The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

03rd, November 1996



Life and times of JRJ

Mourners complain

By M. Ismeth

Ward Place, for years a tight security zone, was thrown open yesterday as hundreds of people came from all parts of the country to pay their last respects to the late J.R. Jayewardene.

The Sunday Times joined the multitude at Ward Place to capture the mood and scene. There were people of all races and religions, the young and the old, the rich and the poor.

Kodituwakku Baby Sing-ho had come on a wheelchair. "What a man, what a loss to the country", he said expressing the hope that security men would allow him to wheel his chair up to the body of a great leader.

Mrs. Karunaratne from Egodauyana in Moratuwa was in tears when we spoke to her. "What can I say. He was our greatest leader."

T.M. Niyaz from Dematagoda said he had come to pay his respects to a leader of great vision who was a friend of the Muslim community.

Many people in the crowd, were shocked to learn that the govt. would not declare a day of national mourning or an public holiday in memory of J.R. They said national mourning had been declared even for some foreign leaders, but a man who had ruled this country for 11 years was being treated with scant respect.

Some mourners also complained about the poor coverage given yesterday by state-controlled newspapers, T.V. and radio.

JRJ's famous speech

'Hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love'

One of JR's earliest speeches where he made a mark as an orator and a life-long friend of the Japanese at the Conference for the Conclusion and Signature of the Treaty of Peace with Japan held in San Francisco , USA - 16th September 1951

I consider it a great privilege to be afforded the opportunity of placing before this assembly of fifty-one nations the views of the Government of Ceylon on the draft Treaty of Peace which we have been invited to approve. My statement will consist of the reasons for our acceptance of this treaty, and I shall also attempt to meet some of the criticisms that have been leveled against it. It is true that I can speak only on behalf of my Government, but I claim that I can voice the sentiments of the people of Asia in their general attitude towards the future of Japan. I need not deal with the events that led to the formulation of the final draft of the treaty which we are considering. Mr. Dulles, the American representative, and Mr. Kenneth Younger, the British representative, have given us a full and fair account of those events, beginning with the capitulation of Japan in August 1945. It may, however, be mentioned that there was a serious conflict of opinion between the four major powers as to the procedure that should be adopted to draft this treaty. The Soviet Union insisted that the four major powers alone that is, the Council of Foreign Ministers of the USA, UK, China and the USSR should alone undertake it, and that the power of veto should be reserved to them if any others were admitted for the purpose of drafting the treaty. The United Kingdom insisted that the Dominions should be consulted and the United States of America agreed with this. They also supported consultation with all the countries that took part in the war against Japan. Among these countries, too, there was a difference of opinion as to the actual terms of the treaty actuated by various considerations, some by a fear of the raising of a new militaristic Japan, and others yet unable to forget the damage and the horrors caused by the Japanese invasions. I venture to submit that it was at the Colombo Conference of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers held in January, 1950, that for the first time the case for a completely independent Japan was proposed and considered. The Colombo Conference considered Japan not as an isolated case, but as part of the region known as South and South-East Asia, containing a large proportion of the world's wealth and population, and consisting of countries which have only recently regained their freedom, whose people were still suffering as a result of centuries of neglect. Two ideas emerged from that Conference one, that of an independent Japan, and the other, the necessity for the economic and social development of the peoples of South and South-east Asia, to ensure which, what is now known as the Colombo Plan was launched. Mr Kenneth Younger has explained how, after the Conference, a working Committee of Commonwealth High Commissioners worked on a draft treaty, and later had consultations with the American representative, Mr. Dulles. The treaty now before us is the result of those consultations and negotiations. It represents some of the views that my Government had, and some of them which it did not have. I claim that at the present moment it represents the largest common measure of agreement that could be attained among the countries that were willing to discuss peace with Japan. The main idea that animated the Asian countries, Ceylon, India and Pakistan, in their attitude to Japan was that Japan should be free. I claim that this treaty embodies that idea in its entirety.

