SWRD the Silver Tongued Orator
By Dayasiri Jayasekara
When considering politics globally, there are many incidents of political and non-political leaders being assassinated. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi of India, John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln from the United States (US) were shot dead. So was Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, who rendered an invaluable service to Ceylon in terms of socio-economic and political aspects by an assailant, silencing the ‘Silver Bell of Asia.’ It was in the fourth year of his appointment as Prime Minister.
After he broke away from the UNP and formed the SLFP, with many hopes of making changes in the country. Known as the 'Silver Bell of Asia' because of his heroic rhetoric, Bandaranaike always kept in mind that he had a lot of work to do for the people. However, despite all that he had planned for the betterment of the country, he had to leave the world at an unexpected moment.
On 26 September 1959, Premier Bandaranaike returned home to Rosmead Place since he had to complete a lot of work, and listen to the grievances of all who came to meet him. One of the Buddhist monks named Thalduwe Somarama who had come to meet him approached him and shot him with a revolver hidden within his robes, leaving no one around him to even understand what was happening. Bandaranaike was immediately admitted to the Colombo National Hospital, where he underwent a six-hour operation performed by almost all the wellknown doctors in the country. This year, 2021 is the 62nd year since the assassination of Premier Bandaranaike.
A son was born who changed a country
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, born on 8 January, 1899, inherits the Bandaranaike legacy of the Maha Mudaliyar Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike and lady Daisy Eslyn Obeysekera, an aristocratic family living under British rule in Ceylon. He was named 'Ridgeway' by his father, the Maha Mudaliyar . He was educated at St. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia and later admitted to the University of Oxford in England for higher studies, Bandaranaike returned to Ceylon in 1925 as a young man with many progressive ideas.
After returning to the country, he worked as a lawyer for a very short time and in 1926 became the Secretary of the Ceylon National Congress. He was the youngest person to be appointed to the said position. He was elected President of the 'Pro-National Party' in the same year and later joined many national organisations and started his political career.
The beginning of the political journey
He became the Premier of the country at the end of a long political journey, beginning with his Election as the Chairman of the Nittambuwa Village Committee. In the Colombo Municipal Elections held in December of the same year, he fought against the Labour leader A.E. Gunasinghe for the Maradana division and won with a majority of 615 votes. Although many thought an aristocrat like Bandaranaike could not win by fighting in an urban, working-class area like Maradana, he launched a successful door-to-door campaign and achieved an easy victory.
He thus entered mainstream politics as a Municipal Councillor and contested the Veyangoda electorate in the post-referendum State Elections held after the Donough more reforms and was elected unopposed to the State Council. He was active in politics in the first State Council of Ceylon and expressed progressive views, calling for the expulsion of three public servants and the abolition of their posts if the country was to achieve full independence. He said the salary of the Speaker should be reduced to Rs 1. This was in 1931.
Sinhala Maha Sabha
In 1934, the 'Sinhala Maha Sabha' was formed by Bandaranaike with the aim of uniting the divided Sinhala Nation and promoting nationalism and giving impetus to the national liberation struggle. The 'Sinhala Maha Sabha' was established under the Chairmanship of Bandaranaike and over time it developed into an islandwide branch.
The Sinhala Maha Sabha was so strong that it later convened as a large organisation at the inception of the UNP, where there were protests by certain individuals against the merger of the UNP and the Sinhala Maha Sabha, but Bandaranaike responded by saying, “It was formed for national independence and to form a joint party within the Parliamentary system introduced by the British," In 1936, Bandaranaike was re-elected unopposed to the Second State Council and from the Veyangoda electorate. He was also the youngest Minister in the Second State Council of Ministers and was later elected as the Leader of the House.
The first General Election
In the first General Election since Dominion independence in 1948, Bandaranaike contested from the UNP and contested from the Attanagalla electorate. After defeating C. Gunasekera, he was elected to Parliament with a majority of 26,854 votes and became a Minister in the first Cabinet of Ministers in the country. D.S. Senanayake was elected as the Minister of Health and Local Government. He rendered a significant service to the country and was also the first to deliver a speech in the State Council in Sinhala.
Establishment of the SLFP
Eventually, he realised the UNP-led Government was not going the way the Sinhala Maha Sabha had hoped, but submitted a series of resolutions passed at the Madampe Convention of the Sinhala Maha Sabha to the then Premier, but the latter did not respond favourably and Bandaranaike sat in the Opposition in Parliament on 12 July 1951. Later, on 2 September 1951, a group of 44 people joined the Colombo City Hall to form a new organisation in support of Bandaranaike.
With the naming of the organisation as the 'Sri Lanka Freedom Party', the arrival of a major factor determining the future course of Ceylonese politics took place. Seven months after the formation of the new party, Bandaranaike faced an Election in which the SLFP won nine seats. He won the Attanagalla electorate by a majority of 32,544 votes and became the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
Towards the post of Prime Minister
The SLFP and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, under the leadership of Bandaranaike, reached a unanimous agreement on 24 September 1955, signalling the change in the political power of the UNP until then, and on 17 December 1955, a resolution was passed to the effect that Sinhala should become the official language of the country. It was adopted at a convention of the SLFP. Bandaranaike also accepted the ‘Ten Commandments’ introduced by the United Bhikku Front that Sinhala should be the official language of Ceylon, and pledged that his Government would implement it.
Due to the emergence of the language issue in the country, the idea that Sinhala should be the official language of Ceylon was growing around 1956, when Bandaranaike was gaining popularity as a revolutionary in Ceylonese politics. The “Mahajana Eksath Peramuna” was formed on 21 February 1956 with the participation of the SLFP led by Bandaranaike, the Revolutionary Lanka Sama Samaja Party led by Philip Gunawardena and the Sinhala Language Front led by Vijayananda Dahanayake.
Subsequently, in the 1956 general elections, Bandaranaike led the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna to power in Parliament, creating a ‘common people's era’ in the country. Bandaranaike, who became the Premier of Ceylon by winning the Attanagalla electorate by a landslide with a majority of 41,997 votes, has done a great service to the entire community and we are still enjoying the progressive results of the decisions he took then.
Among them are the establishment of the Ceylon Transport Board, the nationalisation of the private bus service, the nationalisation of the port, the establishment of the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), the recognition of State enterprise priority, the designation of 1 May as International Labour Day as a public holiday, and the protection of the rights of minorities, the granting of their rights, the amendment of labour laws, the establishment of new State corporations, the removal of foreign military bases operating in Ceylon, and the establishment of a national education policy.
Although he died within four years of assuming the office of Premier, the people of this country will undoubtedly give the slain Bandaranaike the honour of working tirelessly to provide the many services that we still enjoy today. "Man's ultimate duty is to serve man" is his noble concept. But it is doubtful whether all of us have forgotten this noble advice due to the degenerative politics today. Therefore, it is the duty and responsibility of the SLFP, as well as those who love the country to keep it active and not limited to a single word, as we commemorate his untimely death.
(Dayasiri Jayasekara is a Minister and the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.