“...that morning, I went to Rosmead Place. The Prime Minister was talking to another monk. I occupied a seat at the end of the verandah, and then he came up to me and inquired why I had come ...I shot at the Prime Minister once. That shot struck him. He started running into the house. I followed behind him and fired three more bullets. Someone shot me as well and I lost consciousness. I do not remember what happened next”. -Thalduve Somarama—statement by 1st accused [from the dock.]
The boy born to an anglophile Christian aristocratic family on January 8, 1899, was given the name, ‘West Ridgway’ after the Governor of Ceylon and his God father, Sir Joseph West Ridgeway. He was affectionately called ‘Solla’, by family elders and ‘Banda’ or SWRD by political colleagues and the press.
West Ridgeway joined Christ Church College, Oxford in 1919. A year later, studying Classics for his Bachelor’s degree, he shared with Anthony Eden [who later became Prime Minister of England] a room allotted to them. Switching to Law from Classics he became an active member of the Student’s Union making eloquent speeches on Government’s policies, democracy, and 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 about his vision for Federalism in detail let’s take a quick glance at his ancestry and childhood.
In her work, ‘Relative Merits’- ‘A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka’ C.Hurst & Co, London-1986- Yasmine Gooneratne traces the ancestry of Dias Bandaranaikes and illustrates how an Indian officer ‘of high standing’- who migrated in the 16th century- served the Kings of Kandy. Bearing the name Neela Perumal, he held the post of high priest of the shrine dedicated to God Saman and was authorised to use the name of ‘Nayaka Pandaram’ (chief record-keeper) in 1454. For easy usage, it became ‘Pandara Nayake’. And with times, the P was substituted with more palatable B; thus ‘Bandara Nayake’, later evolved as Bandaranayake. “The Pandarams, Brahmins of India, are the record keepers of Court and family”, adds Gooneratne.
At St. Thomas’ College, he enjoyed the luxury of staying at the Warden’s bungalow instead of the hostel. In politics, SWRD initially was in touch with powerful and influential leaders and gradually with more local level people who helped him to reach the masses or under-privileged villagers. The state conducted its affairs entirely in English. Of the adult population only eight percent were literate in English. He abandoned the legality of British rule and sustained an uncomfortable treaty with colonial administrators. SWRD changed his faith and thinking subsequently. The leading nationalists of the day became suspicious of the young man whose ancestors have ridiculed them. From 1936 he was a member of the Cabinet of D S Senanayake— the chapter ending when DS and his men created an environment that brought SWRD’s exit from Cabinet and UNP in 1951. He possessed socialist leanings, paradoxically became exceptionally perceptive to Sinhala-Buddhist aspirations in subsequent years.
- Switching to Law from Classics he became an active member of the Student’s Union making eloquent speeches on Government’s policies, democracy, and Parliamentary system.
‘…catch-words are the bane of politicians all over the world’- SWRD
Forming a political party named, Progressive Nationalist, young Bandaranaike, returning from Oxford, England in 1925, professed a federal structure for Sri Lanka. He also selected it as the main slogan pioneering efforts in the island, though his obsession for the concept gradually cooled over the years. Publishing a six-piece article in Ceylon Morning Leader, May/June 1926, Bandaranaike not only argued in favour for a Federal structure, he went beyond professing of what he called an External Federation, meaning, Sri Lanka as a unit or a state in a wider regional Federation of States that included India!
SWRD began his practice in 1926. The political arena then was dominated by Ceylon National Congress. Demand for regional devolution of power emerged with minorities in the CNC agitating for a new political structure. The first few paragraphs of his article in Ceylon Morning Leader indicate his vision for the country, he said…,
“At a time when the desire for self-government appears to be growing ever stronger, and successive installments of ‘reforms’ seem to bring that goal almost within sight, two problems of vital importance arise, which require careful and earnest thought. The first is the question of Ceylon’s external status, that is what is her position as a nation in relation to other nations? The second is her internal status, the adoption of a form of Government which would meet the just requirements of the different sections of her inhabitants.
No effort has yet been made seriously to consider these problems, nor indeed in some quarters is it realised that the problem exist at all! There is the usual vague thinking, there are the usual generalizations, to which politicians are only too liable, the catch-words are the bane of politicians all over the world... in Ceylon we find in constant use, such phrases as “co-operation,” “self-government,” Cabinet-government,” without any clear understanding of either what they really involve or whether and to what extent, they are applicable to our own particular difficulties.
The writer believes the true solution of the problem mentioned is contained in the federal system, and these articles are intended as a general introduction to the subject...”