There are other matters which are external to the question of Japan's freedom namely, should that freedom be limited to the main islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, or should it extend to several minor islands in the neighborhood? If not, what should we do with those islands? Should Formosa be returned to China in accordance with the Cairo Declaration of 1943? If so, to which Government of China? Should China be invited to the Peace Treaty Conference? If so, which Government? Should reparations be exacted from Japan? If so, the amount? How is Japan to defend herself until she organizes her own defense?

On the main question of the freedom of Japan, we were able to agree ultimately, and the treaty embodies that agreement. On the other matters, there were sharp differences of opinion, and the treaty embodies the majority views. My Government would have preferred it if some of those questions were answered in a different way, but the fact that the majority don't agree with us is no reason why we should abstain from signing the treaty, which contains the central concept of a free and independent Japan. We feel that the allied matters I mentioned earlier are not insoluble if Japan is free, that they are insoluble if Japan is not free. A free Japan, through, let us say, the United Nations Organisation, can discuss these problems with the other free nations of the world and arrive at early and satisfactory decisions. By signing this treaty we are enabling Japan to be in a position to do so, to enter into a treaty of friendship with the Government of China if she decides to recognize her, and I am happy to state, enabling her to enter into a treaty of peace and friendship with India. If we do not sign this treaty, none of these eventualities can take place. Why is it that the peoples of Asia are anxious that Japan should be free? It is because of our age-long connections with her, and because of the high regard the subject peoples of Asia have for Japan when she alone, among the Asian nations, was strong and free and we looked up to her as a guardian and friend. I can recall incidents that occurred during the last war, when the co-prosperity slogan for Asia had its appeal to subject peoples, and some of the leaders of Burma, India, and Indonesia joined the Japanese in the hope that thereby their beloved countries may be liberated. We in Ceylon were fortunate that we were not invaded, but the damage caused by air raids, by the stationing of enormous armies under the South-East Asian Command, and by the slaughter-tapping of one of our main commodities, rubber, when we were the only producers of natural rubber for the Allies, entitle us to ask that the damage so caused should be repaired. We do not intend to do so, for we believe in the words of the Great Teacher whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that "hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love". It is the message of the Buddha, the Great Teacher, the Founder of Buddhism, which spread a wave of humanism through South Asia, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Siam, Indonesia and Ceylon, and also northwards through the Himalayas into Tibet, China, and finally, Japan, which bound us together for hundreds of years with a common culture and heritage. This common culture still exists, as I found on my visit to Japan last week on my way to attend this Conference; and from the leaders of Japan, Ministers of State as well as private citizens, from their priests in the temples, I gathered the impression that the common people of Japan are still influenced by the shadow of that Great Teacher of peace, and wish to follow it. We must give them that opportunity. That is why I cannot subscribe to the views of the delegate of the Soviet Union when he proposes that the freedom of Japan should be limited. The restrictions he wishes to impose, such as the limitation on the right of Japan to maintain such defense forces as a free nation is entitled to, and the other limitations he proposes, would make this treaty not acceptable not only to the vast majority of the delegates present here, but even to some of the countries that have not attended this Conference, particularly India, who wished to go even further than this treaty visualizes. If again, the Soviet Union wishes the islands of Ryukyu and Bonin returned to Japan, contrary to the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations, why should then South Sakhalin, as well as the Kuriles be not also returned to Japan? It is also interesting to note that the amendments of the Soviet Union seek to insure to the people of Japan the fundamental freedoms of expression, of press and publication, of religious worship, of political opinion and of public meeting Ñ freedoms which the people of the Soviet Union themselves would dearly love to possess and enjoy.

The reason why, therefore, we cannot agree to the amendments proposed by the Soviet delegate, is that this treaty proposes to return to Japan sovereignty, equality and dignity, and we cannot do so if we give them with qualifications. The purpose of the treaty then is to make Japan free, to impose no restrictions on Japan's recovery, to see to it that she organizes her own military defense against external aggression, and internal subversion, and that until she does so, she invites the aid of a friendly power to protect her, and that no reparations be exacted from her that harm her economy. This treaty is as magnanimous as it is just to a defeated foe. We extend to Japan a hand of friendship, and trust that with the closing of this chapter in the history of man, the last page of which we write today, and with the beginning of the new one, the first page of which we dictate tomorrow, her people and ours may march together to enjoy the full dignity of human life in peace and prosperity.

