January 8-120th, 10th & 4th Anniversaries Hectic Task: Can ‘Maithri-Dayasiri Rescue SLFP?


January 8, 2019, marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of SWRD Bandaranaike; the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge and the fourth anniversary of the election of Maithripala Sirisena to the office of Executive President of Sri Lanka. Sirisena’s birth also coincides with the inauguration of Bandaranaike’s new party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1951.  

Bandaranaike Born on January 8, 1899  

Maha Mudaliyar of Governor’s Gate, Sir Solomon Dias Abeywickrema Jayatilleke Senewiratna Rajakumaruna Kadukeralu Bandaranaike, aide-de-camp for Governor Chalmers, was a fifth-generation descendant of Neela-Perumal, a high ranking officer and a member of Indian Chetty community, who migrated in the 16th century and served under the Kings of Kandy. 

Sir Solomon had a son who was born on January 8, 1899. The boy born to this anglophile Christian aristocratic family was given the name, ‘West Ridgway’ after the then Governor of Ceylon and his Godfather, Sir Joseph West Ridgeway.  

He was affectionately called ‘Solla’, by family elders and ‘Banda’ or SWRD by political colleagues and the press. Young West Ridgeway was given a special privilege of staying at Warden’s bungalow at S. Thomas.’  

Early in the 1920s, a young Asian walked across the quadrangle of Christ Church College Oxford. A young Englishman spotted him and remarked: “There goes the future PM of Ceylon”. The prophecy was fulfilled; the young Asian was SWRD. Just for the record, the Englishman also became PM. He was Sir Anthony Eden, who shared the room with Bandaranaike. SWRD joined Christ Church College, Oxford in 1919. A year later, he was studying Classics for his Bachelor’s degree.  
Switching to Law from Classics he became an active member of the Student’s Union making eloquent speeches on Government’s policies, democracy, and the Parliamentary system. Bandaranaike, in his fourth year, became Secretary of the Oxford Union.  SWRD’s political life and times have received immense publicity. Volumes authored about him by political analysts are available in print. So much is spoken of his strategies and governing policies, but little is said about his formative days. Before discussing his vision for Federalism in detail let’s take a quick glance at his ancestry and childhood.  

The President, leader of SLFP has appointed Dayasiri Jayasekera as the new General Secretary of the party in a bid to revive and resurrect it. Both Maithripala Sirisena and Dayasiri Jayasekera are double somersaulters, where political affiliations are concerned.  

SLFP, born on September 2, 1951  

The resignation of Dudley Senanayake as Prime Minister a year later due to ill-health paved the way for Sir John Kotelawala to take over the Premiership in 1953 who dissolved the Parliament prematurely in March 1956. SWRD forged a grand alliance with a few other nationalists and left-wing parties to prepare to face the UNP. He named it Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (headed by SLFP). With the specific purpose of defeating the ‘common enemy’, the MEP invited the LSSP and CP, the two leading Marxist parties to enter into a no-contest pact at the 1956 Parliamentary elections. Bandaranaike’s famous election slogan of, “Official language: Sinhala only in 24 hours” created an emotional wave within the majority community. SWRD Became a hero among Sinhalese middle class, who resented alleged Tamil domination of the civil service Professions and commercial establishment since the British colonial rule. In opposition to the free market course of the UNP, nationalization of major enterprises, the creation of a broad welfare measure, re-distribution of wealth, and a non-aligned foreign policy.  

Many Sinhala-Buddhist groups, joined hands with him under the banner of ‘Pancha Maha Balavegaya’ of ‘Sanga, Veda, Guru, Govi, Kamkaru’.(five great forces comprising Buddhist priests, indigenous physicians, teachers, farmers and workers). Stimulating the political and religious fervour, the 2500th anniversary of Buddha’s Parinibbana [passing away] coincided with the 1956 election, which SWRD won comfortably helped by its ‘one language’ policy, obtaining 56 seats in a House of 95 members. While the ruling party secured only eight seats with many stalwarts losing their constituencies. Since the formation of the new party, they echoed the organization’s stress on pleasing the emotions of the Sinhalese nationalist/chauvinist masses in rural areas. On the perceptive issue of language, though the party originally promoted the use of Sinhala and Tamil as national languages, in the mid-1950s it adopted a ‘Sinhala only’ policy and projected itself as the champion of the Sinhala-Buddhists relying upon the Buddhist monks, to take its message to the villages.  


