4 April, 2020

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Reassessing SWRD Bandaranaike

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Icons are loved and “loved”. They are also vilified. More commonly, history is coloured by those who insert political frill into it, and the line between statesmanship and power politics blurs. This means, naturally enough, that icons come with that proverbial pinch of salt, particularly from the political camp. Their lives are celebrated no matter what they are remembered for, and for good reason. Just as much as no politician’s imperfect, and just as much as we haven’t had anyone even remotely close to a statesman in this country, leaders who have come and gone are loved for what they did.

Whether what they did stand up to the test of history is another story. For now, this is what matters: they were not saints. Nor were the devils.

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike is vilified by those who have a score to settle with what he ushered. He took in a nation filled with anxiety and fears and turned it (almost overnight) into a hub of divisive politics where, for the next few decades, rhetoric ruled reason. What those who lambast him (and not just for “Sinhala Only”) fail to understand, however, is that inasmuch as a change of this sort cannot be effected overnight without negatively afflicting a nation, what he did went in a large way in addressing anomalies in our political system.

SWRD

SWRD

He was a reformist, yes, but that’s not what those who hate him want you to remember him for. Bandaranaike began wearing the satakaya, but those less prone to falling prey to appearances will tell you of how he chose not to wear the satakaya for anything other than his public life. They will also tell you (as James Manor has) of how he ate kiribath with a spoon. All pointless if one is to assess his merits as a leader of course, but then again detractors, however irrational they are, will have anything and everything to say about a man’s personal life to vilify his public face.

The point is that Bandaranaike was a contradiction. The point is that he was, like all men, flawed. The point is that, in trying to reverse the rational moderate policies of his predecessors, he effected a change so radical that there was no stopping it from deteriorating into a racist movement, led by those blind to what he really stood for. Which begs the question, naturally enough: what DID he stand for?

The late Tissa Abeysekara, perhaps one of the most insightful minds expressing itself in Sinhala and English here, had this to say about the dilemma which faced those who began contributing to our cultural landscape before and after independence:

“It is the problem of a segment of our society – the English-speaking upper middle-class, or perhaps also the landowning aristocracy – moving away from their roots. Hence when a creative spirit is born among them, he or she has to search frantically and deliberately for that anchorage in a social and cultural reality which alone could give his or her work life and vitality. Thus when Devar Surya Sena turned to Sinhala folk music, George Keyt settled in the Dumbara valley, Miriam de Saram risked the wrath of the gods by donning the headgear of the Kandyan dancer – an ornament exclusively preserved for the males – and Lester James Peries located his first film in a distant village, they were not accidents or idle exercises in aesthetics.”

Politics and art (especially here) are clean and different. At some point though, they meet. What Abeysekara wrote of Lester James Peries and his Rekava can be applied to Bandaranaike and his satakaya. Like all those artists who attempted to wed their art with its roots while being cut off from the latter, Bandaranaike founded a nationalist movement while not only being cut off from his roots but also probably being aware that he was an outsider to the majority of his country, who happened to be Sinhala Buddhists.

Did he resolve this conflict within himself? He was, as pointed out earlier, a contradiction. He did not see the irony of standing for one ideology and contorting it for the sake of bowing down to popular pressure. He did not and could not see the tragedy of shaping and reshaping his personal life to suit that of a people who, in his time and after his murder, misinterpreted his actions.

And there the parallels between politics and art end: Miriam de Saram and Lester James Peries not just challenged the anglicised “upper crust” of Sri Lanka’s culture, but more importantly succeeded in this to such an extent that what proved divisive in politics after 1956 became inclusive in the arts. An irony, certainly, but inevitable in a way.

There’s more.

Leon Trotsky contended that the urbanised bourgeoisie of colonised countries could not fight and were not capable of fighting against imperialism. That this applied pretty much to the nouveau riche who were handed (in a silver platter) the mandate to win independence here is all too obvious. They were not just fundamentally tied to the economic interests that made them stand in solidarity with the British: they were also more content in passing British-led “reforms” while stalling the constitutional coup which was needed in 1948 to implement real independence.

