THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1956 Part 9D
Posted on April 13th, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

S.W.R.D Bandaranaike was Prime Minister for a very short time, 1956- 1959. Throughout this period, he was soundly ridiculed. Praise for Bandaranaike came several decades later when the MEP period came into historical review and it was found that changes initiated had become entrenched, also that they were good.

Then they started to praise Bandaranaike as a person. Guruge (1999) said he admired SWRD’s extraordinary intellectual and oratorical skills. Bradman Weerakoon (2004) said SWRD was ‘uncommon man in the age of the common man’ HSS Nissanka (1976) reported that KPS Menon said Bandaranaike was one of the brightest among his contemporaries at Oxford. 

Vernon Mendis   (1999)   spoke of SWRDs  intellectual upbringing, his natural passion for history and world affairs, his lively and dashing personality, which charmed his  peers, like Anthony Eden, also his fiery eloquence and nimble wit.

Bandaranaike had    academic and social standing and was able to challenge westerners. Bandaranaike had told some British dignitary, in a  reference I cannot recall and am unable to trace,  though it was readily available at one time, that while his British ancestors were running about  in animal skins and living in caves, my ancestors, in this country   had already developed an advanced civilization which included a language and a literature.

Bandaranaike’s contribution was also seen in a positive light. I think it was Wiswa Warnapala who said, that SWRD greatly underestimated his role and incorrectly labeled his time as a ‘period of transition’. It was not. It was a period of high consolidation and movement towards a modern state.

S.W.R.D Bandaranaike demonstrated statesmanship in two vital areas and history will commend him for this, said another analyst, whose name I have failed to record.   Firstly his enlightened foreign policy and secondly the creation of a modern independent state through the stabilization of the majority community and the introduction of a single official language.

Bandaranaike   pioneered the formation of a viable religious and cultural policy for the nation, said Ananda Guruge. SWRD gave legitimacy to the aspirations of the Sinhala Buddhist public, said Sudath Gunesekera.  Buddhist and Sinhala values were emphasized, agreed Nayani Melegoda.

The sheer volume of change brought in during the few years of Bandaranaike rule was exclaimed upon. Dhanapala listed the work carried out under Bandaranaike and exclaimed all this in two and a half years.

The 1956-59 period saw some of the most important events in the country said analysts.  The Trincomalee Port and Katunayake air base were taken back from the British. Colombo Port was nationalized; the Paddy Lands Bill was passed followed by a guaranteed price for paddy. A university Commission was set up, the Buddhist commission report appeared.

 The Kandyan Peasantry Commission report was to be implemented. Sinhala was introduced as the medium of instruction for Advanced level. A national Provident fund Bill was presented. Provision was made for public servants to speak out in the national interest. Diplomatic relations were established with socialist countries. There was a change of foreign policy from pro-western to non-alignment.

SWRD was one of the shrewdest political analysts of our time, whatever his shortcoming as a practical politicians said Tarzie Vittachi. Bandaranaike had initiated a process of constitutional reform, however abortive, and this should be recognized, said analysts.

 Tarzie Vittachi said that Bandaranaike wanted MPs to be elected on personal merit not party lines. In Parliament, there would be no division into Government and Opposition. The Parliament would be divided up into committees. Work would be done by parliamentary committees like the earlier Executive Committees.  All MPs would take an active executive role. Chairmen of the Committees will be Cabinet ministers and would carry out government decisions. The Prime Minister will be the chief executive.  

 He was heavily criticized but the idea had its merits. This seemed worth trying out in a small country like Sri Lanka,  said Tarzie Vittachi.  SWRD’S scheme is interesting as one of the first attempts in Asia to redesign Parliamentary government. SWRD was also working towards introducing a Bill of Rights said Mahindapala.

Bandaranaike was not the feeble, bungling, incompetent he was made out to be. He was an experienced politician. He had created a new political party and led it to victory. He was  an experienced statesman as well.  He had been on State Council  for some years and was its  Minister for Local Government .