On the perceptive issue of language, though the party originally promoted the use of Sinhala and Tamil as national languages, in the mid-1950s it adopted a ‘Sinhala only’ policy and projected itself as the champion of the Sinhala-Buddhists relying upon the Buddhist monks, to take its message to the villages.  

Rise and Fall of SLFP?  

The friction between DS and SWRD was an artificial one created by the Old warrior’s political talents; he was grooming his son Dudley to take over the reins after him. Bandaranaike, the Leader of the House and UNP’s second in command, wanted the creation of a position as Deputy PM, a position that automatically leads to an heir apparent, that DS would not grant. It did not take long for the Barrister Oxonion to realize the tragedy awaiting him. Mid-1951 he made up his mind to bid goodbye to the Party which he contributed to in a big way. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) born on September 2, 1951, was the result. Today it is in dire straits. Since January 8, 2015, the Party is led by President Sirisena who is only a day younger than the party itself, being born on September 3, 1951. The SLFP, which ruled the nation for over 35 years is at a critical crossroads. They have lost their way and anticipate an association with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, [Pohottuwa] where, obviously they will be at the mercy of Rajapaksa antics. Some of the present leaders think the calamity that they go through are similar to the traumas of Sirimavo/Anura/Kumaratunga conflicts in the 1980s, but all those factional splits, like in Premadasa/Lalith/Gamini created cracks of the UNP, the off-shoots were thinned out within months, and finally the main party emerged as the undisputed winner. However, the dent caused by the SLPP is unique; they have grabbed the culture and traditions of the main party along with a 70-80% of the rank and file-grass root support base that back Rajapaksas. They have virtually destroyed the mother party. The ten or 12% vote base at LG elections 11 months ago has continued to deteriorate, and in alliance with a power block like SLPP, as it happened with LSSP/CP/JHU [and to a certain extent the JVP] they will be soon relegated to a ‘name board’. There is little the duo, Sirisena/Dayasiri can do; the best option for the rest of the SLFPers is to look for greener pastures within the Green party.  

Lasantha Wickrematunge Assassinated on Jan 8, 2009  

‘I hope my murder will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration’-- Lasantha Wickrematunge; … Published three days after he was brutally assassinated by unknown gunmen, Lasantha editor, co-founder of Sunday Leader wrote …  

“I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be the Sunday Leader’s 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges.”  

Wickrematunge was a strong critic of the Rajapaksa government and had been locked in a legal battle with, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, defence secretary and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, who was leading the war against the Northern LTTE Army.  

Wickrematunge’s assassination caused a national rage being the country’s most influential media personnel and one of the biggest political figures. It raised questions about freedom of expression in the country. Wickrematunge’s murder was widely condemned across the world. The Editors Guild was of the view that the government of the day was responsible for the killing as it has been unsuccessful in stopping attacks against media personnel. The government expressed shock at the killing. The Sunday leader became well known as one of the best independent newspapers. He once stated that once the paper was started, he had planned to return to law, but found himself reluctant to give up journalism. He was also a reporter for Time magazine and a political commentator and hosted quite a few TV programmes including Good Morning Sri Lanka.  

CID investigating the murder informed the Mt Lavinia Magistrate that they have sufficient evidence that the murderers were from the Army Intelligence. Sub Inspector Sugathapala who visited the scene of crime found a notebook and he made notes in the IB and placed the Note Book as evidence in the Police Records. SP Adhikari of Mt Lavinia Division informed DIG Nanayakkara who in turn notified the IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne of this evidence. DIG Nanayakkara summoned Sugathapala and SP Adhikari who ordered a cover-up by altering the notes and confiscating the vital evidence. Adhikari and Sugathapala were remanded for meddling with evidence.  

The writer can be contacted at -- [email protected]  

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