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S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike- trail-blazing leader

Today, September 26, 2008, falls the 49th death anniversary of Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, the 4th prime minister of independent Sri Lanka - then Ceylon. He held the post for three years and five months, from April 12, 1956 to September 26, 1959.

Mr. Bandaranaike was born on January 8, 1899 into the family of Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, U. C. M. G. Maha Mudliyar, a distinguished personality and Daisy Ezlinne Obeysekera Bandaranaike the eldest daughter of Sir Solomon Christoper Obeysekera KT and M. L. C.

He was educated privately at home and then sent to St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, as a boarder. He sat the Cambridge Senior from the sixth form with only an year’s preparation and secured a first class with distinctions in Latin and English language.He then went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he was elected once as Secretary and then as Treasurer of the Oxford Union. He made a name for himself as an orator - one of the finest to grace the Oxford Union. His contemporary at Oxford, young Anthony Eden became the British prime minister while he became the prime minister here. He even had the distinction of being elected as the Secretary in 1923, defeating Malcolm MacDonald.

He was admitted to the English bar in 1925 and returned to the island to commence a practice as an advocate. Although he commenced practice, he took to politics, entering the Colombo Municipal Council in 1927 as the member of the Maradana Ward defeating , A. E. Goonesinghe, the founder leader of the Ceylon Labour Party.

Inspired by the social, cultural and national traditions of the country, he pursued a patient progressive and democratic path in his political career. In the year 1931 he was elected unopposed to the Veyangoda constituency of the first State Council, under the Donoughmore constitution, when the people initially exercised universal franchise.

He followed in the footsteps of his beloved uncle, Forester A. Obeysekera, member of the Legislative Council from 1924 onwards, who later was the Speaker of the State Council in 1934 and M. S. L. Avissavella. Mr. Bandaranaike’s maternal grand father, Sir S. C. Obeysekera, was a leader of the low country people and the president of the Low Country Planters’ Association.

In 1936 he was re-elected unopposed to the State Council for the same constituency and was appointed Minister of Local Government. It was at this juncture he inaugurated the Sinhala Maha Sabha, which was his base of popular support among the Sinhala people in the island.

When Mr. Bandaranaike held the ministerial post he got married to the daughter of Barnes Ratwatte, the Ratemahatmaya of Mahawalatenna Wlauwa in Balangoda on October 03, 1940. At this grand ceremonial occasion there was a huge number of very distinguished personalities, among whom were some famous Sinhala poets of the Colombo era. One of them , Somaweera Chandrasiri, recited the following verse:

ol=fKa reyqKQ rg uy ue;s jrhdh

j•me;af;a wfma uy lœ jrhdh

fmdaref› Wreœish k< l= nrhdh

lœ m~qfrka ish½ msúm; ³rhdh

As shown in the poem, the member of the State Council, D. A. Rajapakse, was on the right side of the ‘Poruwa’ and on the other side was great poet national hero, Ananda Rajakaruna.

Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, accepted the Soulbury Commission report in 1945 and the country was on the threshold of the election to the first Parliament.

Mr. Bandaranaike accepted the concept that the Sinhala language of the preponderant majority of the people should be the official language, while conceding the right of minorities to use their own language, to conduct their official, educational, administrative and legal matters, while according to such language the dignity of rightful usage by legislative enactment.

The United National Party was inaugurated on September 6, 1946 by a combination of the Ceylon Congress and Sinhala Maha Sabha of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. The general election to the first parliament was held in August and September 1947. The UNP fielded 92 candidates and obtained 751,432 votes and secured 42 seats. Independent candidates with 549,381 votes won 21 seats, while the Marxist groups, the Sri Lanka Sama Samaja party gained 10 seats, the Bolshevik Leninist Party gained 05 seats and the Ceylon Communist Party won 03 seats, altogether gaining 387,544 votes and won 18 seats.

Forty two MPs headed by celebrated lawyer H. Sri Nissanka K.C., who had been elected as the MP for Kurunegala, assembled at his residence ‘Yamuna’ at Nugegoda and decided to call on Mr. Bandaranaike to form the government as he had more MPs loyal to him. He further presented the resolution to Mr. Bandaranaike at his Rosmead Place residence. Mr. Bandaranaike thanked him and said D. S. Senanayake was a senior statesman who consistently agitated for freedom and therefore deserved to be the first prime minister of independent Sri Lanka. He did not give his consent.

The Cabinet of ministers of D. S. Senanayake was sworn in on September 26, 1947. Mr. Bandaranaike accepted the portfolio of Local Government and was also appointed Leader of the House.

Sri Nissanka who was the protagonist of the party had discussed the proposal with politicians, parliamentarians and various groups of people and found a remarkable unanimity of opinion that Bandaranaike was admirably suited to lead the proposed alternative party.

