30 May, 2023


JR To Premadasa To Chandrika – Days That Changed A Nation’s Profile

By Vishwamithra1984

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”  ~ Marc Anthony, Julius Caesar

Last days of the SLFP-led ’70 – ’77 coalition government showed sure signs of socio-political degeneration of a mythical charisma. That mythical charisma was Sirimao Bandaranaike. Such a statement might be a way too harsh on the personalities that dominated the ’70 – ’77 government. Nevertheless, when history reads its periods of change, it surely stamps down its conclusive judgments on consequential changes to society in general and certain personalities, in particular. Such judgments might appear harsh and unforgiving. But sins that had been committed, cruel hardships imposed upon the subject people, while hallucinating that the ruling class is of different stature and pedigree from the commoners, ‘nobodies’, whom they were sworn to represent and whose welfare was their primary concern, had been too severe in content and apathetic in the way they were executed. It is in that heartless context, history judges its crucial characters. Total lack of empathy was the greatest sin the Bandaranaikes, Sirimao and Felix, committed when they wielded power. They may have been extremely empathetic towards their cohorts and close cliques. But empathy should know no boundaries. It should extend beyond the close confines of friends and family.



Socio-economic policies of the ’70 – ’77 regime were drafted and effected with the primary object of stripping their political opponents naked and the rulers chose to play the game on an unleveled field. Surely the readers could remember the famous ‘Family Tree’ (Hath Wasaka Saapaya – Seven Years’ Scourge) book. It was published and openly sold at the UNP annual convention held in December 1976. By the end of the first day, all copies were sold out. When the second edition went into print, the press was raided by the CID on the orders of Felix Dias Bandaranaike and all materials related to the book were confiscated. Two leading members of the UNP were taken into custody. However, J R Jayewardene, a personification of defiance, was not perturbed. He summoned those who published the book, along with a new printer and directed them to go ahead with the publication. Eventually ‘Family Tree’ and its sequels played a crucial role in the ensuing elections. This incident reveals, not only the draconian, undemocratic style in which the Bandaranaike-led government tried to stifle their political opponents, it also tells of the dogged stoicism of J R Jayewardene.

The ‘2nd Bandaranaike Revolution’, spearheaded by the widow and nephew, ended in the 1977 General Elections and generated the circumstances for the second paradigm shift in Sri Lanka’s post-Independence history. Among others, it ushered in some game-changing socio-economic-political waves that were never to revert. Let me list them out:

  • Opening of the economy
  • Introduction of the 1978 Constitution
  • Mahaweli Development Program
  • Mahapola Scholarship Program
  • Janasaviya (now continuing as Samurdi, Divi Neguma etc.)
  • Free Schoolbook/uniform Program
  • ’83 racial riots and the scourge of the LTTE

Opening of the economy

The economy was in manacles of the State for almost a decade; a class of local investors and businessmen was being strangled and blackmailed because they held a different political view; untold miseries were brought upon the poor masses forcing them to stand in line at 3 in the morning to buy a loaf of bread; imposition of ridiculous restrictions such as return of the old bicycle tire to buy a new one, producing death certificate for the purchase of white cloth used at funeral houses, producing an engagement certificate to facilitate the purchase of suiting material for the groom, ban on transport of rice, ban on rice in boutiques on Tuesdays and Fridays were a few of the ugly topographies of a failed economy that was based on antiquated Marxist principles. Yet the governing class enjoyed all the luxuries that a failing economy could offer. It was a thoroughly forgettable era.



When J R took over, the first thing he did was opening of the economy; when the shackles were removed, the economy took off like a freed bird. Yet alas, the attendant ill-effects of such a sudden opening of the gates were felt later; all trades of lust, greed and desire entered the market place; all and sundry items were sold in the market and the temptation for foreign goods found a new window. Prostitution, casinos and karaoke bars spread across the land and demand for goods and services- natural byproducts of consumerism- rose rapidly. Nevertheless, the advantages of an open economy outweighed the aforementioned ill-effects which were anyway controllable, if one wants to. Some argue that this was the beginning of grand-scale corruption in the government sector; however, such a contention could be countered as there was direct evidence of accountability on the part of the Executive President, J R. Some examples were: disciplining Minsters and MPs like E L Senanayake, Anura Daniel, Sunil Ranjan Jayakody and even Gamini Dissanayake on the issue of unauthorized settlement of Sinhalese men and women on the Right Bank of Mahaweli in System B, in Batticaloa district.

