Forty years after the assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike shares her memories of him while his
son Anura Bandaranaike laments the decline of the political culture since
Exclusive to The Sunday Times
A political culture void of decency and tolerance
By Anura Bandaranaike
Even the bitterest critic of my father, Prime Minister
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, must concede that he was Sri Lanka's quintessential
During the brief three year period of his Premiership, his government
was harangued by recurrent leftist orchestrated wild-cat strikes. The media
and especially the Island-In-The Sun series of Flybynight and the cartoons
of Aubrey Collette lampooned him bitterly. In a prize day speech in 1958,
Canon R.S. De Saram, Warden of St. Thomas' College criticised the Prime
Minister in acrimonious tone and harsh language. But my father was unmoved
and amused. The great democrat that he was, he understood that adversarial
politics was at the heart of a functioning democracy. He never believed
in unleashing thuggery or the state mafia to suppress criticism or anti-government
activity, however unreasonable the nature of such criticism or activity.
The media was free to criticise him most vehemently, his opponents went
about hurling a barrage of invective. But my father never ever dreamed
of muzzling the press or restricting free discussion.
This was the political culture of decency and tolerance that he left
behind when he was cruelly felled down by an assassin's bullet.
But in the years that followed upto date when the country has been governed
alternatively by the UNP and SLFP led Coalitions, the cherished values
of decency, tolerance, freedom of expression and non-violence have been
constantly assailed - some to the point of extinction !!
Electoral violence which was anathema to my father's style of politics
has come to be progressively embedded in this country's political culture.
While there had been minor acts of sporadic violence before, it can truly
be said that electoral violence came to be practised as a form of organised
and institutionalised "behaviour" for the first time in our country in
1973 at the Dedigama by-election following the sad and untimely demise
of that great democrat, Dudley Senanayake. The SLFP led U.L.F. Govt. (1970-77)
heavily influenced by the Marxist partners of that regime orchestrated
a most vitriolic form of electoral violence and sabotage aimed at stultifying
the electoral process and law and order aimed at intimidating the voter
and the officials in order to distort the will of the people. That was
the ULF of 1970-1977. Entrenchment of electoral violence in our political
culture received a boost in the years of the J.R. Jayewardene presidency
especially in the 1980's. The Jaffna DDC elections of 1981 saw the birth
of a new style of political thuggery set in motion. Then came the infamous
referendum of Dec. 22, 1982 following the horrendous declaration in Anu-radhapura
in Sept 1982 where it was said "To roll up the electoral map of Sri Lanka
for ten years". A non-existent Naxalite threat was the ruse that was used
to orchestrate the biggest election fraud - the referendum of 1982. There
was state sponsored thuggery, hooliganism and mafia style violence and
Some UNP M.P.'s, whose undated letters of resignation were with JRJ,
resorted to impersonation, intimidation of elections officials and open
stuffing of ballot boxes. The entire exercise was so heavily rigged through
violence that even Attanagalla was won for the UNP by over 67% of the votes
polled !! Politicians carried fire-arms to the polling station at Ladies
College and the Police looked the other way. The Mahara by-election was
another watershed in our country's rapidly declining political culture.
The PA govt. of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, perhaps unknown
to the President, has even done better !! The Wayamba Provincial Council
election will be recorded in our annals as one of the most horrific affronts
to our democratic tradition. It had all the re-makings of the 1982 Referendum
!! violence, thuggery, murder and mayhem, intimidation, flagrant violation
of the electoral process and regulations, bending the state apparatus for
partisan objectives - these were all part of the great farce enacted at
Wayamba by a government, that vowed to uphold democracy when it asked for
the people's mandate in 1994.
The Wayamba poll - was perhaps, the most disgraceful election ever held,
where even UNP women were stripped naked and paraded, for the first time
in Sri Lanka's history. The perpetrators of the heinous offences, well
known to those in power, have got off free - and no action has been taken
against them, up to date - now eight months.
