|Wednesday, 26 September 2001|
By Alavi Mowlana
The late Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike the only son of the late Gate Mudliyar, Sir Don Solomon Dias Bandaranaike and Lady Eslin Daisy Obeysekera hailed from Horagolla in Attanagalle.
He was born in Colombo and educated at S. Thomas' College Mt. Lavinia, pursued his higher studies in the United Kingdom at Oxford University in Cambridge to continue his brilliant academic career. He brought back the great honour to mother Lanka when he qualified as a barrister-at-law. His ability to deliver a speech impromptu and flawlessly was a unique gift that he processed by nature. His meaningful speeches left all audiences spell bound and attentive. This uniquely gifted oratory earned him the name 'Silver Bell of Asia'.
The late Bandaranaike was a sincere friend of the poor masses. He was termed as 'Duppathage Hithawatha' if one needed a standing example to the meaning of the word simplicity, one could take, the way of life of the late Mr. Bandaranaike being one of the greatest leaders of Sri Lanka unarguably. He carried himself with virtual infallibility until his untimely demise, as an honest and dedicated politician. Although his father was an aristocrat, he (the son) never ever reached out for personal glory or fame, because glory and fame followed him like a shadow only because they were bestowed on him by the masses. His persistence to create opportunities to the poor masses amply decorates his sincerity. Still living in the hearts of millions, as a rare patriotic leader. Added to all these, he was an author of great repute having written and published a book titled 'Charakaya Saha Goyamketha' his decision to be a politician added to being a qualified lawyer proved to be a successful combination.
The most striking feature in him was, that he chose to wear the national dress which was of locally manufactured material. He believed in, and practised his precepts infallibly. He was a patient listener and a speedy speaker. Just to update you with a brief summary of his political career, he became a member of the State Council under the United National Party led by the Late Don Stephen Senanayake.
Being a founder member of this Party he contributed substantially towards drafting the Constitution. Subsequently he resigned from the United National Party and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party taking with him a group of intellects and politicians faithful to him. Having led his new Party to victory by defeating the UNP he became the prime minister of Ceylon. He introduced amendments to the Constitution in Parliament with a clear intention of building and glorifying the image of Ceylon and most importantly with the fervent hope of uplifting the living standards of the poor masses, emphasis and stability was given to Buddhism and unperturbed freedom of practising and preaching all other religions. He made Sinhala the National Language of Sri Lanka. He gave the due recognition to Buddhism, holding the religion in high esteem, by declaring it as the State Religion.
The late Mr. Bandaranaike had a group of faithful and sincere politicians who were termed as the generous generals some of them were:
The late T. B. Illangaratne, The late Badiuddin Mohamed, the late, A. P. Jayasooriya, The late Sri Nissanka, The late D. A. Rajapakse, The late Phillip Gunawardene.
I have named only a few of them. However, I pray that my sincere apologies be with those whose names I have missed out on. The concern and attention paid to the Muslim community needs to be addressed and remembered with immense gratitude. His close association and faith laid on Dr. Badiuddin Mohamed prompted him to meet the aspirations of the Muslim community. He introduced the Wakf Board to monitor and administer Muslim places of worship, which has benefited us today to unite all Muslims in the country. Indeed we are eternally grateful to him. The late Mr. Bandaranaike mingled with the working class and met their aspirations in full which eventually brought about inexplicable unity.
1st of May was declared a holiday for the working class. An employee's provident fund was introduced to ensure a savings deposit to be drawn after retirement. Today millions of employees in the private sector are benefited. A labour tribunal too was introduced to solve disputes between employer and employee. To those, who are not aware as to who introduced this scheme, I am proud to say it's none other than the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike,.
The day of the tragic demise of our great leader, the whole country was dumbfounded with shock and grief. The huge ship called the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was drifting in mid sea without a rudder. A leaderless party of the rudderless ship was brought under control by a dedicated group of faithfuls of the late Mr. Bandaranaike, (that's the group I mentioned earlier) persuade his beloved wife the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike to take over the leadership. She did accept it with a sincere feeling of patriotism. Believe it or not, that lady was gifted with overnight political maturity purely for her sincere feeling towards the masses and the extent of a patriotism she possessed. I am lost for words of praise for a lady who was a symbol of patriotism and dedication. She is no more with us today. But her courage, dedication, leadership and respect for democracy cannot be erased from our hearts. May her soul rest in eternal peace.
Finally, it is with a deep sense of sorrow that I have reflected my memories to the past of a great leader, rhetorician, intellect and patriot, you name it, and he had it. His tragic untimely demise in the year 1959 was the loss of an invaluable national treasure, the sad feelings yet buried in the hearts of millions of peace loving Sri Lankans of today. Undoubtedly this loss will continue to be felt by generations to come as the story of this political prodigy and the greatest son of Lanka unfolds from parents to children, teachers to students, priests to devotees, on and on, and on. Memories of this legend of the past will remain buried even in the hearts of millions of the future generations to come.
May his Soul rest in eternal peace.
