Anura Bandaranaike

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike believed that his luck changed when his son, Anura, who died last Sunday, was born. That perhaps influenced his decision to quit the UNP and found his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The landslide of 1956 which Bandaranaike himself probably did not expect, although he was confident of victory, was the result. Thus began the Bandaranaike dynasty, with Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike and then Chandrika Kumaratunga assuming national leadership. Anura, despite his undoubted talent especially as an orator, a skill he inherited from his father, was destined to remain an also ran. While he attained high political office including that of leader of the opposition, foreign minister and speaker, the ultimate price which he undoubtedly desired and probably regarded as his just due eluded him.

Anura Pryadarshi Solomon Bandaranaike – he too was a Solomon like his father, grandfather and other Bandaranaike’s before them – had his faults like all human beings. But as has been pointed out by friend and foe, he did not use politics to personally aggrandize himself or thuggery in the pursuit of political prizes. Like both his mother and father before him, he was by instinct (and perhaps training) a liberal democrat and inclined to the right rather than the left. But just like SWRD and Sirima Bandaranaike, who had electoral arrangements and cabinet ministers from the left in their governments, Anura too was all too willing to enter into alliances with the left as evidenced by the leading role he played in aligning with the JVP in the UPFA with its betel leaf symbol before the last parliamentary election. Remember SWRD as far back as 1956 had a `no contest’ agreement with the LSSP and CP which was a major factor in that famous victory. Mrs. Bandaranaike too admitted those two old left parties that today are only a shadow of their former selves, into her governments.

When the UNP was deep down in the dumps during the early seventies, J.R. Jayewardene with a strategy of strengthening the right and containing the left in the then United Front government of Mrs. Bandaranaike, strongly advocated giving Anura a free run to parliament with the UNP not contesting a by-election at Kalawewa his party stalwarts believed was easily winnable. This polarized opinion in the UNP, with ``genuine UNPers,’’ as they considered themselves, mostly comprising loyalists of the then dead Dudley Senananayake, strongly resisting the new party leader, JRJ’s plan of bestowing a parliamentary seat on the heir-apparent of the Bandaranaike dynasty. In the event, with no free ride forthcoming, the son of the late Mr. Ratnamalalla whose death necessitated the by-election, was the SLFP nominee. He was defeated by the UNP’s A.M.S. Adikari by a majority of over 2,000 votes. An SLFP veteran publicly justified withholding the party ticket from Anura Bandaranaike saying, ``Anura is the son of the late Mr. Bandaranaike and he must take his father’s place. Ratnamalalla is the son of the late Kalawewa MP and he must take his father’s place.’’

Anura was an elitist who, like his father, enjoyed the good things of life. Naturally inclined to the right, this scion of a land owning aristocracy of both the upcountry and low country, would have been more comfortable in the UNP as at least one commentator has said following his death last Sunday. When Anura, for the first time in his political life, took cabinet office as Minister of Higher Education in the D.B. Wijetunge Government, his sister, Sunethra was the only non-business person who stood in a semi-circle behind Anura as then President administered the oath of office. Business tycoon Harry Jayawardena and Chrishantha Cooray, Chairman of the Browns Group of Companies and the Hatton National Bank, were among those present on that occasion.

Despite being an MP, the Second MP for Nuwara Eliya – Maskeliya, at that time, Anura demanded that he be nominated to take his father’s Attanagalle seat when Mrs. Bandaranaike was deprived of her civic rights and had to vacate that seat by the J.R. Jayewardene administration of the time. In a condolence speech he made when Mr. Gamini Dissanayake, then first MP for Nuwara Eliya – Maskeliya was tragically assassinated, Bandaranaike acknowledged that Dissanayake had fought in cabinet against his mother’s disenfranchisement. With both Anura and Chandrika pressing their claims for Attanagalla, Mrs. Bandaranaike facing an unenviable dilemma nominated Mr. Lakshman Jayakody to keep the seat warm for a Bandaranaike in the future. Anura was to later move to the Gampaha District where Attanagalla is located.

Chandrika, Anura’s podi akka, proved a more astute politician than her brother, becoming both prime minister and president, positions that Anura could not attain. His relations with CBK was often strained during their parallel political careers with Bandaranaike, once memorably saying after parts of a parliamentary speech in which he was less than complimentary about the president had been expunged from Hansard, that ``a hidden hand wearing gold bangles’’ was responsible! It was the competition between the siblings that saw Bandaranaike joining the late Mr. Maitripala Senananayake in breaking away from the SLFP and trying unsuccessfully to capture the blue party. Some of the contents of affidavits he swore on that occasion against his mother were gleefully seized by President Premadasa in parliamentary debate.

Anura’s on and off estrangement from Chandrika was not permanent and many analysts believe that it was largely his loyalty to her that made him swallow a dead rope and crossover in expectation of a budget defeat for the government last December. He also gifted Horagolla to Chandrika’s son, Vimukthi, etaining a life interest for himself. A close buddy of Mahinda Rajapaksa in his youth, Anura was to see Medamulana outpace Horagolla in recent years. CBK did not feel strong enough to make her brother rather than Rajapaksa the leader of the opposition when she lost her parliamentary majority during her second term nor prime minister when Mrs. Bandaranaike vacated that position during her daughter’s presidency. When the SLFP conferred the presidential ticket on Rajapaksa, Anura was the party’s unanimous choice for prime minister. But he did not get there because the Bandaranaikes, as they (except Chandrika) did during Hector Kobbekaduwapresidential bid in the eighties, did not back Rajapaksa. He was not shut out of the cabinet but got only a relatively unimportant ministry and was further demoted and eventually sacked. But that was very much his own doing.

Perhaps he was in the wrong party, perhaps he did not work hard enough except on his speeches. But the big prize eluded Anura Bandaranaike whose premature death is mourned by his countrymen, both friend and foe.


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