A tribute on her 88th Birth Anniversary commemoration - DN Sat Apr 17 2004
by Mahinda Rajapakse, Prime Minister
It was the year 1968 when the nomination board of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party called me before it to decide whether I should be given the party ticket for the Beliatta seat. After my father's demise, the party was on the look out for a suitable candidate to represent the Beliatta seat in Parliament and continue the good work done by my father.
It was a difficult choice because my father had given his best to Ruhuna Giruwapattuwa and finding a candidate to fill his void was a Herculean task. Besides, he was a very popular MP and a founder member of the SLFP.
The party nomination board was chaired by the leader of the SLFP, Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who herself had entered politics in 1960. She was not a novice any more in politics having weathered a rather difficult tenure of premiership of five years which had ended somewhat prematurely in 1965 due to machinations of the UNP. The others in the nomination board were Maithripala Senanayake, P. B. G. Kalugalle and Dr. Badiuddin Mahamud, all stalwarts of the SLFP.
It was undoubtedly a tough board to get through. When I went before the nomination board, some people had informed the board that my elder brother Chamal should get the SLFP ticket to contest Beliatta.
I claimed the party ticket for myself as I was the one who was doing the political work after my father's passing away. It was a problem for the board, but Madam Bandaranaike, the decisive leader she was, decided to consult my mother. She said, "Let us ask Mrs. D.A." After a discussion with my mother, I was made the SLFP organizer for Beliatta. That was the common sense of Mrs. B.
When I entered Parliament in 1970 as a first timer, many things were new to me. The whole environment, various traditions and parliamentary activities were all new, after all I was just twenty four. To my great delight and amazement, I was given the rare honour and privilege of proposing the vote of thanks on the Throne Speech.
That was a unique opportunity. It was Madam Bandaranaike who had suggested my name for that signal honour. That unique occasion still lingers in my mind. That is one instance where she encouraged and developed young MPs to undertake bigger roles in national development. I also thought it was recognition of my late father's unwavering commitment to the SLFP.
Madam Bandaranaike didn't possess any high level academic qualifications that many of her contemporaries had. But, she had in abundance common sense that is necessary to be a sharp leader and be street-smart. If not for her street smartness, she would not have weathered all the political storms so effectively.
There is no leader, in our history, who had had so many travails in life, both personal and political. Nevertheless, she could not be kept down by any of those unfortunate incidents. She was a courageous woman who changed not only the history of our country but the entire world, by being the first woman Prime Minister and the first woman chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Madam Bandaranaike was much more courageous than a man could have been. She did not relent when a decision had to be taken. If one looks back to the schools take over in 1962 or the nationalization of the oil companies, this is evident. A leader had to be extraordinarily courageous to take such decisions given the pressure not only locally, but internationally as well.
All these decisions were very valid at that time and people hailed her for being so decisive.
Those decisions had no personal advantage for her; instead those had a great impact on the lives of the ordinary people. Having matured in politics, I now realize what it takes to arrive at the most potent decision. It is probably the single most important quality that a political leader should and must possess: to be decisive at crucial times.
I was extremely fortunate to be a part of the coalition government of 1970-77, particularly as I was a fledgling in politics. The government had a strong mandate from the people, had the best political brains the country possessed and had a Prime Minister who was decisive, confident and loved the country and its people.
What more could a novice ask for in politics than being a part of a strong government? It was a government that changed the course of our history. Mrs. B's government of 70-77, gave us the real freedom from our colonial masters. I watched with awe and reverence when she steered the constitutional reforms with such professional expertise. She was no constitutional maestro, but knew what exactly the country wanted.
That understanding came from her rural upbringing and involvement in her husband's political activities. She wanted to ensure that our country is freed from the influence of the British throne. As destiny would decide, her daughter, the present President, is also trying to change the course of Sri Lanka's history by abandoning the executive presidency and restoring the supremacy of Parliament, which represents the true sovereignty of our people.
As a fledgling in politics, I was a part of that historic move in 1972, and today, as the Prime Minister I am privileged to assist the President in her endeavour to bring sanity to our national politics and restore supremacy of Parliament.
Looking from a development perspective, the government of 70-77 although accused of closed economic policies, set in motion a whole gamut of development initiatives that brought innumerable benefits to the people. Industries, agricultural institutions, and commercial enterprises, all with indigenous talent were established during this period.
Although the 1977 UNP government and the successive UNP governments mismanaged these institutions and destroyed and dismantled them, one by one, had they been managed as national treasures, institutions such as the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, National Savings Bank, CeyloN Steel Corporation and many more institutions would have provided employment opportunities to youth of our country and also would have contributed to national wealth.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. I know personally that Mrs. B was grieved at the massive destruction of state property that took placed during the post 1977 period.
I saw Mrs. B at her best during the coalition government's stewardship which was her second tenure.
Those days, parliamentary activities were devoid of personal attacks and focused on important national issues. I learned tremendously from stalwarts both in government and opposition. I watched with amazement the political giants that were in abundance at that time. Mrs. B among all was the supreme leader and it was again her charisma, decisiveness, unwavering commitment to the cause and her caring nature that always caught my young mind's attention. To me she was a Colossus.
During the insurrection of 1971, she conducted the affairs of the government with such absolute confidence and tenacity, that Sir John Kotalawela had once remarked that she was the only 'male' in her Cabinet. However, she ensured that those arrested were not harmed or tortured. She was concerned about their future and welfare.
What followed mass arrests were not disappearances of persons, but their welfare and rehabilitation, a unique attempt of the government to integrate the misguided youth to the mainstream. She personally supervised this national scale programme to ensure that it was on course. She was a mother to all.
