The Sri Lanka Freedom Party commemorated its founders at its 64th anniversary on September 2 under its new leader Maithripala Sirisena, who was born on September 3, 1951 just a day after the party was inaugurated. The founder of the party, SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated in September 1959. The UNP is to follow with 69th anniversary under Ranil Wickremesinghe, the island’s largest political party that was inaugurated in September 1946. The new government tagged ‘National’ commenced its rule; come September!
Birth of UNP and its off-shoot SLFP
SWRD Bandaranaike, coming from an aristocratic background, was a highly anglophile low- country Sinhalese educated at St. Thomas’ College and later at Oxford University. Young SWRD professed federalism for Ceylon in 1920s; changed his faith and ideas subsequently. He possessed, to some extent, socialist leaning and became extremely sensitive to Sinhala-Buddhist aspirations. A niece of SWRD Bandaranaike and academic Yasmine Gooneratne, nee Bandaranaike, in her book, ‘Relative Merits’: ‘A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka’;[C.Hurst & Co, London, 1986]; traces the ancestry of Dias Bandaranaikes and describes how an Indian officer ‘of high standing’ a descendant of an Indian who migrated in the 16th century, serving under the Kings of Kandy and bearing the name Neela-Perumal, was made high priest of the Temple of the God Saman, and commanded to take the name of ‘Nayaka Pandaram’ in 1454, meaning chief record-keeper. For convenience in usage, it became ‘Pandara Nayake’, with times, the P was substituted with locally palatable B; thus ‘Bandara Nayake’, later evolved as Bandaranayake. “The Pandarams of India are brahmins. And keepers of Court and family records”, she elaborates.
Bandaranaike who campaigned for revitalization of Sinhala /Buddhist culture imposed sweeping changes in the old colonial systems.
Laying a strong foundation for a democratic nation and a crucial lead up to Independence the British rulers granted universal suffrage to the island nation in 1931, a full 20 years before India in spite of the fact that Ceylon, as it was known then, cannot boast of a dynamic freedom struggle that can match its giant neighbor. The first general election was held the same year, only two years after the Briton herself held its first general election under universal suffrage. British had a series of negotiations with DS Senanayake, the Leader of the State Council, (subsequent to several delegations meeting Colonial Secretary in London), the outcome of which, was the Ceylon Independence Act of 1947. Senanayake was the founder leader of the United National Party (UNP), an alliance of the Ceylon National Congress (CNC) , the Sinhala Maha Sabha and the Muslim League. On February 4, 1948, Ceylon gained Dominion status. The CNC was a strong political alliance and was similar in many respects to the Indian National Congress. The economically-healthy democratic State fared well in the first few years of independence.
Ceylon National Congress and Sinhala Maha Sabha
Prominent nationalists like Don Stephan Senanayake and Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike serving as custodians of traditional forces, led the UNP to victory in the country’s first general parliamentary elections in 1947. DS Senanayake, the leader of the UNP was sworn in as the first prime minister, who also became the first PM of independent Ceylon on February 4, 1948. Conflict of ideas and personality clashes began to appear quite unexpectedly among the hierarchy in the new ruling party: These differences among leadership gradually worsened towards the end of the decade. The first sign of cracks appeared a couple of years later, that steadily widened causing a major split in July 1951 when SWRD Bandaranaike, who was next-in-command in the party and also held the position of Leader of the House, crossed the floor with a few other seniors to the opposition ranks, leading to the birth of a second powerful left-of-center, moderate the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a significant power with an island-wide support base. He contested the 1952 elections, which was held immediately after the death of D S Senanayake, but winning only nine seats on first-pass-the–post basis and became the leader of Opposition in the second Parliament in the post-independent Ceylon, while the UNP led by DS’s son Dudley Shelton Senanayake retained power.
Emergence of new alliance
Bandaranaike with his, ‘Make Sinhala only the official language in 24 hours’ slogan in 1956 created an emotional wave in the majority community. Many Sinhala-Buddhist groups, both the chauvinist and moderate types 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 fervor, the Buddha Jayanthi or the 2500th anniversary of Buddha’s Parinibbana [passing away] coincided with the 1956 election, which SWRD’s MEP 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 and many stalwarts losing their constituencies. The leftist opposition failed to make much of an impact in rural areas. The UNP was unsympathetic towards Buddhist aspirations with regard to culture, language and religion, leaving an opportunity for the SLFP and its leader to become champions of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism.