Bandaranaike was not really from this nouveau riche: he was from the old aristocracy. As such it wasn’t a scion of capitalist enterprise that effected what transpired in 1956: it was a scion of the “Macaulayan aristocracy”, a “given” since he came from one of the oldest genteel families in the country. And considering that the Sinhala Buddhist movement which wanted 1956 went originally for Dudley Senanayake (who, not surprisingly, refused), it seems startling but veritable that 1956 needed Bandaranaike just as Bandaranaike needed 1956.

Few would bet, for instance, that his original vision (his idea for achieving parity for Sinhala and Tamil approximated to modern demands for devolution) was racist. Few would vilify him without vilifying the Buddhist clergy who squatted outside his residence and turned this into a country where leaders were regarded as instruments of expedience, to be contorted at the whims of the Buddha Sasana.

Not surprisingly then, 1956 was turned into a vehicle of political opportunism. Not by its leader, but by those who prostituted precept and confused nationalism with chauvinism.

That’s another story though.

History, Marx wrote, repeats itself. In the case of Bandaranaike however, one doubts whether it will. He remains the most unique leader we had, “unique” because of his background and of his ability to wield opposition against those who, for better or worse, continue to see him as the man who rebelled against class interests without realising that what the racist politics of post-1956 concealed, ironically, was the preservation of those same class interests in a subtle, more insidious form. Unbelievable? Not really.

*Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com. His articles can be accessed at fragmenteyes.blogspot.com

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  • 3
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    “What those who lambast him (and not just for “Sinhala Only”) fail to understand, however, is that inasmuch as a change of this sort cannot be effected overnight without negatively afflicting a nation, what he did went in a large way in addressing anomalies in our political system.”

    Complete load of bullshit. Period.

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    If Bandaranayake did not come forwad with “Sinhala only” someone else would have. Immediately. It was such a political plum. As the cliche goes “history was pregnant” with this baby after 500 years of colonial subjugation. So it is totally unrealistic to imagine, as great many of our inhabitants do, we would all be living in peace and harmony only if this Soloman Dias Bandaranayake did not materialize in our political lanscape. As for me Bandaranayake is the name of the man who brought in Sinhala only. If not we would be talking of another ****nayake.

    Sinhala only put the 50/50 thinking in its proper place. If not subsequent bloodshed would have been greater. An emboldened Prabakaran would have appeared much earlier.

    Soma

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      I agree with Soma if SWRD did not appear in 1952-56 it would have been someone else later, perhaps more devastatingly. That was inevitable.
      As to 50/50, I think it was not seen in perspective. I believe when he spoke of 50/50 GGP suggested 50% seats for the Sinhala Buddhists and the balance to ALL OTHERS, including Sinhala Christians/Catholics. Via this formulae the majority Sinhala Buddhists will stand to enjoy the largest number of seats in Parliament while the minorities will not be overwhelmed – as the latter may fear. A win-win situation, if you like. In a healthy and adult parliamentary process, which we were then, such an ideal arrangement would have satisfied our immediate political needs. But this was deliberately and cunningly distorted to inflame the Sinhala majority masses and we reaped the whirlwind then and since.

      Ironically, what we are trying to get back to is the essence of the thinking behind GGP’s 50/50. BTW, I am no fan of the mercurial GGP, who lived in a different time and a different socio-political climate.
      I had greater respect to his son – my good friend the late Kumar P.

      Kettikaran

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        “A win-win situation, if you like. In a healthy and adult parliamentary process, which we were then, such an ideal arrangement
        have satisfied our immediate political needs.”

        Aiyo mr Kettikarn a legislature of representatives based on ethnicity, caste, religion, denomination for a healthy adult parliamentary process? Aren’t you ashamed to give utterences to such words in this day and age? What fools are Western democracies for not having folllowed the briliant criterion of GGP?

        Soma

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    People who honour SWRD should think of themselves worthy of being truly Sri Lankan. SWRD was a racist and the cause of the ethnic conflict that resulted in the loss of many lives. It would have been better that he would never have been born as he was the curse of Sri Lanka. It will be good to identify him with Lucifer.

  • 4
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    This fellow who started the separatism.
    Because of him several hundreds of thousands were killed , burned alive, buried alive.
    This is going on and on since then.