Although Madam Bandaranaike was kind and protected us from many thorny issues, she didn't tolerate any lapse on our part. We were therefore extremely cautious as young MPs because Madam Bandaranaike travelled extensively throughout the country supervising the agriculture programme that she had initiated.
Very few political parties would have that sort of charismatic leadership, not just in our country but even elsewhere.
Incidentally, I feel the same way in the present Government with President Kumaratunga providing unique and charismatic leadership to the SLFP and the Freedom Alliance.
As I was growing up in the political arena, Mrs. B was almost a mother to me. Anura and I were good friends and she never treated me differently. To her, all of us were 'young sons' who needed to be guided and nurtured. In a way, it's a unique relationship.
A young MP who is trying to find his way in politics is given all the encouragement by the leader who is no different to one's own mother.
Although there have been many women leaders in other countries, particularly in South Asia, I am not aware that such guidance was provided by them to their young MPs. Mrs. B was always unique.
When my cousin, George Rajapakse, Hambantota district political authority and the then Minister of Fisheries, died in 1976, Madam Bandaranaike appointed me to undertake the responsibilities of the district political authority.
I was later made to understand that Madam Bandaranaike had telephoned the then Government Agent of Hambantota and asked him to assist in the tasks I had to perform.
This again shows the kindness and guidance she provided me in my early formative years as a politician.
It is with great reverence, therefore, that I went to Horagolla Bandaranaike Samadhi after the Cabinet of the United People's Freedom Alliance was sworn in, to pay my gratitude to the two of the greatest leaders that Sri Lanka ever had.
If not for Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike's foresight to establish the SLFP, Sri Lanka's history would have been very different leaving the majority of our population the rural masses in abject poverty misery and neglect.
If that happened, we would not have been much different to some of the African countries, where there is high illiteracy, famine and total violation of basic human rights.
It was SWRD who gave the rural masses of our country the respect and self esteem they so richly deserved, that which was snatched away from them by the colonial rulers. His widow, not only carried on the mantel of leadership thrust on her by a grieving SLFP, so admirably, but created world history by becoming the first woman prime minister of the world.
Another landmark event in my first tenure as a MP was when the 1976 Non-Aligned Conference was held in Colombo. I vividly remember how Madam Bandaranaike was the centre of attraction. She took Sri Lanka to the world by her astute leadership in the Non-Aligned movement.
She was so beautiful that world leaders looked at her in great awe when she so ably conducted the affairs of the 1976 Non-Aligned Conference as its Chairperson. It was not only her hour of glory, but Sri Lanka's as well. Mrs. B had once again put Sri Lanka on the map, this time to be dubbed the 'Bandaranaike country.'
Many have told me that most foreigners know Sri Lanka as Bandaranaike country. Mrs. B had that remarkable ability to steal the lime light in any forum by her mere presence. Not many leaders in the world possessed this trait.
Madam Bandaranaike moved with kings and commoners alike. She would easily interact with a poor farmer whom she would meet in many of her countrywide visits, particularly during the food drive she initiated in 1973. She had a remarkable ability to put anyone at ease. Very few leaders in the world moved with the common man the way she did.
She felt for her countrymen and making Sri Lanka self-sufficient in food was her dream. It was in recognition of her Herculean effort to make our country self-sufficient that she won the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Ceres medal in 1976. Mrs. B was ready for the world food shortage in the 70s. She personally spearheaded the food drive and that was what saved Sri Lanka from a dire situation.
The Director General of the FAO came to Sri Lanka to present the medal to her. In presenting the medal to Madam Bandaranaike, he said that it was a great privilege in his tenure to be able to present the Ceres medal, which symbolized the Roman goddess for Agriculture, as a token of the utmost appreciation of the FAO and the world in general for her tremendous effort to make our country self-sufficient. He added, "I cannot think of any other person who has worked so zealously for the poor." Such was her acceptance to the whole world.
In my opinion, she is Sri Lanka's most valuable symbol.
When we were in the opposition for seventeen long years, our party cadres were demoralized and dejected. We couldn't do much for them and Madam Bandaranaike was perturbed about it.
When I spearheaded certain initiatives such as human rights campaigns, particularly in the late 80s when there were violations of people's basic rights, it was Mrs. B who encouraged me and gave me all the support. That was true leadership; allowing one's followers to lead initiatives but providing all the guidance and support to make such activities successful.
It was Mrs. B who provided two air tickets for me and Vasudeva Nanayakkara to go to Geneva to represent mattes to the Human Rights organizations. She was a tower of strength in all the agitational campaigns we launched against the unlawful activities of the then government.
If not for her approval and understanding. "Pada Yatra" would have been a non event. When we had "Jana Gosha" too, she was physically there to extend her support.
She didn't give her assent to undemocratic activities although many party supporters wanted to engage in protest campaigns in retaliation to the horrendous crimes the government of the day was committing. She was, to me, a true democrat and a leader who respected the will of the people.
In my political career, one of the saddest events was when Mrs. B's civic rights were taken away by the UNP government. It was obvious to all Sri Lankan that the then UNP government was not confident to face Mrs. B at a Presidential election. The only and the surest way for the UNP to win the presidential election was to disenfranchise the opponent. That they did and it was probably one of the saddest and most notorious events in our parliamentary history.
No one ever thought that Mrs. B would bring her party back to power. That she did in style; in 1994, Mrs. B presented to the weary SLFP supporters a new lease of life in the form of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the People's Alliance of which Madam Bandaranaike was the leader and formed a very stable government.
