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Felix in Parliament and at Parliamentary Conferences:

A bold and outstanding politician

Continued from yesterday

The Attanagalla electorate was literally a ‘pocket borough’ represented in the Legislature by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike from the inception of our adult franchise in 1931 for over twenty eight years continuously through five elections till his death in 1959. The Legislature was expanded from 95 elected members to 151 in 1960. Dompe was a new electorate carved out of the old Attanagalla seat.

The ablest and the youngest member of the ‘Clan’ who could be put forward for Dompe with confidence was Felix and Felix certainly won Dompe with majorities increasing progressively from over 12,000 going up to over 22,000 in the four elections held from March 1960 to May 1970 and after 17 years was defeated in July 1977 by 2400 votes. I suppose after 17 years, even men of Felix’s calibre of the old order had to change yielding place to the new. Today 17 seems a prophetic number!


Felix Dias Bandaranaike was a
‘character’ who stood out
anywhere and was pre-eminent
always. He took decisions
without fear, it is a pity he could
not be of service to his country
in his more mature years

With his party in office in August 1960 Felix was appointed Minister of Finance in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s first Government. He plunged into his duties with the competence of an experienced veteran.

He was ready to learn and was outstanding in debate. His almost flawless oratory and remarkable memory enabled him to silence critics with good-humoured defiance.

He had a devastating ability to marshal his facts lucidly and precisely with order and method. Although he never spoke to a text, he was most resourceful on his feet. He entered the Houses of Parliament like a fish to water - just as he did eight years earlier entering the Courts of Law.

At the opening of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in 1973 in London by the Queen, Felix as the Vice-President of the C.P.A. expressed the gratitude of the Association to Her Majesty and to His Royal Highness proposing a vote of thanks.

The delegates sitting with the Queen on the dais had to be in morning dress or national dress. Fred Daly, Minister and Leader of the House in Australia and Felix Minister of Justice etc. did not want to be seen in morning dress.

Lakshmi had to make do what she thought was a national dress for her husband and to get it ready overnight. Felix, rather doubtful of her sartorial efforts, was holding his waist firmly with his left hand whilst speaking the next morning in the presence of the Queen and the vast gathering of notables in Westminster Hall. With only his right hand to occasionally emphasized a point, he made a courageous speech that brought out a spontaneous ovation from the vast concourse gathered before the Queen. E.L. Bradby, Principal of Royal College in Felix’s time was an overjoyed member of the audience who greeted Felix with tears of joy.

Joining a discussion on Racial Harmony at a Parliamentary Conference in the Bahamas he said referring to Immigration “The truth of the matter is that the people who are going are not always the people who ought to go. Sometimes the standard of living for performing certain relatively menial tasks abroad is somewhat better than the corresponding pay for Ceylonese at home, and the basic reason seems to me to be economic more than anything else. I do not think the United Kingdom should really complain about immigration. See how much their country has been enriched by the waves of immigrants.

They are learning to play cricket from the West Indies. They are learning music from the calypso beat of the Mighty Sparrow of Jamaica and Lord Kitchener of Trinidada and Tobago. I think Britain would have been much poorer if they did not have curry, calypso, and cricket. Think what would happen if London Transport was not serviced by the West Indies. When there is a cricket match at Lords, London Transport nearly comes to a grinding halt. Take the nursing services, the only white people are usually Irish nurses. The rest of them come from the underdeveloped countries of the Commonwealth. What we are looking at is not a racial problem, it is a question of survival and maintenance of living standards.

The only way you can stop this wave of immigration is not by legislation and creating bitterness. Living standards must rise in the rest of the Commonwealth, and the need to migrate to other more developed countries must be eliminated.

At a Conference in Malaysia in 1971 speaking to Parliamentary Democracy he said “Countries become independent, then we imagine that we are our own masters, we form political parties; political manifestos and tell the people, “We have a solution to the problems of this country, we can do something for you.” In practice in the context of the modern international society, a country of primary producers with limited resources lacks the necessary capacities. We are unable to do anything practical about our economic situation in order to fulfil the promises and to satisfy the aspirations of the people.

Let the other fellow, fighting the elections against you, come into power, he is no better either; he cannot do much unless there is a growing realization that parliamentary democracy itself becomes a cherished ideal, something worth protecting, something worth fighting for, something worthy of protection in its own right.

