Let the pendulum swing
Times of Ceylon, evening daily carried a news item on August 8, 1949, reporting a speech by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the second in command of the government and UNP, where he referred to the party using derogatory or vituperative remarks. Within hours Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, the leader of the party and strict disciplinarian summoned the Working Committee as a matter of urgency, to take up the issue. It met at 9.15 p.m. at Temple Trees the same evening, where SWRD was requested in writing to make an explanatory statement within seven days to the WC.
Inauguration of UNP
Excerpts from original minutes register of the UNP on its inauguration:
“The inaugural meeting of the United National Party was held on Friday, 6 September 1946 at 5 p.m. at ‘Palm Court’, Albert Crescent.‘The following resolution, “that this meeting resolved to form a political Party to be called the United National Party,” was moved by Mr. S. Natesan, Member State Council [MSC] and seconded by Mr. T. B. Jayah, MSC. The resolution was put to the house and was carried unanimously.’
…Hon. Col. J. L. Kotalawala who was convener welcomed the members and read the letters conveying the meeting. […he mentioned that out of 370 invitations sent 301 consented to join-CDN :7/9/46] He then invited Hon. Mr D. S. Senanayake to occupy the Chair. Hon. Mr D. S. Senanayake took the chair and addressed the meeting and explained the aims and objects of the Party. He also explained the importance and the need for unity among all communities residing in the island, he also appealed for mutual trust and goodwill and expressed the hope that the UNP will be a strong political force in the country and will play a great role in moulding the future destines of the people.
The next resolution, “that this meeting adopts the manifesto and Constitution of the Party” was moved by Mr. A. F. Molamure, MSC and seconded by Mr A. R. A. Razik, MSC. The resolution was put to the house and was carried unanimously. Then followed the election of office bearers- Hon. Mr. D. S. Senanayake vacated the Chair and Hon. Mr S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike occupied the chair protem and after delivering a short address proposed the name of Hon D. S Senanayake as Chairman of the Party Hon. Mr George E de Silva seconded it and was carried unanimously.
Hon. Mr D. S. Senanayake proposed from the chair the election of Messers Bandaranaike, Kotalawala, George E de Silva, A. Mahadeva, and T. B. Jayah as vice-chairman and this was carried unanimously. Hon. Mr. Senanayake proposed the name of Mr. H W Amarasuriya as Honorary General Secretary and messers A. R. A. Razik and J. R. Jayewardene as joint treasurers. This was carried unanimously. The meeting terminated with a vote of thanks to the chair proposed by Dr. V. R. Schockman and seconded by Dr. L. A. Rjapaksha KC.”
What prompted D.S. Senanayake to leave Congress and form UNP
The Muslim League of T. B. Jayah, the Sinhala Maha Sabha of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the Ceylon National Congress [CNC], a strong political entity formed on the lines of Indian National Congress and led by Don Stephen Senanayake the Leader of the House, are three powerful political forces combined to form United National Party (UNP). The CN Congress was a nationalist political party formed by the members of Ceylon National Association and Ceylon Reform League on 11, December 1919, during the British Colonial rule in Ceylon. At the end of 1942, D.S. Senanayake indicated his displeasure with the new policies and new outlook. He resigned forthwith from the exco. By 1943 he severed all relations with the Congress.
DS the man with foresight wanted to retain the Tamil and Muslim support under one flag. His decision was based purely on policy issues: he disagreed with its aim of achieving full freedom from the Briton, preferring Dominion status], he opposed the education proposals of Congress favouring Swabhasha instead of English; and opening doors of CNC for Communist party members. These disagreements motivated him to form a political party totally free from racial and religious divisions. DS announced his wish to retire from Congress insisting that,
‘…they should speak for the whole country rather than a party working for political power of a section…’. [Excerpt from letter of resignation dated 22/12/43]
Six years later on 29th December, 1949, JR moved a resolution at Kandy sessions of Congress, ‘…that the CNC … should now be dissolved’. CDN-30/5/49
By early 1946 DS was thinking of a new political party that would represent a national consensus of moderate views, a party acceptable to the minorities. Most of the CNC members and almost all in the State Council’s government members accepted DS’s invitation.
