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Government Gazette

49 years after S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike

In the early hours of the morning of September 25, 1959 a loan assassin in furtherance of a conspiracy, using a pistol killed S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who belonged to the ruling elite in the country, devoted himself entirely to politics from the time he came back from the U.K. He was the nation's leader for a short period of three years from 1956- 1959. He brought many changes in the country during his active political life.

It is almost fifty years since his death. The assassin, Talduwa Somarama Thera was charged in court as follows: "that on or about September 25, 1959 at No. 65, Rosmead Place, Colombo, within the jurisdiction of this court, you Talduwa Somarama Thera, the fourth accused above named, did in the course of the same transaction commit murder by causing the death of the said Soloman West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike and that you have thereby committed an offence punishable under S 296 of the Penal Code."

The assassin was a Buddhist priest and an eye specialist in the hospital of Indigenous Medicine. The death of the Prime Minister in this manner led to unprecedented scenes of public grief.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who belonged to the ruling elite in the country, devoted himself entirely to politics from the time he came back from the U.K. He was the nation's leader for a short period of three years from 1956- 1959. He brought many changes in the country during his active political life. How far have those changes affected the fortunes of the nation after a space of fifty years?

On returning to the country having finished his education in the U.K., he contested the Maradana ward of the Colombo Municipal Council and defeated A.E. Goonesinghe, a labour leader of that time. The introduction of the Donoughmore constitution and the concept of Universal farnchise, made him contest the Veyangoda seat in the State Council and enter the Council in 1931.

He wanted to bring change to the country. Before changes were introduced to the country he had to inculcate change within himself and devote himself to the service of the people. He gave up Western attire and donned the national dress.

The Indian National Movement produced leaders educated in the U.K. who proudly wore the Indian national dress. Having come from a strong Christian background, he became a Buddhist. He threw himself into the freedom movement of the time, and soon became the Minister of Local Government under the Donoughmore constitution.

During the long years of the Donoughmore constitution and the period covered by the Second World War, whilst being a minister, he built a base among the people. The All Ceylon Village Committee Conference which was launched in 1925 by Arthur V. Dias and D.H.S.

Nanayakkara gave a platform for S.W.R.D. to build a political base among the rural people and he became its President around 1929-30.

He started the Sinhala Maha Saba and dominated it. This organisation had political leaders, Sinhala literati, journalists and Buddhist priests among its membership. As Minister of Local Government he always stood for devolution of power.

The end of the World War saw the mergence of the Soulbury Constitution and the granting of Dominion status to the country. Under the Soulbury constitution he became the Minister of Health, Local Government and Leader of the House in the post Independence Cabinet.

He helped to form the UNP and give Ceylon a stable post independence government. A silver tongued orator, he was a great public speaker and a brilliant debater in Parliament.

Soon he was disillusioned with UNP government for personal and political reasons and he formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party on September 2, 1951. When he crossed the floor of the House on Budget Day in 1951, he was not alone, but D.A. Rajapakse, MP for Beliatte, followed him to the Opposition benches. Many thought that he had committed political suicide.He had devoted followers who joined him to form the SLFP along with the political base he had built from the time he entered the State Council in 1931. When D. S. Senanayake, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the UNP died the party faced a General Election in 1952. The SLFP did not fare badly for a party in its infancy.

The period from the 1952 General Election to 1956 was devoted to disseminating the message of the party to the people. Many changes took place in the country. Dudley Senanayake resigned as Prime Minister and Sir John Kotelawala became the Prime Minister.

During the period of the premiership of Sir John Kotelawala, the government became very anti-Communist and pursued a strict Western block foreign policy. Also, the government became more and more alienated from the people. During this time the SLFP faced many local government polls and also faced two major bye-elections.

The first national election it faced during this period was the Kandy bye-election in October 1954. At a meeting in Kandy, Bandaranaike stated, "This election is a very important one. The issues involved transcend a contest between two individuals or, even perhaps two political parties. It is really a fight between the people and the oppressive, inefficient and corrupt government".

The party had fared badly. Disappointed by the election results he stated that the influence of the officials and village headmen had led to this results.

The storm clouds gathered for the landslide victory of 1956. The 1956 election was against all odds. It is an event that will be analyzed and assessed by historians. Mr. Bandaranaike led the party to its 1956 victory and paved the way for a people oriented government.

A cultural revolution followed. The national dress was worn by the elite. Buddhism was given its due place. Cultural activity led to productions such as Maname. Horse racing was given up. The Government was brought closer to the people. May Day was declared a holiday and Trade Unions were not suppressed.