Bradman found Bandaranaike‘s first chairing of the pre-budget estimates to be informal but direct, with some humour thrown in. He had a sharp eye for cracks and fault lines in government business, said Bradman.

Bandaranaike was alert and decisive when necessary.  Sir Oliver may have been in charge during the Emergency in 1958, after the riots, but Bradman says SWRD was very much in the picture.

Guruge says an elephant stampeded at Buddha Jayanti celebration at Attanagalla Raja Maha Viharaya, SWRD took charge and had the people taken to safety. He had dragged Guruge, by his collar to a side. Bandaranaike knew the importance of public relations. He held press briefings over kiribath breakfasts in his home.

Bandaranaike knew Buddhism, said Ananda Guruge. He had a deep grasp and interest in Buddhism.  Unlike his predecessors in office, he needed no script to elaborate on any aspect of Buddhism concluded Guruge. The Buddhist public came in to listen to SWRD with interest and later with passionate enthusiasm, said Meegama.

Guruge says foreign dignitaries were impressed by his eloquence and grasp of Buddhism. He lashed out at Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan at a Town Hall lecture, where Sarvapalli had commented unfavourably on the originality of Buddhism. SWRD had demolished all his arguments.

It is not well known that SWRD Bandaranaike, when he became Prime Minister, took steps to unite the Amarapura nikaya. He called a meeting at Vajirarama  in 1957  and  fifteen sub groups amalgamated to form Samasta Lanka Amarapura Sangha sabha, said T.G.Kulatunge.

Bandaranaike   supervised the Buddha Jayanti celebration very thoroughly. He even remembered that an invitation from Burma for a delegation to the 6th Buddhist synod, which was ending in 1956,  had to be accepted.

SWRD had declared Anuradhapura a sacred city when he was Minister for Local Government in State Council. Construction of New town Anuradhapura started in 1953.   As Prime Minister SWRD  continued his interest in the project.

 Establishing the Anuradhapura new town included moving homes, administration, business district, mosque, churches, slaughter house and its non Sinhalese majority. Part of the problem was that Anuradhapura was a regional railway headquarters and the   railway administration kept growing and encroaching on the archaeological sites. Also Buddhists objected to the churches and mosques built in Anuradhapura.

Bandaranaike was one of the three best speakers we had in Ceylon.    Never at a loss for words, with fluency and diction, he could  reel off one perfect sentence after another with astounding ease, said DB Dhanapala.  

I remember him as a brilliant orator in Sinhala and English said Meegama. He was one of the finest debaters of the day, with a gift for repartee.  His speeches and repartee   in Parliament were much enjoyed by the chamber, concluded Meegama.

SWRD was a superb orator in both English and Sinhala and could literally mesmerize an audience said Bradman.  Bradman recalled that he had been mesmerized by Bandaranaike’s eloquence on Independence Day, Feb 4 1948. The speech he delivered at Peradeniya University in 1957 also had a special appeal and profundity. SWRD speeches were pure gems with sonorous cadences studded with classical allusions, said Bradman. SWRD was a master of English and was very particular in the style and wording.

Bandaranaike had learnt Sinhala on his return from London, continued Bradman. He used Sinhala for his political speeches. Bandaranaike   has excelled in spoken Sinhala, said Bradman.  He could translate word for word a complicated cluster of sentences he had a moment earlier mouthed in English.  I found his bilingual competence in public speaking staggering especially since he did not use Sinhala in normal daily speech. The language at home and with officials was in English, concluded Bradman. (Continued)

One Response to “THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1956 Part 9D”

  1. dingiri bandara Says:

    On of the saddest and the worst thing that happened Sri Lanka ( then Ceylon) was the assassination of the great leader Mr Bandaranaike. The people of the country lost the the opportunity to see where the country would gone, if he lived. I believe, the country would have progressed in a better direction.

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