The SLFP stood for the Sinhala Masses: It stood up for Socialism and Progress.
Posted on April 27th, 2015
By Garvin Karunaratne
In today’s context when some of our own leaders have thought it fit to balkanize the SLFP, it is necessary for the current leaders as well as the Sinhala masses to be aware that the SLFP was the only Political Party that stood for the masses of the Sinhala people- the downtrodden- those who have suffered since the colonial period. As Rohana Wasala recently said, the SLFP is the “only strong national party that honestly works to promote the interests of the majority community while doing the same for the minorities.”
It is up to today’s political leaders of the SLFP to remember what the SLFP stood for since its inception in 1951. The SLFP was created by SWRD Bandaranayake in 1951, when he resigned from the UNP along with other Ministers and Members of Parliament, A.P.Jayasuriya, Jayaweera Kuruppu,, George R. de Silva, D.A. Rajapaksa and D.S.Gunasekera. In explaining why he formed a new party, SWRD Bandaranayake said “When I helped in the formation of the UNP, encouraged the Sinhala Maha Sabha to join it, agreed to be a member of this cabinet, it was done with the intention of giving stability to the new Government of the new era. I thought that the socialist ideas will be promoted step by step in the future and also the problems faced by the country will be solved simultaneously.”
Thus the SLFP stood for socialist ideas from the outset..
It is upto every Sinhala person to realize that the SLFP stood for socialist ideas, the progress of the downtrodden, the poor- the masses and to tell their political leaders that the SLFP has to be resurrected somehow. Many of the Members of Parliament of today are unaware of the early achievements of the SLFP because most of them were not even born in 1956.
. At the General Election of 1956, the UNP was led by Sir John Kotalawala. SWRD Bandaranayake of the SLFP formed the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna comprising the SLFP. VLSSP(Viplawakari Lanka Sama samaja Party led by Philip Gunawardena and some other parties. The Sinhala Buddhists fought a major campaign with Venerable Henpitagedera Gnanasiha Thera. as their leader. He was a great orator and for months he was touring the electorates in his Volkswagon addressing the people.. For some two months, everyday, he left his Temple at Mudduwa, Ratnapura in the wee hours of the morning and came back around midnight to be greeted by us. His Motto was: Are you a Sinhalese? Are you a Buddhist? Then vote for the SLFP. The masses were mesmerized with his speeches. There was an awakening in the country and the MEP was victorious..
The SLFP with the support of some leftist parties has ruled Sri Lanka from 1956 to March 1960, from June 1960 to 1965, from 1970 to 1977 and finally from 1994 to 2015. The days when the SLFP ruled is marked with progressive economic programmes and the creation of economic infrastructure that helped the common people. It is unfortunate that most of these progressive measures have been neglected today. The leaders of the SLFP tried hard to follow a non aligned policy- to steer clear from belonging either to the forces of imperialism or the socialist block. On the whole the attempt was to help the masses to get them on their feet.
In addition to administering normal economic development programmes and maintaining day to day administration, the main achievements of the SLFP during the periods it ruled the country were:
The Paddy Lands Act
The People’s Bank
The Multi purpose Cooperative Movement
Cooperative Wholesale Establishment
Small Industries Programme including Handlooms and Powerlooms
The Divisional Development Councils Programme
The Paddy lands Act and the Multipurpose Cooperative Movement was the programme initiated by Mr Philip Gunawardena in 1956. He worked with Mr SWRD Bandaranayake to deliver the peasants from a situation of servitude. Sri Lankan paddy farming is done by a mass of small holders who have no stake as owners. Instead they are tenants who have to pay to the landlord- the owner of the paddy lands 50% of the crop, while it was the tenant that had to bear the cost of finding seed, providing the labour and all cultivation expenses. The PLAct stipulated that the landlord could claim only a fourth of the crop. In a few Districts the landlords provided the seed paddy etc. The peasants had no security of tenure and could be deprived of the lands they cultivated by the landlord willy nilly. The PLAct specified that the landlord cannot dismiss the tenant. In addition the PLAct specified that paddy lands including the provision of irrigation water was to be administered by a committee( Cultivation Committee) which was bestowed with authority to organize paddy cultivation. The composition of the Cultivation Committee was to be 75% cultivators and 25% landlords. This composition did not rhyme well with the landlords..
