MRS.SIRIMAVO BANDARANAIKE BECAME A SYNONYM FOR SRI LANKA AND A LOVING MOTHER FOR RURAL MASSES.
Asia had seen only a few genuine leaders who were truthful and dedicated to their country and the people. The late Mrs. Sirimavo R.D.Bandaranaike, reverently called by all Sri Lankans as “Methini” is one such personality for whom Sri Lanka and its people were more precious than her own self. Although she succumbed to her illness four years ago on 10th October, she still lives in the minds of Sri Lankans, especially among the poor and the rural masses, and a framed photograph of this great matriarch adorning the thatched and clay- built walls of poor houses in the rural areas of Sri Lanka is a common sight.
The assassination of Prime Minister Mr. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike by the reactionary elements forced her to enter politics. They hoped that through the assassination of Mr. Bandaranaike they could reverse the progressive measures he introduced for political and economical liberation of the rural Sri Lankan population and they can once again steer Sri Lanka in the pro-western conservative path. The reactionary elite Sri Lankan groups felt overjoyed when Mrs. Bandaranaike was entrusted with the reign of her late husband’s Party but her remarkable achievements within a short span of time proved the fallacy of their myopic conjectures.
Upon assuming the party leadership she got wedded to the masses and extensively traveled to the rural areas and spent all her time and energy to carry forward the revolution launched by the rural masses under her husband’s leadership.
The General Election held in March 1960, after she assumed the party leadership, gave the insight for her to mould her political strategy to defeat the reactionary forces in Sri Lanka and consolidate the strength of the masses and her Party. She understood and rightly conceived that the reactionary forces, which constitutes a minority percentage of Sri Lankans, continue to suppress the rights and aspirations of the masses astutely exploiting their parochial and ideological differences and if the progressive forces could be united in a meaningful manner the other main political Party of Sri Lanka, the UNP which represents the interests of the wealthy and the conservative sectors, could easily be defeated.
Fervently adhering to this concept she was able to convince the veteran politicians of the Left parties the adversity of dividing progressive votes and entered into a no-contest electoral arrangement with their political parties. Assiduously campaigning in all the electorates, she led her Party to a massive victory in the General Election held in July 1960, astonishing the reactionary forces, which never expected her to posses such a fiery talent to become victorious in the election. Following this triumph, on 21 July 1960, she became the world’s first woman Prime Minister and an internationally renowned figure, thus according a great recognition to Sri Lanka.
Her premiership introduced a new political philosophy to the world. The whole world was shocked to find the tiny Indian Ocean island nation becoming a beacon to the world in proving that governance of nations was not a monopoly of the males. It was six years before Mrs. Indira Gandhi, nine years before Mrs. Golda Meir, and 19 years before Mrs. Margaret Thatcher became Prime Ministers of their respective nations.
Upon becoming the Prime Minister of the common masses, she exerted all her efforts to redress the suffering of the poor, regain the lost glory of Sri Lanka, strengthen the rural economy, and restore the traditional and indigenous values and customs, and to liberate Sri Lankans from the slavery to alien pseudo cultures and concepts. She firmly believed in the capabilities and the inborn talent of the Sri Lankans, and was convinced that with right guidance and provision of necessary facilities and motivation Sri Lankans could outsmart anyone and tackle any task under any tiring circumstance.
Economic liberation, eradicating educational disparities, industrial development, national unity and independent foreign policy were the foremost objectives and hallmarks of her governments. The services rendered by this great matriarch to the people of Sri Lanka forbearing many humiliations and even threats to her life, needs several volumes for elaboration but it is vital to cite a few in this short appraisal.
Nationalization of the foreign owned petrol companies, take over of major schools run by missionaries, are daring steps taken by her in the national interest despite threats and sanctions from the western nations. These heroic efforts resulted in a coup d’etat engineered by the reactionary elements in the armed forces and supported by the conservatives. This attempt was foiled at the last minute by a patriotic Police officer.
She was instrumental in introducing many State-sector industries, which included the Steel, Tyre, Leather, Plywood, Fertilizer and Sugar Corporations and Textile Mills. Notwithstanding western threats and sanctions, she was successful in getting assistance from Socialist and Arab nations to establish many industries and move ahead with her strategy to liberate Sri Lanka from the economic and political bondages.