At the Sinhala Maha Sabha session held at Madampe in 1951, some important motions were passed. The main resolution adopted was that the official language of the country should be Sinhala. It was also resolved that Buddhism should be restored to its rightful place and Ayurveda should be revived and developed. Although these proposals were presented to the UNP, they were not accepted.

However Mr. Bandaranaike resigned from the Cabinet of Ministers on July 12, 1951 in a dramatic turn of events. Sri Nissanka was so very happy with the resignation that he presented himself at the ‘Rosmead Place residence of Mr. Bandaranaike and congratulated him very warmly. Sri Nissanka was one of the architects of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party which was founded on September 2, 1951. Further, he was responsible for the designation, the symbol, and the colour of the party.

The loyalists of the Sinhala Maha Sabha, including the six members of parliament, who had followed Mr. Bandaranaike to the opposition benches, formed the nucleus of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

D. S. Senanayake was succeeded by his son Dudley Senanayake on March 30, 1952. He dissolved parliament prematually seeking a fresh mandate. At the general election the UNP secured 54 seats, while SLFP secured 09 seats. However Dudley Senanayake resigned from office on October 12, 1953. Sir John Kotelawala formed the new government. Since the debacle of the 1952 general election, the SLFP achieved a greater degree of co-ordination in the organisation of the party and a substantial cohesion and stability. At this juncture SLFP lost its stalwart. . H. Sri Nissanka; perhaps the greatest Sinhala orator breathed his last at the age of 54.

Mr. Bandaranaike formed the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna on the eye of the general election held in 1956, comprising 03 political parties - the Sri Lanka Freedom Party headed by himself, Viplavakari Sama Samaja party headed by Philip Gunawardena, Samastha Lanka Basha Peramuna headed by W. Dahanayake, Samajavadi Mahajana Peramuna headed by I. R. M. A. Iriyagolla and a group of independents. He also entered into a no-contest pact with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party headed by Dr. N. M. Perera, the Communist Party headed by Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe.

Subsequently the M.E.P. swept the polls and out of 60 seats it contested, was able to gain 51 seats. Mr. Bandaranaike himself was returned to parliament from Attanagalle constituency with the highest majority in a general election held in the country. He polled 450,116 votes and had a majority of 41,997 over the nearest rival. Both his rivals lost their deposits.

Immediately after the general election he proceeded to Dalada Maligawa, Kandy and worshiped Sri Dalada. After his return with all his faithful Members of Parliament, he formed his Cabinet of Ministers on April 12, 1956.

This government carried out several progressive measures, such as nationalisation of road transport services, port, enforced the Paddy Lands Act to give ‘ande cultivators’ more rights. The Official Language Bill was passed in Parliament in June 1956. UNP voted for the Bill in accordance with the Kelaniya resolution.

Mr. Bandaranaike made Sinhala the Official Language; gave Buddhism an honourable place in the country; revived Ayurveda as a system of medicine under a Commissioner; increased wages all round; gave legitimate rights to workers; established a Cultural Department to encourage the country’s literature and arts; inaugurated a Provident Fund Scheme for all workers; rescued farmers from the clutches of their absentee landlords.

The Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact was the first serious attempt to solve the ethnic problem. Unfortunately Mr. Bandaranaike could not fulfil the provisions of the Pact due to pressure from extremists.

Mr. Bandaranaike handled the abrogation of the 1947 defence agreement with the United Kingdom and the take-over of the naval base at Trincomalee and Katunayake air base speaks volumes for his achievement. He was able to negotiate in a civilised and effective manner without antagonizing the British and maintaining cordial relations at the same time.

He delivered the first Sinhala speech in the House of Representatives on July 28, 1948 as Minister of Local Government and the Leader of the House in the D. S. Senanayake Cabinet. At the time the prevailing rule was to obtain prior permission from the Speaker (Sir Francis Molamure) before any MP could speak in Sinhala. While speaking he prayed that the day dawn soon when all members could speak in Sinhala. He described the day as historic and the day that gave real freedom to the people.

One of Mr. Bandaranaike’s greatest contributions to the development thinking was his ‘Middle path’ doctrine, which, by ushering in a mixed economy took the benefits of development to the common man. We could venture the view that Bandaranaike humanised the Sri Lankan state as never before.

His sudden death on September 26, 1959 at the hands of an assassin was mourned by all the people of the country. Two years later on January 8, 1961, a stamp was issued to the delight of all. It was the first stamp portraying the Prime Minister.

Mr. Bandaranaike, the leader of the common man, was assassinated as was Abraham Lincoln of the United States, and Mahatma Gandhi of India. Sometimes the historians may fail to make a correct assessment of the greatness of this statesman, diplomat and scholar since the period he held office was very brief.


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