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3rd October 1999
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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 his death. 
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 democrat.

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 lawlessness.

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 public administration.

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.Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike

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 it.

"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."

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