  • 3
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    In the 1950’s there was a myth that a person in the guise of DIYASENA KUMARA will come to the rescue the oppressed Sinhala nation. With hind sight it appears now it was the BLACK PRINCE who appeared and set this nation more than 50 years behind time, and pushed into a Precipice which bought misery and poverty to this pleasant and Beautiful land for over half a century. This person was so power crazy, instead of working together for the betterment of the nation which only got independance from the British. Instead he defected from UNP and got togethr with all the extreme elements to beat the UNP (remember the no contest pact). I believe it is now that the real DIYASENA KUMARAYA has arrived to save the nation from another POWER CRAZY demagogue. From the time of formation of SLFP and the SANDANAYA has been a curse (KODIVINAYAK) for this nation. Is only now one of the dependents of the black price has come to realization its time to think of the nation not the party.

  • 2
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    Ossie Corea’s personal pistol went for a ride
    Pistol got the ride in Somarama rope
    Somarama gave the ride to Buddharakkitha pride
    Buddharakkitha took the ride on Somarama theory
    Somarama theory went for ride at the site of gallows

  • 3
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    Those who keep repeating the mantra that, if not for SWRD, those who did not belong to the upper class should look at what DS did for the country’s agriculture. Most of the major agricultural/irrigation/electricity schemes were completed, or at least started, prior to 1956. The left parties did whatever they could to discourage them, and the SLFP, once in power, emphasised more on the industrialisation of the country. The last big one, the Mahaveli project, was launched by Dudley.

    When ‘reassessing SWRD”, it would be worthwhile to compare the benefits that the non-urban Sri Lankans received against the benefits of SWRD’s so-called industrialisation.

    In my opinion, SWRD was an obstruction to the agricultural development that was initiated by DS.

  • 1
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    Oops. My first sentence should have been:

    Those who keep repeating the mantra that, if not for SWRD those who did not belong to the upper class would not have made any progress in independent Lanka, should look at what DS did for the country’s agriculture.

  • 1
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    SWRD was probably the biggest hypocrite in SL politics. The rot started with him & passed down the line. During Mrs. B’s time in the 70s, the country went backwards & she unashamedly hung on to power, even in her senile state & CBK has been all hype, just like the entire Bandaranayake clan, who, in my opinion, have been a curse. Like the Kennedys in the US, the Ghandis in India & the Bhutos of Pakistan, the Bandaranayakes probably believed SL was their legacy & CBK seems to be desperately trying get her son into politics to keep it going. All these political dynasties are now dead or dying & so should the Bandaranayakes. CBK should be able to retire in comfort in UK with her family from the wealth she has accumulated but seems unable to let go after tasting power.

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    Dear “Above the Rest,”

    I think , I am a bit above you because of my age.The person who publicly wore the National Dress first, in 1922, was Principal P.de S. Kularatne of Ananda College(AC.) He was the grandfather of Sanjiva, Saliya, Don (Rosy’s spouse Mithra) et al, and was a brilliant product of Richmond and Wesley Colleges and the village schools in Ambalangoda. Among many others , SWRD and JRJ followed him. Though Kularatne also entered parliament several times,he, L.H.Meththananda and many others who had connections to Kularatne’s family and A.C. the National Dress was worn to make the students at AC and their parents feel comfortable when parents visited the children and met the teachers in Colombo. Unlike SWRD and JRJ, Kularatne never wore the “longs” again. As a kid, I have met SWRD in 1959 wearing bow-tie presenting his pair of Greyhounds at The Kennel Club Shows(Nothing wrong…the poor fellows died a few weeks/months after the Master’s demise in Sept. 1959) and my father introduced JRJ to me in 1954 at “Breamer”, Ward Place, when he was in “longs” and a bush shirt.

    Soma was right above, solely because of the atrocities of foreign rulers since 1505. Many do not know how Buddhists and Hindus were forcibly converted; how they promoted the Caste system in the Jaffna areas and converted the so called low caste people; converted the so called high caste people by giving them high appointments, /positions; Buddhists were prevented from attending temples, destroying places of worship including the sacred Tooth in Kandy (the present one is symbolic, and not the original;) even putting locks on Kelaniya Temple…all on record. Please read the Buddhist Commission Report- 1953-1956 ( nothing to do with SWRD.)It was an accident after 1948, that the 1956 era coincided with SWRD’S win.Bandaranaike does not deserve all the blame and liked compromising. If he did not usher in the “Era of the Common Man,” it could have taken several decades more. I felt it when I was a kid from a simple example: Some villagers called the people of higher standing, “Mahattaya”,”Nona” or “Nona Mahattaya” instead of “Hamu”, “Hamuduruwo”, “Walawwe Hamuduruwo”,”Hamu Mahattaya” and “APPO.” The Peons and Clerks became a group of equals of the O.A, the DRO,the Asst Govt Agent or the G.A.in treatment in Govt offices.

