30 November, 2020

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Looking Back At JR’s Kandy March: Was JR An Opportunist, A Racist, Both Or Neither?

By Vishwamithra

“Irony is wasted on the stupid” ~Oscar Wilde

I have already penned many a column on wide-ranging political moves, policies and principles of Junius Richard Jayewardene (who is commonly called J R), the first President of Sri Lanka. The heading might suggest that the object of this column as an exercise in judgment. It is far from it.  Judging belongs to historians yet to come. I do not wish to malign J R’s personal character in the least. Never have I attempted to damage any political leader’s personal character. While acknowledging that each person’s personal character does contribute immeasurably towards shaping and defining the whole-man, I do not hesitate to say that those who abuse their literary powers to do any character-assassination belong in another pool of dirt. Yet, an exercise in uncovering factual data about the man or woman, his or her place in the socio-political montage in each era, his or her parental background, the prevalent social shades etc. is, I presume, justifiable and pardonable. However, branding political leaders is essentially the job of politicians and they invariably inherit that from communication experts, journalists and advertising gurus. In fact, J R was one political leader in Sri Lanka who managed to reverse the first round of character-assassination and suffered the ill-effects of another round of such nasty branding which he could not overcome until his peaceful passing away in 1996.One crucial issue that defined J R’s political career was the famous Kandy March. As per J R’s own reasoning and justification of the Kandy March as related to this writer by J R himself is thus: In 1956 the United National Party (UNP) received a crushing defeat at the General Elections. This defeat weighed heavily on J R. He lost Kelaniya, his constituency, by a majority of 23000 votes, a whopping margin of 72% to 27%. The party that was acknowledged as the one which was instrumental in gaining Independence had lost its luster within eight years. The leaders of the UNP could not stomach that. The son of the ‘Father of the Nation’, Dudley Senanayake who succeeded his father as Prime Minister in 1952, by this time had retired from politics. ‘So my priority number was to revive this party’, said J R.

Sir John Kotelawala who assumed leadership of the UNP at the retirement of Dudley Senanayake accelerated the process of the party’s decline in the electorate. His cavalier attitude towards power, his injudicious conduct among ordinary men and women, his personal angst against his political rivals, his flip-flops on the ‘Sinhala-only’ issue and numerous other ridiculous manners of public conduct, quite unbecoming of a Prime Minister, contributed towards the thrashing that the UNP got in the ’56 elections. J R was again the second-in-command of the party and the government. This position he held since the death of D S Senanayake. Even in the period in which D S was ruling the affairs, technically, by virtue of him being the Minister of Finance, J R was second only to the Leader of the House which position S W R D Bandaranaike held before he left the UNP. These historical facts are essential factors when one appraises J R Jayewardene’s political life.

In my previous columns I have already commented about J R’s patience and stoicism. I do not wish to dwell on that aspect of his life in this column. What is inescapable when one looks at J R is the distrust in which he was held by his Tamil rivals of the time. That, I presume, is entirely based upon the way he tried to sabotage the (in)famous Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact which was initiated by Bandaranaike at the insistence of the Federal Party and its leadership in the nineteen fifties.

The pact was a milestone episode in the long history of Ceylon. It signified, for the first time, the leaders of the two main ethnic groups in the country reached a mutually agreeable political ‘Pact’, aimed towards satisfying the needs of the parties. Concessions were made and by agreeing to sign the ‘Pact’ Chelvanayakam, the leader of the Federal Party, to the ire of his party cadres, opted to accept less than Federalism. Bandaranaike agreed to render substantial powers to the regional councils which were to be created as prescribed in the ‘Pact’. Doubts remained and the Federal Party stalwarts managed to contain their cadres to an acceptable notch. Despite these initial doubts, the agreement seemed a reasonable and a compromise between both sides. It was believed, at the time of signing, that both Bandaranaike and Chelvanayakam entertained a sufficient amount of trustworthiness in their own communities to see the passage of the ‘Pact’ through. Chelvanayakam certainly had credibility among his supporters. Whether Bandaranaike had it is to anticipate events to come.

