The declaration of Martial Law and imprisonment of National Heroes in 1915 intensified the political struggle for national independence in Sri Lanka.
Labour Leader A.E. Goonesinghe, by spearheading the 1928 historic Tram Car Strike, pressurized the colonial Masters. At a time when only a few people owned private cars, the security eye of the day had spotted a young man driving to and fro, within the metropolis to strengthen and support the ongoing strike. The police tracked down the registered car owner as a Supreme Court Judge and its driver as his son.
The youngster was further identified as a student leader at Ceylon Law College. His name was Junius Richard Jayewardene, whose 110th birth anniversary is respectfully remembered today.
Born on September 17, 1906, the internationally-renowned national stalwart had his name branded as JR, among his loyal supporters as well as his frightful political foes. JR was a unique leader with sterling qualities who dominated the field of national politics over a period of half a century.
During his 90-year lifespan, the benevolent services he rendered to his motherland would remain evergreen and carved with pride in the history of Mother Lanka. JR is respected and renowned not because he rose to the zenith in political power, but for his honesty, ability and courtesy.
JR hailed from a traditional Sinhala family. His ancestors from both sides, paternal and maternal, had been in the forefront of the vanguard in the battle for freedom. They had immensely involved in religious, social, political, economical and in all matters concerning national welfare.
He was the eldest son of E.W. Jayewardene, a Judge of the Supreme Court, with a family background of legal luminaries. His mother was Agnes Helena, an heiress being a daughter of Don Phillip Wijewardene, a leading business entrepreneur and of Helena Wijewardene Lamatheni of Sedawatta Walawwa. Since his childhood days, JR had inherited the Buddhist way of life by constantly observing his grandmothers devout religious and social activities including the restoration of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya to its ancient glory. Besides, the two families had developed close ties since JR’s father and his mother’s brother D. R. Wijewardene, the powerful media baron and a national patriot had been contemporaries at the Cambridge University. Two of his father’s brothers Hector and A St. V. too were in the legal profession. A St. V. and E.W. ascended the Bench, while eldest brother Hector had been a political icon since he was first elected to the Colombo Municipal Council in 1897. He had also played a key role in the victorious election campaign of Sir P. Ramanathan at the election held for the Educated Ceylonese seat. Legal oracle of our time H.W. Jayewardene Q.C. was president’s younger brother who assisted him as a worthy advisor.
JR reminisced his first political experience as a four-year-old, when he accompanied uncle Hector to a reception held to celebrate Sir Ramanathan’s victory in 1911.
JR started his school career, firstly by attending Bishops’ College Kindergarten. Thereafter, he attended Royal College, Colombo until 1925. At school, JR had not been very enthusiastic with his studies, but had excelled in sports. He played for Royal’s soccer, rugby and cricket. In fact, he captained Royal’s cricket and also became the Head Prefect at Royal.
He received his higher education at the Ceylon University and at the Ceylon Law College. Whilst at the university, he had drafted the first constitution for the students’ forum. At the time, he was associated with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who had just returned from Oxford. JR had taken guidelines from the Oxford Students Constitution, given to him by S.W.R.D.
During Law College days, he proved his brilliance by winning two gold medals awarded for oratory and for the best legal research submissions. He also held the post of Hony Secretary of the Law Students Union.
It was during this period that he had developed a sideline involvement with agitation campaigns. Firstly, by supporting the Tram Car strike in 1929. When Gandhi was imprisoned by colonial rulers, he masterminded to unveil a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, at the Law College premises, in support of his ‘Avihinsa’ (Non Violent) Campaign.
While engaged in his studies, JR functioned as Justice E.W.’s Secretary. It was with his little savings that he had paid the fee to the well-known David Paynter who drew Mahatma’s portrait, which still remains at the Law College.
JR passed out as an Advocate and took his Oaths in 1932. Being a junior to the eminent counsel H.V. Perera, K.C., he made his appearance in the famous Bracegirdle Case. Mark Anthony Bracegirdle who came from Australia as a planter had joined hands with the Marxist leaders to agitate for Labour Rights. Perturbed and annoyed by this move, the British Governor made an order to deport Bracegirdle from Ceylon on March 18, 1932. The Marxists then challenged the Governors arbitrary action before the Courts. JR, appearing with his senior H.V., managed to legally restrain the Governor’s decision. Thus, JR won the goodwill of Marxists as well.
