15th October 2000
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Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike


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With the death of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike last Tuesday, an era draws to a close


Former Minister Lakshman Jayakody shares some memories with Madhubashini Ratnayake

Years ago, a young man in his twen ties, interested in politics because of the proximity of his family to both the Bandaranaikes and the Senanayakes, asked the then Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, what qualities he looked for in a good politician.

"There should be three qualities in an ideal candidate," Mr Bandaranaike had said. "First, that person should be a social worker; secondly he or she should like human beings, that is, love humanity; thirdly, that person should possess a clean incorruptible character." 

Mr Bandaranaike had also added that such a person's political thinking would come later - that it could be developed, if the first three conditions were there.

So when Mr. Bandaranaike was assassinated, - and the party he formed was floundering in search of a leader - this young man knew who the best would be. It was the wife of the assassinated Premier, Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike. He knew she had all the qualities that were mentioned as being necessary.

Therefore he joined others in the attempt to persuade her to enter politics. When she did, she invited him to come in and help her - and he did so. Contesting the Divulapitiya seat, he entered Parliament and in 1970, he became the Deputy Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs, while Mrs Bandaranaike held these portfolios. He was also the parliamentary secretary to Mrs Bandaranaike. He stood by her for decades in momentous times when she was at the helm of Sri Lankan politics as the first woman Prime Minister of the world. It can be said that their partnership ended together too. Mr. Lakshman Jayakody is now out of active politics - and she is no more.

A helping hand : Mrs B. with Lakshman YayakodyThe soft-spoken gentleman, grey-haired now, with a lifetime of memories behind him, speaks slowly of the woman who became a legend in her own time.

"At the beginning, when we asked her to come into politics, we knew what she was capable of. She had been a tireless social worker in the Mahila Samithi, she cared about people, and her character was as straightforward and beyond reproach as could be," said Mr. Jayakody. He perhaps, is one who understands why Mrs Bandaranaike - a wife and a mother till the death of her husband - took so naturally to politics when she had to do so.

"Her husband was very clear about his philosophy - very focused and very articulate," he recalls. His own choice of following her husband's vision had come about in the times after Independence. "SWRD was the only leader then who brought in a fourth dimension to political leadership. All other leaders talked about the economic, political and social dimensions. The fourth dimension - the cultural dimension - was brought in only by SWRD. That decided the issue for most of us."

Talking about the philosophy that Mrs Bandaranaike would have been exposed to during her life with her husband, he takes the example of the pas maha balavega - sanga, veda, guru, govi, and kamkaru - that SWRD Bandaranaike put into motion in this country.

"He believed that each of these groups stood for something. The monks symbolized discipline; the indigenous doctors symbolized internal and external purity of the body and soul; the teachers stood for wisdom and intellect; the farmers were there for strength and the workers symbolized labour. With these five forces he wanted to create a disciplined, healthy, intelligent, strong and hardworking nation. This is what he believed in and spoke about. She would have been in that atmosphere ever since marriage."

Being at the hub of activity in the Prime Minister's office, Mr. Jayakody could witness her untiring dedication to her work, her strength and her efficiency in dealing with matters of government. "I recall very serious discussions she had as the Minister of Plan Implementation, with Dr. N.M. Perera, the Minister of Finance then, - discussions on a very high plane about high finance. She was an intellectual. There is no doubt about that. And she also had another strength - a great deal of common sense."

Mr. Jayakody spoke of all that Mrs Bandaranaike had achieved during her times as Prime Minister. Among her achievements was the Indo-China ceasefire- which earned her the respect of both these Asian giants. "Just last year an Indian official was telling me how much her intervention meant to both these countries - to have avoided war and gone on to prosperity because of her negotiations. She was such an excellent negotiator and she used it to help others too."

Mr. Jayakody also spoke about her Maritime Boundaries Act. "It was this act which actually decided the boundaries of Sri Lanka. It showed which part of the sea around the island was the territory of Sri Lanka. It was a vital and crucial piece of legislation," he emphasizes. 

Then there was the implementation of the Sirima-Shastri pact and the success of the Non-Aligned Movement Conference in Colombo which earned her the respect of all world leaders. 

"Her personality was superb, and if you think about it, she, personally, was never defeated. The people kept on voting for her. And it was that fact really - that made others afraid of her. That was why her civic rights had to be taken away," said Mr. Jayakody.

He looks sadly into the distance, past the walls of his house that hold photographs of Mrs Bandaranaike among the others that hang there. The photographs must be like his memories of her - there are ones of her as a charismatic leader of the country, there are ones in which he is supporting her to walk. "We are crying for her today, as a country, because she is dead. But that day, when her civic rights were taken away, was a day we cried for her as well. The whole country cried that day too. We cried because we knew she had never abused power. But she was so calm, so serene when this happened to her. She knew that she did not deserve what was meted out to her."

But the great lady did have a chance to come back into politics again. Those events are familiar to us as part of our recent history. And again, Mr. Jayakody was invited in, and he was a Minister in the government till a few days ago.

But now a great story nears its end. With the death of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike last Tuesday, an era draws to a close. As Mr. Jayakody says, "This time we cry because we have lost her forever." 

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