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Anura Bandaranaike

A candid contra view

by Sachi Sri Kantha, March 25, 2008

Having entered the parliament in 1977 piggy-backing on the Indian Tamil vote from Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya, did Anura contribute anything to the welfare of Indian Tamil plantation constituency for the next 12 years? His record on this issue is dismal. As typical of his two prime minister parents, Anura was never shy in playing the Sinhala ‘race card’ when opportunity suited him, especially during the period (post-August 1983 -1988) when he served as the Leader of the Opposition...

Instead, she and her son are going about the country inciting the Sinhalese people to violence. At one meeting, Anura Bandaranaike threatened that what happened in July 1983 (the island-wide anti-Tamil pogrom) would look like a tea party when compared to what was in store if the government’s proposals were implemented. Again at another meeting he announced that his mother had made arrangements for Chinese troops to be called in to suppress the Tamil militants after Mrs. Bandaranaike became President. (Tamil Times)

If nothing else, one should acknowledge the fact that the Colombo editorialists and political columnists covering the Colombo scene have an unabashed penchant for presenting a turkey as a peacock. And they would want you to believe it, even if the facts contradict their hyperbole. This is my inference after I read the eulogy editorials appearing in the Colombo Daily News [‘Anura Bandaranaike’, March 18], Colombo Daily Mirror [‘Rising Sun that got Eclipsed’, March 18] and the Island [‘Into Eternity steps a Gentleman’, March 18] and the musings of political columnists C.A.Chandraprema [‘AB: The Star Crossed Democrat’, Island, March 18] and Sonali Samarasinghe [‘A Man Beyond the Ordinary’, Sunday Leader, March 23].

Mervyn de Silva’s assessment

Compared to the current crop of eulogists, I sense that Mervyn de Silva had assessed the Anura Bandaranaike (hereafter shortened to Anura, as he was known to Sri Lankans) personality more realistically. Here is what he wrote when Anura crossed to the UNP (the party in which his father Solomon Bandaranaike was No.2 in the totem pole, from 1947 to 1951) from the SLFP (the party founded by his father, after he deserted from UNP) in late 1993.

Lanka Guardian November 1 1993

Mervyn de Silva wrote,

“To his admirers he [Anura] is the last bright hope for the preservation of democracy, liberal values and ordinary decencies. To his critics, he is THE SPOILT BRAT in capital letters. Even to some Sri Lankans who know him quite well, Anura remains an enigma. Is he truly the last Liberal Democrat? Or is he the incorrigible feudalist, the punchi haamu, the only son of two prime ministers, who has inherited the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and is convinced that he must be crowned Leader, that being the natural order?

There is some merit in all these questions since he is a far more complex personality than his ‘spoilt brat’ image projects. And there is little doubt that the assassination of his father at No.65, Rosmead Place, on Sept. 26, 1959 [sic; Note by Sachi: The then prime minister was assassinated on September 25, 1959, and he died on September 26.], left the deepest impression on his only son, the youngest child.” [‘The Anura factor in the new equation’, Lanka Guardian, Nov.1, 1993, p.1]

An Academic Dimwit and a budding Hypocrite

Anura’s eulogists would want you to believe that this side of the Suez Canal, Anura was a reincarnation of both Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill combined! But the facts disprove this.

As per official record, Anura was born on February 15, 1949 in Colombo, and at the time of his birth, his father [the ambitious prime minister wannabe] was 50 years old – quite a late age for paternity for that era. Anura was educated at Royal College, Colombo from 1956 to 1966. What he did for the next 3 years is not clear. He then proceeded to England and was at the University of London from 1970 to 1973 [by this time, his mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike had become the prime minister for the second time], and was successful in the B.A. (London) examination.

An average teenage contemporary of Anura in Ceylon of the late 1960s and early 1970s would have entered one of the two universities (either the University of Colombo or the University of Peradeniya) in fierce, open competition. I was four years younger than Anura, and I followed that step. But not Anura. He was not sufficiently academically bright to earn a spot in any one of the disciplines offered in the two universities of that era, in open competition. Here is a paragraph from the reminiscences of Yasmine Gooneratne, one of Anura’s kin.