JR’s father, being a strong Anglican and a disciplinarian, had provided his children a thorough training in Christianity and in the English Language. On the contrary, their family had the benefit of observing the mother’s Buddhist activities and strong Sinhala qualities.
In his youth, JR had become keen to deeply observe his religious beliefs. Accordingly, he had constantly visited Vajirarama Viharaya to clarify his stance on Buddhist philosophy from Ven. Vajiragnana and Ven. Narada Maha Theras. Finally, he had confessed to his father that he had embraced ‘Buddha Dhamma.’ Justice E.W. who gently listened to his son had not taken any offence. Following the untimely death of his father on November 28, 1932, JR had taken over the family’s responsibility. However, he had not engaged in his legal profession beyond ten years.
On February 28, 1935, JR married Elina Bandara Rupasinghe, the charming only daughter of G.L. Rupasinghe, with a lavish legacy and came in to occupation at 66 Ward Place ‘Braemar.’ He and his family stayed there all throughout. JR is the only State leader who never occupied the Temple Trees or the President house. Nor did he lunatically build several presidential palaces, wasting public funds.
During his visits to Vajiraramaya, JR and his friends had a Youth Club (Pushcannon Club). It was renamed as ‘Priya Sangam.’ Instead of going to European-style hotels, the members began to patronize ‘Sinhala Jathika Hotalaya’ for their meetings. On Vesak days they wore sarongs to Maligakanda Pirivena. They also started to practise their signatures in Sinhala. JR even dreamt to adopt a Sinhala name as Ravindra, but he used it only as a pen name. However, when JR and his wife were blessed with a son, he was named as Ravindra Wimal.
The turning point in JR’s life began when he joined the ‘Lanka Jathika Sangamaya’ (Ceylon National Congress). After his visits to Ramgar sessions of the Indian National Congress and his simultaneous visit to Buddhagaya and Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, for the first time he was almost transformed. Then he had determined to lead his future life on Buddhist ethics. Thus, he could not become a Marxist, for they treated religion as opium. S.W.R.D.’s Sinhala Maha Sabha represented only one community.
A.E.’s labour movement was fading away. The only option available for a common front to accelerate the Liberation struggle was Lanka Jathika Sangamaya. JR, Dudley and Siripala Samarakkody obtained its membership and before long, JR and Dudley became the Hony Joint Secretaries of the Sangamaya. They closely studied the Donoughmore Commission proceedings, gradually restrained from rapid actions and together joined the UNP under the leadership of D.S. on September 10, 1946. JR was elected as its joint Treasurer. In 1947, the UNP won the first General Elections.
Coincidentally, UNP leader D.S. became the first Prime Minister of Ceylon, while party’s Treasurer JR was sworn in as the first Finance Minister after winning at the first General Election held in 1947. JR remained a Cabinet Minister under D.S., Dudley and Sir John Kotelawala.
In 1956, JR lost the Kelaniya seat to R.G. Senanayake, but regained it in March 1960. Later, he represented the Colombo South electorate winning all elections held in 1960 July, 1965, 1970 and 1977. Under his leadership, the UNP won 139 out of 165 seats, a landslide victory at the 1977 Parliamentary Elections. It was at this election that our present Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe first entered Parliament as the member for the Biyagama Seat.
As an admirer of Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, since 1939 until late 1960s, JR functioned as the Treasurer of both the ‘Anagarika Dharmapala Fund’ and the International Buddhist Missionary Centre, London. He took a keen interest in promoting the Biyagama Bhikkhuni Centre. He was also in-charge of the noble task of translating the sacred Thripitaka to Swabhasha, to coincide with the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi in 1957.
In brief, JR rendered yeomen services to religious, social, cultural and national activities. He saved the Anuradhapura Bastian Pilgrim Centre from its mortgage and entrusted it to BTS to start a school for Buddhist children. JR and Elina gifted their ‘Manelwatte Walwwa,’ a valuable ancestral property with a large acreage of land to the Maha Sangha of the Malwatu Maha Viharaya and land for the Colombo South Hospital. They were silent donors and did not advertise such meritorious deeds.