Mrs. B was street smart to read the minds of the people and then respond to them. She played the second fiddle to her daughter and watched with great happiness when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga created history by becoming the first woman President of Sri Lanka.
Finally, I believe none can change one's destiny. When I look back, as a young man of 24 years entering Parliament as a minion, I never aspired to be what I am now. The "Mother of the Nation", whose eighty eight birth anniversary is being commemorated today, gave me the first opportunity to enter national politics, and nurtured me throughout.
And, as destiny would decide, her daughter, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, thirty four (34) years later, has made me her Prime Minister. I have been given another opportunity to serve my country and I will not fail.
May Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka's charismatic matriarch, attain Eternal Bliss.
Memoirs of Madame Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Formation of UNP and after
When the Party had to face the General Elections in 1956, which came rather suddenly, because Sir John dissolved Parliament one year earlier. S.W.R.D. did not have the ready cash to spend for the Party at the Elections. Mostly, all his candidates were not people with much means. They were mainly rural base persons.
There were no capitalists to give him funds unlike for the UNP. So he had to depend on whatever he had of his own money and those of his friends and well-wishers who were able to contribute their little mite to the Election Fund. So S.W.R.D. decided to take a loan from the Bank for which he had to mortgage a property in Colombo.
The only property he had in Colombo was the house we lived in Rosmead Place. The deeds were examined by Bank Lawyers and the usual procedure followed to see that there were no encumbrances. As there were none, the Loan was approved. But something strange happened somewhere, and he never got the loan.
From a very reliable source, he (SWRD) heard that instructions were given from the top not to give the loan to him. This was done, I feel, as not to give him the loan. They never expected him to offer his only property (his living house) for the mortgage.
Fortunately, for him, a lawyer friend who was aware of the intrigues that were going on to stop the loan realising the injustices done to him, came to him like a 'Messiah' and offered to give him that amount of money he needed as a loan even without interest to be returned after the Elections. The late, Mr. A. P. Jayasuriya and I had to sign the pro-note for the purpose. This is what you call 'a real friend in need'.
After the Election was over, and S.W.R.D. became Prime Minister, the Bank Chairman who adopted delaying tactics in the granting of the loan, and who even treated him shabbily by keeping him waiting long outside his room when S.W.R.D. went to meet him to discuss the loan before the election, became very polite and courteous to him after he became Prime Minister. He offered to grant the loan which had already been approved before the election, but not granted because of pressure from the top.
Anyway, S.W.R.D. took the loan because he had to pay it back to the lender who was good enough to give it to him even without interest. As he did not live long - only 3 1/2 years as Prime Minister, when he met with his untimely death, it fell upon my shoulders to pay back this loan. I kept on paying it in instalments as stipulated in the Loan Agreement.
Though he had vast acreages of land left for him by his late father, they did not bring him the income it should have, due to neglect and robbing. Whatever he got, he used for his politics. And in addition, after his death, we were called upon to pay heavy death duties for which we had to sell some properties. So I paid back the loan with whatever I got including my allowance as Prime Minister.
I have only mentioned a few instances of the tactics used by the UNP to obstruct S.W.R.D. in his political life while he was a member of the UNP Government and after he left. The so-called newspapers, particularly Lake House continuously carried on a campaign of vilification and maligning him at every turn. They were out to destroy him politically. No doubt it made his path very difficult. We had to fight the newspapers all the way and in spite of them, he finally succeeded.
Lake House commission
The Lake House commission report had this to say:
"The impression that the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd., as a matter of policy, supported the United National Party and what are called the local capitalist interests had been widely held in this country. That that impression is an accurate one became apparent to us from documents produced before us as well as from the evidence given by the directors themselves.
As a result of this policy of the newspaper company supporting the United National Party during its periods of rule in this country as well as generally opposing and criticising other Parties during the latter's turns of office, the company fell into disfavour with the Parties opposed to the United National Party."
In November 1956, S.W.R.D. had to go abroad to New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Nehru and some other Asian leaders for a discussion on the Suez crisis. This was a serious concern and a delicate issue to World Peace. After the leaders met in Delhi, it was decided that S.W.R.D. go to New York and represent them at the United Nations and express their concern, etc. He returned to Ceylon, and within a few days left for New York via London. I too accompanied him.
We stopped in London for just a day to enable him to meet Sir Anthony Eden, then Prime Minister of Britain to discuss with him the problems of the Suez war. They had a lengthy discussion and finally S.W.R.D. had advised him to withdraw his troops and commence negotiations. The old association and friendship at Christ Church probably had some bearing on the discussions, because on our return from New York, we again stayed over in London for a few days.
While we were at dinner at the High Commissioner's residence (Sir Claude Corea) he got a call from Mr. Selwyn Lloyd requesting him to see him at his residence. In answer to his call, S.W.R.D. with the High Commissioner went to his flat. He had announced to him that Sir Anthony Eden had wanted him informed that he had decided to withdraw his troops and commence negotiations.
Naturally, S.W.R.D. has told him how happy he was to hear this news. Sir Anthony Eden was out of London at the time. Soon after that he resigned from the Premiership.
S.W.R.D. was so excited at the news that he had forgotten and left his pipe and pouch at Mr. Selwyn Lloyd's Flat. Next morning, Sir Claude went and collected it. The troops were withdrawn and the war ended.
At the United Nations, S.W.R.D. made his address and expressed serious concern and spoke strongly against the action taken by Britain.