The uncle-nephew party
The long standing unity and enmity between the three families, which formed the upper crust of the UNP hierarchy for over five decades could be attributed to Mudliyar DCG Attygalle’s enormous inheritance. His three daughters, each owning an average of over 2,500 acres of cultivated land, rubber and coconut (Ref, Kumari Jayawardena-2007 pp 288) and a share of graphite mines were given in marriage to FR Senanayake (Dudley’ paternal uncle), John Kotelawala Snr. (Sir John’s father), and Col T G Jayewardene (JR’s uncle). Condensing a long saga into short summary for space constraints, it all started with the murder of Francis Artygalle, the only brother of Alice, Ellen and Lena, the three Artygalle sisters and heir apparent to the fortune. The Senanayake’s efforts to bring suspects to book resulted in John Kotelawala’s (snr) being arrested and prosecuted for alleged murder of brother-in-law. The ex-policeman John Kotelawala committed suicide in jail.
Senanayake – Bandaranaike feud
The ‘hostility’ between DS and SWRD was due to former’s grooming of his son young Dudley to take over the reins after him. Bandaranaike, the Leader of the House and UNP’s number two, wanted to be the Deputy PM that DS would not agree. It did not take long for Oxford-studied man to realize the misfortune awaiting him. In mid-1951, he made up his mind to bid good bye and form a new political party. DS wanted to dissolve the CNC mainly for the purpose of retaining the Tamil and Muslim support. SWRD’s Sinhala Maha Sabha and TB Jaya’s Muslim League agreed to join DS under the banner of the UNP on September 6, 1946. However, SWRD kept his Maha Sabha identity intact in readiness for any future modifications.
Apart from the natural desire that every politician suffers in making his/her offsprings to take over reigns, the Senanayakes had other reasons to ramshackle Siyane-Korale’s feudalists. Bandaranaike-Obeysekaras was a group of aristocratic ‘Somebodies’ of the British rulers, who functioned as intermediates who were rewarded with titles and state property; they became Mudaliyars owning fertile land and served for the British Empire forming the 19-century colonial bourgeoisie. SWRD got his name, West Ridgeway from the Governor in 1899.
Senanayakes of Bothale
Don Spater Senanayake belonged to Ceylonese bourgeoisie of ‘low origin nobodies’. They engaged in renting [rainda ralas] who also invested profits in lands and graphite. Ironically, they spend lavishly for anti-arrack movement at the turn of the century. FR, DC and DS were Don Spater’s sons who were dedicated members of Temperance Movement initiated by the father along with many Sinnhala-Buddhist leaders, and at the very young age of 20 earning the wrath of British masters. The three brothers and SWRD studied at S Thomas’s College.
SWRD enjoyed the privilege of staying at Warden’s bungalow, while Senanayakes shared the hostel. During 1915 communal riots, Chalmers, the ruthless Governor ordered the 30-year-old DS his two brothers and a host of temperance leaders to be unjustly arrested on trumped-up charges of involvement in riots.
Father of SWRD, Maha Mudaliyar Sir Soloman Dias, was a close aide to Chalmers who ‘wined and dined’ the Whites at Horagolla during the riots. SWRD’s maternal uncle SC Obeysekara was a member of Legislative Council in 1915 spoke on Riots, referred to Senanayakes as, “…the poor farmers and villages have been deluded into this trap for personal aggrandizement of a few who are ‘nobodies’, but hope to make ‘somebodies’ of themselves by such disgraceful tactics” -Hansard–August 11;1915
DS solicited the support of SWRD in forming UNP, but had his reservations; the natural distaste and aversion he carried on back of his mind resulted in the alliance lasting only five years. ‘Come September’, the romantic comedy made the cinema goers laugh. Let us hope the ‘romance’ commenced here in September be a long lasting one though the MOU itself contains a few comedian lines.