Looking at JR and his times

In a country where the crude political joke often conveyed the subtle public opinion of the masses, it was said during the last of the J.R. Jayewardene presidency in 1988 that if Lalith Athulathmudali was 'Wedi Kewa', R. Premadasa was "Gama Kewa" and Rajiv Gandhi was "Guti Kewa" then J.R. Jayewardene was 'Rata Kewa'.

J.R. Jayewardene, certainly towards the end of his 12 year rule, would not have won a popularity contest. But, with the benefit of seven years of hindsight, the time is ripe to assess JRJ's two term presidency and his legacies to present day politics as the Grand Old Man celebrates his 89th birthday today.

Junius Richard Jayewardene's ascension to power in 1977 was no surprise. Plagued by economic strangulation and allegations of nepotism and corruption, the seven year rule of Sirima Bandaranaike had to come to an end. The country needed someone to focus as the leader who would deliver them from the rot that had set in and JRJ was there at the right place - the helm of the UNP - at the right time, after thirty years of waiting in the wings of the Senanayake, Kotelawala dominated Uncle Nephew Party JRJ's turn had come.

The Honeymoon

The first days - "the honeymoon" went well. JRJ dismantled the shackles of socialism and ushered in open economy. Lanka aspired to be Asia's economic miracle of the eighties. We became the darling of the World Bank and western donors. 'For a while, every one was happy. But, having replaced a Westminster style parliament with an executive presidency JRJ firmly believed that the head of government should be unfettered by the whims and fancies and the vagaries of parliament. To achieve this, power was concentrated in the Presidency and it appeared that JRJ did not relish the prospect of giving up office, manifested in a series of political moves. First JRJ's principal political adversary, Sirima Bandaranaike, lost her civic rights. The life of the UNP majority parliament was then extended by a referendum, an electoral hoax if ever there was one. "Continuity" was JRJ's theme song to his ministers.

The assault on Supreme Court judges, the summary dismissal of the July '80 strikers, the proscription of the JVP and the infamous undated letters of resignation obtained from MPs all showed that JRJ disliked dissent despite the aura of being a defender of democracy.

Even now JRJ argues that the referendum was democratic and that stripping Ms. Bandaranaike's civic rights was the act of a legally constituted commission. Public opinion, the final arbitrator, is not inclined to agree.

But these were not JRJ's greatest failings. Somehow, the man who correctly judged many a political predicament, a man whom President Kumaratunga recently said could teach Machiavelli a lesson or two, failed to read the ethnic crisis correctly.

There is a school of thought that JRJ used the crisis to cling to power. In the early days of the northern war, the conflict may have been used to his government's advantage but as the war intensified it is clear that it threatened the government's survival as well. In the early eighties, northern militancy was still in it's infancy and dissent was democratic. For some reason, JRJ did not grasp the tragic potential of this conflict and his response - District Development Councils which he successfully pushed through Parliament was however followed by a halfhearted attempt to establish through elections which many said were rigged - mirrored his thinking.

If the ethnic crisis - the priority issue on the national agenda even today - is JRJ's greatest failure, it must be said that conceding the Indo-Lanka accord was probably his best contribution to the crisis, despite the pact being virtually forced on him by a belligerent Rajiv Gandhi. The accord was anathema to Sinhalese in '87 who accused JRJ of betraying the country, but today's devolution package gives minorities wider powers and yet, many an opponent is discussing the issue on TV talk shows instead of taking to the streets and setting shops on fire.

The arrival of the IPKF was an affront to national pride and only a seasoned cool-as-cucumber President JRJ could see the day when our soldiers remained in barracks while the Indians who backed the LTTE at the start eventually turned their guns on them.

The JVP used the anti-Indian sentiments as a lunching pad for its own gain and Sri Lanka soon set a world record of having two parallel insurgencies in one country.

