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
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.