Controversial Cyril Mathew | Daily News
Being ‘in and out’ of the UNP

Controversial Cyril Mathew

Cyril  Mathew
Cyril Mathew

Cyril Mathew the controversial Sinhalese-nationalist, who quit the General Secretary post and the party sighting differences with his leader Dudley Senanayake in 1967, rejoined later and was expelled from the Cabinet and the governing United National Party by President J R Jayewardene in 1984, but regained his position under Premadasa.

In his letter of resignation dated November 2, 1967, Mathew stated: “as an honest politician dedicated to the welfare of the motherland and my people, I have no alternative but to resign from a party with which I have been associated with for nearly 20 years. A divided party cannot rule a nation. Unless there is trust and confidence between those at the top the whole party would be a nest of intrigue.” He had stated that he had tried his best to tell his leader, Dudley Senanayake, that if the UNP continued to behave in the manner it was doing now not only it will ruin itself but it would ruin the country too.

Mathew further said: “I entered politics seven years ago, in the conviction that the UNP, chastened by its route in 1956, had learned its lesson and profited by it, and was capable of rescuing the country from the chaos of 1960. Today I realised that it was not only in Europe that decadent aristocracy was prone to learn nothing and forget nothing. I am disillusioned, but it is with no pangs of regret that I tender my resignation, not only from the post of Secretary of the Party but also from membership of the party itself.”

Public opinion

Quoting the following section from the report of the Committee appointed in 1965 to report on reorganisation of the UNP, “…from 1948 to 56 the UNP with the help of seasoned politicians governed the country efficiently, built it up economically, saved our external assets, our foreign and internal debt was a small fraction of what it is today, issue of Treasury bills was at a minimum, but at the 1956 elections only eight members were returned.

One of the charges levelled against the party of this period was that the high-ups were giving various jobs to their close relatives. About the truth of this allegation, we are not concerned. But we are certainly aware that the UNP of that time never in an organised manner helped their party supporters from amongst the ordinary people.”

“I would like to…” Mathew wrote, “Believe it was propriety that prevented your giving a sympathetic hearing to the rank and file of the Party who worked for us at the elections….”

Quoting another section which said, “…the type of minister who thinks he is in office by some divine right and not by virtue of the strength of the party will only be a millstone around the neck of the party and such an individual will only help to drag himself, the Party and the country to destruction. While condemning the previous regime for its insensitivity to the public opinion in certain respects, you have permitted some of your ministers to surpass them.

‘Join the UNP to see the world’ was once a derisive comment on pre-1956 policy, which the SLFP undoubtedly improved upon … while in opposition you vociferously protested against the appointment of defeated candidates to Corporations enabling them thereby nurse their electorates. Once in power however, you have permitted the same practice… I have adduced sufficient proof of the efforts I have made to make you see the writing on the wall— but you have been insulated by ‘YES MEN’ and tale-carriers who put self-interest above that of the Party and the country…. You have failed to lead the Party in a manner that would instill confidence in the people of the country, and it is therefore that I am compelled to tender my resignation.”

Cyril Mathew was born on September 30, 1912, he was a member of parliament representing the Kelaniya electorate and served as the Minister of Industry and Scientific Affairs in the Jayewardene Cabinet.

Political aspirations

Mathew authored a book titled, ‘Sinhalese! Rise to Protect Buddhism,’ urging Sinhalese to stand up for their rights and protect their values. He also published a pamphlet ‘Who is the Tiger’; it was a collection of provocative and insightful speeches made by him since 1979.

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them”.

- Elie Wiesel

Elected to the 8th parliament on July 21 1977, representing Kelaniya for the Party, he was well-known for his hard-line stance against the Tamil minority and its political aspirations. Mathew is generally regarded as one of the key people responsible for instigating Black July riots or the anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983.

The holocaust consequently resulted in the eruption of a 25-year civil war that killed over 60,000 men.

The 1983 communal riots were highly organised when compared to similar events of 1915, 1958, 1977-79 in the island.

The horrors and confusion of the ‘Black July’ remain etched in the minds of citizens of both communities. Goon squads drawn from ruling party’s trade union arm became active, unleashing rounds of riots.

They were transported to various locations in CTB buses by the trade union leaders who worked under Cyril Mathew, the president of the Union, who was well-known for his anti-Tamil stance.

Irreparable damage

The pogrom in the last week of July, 34 years ago, left many dead, thousands injured, tens of thousands displaced, huge losses to property, commercial, social and economic disorder. Adverse propaganda against the majority community and state in foreign media traumatized the population.

The violent actions were not an abrupt and rash outbreak of the Sinhalese against the Tamils. There is considerable evidence to trust that a determined effort has been made by sections allied to the government on a cautiously placed plan. Earlier, Cyril Mathew, the minister brought in thugs from the South to Trincomalee, receiving protection from security forces, he began a reign of terror in the Eastern capital.

President J. R. Jayewardene in 1984, sacked Mathew from the Cabinet and the governing United National Party for publicly criticizing a round-table conference called by JR to redress grievances of Tamils.

However, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Jayewardene's successor, later reinstated Mathew as a party member. Mathew’s son Nanda became a member of the parliament too, who later held several ministerial posts under successive UNP governments. Nanda Mathew was appointed by President Kumaratunga and President Rajapaksa as Governor of the Uva Province. Cyril Mathew, a former Sri Lankan Industries Minister and an ardent crusader for Sinhalese nationalism, died of a heart attack when he was 77-years-old.

“Our true nationality is mankind.” - H G Wells 


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