As the member for the Kelaniya Electorate in 1944, JR pioneered to propose at the State Council that we adopt the Lion Flag as the National Flag, our National Anthem, Vesak Day holidays and to abolish Capital Punishment.
Since Sri Lanka gained independence, JR was the only Finance Minister who presented a surplus budget during the Kotelawala Government.
As Finance Minister, he established the Central Bank, SL Army and inaugurated massive development projects. To name a few; the Udawalawe Scheme, Galoya Development Scheme, Lakshapana Hydro-Electric Project, expansion of Harbour and Katunayake Airport and Victoria Project and so forth. These were all achieved without getting indebted to the world.
Colombo Plan and Japanese Peace Treaty
JR became internationally renowned by delivering his historic speech during his address at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco in 1951.
“Hatred is not conquered by hatred. Hatred is conquered only by loving kindness. Let us all grant opportunity to Japan to regain her sovereignty,” he said.
The people of Japan erected a statue of JR while he was alive, in appreciation of his noble task nearly half a century ago. When JR became the President, the Japanese Government volunteered to build the Sri Jayawardhanapura Hospital in honour of him.
Besides, together with his Australian
counterpart Sir Percy Spender, JR as Finance Minister co-architected the ‘Colombo Plan,’ which is a worldwide body today; mainly beneficial to Commonwealth Asian countries.
Coming events forecast their shadow
While Ceylon was still a British Colony, the formation of a Democratic Students Parliament at Ceylon Law College in 1928 was JR’s brainchild.
In terms of Erskine May’s principles, two fractions of Law Students established a model Parliament.
JR led the National Liberation Party, while his colleague Charitha Ranasinha became the Leader of the Progressive Party.
At first, Charitha was elected to the post of Prime Minister and JR as the Leader of the Opposition. J. Malalgoda had been the Speaker of the House.
Among others who held key positions were Siri Perera, the Deputy Leader of the Progressive party, Shirley Corea, Deputy Chief of JR’s party, Sri Skandaraja, M. Thiruchelvam, D.J.R. Gunawardene, C. Bartholameuze and Nadaraja from Pedurutuduwa.
At one instance, when a number of government members were absent, a vote of no- confidence was passed to oust the Prime Minister. Accordingly, JR became the Prime Minister. JR, the student Premier, in his opening address said “Governments may come and go, but the dignity of the House, confidence and its stability should prevail.” Later Mr. Charitha Ranasinha (Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Bangladesh), who was present with me at the time I presented the maiden copy of ‘Podu Jana Agamathindu’ to Prime Minister, recollected this coincidence. How JR did become the real Prime Minister of the Country 47 years afterwards.
It is noteworthy to mention that in later life Siri Perera Q.C. became an Ambassador, Sri Skandaraja a Justice of the Supreme Court, Shirley Corea the Speaker of the House, D.J.R. Gunawardene the Secretary to the Justice Ministry, M. Thiruchelvam a Minister in Dudley Senanayake Cabinet and Charitha Ranasinha a High Commissioner in Bangladesh.
JR’s handwritten lecture notes
During the 1977 election campaign, as a youth activist of the party, I was fortunate to be in close association with this benevolent statesman, as well as with his colleague Charitha who was then the District Secretary of the UNP, Kandy District. Around this period, I expressed my desire to sketch our Leader JR’s biography to which he sincerely consented. Operating from Kandy, I visited his residence in the early hour of the day, from time to time, to readout and rectify my drafts. The good-old Charitha gave me his best support and distributed two editions of my book printed with the generous contributions from Late Donald Fernando of Kandy.
The day I completed my mission ‘Podu Jana Agamathindu’ became a lifetime memorable. As a token of appreciation, I received an old monitors’ exercise book from the leader. He knew me as a law student, and the book contained his handwritten lecture notes on Law of Insolvency, dated 1931. I still behold it as a golden treasure, until it is soon delivered to the J. R. Jayewardene museum.
J.R. with ‘Kalu’
I also had the privilege to take some of his exclusive photographs; when he first visited Sri Dalada Maligawa as the Prime Minister in 1977; during his swearing ceremony as the President; at the victory of his election as the second Executive President and on the Day he and Lady Elina celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Among many other events, the day I photographed the President with his pet dog ‘Kalu’ was exclusive.
