THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1956 Part 9A
Posted on March 24th, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The general election of 1956 introduced to its joyful and triumphant public something they never ever expected, political assassination.  SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959. This was not the first assassination of a Head of state in South Asia. Liaquat Ali,  Prime Minister of Pakistan was assassinated in 1951. Bandaranaike was probably the second.

The first attempt at getting rid of Bandaranaike it appears was in August 1959.  CP de Silva had become severely ill at a cabinet meeting on 25 August 1959 after consuming a glass of milk and was flown to the UK for medical treatment. It was thought at the time, that the milk was intended for Bandaranaike.

KKS Perera said in Daily Mirror 7.4.2016 that CP’s own sister, the well-known Pediatrician, Dr. Ms. Stella de Silva, who was in USA, attending a seminar, rushed home on September 2nd, and on her initiation an eminent neurologist was summoned from UK. He accompanied CP to Hospital for Nervous Deceases in London on the 7th of September, where it was diagnosed as ‘acute nephritis’ or inflammation of kidneys due to either nephrotoxic effects of drugs and or toxins. The doctors were at a loss to describe exactly how such severe injury could happen so unexpectedly, but were convinced that it was caused from an ingestion of a toxic substance.” The fact that the poison could not be indentified easily in UK seems to show a foreign hand.

September 1959 was known to be a malefic period for Bandaranaike. Fortunately, SWRD was to address the UN General Assembly in first week of October and was to leave on September 28. This would help him escape the malefic period.

Bandaranaike‘s killers knew this. They first planned to kill Bandaranaike   at the opening of the new market in Kandy on the 23rd of September. The chosen assassin, the monk Somarama was to merge with the Asgiriya and Malwatte monks and vanish, after shooting Bandaranaike. But Somarama had panicked and the assassination did not take place.

SWRD was assassinated on Sept 26th. 1959   He was shot dead by, Talduwe Somarama a Buddhist monk at Bandaranaike’s residence in Rosmead Place, Colombo. Somarama however,   was only the tool. The brains behind the assassination was Mapitigama Buddharakkita, Viharadhipati of Kelaniya Rajamaha Vihara. Also founder and secretary of the Eksath Bhikkhu Peramuna of the MEP. 

Arrests were made and a Supreme Court trial before Justice TS Fernando started in February 1961. Somarama was defended by Lucian G.Weeramantry who appeared free of charge.  The Jury found the first accused Buddharakkita, second accused HP Jayewardena and fourth accused Somarama guilty by a unanimous verdict. All three faced death by hanging.

They appealed against their death sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeal. The Court of Criminal appeal dismissed all three appeals but amended the sentences imposed on Buddharakkita and Jayewardena from death to rigorous life imprisonment. Then the three convicted persons tried to get their verdicts reversed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the UK. Applications for special leave to appeal to Privy Council was refused by Privy Council in May 1962.

There was deep anger among the westernized elite regarding the convictions.   In Kandy, where I grew up, several elite persons    told my mother, angrily, that they would get the judgments squashed   by Privy Council in London.  My mother conveyed this to Justice TS Fernando, who was a close friend of my parents. Justice Fernando   replied, with contempt,    Wait and see. They will not   be given LEAVE to appeal.” He was correct.

Somarama was hanged in Welikada in July 1962. The life imprisonment sentences of the 1st and 2nd accused were commuted to 20 years by the UNP government of 1965. Mapitigama Buddharakkita died in 1967 of a heart ailment after serving time at Welikada prison. HP Jayawardena was released on August 4, 1977.

The Christian church got two converts after the Bandaranaike assassination. During the trial Somarama had stopped wearing the yellow robes when appearing in Courts.  Weeks before his execution Somarama was converted to Christianity and was baptized in his cell by an Anglican priest, said DBS Jeyaraj. Wimala Wijewardana whose name had been linked with Buddharakkita converted to the Catholic faith and left her property including Adisham, to the Church.

Those who planned the assassination would have considered it a great achievement to have got it done through the Sangha. They would have hoped that this would demoralize the Maha Sangha and make them run away from politics. That did not happen. The Maha Sangha were not shaken. But the public was, temporarily.

When Somarama assassinated SWRD, the public turned against the monks, said Ellawala Medhananda. They would put parcels of dirt into the begging bowl and would ask ‘pistole thiyanawada.  Monks did not venture out.

On the other hand, when Ellawala and other monks went to view SWRD’s lying in state, no one looked at them angrily or said anything.  Nobody said anything offensive to him when two weeks later he went by bus from Borella to Napawala, either. But on the bus from Avissawella to Napawala, one person,   known to Ellawala, had asked ‘pistole thinyanavada’. He later died an alcoholic.