He said: "The moment that even a token United Nations force is established on Egyptian territory, it will be sufficient occasion, in the interests of us all, for Israeli forces to be withdrawn behind the armistice line, and British and French forces to be withdrawn from Egyptian territory. I cannot conceive that either Egypt or Israel would make an assault upon forces of the United Nations. I just do not believe it. So that it is really not required for a large force of the United Nations to be present before those forces are withdrawn.
The first and the most vital thing is a withdrawal of forces from Egyptian territory now as early as possible. If that does not happen, even if under the guise of "volunteers" - and we know what "volunteers" mean - other countries, in order to secure the observance of the decisions of the United Nations, take steps, I fear that the results may be very far-reaching and all our efforts so far may be swept away in a moment.
There is another important thing, of course: the early clearing of the Suez Canal. That is very important to all of us, particularly to my country. Most of the trade of Ceylon - seventyfive per cent of it - passes through the Suez Canal. I take it that, not only for us but for other countries, Western as well as Asian, it is important that the Suez Canal be cleared as early as possiblde. I feel that it should be done under the auspices of the United Nations.
There is one point regarding that matter, namely, whether the clearing of the Canal should start at once in full force, prior to any substantial withdrawal of foreign forces from Egyptian territory or whether it should begin subsequent to that. I hope that such quibbles will not stand in the way of the practice of doing the thing that is necessary. I personally feel that a substantial withdrawal of foreign forces from Egyptian territory at once would greatly facilitate the further task of clearing up the Suez Canal.
I am quite sure that Egypt - at least, this is my hope - will not object to the United Nations, under its flag, using whatever material and tackle - and it is rather specialised tackle which is required for this purpose - that are available, whatever source it happens to come from, in order to clear the Canal.
While in London, we visited the House of Commons while it was in session. Fiery speeches were made and the situation was tense and even paper balls (not paper weights) were thrown at each other. The Prime Minister was not there and it was left to the Foreign Secretary to reply.
After he became Prime Minister in 1956, it was not at all a period without troubles. There was a spate of strikes engineered by left parties. They hardly gave him time to settle down and get down to govern.
Apparently, they feared that he would start implementing his socialist policies which were realistic and much more acceptable than Marxist policies. So the Leftists' tactics was to keep him occupied by settling strikes and not giving him time to implement his policies. And apparently workers too felt that here was a man sympathetic to them and so they wanted to get as much of their demands as possible.
I remember, when somebody asked him why are you tolerating all this nonsense of strikes as he called it, his reply was: "You see the UNP Government during their regime never attempted to solve the workers' problems. In fact, they suppressed them and they had no rights. They put a wet blanket over all the problems. They did not want to face them. I have come not to run away or hide from problems, but to solve them. I have lifted that blanket so the problems are coming up. I am now facing the problems and trying to solve them".
Not only the Leftists, reactionaries both outside and within too harassed him - a clear case of a man in the centre being attacked from both extremes. He introduced progressive legislation and laws for the benefit of workers and declared 'May Day' a holiday and a Provident Fund for workers who had no pension rights. But the workers, sorry to say, used these very laws to strike and harass him. If they were sincere, they should have helped him to implement his Socialist policies.
S.W.R.D.'s first visit abroad after he became Prime Minister was to U.K. in 1956 to attend the Commonwealth Prime Minsters' Conference in London. I accompanied him. It was a strange coincidence that Sir Anthony Eden who was his contemporary at Oxford and were both in Christ Church occupying the adjoining rooms in the hostel were both Prime Ministers of their respective countries at the same time.
He presided at the Conference. In fact, it was said that one day when S.W.R.D. was walking across the courtyard at Oxford, Sir Anthony had remarked: "there goes the future Prime Minister of Ceylon". Ceylon was still a colony then.
Lady Eden, niece of Sir Winston Churchill, entertained the wives and daughters of the Prime Ministers who attended the Conference at Downing Street - the British Prime Minister's residence. Indira Gandhi had accompanied her father Prime Minister Nehru.
It was there that I met Indira and then subsequently at other Conferences such as the Non-Aligned Conference. We began a friendship that lasted almost 25 years until her death.
Sir Anthony and Lady Eden invited my husband and me to spend the week-end at 'Chequers' - the official country home of the British Prime Minister. It was an interesting weekend and they not only discussed politics, but about their days spent at Oxford, which was most interesting to me.
While in London, he did not fail to contact the doctor who had saved his life when he was a small boy. Dr. Aldo Castelain was his name. He apparently happened to be in Colombo at the time and he was called in by the family Doctor Rockwood, who diagnosed his ailment to be Diptheria and rather advanced case. He immediately took the patient in hand and cured him. S.W.R.D. contacted the doctor in London and wanted him to lunch with us at the Hotel. The doctor was very happy to see him after so many years.
My entry into active politics
After the sudden and tragic death of Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike the Prime Minister, the country and the SLFP were left in a state of confusion and helplessness.
The country was without a P.M. Within a few hours of his demise the Cabinet of Ministers met at the Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke's residence and decided to appoint W. Dahanayake as PM though he was not a member of the SLFP. His group known as the Bhasha Peramuna however was also a part of the MEP coalition.
That Government did not last long, as some of the Ministers and the Prime Minister had started clashing on the issue of the inquiries into the circumstances of the assassination etc.
A group of Ministers wanted no stone unturned to get to the bottom of the plot to kill the P.M. They were not satisfied with the way the inquiries were proceeding. It was suspected that there was an attempt to shield certain individuals who were suspected of being in the plot. One fine day at midnight Dahanayake the PM sacked some of the Ministers and brought in some others in their place.
