Forty nine years ago, on September 25, the whole country was shocked with the news of a dastardly act – the assassination of the country's Prime Minister. It happened just three years after he was elected with a sweeping majority.
|S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was hailed as the common man's Prime Minister. The doors of his residence at Rosmead Place were open for any one to walk in. Unlike today, not much attention was paid to security. Police sentries at the gate had been instructed to allow any one wanting to see the Prime Minister to come in.
The assortment of
people, who had come to see the Prime Minister on that fateful morning is described by Justice A. C. Alles in his publication on the assassination.
"There was a relation who had come to obtain a character certificate for his nephew; a Buddhist monk who had come to champion the cause of some cooperative officials from Polonnaruwa; an individual who had come to obtain the Prime Minister's intervention because he had to get some money from Lewis Brown & Co; the manager of a cooperative store about a transfer for his niece; a teacher called Gunaratne who had come with a petition to obtain relief from the Education Department and the assassin Somarama (a monk) who had come to see the Prime Minister ostensibly in regard to the affairs of the College of Indigenous Medicine."
The assassin fired
several shots as the Prime Minister went up to him to pay obeisance to him. He was rushed to the General Hospital where arrangements were made to
perform an emergency operation.
Issuing a message to the Nation, Prime Minister Bandaranaike said:
"A foolish man dressed in the robes of a Bhikkhu fired some shots at me at my bungalow this morning. I appeal to all concerned to show compassion to this man and not try to wreak vengeance on him. I appeal to the people of my country to be restrained and patient at this time. With the assistance of my doctors, I shall make every endeavour to be able to continue such service as I am able to render my people.
I appeal all to be calm, patient and do nothing that might cause trouble to the people."
A state of emergency was declared and the Governor General
Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, in a message to the nation, appealed for "absolute peace and quiet throughout the land." Requesting all persons to get about their normal duties, he assured that "the Security Forces are there for your protection."
Although the doctors were hopeful of his recovery after surgery, the Prime Minister passed away the next morning.
His death marked the end of three decades of faithful service to the
people of Sri Lanka.
In the absence of the Leader of the House, Minister C. P. de Silva who had gone to the UK for medical treatment, senior minister Wijayananda Dahanayake was appointed Prime Minister.
|Exhibits at the Bandaranaike Museum
The Bandaranaike Assassination Trial commenced on May 22, 1961.
The Jury, by a unanimous verdict, found Talduwe Somarama guilty. He was sentenced to death by the trial judge, Justice T. S. Fernando QC. The sentence was later affirmed by the Court of Criminal Appeal of Ceylon and eventually by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
By the time Somarama was hanged, he had been converted to Christianity and baptized as Peter by Rev. Mathew Peiris.
Along with Somarama, the first accused Mapitigama Buddharakkita Thera and the fourth accused, H. P. Jayawardena were also sentenced to death, but on appeal, they were
sentenced to life imprisonment.
Buddharakkita died while in prison and Jayawardena was released in August 1977.