Having become Prime Minister in 1956 he commenced the task of Government. Sinhala was declared the official language. Buddhist Universities such as the Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya were inaugurated. Public transport and the Port were nationalised. Major changes were made in foreign policy and Sri Lanka entered the Non-Aligned Movement. Embassies were opened in China and Russia. The British naval Base at Trincomalee was closed.

Today, the cold war has ended and the Non-Aligned concept does not have much significance in a uni-polar world. However, opening the door to China and Russia has brought many benefits to Sri Lanka. He had close relations with India and this aspect of his foreign policy was very prudent and beneficial to Sri Lanka.

The nationalisation of public transport led to the formation of the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB), an islandwide organisation. The CTB was able to operate a wide network of bus services in many parts of the country and thereby helped to stem migration from the rural areas to the towns.

Labour Tribunals were introduced and the Employees' Provident Fund set up during this time has completed 50 years this year. Today the CTB has lost its monopoly and private buses compete with the CTB. The Port which was nationalised during this time, now has private sector participation. The party he formed is in power today under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a son of one his staunch lieutenants.

The Sinhala only Bill was introduced in Parliament behind closed doors amidst much opposition. This Bill lead to a rift with the Tamil people. Mr. Bandaranaike recognised the political forces that it unleashed and he tried to solve this problem by the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact in 1957. Unfortunately, extremists prevented him from going ahead with the pact. The pact had two parts, A and B. It read as follows: "Representatives of the Federal Party had a series of discussions with the Prime Minister in an effort to resolve the differences of opinion that had been growing and causing tension." Part B of the pact which deals with devolution of power is as follows:

1. Regional areas to be defined in the Bill itself by embodying them in a Schedule thereto

2. That the Northern Province is to form a regional area whilst the Eastern Province is to be divided into two or more regional areas.

3. Provision is to be made in the Bill to enable two more regions to amalgamate even beyond provincial limits and regions to divide itself subject to ratification by Parliament. Further provision to be made in the Bill for two or more regions to collaborate for specific purposes of common interest.

4. Direct elections of Regional Councillors. Delimitation Commission for carving out electorates. The question of MPs representing districts falling within Regional areas to function as Chairman to be considered. To consider Government Agents as Regional Commissioners. The supervisory functions over lager towns, strategic towns and Municipalities to be considered.

5. Parliament to delegate powers and specify them in the Act. It was agreed that Regional Councils should have specified powers on 'specified subjects including agriculture, cooperatives, lands and land development, colonisation, education, health, industries, fisheries, housing, social services, water schemes, electricity and roads. Definition of their powers will be made in the Bill.

6. It was agreed that in colonisation schemes the Regional Councils shall have power to select allottees in their area and power to select personnel to be employed in such schemes. Area of the Gal Oya Board was to be considered.

7. The powers in regard to the Regional Councils vested in the Minister of Local Government in the draft Bill to be revised with a view to vesting control in Parliament wherever necessary.

8. Central Government to provide block grants to Regional Councils. Regional Councils to have powers of taxation and borrowing.

Had the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact been implemented could the unfortunate events of today have been avoided? The Thirteenth Amendment has many of the features of the B-C Pact. Historians who assess this period of history would have to provide answers to these questions at a future date.

No assessment of Bandaranaike would be complete without having a look at Bandaranaike, the human being. A great human being, he forgave the man who assassinated him. He took no political revenge from his opponents. He treated his principal opponent, Sir John Kotalawela with great respect. Sir John remarked at his death, "He was magnanimous in victory and courageous in defeat." Today the nation remembers him on his death anniversary almost fifty years ago.

***************

The 1956 election was against all odds. It is an event that will be analyzed and assessed by historians. Mr. Bandaranaike led the party to its 1956 victory and paved the way for a people oriented government. A cultural revolution followed. The national dress was worn by the elite. Buddhism was given its due place. Cultural activity led to productions such as Maname. Horse racing was given up. The Government was brought closer to the people. May Day was declared a holiday and Trade Unions were not suppressed.

***************

The election result 

Fred Silva		 UNP 	9892 votes 
Piyasena Tennakoon	 SLFP 	9493 
Spoilt 				90 
Total 				19,884 
Majority 			399 

The election result 
Fred Silva UNP 			9892 votes 
Piyasena Tennakoon SLFP 9493 
Spoilt			90 
Total 			19,884 
Majority 		399 
The next was the Aluthnuwara bye-election on 29.5.1955, one year before 1956. 

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