He could not carry on the Government for long so he dissolved Parliament within 3 months of his Premiership, and called for elections in March 60.
I should mention how he offered to get the State to pay me compensation. Apparently certain countries had paid the widows of assassinated leaders, Burma was an example he quoted.
I categorically refused to accept a cent as compensation for the blood of my late husband.
March 1960 election
The SLFP contested under the leadership of C. P. de Silva who was the Leader of the House during SWRD's government. He fell seriously ill and was rushed to London for medical treatment. Therefore he was not in Sri Lanka when my husband died. Had he been here he would have succeeded my husband as PM after his death.
When March elections came the SLFP was thoroughly disorganised after the death of my husband in lieu of what Dahanayake did sacking Ministers etc. He formed his own party the Lanka Prajathanthrawadi Pakshaya (LPP) and some of the SLFP members contested from his party. Practically all the recognised political parties contested.
There were as many as four or five cornered contests in some constituencies. I gave whatever support I could without coming to the forefront but in the last two weeks of the campaign it became necessary for me to address meetings, because our opponents kept on accusing the SLFP of having plotted to kill their leader. They kept on saying that the SLFP hands are smeared with the blood of their leader.
The MEP benefitted by this campaign. In order to counteract that accusation our party members pleaded with me to address some meetings for SLFP candidates. Much against my mother's wish I consented and went on addressing a number of meetings. C. P. de Silva who was leading the SLFP campaign pleaded with me to help him, although he stabbed me in the back later and brought down the downfall of the SLFP government in 1964 of which he was a Minister and Leader of the House.
In March 1960 the SLFP got 46 seats and the UNP 50. The MEP won 10 seats. It was expected to come a close second to the UNP as it had the support of Sinhala Buddhist organisations and leaders like Meththananda, T. U. de Silva.
The LPP lost badly. Even the leader Mr. Dahanayake, caretaker PM was defeated in his seat that he had held for years.
The UNP formed the government as it was the largest majority party. It was not able to carry on for long. The government was defeated in the Throne Speech. Dudley Senanayake dissolved Parliament and went to the polls in July.
It was at this stage that our party requested me to take on the leadership of the party. I had to consider my children. It tortured my mind. What if I also met with the same fate as my husband? That was the fear my mother and my family members had too.
It was a very difficult and crucial decision for me to take. I had to care for 3 fatherless children. And my mother was against it. She naturally feared for my life. Those who planned to destroy the leader did so hoping to destroy the party too. Because they realised there won't be a leader strong and acceptable to the masses in the party, to assume leadership.
They wouldn't have in their widest dreams expected me to assume that place as their leader and step in to fill the gap. It had never happened before in the political history of our country as a matter of fact in the world-a women leading a political party.
If I did not accede to the request of our party probably the SLFP would have faded away in that very year of my husband's death.
I had to consider the fact that this was a party to which my late husband had sacrificed his time, wealth and in the end his life. His policies were accepted by the people in '56, and they gave him a comfortable majority to implement them and a great majority of people benefitted from them.
Those people would have been left stranded. I realised that it was my duty to do so. After much consideration I decided to take the plunge. I knew it was not an easy task. As we had to fight a party that would go to any length to defeat us.
The UNP had control of the newspapers. The fact is, a cartoonist in the Lake House newspapers stooped to the lowest level to publish vulgar cartoons. After the elections he did not remain in the country. He feared the people's wrath and ran away, out of the country.
It was not an easy task to get the party together and find suitable candidates at such short notice.
We arranged no-contest pacts with the LSSP and CP not to contest one another in some electorates. Felix Dias Bandaranaike played an important part in those negotiations. In that way we avoided the 3 - 4 cornered contests as in the March elections.
Though I led the party I did not contest a seat. I wanted to be free to campaign for the party without having myself tied down to an electorate. My real intension was, if the party succeeded, to name somebody else to lead the government.
The UNP apparently suspected this and they kept on asking on platforms as to who was going to be the Prime Minister. She (Mrs. Bandaranaike) is not contesting a seat, therefore she cannot be PM without being in Parliament. So our speakers kept assuring the people that I would be leading the government if the people gave us the power. The constitution had provisions for one to hold office for 3 months as PM or a Minister without being in either of the Houses-Senate or Parliament.
There was the Senate too then. In fact the then Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetileke told me later, that the UNP had consulted legal opinion from a constitutional lawyer in the UK to find out whether I could be PM without being in Parliament. Their opinion had been that it was possible, provided the person enters Parliament or Senate within 3 months. In spite of that the UNP leader kept on saying that I could not, in order to deceive the people. So within 3 months I was nominated to the Senate.
I appointed my Cabinet of Ministers. I was the only woman in the Cabinet. I was often asked the question how I functioned with an all male Cabinet. I must say that I had no problems. They all co-operated and gave me all the support necessary. Towards the end of 1961 there was a general strike by leftist trade unions and an emergency had to be declared. It was at this stage that some reactionaries in the army, navy and police among the top officer ranks planned a coup in January 1962 to overthrow our government and handover reins to someone of their choice. They did not approve of the progressive measures we were taking.
I have written a separate chapter on this coup.
We overcame this serious situation and we were getting on tackling problems, when in 1964 there was another attempt to defeat our government.
When the Government decided to bring a law to broadbase the Lake House Group press which was a reactionary press the UNP got very active. They went to the extent of bribing some of the SLFP members of Parliament.
The capitalist class contributed large funds for the purpose. The UNP was not concerned about Lake House. They only used it as a whiphand to defeat the Government on the grounds that we were trying to destroy the free press. Some of the leaders of the UNP were shareholders of Lake House. They used this position to defeat my Government in Parliament.
