|Saturday, 25 September 2004|
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike With malice to none, with charity to all
By A. A. de Silva - President's Counsel, Former High Court Judge
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was a legend in his lifetime, "The man was greater than the legend. His life, not his death, created his greatness." Bandaranaike is called the architect of a new era, the man who ushered in the common man's age and the one who gave the ordinary man a place in the sun.
Therefore his countrymen say he was one of history's immortals. His admirers hail and praise him for many things, for his democratic views, high liberalism, intense nationalism and his socialist outlook. His political enemies, who criticised him in his lifetime, glorified him after his death, even more than they glorified their mentors. He was all this and much more.
What was his creed that made him all this and more? It is that, that is inspiring. On that fateful day, September 25, 1959, while the nation was struck with grief and sorrow and he lay dying at the hands of an assassin, he expressed it, "Have compassion towards that foolish man." Hardly the words for a victim of violence in a world full of violence.
When he took that decisive step, fraught with grave risk to his career, on that day in July 1951 and in a self-sacrificial manner left the leadership of the House of Representatives and the ministerial portfolios he had held for so long and crossed over to the opposition benches accompanied by some of his colleagues, he expressed it, "I go in the words of Abraham Lincoln with malice towards none, with charity for all".
To whom did he address these words? To the government and those whom he was leaving.
Sometime after he became Prime Minister in 1956 on the results of a general election which history calls epoch making, the writer, who was a law student at the time, had the privilege of accompanying him to the writer's home district for an important religious ceremony, in a temple.
This was soon after he had nominated Sir Richard Aluwihare as Ceylon's High Commissioner in New Delhi and his own government parliamentary group if not shocked was at least visibly disturbed, as to why a stalwart of the defeated United National Party should be among the recipients of diplomatic plums.
To make the situation tricky, Sir Richard's own brother, Bernard, who having worked for years with Bandaranaike and had been in his inner shadow cabinet had crossed over on the eve of the 1956 general election, to the party in power.
Sir Richard himself who had contested an electoral seat at the same general election on behalf of the United National Party had lost like his brother Bernard who despite his many years in the political field seemed to have completely miscalculated his political fortunes.
The writer asked him, as many would have, as it was a matter much talked of, "Why this appointment?" The reason why the writer put that question in that form to the Prime Minister of the country was to know first hand how the mind of a refined leader reacts to the obligations of his office.
He replied, "Young man, I am not a partisan leader. I want to get the best available man for the job and who better than a distinguished Kandyan in New Delhi, at a time the Indo-Ceylon problem with effects the Kandyan peasantry most, is to be discussed in New Delhi." He concluded, "This is a national problem, not a matter for partisanship."
The Indo-Ceylon problem which was by no means simple enough for easy solution concerned him considerably as it did every patriotic Ceylonese. When D. S. Senanayake, the leader of the State Council went to New Delhi in 1940 to discuss this question with the Indian government, it was Bandaranaike, the Minister of Local Government who accompanied D. S. Senanayake.
When Sir John Kotalawela, Prime Minister, went to New Delhi in the early 1950s, once again, to discuss this issue, it was Bandaranaike, the Leader of the Opposition who accompanied him.
Sir Richard went to New Delhi on schedule and perhaps the country came to know Bandaranaike and his character better. At the opportunity he had, he demonstrated his true self.
Character never comes out better than when one has to take a decision on a crucial matter charged with emotion in a critical situation. If these actions do not portray his character and his true self, nothing else will ever do.
Soon after he had said this he suddenly looked back and found the police security follow-up car following and when the chauffeur slowed down the Prime Ministerial limousine, he told the police, who had by them come abreast of his car, "Do not waste your time, go back and do something else." How different he was to other men!
A few years later, the writer while reading a book on the late American President Kennedy came across a passage which refers to John F. Kennedy's visit to Dallas, Texas, on that fateful day November 23, 1963. While in Dallas the American President had a "choice between security and politics", and Kennedy choosing 'politics' got into the Presidential limousine outfitted with a clear plastic bubbletop which was neither bulletproof nor bulletresistant. What happened a few minutes later shocked the entire world.