This PLAct was a progressive legislation which brought about a major change- a revolution in paddy cultivation and it was resented by the rightist elements in the SLFP itself which led to the resignation of the founder Mr Philip Gunawardena at the very intitial stages in May 1959.. An entirely new Department – the Agrarian Services had been formed to implement the PLAct and every single officer recruited was handpicked. I happened to be one of them.. When the leader Philip Gunawardena was removed the mantle of carrying on the PLAct fell on the officers who continued the programme with vehemence.
The Cultivation Committees were elected and they continued to administer paddy cultivation. The success of paddy cultivation, even to the extent of making the country self sufficient in rice was entirely due to the Cultivation Committees. I myself organized the implementation of the PLAct in the Matara, Kegalla and Anuradhapura Distri ct from 1959 and the committees were extremely active in adopting improved methods of cultivation and in addition, the Committees were also entrusted with the repairs and restoration of irrigation works including tanks. The Cultivation Committees for the first time brought the people together to plan paddy cultivation. Earlier it was the agricultural officers who reached the farmers through the Village Headmen and the Vel Vidane. The use of improved seed paddy and new cultivation practices like transplanting, row seeding and application of fertilizers was planned and pursued. The Department of Agrarian Services built fertilizer stores overnight to enable fertilizer to reach the farmer.
The peasants had to receive support in terms of agricultural loans, to finance the purchase of seed paddy and fertilizer and also handle the purchase of paddy for which a premium price almost double the world market price was paid and this economic support was provided by a village level multipurpose cooperative society. Earlier there were a plethora of societies at the village level, one for distributing rations of food, a society to obtain loans, a savings cooperative etc and these functioned independently though in the same village. There was no apex body to provide support to the village level societies. This was provided at the Divisional level by creating a Union of Multipurpose Societies, fully equipped with storage and lorries. This Multipurpose Cooperative Movement was also a great progressive movement because it attended to provide economic support to the people.
Unfortunately, the wings of the PLAct was cut off during the UNP regime of President Jayawardena and so died the progressive revolution of the PLAct. With this the Cultivation Committees ceased to function. Today paddy cultivation does not have any organization belonging to the people. It is administered by officials who meet farmers on a casual basis. Under the Paddy lands Act farmers had a voice which has ceased today.
The Multipurpose Cooperatives functioned well. This was an economic commercial organization belonging to the people and though the PLAct was abolished the multipurpose cooperatives continued their functions. As will be shown in the section on the Divisional Development Councils, the Cooperatives played a major role in creating employment.
The Peoples Bank
Banking in Sri Lanka was done by the Bank of Ceylon, a State owned bank and a plethora of foreign banks. The Bank of Ceylon had a few branches and the SLFP leaders thought that a State bank should be established to cater to the needs of the masses. This was done with the establishment of the Peoples Bank with many branches in the village areas. This was the brain child of Minister TB Illangaratne and his Ministry Secretary Jayantha Kelegama. This Peoples Bank introduced banking to the masses. They delivered a major service to people who were earlier getting loans at very high rates of interest from village money lenders. The Peoples Bank continues to provide services even today.
The Cooperative Wholesale Establishment(CWE)
In order to enable people to obtain imported goods,- non luxury goods at reasonable rates, the SLFP Government initiated the CWE which was charged with importing essential goods and selling them at retail outlets keeping a very small margin of profit. This very unofficially controlled the prices at which the Private Sector retailers could sell and was a boon to the masses. The CWE had depots in many rural areas to help the people to obtain their requirements at cheap rates.
The CWE was axed and almost totally abolished during the time that Ranil Wickremasinghe became the Prime Minister in the UNP rule of 2002-2004. It was resurrected by President Rajapaksa under the name Sathosa, but it did not reach the high levels of activitity during the CWE heydays. Once an organization is axed and dismantled it is costly and a tedious task to re establish it.
Thus it is clear that the SLFP stood for the masses, stood up with progressive ideals and every Member of Parliament should be proud of what has already been achieved. Both the Paddy lands Act as well as the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment were axed by the United National Party, the earlier by President Jayawardena and the latter by Prime Miniater Ranil Wickremasinghe.
The section on the achievement of the SLFP in Small Industries Development, the Divisional Development Councils Programme and Defeating Terrorism, will follow.
Garvin Karunaratne, former SLAS
25 th April 2015