In the past University education was a luxury of the elite and a child of a farmer, a labourer or a clerical hand couldn’t even dream of getting admission to these citadels. She communized this field by establishing additional universities, introducing additional faculties, and liberalizing the admission procedures thus helping and encouraging the rural youth to gain admission to these institutes. If it were not for her magnanimous move of streamlining university education, many of today’s Sri Lankan professionals and academics would have ended up in doing menial jobs.
The multifaceted intrigues carried out by the conservative elements to topple her government was led by the media barons who had a complete control over the print media which warranted imposing regulatory measures to guarantee dissemination of factual information. The nationalization of the major publishing house in this regard resulted in the media barons alluring several Parliamentarians of her governing Party to cross over to the opposition and topple her government prematurely.
After functioning as a formidable opposition leader for a period of five years, she was once again brought into power by a massive election victory steered by the rural masses. Action taken by her to forgive and rehabilitate thousands of youth revolted against her government despite leaders of the main opposition party urging her to punish them harshly is praiseworthy. Many of those absolved and rehabilitated youth currently serve as politicians, journalists, academicians, and other magnates.
During her second term of office she paid increased attention to revolutionize food production and expand industrialization. Diversion of Sri Lanka’s longest river Mahaweli to the North with the Yugoslavian assistance was initiated during this period. She found the wisdom of establishing free-trade industrial zones and initiated measures to launch such Zones in Trincomalee and Katunayake. Cultivation of subsidiary food crops such as chilly, onion, potatoes and vegetables received a massive boost during this period, and was highly successful in culminating export of these products.
Her successes in the arena of international relations were unparalleled and this led Sri Lanka to be known as the “Bandaranaike country” the world over. She had an iron will and was undaunted about the western antagonism when she ceased diplomatic relations with Isreael.
She succeeded in persuading Indian and Chinese leaders to halt the Indo-China border war that threatened devastation for the whole Asian sub-continent. Despite her cordial and personal relationship with the Nehru family, she helped Pakistan to evacuate and transport its nationals from East Pakistan via Colombo during the Bangladeshi war. She was successful in amicably solving long standing problems between India and Sri Lanka relating to ‘Stateless Persons’, and the disputed island of “Kachchitivu”.
She was one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement, and in recognition of her devotion and contribution to the ideals of the Non- Alignment, Sri Lanka was selected as the venue for the 5th Non-Aligned Summit held in 1976. Sri Lanka reaped immense benefits from this Summit and one such recompense was the avenue of foreign employment opened up for Sri Lankans, particularly in the Middle East. Today this source has become the major foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka, which solely depended on tea exports for its hard currency needs. The Summit also helped to expose the hitherto untapped tourist potentials of Sri Lanka.
She was the biggest obstacle for the conservative reactionary elite class and they employed all means to debase her character and ruin her politically. Measures taken to nationalize Estates and distribute these lands among the landless rural masses, impose ceilings on the ownership of houses and property and many such progressive steps rigorously provoked the capitalist minority which led to pooling of all their efforts and means to destroy her politically.
The reactionary forces, upon defeating her party in the 1977 general election, disenfranchised her through undemocratic draconian means notwithstanding condemnation and demands made by many countries, against the move. These measures only prevented her entering Parliament but they couldn’t dilute her firm and unyielding resolve to serve the nation and the people. The government of the capitalist class denying elections and adopting various undemocratic measures continued to hold onto power, preventing her return to office. Lack of power did not prevent her from taking the lead even in street struggles to protect the unity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.
If she was in power in the early eighties, division and destruction of the Sri Lankans on ethnic basis under blatant State sponsorship would have never occurred. Undoubtedly she would have pruned the growth of separatist forces with the support of the neighbouring countries, which the government in power mishandled and antagonized to our adversity.
Today Sri Lanka without the great matriarch Mrs. Bandaranaike has unfortunately
become the chessboard for all and sundry. The country has been mortgaged
for several generations. Ethics and values have been irreversibly eroded.
Her demise has created a huge vacuum which is felt everywhere particularly
by the majority rural masses, in whose hearts she continues to live
and inspire them. In her death Sri Lanka lost the greatest commanding
power capable of mustering the population and the international community
against threats to its existence as a unitary sovereign State.
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