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61st Independence Day

Typical symbiosis of imperial and native Government

Celebrating the 61st year of our nation’s independence is an occasion which gives us the right to be modestly proud being freed from the state of a colony under the British empire to blossom forth as a free nation throwing the shackles away which kept us bound for over five centuries under the dictates of the West.

Going back in time of our history the Dutch who ruled the maritime settlements of Sri Lanka for 138 years (1658-1796) finally surrendered Colombo to the British forces on February 16, 1796 without a struggle. The maritime settlements were first attached to the Madras Presidency and were administered through military governors.

The Secretary of State in England to avert any uprising from locals decided to place then Ceylon under the British crown, and thus Ceylon became a crown colony on October 12, 1798. The first British governor was Frederick North displacing General Frederick de Meuron who was the military governor. North nominated a council of advisors known as his majesty’s council.

In 1829 Colebrooke came to Sri Lanka appointed by the king to examine all laws regulations and usages of the maritime settlements of the island. He was followed by commissioner Cameron who was directed to report on judicial establishments and procedures. The Colebrooke Commission recommended a series of reforms. Together with the Cameron Commission far reaching recommendations were made. It recommended the division of the country to give provinces Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Trincomalee and Jaffna as capitals for better administration.

It was during the governorship of Sir Robert Brownrigg (1812-1820) the Kandyan Kingdom was reduced by the British forces and its territory annexed to the maritime settlements which were already under he British. In 1912, a reforms commission was appointed but it did not satisfy the political aspirations of the people. In August 1920, a new order in council appeared yet it did not take long for the constitution to breakdown from its very inception, hence a new Royal commission known as the Donoughmore Commission was appointed during the governorship of Sir Herbert Stanley (1927-1931).

The Donoughmore constitution introduced adult franchise, abolished communal representation in the legislature and made provision for the appointment of native ministers.

The commissioners drew the conclusion that further constitutional development must be on the road to responsible Government. In 1931 and a decade later the Soulbury Commission was appointed to provide full opportunity for consultation to take place on constitutional reforms. In 1931 elections were held to the state council.

In 1943 His Majesty’s Government acknowledged the grant to Ceylon a full responsible Government under the crown in all matters of internal civil administration. In 1944 with Sir Henry Monck Mason Moore as the new Governor General the Dominion status Bill was passed in Parliament. With the completed report of the Soulbury Commissioners, the Ceylon Independence Act of 1947 was passed in the House of Commons in England. In November 1944 the member for Panadura in the State Council moved a motion to direct Ministers to introduce immediately a Bill conferring upon Sri Lanka a constitution recognised as a completely self governing colony. This was known as the Free Lanka Bill and was passed on February 16, 1945.

However in July 17, 1945 the Governor General informed the State Council that the Free Lanka Bill was rejected by the British Crown. Later Sir Andrew Caldecott was sent to Sri Lanka as Governor to solve certain political deadlocks and to put an end to the Donoughmore constitution. Meanwhile the minorities led by the member for Point Pedro insisted on balanced representation in the State Council for minorities. After a meting with D.S. Senanayake Sir Charles Jeffries the Colonial Secretary assured him of self Government immediately after the war.

Transfer

Elections took place and D.S. Senanayake as the leader of the largest political party was called upon to form a Government. Transfer of Government was signed by agreement in Colombo on November 11, 1947 between Sir Henry Monck Mason Moore on behalf of the United Kingdom as governor and the leader D.S. Senanayake on behalf of Sri Lanka. Thus February 4, 1948 was declared as the appointed day under the constitution for Sri Lanka’s independence. D.S. Senanayake was sworn in as the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. With the independence D.S. Senanayake as Prime Minister took steps to put the country on the right track.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, a Minister of the first cabinet of Senanayake Government resigned sounding disunity and dissatisfaction among the members of the ruling party. The untimely death of D.S. Senanayake, the father of independent Ceylon added to the wounds of the national body politics. Later Dudley Senanayake son of D.S. Senanayake was appointed as Prime Minister the second since independence, The general Hartal in 1953 launched against the increase in price of a measure of rice led to the resignation of Dudley Senanayake. The Indian citizenship issue was another reason for the Hartal. Then Sir John Kotalawala became the Prime Minister.