J R Jayewardene, the ultimate student of history and politics saw the Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam Pact (BC Pact) as a golden opportunity to rally his party around a cause that really mattered to the majority Sinhalese Buddhists in the country. At the time of the signing of the BC Pact the UNP was still in the doldrums. It had not awakened from the defeat at the General Elections. They managed to secure only eight (8) seats in Parliament and many leaders including J R himself were outside looking in. M D Banda who secured his seat in Mathurata was the Parliamentary leader of the party and despite the fact that Banda was a gentleman to the core, was not a charismatic leader who had the stamina, creativity and stoicism who could lead the UNP at the time. Sir John, although elected from Dodangaslanda, was living in England more than in Ceylon. For all practical purposes, J R was the unofficial leader of the party. In the BC Pact, J R saw his chances of galvanizing his party and the issue being a ‘Pact’ conceding Regional Councils to the Northern Tamils, he also saw an opportunity to change the image of the party from a Colombo-based one to a pro-Sinhalese Buddhist one.

J R’s, strategy on the one hand, offered a rare opportunity for a slumbering political party to awaken and be reckoned with again and on the other, tarnished his image among the Tamil leaders, not to forget the general Tamil population, as an untrustworthy Sinhala leader. As a measure of opposition to the pact, In September 1957, J R declared a 72-mile march from Colombo to Kandy, the seat of the Temple of the Tooth- the zenith of religiosity of the Sinhalese Buddhists in Ceylon. In explaining the purpose of the March, he said that he would invoke the blessings of the sacred tooth of the Buddha for the abrogation of the BC Pact. What transpired when the March began is another story and recorded by many a writer in many a publication. I do not wish to delve into that.

History plays ironic games with personalities and events. In such an irony, it was J R Jayewardene, who conceded, instead of Regional Councils, Provincial Councils by way of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution consequent to an accord signed between Sri Lanka and India. It was signed by J R Jayewardene and Rajiv Gandhi, President of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister of India respectively. The man who organized a march from Colombo to Kandy against granting of Regional Councils to the Tamil ultimately ended up enacting an amendment to our Constitution that guarantees Provincial Councils with wider powers that what would have been guaranteed by a something more akin to a memorandum of understanding (although it was called a ‘Pact’) between Bandaranaike and Chelvanayakam in 1958. While the so-called BC Pact has been collecting dust for more than six long decades, JR-Gandhi accord is a living document which guaranteed certain rights thereto not extended to Sri Lankan Tamils.   

The man who was distrusted by the Tamil leadership through two generations delivered while the so-called leader of the common man Bandaranaike reneged on the pledges given by him to our Tamil brethren.

At the time of signing BC-MOU, Bandaranaike is quoted thus: “In the discussion which the leaders of the Federal Party had with me, an honorable solution was reached. In thinking over this problem I had in mind the fact that I am not merely a Prime Minister but a Buddhist Prime Minister.” What Bandaranaike meant in the context of this quote is ambiguous. Did he mean to be as compassionate and just as preached in the sacred Dharma or did he mean to say that he could offer no more because the majority of the country, being overwhelmingly Buddhist, would oppose if he offered more?

In the ultimate analysis, J R Jayewardene is a man more sinned against than sinning. In the context of history, it is still too early to assess the politician J R. He was not a racist as most Tamils think he was. He was certainly an opportunist in the context of political maneuvering. I would rather call him a realist who was too late to assume the leadership of Sri Lanka, two decades too late.

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

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Latest comments

  • 7
    2

    ” He was not a racist as most Tamils think he was”

    equally i suppose prabhaharan was also not a racist as sinhalese think he was.

    both these dudes were only megalomaniacs.To have power they will walk over dead bodies,regardless of which race the dead are.

