|Monday, 17 September 2001|
95th birth anniversary of Jayewardene falls today
by Bryan Nicholas
Destiny shapes our ends. Junius Richard Jayewardene (or JR as he was more affectionately called) was made for the law, but politics claimed him for its own. A scion of an illustrious family prominent in law and politics - JR served as Municipal Councillor, Member of Parliament, Cabinet Minister, Leader of the Opposition; Prime Minister and First Elected Executive President of the Republic of Sri Lanka.
It is said that in his youth, President Jayewardene excelled in sports like boxing, rugby, football, athletics and cricket but with the passing of the years it could be noted that it was his, orderly, well balanced and incisive mind and persuasive speech that cleaved a path for him and prompted the execution of his ideas. His speeches held the attention of every crowed with the sensible things he said in lucid language enhanced by his attractive and almost avuncular manner of speaking.
It was during the early years of my youth when JR led his party to a resounding victory at the General Elections of 1977 that a lasting impression was made and I became a close admirer and follower of his, mainly because I found that few men in Sri Lanka's political history stood up for principle with a tenacity born of conviction as he has. Nor have there been men as he who bowed to party discipline and dictates at tremendous self sacrifice and at times even humiliation, without abandoning principle.
When picking his first Cabinet, the late Mr. D. S. Senanayake recognising the potential of this remarkable and dynamic young man assigned to him the important portfolio of Finance. JR proved he was equal to every opportunity for service to his country.
In 1950 he seized a chance to pioneer international co-operation to improve the economic conditions of the peoples in South and South-East Asia. It was the Commonwealth Foreign Minister's Conference when he made a historic contribution with the idea for the Colombo Plan, of which he and Sir Percy Spender of Australia were the co-authors.
In 1951 President Jayewardene successfully countered the moves of the Soviet Union with an eloquence that reached a new dimension of wisdom in international relations.
With an unruffled calm and inspired by the tenets of the Compassionate One, the Buddha, he quoted the words of the Great Teacher that, "hatred ceases not by hatred but by love" when he spoke at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference at San Francisco in 1951, and thereby championed the cause of Japan for a place among the free nations of the world.
A vigorous and perceptive political strategist, yet a warm and genial personality, he was never the blind follower of the beaten track but had his own philosophy, pragmatic and suited for the times. JR has proved to his colleagues, followers as well as his critics that his patience, farsighted and conscientious approach to problem solving bear unique and far reaching fruits.
He was never greedy for power. For many decades he walked in the shadow of his friend, Dudley Senanayake, never shoving his way into the limelight but abided his time until the demise of Dudley when the mantle of leadership of the UNP automatically fell on him as the most senior member of the Party.
A firm believer in team work and true to his principles of conduct, President Jayewardene took full responsibility for Cabinet decisions and stood by his leaders in good weather and bad. He gave his first Chief and every succeeding Prime Minister his loyal support. Unlike many other politicians of our time, he was a founder member of the party he represented until the end.
In fact, on going through records I came across a handsome tribute paid to JR by the late Sir John Kotelawala, during the short time Sir John was Prime Minister. He refers to JR's excellent example as a Cabinet Minister and says, "he was always thoroughly conversant with the problems discussed, never shirked responsibility, never sought credit for his contributions, a quality not easily found in the competitive arena of politics."
Unlike most other politicians of our times, in retirement President Jayewardena fulfilled another noble objective to uplift the knowledge of future generation by setting up the Jayewardene Cultural Centre. Most of his critics assume that this was done to perpetuate his name but the actual goal of setting up this Centre was to create a depository for historical research, archives and a library which will encourage and foster the ideals and causes which the late President cherished and championed.
Junius Richard Jayewardene became Sri Lanka's First Elected Executive President at the age of 72 and held sway over the political scene until his demise, despite his retirement from active politics at the age of 84.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!
Produced by Lake House