“Uncle Solomon’s [i.e., the father of Anura] intention to educate his own children abroad was, in fact, carried out after his death in 1959 by his widow Sirimavo. The decicions she made to send their elder daughter Sunethra to Oxford, the younger Chandrika to the Sorbonne, and their son Anura to the University of London were in keeping with long-established family tradition and her husband’s wishes. But they were strengthened too by my aunt’s anxiety, following Uncle Solomon’s assassination (which she had witnessed and tried to prevent, flinging herself with characteristic courage between her husband and murderer), for the children’s personal safety within the island. It does seem rather unlucky, therefore, that these very decisions, justifiable on human and on personal grounds, contradicted the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s official policy on national education at that time, which barred Ceylonese students from seeking higher education abroad if the courses they wished to take were already available in the island.” [Book: Relative Merits – A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka, London, 1986, p.159]

This can only pass as good soft spin. But the issue is, if mother Sirimavo was so caring about the personal safety of her children following the assassination of her husband by the Buddhist priest Somarama Thero in 1959, she should have forbade the entry of her progeny into the dirty politics of the island in the 1970s. But this was not to be. She encouraged the entry of Anura (as well as her two daughters) into politics. During his stay in London, according to official records, Anura served as the political organizer of the SLFP of the UK and Europe Branch! Then, after his return to the island, again according to official records, “Mr. Anura Bandaranaike has been chief organizer of the SLFP Youth League since 1973, member of the reorganization committee of the SLFP, member of the Central Committee of the SLFP, Adviser (Honorary) Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs from 1974-1977” [vide, Eighth Parliament of Sri Lanka 1977, by H.B.W. Abeynaike, 1977, Colombo.]

Family nepotism was so prominent, that Time magazine of Dec.15, 1975 carried the infamous ‘family tree’ of the Bandaranaikes, in which Anura was placed right in the center as the ‘next generation Bandaranaike’ after the Prime Minister Sirimavo B, in its feature commentary titled, ‘All in the Family’. The unsigned commentary noted that Sirimavo’s “more conservative son Anura, 27, has recently become chief organizer of the [SLFP] party’s powerful Youth League.’ This particular issue of Time magazine was banned in the island on the orders of the then prime minister’s henchmen, since it depicted an un-flattering image of Bandaranaike kin free-loaders [including the then prince-in-waiting!], who thrived on the public coffers. I provide a scan of this infamous ‘family tree’ for the record.

Bandaranaike family tree Time December 15 1975

Carpet-bagging Climb in Nuwara Eliya

Come mid 1977. Anura was ready for a carpet-bagging climb in Nuwara Eliya. The dictionary defines a carpetbagger as ‘a political candidate who seeks election in an area where they have no local connections.’ In the July 1977 general election, Anura became the most prominent carpetbagger. The electorate he chose was a newly created Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya (3 member) constituency in the Central Province. This was telling indeed. The Colombo Central constituency, where Anura was born, bred and went to school, had been a 3 member constituency since 1947. But Anura, the wastrel, never had the spine to stand and win in the constituency that appeared logical selection-wise. But logic has never been the forte of political Bandaranaikes. They always have had a keen eye to exploit the weaker elements among the masses.

A word or two on the 3 member constituency of that era. These multi-member constituencies were established to afford an opportunity for minority ethnic groups to elect a member belonging to their own. Each voter had 3 votes to cast, and, in the ethnically-divisive, personality-oriented island polity, it was a given that more than 95 percent of the voters cast their 3 votes to one candidate with whom they identified themselves or whom they favored, irrespective of party labels. The Colombo Central (3 member) constituency had minority ethnic groups such as Muslim Malays, Burghers and Tamils of Indian origin. The newly created Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya (3 member) constituency afforded the opportunity for the Tamils of Indian origin – for the first time in 1977 - to elect one or two (at best) representatives of their ethnicity. And Anura poked his neck into this Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya constituency on the shrewd calculation of harvesting 3 votes from each voter. In 1977, there were altogether 160 electorates in the island, of which the Tamil North and the East accounted for a combined 24 electorates. Thus, pragmatically, Anura could have opted to stand in any one of the predominantly Sinhala vote-concentrated 133 electorates (apart from the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya constituency in the Central Province). But he was spineless.

