“We must get the people to march on the streets, so long as we remain in our drawing rooms, we will never make it to power.”
–JRJ in October 1957
The above title was copied from a highlighted news item that appeared in the front page of the state-run Ceylon Daily News of March 23, 1992.
The text under the headline—
We have no objections to non-violent protests
President Ranasinghe Premadasa on Saturday said that the government did not want to disrupt the opposition’s Pada Yatra to Kataragama.
“It is a good means of expressing one’s sentiments without resorting to violence,” he said at Gangaramaya temple participating at a ‘Daham Hamuwa’ held to mark his 42 years in politics.
“He further said the government’s attitude towards the walk was in sharp contrast to the government of 1970-77. He recalled how a peaceful march to Kandy then organized by the UNP opposition was sabotaged and ultimately banned by the then government.
“There were 10,000 marchers at the start in Grandpass; they were allowed to eat only Vegetarian food and no alcohol. They pledged non-retaliation in case of assault or harassment. Bikkhus were to chant pirith on the way”, He explained.
“But we were treated to a shower of stones at Victoria Bridge. By the time we reached Kadawatha nearly 400 marchers had suffered head injuries. Despite these attacks we marched on till we were forcibly stopped at Imbulgoda.
– CDN, March 23, 1992. Pg 1
The world history records famous marches launched by freedom fighters such as Mao Tse Dong Long March of 6000 miles from south west China to the north east during the Chinese Revolution and that of Mahatma Gandhi during ‘Free India’ Movement.
On March 16, 1992, Mahinda Rajapaksa launched the Pada Yathra (A protest march) against alleged State-terrorism of the Premadasa regime and its political oppression.
It commenced at the Viharamahadevi Park and reached its destination, the sacred city of Kataragama covering 280 Kms in fourteen days.
There is also the famous march to Kandy, six decades ago by J. R. Jayewardene and the UNP in protest against the Banda-Chelva Pact; it was cut short at Imbulgoda, by that irritable SLFPer S.D. Bandaranaike —who was later coined ‘Imbulgoda Weraya’. SD, a relative of the PM, blocked the Colombo-Kandy Road with a group of supporters by laying themselves across the road.
A protest march from Kandy to Colombo on the issue of the rising cost of living and demanding the restoration of democracy was held against the Chandrika government, by the United National Party under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe in February 2001.
A similar march ‘Pada Yatra’, organised by the ‘Joint Opposition’ against ‘oppressive policies’ and the burdens imposed on the public through the imposition of taxes by Maithri-Ranil Yahapalanaya government started on July 28 from Colombo to Kandy.
A Government Minister says that they have to find revenue to run the country and taxes were unavoidable, though they may upset a section of the public.
“These marches are well thought out tactics to divert public attention away from the embarrassment faced by the corrupt, over investigations carried out against them. They are behind the protests,” he says.
Colombo-Kandy March by JR J
On October 3, 1957, the United National Party’s De factoleader organized a protest march from Colombo to Kandy. Dudley Senanayake had little to do with the march. The march contributed adversely to ethnic harmony in the Island.
The agreement “Banda-Chelva Pact” signed by Prime Minister Bandaranaike and S.J.V. Chelvanayagam in 1957 was a positive factor that diluted the harmful effects of the Sinhala Only concept, adopted by SWRD Bandaranaike, the leader of the MEP-SLFP Government, who won by arousing racial sentiments in 1956.
Sinhala /Buddhist extremists in the Government and the Buddhist clergy vehemently opposed the BC Pact; JRJ being entrusted with the task to revive the UNP, called the agreement as an end to the Sinhala nation, he addressed several meetings in Colombo and the suburbs and wrote newspaper articles too.
The Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters agreed to participate at an oath taking at Dalada Maligawa on Full Moon day, 8th of October, as the march was scheduled to reach Kandy.
JR was determined to go ahead as planned, though quite a few UNP leaders including Sir John Kotalawela wanted to call it off.
The national print media opposed the move through several editorials.[Ref. Times of Ceylon Editorials – August 19/21 1957].
Ranasinghe Premadasa, a much junior in the party hierarchy along with seniors like MD Banda and Anandatissa de Alwis joined the march from Grandpass amidst stone pelting by supporters of the SLFP MP, MS Themis and port workers attached to Philip Gunawardena’s Trade Union.
The Police turned a blind eye. There had been hooting and jeering up to Victoria Bridge. Mobs stoned the houses in which the marchers were staying the first night in Kadawatte. High ranking Police officers contacted by organizers said they had no instructions to intervene.
How it all started
On July 29, JR and a few others met to draft a declaration setting out the reasons for the UNP’s opposition to the pact. It was entirely the work of JR.
It fabricated a vision of a secret attempt to set up a Federal State. JR began a propaganda campaign using the party news sheet Siyarata.
His articles were illustrated with maps indicating areas coming under Tamil control. His own hand-written notes on it are available at the Pres. Arch. (MSS File-302; JRJ Centre).
He was also thinking of direct action against the pact, in which, the party joined a group of nationalist Buddhist monks, who earlier supported SWRD’s Sinhala Only campaign.
A communiqué drafted by JR was distributed in early August 1957, summarizing the Federal Party’s main demands and analysing implications on the country. IT said
“A step towards the achievement of an Independent Tamil State …it is clear from these facts that the agreement recognizes the division of the country in to two parts…this party therefore, calls upon the people of this country to take such action as is necessary to secure the abrogation of B-C Pact and to see that it is not implemented.”
Here only he came up with the idea of a march on the lines of Gandhi’s marches. He told the supporters,
“We must get the people on to the streets, so long as we remain in our drawing rooms, we will never make it to power.”
On the second day, hundreds deserted their leader, out of 1,200 who walked up to Kadawatha, only about 125 remained on the following morning; however, the march commenced without any disruptions during the first hour. On reaching Imbulgoda just five kms from Kadawatha town -they were confronted by a well organized group. Two cars, one belonging to MP, SD Bandaranaike, a kinsmen of the PM, was parked across the road. JR wanted to stay at the famous Attanagalle temple premises on the second night.
It was the strong hold of Bandaranaikes since 1930s, SWRD returning uncontested twice in 1931 and 1936 and winning with thumping majorities in 1947, 52 and 56; in fact in ’56 he won by 45,000 votes.
“…at Imbulgoda junction the procession was greeted with a shower of stones from both sides of the road on the hill…there were about one hundred people led by Mr. S D Bandaranaike squatting on the road. Mr. J R Jayewardene and Mr. S D Bandaranaike were advised to be peaceful and not to show any violence. The UNP procession also sat down on the road…” [Extract -ASP, D.S. Thambiah’s Police Report on the incident—5/10/57: Courtesy Pres Arch. MSS File 301]
While Police awaited orders from higher authorities, JR spoke to a few leaders and said, “I have written my last will before I started the march” and told the men not to take risks by exposing themselves and that he would continue his walk alone even if they killed him.
The crowd rejected the idea and suggested he must like a Good General, withdraw, ‘so that he may live to fight another day’. A couple of hours later two top officers, DIGs C.C. Dissanayake [Grandfather of Minister Ravi K] and Sydney de Zoysa, arrived at the scene and spoke to the warring faction leaders. SDB went to his men, cleared the obstruction and left the place. JR was informed that the march has been banned. Four buses were arranged by Police for the party to get back to Colombo under Police protection.
The above details were given in a pamphlet titled, ‘JR’s March to Kandy’, and a sub-title –‘Historic Event that Revived the UNP’ [JRJ Biography 1988-pp.40/41]
Karl Marx once said: History repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce.