Gaveshaka discusses the evolution of the constitution
Scholar, politician leads the way
As we have already seen, the British administrators made the riots of 1815 an excuse to imprison our national leaders. A number of Buddhist leaders who had taken an active part in a temperance movement to move the people away from liquor were taken into custody and some of them were tried for instigating civil disturbances on made up charges. Among those detained were D B Jayatilake (later Sir Baron), W A de Silva, D S Senanayake and C Batuvantudawe, all of whom, became Ministers when a new constitution was introduced in 1931 giving the country a measure of self-government for the first time.

Sir Baron was among a few who were ordered to be shot by the British government but was later released from jail when leaders like E W Perera and Sir P Ramanathan appealed to spare his life. He was one of very rare personalities who combined several features to become a statesman. He was a leading oriental scholar, a graduate of the Oxford University, a barrister, an effective speaker and a keen student of politics.

Having had his early education at the renowned Vidyalankara Pirivena in Kelaniya and later at Wesley College, he was a close associate of Colonel Olcott at the time the latter was taking a leading role in establishing Buddhist schools to meet the challenge of missionary schools. He was the founder Principal of Dharmaraja College, Kandy (1890) and was responsible for building it up as the leading Buddhist school in the up country. He later moved over to Ananda College, first as Vice Principal (1898) and two years later as Principal succeeding A E Buultjens, the first Ceylonese Principal of Ananda. He founded the Colombo YMBA (Young Men’s Buddhist Association in 1898 and functioned as General Manager of the Buddhist Theosophical Society founded by Colonel Olcott from 1902. He retired from Ananda College to pursue his higher studies and left for England in 1910 at the age of 42.

Three years later he had obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree and was also called to the Bar. On his return to the mother country, he got actively involved in the agitation for constitutional reform. Sir Baron spent three years in England to advocate and propagate the demand for freedom and reforms representing the Ceylon National Congress and Mahajana Sabha, two organizations formed for the purpose. In December 1923 he was unanimously elected President of the National Congress after the Tamils broke away.

In 1924 Sir Baron was elected uncontested as member of the Colombo District in the Legislative Council and was elected Vice Chairman on the death of Sir James Peiris in 1930.

The Legislative Council was dissolved on 17 April 1931 to make way for the State Council. It came into being on the recommendation of the Donoughmore Commission, which was sent here in response to agitation for constitutional reforms. Members were to be elected for 50 constituencies. When nominations were received on 4 May 1931, among nine members elected uncontested was Sir Baron for the Kelaniya seat. The others were D S Senanayake (Mirigama), S W R D Bandaranaike (Veyangoda), Peri Sunderam (Hatton), D H Kotelawela (Badulla), G C Rambukpota (Bibile), A F Molamure (Dedigama), Adigar J H Meedeniya (Ruwanwella) and Adigar J C Ratwatte (Balangoda). One hundred candidates contested 37 seats, the balance four seats in the North being vacant since the Tamils decided to boycott the elections.

This was the first time that a general election was held on the basis of adult suffrage when both men and women over 21 years of age could vote. The number of registered voters was 1,574,932 out of which there were 975,548 men and 599,384 women. Although there were candidates representing three parties - the National Congress, the Liberal League and the Labour Party, the election was not fought on a party basis. The candidates contested as individuals. They were allotted colours and the ballot boxes were painted in these colours for easy identification.

In addition to the elected members, there were eight nominated members - 4 Europeans, 2 Burghers and one each to represent Malays and Indian Tamils. There were also the three State Officers - the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary and the Legal Secretary. The Chief Secretary was the Chairman, Board of Ministers (compared to the Cabinet of today). The members formed themselves into seven Executive Committees and the Chairman of these committees formed the Board of Ministers. Sir Baron was elected the Minister of Home Affairs & Leader of the House at the first meeting of the State Council held on 7 July. He was also elected Vice Chairman of the Board of Ministers. Thus he was the first Ceylonese to hold such responsible positions and the first Ceylonese to present a Budget.

Sir Baron was once again elected uncontested at the 1936 general election and was elected Minister of Home Affairs once again. In between - in 1932 - he was knighted by King George V.

In November 1942 he left for Delhi as envoy to India to improve estranged relations between the two countries and to solve the food crisis due to World War II. He fell ill while in India and on his way back, he died in Bangalore on 29 May 1944. He was accorded a State funeral on 1 June.

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