The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

03rd, November 1996



Life and times of JRJ

Braemar as museum

According to the last will of the late President Jayewardene written in 1991, his well known residence at Ward Place, in Colombo is to be vested in the Jayewardene Cultural Center and Library, after the demise of Elena, his wife.

After the vesting the residence Braemar is likely to become the museum and educational section of the Jayewardene Cultural Center.

Buddhist prelates pay tribute

Buddhist prelates yesterday paid glowing tributes to the late President J.R. Jayewardene, describing him as one of the greatest Sri Lankan political leaders of the century and a statesman of international repute.

The Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter Venerable Rambukwelle Vipassi Thera said Mr. Jayewardene was a man of wisdom who took Sri Lanka on a new course to uplift its economy.

Another significant feature of his illustrious career was the role he played in helping Buddhist Japan to rise from the ashes of the second world war, the prelate recalled.

Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter Venerable Palipane Sri Chandananda Thera hailed Mr. Jayewardene as a world-class statesman whose service to the country was incalculable.

The head of the Amarapura Nikaya the Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Thera recalled Mr. Jayewardene's outstanding contribution to Buddhism and to the building of a stable economy.

Japan leads world in mourning for J.R.

Emperor Akihito and the people of Japan remember the role J.R. Jayewardene had played in the rebuilding of that country after the world war, yesterday led the world in paying tribute to a statesman.

In a message to President Chandrika Kumaratunga Emperor Akihito said:

"The Empress and I are deeply grieved at the passing away of Mr. Jayewardene. Recalling his great contribution to the furtherance of the close relationship between Japan and Sri Lanka as well as his gracious hospitality to us in 1981, we wish to express to Your Excellency and through you to the members of his bereaved family our deepest sympathy and sincere condolences."

On behalf of the Japanese Government Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda said:

"I should like to express deepest sympathies on the passing away of Mr. J.R. Jayewardene.

His demise deprived Japan of one of its distinguished friends, but President Jayewardene's contribution to the promotion of friendly and amicable relations between our two countries will remain indelible in our memories."

Mr. Jayewardene had for more than half a century maintained close political, cultural and economic ties with Sri Lanka's giant neighbor India. In a message yesterday India's President Shankar Dayal Sharma said:

We have learnt with sadness of the passing away of Mr. Jayewardene. His demise brings to an end a significant chapter in the recent history of Sri Lanka, and the loss would be deeply felt by the people in your country. I extend to Your Excellency and through you to the government and people of Sri Lanka my condolences and those of the government and people of India on this sad occasion."

India's External Affairs Minister Indra Kumar Gujral said:

"I was deeply grieved to hear of the news of the passing away of Mr. Jayewardene. With his demise, a great tall tree in the forest of mankind has fallen. For the people of Sri Lanka, his death leaves a void; we in India will also miss him greatly.

Bhutan's King Jigme Singye, Wangchuck in a message said:

"It was with sadness that my people and I learnt about the passing away of Mr. Jayewardene. He was a statesman of outstanding stature who not only provided strong and far-sighted leadership to his country but also contributed much to our region of South Asia.

Srimani, Thonda hail a colossus

Two Cabinet Ministers of the PA government yesterday hailed the Late President J. R. Jayewardene as a colossus where service to the country will be etched in the annals of history.

Minister and DUNLF leader Srimani Athulathmudali in a message said:

"The contribution of the Late President to Sri Lanka's political history is now etched in the country's annals. He will be remembered not only as a astute and visionary politician who served the country for the past four decades, but, as a Statesman of international repute.

Minister and CWC leader Thondaman said:

"It is a well known fact that JR re-directed the course of political and the economic history of Sri Lanka by the adoption of the Executive Presidential system of Government and the proportional representation system of election."

On this occasion of national grief, we in the CWC join the rest of the nation in commiserating with his wife Elena and his son Ravi and other members of his family as well as the UNP and other groups over the passing away of a leader, a statesman, a tactician and a colossus among men."

"Always gracious and unruffled, a high water mark of JR's contribution to commonwealth politics was the Colombo Plan that was adopted at his initiative."

"Though living in retirement JR was never out of the limelight and his political wisdom was sought after by most of the political personalities in the country."

'Braemar' Like Hamlet without the Prince

By Shelani de Silva

For his 90th b'day last September J.R. Jayewardene gave a special bonus to his personal aides at the Ward Place residence. Asked why he did so he had said he might not live to be 91.

Five days ago, on his death bed at the Nawaloka hospital, J.R. called Press Secretary K. W. M. P. Mapitigama and told him to send 'thank you' notes to all who visited him.

The bonus and the 'thank you' were the last gestures that the household staff recalled on Friday as a pall of gloom fell over the famous 'Braemar' at Ward Place with the news of the death of a man who had dominated the Sri Lankan political stage for six decades.

A Sunday Times team was at Ward Place to capture the mood and the scene there. 'Braemar' without J.R. was like Hamlet without the Prince, from which J.R. loved to quote.