Another important area which was sacrosanct to my father was the rule
of law and the independence of the Judiciary - concepts which he sought
to safeguard and uphold at all times. Since his demise, progressive governments
both of the SLFP and the UNP have assailed the sanctity of the rule of
law and the independence of the judiciary. The first major assault was
by the United Front govt. when in 1972 was enacted the Interpretation Amendment
Act which prevented appeals to the courts of law against abuse of political
power. Then followed the Business Acquisition Act which enabled the govt.
to take over the business undertakings of its political opponents. In 1973,
the Press Council Law was passed to control the free press and soon after
the government acquired a controlling interest in Lake House converting
the publications of that company into veritable rag sheets of propaganda
for the government in power. Then came the extension of the life of parliament
in 1972, which gave the parliament elected in 1970 a two year additional
lease of life without any reference to the people. It must be stated in
fairness to the SLFP that all these manoeuvres were orchestrated by the
Marxist partners of the coalition and by the most powerful man in the Cabinet
at that time - Felix Dias Bandaranaike. FDB's appointment of Jaya Pathirana
to the Supreme Court and Wickremanayake as Finance Secretary were major
assaults on the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the
Continuous rule under emergency law (1971-1977) was another unhealthy
"Legacy ' of the UF government which governments led by the UNP did not
hesitate to follow in later years.
The government of JRJ which solemnly promised to usher in a just and
free society in 1970 disillusioned the people in its performance. Within
a few days in power, JRJ used the Business Acquisitions Act, which he had
so vehemently criticised to take over the Times Group of Newspapers.
The biggest aberration in JRJ's regime was the enactment of the Special
Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Act, No.7 of 1978 and the subsequent
appointment of a S.P.C. consisting of two Supreme Court Judges and one
Judge from the lower rungs of the Judiciary which had as its objective
- the elimination of my mother, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, from the arena
of politics because JRJ perceived her to be his only real and formidable
foe. Retrospective legislation was most disgracefully used to nullify an
Appeal Court decision which was in favour of my mother. Through a series
of subtle manoeuvres in parliament the government launched a most vicious
and undemocratic persecution of my mother, hitherto unheard of in any part
of the democratic world all for political expediency!
Tampering with appointments to the judiciary was unheard of in my father's
time. The first major deviation was when Felix Dias Bandaranaike appointed
his friend, Jaya Pathirana to the bench of the Supreme Court. The most
flagrant violation of the sanctity attached to judicial appointments took
place in 1978 when JRJ, in a most unprecedented move, reconstructed the
Supreme Court sending 12 senior serving judges home !!
K.C. De Alwis, who was appointed to the Special Presidential Commission
from the lower Judiciary was hurdled over 18 Judges of the High Court to
the Appeal Court. Subsequently K.C. De Alwis's dubious involvement in some
transactions with a Cabinet minister who was under investigation and his
family cast a dark shadow over the long hallowed integrity of our Judiciary.
In my father's time, as I have pointed out earlier, freedom of the press
was a most hallowed and sacred institutional concept. The first major assault
on the free press was in the time of the United Front Government when the
Press Council was created, Associated Newspapers was made a government
monopoly and the Independent "Sun" Newspaper Group shut down. What was
even more tragic was the continuation of these dastardly acts of misdemeanour
under the JRJ regime which acquired the Times Group, when two editors of
The Observer including Philip Cooray were hauled up before parliament and
fined for a mix-up in captions in the Observer of January 30, 1978 which
confused Jane Fonda for A.C.S. Hameed. The witch-hunting of Mr.S. Nadesan,
leading lawyer in the CRM Movement, over some comments published in the
Sun was another instance where press freedom was assailed. The 1987 enactment
of The Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Amendment hung like the Sword
of Damocles over the free press.
Let us look at the ongoing ethnic conflict. Some
extremists may say that the present conflict and the unfortunate incidents
of 1958 were the result of my father's policy on language and Sinhala only.