EC and Working Committee of UNP
The first meeting’s minutes does not record electing an Executive Council; only that the first meeting of the Executive Council [EC] was held immediately followed by the inaugural session at the same venue, The minutes… ,
“Meeting of EC was held on September 11 1946, at Zahira College at 4.30 pm under D S Senanayake’s Presidency, ‘Meeting resolved to, as moved by Chairman, 1. “that the following members of the Exco be elected the Working Committee of the Party…. 20 members with Mr U. A. Jayasundera as its Secretary. 2. That the ExCo do delegate to the WC all the powers vested in the EC under the Constitution.’ ”
Special meeting discussed SWRD Behavior
Excerpts from Minutes: “WC meeting held at Temple Trees at 9.15 pm on August 8, 1949. DSS presided- Present: SWRD B .[Late arrival], Sir JK, T.B. Jayah…After the minutes Sir John wanted leave to bring ‘a matter of great urgency and importance’ before the house. He placed before the committee a copy of the ‘Times of Ceylon’ of 8th [same day] instant and read there from the report of a speech alleged to have been made by Hon SWRD Bandaranaike at a meeting of the SM Sabha and invited the house to consider what action, if any, committee should take as the speech, he urged was highly detrimental to the interest of the Party…The following resolution was adopted, to wit,
After a general discussion in which all the members present joined, the following resolution were unanimously adopted, to wit,
1. “that in the opinion…the speech…contained, (a) matters which were inaccurate in point of fact and, (b) opinion which bought [or were calculated to bring] the Party into ridicule and disrepute thereby undermining the confidence of the public in the Party….2. that this matter be brought up before the usual monthly meeting of WC to be held at TT on 15/8/49…to consider action…3. Secretary to write immediately to SWRD, inquiring the correctness of the report…get him to make a statement…discuss it at next meeting…
SWRD’s reply was tabled at the monthly meeting on August 15, where he spoke of newspaper report, ‘…inaccurate in some aspects’ in reporting and ‘…conveying an inaccurate impression’. However, the WC decided to write to the newspaper highlighting every point raised in the letter. One of the points reported in the report attributed to Bandaranaike said,
“…no important question was ever placed before the EC of the Party; it had never met. At the end of the year the members had to play the part of ‘yes-man’—to which SWRD replied, “I said, Parties in Ceylon, both in the past and the present had displayed a tendency not sufficiently to consult party organizations when important questions arose, the UNP was falling into the same tendency and in its best interest this should be remedied.” The explanation was accepted. SWRD did not dissolve S M Sabha. Two leaders, D. S. Senanayake and Bandaranaike were the custodians of traditional forces; their combined efforts led the UNP to victory at the Parliamentary Elections held under Soulbury Constitution in 1947. However, policy and personality clashes between the top two in the new ruling party aggravated. The first sign of a crack emerged when Bandaranaike made some scathing remarks as mentioned before, and gradually developed into wider cracks causing a major divide in July 1951.
The EC of SM Sabha, one of the three arms met in early June under SWRD where they decided to present some proposals in the form of resolutions to the UNP. The seven point resolution was rejected in-toto by the UNP’s EC, saying, ‘they were not in order.’ The Sabha met again re-structured the resolutions and fired it back to the UNP; it decided not to reconsider. DSS was firm on its decision as it was not necessary to reconsider; “Past, it was a mistakenly entertained and not to follow the practice”. A deputation led by J. C. Moonesinghe of SMS met the PM in a final effort to convince him; the two hour discussion failed. The EC of S. M. Sabha met again and decided to make a statement to the press.
Defection of the Century
Bandaranaike anticipated to succeed DS, and set himself forward as the heir apparent.
“What he really he wished was the label of Deputy PM, which position I refused, saying there is no provision for the post in the Constitution”.-DS at the group meeting on July 17, 1951. SWRD’scabinet colleagues, R. G. Senanayake [DSS’s nephew] and Sir Oliver Goonetillake, confirmed the above statement when they divulged to the press their personal conversations with the beleaguered leader.
On 12th July 1951, J R Jayewardene, FM was to present his budget proposals that included several middle class friendly duty and tax reductions. Before that Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, who was presenting the Treaty Series No. 3 (1951) between Ceylon and USA had to give way to thundering applause by the opposition when the Leader of the House and UNP’s second in command, SWRD Bandaranaike entered the chamber through the main door usually used by the Speaker and took his seat in the opposition. A few loyalists that included D. A. Rajapaksa followed him. Making a statement he said,
“I do not intend on this occasion to indulge in any recrimination or personal bitterness—the issues involved are far too important for that…when I assisted originally in the formation of UNP and persuaded SM Sabha to join it and when I myself agreed to serve in the present government, I did so in order to ensure that the stability of the government which was needed particularly at the beginning of the new era of freedom. There does not appear to me any important change in the line of thinking and acting…” -Hansard-12/07/1951
The rest is history—leaders defecting, breakaways, splits and forming new entities are common happenings in the political sphere. It happened in the past, possible in the future too.
“The party left me.” Ronald Reagan famously said after defecting in 1962; “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party”