Bandaranaike who turned the Sinhala Maha Sabha into a vibrant political force formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and won the General election of 1956 under the hand symbol and formed the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna Government, changing the face of Sri Lanka political and social history.

Assassination

The assassination of Bandaranaike on September 26, 1959 was a blow to the progressive policies and the conflict of interest within the SLFP sent uncomfortable signals to the polity. Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike the widow of the slain Prime Minister refused to give leadership to the party and education Minister Dahanayake was sworn in as Prime Minister.

He was responsible for the introduction of one day general elections covering the entire country and releasing the election results on the very night. The general election held on March 22, 1960 saw the defeat of Prime Minister Dahanayake and the United National Party formed by D.S. Senanayake was back in power with Dudley Senanayake as leader, for a short period. On July 20, 1960 the SLFP under the leadership of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike won the election. She became the world’s first woman Prime Minister. During the Premiership of Mrs. Bandaranaike there was a coup in 1962 to overthrow the Government which was unsuccessful. Parliament was dissolved and in 1965 at the general election a new national Government was formed under the leadership of Dudley Senanayake.

In 1970 the Government that followed was the united front Government led by Mrs. Bandaranaike. The United National Party reduced to 17 members sat in the opposition. The MPs here elected at the 1970 general election sat as the first members of the National State Assembly to write the new constitution to declare Ceylon a Socialist Republic with a home grown constitution. In March 1971 a proposal was brought by the Prime Minister to make Ceylon a Republic. On April 5, 1971 the JVP took arms against the United Front Government which was successfully suppressed.

Constitution

The draft of the New Constitution was presented to the state Assembly and on May 22, 1972 Ceylon was declared a Socialist Republic, while retaining the membership of the British commonwealth. Instead of the Governor General representing the Queen a ceremonial President was appointed and the 1972 Republican constitution empowered Parliament with executive powers.

The general elections held in 1977 brought the UNP led by J.R. Jayewardene back to power with a 5/6th majority with 140 members to parliament. In 1978 a new Democratic Socialist Republic Constitution was promulgated that September and the President was directly elected by the people. From the year of independence in 1948 to 1972 there were 4 governors general for Ceylon.

They were Sir Henry Mark Mason Moore (1948-1949). The Rt. Hon Viscount Soulbury (1949-1954), Sir Oliver Goonetilleke (1954-1962) and William Gopallawa (1962-1972). During the time of British occupation from 1798 to 1948 there were 29 governors (all British) who governed Ceylon. On the first independence day February 4, 1948 the whole country was agog with excitement as six days later the Duke of Gloucester was expected for a formal ceremony to celebrate Ceylons Independence.

61st Independence Day of Sri Lanka 04.02.2009 National day - 2009

The venue was independence hall at Independence Square in Colombo. The hall had been specially built for the occasion and for the first time the expertise of our traditional artisans and craftsmen were put on public display. The entire hall was festooned with rallipalam an ancient Kandyan stylistic type of decoration of coloured cloth.

Invitees

The huge audience sat in the hall and the invitees sat with bared breath awaiting the moment of arrival. Accommodated on the dais with the Duke of Gloueestor were the newly sworn in Governor General of Ceylon Sir Henry Moore and Lady Moore and Ceylon’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake and Mrs. Senanayake.

In his speech D.S. Senanayake said that Ceylon’s newly won political freedom was perhaps only second in importance to the message of spiritual freedom which the Buddha gave 2500 years ago.

Then the Duke delivered the throne speech on behalf of the King of England. The leader of the House S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike replied while it was followed by the speech of Sir Oliver Goonatillake the leader of the Senate.

The national song composed by Ananda Samarakoon was sung by the students of Musaeus College Colombo trained by the well-known priest Rev. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody.

Hoisted

The national lion flag was hoisted amidst a large number of fire-crackers by D.S. Senanayake while the British national anthem followed.

Throughout the political and other changes that we have seen from that first independence day February 4, has been celebrated with traditions pomp and pageantry.

From independence our leaders were left to begin to write the new chapter in the history of our land. For 443 years Ceylon was subjected to foreign rule of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British.

To be fair by both rules and their subjects this situation could be called the connection and dependence of each other to the advantage of both parties.

On this 61st day of independence the wish of all would be development, progress and prosperity to our beloved Motherland in the future.

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