When the results of that election were announced, many who thought with reason were stumped. Gamini Dissanayake of the UNP (and the then sitting Member of Parliament for Nuwara Eliya) had come first, with 65,903 votes. Anura Bandaranaike of the SLFP (the carpetbagger from Colombo Central) had come second, with 48,776 votes. S. Thondaman, Sr. the leader of the Indian Tamils for nearly 3 decades (and who was the Member of Parliament for Nuwara Eliya in 1947) had placed a distant 3rd, with 35,743 votes. It was obvious to all Tamils in the island that Anura did not have the charisma of MGR to stand in any Indian Tamil constituency and be elected without a sweat. Neither did he possess the decades-old service record of Thondaman Sr. to beat him handily in the vote count. There certainly was mass scale vote-tampering and electoral malpractices in that constituency, for which Gamini Dissanayake had a reputation. Dissanayake's performance in Nuwara Eliya in the 1977 election was a harbinger for the infamous 1981 District Development Council election in Jaffna.

Though Anura’s eulogists noted passingly that he was first elected to the Sri Lankan parliament from Nuwara Eliya, what was omitted deserves some notice. The devil is in the details, as wags quip. In 1977, Sinhalese constituted only 20% of the electorate; Tamils (Indian Tamils 71% and Ceylon Tamils 7%) amounted to 78%. Muslims made up the balance 2% in the total electorate of 64,407. Total votes polled was tallied as 84.64%. In terms of real numbers, tentatively this amounted to only 10,902 Sinhalese voters; Tamils and Muslims voters totaled 43,609. If the votes received by each of the 3 elected representatives from this constituency was standardized (divided by 3), Gamini Dissanayake would have been supported by 21,967 voters; Anura would have been preferred by 16,258 voters; and Thondaman Sr. would have been the choice of 11,914 voters.

Now, among the 10,902 Sinhalese voters, one could say with some confidence the split between Gamini Dissanayake and Anura would have been in the range of  ~7,000 for Dissanyakae and 3,900 for Anura. This was because, (1) Dissanayake was the sitting Member, and Anura was a neophyte carpetbagger in 1977; (2) the swing of Sinhalese votes in the 1977 was pro-UNP (Dissanayake) rather than pro-SLFP (Anura). Then, how had Dissanayake and Anura picked up the Indian Tamil votes to the extent to push Thondaman Sr. to third place? One should also note the fact that the vote difference Thondaman Sr. had between 1947 and 1977 was eerily of the same order. In 1947, Thondaman had received 9,386 votes to be elected as the Member of Parliament for Nuwara Eliya. In 1977, the same Thondaman could get the nod of only 11,914 voters! (even after three decades of service to his ethnics) This may sound surprising and illogical, but practically true when Gamini Dissanayake and Anura were his political rivals.

Thondaman Sr., ever a pragmatist politician who would never burn his political bridges, and was eyeing for a Cabinet Minister position in the newly elected UNP government under the leadership of J.R. Jayewardene, did not press his case of electoral malpractice and vote tampering against his two younger Sinhalese rivals in 1977. But, in 1994, he did record his sour experience of the 1977 election verdict in Nuwara Eliya, in his autobiography. To quote the two paragraphs of Thondaman, verbatim,

“ I contested the Nuwara Eliya seat. It had been a three-member seat. I entered the fray because a sufficiently large number of Tamils of Indian origin who had become citizens were on the voters list. The voting strength which was 24,024 in 1970 was 64,407 in 1977. The SLFP had increased the voting strength of the Sinhalese by large-scale state-aided colonization schemes in the area. It fielded Anura Bandaranaike as its candidate. On the strength of Tamil voters, I should have been the First Member, but when the votes were counted I was third. The voting was as follows: Gamini Disanayake (UNP) 65,903; Anura Bandaranaike (SLFP) 48,776; and Thondaman had 35,743 votes.