Bandaranaike did not seek physical security but wanted to be secure in his own mind that he had done the right thing and taken the right decision and it was that security he wanted, to do the right thing not once, but at all times.
He was born to wealth and high position. His father the reigning Maha Mudaliyar would have, perhaps, wanted him to follow a successful legal career.
"When the father saw the son passing his Cambridge Senior with the third place in the Empire, he was so proud of the young boy he took him on exhibition to the then Governor of Ceylon, Robert Chalmers, 'Are you going to make the little fellow a Mudaliyar,' asked Chalmers after an appreciative inspection of.... Without waiting for the father to reply, young Bandaranaike said: 'No thank you, Sir, I shall work for my country."
A short time after this the Maha Mudaliyar sent his son to England for higher education. He had the best possible education. He studied Western Classics under Professor Gilbert Murray of Oxford, the greatest classical scholar of the age. This opportunity and his own application enabled him to imbibe the values of Western Classical civilisation. He read jurisprudence under Sir Paul Vinogradaff an equally eminent legal scholar of the time.
Completing his colourful and brilliant career at Oxford University he came to Ceylon and practised law for a few years and the forensic skill he displayed would have earned for him if he continued his legal practice, perhaps, the highest place in the profession.
During the early years he had read much of history, ancient, medieval and modern. His fertile mind absorbed the wisdom of the East and the West.
His reading showed him the fate of the tin gods and the tyrants and the destiny of the great. He was inspired by men of destiny, their deeds and the sacrifices they had made. When he approached the full vigour of manhood in his middle years he could see with the eye of his sharp mind history's onrushing tide.
Bandaranaike plunged into politics and joining the Ceylon National Congress became one of its most energetic secretaries in the late 1920s.
Due to his ability and education and as if in anticipation of his future role, he was elected President of the Congress in 1931, when he was only thirty two years of age. While delivering his Presidential address in December 1931, Bandaranaike said, "It has been the custom in previous years for Presidents of the Ceylon National Congress to deliver their addresses in English.
On this occasion I propose to deviate from that custom and speak only in Sinhala, because while a large majority of you may not be able to follow me in English, I think all of you understand Sinhala.
In the course of his address he went on to support the introduction of income tax and added, "the Congress has been fighting for the introduction of income tax from its very inception but its efforts had been always thwarted first by the bureaucracy and then by the unholy combination of unscrupulous capitalists, foreign as well as Ceylonese.
It was also at these meetings and sessions that his socialist outlook, which was to develop and sharpen later, was being noticed. He called for the boycott of imported goods and proposed at the annual sessions of the Congress in 1930 that it should encourage cotton growing, spinning and weaving all of which aimed at self-sufficiency and providing employment for his countrymen.
The literary talents and the sense of history in him probably persuaded him to prepare 'The Hand Book of the Ceylon National Congress, 1919-1928' which today is the only source book for the history and the affairs of the Congress during its most crucial period. It has been brought up to date only a few months ago and that too at the expense of the government.
The elections to the State Council in 1931, on the basis of universal adult franchise, saw him entering that assembly without a contest. During his period as a legislator from 1931 to 1936 and as Minister of Local Government in the second State Council (1936-1947) which again he entered without a contest, he was watched and marked by many as a rising star in the national political firmament.
It was during this period that he was yearning, in the striking words of the Mahawamsa, "to be one with the people". In the mid thirties he founded the Sinhala Maha Sabha which provided a platform for the Sinhala educated intelligentsia which, though growing in influence and numbers, had no organisation to air its views and grievances.
He had many assets all of which were not always an armour for him in a world which was not without envy and hatred. Because of his high social position, uncharitable critics, sometimes said that Bandaranaike was not qualified, by virtue of his background, to lead the common people.
