THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1956 Part 10F
Posted on April 19th, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The most sneering, contemptuous opposition to SWRD came from the English speaking elite drawn from all communities. SWRD was scorned for changing his religion to Buddhism, getting into national dress, hobnobbing with his social inferiors and supporting a low level, backward, indigenous language, Sinhala which should be trampled into oblivion.  

SWRD Bandaranaike faced much ridicule during his short period as Prime Minister.  No politician has ever had so bad a press in any part of the world as Bandaranaike said DB Dhanapala  No other leader had such a hostile press like Bandaranaike, agreed analysts.

SWRD was lampooned and criticised. He was pictured as a weak-kneed political opportunist,  which he was not. He was consistently maligned and libeled this side of the law, Dhanapala said. The English press was the most vitriolic. The Lake House and Times groups targeted SWRD relentlessly. The only exception was Lankadipa, also owned by Times.

The English press also ridiculed the 1956 government. Lake House led the campaign. Lake House had clout. Lake House sneered at any state venture and wanted to sow discord in the MEP, said Meegama.

It was not difficult to mock the 1956 Government. Bandaranaike was pushed to and fro by the various forces he had courted at one time or other. This provided fine copy for the journalists.

His erratic and zigzagging rule was reviewed weekly in the popular column “Island in the sun’ in the Sunday Observer.  It was written by the editor, Tarzie Vittachi under the pseudonym, Flybynight,  with cartoons by Collette. People used to eagerly await the delivery of the Sunday Observer to read the Flybynight columns and view the cartoons by Collette. Collette drew cartoons that ridiculed Bandaranaike.  Sales of Sunday Observer rocketed. These pieces were later published as ‘Trials of transition in the Island in the Sun’.

SWRD was called Electric Eel in this series. His efforts to improve the country were sneered at. The Electric Eel has not ever taken a decision from strength, only from weakness, said Flybynight. The Electric Eel used to say that island was going through a period of transition. This was his alibi for everything, his government corruption, incompetence, and cowardliness, continued Flybynight.

Lake House was also against Philip. From the start Lake House was against Philip.  They set up him as a sinister figure, said Meegama. The Lake House group was clever at manipulating persons, but they found Philip difficult to manipulate.

Flybynight called Philip the Black Panther. He was the fiercest of the pack in the island in the sun, said Flybynight. The Black Panther is the most formidable obstacle we have to our achieving mastery of this island, he said.  Philip’s wife, Kusuma Gunawardene was described as a sort of Gas House Gertie, ‘a rough and roistering termagant.’

Black Panther said he  would have several pits dug all over the country and he would put into them the bones of all the animals he or his tribe has killed anyone could take the bones gnaw them and return them to the pits, went on Flybynight.

The animals in the island in the sun are fed up with the Black Panther’s policy of violence, hatred against the weaker group of animals. They were now yearning for a breathing space in which peace and sanity can return once more to their accustomed haunts, concluded Flybynight.

The pair responsible for the Island in the Sun series in the Observer did not benefit from their work. Tarzie left Sri Lanka suddenly in 1960. He said Sydney de Zoysa had it in for him and his children had been threatened. Collette drew the newly widowed Sirimavo pregnant and in bed with NM Perera. Collette left the country when Sirimavo was elected Prime Minister in 1960.

This criticism of the MEP group, starting with SWRD and Philip, was not a spontaneous activity. This was a part of a carefully developed modus operandi to bring disrepute on the MEP government, to help bring the MEP government down and return the country to its pro-US stance.

There was also another strategy, which commenced in 1956 and continued to this day, the tactic of character assassination though slander. Bandaranaike’s sexual orientation was commented on. I recall hearing this quietly said in the 1950s. There was no evidence to support it, and the motive was clearly malicious.

The other politician singled out for attack, was T.B.Ilangaratne (1913- 1992) who was Minister for Labour, Housing and Social services in the MEP government .He brought in several progressive items of legislation. He introduced the Labor Tribunal act no 62 of 1957. He had been a clerk in the Kandy Kachcheri before starting his political career.

Ilangaratne was accused of owning hotels in Switzerland. This was carefully planted propaganda by UNP. A UNP stalwart told me later that this was carefully planted propaganda,” said a contributor  writing to Sunday Times.( Sunday Times 9.11.14 p 12).

They developed a story.  A Sri Lankan who had gone to Zurich had seen in the lobby of the hotel where he had stayed a big portrait of Ilangaratne on the wall. And was told that was the portrait of the owner of the hotel. Ilangaratne had no account in the Swiss bank, no hotels in Sweden with or without his photograph as claimed maliciously by the then opposition and interested media, said Daily News in 2015.

It was also said that he had built a palatial house in Gampola. A commission of inquiry went to see the house and found half built house belonging to another. Ilangaratne was exonerated of all charges. I found that he had lived in a modest house in the interior of High Level road close to Nugegoda.  He was reported to have lived mainly on the royalties of his books, said GaminiGunawardena. (Continued)

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