    I will give one word to describe them,fuckers(forgive me female readers)

    • 8
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      The only great difference is Prapakaran fought a war to liberate the Tamils from state sponsored Sinhalese racism, whereas JR and the Sinhalese state was the cause of this racism and all what happened. Do not forgot JR and his government deliberately instigated riots against the island’s Tamils and allowed Sinhalese/Muslim thugs and hooligans to kill rape loot torture and humiliate the Tamils and destroy and burn their businesses. Electoral roles of Tamil homes and businesses were given to these thugs whist the Sinhalese armed forces and police were standing by and watching the fun. Laws were enacted so that the affected Tamils will not be able to claim for compensation or insurance. To add insult to injury he came on the national television and was rejoicing and openly stated that he does not care what happens to the Tamils, as long as this is what the Sinhalese want. What sort of demon states this. Did anyone force this demon with a recent Indian Tamil immigrant ancestry who conveniently changed his religion from Christianity to Buddhism for political power to state this.
      Prabakran never came anywhere publicly and rejoiced at the death of non Tamils

  • 12
    0

    “is a man more sinned against than sinning”

    Are you white washing?

    In July 1983, Sri-Lankan President J. R. Jayawardene supplied armed gangs of Sinhalese with voter lists to identify Tamil homes and businesses. He incited the thugs to hack Tamils to death in their houses, offices, and places of work. Thousands of Tamils were murdered.
    The statement of J.R. Jayawardene to the Daily Telegraph on 11 July 1983 while state organized race riots were slaughtering Tamils by the thousands and displacing more than 100,000: “I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people…now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion…the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here…Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhalese people will be happy.”
    None of the murderers was prosecuted by the government; and, no compensation was paid to the Tamil victims.

  • 9
    1

    Despite abjuring assessment, Vishvamitra, in yet another excellent essay, does try hard to rescue JR as being branded an opportunist racist who along with Banadaranaike initiated the tragedies that befell an hapless country. Both Bandaranaike and JR must be tarred with the same brush. Both were unlikely Sinhala Buddhists rejoicing in exotically foreign names, Solomon and Junius. They did what they did for their own pride and glory, not for the country or even a section of the country. They had their own short term interests at heart. In Sinhala-Buddhist history, they released uncontrollable frenzies through setting the community against others. Neither was a true Buddhist. It was like the whisky drinking, womanising Jinnah, being Islamic.

    Both men must be condemned as expositors of evil in men and not as leaders who brought any benefit to their country. If it is at all possible to root these two men out of the history of our nation, it would be the best thing that could be done. A new beginning could then be made.

    I think V. you should be kinder to Prabhakaran and Wijeweera. They did not go to Oxford or Royal. They had some common ground with their own people, were accepted by many and with all their faults in bloody and indiscriminate violence, they did believe that they were doing good to their followers. As much could not be said for JR and Bandaranike.

  • 1
    2

    I always wondered how Kelaniya Temple was associated with the assassination of Banda the PM, who is the dear daddy of Whiskey Madam.

    That is another story, which will be part of history.

    Will Dr Wije do a JR against Dr Ranil and Vellala Sampathar Pact?.

    By Marching at least from Maharagama to Kotte.

    • 2
      0

      Oh, my God! Has the “Honorary Doctorate from an Ausie Uni” turned Ranil in to “Dr Wije”.

      Please be careful! Road renaming was necessary, may be; but such long names?

      Very soon we won’t understand which political scoundrel is being referred to!

      • 0
        0

        S.M,
        Dr. Wijedasa Rajapakshe

  • 7
    0

    Yes, that was what we felt in 1977: JR was “too late to assume the leadership of Sri Lanka, two decades too late.”

    But whatever cleverness the man had didn’t matter: he was an opportunist. The words are too often used of SWRD B, but it was JR who really manipulated all of us with his referendum, and then the war.

    Certainly, I began to shun him after that referendum, but, perhaps we ought to have fought against his pogrom more effectively.

    He didn’t deserve to die peacefully, unless we’ve decided to wish even the villains well.