Nothing is further from the truth than this error in judgment. My father
having removed privilege, wanted to ensure against disabilities for the
minorities. But, unfortunately, he was stalled by chauvinists and left
us before his vision could be accomplished. The ethnic conflict aggravated
in the years following his death. My mother's government of 1960-65 should
also take some blame for this situation. In 1961, the creation of an Army
detachment in Jaffna vested with powers of civil administration sowed the
first seeds of discord amongst the people of Jaffna. Dudley Senanayake
made a genuine effort at reconciliation when he proposed District Councils
in agreement with Chelvanayakam. But my mother was unfortunately drawn
into a movement of protest against the District Councils and the proposal
was abandoned Then came the 1972 Constitution of Dr. Colvin R. De Silva.
The deletion of section 29 (2) which protected minority rights, standardisation
of marks for university admissions all added to the gathering momentum
of disillusionment among the minorities who were losing faith in what they
perceived was a "Sinhala Government". When the United Front government
of my mother was in power, a tragic incident occurred on January 10, 1974
at the Veerasingham Hall in Jaffna at a meeting of the International Association
of Tamil Research referred to as the "Janatharan Incident". Police indiscretion
caused the tragic death of nine Tamil youths - this incident was the immediate
cause of the Tamil's demand for a separate state.
Then came the DDC Election for Jaffna in 1981 which was a major aberration
in the annals of free and fair electioneering in our country. Election
officials were replaced by minions of the ruling UNP regime. Senior ministers
were sent to Jaffna to rig the polls. Ballot boxes were stolen. The invaluable
Jaffna library with over 100,000 books was burnt to the ground! The frustration
caused by these acts of horrendous misdemeanour under state patronage further
widened the gap between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, who were now in a
state of shock and disbelief. The climax was reached in July 1983 when
all hell virtually broke loose in Colombo when Sinhalese mobs went on the
rampage killing innocent Tamils ostensibly as revenge for the killing of
13 soldiers in Gurunagar. The government did nothing to control or abate
these killings. It was a policy of "See No Evil, Hear No Evil". The next
major and tragic error made by JRJ was his decision to force all M.P.'s
to take an oath against separatism in 1987 which alienated the TULF from
mainstream politics. The story of the ethnic conflict thereafter is familiar
to all of us - an endless war at much cost to life, limb and property with
no end in sight despite the illusions of victory and peace in the minds
of impostors and fashion designers in the garb of peace harbingers.
My father's years were years when society was disciplined
and law and order prevailed. This has progressively deteriorated. I think
my mother made a grave error when she decided to take over the Roman Catholic
Church managed denominational schools in 1964. These schools like St. Joseph's,
St. Peter's, Maris Stella in Negombo, and her own school - St. Bridget's,
were dedicated to discipline in education. Then came the youth insurrection
of 1971 which was harshly suppressed by my mother's UF government, with
the aid of Marxist ministers. This heralded rule under emergency law. History
repeated itself when a youth insurrection of much greater proportion and
intensity ravaged the country in 1989 only to be ruthlessly quelled by
Ranjan Wijeratne under the Premadasa Presidency. The years that followed
saw the emergence of petty mafiosi groups with linkages to underworld gangsterism,
drug pushing and contract killing groups which were often spawned, fostered
and protected by even Cabinet ministers and king (or queen) makers. The
trend continues today when political killings of opponents and critics
has revived. All round us we see a total breakdown of discipline and law
and order. The Hokandara killings, Rita John rape and murder, the Delkanda
taxi shoot-out, the Dias murder at Thimbirigasyaya are all examples of
a world turning upside-down. Contract killings have become the order of
the day. No government has ever assaulted journalists and photographers
in the shameless manner as was seen in July this year. The media minister,
and his great confidante, had the audacity to admit that this assault was
carried out by the Presidential security! And, what does the President
say about it all?
All is not well in the Kingdom of Denmark. On top of the judiciary sits
a Chief Justice whose integrity and credentials are "grey". Alleged rapists
are allowed to sit on judgment over others. My father will indeed be a
saddened and disappointed man at this tragic turn of events in his 'Island
In The Sun', administered by the very party he formed!
Finally let me touch on the subject of corruption and good governance.