We met Sub Inspector Ariyaratne, a security officer who had literally and otherwise been close to J.R. for almost two decades. Hiding his tears S.I. Ariyaratne said: "I first came to work for Sir when he became Prime Minister in 1977. He was easy to work with, obliging and patient. During the past month he was clearly in pain but he always had time for us". Recalling the traumatic last days S.I. Ariyaratne said "when I visited him on Wednesday he held my hand for a long time looking at me. He was trying to say something.....but he couldn't.

For R.A. Premaratne, a village lad at Ward Place was a dream come true and as he poured his heart out to us on Friday, it was clear that J.R. was like a father to this domestic aide.

"I was only 22 when I came to work for the President. I had no previous experience of working in any house, let alone a President's house. He taught me English and lots of things. So I handled his files and similar work", Premaratne said.

Disclosing some personal aspects of J.R.'s life he said, "the one thing he insisted on in the mornings was that he should have all the newspapers. He was not fussy about food, just had some fruit for breakfast. He trusted us and lot of confidence in our work. Sometimes he even left his wardrobe keys with me. I would everyday arrange, his briefcase and take it to his car", Premaratne said with a little pride but with sorrow written all over his face.

It was obviously painful for Mr. Premaratne to speak of the last moments and the last wish of his beloved Sir. "When I visited him on Thursday he told me to look after his wife and his son", the loyal valet said.

Recalling happier times of this work with Mr. Jayewardene, the valet said:" One day the President asked, 'Kolla, do you want to go abroad? I said yes and he said get into the car. I thought he was joking but we got into a plane and went to Maldives and returned the same day".

S.P. Waidyaratne the President's driver for 10 years fondly spoke of his work, "When I first came to Ward Place I had never driven a car before. I was sent to a driving school to get my license. Although I knew to drive, at first the Sir used to sit in the front seat to help me. Later it was I who drove Sir around the country. He always treated us with respect, however high his position might have been".

Speaking of some golden memories he recalled J.R's acts of overflowing kindness even to the children of the staff. "Whenever our children visited us he is the one who asked what they wanted and treated them like his own children. There are no words to describe Sir", the driver said showing obvious emotions one feels at the end of a road.

Secretary Mapitigama, was one of those in the inner circle after Mr. Jayewardene's retirement from politics. "It was wonderful to work with him. He was a unique person, patient, determined and punctual.

Memories are made of these

By Roshan Peiris

It was just a week before his 90th birthday that I met Junius Richard Jayewardene, Sri Lanka's first Executive President and one of the most charismatic and controversial politicians of this century.

I was supposed to meet him with a colleague from the "Midweek Mirror" but he sent word asking me whether I would prefer meeting individually. As journalists we like meeting people on our own and so I indicated as such to his Secretary.

I have met J.R.J. through the years and he has always looked spic and span and full of life but on that morning I was sad to see how feeble he was. His immaculate white shirt was unbuttoned half way and the Secretary buttoned it up for him. Ninety years Junius Richard may have been but his brain was agile as ever before and answered all the questions with his usual aplomb.

It was at this meeting that I asked him what he had to say about us journalists after 60 years of politics. "Most pleasant," he said with a grin, 'but' there are some journalists I prefer more than others".

Relaxed as he was he said, "I wont celebrate my birthday. How can I when my dearest wife Elena is in hospital after surgery. I still cannot understand how she fell while walking in the garden. She injured her hip. You know we have been very close. My recipe for a happy marriage, 'marry a person like her'. That I observed wryly isn't saying much and he laughed, his old self again.

"We have been married for over sixty years and I feel lonely" he said sadly.

I was sufficiently friendly with him to ask a personal question and so I did "Sir are you dieting, you have lost a lot of weight?". Like you so many have said the same but believe me I am not dieting at all".

Through the years Mrs. Jayewardene had cut his chocolate intake when he had a touch of diabetes. I am now quite all right and as you know I am always moderate about my food. Whenever I feel heavy on my feet I do diet but not now".

I asked him 'are you wearing Sai Baba's chain and pendant he gave you? "I always do , but today I seem to have forgotten to wear it. I must do so now.

On his own Mr. Jayewardene said, "I have led a full life and now I am immersed in my religion". All this was after he had answered some of the hard political questions ranging from the Executive Presidency to the ethnic crisis.

"Have your drink" he said the gentleman as always. As I left him I said Sir very many happy returns for next Tuesday. Thank you he said. I never realized then that this was my last interview, with him.

He was always a pleasure to interview and he would pause to relate an anecdote the most favorite ones being those of the Royal-Thomian matches.

So ends with Junius Richard Jayewardene a large chapter of our country's history. He was often criticized for many things but none could criticize his gentlemanly qualities.

'His economics will be a credit and his politics will be a debit'

By Rajpal Abeynayake

To a great extent, it can be said that history has already judged J.R. Jayewardene.

J.R. Jayewardene was by far the single individual who had the greatest impact in changing the post-independence fortunes of this country. That is the objective truth.

But, subjective assessments of the life of J.R. Jayewardene will be remarkably polarized. In his lifetime, J.R. Jayewardene lived to see lavish encomiums heaped on him. But he also would have known that for many others his era personified the decline and fall of democracy, or worse still, the breakdown of an entire value system. For the most part, it depended on the way you perclived it.