    • 2
      0

      “He didn’t deserve to die peacefully”

      A megalomaniac will not die peacefully unless he has achieved his objectives of achieving unlimited power.When they don’t achieve it and everything crumbles around their ears and they know people are blaming them,it is worse than death for them.

      Hitler quickly killed himself to avoid that.prabhaharan also would have gone through about an year of mental anguish before he embarked on his suicidal attempted breakout of the cordon and would have been relieved that he got a bullet in his brain.Compare them to JRJ who would have suffered from 1983 seeing his visions of power slowly but surely leaving him,unable to take the cowards way out like hitler or the brave fools way out like prabhaharan.He didn’t have choice,but to suffer.

  • 6
    0

    Despite a fair sanitising effort by Vishvamithra, the Brothers Jayawardena – Dicky (JR) and Harry (HW) – in the eyes of well-informed Tamil leaders of the time, shared a poorly disguised anti-Tamil streak in them. Harry’s prejudice, it is speculated, had something to do with the delay in his being conferred the QC-ship. At that time most QCs were Tamil. Professional rivalry, if you like.

    JRs anti-Tamil prejudice came out when he spoke to Paul Siegart of London’s Daily Telegraph a few weeks before the anti-Tamil pogrom. He was quite firm “Now the Tamils have to take care of themselves. I cannot help them” This is just as well telling the mobs and their handlers “now go after them” They faithfully did to the very letter.

    Pandaranayagam

  • 9
    0

    JR was a filthy, disgusting Racist, Bigot and most of all a cunning opportunist. He was a horrible excuse for a human being. He is second only to SWRDB when it comes to bigotry but even SWRDB wasn’t as smart and cunning like JR. Short sighted people who supported and voted for these two creatures also bare responsibility.

    • 3
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      Thanos, wonderfully put. Thanks friend. I only wish people of your mindset will lead this beautiful country one day.

  • 1
    0

    Two aspects of the episode to be taken note of by students of history& politics:

    (1) JR’s Kandy March against the B-C Pact was successfully broken up at Imbulgoda (?) by a group of party activists/mob led by SWRD’s nephew (?), S.D.Bandaranaike (Gampaha MP) which earned him the honorific “IMBULGODA VEERAYA” ,conferred by his uncle.

    (2) Banda-Chelva Pact (1957) & Dudley-Chelva Pact (1965), abrogated/aborted
    arbitrarily by the Sinhala leadership, were not hammered out in Geneva, New Delhi or Washington. Local products and, therefore, lacked warranty

  • 5
    0

    Wiswamithra,

    “The LTTE did not come into being or grow into a world-class terror outfit in a vacuum. Without the Sinhala Only, the Tiger may have remained unborn. Without the Black July, the Tiger may not have grown exponentially. If the B-C Pact and the D-C Pact did not miscarry (thanks to the midwifery of Sinhala extremism), the LTTE, even if it was born, would have remained a fringe group.” Tisaranee Gunasekara

    I am glad to find that there are journalist among Sinhalese who write TRUTH without twisting. Sadly not many like her.

  • 5
    0

    These kind of arguments are useless in the context of the country and times.
    In 1977 the country was relatively peaceful. JR brought a draconian constitution.Held a referendum to extend the period of the parliament. In July 83 the country erupted in an inferno and racial violence everywhere. He wrongly accused the JVP of doing all this and soon resulted in the massacre of thousands of youth. Then the ethnic war , corruption, abuse of power….

    To write in this sympathetic way about these culprits is not acceptable. I detect a certain praise of RW in this writing- waiting, stoic ,far-sighted, same blood etc etc. Cunningly holding on to the leadership of the UNP and the rest would follow…

    In 2015 the man threatened ‘whoever protest the ECTA will come end of the year” Where is it ? Now he says who ever protest we will give the tanks in Trincomalee to the Indians -Can he ? A real card board Tarzan

    We are sick of all this nonsense played out by few so called elite.These are failures who are responsible for a failed State and also the suffering of millions of our country men.

  • 3
    1

    Would someone examine the prospect of JRJ having been a fascist?