The president sat on a garden stool in the backyard of ‘Braemar’ with his pet dog Kalu. When Kalu became restless, he called out his aid to bring ‘Hakuru’ (Jaggery).
He then told me that the dog probably misunderstood me with my equipment as the vaccinator. He then held the sweets in his palm for Kalu until I finished my job.
A noble incident
During my days at Lake House (ANCL), I was assigned to visit his residence at 7.30 a.m. daily. One day, there were several VIP’s including the hierarchy of forces standing around his office table. I overheard part of a conversation.
President firmly said “No aerial bombing, I am in this seat today because the people of Jaffna voted for me. They did not vote to get themselves bombed. Eliminating terrorist does not mean landing bombs on civilians…” and for a moment, everybody stood still. So far, this remained a secret.
JR’s signature on blank sheet
I also preserve another valid treasure. It is somewhat a signed blank cheque. Once I read a draft for his approval and signature prior to publication. As I read it out he was prepared to put down his signature. I humbly said it was only a rough copy. Since he was to go out of Colombo for a few days, he asked me if I had writing paper and also the length of the draft. When I responded “1 ¼ pages,” he readily signed the blank sheet, querying whether the space was sufficient. Such were his magnanimous qualities.
JR assuming leadership
Since the defeat of the Dudley Senanayake Government in 1970 and his untimely demise in 1973, the nation was confused and engulfed by untold misfortunes.
The people went through a wretched period of life. The country already-battered by the JVP insurrection was heading towards bankruptcy. The 1977 victory ended a dark and disastrous political trauma. The country’s economy stagnated like a painted ship upon a painted ocean. There were acute shortages of cereals, rice and chillies put under barriers, restricting the transportation of such items. There was a dearth of clothing and almost all daily needs and basic requirements. A mere loaf of bread for a family of five. Freedom of the press was doomed; unlimited and unjustified political victimizations. Threats on private businesses and so-called ‘nationalization.’ Nepotism as at its highest as depicted by the ‘Family Tree.’ (Cartoons of some members of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s Government).
Vulgarism and corruption such as ‘Rest House Appointments.’ The nation was heading towards anarchy. The ghost story would not have ended, if JR did not rise to the occasion. Adding insult to the injury obnoxious laws restricting the democratic freedoms of the masses.
The major newspaper organization, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (ANCL), was acquired by the coalition government without the consent of its legitimate owners.
Acute censorship on media and banning of public meetings. The seven years ‘Coalition Rule’ forced its way under Emergency rule for almost 2,434 days out of its total existence of 2,548 days.
Rukman Senanayake’s victory at the 1973 Dedigama by election under JR leadership, became a sigh of relief for the nation. In protest for prolonging the life of Parliament for two more years without a mandate from the people, JR resigned from his Colombo South seat in 1975. Following a by election he won his seat again with a majority of 25,000 votes. JR warned the government not to postpone polls and conducted ‘Satyagraha’ campaigns. Due to a commotion at one such event, DIG Werapitya lost his job. However, by contesting the Pata Dumbara seat as the UNP candidate, Werapitya entered the Parliament in 1977. Over 16,000 youth were under arrest allegedly as JVP insurgents, including its Leader Rohana Wijeweera. Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara Universities remained as prison camps. JR released them all, granting opportunity to join the democratic stream.
Besides his accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme, took all measures to resurrect the country’s economy.
His 1970 Cabinet comprised the best brains in politics at the time - Dr. Anandatissa de Alwis, Ronnie de Mel, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and youthful Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. JR’s able lieutenant Premier Ranasinghe Premadasa brought about a massive development in Housing Projects and provided millions of jobs to rural girls and boys through the Garment Industry. As the nation was on the verge of recovery, the stupid insurgencies and terrorism raised its head from both ends, the North and South, to destabilize the Nation.
Flies rest on brave lions
As obvious as flies rest on brave lions, political Lilliputians who have mushroomed due to national misfortune are attempting to hood wink by criticizing JR. It is best that they realize the saying “you can fool some of the people all the time. All of the people some of the time. But you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”
President Jayewardene who ruled this country for 12 long years amidst deadly obstructions retired from politics on December 31, 1989, and after a brief illness passed away on
November 1, 1996.
He was accorded a State funeral in the vicinity of the sacred Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya.
May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!