1978 Constitution

The new Constitution that was introduced in 1978 made a landmark change in the course of Sri Lanka’s history. Executive Presidency and the enormous powers vested in it paved the way for the holders of the post, including J R, R Premadasa and his successors to go berserk and our recent history stands testimony to the shameful abuse of such powers. No government would obtain a historic victory as the UNP did in 1977. A five-sixths majority in parliament is massive and lends to many an abuse and there were instances where this majority was used and abused. Obtaining the signatures on undated letters of resignation of all UNP parliamentarians was such a blatant abuse of power. Although it did serve the limited purpose of J R Jayewardene, the very act of such a directive by the Executive President was unprecedented and inexcusable, to say the least. Yet the ’78 Constitution would stand the test of time for any repeal of it would require a two-thirds majority in parliament and arguably a referendum, which is highly unlikely, even in the most favorable conditions for the winning party. That five-sixths majority also facilitated the infamous disenfranchisement of Mrs. Bandaranaike which, under any circumstances, was unnecessary and far too cruel a punishment.

Another ill-thought-out clause of the ’78 Constitution is the ‘proportional representation’ (PR System) upon which MPs were elected. J R framed this in order to make the UNP’s majority ‘permanent’ in parliament and it backfired when all other forces against the UNP were brought under one umbrella party.

Mahaweli Development Program

This is one program of development which would last as long as this nation lives. Settling hundreds of thousands of farmer families in newly opened up areas in the arid zone is no mean task. Our ancient kings launched similar development schemes and the massive ocean-like reservoirs such as Parakrama Samudra, , Minneriya Wewa and Kala Wewa located in the districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and the first ever diversion of the Mahaweli river at Minipe via Minipe anicut stand as colossal monuments to the exquisite engineering feats of ancient Ceylon. In the words of Gamini Dissanayake, the then Minister of Mahaweli Development, ‘Sri Lanka would not have sufficient electricity in the 21st Century if not for the hydropower generated by the Mahaweli development Program’.

Mahapola Scholarship Program



Another long-lasting program was the Mahapola Scholarship Program. After inaugurating the Development Lottery program, the money that is generated from that scheme became the exclusive source of the President’s Fund and a portion of the Development Lottery funds were channeled to found the Mahapola Scholarship Program. It’s known among the inner circles of power at that time that J R asked Gamini Dissanayake to spearhead it. However, Gamini has asked J R to spare him of that as he was totally dedicated to the Mahaweli Development Program. Then only J R had asked Lalith Athulathmudali, the then Minster of Trade to handle the Mahapola Scholarship Program and today thousands of Mahapola scholars are studying in our universities, thanks mainly to the Mahapola grants.

Janasaviya – continued as Samurdi

The poverty alleviation program launched by R Premadasa as Prime Minister under J R is one program which was conceptualized by Premadasa himself but given flesh and bone by some of his able civil servants and has been another program like Mahapola, no government would like to do away with. Grant of free schoolbooks and uniforms to those who are considered to be at the lowest stratum of the economic ladder also falls within the scope of the Janasaviya program.

The aforementioned programs, though the political advantage accrues to the government that launched them, are economic measures commenced under the stewardship of J R Jayewardene.

’83 racial riots and the scourge of the LTTE

This is a subject that needs wider and closer investigation and will be dealt with in my subsequent column under “Rise of Tamil agitation-politics culminating in the LTTE, Prabhakaran and the 27-year war”. Nevertheless, I would be doing history and its readers a great disfavor if I fail to mention here that J R Jayewardene’s legacy in the subject of the Northern Tamil Question is one of abysmal genre. That alone, one might argue, quite justifiably so, would have nullified all ‘good’ aspects of the ‘J R-era’. I will delve much into it in my closing column of this series.