I had been deprived of a large number of votes which should normally have been cast for me through a trick – with the aid of a false letter addressed to the Tamil voters of Nuwara Eliya purporting to be issued by a Gandhian organization in India calling upon Indian voters to give at least one (or more) of their three votes to Gamini Disanayake (hinting that Thondaman had enough votes to win at ease.) This gimmick or trick was only one of the many used against me. It was surprising that this trick should have been used against me by supporters of the UNP. The CWC had cooperated with the UNP from 1965 especially in the difficult years from 1970 to 1977. The CWC had helped the UNP in all elections from 1965. It had also helped to persuade the Ceylon Tamils of the FP, TC and TULF to vote with the UNP in these elections. I had excellent relations not only with UNP leader J.R. Jayawardena but also with nearly all the leading members of the UNP. I was greatly saddened by this trick played on me but I took it in my stride as part of the price one has to pay for playing the ‘democratic’ game.” [Book, Tea and Politcs – An Autobiography, vol.2. My Life and Times, Navrang, New Delhi, 1994, pp. 289-290.]

Anura – the Opportunistic Parliamentarian

Having entered the parliament in 1977 piggy-backing on the Indian Tamil vote from Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya, did Anura contribute anything to the welfare of Indian Tamil plantation constituency for the next 12 years? His record on this issue is dismal. As typical of his two prime minister parents, Anura was never shy in playing the Sinhala ‘race card’ when opportunity suited him, especially during the period (post-August 1983 -1988) when he served as the Leader of the Opposition.

For the record, I reproduce two paragraphs from an editorial that appeared in the Tamil Times in 1986, which compared the political mind-set of Solomon Bandaranaike with that of his wife Sirimavo and his son Anura.

“Despite his political opportunism in raising the ‘Sinhala Only’ cry to come to power, the late Mr. [Solomon] Bandaranaike had always believed in the concept of regional autonomy as the one suited for Sri Lanka. As early as 1926, he had advocated a federal constitution for Sri Lanka. But today, his wife and son, both of whom had personally and politically benefited by his premature demise, are going round the country, ably aided and abetted by the self-same elements within the Buddhist clergy who were responsible for his murder, alleging that the establishment of the proposed provincial councils would destroy Buddhism and the Sinhala race. Neither Mrs. Bandaranaike nor her party has put forward any alternative proposals for resolving the ethnic conflict.

Instead, she and her son are going about the country inciting the Sinhalese people to violence. At one meeting, Anura Bandaranaike threatened that what happened in July 1983 (the island-wide anti-Tamil pogrom) would look like a tea party when compared to what was in store if the government’s proposals were implemented. Again at another meeting he announced that his mother had made arrangements for Chinese troops to be called in to suppress the Tamil militants after Mrs. Bandaranaike became President. Anura said, ‘I don’t like to disclose party secrets. But as the UNP is demanding a solution, I like to reveal this. In the tour Mrs. Bandaranaike had in China, she had discussion with Chinese leaders over the ethnic issue here in Sri Lanka. Unless the Tigers surrender, after Mrs. Bandaranaike went to ‘Queen’s House’ (the Presidential residence), China will cancel the weekend holiday of its army. That’s all.’ Whatever the truth or otherwise of Anura’s boast on his mother’s behalf, ….what they seek and want to achieve is power and domination by any means.” [‘Mrs. Bandaranaike – Power by Any Means’- Editorial, Tamil Times, London, Sept.1986, p.2]

Anura couldn’t forsee then, that it was this kind of sophomoric boasting which cost his mother Sirimavo dearly, when the indigenous Tamils tipped their vote towards her UNP opponent Premadasa in the December 1988 presidential election. The young Premadasa of the 1950s and 1960s was no stranger to anti-Tamil oratory; but the mature Premadasa, the street-smart politician, knew how to turn Anura’s anti-Tamil rhetoric to his advantage by pretending not to antagonize the Tamil vote overtly.

Anura was finally felled by a lethal hit, not from the LTTE, but from the Grim Reaper. But the political opportunist persona never deserted him even in the 2000s, when on more than one occasion (during his malcontent, malingering mood after a depletion of his security detail) Anura would attempt to milk sympathy by sobbing that he was on the LTTE’s ‘hit list’, and he didn’t know ‘what Pirabhakaran would do’ to him. Such a sourpuss he became eventually.