As minister of local administration (1936-47), he campaigned for a system of PCs as Nation’s local Government system. However, SWRD failed to take advantage of the agreement of the State Councilors to this in 1940
- Bandaranaike--Ceylon Morning Leader – 19 May, 1926
His proposals for a federal structure based on structures in South Africa, Australia, Canada and Switzerland were outlined in a speech he delivered in Jaffna on July 17, 1926.
Early politics and Tamil opinion In the 30s and 40s Bandaranaike had turned from federalism to decentralization (PCs). As minister of local administration (1936-47), he campaigned for a system of PCs as Nation’s local Government system. However, SWRD failed to take advantage of the agreement of the State Councilors to this in 1940. In 1940/41 he could have been fired by Governor Caldecott for his injudicious comments on war efforts if not for the intervention of his father, the Maha Mudaliyar, who appealed to the Governor on his behalf. This caused him to change his interest from devolution to succession to the leadership. D B Jayatillake was ageing and Senanayake was the obvious choice. SWRD, who was thinking of consolidating his position was building up his Sinhala Maha Sabha for the purpose. Thus a great prospect was lost; PCs that received unanimous endorsement at State Council never saw the light of the day.
‘An Expedient Utopian’
‘ …Bandaranaike, was no flat, one-dimensional character. This is hardly surprising, since to be a colonial is to be pray to contradictions and counter pressures; to be torn between things local and things cosmopolitan, between Asian and European perceptions, between anti-colonialism and British values and ways, add to that Bandaranaike’s own highly complex personality and the result is a life that was a tangle of incongruities.’
- James Manor; ‘The Expedient Utopian: Bandaranaike and Ceylon’- Cambridge 
A combined power of clergy, Ayurvedic physicians, teachers, peasants and workers organized under SLFP’s ‘Pancha Maha Balavegaya’ steadfastly supported Bandaranaike to power at the 1956 Elections. Some of the leaders of this group were impatient; they have been pressing for quick changes, while others expected special patronage on dealings. Bandaranaike was indebted to accomplish the common man’s desires and the nationalist force’s objectives, and the force applied by them for quick results, are evident in the following account by his official secretary.
“SWRD, correctly surmised that the average bureaucrat mostly carried out faithfully..., therefore, somewhat slower than his followers expected, shifting out of those who they felt were ‘henchmen’ of the former regime. ...I once heard him, “I have only just taken control of the wheel. I can’t, my dear fellow change all the parts at the same time or I won’t be able to move at all. I will replace the brake first,...carburetor next and so on ... you must give me time”. –’Rendering unto Caesar’-Bradman Weerakoon, pp 22/23.
SWRD had to settle personal disputes and policy issues within members of the party. An unprecedented ‘Cabinet strike’ organized by Health Minister, Wimala Wijewardene, (who was 6th suspect in the assassination case) was a tragedy he faced during his relatively short rule of three and a half years. He understood the significance of correcting unfairness and injustice caused to minorities over his ‘Sinhala only’ act. He amended it through an enactment called, ‘Reasonable use of Tamil as a working language’, which resulted in a pact with SJV Chelvanayakam, his school mate and leader of main Tamil party, [Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of ‘58]; but finally he decided to abrogate it following a massive protest planned by his five-fold Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists inside his premises, while the main opposition UNP too, organised an island-wide campaign against it.
The Sangha-Veda, [Buddhist priests and Aryuvedic physicians], the first two categories of Balavegaya that elevated SWRD to the zenith, had him killed when he denied them of extraordinary state favours for their nefarious activities.
One of the main architects of ’56 election campaign and victory was Kelaniya temple’s, Mapitigama Buddharakkitha, who spent lavishly during the run up to polls. He wanted to import rice from Burma through his shipping company, to which two senior Cabinet ministers showed opposition. The PM appreciated the minister’s advice. Then on another occasion tenders were called for the purchase of two ships - the priest endeavored to obtain the tender through back-door, to which PM declined to agree. Disgruntled Buddharakkitha conspired with, H P Jayawardene, an Aryuvedic physician, also a staunched supporter of SLFP. They convinced Somarama, an Aryuvedic lecturer, and an extremist Sinhala chauvinist by impregnating in him the idea that SWRD is a traitor who is preparing to ‘sell the Sinhala nation and race to Federalist Chelvanayakam’: Somarama was convinced.
Fanatical patriots, ultranationalists, extremists and those suffering from tribal-mentality, both the educated and not-so-educated, are vulnerable and could easily be enticed to risk their life, for a ‘cause’ which they believed sacred; and would undertake unreservedly, a task to eliminate an ‘opponent’. Assassinations of Lincoln, Gandhi Ji and Kennedy are testimony to above.