The national profile that emerged from the J R-era is one of economic prosperity on the one side and continuation of socio-cultural decay on the other. That profile, of which we are all part, is not one would like to behold with any sense of relief or sanction.

*The writer can be contacted on vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Gosh how can this guy be so wrong!

    You sound like the TamilNet guy. Its a trick he uses where he skips mentioning crucial things because of his bias.

    The crucial of all is the 1958 Civil Disabilities Act. This ACT banned Tamil caste discrimination.

    The riots took place in conjunction with this – not over language. The ITAK were disfiguring Sinhala name boards.

    SWRD was chipping away at ITAK low-caste vote base.

    The issue with language was over losing English privileges – not gaining Tamil. The Tamil low-castes benefits.

    The issue with the social disabilities was caste. The Tamil-low castes were gaining privileges again such as Kovil entry. The Tamil low-castes benefits.

    The issue with standardisation is also education benefits for Tamil low-castes. Its the triple whammy for ITAK because the Tamil low-castes benefits yet again!

    The fear is Tamil low-castes will desert the ITAK and begin voting Sinhala left-wing SLFP.

    Click on my Avatar for more gruesome details ->

    • 5

      @ , Duminda Warnapala , Soma, and ?? Racist Neville de Silva,??

      The name of the game is Denial, Denial, Denial, when were you born ?
      Similar to when Rome was burning during the great fire Nero the emperor played fiddle with utmost glee.
      The burning of Northerners In 1958 by Racist Banda was the beginning of the curse of SLanka,

      As the racist ? N ? De Silva ‘ s version of false propaganda of the beginning of the Riots was wrong. The beginning of the Riots was NOT DUE TO LOWCASTE RIOTS as his statement contradicts the whole truth. Writing a new history book of lies?? As you do always ??

      History of Srilanka the existence of minority is part of the history as same as the existence of the majority. How ever the racists tries to change history with their own versions can it can NEVER BE ERASED FROM THE MANUSCRIPTS , OR from the existence of the ancient Hindu temples in the South, East, West, North and the Central provinces ( some had been destroyed by mad Racists over the years , and by power hungry ancient Kings and the invaders like the PARA PORTUGESE, DUTCH WHO DESTROYED RELIGIOUS PLACES)


      There are proofs of the existence of the Tamils and Hindus all over the country. You cannot deny,

      On the subject of Margaret Thatcher and her politics were totally irrelevant to Srilankan Racism.
      Even after Margaret Thatcher , GREAT BRITAIN STILL REMAINS AS GT, BRITAIN.



    • 0

      Yes riots were over Chelverniagam disfiguring Sinhala name boards.

  • 1

    None, Bandaranayakas or Jaywardanesgets gets any blame or praise for socialist/capitalist policies of respective eras. None were innovative, visionary bold thinking , just mere winds of time, rather irresistible storms sweeping across the globe no small poor country could hold against. Until Margerat Thathcher appeared on scene Britain had more state run ventures than Sri Lanka.

    Though Socialism proved to be a failed experiment the roots were altruistic.

    Capitalism or structures based on self interest APPEAR (or we are made to believe to be) successful.

    Where we are heading is anybody’s guess.


    • 6


      “Where we are heading is anybody’s guess.”

      No one is sure about the country, however we are confident that you are heading towards a Sinhala/Buddhist ghetto together with your noisy racist minority.

    • 3


      Where BBS wants us to! Gnanasara is now the President’s Gurunanse, ably assisted by Wijedasa Rajapakse.

      My guess is that we are heading into a much deeper and pitch dark hole.


      • 0

        I think it is no right to see it that way that Babaric monk became the Gurunnase of Prez.