A Commission of Inquiry was appointed on August 5, 1970. "The Commission was required to inquire and report on whether Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited had offered or given any gratification to any person who was a Member of the House of Representatives in 1964".
The Commission in their report stated inter alia:
There can be no concealment of the truth that the crucial date for the purpose of this allegation is the 3rd December 1964, which was the date on which some 14 Members of the House of Representatives supporting the then Government crossed over to the Opposition enabling the latter to throw out a vital resolution.
"Even in the absence of direct evidence of the giving of gratifications to Members of Parliament, if there had been evidence of large-scale disbursements of money in the period immediately preceding the 3rd December, 1964, a great deal of suspicion would have been thrown on the purpose of the disbursements.
The resolutions indicate that the directors were gravely concerned about the future of their business. They did entrust to the Chairman, Mr. R.S. Wijewardene, as we have detailed above, a sum of Rs. 100,000 in two equal instalments, one on 19th October, 1964, and the other on 4th November 1964, to be spent in his absolute discretion for safeguarding the freedom of the Press and the interests of the shareholders of the Company.
Six days thereafter,viz, on 10th November, 1964, the same directors resolved to pay over to Mr. G.B.S. Gomes, the Managing Director, a sum of Rs. 300,000, also to be spent at his absolute discretion for the same purposes."
"We examined the contents of a letter P125, written by Mr. L.C. Gooneratne on 17th December, 1964 to Mr. Cyril Ford, the Managing Director of Duckhams Limited in the course of which Mr. Gooneratne wrote:-
"I presume you are aware that we went through a very trying period in the last four months when the Government introduced a Bill to take over our entire organisation. "It was a grim struggle and we had to marshal all our resources to fight the Bill.
"It is heartening now to be able to breathe a little freely as we were not only able to stymy the Bill but were responsible for bringing about the defeat of the Government on the debate of The Throne Speech. I am sure you will be most interested to hear our strategy."
"This is undoubtedly an interesting letter but it fell short of describing the strategy employed. We inquired from Mr. Gooneratne what the strategy 'he meant was and were given the reply that the reference was to the Bhikkhus' Campaign.
"We do not think the answer correctly sets out what Mr. Gooneratne implied in the letter, but we are in no position to furnish the answer ourselves."
"Having regard to the absence of direct evidence of the giving of gratifications to Members of Parliament, even if one assumes that the explanations offered are unsatisfying, or what is worse, perhaps false, we had to see how the unsatisfactory or false explanations could suffice to establish that these monies were given to bribe Members of Parliament to cross over from the Government side or as rewards to them for such crossing over. If the explanation offered is unsatisfying or is false, suspicion, even grave suspicion, does attach to the purpose of the payment..."
If they were so concerned one would have expected them to denationalise Lake House after their victory but they didn't. Instead they used it to prop up the UNP.
Now it has become a UNP paper no longer national. (In the context of when there memoirs were written)
When the policy statement of the government was defeated in Parliament it was defeated by 1 vote. 14 of our members voted against. It is common knowledge that some of them were bribed to defeat the government commonly known as 'Throne Speech Convention.' As a respecter of democracy I decided to dissolve Parliament and go to the country. At the time 2 of our MPs including the Minister of Finance were out of the country.
In fact an MP was in hospital after surgery in UK.
I could have waited till they returned and taken another vote.
In fact, I was advised to do so. The UNP had summoned their members who were out of the country to be in Parliament to vote. Whereas we were unaware of the plans till the last moment.
I questioned CP (C.P. de Silva) about the rumours that he was going to cross over and he denied it and assured me he was not going to do so but he voted against us.
That was a real stab in the back.
In 1964 bringing the LSSP into the Government, it frightened CP and he crossed! He feared I might bring the Communist party also into the coalition. Why did I bring the LSSP into the Government?
Every time the SLFP formed a government the left parties started their game of strikes in order to hamper the progress of the government. All the left parties for the first time got together and formed a so-called United Left Front and put forward 21 demands.
SLFP headquarters at Darley road
No Government could have granted all those demands without causing a terrific drain in our economy. It meant we would have had to curtail all the country's development work.
If we didn't grant them too, these demands, which we possibly couldn't it meant they could have continued with their strikes and strikes weakened the economy.
So I decided to invite the LSSP with their leader Dr. N.M. Perera who was a great economist and apparently appeared had all the answers to our economic problems to join the government and help to solve those problems. After negotiations of course.
They wanted me to bring in Phillip too. He was also keen to come but he was not willing to join unless I removed some of my Ministers whom he said were reactionaries. I was not prepared to remove any of my Cabinet Ministers in order to bring him or any other party leaders to the Cabinet.
So it was only the LSSP that joined having got 3 ministries including Finance. What happened to strikes?
As a result of this many strikes fizzled out. Our Government did not face any major strikes except minor ones occasionally.
When I took over the party we had no office of our own. We were in a rented building which was the third since the party was formed.
Being a major party I felt we should have a building of our own. And I set upon the job of building a place. Thereafter we bought a land with an old building at Darley Road which was quite centrally situated. I decided to purchase it with some party funds we had saved.
This was prior to 1970. We shifted our office there temporarily till we built a new place. Today, we probably have the largest and best office any party could have.
Some world leaders I have met
Those world leaders whom I met and impressed me were Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and President Tito, President Nasser and Chou-en-Lai.
What struck me most was the dedication and sincerity of those leaders to their country's cause.
