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
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
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
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
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
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
The election result
Fred Silva UNP 9892 votes
Piyasena Tennakoon SLFP 9493
The next was the Aluthnuwara bye-election on 29.5.1955, one year before 1956.