    “Above the rest” must read the Hansards of the period 1924 to 1947 (Legislative Council & State Council) to understand the progress of D.S.Senanayake.He only had an incomplete 8th std education.He and Sir John were sent to Europe by Mr F.R. Senanayake to study English, but D.S. had returned home early. That is why Historian A.P.Kannangara,D.Phil (Oxon.)in his book “A Survey of Social Change in an Imperial Regime” had to write that until his death DSS’ English pronunciation/Grammar-broken English was treated with funny affection. Initially, his guides were Sir James Pieris (Barrister), brother F.R. Senanayake(Barrister- died very young at 43…R.G. Senanayake’s father…RG was so popular that , as an independent candidate, he won Dambadeniya and beat JRJ and was elected to Kelaniya as well … a record ! One man getting elected to 2 seats in Ceylon history) and (Sir) Baron J (Barrister,Advocate, Oxford Grad.& Scholar who knew E,S,Pali, Sanskrit,Greek,Latin, French and German, always was elected to the 2 Councils, UNCONTESTED…whether it was in Colombo or in Kelaniya.)After the untimely death of brother F.R.(who or Sir DBJ should have been the 1st P.M. of Ceylon) DS worked closely with Sir Baron.Sir DBJ was the leader of the National Group in Parliament…Legislative 1924-1930, as well as the State Council from 1931- 1943. D.S. who was an 8th std man was his understudy.That is why the couple was called duumviri…often together for the understudy to learn from the other. D.S. always wanted to be the leader , expecting. One must read the Hansards of the 2 houses from 1924 to 1943 to understand DS’s learning curve.

    After reading some of Sir Baron’s articles, edited by the late Dr Ananda Guruge Ph.D., CCS Retd, Buddhist Leader( Pub. GODAGE International Publishers (PVT) LTD.Colombo.(2011) , the former Speaker,Governor Sabaragamuwa Province and scholar- Attorney-at-law WIJAMU Lokubandara wrote after reading especially the Hansards from 1924- 1943 that Sir DBJ had spelled outwhat had to be done to prepare the nation to self rule and EVENTUAL INDEPENDENCE.His 3 PILLARS OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT were self-sufficiency in FOOD, FREE EDUCATION FOR ALL & UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE! In his eloquent speeches in the Parliaments he urged the colonial British Administration to give them priority. Mr WIJAMU Lokubandara explains that Sir Baron’s speeches to the State Council from 1931 to 1943 display his ingenuity in getting his program implemented through the Agriculture and Land Ministry of D.S., the Education Ministry of C.W.W. Kannangara and the Health Ministry of Ministers Panabokke and SWRDB.”The massive irrigation projects and village expansion schemes , the Free Education and Central Schools and the expansion of National Health Facilities became operational in the 1931s and early 1940s under his guidance and leadership” as the former speaker wrote. D.S. and SWRD both were against the FREE EDUCATION and only Marxists supported CWW Kannangara in the State Council, after Sir Baron left for India…Kicked upstairs by the D.S. Group… as the first High Commissioner DPL of S.L.At the 10th Anniversary Commemoration meeting held at the CBO YMBA,Chaired by R.L.Pereira Q.C., Sir Kanthiya Vaithyanadan and Cww Kannangara both mentioned how CWW Kannangara went to India and told Sir Baron and lamented that D.S. and SWRD opposed FREE EDUCATION.

    From the time of the Bracegirdle incident of 1942 Sir Baron knew that D.S. was manipulating affairs with his shrewd group…Sir John, son Dudley,Sir Oliver et al to oust him. He was younger and had the substance.Read the State Council Hansard of June 1 of 1944 ,Vol 1-page 901-907 vote of Condolence of Sir Baron, especially the speeches of GG Ponnambalam (Point Pedro),T.B.Jayah, S.Natesan(Kankesanturai) ,A. Ratnayake et al.to understand the stature of Sir Baron.