The wealth which he inherited but did not look after was not to the liking of some. His liberal and socialist outlook was questioned by others, who either failed or refused to understand why he held those views. While his inherent abilities caused much anxiety to a few who could never compete with him in open competition, his ever growing popularity, with each succeeding decade, was the one thing which they most disliked and found difficult to counter.
Many forces were arraigned against him - power, wealth, and the press. In this situation it is very likely that Bandaranaike may have remembered the poet who said -
"When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this Sign, the Dunces are all in a confederacy against him."
A well-known writer and long time journalist has this to say, 'No politician ever had so bad a press and so consistently in any part of the world for twenty-five years as Bandaranaike. He was consistently maligned without mercy, libelled this side of the law more than any other man in the island. He was called a 'drummer boy' and other stinking epithets in respectable newspaper editorials.
For years he was the butt of journalistic political prophets who deserved reboring if only they had not been boring enough already. He never had what is called a 'build up'. In fact for twenty-five years he had a journalistic demolition squad working overtime on him but unable to finish the job. The wonder was not that Bandaranaike took so long to arrive but that he survived at all.
He fought the Press of Ceylon single-handed with a contempt that astounds us.
With each campaign of attacks the stature of Bandaranaike grew. It almost seemed he battened on the bludgeon. His career was an experiment in the crucible of criticism."
Again he says, "When Bandaranaike became Prime Minister Hulugalle wrote to me from the Ceylon Legation in Rome where he was Minister as follows: "A little while ago I was reading your article in the 'Sunday Times' on S. W. R. D. at Oxford. I also read with administration your excellent biographical article published a couple of weeks ago.
Although I was myself an early offender, I am bound to agree with you that no public man has been treated more harshly and wickedly by the Ceylon Press than he has been. History - or is it Nemesis? - has caught up with his traducers.
It is said of William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister of England, that oratory carried him to power and kept him there.
In his political life S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike made use of his high oratorical skill and unrivalled eloquence to overcome many obstacles, that were deliberately placed in his path by his detractors, when they realised the high goals Bandaranaike had set for himself and those who were willing to follow him.
SWRD's sharpest weapon against his detractors and attackers was the sword of penetrating speech, used both gently and fiercely as the occasion demanded. There was no one in the country who could rival him in eloquence and the power of speech.
Mr. J. R. Jayawardene, Prime Minister, who later became President of the Republic on February 4, 1978, said in his speech in the National State Assembly on September 6, 1977, on the occasion of the Vote of Condolence passed on the death of Lawyer Politician, Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam, "The late Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam was orator par excellence and I know of only one in our country's life who was an equal, or, who I may say even surpassed him, and that was the late Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who, on the flow of his language, in the imagery he used and the eloquence of his words, in his oratory, one could say, was incomparable not only in this country but possibly in any country where the English language was used.
Soon after he resigned from the government of D. S. Senanayake, in 1951, which he himself helped to form with the assistance of his own Sinhala Maha Sabha, he founded the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which has since then ruled the country for a period of time equal to that of the other governing party - The United National Party.
The founding of this party and its subsequent rapid expansion based on a social democratic programme, provided for the first time in this country an alternative government based on Parliamentary Democracy.
Breaking down the barriers and the fences built against him, when he ultimately arrived in 1956 on the results of a sensational landslide election victory, he was not the man to remember those petty, mean, and uncharitable acts committed against him by lesser men. His creed never failed him when he was triumphant just as it did not fail him even when he was dying at the hands of an assassin.
It is therefore no surprise that, one of his first acts after assuming office as Prime Minister, was to allow his defeated foe, the former Prime Minister to take a considerable sum of foreign exchange out of this country, so that the defeated Prime Minister could purchase a substantial agricultural farm in England.
While making an address on the occasion of the United Nations Day, in Colombo, he said, "I refuse to hate a man simply because I disagree with him... While we agree to disagree with each other we agree to work as fellow human beings. I am sure, in the end, humanity will thrash out some system of existence."