The writer is Deputy Minister of Media and Organiser, Bandaranaike
Bade farewell our leader Sirimavo
With gratitude and appreciation
Transfer of merit practices in oblation
When portraying her personality
A benefit and example exemplary
If volition itself constitutes action
Ample evidence of her good governance
In vehemence against Indo-Lanka agreement
A satyagraha staged in Colombo defiant
Invited for discussions on constitutional proposals
Sirimavo disciplined to confer without abscondence
When food parcels were dropped by Indians
A call of challenge to her nature magnanimous
When degrading chains of civic rights bound
She had love for her country to expound
In-determine terms Sirimavo explained
The need for Sri Lanka's name to regain
Rising above personal politics
To protect country from invading critics
Sirimavo felt for our independence
For those poor in our country its dependents
A purpose to unite a coalition of parties
To place a program common without disparities
In the evolution of core progressive policies
Sirimavo gathered most Leftist Parties
Foremost she formed a socialist study circle
With parties their approach philosophical
A rationale concept the Republican Constitution
Manoeuvred pre-requisites Sirimavo diligent
Privy Council its decisions made her decide
An economy independent Sri Lanka our pride
Freedom based on human resources
Harnessed intelligently not by verbal discourses
Moving forward discarding colonial shackles
A national identity of fine fettle
Sirimavo proceeded chairing the world summit
Non-alignment with freedom not deceit
Carrying its message to the United Nations
As its leader to ourselves beneficence
Self esteem integrity of developed nations
Sirimavo strived to enhance in most occasions
The leader behind economic strategies and progress
Urged internation dialogue with rich nations
After the meeting of non-aligned leaders
In Parliament and outside optimist defeaters
Campaign against Sirimavo inimical
Made her defeated a set back political
With confidence, understanding, unyielding courage
Faced '71' youth insurrection its rampage
Describing as misguided youth in their plight
A Criminal Justice Commission to set them right
With introduction of Land Reform Act
Sacrificed vast acreages of land a fact
The underprivileged favoured in this endeavour
Goodwill and grace in her unique character
Sirimavo the first woman Premier, Leader of Opposition
In the world, in Parliament she graced any occasion
But for all her personal bravery and commitment
She in '77' at elections defeated
Her life story if we reveal to its fullest
Endowed in kindness with intellect brightest
unremitting exertion for the highest interest
Farewell to Sirimavo, her guidance perfect
On October 10 last year, you passed away dearest Madam, my political counsellor, my guide, my dear friend.
In 1960, when Mrs. Bandaranaike became the world's first woman prime minister, everyone nationally and internationally was struck by the fact that the world's first woman prime minister should emerge from this small island of ours, an Asian country where at that time women were expected to stay in the background and not enter public life. That is why when Mrs. Bandaranaike became Prime Minister, her critics raised their collective eyebrows remarking that she had emerged from domesticity to public life. But this was quite wrong. She was the President of the Lanka Mahila Samithi which did a lot for the uplift of rural women. When her husband S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was canvassing support for the newly-formed SLFP it was left to Mrs. Bandaranaike to canvass support in the Attanagalla electorate which was then much larger than it is today.
After her husband's assassination, when she was appealed to by a band of strong SLFP loyalists to head the party, it took a lot of mental strength to take a decision to give her undisputed leadership to the party which she held for over 40 years. When C. P. de Silva contested and lost, it was left to Mrs. Bandaranaike to take on the mantle of leadership.
But Mrs. Bandaranaike had her setbacks too. Within a year of her coming back to power again for the second time, an uprising of the ultra Left rose up against the established order. She was bold enough to take a firm decision and quell it and normalcy was restored. Not a drop of blood was shed. The victims were rehabilitated and later were put into high positions.
The setting up of the National Savings Bank in 1971 was another, milepost for financial establishment. She gave thought to the people who had small savings, by amalgamating the Ceylon Savings Bank, the Post Office Savings Bank among other things, with the able help of Felix Dias Bandaranaike. We really should be proud that she was the Chair-person of the Conference of Non-aligned Nations which took place in Colombo and thereafter in other countries such as egypt, Yugoslavia and Lusaka.
My grateful thanks go to Dr. H. S. S. Nissanka whose book "Sri Lanka's Foreign Policy its really a study of the non-aligned movement. it is from his book that I learnt how J. R. Jayewardene as Opposition Leader was very critical of Mrs. Bandaranaike's efforts to make the Indian Ocean a zone of peace, which was however later accepted. It was Shirley Amarasinghe, Then Sri Lanka's permanent representative at the UN who did the spadework, ably assisted by B. J. Fernando.
I am really proud to say that I was present at a recent lecture delivered by Bradman Weerakoon at the British Council auditorium wherein, among other things he brought forward the undisputed fact that though Mrs. Bandaranaike did not have high paper qualifications, she ruled the country ably. Imports were reduced which angered the rich mudalalis, but when we went to Jaffna she was joyfully received and sat on a platform decorated with onions and chillies and was crowned with the same. She was the Opposition Leader then, and at the Duraiappa stadium, Tamil youngsters sat listening to her in pindrop silence with no security at all. The following day Tamil women garlanded her with jasmine garments. This was a grateful gesture towards her policy of cutting imports when she was Prime Minister.
May I close with Mr. Meryn St. S. Attorney-at-Law's, quotations on Mrs. Bandaranaike, two versions of which I have moulded into one.
"Her cruel fate, she bravely bore,
Rosmead Place is bleak, she was its life
And again -
Madam, your courage did inspire
A chieftain's daughter, premier's wife
And now I salute you, dearest Madam
Not only -Yasa de Lanerolle
Madam's Public Relations Secretary,
Produced by Lake House