In hindsight JRJ's bad marketing of the Indo-Lanka accord was what led to his already declining popularity plummeting even faster.

The more enduring contribution of JRJ to the country was, of course, the open economy, and that maybe what JRJ will eventually be remembered for. If JRJ read the ethnic crisis wrongly, he also foresaw that if the country was to develop and aspire for greatness, economic prosperity was a sine-qua-non. He was an unabashed capitalist, and it is JRJ's decision to open the doors for foreign investment that has sustained Sri Lanka even now as it still struggles in the throes of terrorism. The best tributes come from your opponents and JRJ may be satisfied that even President Kumaratunga - an avowed pink socialist in her idealistic youth - has chosen to continue with the open economy, going to the extent of privatizing profitable state ventures in a coalition that includes Communists, Trotskyites and fourth Internationalists. Memories of the Jayewardene presidency will also be always tainted with images of it's last days - days when the government was under siege from northern and southern insurrections. When the likes of Gamani Jayasuriya resigned and others in the caliber of Ronnie de Mel left what was then a beleaguered ship and still others suggested that JRJ should amend the constitution and run for a fourth term. For once, JRJ then resisted the temptations of power and time has proved his decision was correct.

A past master at survival, having decided not to seek re-election JRJ convincingly proposed R. Premadasa as the UNP candidate for presidency and even cajoled Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali to second his choice. Ironically today, the terrorism of politics in this country has eliminated that triumvirate from the national political arena and the UNP as well while JRJ, who retired at 82 years of age lives to tell the tale.

The Legacies

The legacies he bequeathed will also include the 1978 Constitution which just a year ago the present government loved to hate as the root of all evil in our society, but is now finding increasingly convenient to retain in the context of the wafer-thin majority it holds in parliament and the executive powers that go with the office. Judgment on this issue is yet difficult but time will settle this question and, as the results of the last election show JRJ's constitutional masterpiece too may be in need of an epitaph.

The country has now had four executive presidents, each with his or her distinctive stamp of governance. JRJ was not the work-addict that Premadasa was nor was he as lethargic as D.B. Wijetunga. He listened to the views of his Cabinet, encouraged them to build their power bases within his government (the Mahaveli, the Gam Udawa, the Mahapola had the Yovunpura each had their patrons), coerced them to accept his way of thinking and dismissed them when they did not. The story goes that when JRJ was President, JRJ and his ministers discussed issues at Cabinet meetings, when Premadasa was President he talked and the others listened. When Wijetunga was President, the ministers talked and he listened and now, the ministers talk but nobody listens because the President is often late for the meetings.

In public JRJ promoted an ascetic, scholarly image though even fifty years of public life failed to hide the vestiges of his anglicized upbringing and even those who mocked his Sinhala pronunciation grudgingly acknowledged his Shakespeare and Latin.

As a public speaker, JRJ believed that brevity is the soul of wit but will always be remembered for self-fashioned phrases that have now become contemporary political clichés: "The only thing I cannot do is turn a man into a woman": "We can roll-up the electoral map for ten more years", "We are a five-star democracy" and "I hope to achieve nirvana in this birth" and these phrases aptly reflect his thinking as President and in retirement under different circumstances.

Now in retirement, JRJ has constantly avoided controversy and vowed to steer clear of active politics and deigns to grant an occasional press interview. But some of the fire is still left in him for he still scans the news papers for references to him and occasionally makes a polite telephone call to an editor requesting a correction, and once demanded one from the then 'Sunday Observer Editor, H.L.D. Mahindapala.

His beloved party, the UNP, is now in the hands of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who like JRJ, is of the old-school tie type, an attorney-at-law and the son of a once influential and much respected father. Whether Ranil Wickremesinghe can emulate JRJ in national leadership is left to be seen, but JRJ is a tough act to follow, as Ranasinghe Premadasa found out.

When the dust - and indeed the blood - settles on his country's ethnic war and if and when this country achieves its dream of economic prosperity, time, the great judge will deliver the verdict on the presidency of JRJ and history may well be kind to this man. Then, perhaps JRJ will have the last laugh.

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