        Just because they the senior leadership of the country interact with them through discussions, mean not that BBS man has become their Guru.
        This can be a trick to keep all elements silent until reforms can be made.

        • 1


          Does the objective justify criminals not being dealt in accordance to the law? Can laws be breached to make way for the rule of law? Can evil beget good? Expediency has been the curse of Sri Lanka and a new cycle has been set in motion by a Yahapalanaya.


      • 0

        Dear doctor

        There is a thing called “political reality”.
        Gnanasara has crossed a certain threshold, he can’t be manhandled like a street thug and thrown into a cage like a dog. To understand this phenomenon ask yourself the question ‘Can you arrest KP’? Before the elections it was unthinkable for my UNP friends why KP was not treated like a master criminal. They thought it was all KP’s money for Gotabhaya. I challenged that even UNP would do the same thing which only now they are forced to acknowledge. There is a complex set of factors at play around post war reconciliation and that is ‘political reality’.

        Apart from that many believe that although the WAY he says things is indecent, unbuddhist and brings disrepute to the whole Sangha order WHAT he says is true. So on the part of populace there is no strong desire to punish him politicians clearly sense that.


        • 1


          Gnanasara was arrested and remanded recently. What was the resulting ‘Political Reality’. None. However, as has become a common practice under the present regime, he is on permanent bail now.

          KP and even Karuna are a different kettle of fish. Their contribution to the armed forces + international players winning the war against the LTTE were immense. The Sri Kankan state owes them a debt of gratitude. Of course, how history will view their role, will depend on how the factors that caused the war and the results are dealt with in this country, post war.

          Gnanasara is a bogey man created by the last regime and is a curse on this country. I wonder how you can call him a ‘political reality’, when there is almost universal condemnation of his criminal antics. He is an insult to this country! He epitomizes everything that this country at its core is not.

          Our so-called Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana, is his new patron, who is trying to paint a black guard white!


          • 0

            Dr RN

            He was invited for a discussion by the President of the Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. That is the political reality.


        • 1


          “Political reality” in our sunny isle is all about sucking up to the 75% Bauddha-Sinhala voter. That said, decent Buddhists are now ashamed of the likes of Gnanasara and his henchmen. They cannot possible represent Buddhism. Wijayadasa Rajapaksha is playing a long game by bringing Gnanasara to top table to sit with, and have the ear of the President. In a properly governed country, the obnoxious Gnanasara should be sweating it out in a prison cell with charges of incitement over his shaven head.

          Gnanasara will become a millstone around the neck of President MS. (Just like the shitty Cyril Mathew become a millstone round the neck of JR).

          When will trhey ever learn?

  • 0

    All these writing of political gossips has no value of Democracy at all.

    The writer has no knowledge or not yet study methodology political-economic-social roots of that problems arise that in society.

    He just an opposes to socialism saying that capitalism is only best alternatives that ills of system of bourgeoisie democracy!

    You need not go further to comments his article by readers.

    • 3

      Duminda W.

      CT’s comment policy is English !

  • 5

    Duminda Waranapala

    “You need not go further to comments his article by readers.”

    Please clarify.

  • 0

    It was true that we faced hardships during 70-77 period due to prevailing economic system specially third world countries who adopted progressive policies to give more benefits to the poor people.
    But nobody died of starvation here specially Sri Lankans never want to sacrifice to their country.
    It was true that we faced shortages but we were producing everything here.
    Take example of Cuba they also faced a similar situation after collapse of the Soviet Union their main contributor but Cuban people showed their loyalty to the country to remain in the country and few left for Miami.I heard even Castro has to pull his car where it stopped due to empty petrol tank.

  • 4

    “The national profile that emerged from the J R-era is one of economic prosperity on the one side and continuation of socio-cultural decay on the other. That profile, of which we are all part, is not one would like to behold with any sense of relief or sanction.”

    How can it be? Socio cultural decay was a continuous process at different rates throughout. Economic prosperity was down from 70’s on wards. Non of the leaders were/are praiseworthy, should have been buried in cesspits.

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