Now that even J.R. Jayewardene has passed into the great beyond, political observers (of whom there are many in Sri Lanka of many colorations) will have to come to terms with the fact that nothing, not even the UNP will be controlled from Braemar Ward Place anymore.

Though it is doubtful that J.R. Jayewardene exercised any real tangible clout over the UNP after he passed into political retirement, it was always as if the nation would never be surprised if J.R. sprang back into the saddle. Such was J.R. Jayewardene's association with the concept of power.

In a country teeming with heady youth with even headier ambitions, Jayewardene's political ascendancy in 1977 at the age of 71 was only a beginning statement of the Jayewardene style. Here was a gentleman of the old school, almost avuncular and statesmanlike. But, he stymied his political opposition so convincingly and with such absolute consummate acumen that the nation got used to the idea of J.R. Jayewardene at the helm. Obviously, he believed in political domination more than he believed in political democracy, but yet, he knew where he wanted to go, and by every reckoning he got there.

But, his most diligent biographers, the historian K.M. de Silva and the former American Ambassador Howard Wriggins did a good job in chronicling the fact that J.R. Jayewardene had a long political past before he petered on to leadership and dominance.

Perhaps J. R. Jayewardene's long retirement was another vicissitude in many in his political life. Obviously, this man rode the political arena of this country like a colossus, and never was one man's hold on power in this country so firm and so absolute. But yet, with that kind of record, it is still a historical truth that J.R. Jayewardene lived to see, in his time, the passing of the political torch from his beloved UNP to left-of-center camp of the Bandaranaike's.

The former President had, a few times at least, gone on record saying that it will be impossible to vote the UNP out of power with proportional representation in place.

Jayewardene was however a tempered politician who was by now used equally the two unpredictable imposters success, and decline. Significantly, astute though he was (the BBC described him as the shrewdest politician in South Asia), J.R. also knew that even the finest ambitions like the finest things have to be pursued slowly and with patience.

Though some of the young UNP turks after him pursued the same kind of fierce ambitions with a vengeance, J.R. nursed and nurtured his ambitions over the years. He watched the Party leadership pass to Dudley Senanayake, played second fiddle for countless years, and then sat out the seven years of SLFP rule from 1970 to 77. By contrast, his political protégés tried every short-cut to power, but never attained it.

But the 'old fox' veneer also probably unfairly shrouded JR's political goals and feats in an impenetrable aura of mystique. Though he bided his time to wield power, or precisely because of this fact, unlike most others, J.R. had firmly chartered his future course by the time he won that landslide in 77.

Today, it is indubitable that the free market policies he installed are irreversible; they are here to stay, with or without a human face.

J.R. has been heralded by international magazines as the man who launched the supply side trend, to be followed eventually by worthies such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Tatcher. He had unprecedented growth rates to show for to.

It has been said that when you close J.R. Jayewardene's political account, his economics will be credit and his politics will be a debt.

The bottom line is that J.R. Jayewardene was a politician, and a good one. He will be remembered for the bounty of the free market economy, the tangible gain the hubris and all. But, in the management of political crisis, J.R. was a statesman overtaken by events, some say of his own making. J.R. the story went, was a kind of politician that people respected, rather than liked.

He quoted Shakespeare at the death of Dudley Senanayake, invoking 'good night sweet prince ' a la Hamlet. Dudley Senanayake's credentials of impeccable integrity never attached to J.R. Jayewardene. But, even cynics condoned his masterly political chess, which is why they gave him a second term, though he had taken the sting out of the opposition by that time.

But, it is easy to forget that amid the flurry of moves and countermoves that characterized the Jayewardene era, that there was a political ideology that was this one man's single vision.

His idea of stability was power, which is why we have the executive presidency, incidentally which is why we have Chandrika Kumaratunga in power. His idea of progress was to let the robber barons come in, which is why we had unprecedented growth rates and unprecedented unrest.

A politician cannot do all, but J.R. did much on a difficult watch. His tenure was one of social engineering and transition.

J.R. ruffled many feathers, to put it very gently indeed, but one cannot accuse him of not having a vision. He had one, he achieved it, though there will always be argument as to the price.

His legacy, like him, was both stability and violence. Like the man himself, it is full of contradictions. The avuncular face, the pithy repartee, all that will be no more. But among legacies that will remain will be the UNP, which he was fond of saying, was his greatest achievement.

J.R. acquired political maturity with time, unlike most of his youthful followers who acquired it by bitter mistake.

The elitist UNP was converted into a people's vote winning juggernaut, he also banished family succession, no mean feat in the UNP. J.R. was elitist to the core, but all of it showed that his approach was that of the pragmatist patriarchal technocrat. He was a man of ideas, his detractors would say too many for his own good.

An era surely has passed. It is only coincidence that J.R. Jayewardene and Ediriweera Sarachchandra passed away in the same year. Even so, how fast the old order changeth.

Continue to the News/Comment page 5 - * Mourners complain, * 'Hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love', * Looking at JR and his times

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