Felix in Parliament and at Parliamentary Conferences:
A bold and outstanding politician
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
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
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
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
He had a good reply to Senator Grosart of Canada at another
Parliamentary Conference where Pollution Control was discussed when he
“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
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.