The reason given for Buddharakkita wanting to kill Bandaranaike was that he did not get a lucrative contract he had asked for.   Buddharakkita had set up a company, Colombo Shipping Lines, in the name of HP Jayawardena, to carry freight for Sri Lanka government, specially rice from Burma. Stanley de Zoysa, MEP’s Minister of Finance and his brother Sidney, who was DIG, Police were also investors in Colombo Shipping Line.

 In May 1958 Buddharakkita made a bid for a tender to bring 200,000 tons of rice from Burma and carry a similar quantity for further period of three years. This was a very lucrative contract and the company stood to make enormous profits.

SWRD appointed a committee consisting of Philip Gunawardene, RG Senanayake and H.E.Pieris, Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, to examine the offer. Pieris did not think the company had the financial standing to undertake such a big venture and did not recommend it.  SWRD acting on the advice of the committee refused to give the contract to the company, resulting in great financial loss and disappointment to Buddharakkita and Jayawardena.   We are expected to believe that Buddharakkita got Bandaranaike killed for this. Not even a child will believe this.

The Bandaranaike assassination was a political assassination. Philip Gunawardene was the first to anticipate this. He had seen plenty of political intrigue at first hand, when he was living in UK, USA, and he could recognize high level intrigue when he saw it in Ceylon.  Philip announced in Parliament, Powerful forces, foreign and internal, which do not wish to see this government continue, are at work.  He turned to Bandaranaike and said,” Sir, your life is in danger”.

The 1956 MEP swing was not to the liking of UK or USA, observed historian Nayani Melegoda. It was seen as a blow to western prestige in Asia. Further, it is a blow in a place where a blow had not been anticipated, the west said.

UK was ‘bewildered ‘at this anti British vote.Sri Lanka was a country which had benefited greatly from it western connections and which had hitherto appeared to be such a staunch member of the Commonwealth. US was alarmed. Ceylon seemed to be swinging sharply left, it said. US sent Asst Secretary of State William Rowntree to Ceylon in 1958 to check this out.

When   the west comes across regimes they do not like, in newly independent states, they try to get rid of the head of state. The assassination is done through local agents who are supported in all sorts of ways.

The Bandaranaike assassination team appears to have had such external support. Bandaranaike‘s killers were defended by highly placed lawyers. At the Supreme Court trial Buddharakkita and Jayawardene were defended by reputed British Queen’s Counsel, Phineas Quass. Sir Dingle Foot QC, appeared on an honorary basis for Ven. Somarama, in London.

 DBS Jeyaraj says Buddharakkita had large sums of money at his disposal.   He had dished out Rs 50,000 to 60,000 in the 1952 election  to support  Wimala Wijewardena. In 1956 he had spent around one lakh on the election.  These were  huge sums of money in the 1950s and  the Sangha would not   normally have access to such sums . Temples did not run to that sort of money.

Buddharakkita    engaged  in business activity  at a level  far removed from  any business that a  bhikkhu would attempt. His businesses were in highly specialized   sectors. Clearly Buddharakkita had  business advisers in addition to donors.

Buddharakkita had his Colombo Shipping Lines. Buddharakkita had also invested in Metals and General Imports Co. This company together with the Czech firm Techno-export tendered for constructing the factory buildings at Sugar Corporation, Kantale. He won the contract. But the company got into difficulties and lost the contract. The link with a forieng firm shows that Buddharakkita had foreign business contacts.  

Buddharakkita has visited London. Buddharakkita and his associates made several trips to London spending substantial funds to obtain financial backing for the Colombo Shipping Company, said Meegama.  Sachi Sri Kantha says he had also visited London for a medical checkup.

Buddharakkita lived well. He travelled by car. Buddharakkita was openly disparaging about MEP high command. Buddharakkita used disparaging epithets for prominent political figures of the day, said Sri Kantha. Buddharakkita referred to Bandaranaike as  Sevela (slimy) Banda. Buddharakkita said of Philip, ‘there is no benefit to those who put him into power and power must be wrested from his hands’. He also used the term nondiya (cripple) to refer to RG Senanayake,  MP for Kelaniya, where his temple was located.  

Sachi Sri Kantha questions whether any ‘foreign hand’ was involved  in the Bandaranaike assassination. Was Buddharakkita contacted by the CIA, interested in toppling a Left-leaning prime minister into the Indian Ocean? It is no secret that the CIA was  involved inassassinations and assassination attempts on political leaders who were pro-Left during the period 1959 to 1962. Bandaranaike’s politics and actions were definitely pro-Left,  at  time when America was interested in Asia.

It may be of interest to delve into  ‘confidential’ records  to see whether Mapitigama Buddharakkita  had any direct or indirect contacts with international gumshoes, said Sri Kantha. Buddharakkita  died in prison (at a relatively young age of 46), when the UNP ,a pro-West government was in power. Has anyone taken the trouble to look seriously into this assassination,  Sri Kantha asked. ( Continued)

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