I met Pandit Nehru for the 1st time in 1956 in London when I accompanied my husband to London for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. He was accompanied by his daughter Indira. Besides meeting at official parties, the Queen's banquet, British PMs party, I remember my husband and I were invited to the home of the Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten which was in the countryside Broadlands. P. N. Nehru and his sister Mrs. Wijayalakshmi Pandit who was High Commissioner for India at the time were the only other guests.
We spent the evening there and left after dinner. It was a fabulous house with vast acreages of land with their own farm orchard etc.
During the few hours we spent there together I was able to learn a great deal listening to the conversations between Pandit Nehru, Lord Mountbatton, Mrs. Pandit and my husband, the man who was responsible for granting Independence to India. He was India's viceroy for a period. It was altogether an interesting and memorable occasion for me.
Returning to London after dinner, we gave a lift to Mrs. Pandit as Pandit Nehru with whom she came was spending the weekend at Broadlands. Since then I had secured an opportunity of meeting him when he came to Sri Lanka for the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations as the Chief Guest on the invitation of my late husband SWRD who was in 1957 PM and, twice, when I was PM. On every occasion Indira accompanied him.
I met Indira too for the first time when Lady Eden invited the wives of PMs and daughters for tea to 10, Downing Street, (the British PM's official residence). Then again at the Non-Aligned Summit in Belgrade and PM's Conference in 1960 and when I visited India on an official visit.
When Panditje heard the news of the death of SWRD, he declared a public holiday even before Ceylon did.
Shortly after I was elected PM in 1960 Nehru extended an invitation to me and my children to come to India for a holiday on a pilgrimage. I requested that it should not be an official visit as I was still in mourning and I did not wish to attend functions and parties, which is normally extended to heads of governments.
We visited Madras, Bangalore, Mysore before going to Delhi and from Delhi we visited the Buddhist shrine Buddha Gaya, Saranath, Sanchi, Ellore. We did all this by a special plane sent by Nehru to Sri Lanka to take us.
While in Delhi we were his guests at his official residence. 'Teen Murti' which is now the Nehru Museum.
During our stay there Panditje was going to address a public meeting in Delhi in the huge grounds known as 'Ramlela' grounds.
He visited me and asked me to join him so I accompanied him. There was a small platform with just four chairs. Panditje, myself and one other occupied the platform. It was very high apparently for security reasons and also to enable the people to see the speaker. There was a milling crowd of easily over a lakh.
He perched himself on the edge of the table with his feet on the railing that was round the stage and spoke for nearly 2 hours. He was the only speaker. Of course I didn't understand a word of what he said as he spoke in Hindi. I was observing the reaction of the crowds who were all seated down listening to the man they loved and revered.
His last visit to Ceylon was in 1962 at my special invitation to open the Bandaranaike Ayurvedic Research Centre at Nawinna. It was very gracious of him to accept my invitation at that time because it was during the Sino-Indian war.
He just came for one night. He said in
his speech at the opening that he came in spite of the busy schedule at home
because it was in memory of his friend SWRD. That was a great gesture on his
part to have come in spite of the fact that India was in the midst of a war with
China. He was accompanied by his daughter Indira.
NAM 5th Summit in
glory of Mrs B's foreign policy
As the 5th Summit was to
be held in Sri Lanka, we started making preparation about 2 years ahead. Special
committees were appointed for various aspects. One of the main question was a
hall. We had no problem as we had the BMICH a fully equipped with all the
necessary accommodation necessary for such a large conference.
delegates, we had several hotels already available, one or two of them, hotels
like Oberoi and Mount Lavinia expanded their hotel by extending a wing to the
existing one. So unlike in Lusaka and Algiers we did not have to build a hall
and villas or hotels for the occasion.
I would be failing in my
duty if I did not mention here of the generosity of PM Chou-en-Lai, who at my
request gifted the magnificent Conference Hall fully equipped and with
accommodation for 90 delegations. In fact when I requested for this hall, I had
the NA Summit also in view.
If not for this, probably
it would not been possible for Sri Lanka to host that Conference.
Though I was severely
criticised by the UNP leaders for asking for a International Conference hall
instead of a hospital or some such thing. The usefulness of a Conference Hall is
The 5th Summit was held in
1976 September, 90 member countries participated. All leaders made their opening
Important issues were
All leaders were
accommodated at the main hotels except Indira Gandhi who was accommodated at the
PM's residence Temple Trees. President Boumedienias the current Chairman at
Ackland House, a state Guest House.
President Tito expressed a
wish to stay in his ship 'Galeb' which came to Sri Lanka and was anchored at the
Colombo harbour. Incidentally it was in the same ship that he and Madam Broz
visited Sri Lanka (Ceylon then) in 1957 when SWRD was PM. He even hosted the
delegates apart on his ship.
It is appropriate to
mention here that the generous assistance we received from some of the
membership countries, Yugoslavia, Algeria, Cuba and Guyana. (Rumania and
Pakistan though they were not members).
If we did not get that
help we received in the way of material and technical and advice and guidance
from countries like Yugoslavia we could not have made the Conference the success
it was. It was the view of everybody who attended the Conference that it was a
very well organised and was a successful Conference. The security aspect was
given a special attention.
The Conference ceremonial
opening was televised to over 60 countries through the Yugoslavia assistance who
provided the necessary equipment facilities for the purpose. Sri Lanka did not
have television at the time.
Here I would like to
express for record purposes the assistance I received from all those who were
entrusted with the responsibility of organising the conference.
Everyone of them however
small the task assigned to them worked with such dedication. They really gave
their unstinted support. They were all determined to make it a success as it was
a matter of pride to Sri Lanka to have had the opportunity of hosting a
Conference of such magnitude with leaders from 90 countries participating.