    Third World fascism has its peculiarities and needs imperialist patronage for survival.
    Suharto was a major pioneer. For his post-coup mass murder of over 500 000 suspected communists and sympathizers he used a blend of Islam and nationalism, and was guided by the US.

    There are other versions that pass for democratic states and political institutions.

    • 2
      0

      There was a story floating around that JR had a deal with the Japanese to take over government if they managed to oust the Brits. I don’t know how true it is, but it seems the Japanese did help with Burmese and Indonesian Independence.

      • 3
        0

        OC
        Great heroes like Subash Chandra Bose and Aung San slipped and collaborated with the Japanese. The latter pulled out early enough when he saw through Japanese intentions. Bose erred.

        That was rash bitterness rather than well thought out political action.

        Japanese helped with nothing. They only wanted to conquer. Ask the Malays.
        The Vietnames in fact decided to side with their foes, the french, when Japan entered Vietnam.

        JR was a fan of the US more than of the UK.

  • 1
    1

    ” He is second only to SWRDB”

    did the chicken or the egg come first.

  • 3
    0

    Prabakaran’s war was to liberate the Tamils from the yoke of Sinhalese racism and not enslave anyone. That he lost his path and many opportunities later, is another story.

    JR Jayawardene and SWRD were fighting for Sinhalese Buddhist supremacy and to enslave the island’s Tamils and relegate them to third rates in their own land without any rights. Vast difference.

    It is these two men and the rest of the Sinhalese establishment and population that created this nightmare with their racist policies. The LTTE and the Prabakaran was a by product of this state sponsored Sinhalese racism that was started by SWRD and JR and then continued by every other Sinhalese politician including SWRD’s wife Srimavo, another anti Tamil whose family had a recent Tamil origin.

    Her ancestor signed the Kandyan convention in 1815, in Tamil and signed his name as Ravathai. They later Sinhalised it to Ratwatte to keep all their wealth.

  • 7
    0

    // J R Jayewardene is a man more sinned against than sinning.[…] was not a racist as most Tamils think he was […] I would rather call him a realist //

    You, Sir, have to try an awful lot harder to sell this!

  • 2
    0

    It is difficult to analyze people’s actions decades later. JR was a man of his time, the early 20th century.Most politicians of the period had what we would consider racist views now. It was the “done thing” to consider oneself superior to the working class for example. I don’t think any politician of the time could have called for equal rights for women /gays/ immigrants. Churchill was quite sure of British racial superiority. But only now have people started calling him a racist.
    JR too punished all Tamils for the separatism of a few. He was ably supported by the bipartisan majority.
    DS Senanayaka himself settled thousands of Sinhalese in the East.Would this be possible today?
    Going even further, is the Bible racist because it demonizes Egyptians?
    However, he did have the imagination to pull the country out of the economic dire straits it was in. Whether we are entirely better off is debatable, since we still are in debt.

    • 0
      1

      Yes you are right, He had the right economic vision to develop the country! It is the scourge of terrorism that derailed the progress!

    • 2
      0

      OC
      JRJ’s cynicism overrode his racism I think.

      JRJ went out of his way to undermine the B-C pact with his not-quite-celebrated march to Kandy.
      He encouraged his close comrade KW Devnayagam to work with the TUF (later TULF).
      There was a deal between the TULF and JRJ before the 1977 election, ofwhich Thondaman spoke only after the pogrom of 1983.

      While it is not one’s personality but political practice that should matter most, one cannot ignore the view that JRJ was a highly vindictive person unlike the ones with who he is compared.

    • 2
      0

      old codger

      JR himself first mooted the idea of introducing Sinhala Only language policy in the 1940s.

      I will find you the reference later.

      Overt racism was present in this island even in 1900.

      There is no doubt in my mind Tamils and Sinhalese are born racists. The difference is in their degree of expressed racism.

      “Whether we are entirely better off is debatable, since we still are in debt.”

      At least we can drink our tea without hakkuru.