    Sir Baron wrote on “Christian Methods of Conversion” to the Royal Asiatic Journal, but no christian was against or challenged him. One of his biographers, Gamini Seneviratne CCS (RETD) wrote that Sir Baron was the last STATESMAN who lived in our country.

    What Kettikaran says about GGP and 50-50 is true. Please read the State Council Hansards(SCH.) The separation was first advocated by Ponnambalam Ramanathan and later advocated by GGP after the State Council of 1931.Please read the SCHansards.

  • 2
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    Part ii.

    Today’s youngsters think that D.S. and SWRD shaped our futures…their narrow landmarks are only 1948 and 1956. Please encourage them to read the speeches of Sir James Pieris, E.W.Perera,Sir Baron Jayatilake , GG Ponnambalam, Dr N.M., Dr Colvin R de Silva,Philip Gunawardena and others in the Councils. Otherwise, they are half-baked cakes.

  • 2
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    Dear Kautilya,

    Thanks for the great essay. You are right when you say that you above me – not only because of your age, but because of your superior knowledge of SL history as well.

    I must admit that the first political event I can recall is the death of SWRD.

    My point was that DS did more to Sri Lanka’s agriculture through irrigation projects than SWRD. I note that you haven’t commented on it. In my opinion. if there were more of those irrigation projects after 1956, SL would be a better place today.

    I would love to hear your comments on that.

  • 2
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    Mr. Uditha Devapriya
    “Icons are loved and “loved”. They are also vilified” I am glad you started your article thus only because it makes it easier for me introduce myself as a person who belongs to the group that vilifies that pipe sucking opportunist short sighted idiot who made a nation bleed and is still hemorrhaging badly. The idiots who were mentored by him have all been cowards like him trying to cure the hemorrhage not by surgery but by band aid.
    “And considering that the Sinhala Buddhist movement which wanted 1956 went originally for Dudley Senanayake (who, not surprisingly, refused), it seems startling but veritable that 1956 needed Bandaranaike just as Bandaranaike needed 1956.” Nothing, no one or anytime in the history of Sri Lanka ever needed an educated more like him. Sri Lanka needed leaders like him like a hole in the proverbial bloody head.
    “Not surprisingly then, 1956 was turned into a vehicle of political opportunism. Not by its leader, but by those who prostituted precept and confused nationalism with chauvinism.” Whom are you trying to kid here? If indeed it was nationalism he would have included the word “Tamil” along with “Sinhala” in the ill-conceived and ignorant legislations he passed. It was out and out chauvinism. Furthermore it was an exercise in cheap, emotional and sectarian politics consequences of which was seen highlighted at Mulliyvaikal and not by any means finished yet.
    May he linger and rot in hell. By the way please change the name of the Airport Back to Katunaiake International Airport until a worthy name can be found. Get that stupid Statue at Gold Face green off and make a present of it to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga or move it within the compound of the Army hospital where he can see the fruits of his labour.

  • 1
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    Putha/Duwa,
    Thanks for your positive comment. That made me happy in the evening of my life.

    Youngsters do not know even what Dudley and Sirimavo did for the country and that she was the first woman PM in the world .

    They talk as UNPs, SLFPs and Marxists. The yeoman services of the Marxists in the form of ideas and criticisms also helped the various developmental projects in the country since 1931. Philip Gunawardena , Dinesh G’s father had a PH.D. in agriculture from the U of Michigan though he never used it …a favorite student of Ananda College Principal Fritz Kunz. When he came to SL after studies the Brits did not allow him to enter Ceylon at the jetty in Colombo as he had Marxist Connections abroad. It was Sir DBJ who as the Minister of Home
    Affairs , who got him to enter the country as a free citizen.

    The best sources re SL developmental projects could be raked out from the Hansards and Sessional Papers at the Govt Bookstore. Newspaper accounts are not perfect.I am sorry that I write now from my memory as I do not have the energy to go to libraries.

    I wish you Good Luck and appreciate your boldness in writing this way and in a humble way, striving to learn more.

    • 0
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      Thanks Kautilya. I dare not call you uncle because you may very well be an auntie.

      Hope you will continue to contribute to this forum.

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