However much we follow the forms of parliamentary democracy - rival candidates coming forward with rival sets of promises, hopes, aspirations for the future, let it be nationalization, let it be private enterprise, it makes no difference - if the net result is that the life of the people and the country remain unaltered substantially. Then you will find that the seeds of revolutionary movements, of insurrections, and dissatisfactions will become manifest sooner or later. The unrest will not present itself in the shape and form of overthrowing a particular Government which is unpopular. It will become a challenge to Parliamentary democracy in itself. It will become the very rationale for saying that this system is no good; we are not making progress this way, Parliamentary democracy is, by its very nature, a slow system.

It is slow so far as economic growth is concerned. We talk and debate and argue about the rights and wrongs of every little thing. I think that, that sort of democracy is making people impatient.”

Speaking on World Security at a Parliamentary Conference in 1968 he said “If we are honest and sincere with ourselves in talking of a right of self-determination, of practising parliamentary democracy with all the attributes identified with the Commonwealth, recognition of national sovereignty, the unifying influence of a Monarchy, the need to recognize the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, it seems to me that when we are talking of communism and capitalism, we should all recognize the right of people in their own minds to be communists if they want to. Just as much as we recognize the right of the other fellow to have his point of view, it seems to us that is wrong to start with the assumption that these two groups, communist and capitalist to be in conflict which necessarily has to lead to war or military intervention. Indeed, sometimes we become extremely aggressive in defence of freedom, and that I think constitutes the greatest danger to world peace in our present times.”

At a discussion referring to Parliamentary Government and a remark that the Mass Media are ahead of Parliament is expressing their opinions on current controversies that help to form public opinion. Felix said “In underdeveloped countries the problem is really in the reverse. Very often the newspapers are not really an expression of public opinion, but vehicles for the expression of editorial opinions of individuals in a few newspaper groups representing monopoly capital. They sometimes like to impose their views upon an unsuspecting public, as being views representing public opinion.

There is only one remedy that I can think of, and that is, to keep the electorate under constant review and ensure that the people who are elected are really and truly not allowed to become remote from the people.”

He had a good reply to Senator Grosart of Canada at another Parliamentary Conference where Pollution Control was discussed when he said:

“If you visit American CityYou will find it very pretty. Of just one thing you must beware, Do not drink the water and do not breathe the air!”

Speaking on the problems of minorities, particularly of the Tamils in Sri Lanka at the C.P.A. Conference of 1974 in Colombo he said “We are prepared to go to all the corners of our country to talk to them in their own language if we can and try to persuade them. You would imagine that minority problems here are very difficult ones, but I know of no other country in the world where a majority had made it possible for the majority to achieve unheard of economic wealth and to become the most prosperous people in our country through the policies being followed consciously and deliberately by the majority.

I should like to urge that even in our own little land dialogue and discussion are fundamental and essential to good relations. Recently I had the privilege of visiting the Northern Province. I tried to speak to the people there in my own faulty Tamil, trying to make contact and to express our point of view. All I can say is that we stretch the hand of friendship and invite our friends the Tamils to do the same - to come down South and talk to us.

It does not matter if they do not know our language. They can talk to us in English or in Tamil. We are prepared to listen. We say that once the dialogue is established, as it can be established we cannot afford to talk of dialogue in international terms unless we are prepared to do precisely that in our own problems can be resolved.”

In Malaysia in 1971 Felix wrapped up three sessions of the 17th C.P.A. Conference on ‘The Commonwealth and Problems of World Security’ where around 45 delegates intervened.

He did this without a note referring to the substance of every worthwhile contribution and concluded “I think the best feature of our discussions so far has been the avoidance of double standards; that we, speaking as Parliamentarians, have spoken freely and frankly.

We have expressed strong views sometimes, emotional views sometimes, and sometimes views which may not have met complete agreement and accord around the room, but we have all spoken with sincerity from the bottom of our hearts.

If the little bit of what we said has struck a responsive chord in the hearts and minds of some other Members of Parliament in a more distant and remote area of the Commonwealth, I think we have served our purpose as a Commonwealth, Parliamentary Association.”The Chairman F.E. Walker, MP of Canada, thanking the distinguished delegate from Sri Lanka added “The attention you received should be gratifying to you. Your masterly summing up has added enlightenment to us all.”

It was always a source of pride and elation to be with him at an International Conference. Felix Dias Bandaranaike was an outstanding ‘character’ who stood out anywhere and was pre-eminent always.

He took decisions without fear, it is a pity he could not be of service to his country in his more mature years.

Concluded

 

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