      Another good news is that the weeping widow didn’t have enough time to implement/enforce a national dress code for the people of this island, gender neutral Mao suit (Zhongshan suit), liberation shoes, Mao cap,… for both men and women.

      SJ/Sekere would have loved it. I am not sure whether he wear Chinese Mao accessories while at home.

      • 0
        0

        N.V,
        “Overt racism was present in this island even in 1900. “
        It was quite OK to be racist in those days. Intelligence was supposed to be indicated by one’s head size.
        I like the taste of hakuru. But it’s more expensive than sugar nowadays.

      • 1
        0

        NV
        Sinhala only act…
        It is in wikipedia. Sometimes ct does not allow links. CT pls allow this link
        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinhala_Only_Act

  • 1
    0

    J R ofcourse is a RACIST Should have never been the leader of this country

  • 2
    0

    Please read Mr Thevanesan Nesaih’s article written after 30 years.

    • 5
      0

      Thank you for this.

      Vishwamithra have you found the articles written by Mr Thevanesan Nesaiah?

      “JR Jayewardene Told AJ Wison and Neelan Tiruchelvam of an Anti-Tamil Pogrom Being Planned Three Years Before July 1983”

  • 4
    0

    Another attempt by Wishwamitra to polish another turd! keep trying, you will get their one day!

    He has the blood on every innocent Tamil got hurt/killed in Black July!
    who is the leader who does not protect his own citizens?

    He has partly blood on 600000 youths who followed death on tire pyres!

    • 0
      1

      srinathan gunaratnam

      “He has partly blood on 600000 youths who followed death on tire pyres!”

      There were another 18,000 died in 1971 and only Gota knows how many died between 1980s and 2009.

      The important question that never occur to you is who killed all of them? Where are those killers?

      Are you one of them?

      Are we not just quoting figures out of thin air?

  • 2
    0

    One cannot establish JR J’s race.

    All politicians are opportunists. For example Aung San Suu Kyi started as an activist.

    JR J’s hatred for non-Buddhist/Sinhalese came from his heart as evidenced by his infamous Daily Telegraph interview. He savoured the 1983 pogrom. From past experiences (eg 1958, 1977) he could have stopped it from the start at Wellikade Prison. He did not.

    JR J is an ace opportunist and a language/religion divisionist.

  • 1
    0

    >(who is commonly called J R), the first President of Sri Lanka.

    I think you can start with, JR was never elected president.
    He was only elected as MP for Colombo. Would JR have won if he contested as a Presidential Candidate. Probably not, and he did not have the guts to do it either.

    JR amended the constitution and made the presidency an executive post with sweeping, almost dictatorial—powers. Made provisions to automatically make the incumbent prime minister,himself, President. Then held a referendum to cancel the 1983 parliamentary elections, and allow the 1977 parliament to continue until 1989.

  • 0
    0

    Thus spake Pelpola. JR and UNP always his favorites.

  • 0
    0

    The regrettable thing in Lanka is that we never had a leader who thought he/she was the Prime Minister/President of the entire country and all the races lived & living.
    All of them proved that they are only leaders of Sinhalese and then Sinhala Buddhists. Never considered other races like Tamils, Muslims and others as citizens of the nation or they are the rulers of all people.
    Even the present P.M Ranil W has a habit of talking about “our people”, referring to Sinhalese only and never worried or mention anything about Tamils or Muslims.

    From D.S to all political leaders of the past & present are basically pure racists, sadly nothing else. People were better off under British rule !

    How can these narrow minded politicians be considered Leaders of our country ? These so called “educated” guys are absolutely not leaders but opportunists & racists, just playing cheap & dirty political games for their own short term benefits at our expenses. No one really cares about the country or the citizen.
    That’s why we are still in this cesspit of a nation which is getting nowhere…very sad to see a great nation going down the precipice !

    We don’t have any civilized,unbiased, visionary to take the leadership of our country, which is becoming corrupted by racists, religious freaks and political thugs.

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