Again he said, in the course of his address to The United Nations General Assembly, "As a Buddhist, I remember the story of Buddha and the answer he gave to an opponent who came before him and abused him for hours. He listened to him patiently and said, "My dear friend, if you invite guests to a banquet and the guests do not come, what do you do with the food that is prepared?"
"Oh", was the reply, "I and my family will consume the food if the guests do not arrive." So he said to the man who had abused him, "You have offered me abuse. I am not receiving it. You can take it yourself."
All this shows a pattern in his thinking and conduct which makes him different from others. There is such a thing as a man being too proud to be mean. He was too great to be petty, mean and revengeful towards his opponents.
When he carried out his famous socialist measures among which were nationalising the port, the public transport services and the provision of Provident Fund and other facilities for the benefit of the non public sector employees on the one hand and recognized the dignity and the aspirations of the ordinary man by actively encouraging the revival of national culture, language and religion on the other, he was in effect putting into action his view that social progress in its historical inevitability calls for bold and courageous experimentations and for that there must and should be, a change.
He was at the same time so concerned about the value of human liberty that he never wanted to or even thought of buying 'social progress' by regimenting the people and their thoughts.
Many sections of the populace, who had not earlier felt any sense of importance but had only got the feeling that they were being ignored felt a new sense of pride.
The Sinhala speaking villager, whether he be a school master, ayurvedic physician, farmer, or worker realized that he was wanted and that the government he brought forth was his government. He began to feel that he was no longer being treated as a stranger in a government office or agency.
No wonder that when the new Parliament met in 1956, with Bandaranaike as the new Prime Minister, there were hundreds of villagers who came to the precincts of the parliament with the feeling that they were the masters. That was how the common man indicated that he had won back his self respect and human dignity.
Bandaranaike cherished and valued the dignity of man. He believed that the dignity and the worth of man should be recognized even before the achievement of social and material progress.
He was against all forms of tyranny and more particularly tyranny upon the mind of man, which according to him was the closest step towards enslavement. In fact he used to often say that, as was said in ancient Galilee, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
This attitude of mind liberated him from being a victim of theories. What he wanted to devise for the country was a way of life consistent with democratic socialism and based on the practical and historical needs of her people.
In 1957, the Naval base at Trincomalee and the Air Force Station at Katunayake, managed by the British forces from the day Ceylon got independence in 1948, were taken over after the new government announced its decision in accordance with its foreign policy. On this occasion Bandaranaike characterised the two events by stating, "today our Independence is complete."
In the sphere of foreign affairs too this same feeling and view marked his approach, when he broke down the existing political barriers and established diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union and the Peoples' Republic of China.
With world leaders like his friend Jawaharlal Nehru, Marshal Tito, Soekarno and Nasser he pioneered that great neutralist movement which, under its more fashionable name - the Non Aligned Movement, today counts in its growing ranks no less than eighty six independent nations successfully following a policy of neutrality or non alignment in the face of two great power blocs armed to the teeth with the most destructive weaponry known to the human race.
The basic philosophy underlying all his actions both public and private, policies, attitudes and thoughts was in short, what he cherished most: his great and never failing compassion towards his fellow beings, his charity towards them all and above all, absence of any kind of malice towards one and all man or nation.
The writer had the honour and privilege of making the Bandaranaike Commemoration address on 26th September 1976, at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, in New York, on the invitation of Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the U. N. On this occasion the writer emphasized this aspect of Mr. Bandaranaike's life and character, which sometimes tends to get ignored or underrated in the midst of his numerous other triumphs and achievements.
His distinguished widom, Mrs. Sirimavo R. D. Bandaranaike, the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, who to-date has served as the Prime Minister and head of Government of this country for two terms from 1960 to 1965 and 1970 to 1977, eventually succeeded him as the Prime Minister of the country on the results of the decisive general election held following Bandaranaike's death thus creating history in her own right by becoming the world's first woman Prime Minister, later to be followed by Mrs. Golda Meir of Israel and Mrs. Indira Gandhi of India.
Mr. Bandaranaike died at the age of sixty with his life's work half done. The half he did, only he, could have done.
Produced by Lake House