mount Lavinia saw the Golaya (pupil) beating the Gura (teacher). Colvin's had a comfortable majority of 7,436 votes. Of the seven Bolshevik candidates, five candidates including Colvin emerged victorious. Edmund and Bernard failed the test. Thus, Colvin stepped into the sacred precinct of the Parliament with his victorious team.

By 1975 the UF government had completed five years in office and the unity within the government was put under severe stress. Signs of discord and disunity emerged slowly. Premier Mrs Bandaranaike levelled a charge against NM, the then Finance Minister for having violated the terms of the memorandum of understanding by criticizing Bandaranaike Policies at a meeting which he had addressed. A series of explanatory letters incorporating demands and claims were exchanged between the warring parties. By then the point of no return had been reached, neither a compromise nor a reconciliation process was in place. Mrs B had the last say. She wanted the LSSP ministers to resign from their ministerial posts. The trio was not prepared to take the slight without a fight. They were not ready to budge in, held their feet firm. Mrs B matched their guts with her wit and delivered the final salvo. The trio were unceremoniously deposed and removed from the cabinet of ministers.

Political career

The series of events which occurred in 1975, naturally compel the writer to reminisce and recollect a similar historic event which unfolded itself around 16 years before, to be exact 1959. In 1956, brought in the era of the common man by establishing a progressive government with active support of the revolutionaries in the calibre of Philip (VLSSP) T. B. Subasinghe, Lakshman Rajapaksa and P. H. William de Silva.

But then Premier Bandaranaike who came under the spell of the reactionaries distanced himself from them in a ungracious and ungrateful manner. He failed to read the writing on the wall which the leftist tried to make him understand. Unity among progressive forces had been put paid to rest in 1956 as it had been in 1965. History may be repeating itself.

Nomination had been called for parliamentary election in year 1977. By then the repercussions and reverberations resulting from the developments in 1975 had robbed the SLFP of its people-oriented progressive ideologies. Leftist associates who brought in hue and colour to SLFP were no longer in its fold. SLFP managed to enter the election fray under the label of a United Front made up of the CP and political discards and party desperados. A revitalized UNP under the astute leadership of JR the Fox took the fight to the helm. Colvin was seen at Agalawatte. Would be outcome of the election was as sure as the rising sun, no one wanted an assurance from the Commissioner of Elections, the verdict of the people was so evident.

As expected, the UNP roamed home with a fantastic victory, winning 5/6th majority at the House of the Parliament. SLFP was routed, it managed to hang on to eight seats. The leftists including Colvin was utterly defeated. The fate of the leftists was sealed for all intents and purposes.

Colvin raised his head again in 1979 sometime after the death of NM. He took over the reins of LSSP. He tried his luck at the Presidential election held in 1982. Failure was his lot and this sounded the death knell to his illustrious political career.

Colvin remained a force to be reckoned with, within the LSSP. He strove and struggled valiantly to translate the ideologies of the party to be pragmatic and practical avenues to serve the people and the country. Caste and creed mattered to him least. He was ready to move and mix with the common people. He despised communal divides and language based divisions with the scant respect which they deserve. He was bold enough to exclaim, 'One language two nations, two languages one nation' when the Sinhala only idea was mooted by Bandaranaike. His exploits in the cause of the workers' movements are legendary. He had a big heart , placed his legal expertise at the service of the poor on gratis.

Fiery speeches

He displayed marvellous skills as an accomplished orator at both the House of Parliament and political rallies. Colvin enlivened the debates and held the forte single handedly for his cause and for his party. He had the single honour of firing the final salvo in any debate at the House of Parliament. Usually the final stages of the debates ran into late hours and irrespective of whether it was late in the night or early in the morning, people's gallery remained filled with people.

His errands in this regard is well-testified by a record in the Hansard of 25.07.1962. "Honourable Speaker, the night is on, eyes are heavy, seeking respite in sleep, yawning has become a recurrent nuisance, hope my continuation doesn't amount to a commotion. No fault lies in me. Sir, whatever the noise they make, whatever the interruptions they cause, I am well used to the art of expressing myself clearly and concisely to ensure clear comprehension and correct understanding."

He had an inimitable style in presenting his arguments, in making his speeches. Slowly he started gradually he raised his voice, then thundered like a tornado. His gyrating actions, body movements well supported his fiery speeches.

He tossed words, raised questions and fought like a warrior, but never lost his focus fought. He ensured that his speeches are well-spiced with fine proportions of right and reason, facts and figures, logic and common sense. The noise he made, the voice he raised echoed and re-echoed within house of the old parliament. He wove a web made of well-refined rhetoric skills and held the audience spellbound. He left lasting impressions of an astute politician in the hearts of people who had the fortune of listening to him.

Colvin was a promoter, protagonist, and a past master and shined as a role model for politicians. Even the present generation of politicians can draw much from him to advance their vocation. He never lost his cool even in the most testing turbulent occasions. He relied on the maxim that attack is the best form of defence, but never stooped down to the level of using filth and foul language in his verbal combats. No foe could break his nerve and draw him into a brawl. He remained calm and collected even in the face of fiercest criticism, scathing attacks, groundless vilifications and unprecedented humiliation. He stood out as the Everest, inviting others to scale it.

Colvin the politician par excellence, the relentless revolutionary, the committed social reformer, indomitable trade unionist, the beloved of the common man, the fire brand orator, member and minister of parliament breathed his last on February 27, 1995. Thus, a vacuum, never to be filled was created in the socio-political arena of Sri Lanka.

Colvin indeed was a comely comet blazing for a while across the horizon. He left a trail magnificence and luminescence not to be erased but to dance and dazzle eternally.

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