The Bandaranaikes - my father, my mother, and hopefully, my sister- abhorred
corruption and malpractice. My father's regime was untainted by corruption
and he took positive action against some of them. However, there was talk
of the corruption in the years that followed. In 1964, it was alleged that
substantial sums of money had passed in motivating the cross-over of some
SLFP MP's. Corruption raised its ugly head once again in the 1970-77 regime
of the United Front. The demonetisation exercise of Dr. N.M. Perera on
budget day in November 1970 was an act of sheer folly. Having removed Rs.
100 and Rs. 50 notes from circulation, the government printed new notes
in complete contravention of established Central Bank procedures and even
stored money pending issue in private residences. There were allegations
that corrupt practices were rampant in state procurement activities as
well as in land reform implementation. The JRJ and Premadasa regimes were
also tainted by corruption at various levels. My sister's campaign in 1994
was mainly focused on elimination of corruption. But her performance has
been disastrous. The Permanent Commission on Bribery stands debilitated.
The Galle harbour issue, Thawakkal, Southern Development Authority, AirLanka
privatisation major procurements for defence are tainted by substantial
allegations of corruption, which a future UNP government will subject to
impartial inquiry. The latest Channel Nine issue is full of grey areas
which remain unanswered. I do not think that my sister, being a Bandaranaike,
will ever stoop to corruption. But she seems to have lost control over
some of her ministers and confidantes who are progressively getting enmeshed
in bribery and corruption of unprecedented proportion, leaving behind an
unbearable stench. Errant MPs have gone on the rampage and nothing is done!
In the 40 years since my father's death - every aspect of public life in
Sri Lanka has deteriorated disastrously.
It will require a herculean effort to bring back the pristine glory
of Mother Lanka which is indeed the absolute need of the hour!
'I won't forget you'-Sirima
By Roshan Peiris
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times the
83-year-old Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was deeply moved and
broke down as she recalled the fateful day when her husband S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
was shot dead by a misguided monk.
She commemorated last Sunday, forty years since his death. "I miss him
all the time and why not? I miss him sorely and I finally opted to take
over the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party because of my respect
for him and to perpetuate his memory and his policies. I did not want the
party to go down and just become a part of history," she said as she and
the country marked the 40th anniversary of S.W.R.D.Bandaranike's assassination.
At this point the Prime Minister broke down and with tears pouring and
lips trembling she said, "I was in hospital with him when he died. It was
a traumatic experience, a shocking one, and until I die I will never forget
"My children were young especially Anura and I was determined not to
let my husband down.
So I did everything possible to educate them. Thankfully they are all
doing well, 40 long years after his death.
"I was not into politics and so soon after his death I nursed my sorrow
and let the members of the Party decide who should lead them. But soon
I was pressurised by the party members. It was strange I thought that the
men of the Party wanted a woman to lead them. I was really taken aback.
"It was finally Chandrika who persuaded me to accept the leadership.
Though young at the time she was politically attuned.
"I must confess it required a lot of courage for me to be in politics,
having never taken an active part in politics but only helping my husband
backstage," she recalled.
Moving to the situation today, she said a matter of regret was the decline
she saw in Parliamentary standards. "Sometimes the behaviour is terrible.
When I entered politics Parliament was generally a sober place. But it
is not so now. A good example is not being set, especially to school children
who often come to the gallery." "Chandrika has a difficult time with the
ethnic war. It is doubtless a complicated situation but she handles it
with courage and grit."Ms. Bandaranike said.
Asked about her health and whether she was thinking of resigning Ms.
Bandaranaike said, " I feel as good as I could be. I have no blood pressure,
diabetes, cholesterol and the like. My health is good so why should I resign.?
"Only my feet give me trouble but then I don't use my feet to think.
My message after all these years in the limelight to the young generation
in this country is to respect discipline and respect one's elders, practise
your religion and adhere from a young age to impeccable time management.
I never delay in keeping my appointments even now."
Her lips trembled and the tears flowed again as she finally said ,"Though
it is so long I still miss my husband very much."