Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Cartoons on J.R. Jayawardene

A Birth Centenary Chuckle

by Sachi Sri Kantha

"[T]he concentration of power is inversely proportional to the accumulation of wisdom."

Cartoon on JR Jayawardene Tamils Hindustan Times April 7, 1984

Sri Lanka’s first executive President, Junius Richard Jayewardene (1906-1996), had a swell public and political ride for 45 years, from 1943 to 1988. He was blessed with gifts which any other run-of-the mill politician could only dream of. What were these gifts? (1) the gift for guile, patience and resilience, (2) the gift for scheming and hypocrisy, (3) the gift for delusions of grandeur, (4) the gift for attracting sycophants of various hues and talents – such as historian Silva and cartoonist Wijesoma, (5) the gift for elegant bluff, and, (5) the gift of long life and lucky breaks.

A Nixonian politician

This year being the centenary year of his birth, some individuals who had served as J.R.’s sycophants and minders are still delighting themselves in praising his virtues in the media. Being a Tamil, I have never been enamored by his devious talents. Even when he was living, in one of my published letters in the Lanka Guardian magazine (Sept.1, 1990), I sketched him as a Nixonian politician of the island. Mervyn de Silva, the editor of the magazine, tagged my letter with a playful caption ‘The Other Dicky.’ I reproduce this letter below for reference:

“When I read ex-President Junius Richard Jayewardene’s pretentious pontification on power that, “it was wisest to retain (power) with the help of the devil, if necessary, rather than to lose and then seek to regain it” (Lanka Guardian, July 1), I could only think of another scheming politician, who shared the same name Richard, and the same sentiments about power – the one and only Richard Nixon. Both did their best to cling onto power by many devious means, though expressing vocal support for democracy.

            In fact, Jayewardene’s political career shows much resemblance to that of Nixon. Both made their entry into the political arena in the 1940s as exponents of right-wing ideology and in early 1950s reached their first peak of their respective careers – Nixon as the Vice President and JRJ as the finance minister of the first UNP government. Then in 1956 (JRJ) and in 1960 (Nixon) lost the “power” which they more or less worshipped. Even in 1956, Eisenhower seriously thought of dropping Nixon from the Republican Party ticket, though ultimately he kept him. In 1965, JRJ regained the power, albeit as second in command. Nixon reached his political pinnacle in 1968, won a landslide victory in 1972 and resigned in disgrace in 1974. Meanwhile, JRJ consolidated his power after Dudley Senanayake’s death in 1973, reached the top in 1977, won a re-election in 1982 and made his exit much humbler in 1988.

            While the first terms of Nixon and JRJ (Nixon, 1968-72; JRJ, 1977-82) were quite constructive, their second terms after re-election (Nixon, 1973-74; JRJ, 1983-88) turned out to be disastrous to their respective countries.

            Whatever expertise both claimed on military strategy, they lacked active combat experience. They were both ‘arm chair Commander-in-Chiefs’. Nixon’s nemesis was Vietnam, and a commander named Giap. Though he outsmarted many Tamil politicians (Suntheralingam, Ponnambalam, Chelvanayakam, Amirthalingam) on the parliamentary battle ground by his “isolate, weaken and destroy” tactics, Jayewardene met his match in the shape of a tough, wily guerrilla (or in his terminology, ‘terrorist’) Prabhakaran.

            Finally, for all his extensive reading on the tactics of power and wisdom, I guess J.R.Jayewardene has not read what Einstein wrote: “The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while”. If expressed in Einstein’s scientific format, it reads as, the concentration of power is inversely proportional to the accumulation of wisdom.”

Cartoon on JR Jayawardene & Indira Gandhi Sept 11, 1981 India Abroad

Purveyor of Political Smut

Jayewardene passed into history on November 1, 1996. The keepers of his memory run a centre, established under his name. Silva, Sri Lanka’s contemporary doyen of historians, even penned a two volume hagiography on the contributions of Jayewardene, before the Old Fox was called to meet his Maker. But, a newsitem which appeared in the Colombo Sunday Times, nearly two years following J.R.’s death tickled me since I thought that this particular newsitem, complete with Nixonian-grade identity theft and involving FBI evidence as well, was an apt epitaph for the stinking political legacy of Jayewardene. Those who missed this funny newsitem should read it in full. It was entitled, “CID detectives probe records at Jayewardene Centre.” To quote,

“CID detectives rummaged through records and checking computers at the J.R.Jayewardene Centre at Dharmapala Mawatha in Colombo yesterday after reports that access to Internet porn sites using Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s credit card had been made from there.

