When considering global politics, there have been many incidents where popular leaders were assassinated and often had untimely deaths. Great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi of India, John F Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln of the United States were shot dead, and Solomon West Ridgeway Dias (SWRD) Bandaranaike, who rendered an invaluable service to Ceylon in [...]

Sunday Times 2

Remembering SWRD

62 years since the assassination of Premier Bandaranaike

When considering global politics, there have been many incidents where popular leaders were assassinated and often had untimely deaths.

Great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi of India, John F Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln of the United States were shot dead, and Solomon West Ridgeway Dias (SWRD) Bandaranaike, who rendered an invaluable service to Ceylon in terms of socio-economic and political aspects, was also shot dead by an assailant, silencing the ‘Silver Bell in Asia’.

It was the fourth year since his appointment as Prime Minister. Since he broke away from the United National Party (UNP) and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), he had hopes of many changes to be made in the country.

SWRD Bandaranaike

Bandaranaike always kept in mind that he had a lot of work to do for the people. However, despite all that he had planned for the betterment of the country, he had to leave the world at an unexpected moment. On September 26, 1959, people who did not expect a disaster to happen, began their usual work and Premier Bandaranaike also went to his home in Rosmead Place, Colombo 7 since he had to complete lots of work, as well as listen to the grievances of all who came to meet him.

One of the Buddhist monks who came to meet him came to him without any difficulty. The Buddhist monk Thalduwe Somarama, approached Bandaranaike and shot him with a revolver hidden in his robe. Bandaranaike was immediately admitted to the Colombo National Hospital, where he underwent a six-hour operation performed by almost all the well-known doctors in the country.

This year, 2021, is the 62nd year since the assassination of Premier Bandaranaike.

A son was born who changed a country

SWRD Bandaranaike, born on Jan 8, 1899, inherited the Bandaranaike legacy of the Maha Mudaliyar Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike and lady Daisy Eslyn Obeysekera, an aristocratic family in British-ruled Ceylon. He was named ‘Ridgeway’ by the then British governor to Ceylon, by his father, the Maha Mudaliyar.

Educated at St Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia and later admitted to the University of Oxford in England for higher studies, Bandaranaike returned to Ceylon in 1925 as a young man with many progressive ideas. He worked as a lawyer for a short time, and in 1926 became the Secretary of the Ceylon National Congress.

He was elected President of the ‘Pro-National Party’ in the same year and later joined many national organisations and started his political career.

The beginning of the political journey

He became the Premier of the country at the end of a long political journey, beginning with his election as the Chairman of the Nittambuwa Village Committee. He became the Secretary of the Ceylon National Congress in 1926. In the Colombo Municipal Elections held in December of the same year, he fought against the Labour leader A E Gunasinghe for the Maradana division and won with a majority of 615 votes.

Although many thought that an aristocrat like Bandaranaike could not win in an urban, working-class area like Maradana, he launched a successful door-to-door campaign and achieved victory.

He thus entered the mainstream politics of the country as a Municipal Councilor and contested the Veyangoda electorate in the post-referendum state elections held after the ‘Donoughmore’ reforms and was elected unopposed to the State Council.

He was active in politics in the first State Council of Ceylon and expressed progressive views, calling for the expulsion of the three public servants and the abolition of their posts if the country is to achieve full independence. In 1931, he became the Chairman of Ceylon National Congress, the youngest appointed to the position.

Sinhala Maha Sabha

In 1934, the ‘Sinhala Maha Sabha’ was formed by Bandaranaike with the aim of uniting the divided Sinhala nation and promoting nationalism and giving impetus to the national liberation struggle.

In 1936, Bandaranaike was re-elected unopposed to the Second State Council from the Veyangoda electorate.

He was also the youngest Minister in the Second State Council of Ministers and was later elected as the Leader of the House.

The first general election

In the first general election since Dominion independence in 1948, Bandaranaike contested from the UNP from the Attanagalla electorate.  After defeating C Gunasekera, he was elected to Parliament with a majority of 26,854 votes and became a Minister in the first Cabinet of Ministers in the country.

D S Senanayake was elected as the Minister of Health and Local Government. He rendered a significant service to the country and was also the first to deliver a speech in the State Council in Sinhala.

Establishment of the
Sri Lanka Freedom Party

Eventually, he realised that the UNP-led government was not going the way the Sinhala ‘Maha Sabha’ hoped, but submitted a series of resolutions passed at the ‘Madampe Convention’ of the ‘Sinhala Maha Sabha’ to the then Premier, but the latter did not respond favourably and Bandaranaike sat in the Opposition in Parliament on July 12, 1951.

Later, on September 2, 1951, a group of 44 people joined the Colombo City Hall to form a new organisation in support of Bandaranaike.  With the naming of the organisation as the ‘Sri Lanka Freedom Party’, the arrival of a major factor determining the future course of Ceylonese politics took place.

Seven months after the formation of the new party, Bandaranaike faced an election in which the SLFP won 9 seats. He won the Attanagalla electorate by a majority of 32,544 votes and became the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

Towards the post of Prime Minister

The SLFP and the Lanka Samasamaja Party, under the leadership of Bandaranaike, reached an unanimous agreement on September 24, 1955, signaling the change in the political power of the UNP until then, and on December 17, 1955, a resolution was passed to the effect that Sinhala should become the official language of the country.

Bandaranaike also accepted the “Ten Commandments” introduced by the United Bhikku Front that Sinhala should be the official language of Ceylon, and pledged that his Government would implement it.

The “Mahajana Eksath Peramuna” was formed on February 21, 1956 with the participation of the SLFP led by Bandaranaike, the Revolutionary Lanka Sama Samaja Party led by Philip Gunawardena and the Sinhala Language Front led by Vijayananda Dahanayake.

Subsequently, in the 1956 general elections, Bandaranaike led the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna to power in Parliament, creating a “common people’s era” in the country.

Bandaranaike did a great service to the entire community and we are still enjoying the progressive  results of the decisions he took then. Among them are the establishment of the Ceylon Transport Board, the nationalisation of the private bus service, the nationalisation of the port, the establishment of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), the recognition of state enterprise priority, the designation of May 1, International Labour Day as a public holiday, and the protection of the rights of minorities, the granting of their rights, the amendment of labour laws, the establishment of new state corporations, the removal of foreign military bases operating in Ceylon, and the establishment of a national education policy.

Although he died less than four years after assuming the office of Premier, the people of this country will undoubtedly give the slain Bandaranaike the honour of working tirelessly to provide the many services that we still enjoy today.

“Man’s ultimate duty is to serve man” is his noble concept. But it is doubtful whether all of us have forgotten this noble advice due to the degenerate politics today.

It is the duty and responsibility of the SLFP, as well as those who love the country, to keep it active and not limited to words, as we commemorate his untimely death.

(The writer is the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party)


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