SWRD Bandaranaike, the fourth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) became a victim on 25 September 1959, to a gunman named Talduwe Somarama at his residence in Rosemead Place, Colombo 7, at a public meeting. The gunman used an A45 Webley Mark VI revolver to shoot the Prime Minister at point blank range, while he prostrated to pay homage to the ‘yellow robe’ of a Buddhist monk. On 26 September he died at the Merchant’s Ward, Colombo General Hospital.
A45 Webley Mark VI type revolver use to assasinate the Prime Minister
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s 59th death anniversary was marked on 25 September 2018. It would, therefore, be appropriate to highlight his accomplishments and to evaluate the vital role he played in Ceylon politics.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s father sent him to the University of Oxford in 1921. First years’ experience at Oxford turned into a period of disappointment for him, not being able to participate in a university debate. A few exhaustive efforts, at least to catch the Literary Union president’s eye at Union debates, proved futile. Seemingly, when the nightmare against loneliness came to an end, he adopted a philosophy that ‘he was equal to others’, and a thought process that he ‘should be superior to others’, became an immense consolation.
During his first year, he never got a chance to participate in a single Union debate, yet he made a few unsuccessful efforts to catch the Literary Association president’s eye. Finally, his maiden speech on the ‘Parliamentary system’was made on 17 November 1921. He claimed that the “present Parliamentary system does not answer the needs of modern society”. It was mingled with an exquisite torture of his mind and the impact made by his maiden speech reinforced with his continued participation – one debate after another.
At Oxford University
S.W.R.D Bandaranaike returned home to Horagolla, in March 1925, with a rational and progressive viewpoint of dealing with Ceylon politics. He entered politics in 1931 and ended up as an enlightened Statesman.
Independence to Ceylon, on 4th February 1948, did not usher in true freedom to ‘Ceylon’ as authoritative prominence of the economy, and the bureaucracy in the Judiciary along with the administration of the country continued with the colonial culture.
Being a member of the United National Party (UNP) and a Minister of the D. S. Senanayake Cabinet, he proposed certain changes in the form of resolutions aimed at ushering changes to establish just aspirations of the Sinhalese, who had an agonising experience during the colonial era. S.W.R.D.’s genuine proposals included sincere changes with conviction, sans any inclinations to grab power, which were debated at Madampe Sessions of the UNP conference in June 1951.
As an important member of the UNP, his ambition was to bring about three changes in the UNP, without having to ‘abandon the ship’. Regrettably, his critics overlooked the genuine nature of the concept, and condemned him as an ambitious politician who was after power.
When such resolutions were rejected at Madampe Sessions, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had no option but to resign from the UNP and also as a Member of Cabinet on 17 July 1951. Such bitter experiences paved the way for him to build-up a new political philosophy, thus abled him to wield a united organization comprising progressive elements of the political spectrum with a nationalist hue to contest the General Elections in 1956.
The Buddhist Commission’s slogan was about discrimination against Sinhalese for 400 years by Christian rule, and eight years of the UNP rule’s inability to solve the problem. Mahajana Eksath Peramuna who supported S.W.R.D., helped to lead to a path-breaking, sweeping victory in 1956 General Elections. ‘The Sinhala Only Act’, which was the flagship of the new Government’s political strategy, became one of the foremost Bills to go through Parliament with a provision for reasonable use of Tamil language. It also enacted procedures for those officials who were not proficient in Sinhala or prepared to work in Sinhala, to retire with enhanced pensions, which led to many officers to retire.
S.W.R.D.’s compassion strengthened his credentials as a true Statesman in the way he treated Sir Oliver Goonatillake, the Governor General of Ceylon, after the UNP’s defeat, when the Opposition challenged Sir Oliver’s retention in the post. At the time, S.W.R.D. replied to the Opposition with great dignity that it was only fair on his part to recognise His Excellency’s knowledge, experience, and constitutional powers at the fullest disposal of the new Government, and it was constitutionally Sir
Sir Oliver Goonatilleke – Governor General of Ceylon
S.W.R.D. negotiated in a most civilized and effective manner, and maintaining cordial relations with the British in abrogating the 1947 Defence Agreement and take-over of the Naval Base at Trincomalee and Katunayake Air Base.
Chelvanayakam – Bandaranaike Pact
The Chelvanayakam – Bandaranaike Pact (BC Pact) was forged with the sole aim of achieving a just settlement of the Tamil separatist problem. It was considered as a diplomatic move, which satisfied the Tamil nationalist aspirations, on hindsight, would have prevented extremist groups to spring up claiming a unitary state. Sadly, it had to be abandoned under the pressure of Sinhala chauvinistic groups, and they called it a “sell out to Tamils”. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had the vision and Chelvanayakam had the prudence to agree in order to avoid any future extreme revolutionary developments.
If the BC Pact was implemented, it would have served as a solid base to build on, to solve the other related ethnic problems, and would have immensely contributed to a just and peaceful settlement. The developments that took place after the abandonment of the Pact led to the TULF adopting a militant approach, which increased its intransigence in dealing with the subsequent Governments. It is a tragedy that such a situation had to develop and, as a result, Sri Lanka had to pay the price for thirty long years in experiencing the most intractable problem of a full-blown civil war in the East and North.
The magnitude of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s Statesmanship lays in the courage of his convictions to restore the rural villagers by providing opportunities to better themselves by way of giving equal job opportunities that were denied to them in the past due to lack of an English education. By fostering a sense of national identity, as expressed by the adoption of Sinhala as the national language, certain sections of the society still believe he lit a flame of national consciousness that will be hard to put out.
Critics have branded S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike as an expedient opportunist, but those in favour of his acts and deeds maintain only stubborn facts that attest his sincerity and dedication in ushering a way of life based on democratic principles.
Bandaranaike Samadhi at Horagolla
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