CID sources said the trail led to the Jayewardene Centre after ‘technical evidence’ obtained from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Interpol. CID officials went through records and checked the computers at the Jayewardene Centre for at least six hours yesterday. They said that several employees at the Centre would be questioned in connection with the racket.

US and Interpol investigators had revealed that the credit card of the Minister had been misused on May 12 to access five pornographic sites, the CID sources said. The computer section in the Jayewardene Centre is headed by Pradeep Jayewardene – a grandson of the late President. However he was reported to be out of the country.” (Oct.18, 1998).

After reading this newsitem, I thought of how mysteriously Destiny delivers a symmetrical counterpunch on the mausoleum of a ranking politician from whose mouth political smut audaciously flowed. In slinging mud at his opponents, Jayewardene was nonpareil. Tamil leaders (Chelvanayakam, MGR, Amirthalingam, Pirabhakaran) and even his tough political opponents (Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi) had been at the receiving end of Jayewardene’s political smut.

A Cartoon Anthology on Jayewardene

Cartoon on JR Jayawardene Oct 30 1982 The EconomistRecently, through the courtesy of a colleague of mine, I requested and received a copy of a cartoon anthology book, ‘J.R .in Cartoons’, edited by the J.R.Jayewardene Cultural Centre (2002, 232pp). This anthology, compiled by Prematilaka Mapitigama and Piyasiri Nagahawatta, brings within its covers 416 cartoons which featured Jayewardene between 1947 and 1998. Cartoons of nine Sri Lankan cartoonists (Aubrey Collette, Reggie Candappa, G.S.Fernando, S.C.Opatha, W.R.Wijesoma, Mark Gerreyn, Amita Abayasekara, Jiffry Yoonoos and Winnie Hettigoda), who desired to comment on Jayewardene’s politics, feature in this anthology. Though I refrain from providing a review of this anthology book, I wish to note the following:

  • Nearly 80 percent of the cartoons “carefully selected” for this anthology show Jayewardene in positive context. The famous 1956  ‘Mara Yuddha’ [The Struggle with Satan] cartoon of Eksath Bhikku Peramuna, lampooning the capitalist-leaning Sir John Kotelawala-led UNP, in which JR was depicted as hanging by an elephant's tail, has been excluded.
  • Only the cartoons of Aubrey Collette (from 1947 to 1956) and G.S.Fernando (from 1950 to 1958) are hilariously critical and pack pungent bites on Jayewardene’s deals and deeds.
  • As per the yardstick of R.K.Laxman, India’s ace political cartoonist, the cartoons of much-hyped Wijesoma (from 1971 to 1988) are repetitive, tedious and predictable.
  • Not a single cartoon on J.R. by any non-Sri Lankan cartoonist has been included in this 2002 book.

For proper perspective, I provide some notable cartoons on J.R.’s deeds in the 1980s as Cartoon on JR Jayawardene 1983 Tamilsdrawn by Indian cartoonists (R.K.Laxman, O.V.Vijayan, Sudhir Dhar, Ajit Ninan) and the cartoonists of the Economist and Far Eastern Economic Review magazines. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Sinhala-Tamil rift caused by the 1956 general election, I also provide the famous 1956 cartoon of ‘The Struggle with Satan’, produced by the Eksath Bhikku Peramuna. The beauty of these cartoons lies in the fact that they vividly depict Jayewardene’s aberrant darker side, which dominated his politics to the detriment of ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka.

Cartoon on JR Jayawardene elephant tail 1956 The Struggle with Satan


Cartoon on JR Jayawardene Tamils April 1, 1984


Cartoon on JR Jayawardene  Tamils April 12, 1984


Cartoon on JR Jayawardene Rajiv Gandhi Thimpu Talks August 1985

India Today, August 31, 1985










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