I think it was the first
time in the history of our country that such a Conference took place. With very
little experience of handling such a Conference, of such magnitude and very
limited resources available it was praiseworthy that we were able to make it so
successful. Of course there were the critics, our political opponents and of
course the reactionary newspapers to whom whatever we did was wrong.
They were so petty minded
hasty as to call the gathering of 90 leaders an African tamasha (Kaberi magula).
They were so envious of the fact that the Summit Conference was such a
They were hoping and
waiting for something to go wrong, which did not happen thanks to the perfect
organisation. They then said that it was an ultra utter wastage of funds. They
did not admit the fact that most of it was in the form of aid (quote from
I would like to mention
here a comment made by President Tito and Madam Broz, when Felix and I called on
them on his ship 'Galeb', the day after the Conference was over. They both were
full of praise for the organisation. Madam Broz remarked 'I couldn't find a
single flaw everything was perfect.
That gladdened me
tremendously because of the efforts put into it. President Tito and Madam Broz
had attended four Summits before. Women are said to be much more observant and
critical than men. I like to share this praise with all those who assisted me to
make it such a great success.
Whatever our political
opponents and the reactionary newspapers had to say, internationally Sri Lanka's
stature was enhanced tremendously.
Non alignment has secured
for Sri Lanka a world stature far higher than that which economic resources or
any other strength might entitle her to.
You get the opportunity to
observe the finer points of Summit diplomacy from inside.
The very fact of meeting a
large number of heads of States and sharing experience with them is useful. Some
say non alignment has not served its purpose or that it has not been a success.
What is the alternative? Alignment?
If we are to with whom is
the big question. The major blocs are what are known as Eastern and Western
blocs. To which should we be aligned. Among the aligned itself there has been
many cracks in both blocs recently.
If one were to look at the
picture impartially it should be clear to them that it would not be in Sri
Lanka's interest to align itself to any bloc. It's best to be outside of any
blocs. It seems to be the only practical path open to any country which wants to
keep its independence and integrity.
Father of the movement
I had the opportunity of
attending the 1st five Summits at which President Tito was present. He was
considered the father of the movement and his advice and guidance was always
sort by other member countries. Of the founder members he was the only one to
have had the opportunity of attending the 6 Summits.
His death was a great blow
to the movement. It is with regret that we have to accept the fact that there
are no leaders in the movement today of the stature of the founder members.
Tito, Nehru, Nassar, Sukarrno, Bandaranaike etc.
Reproduced in the Sunday Observer over a period of sebveral weeks with the kind permission of ANCL Editorial Consultant Malalgoda Bandutilleke custodian of the manuscript and pictures.
SO Mar 27 2005Memoirs of Sirima R.D.Bandaranaike :
MEP Government 1956-59
The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) was a front of several parties formed for the purpose of contesting the election of '56. Parties in it were SLFP - the major party, VLSSP led by Phillip Gunawardene, Bhasha Peramuna led by W. Dahanayake, and Samajawadi Mahajana Peramuna led by IMRA Iriyagolla.
The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Cabinet was formed on April 12th 1956. After that Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the Cabinet and MPs went to Kandy to the Dalada Maligawa. There were massive crowds to receive them. The PM addressed them from the Maligawa grounds.
Several progressive measures were carried out by the MEP Government such as nationalisation of road transport, port, the Paddy Lands Act to give ande cultivators more rights etc.
When the Paddy Lands Act was introduced a group of persons (reactionaries) organised a demonstration outside Gordon Gardens. It later transpired that it was organised against the Minister Phillip Gunawardene, who introduced the Paddy Lands Act which was approved by the Cabinet.
Though it was introduced by him as Minister of Agriculture it was SWRD's proposal. Even long before he formed the Government it was one of his views that the paddy farmer must be given more rights in order to encourage him to produce more rice in order to be self-sufficient in rice.
Later it transpired that some of the groups that organised this demonstration were behind SWRD's assassination in September 1959.
A group of Ministers were constantly clashing with Phillip at Cabinet meetings. Phillip had been often nasty to them calling them various names.
He was known to be hot tempered, very aggressive and abusive at times. The Ministers protested against this and said it was most unpleasant working with him.
Apparently there was no team spirit. It was a dilemma for SWRD. He finally decided to reshuffle the Cabinet. Phillip disagreed. He and Minister William de Silva, the other VLSSP member in the cabinet left the government.
When the new reshuffled Cabinet was sworn in SWRD invited the Ministers to have kiribath at Temple Trees the official residence of the PM. He went there. I was waiting for them there.
Only Ministers A.P. Jayasuriya and T.B. Illangaratne came early. The others came rather late. When he made inquiries he learnt that they had all gone to Stanley Soysa's (Finance Minister) place at Regent Flats to have kiribath (Milk Rice).
When they finally came SWRD expressed his dissatisfaction over that. That Cabinet crisis and what followed was probably the beginning of the plot to assassinate him. He was never happy after that. He probably felt something was brewing behind his back.
To meet the challenge of the UNP at '56 elections SWRD formed a front a People's United Front commonly known as MEP. The CP and LSSP could not be partners because their policy on language was different from that of the SLFP. But there was a no contest pact between them and the MEP.
After 1959 this front did not exist. Bhasha Peramuna and Iriyagolla's party just faded away but Phillip continued with the new MEP as his group and dropped the name VLSSP.
Reproduced with the kind permission of ANCL Editorial Consultant Malalgoda Bandutilleke custodian of the manuscript.