SWRD’s 110th birth
anniversary fell on Jan. 8
The Silver-tongued orator
The 110th birth anniversary of one of the greatest sons of Sri Lanka
who was mowed down by the bullets of a lone gunman who unfortunately had
donned the saffron robes of a member of the Buddhist clergy, fell on
Thursday Jan. 8.
On that occasion when he was mortally injured by more than three
bullets and while still alive, on September 26, 1959 Premier S. W. R. D.
Bandaranaike said “A foolish man in the robes of a Buddhist monk shot
me, take pity on him.”
Those last words not only demonstrated thinking of the humane
statesman who once said “If I have a place among my people, it is not as
a master but as their servant who would serve them.”
For during his lifetime most of the people who opposed him especially
the press of his day did not understand the depth of Premier
Bandaranaike’s ideals that he had begun to emulate from the indigenous
culture and civilization that he chose to adopt after receiving the best
of western education learning not less than four Western languages.
He had all the background as the son of the aristocratic Sir Solomon
Dias Bandaranaike who during the colonial regime held the highest office
of Chief Mudliyar the highest position a native could have reached, and
having had his school education at a British grammar school and the
But upon his return he met people like Anagarika Dharmapala the
national leader and completely changed his thinking and philosophy of
Premier Bandaranaike who formed the Sinhala Maha Sabha in the
colonial era joined hands with D. S. Senanayake’s National Congress to
form the United National Party but the relationship between the two
leaders turned sour for many reasons, the main reason being Premier
Senanayake’s refusal to accept the indigenous culture and recognise the
rural intelligentsia who had been marginalised for nearly one and a half
centuries during the British colonial rule.
Bandaranaike the Minister of Local Government and Health in the first
Cabinet as well as the Leader of the House once called the
silver-tongued orator of Asia by Jawaharlal Nehru of India was one of
the best orators of all time but more than that a highly cultured
individual who understood that the Sri Lankan culture was superior to
the one that the Senanayakes chose to follow, Thus in 1951 when he quit
the UNP with his close allies including D. A. Rajapakse and four others
to the Opposition in Parliament the rural intellectuals and the common
man’s forces later to be named the Pancha Maha Balavegaya - Sanga, Veda,
Guru, Govi, Kamkaru - threw their support behind the SLFP and later the
MEP coalition that swept the polls in the 1956 election reducing the UNP
to only 8 seats in Parliament.
One has to look at the policies of the MEP especially the progressive
measures like establishing diplomatic ties with the then Soviet Russia
and China and the nationalization of the port, the bus transport service
as during those times foreign powers held sway over our own economy and
indigenous enterprise was sadly weak.
Therefore when Premier Bandaranaike introduced measures like the
Employees Provident Fund and Labour Tribunals to ameliorate the working
class and began to work for the common man he had to contend with
certain reactionary forces who finally assassinated him.
When the controversial Official Language Bill was passed in
Parliament in 1957 making Sinhala the official language Premier
Bandaranaike held talks with the leaders of the Illankai Thamil Arasu
Kachchi (the name mistranslated as Federal Party) and on that occasion
he came to an understanding with the leader of the FP that came to be
known as the B-C Pact later.
In that accord both leaders agreed to present the first devolution of
power package to parliament giving the Tamil people of the North and
East regional councils. It was proposed to give the Northern Province
one regional council and the Eastern Province two or more regional
councils since that province was of multi-ethnic nature.
Among the subjects to be devolved to the two provinces were
agriculture,lands and land development, education, health and industries
among others while also introducing amendments to the Official Language
Act allowing Tamil to be used as an official language in the North and
But Premier Bandaranaike could not implement the agreement with S. J.
V. Chelvanayakam as the then UNP especially its deputy leader J. R.
Jayewardene who had lost his parliamentary seat in 1956 started whipping
up the extremist elements and started the infamous march to Kandy from
Colombo charging Premier Bandaranaike of betraying the country to
Therefore the devolution proposal that could have averted the later
ethnic clashes and quelled the fears of the Tamil people had to be
shelved and the country had to suffer dire consequences though other
reasons also impacted the conflicts between the two ethnic groups.
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was an intellectual - a rare breed among
politicians - who appreciated socialism more than capitalism and the
middle path policy he enunciated he said was a third force, that could
set an example to the world by the Asian nations - avoiding both
extremes of his time the Communist state and the unbridled capitalist
Very few people today realise the sagacity of the middle path policy
but for countries like ours with a deep seated national culture and
ethos it becomes very meaningful. Like Gandhi who said “There can be no
Ram Rajya while the rich are wallowing in extreme wealth while the poor
are struggling for survival, starving.”
In the SLFP manifesto it was written that we should follow a
socialist model within the resources of our economy so that the poorest
among our society will not be deprived of a fair share of the national
Though he was defeated by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in 1956, after he
was assassinated in 1959 Sir John Kotelawala said Bandaranaike was
“Magnanimous in victory and courageous in defeat,” for he never sought
to take revenge on his political foes like some of the other leaders.