A Benefactor of Political Parasites

If one has to mention an issue which had been omitted by his Colombo eulogists, I’d note that in the first half of the 1970s (when he was dreaming of himself as the crown prince) Anura was a benefactor of political parasites among a few Jaffna Tamils, who pandered to his ego. Alfred Duraiappah, Kumarasami Vinodhan and K.T. Rajasingham were a few who promoted themselves as the ‘political organizers’ of some Jaffna constituencies (like Jaffna, Uduvil and Udupiddy), by hitching their carts to Anura’s star. In relation to this, I can state that Anura had the distinction of being the only budding Sinhalese politician receiving dramatic recognition on the Tamil stage. I remember vividly that either in 1974 or 1975, in a political satire drama staged for the annual kalai vizha (art festival) at the Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatte, the undergrads of the then Kattubedda Campus of the University of Sri Lanka [now the University of Moratuwa], depicted Anura as a thumb-sucking cretin with a crown, prancing around the stage, followed by two or three retainer servants. This thumb-sucking cretin didn’t utter a word, but the Tamil audience could easily recognize his identity and that of his spine-stunted retainers.

Quite a number of drama fans chuckled at this Anura caricature and his panderers, since, during that era, the Emergency Regulations were in force and Tamil undergrads had to be careful in not providing inflammatory(?) entertainment for folks via theater. Sometimes those who were involved in providing such harmless entertainment (the script writer, director, producer) were targeted by the government-appointed mandarin called ‘The Competent Authority’. Thus, having nothing appearing in the drama script per se, but characters prancing in the stage without any dialogue for visual entertainment, was a ruse adopted to overcome the timid Censor police. Boy, were the Tamil undergrads of Kattubedda Campus so mad at the hypocrisy of premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her Tamil panderers who preached the virtue of undergrad education (with all the competitive scramble for placing) within the island to the commoners, but sent her crown prince son to London for undergraduate studies. On this issue, I write with first hand information of this period, since as a Colombo Campus undergrad (and also as the President of the Colombo Campus Tamil Society in 1975), I too acted in two politically tinged (covertly!) musical dramas in 1974 and 1975, that were staged at the same Ramakrishna Hall.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Lines

A. Jeyaratnam Wilson, the academic chronicler of Sri Lankan politics of the second half of the 20th century, recorded his reminiscence of a meeting he had with Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike at the age of 59 (in 1958) as follows:

“Bandaranaike bore a personality which combined decency with intellectual superiority. If one looked at him carefully, as I did scrutinize him when [Shelton] Kodikara and I met him, he was undoubtedly very self confident in his bearing. Somewhat physically weak and worn out, he did not care very much for his personal appearance. He wore an ancient pair of glasses and his ophthalmologist was an Englishman not a Ceylonese. There was little doubt that he loved to talk on serious subjects. A fifty nine year old man at the time, he looked older than his years. Slightly bent because of a spinal problem, he walked with a drag. Extremely intelligent, he knew full well everything on which he discoursed.” [‘SWRD and the ancient regime’, Lanka Guardian, Aug.1, 1993, pp. 9-10].

To be fair by Solomon Bandaranaike, it cannot be said of his son Anura at the age of 59, that he “was extremely intelligent, he knew full well everything on which he discoursed.” I wonder how badly stunted Anura was, by the trauma of losing his father at the age of 10. I concur with Mervyn de Silva that “there is little doubt that the assassination of his father…left the deepest impression on his only son”. It seems that, since 1959, Anura suffered to a degree from lack of paternal guidance and discipline which only a father can offer. In his search for the ‘missing father’, occasionally Anura had looked for the temporary embrace of surrogate political father figures like J.R. Jayewardene and Maithiripala Senanayake, who turned out to be political adversaries of either his own father or mother or both! Then, Anura soothed himself under the embrace of another father figure of confused minds – that of the mythological Bacchus.

In sum, Anura’s personal and political careers seem to fit a few lines of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem ‘Fame’ (1824).

Were it not better done,- To dine and sleep through forty years;
Be loved by few; be feared by none; Laugh life away; have wine for tears

*****

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