by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The saying “Always the bride’smaid never the bride” applied appropriately to Anura Priyadarshi Solomon Dias Bandaranaike who passed away on Sunday March 16th at the age of fifty – nine.
Anura as he was popularly known, was always the “Crown Prince” waiting to be crowned. But coronation never came and now he has departed uncrowned as the prince who never became King.
Greatness,was of three types, said the Bard of Avon. Some are “born great” and some “achieve greatness” while there are also some who have “greatness thrust upon” them.
Degrees of greatness
Anura Bandaranaike was an embodiment in different degrees of this greatness as defined by Shakespeare.
He was born great as the only son of Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike and Sirima Ratwatte – hailing from aristocratic Low – Country and Kandyan Sinhala families – who were both prime ministers of this country.
[SWRD Bandaranaike with his children]
Birth enabled Anura to have greatness thrust upon himself to some extent.
Being elected as a twenty – eight year old member of Parliament in an unfamiliar electorate on his maiden effort was more due to his family background rather than his merits.
So too was the leader of the opposition post at the age of thirty – four.
He also achieved limited greatness. He was both cabinet minister and speaker. He was also in Parliament continuously from 1977 till his death.
Yet he never realised his full potential as a political leader or attained his ambition to be premier and/or President.
While his sisters were left of centre in their political beliefs Anura was firmly to the right.
In terms of ideology and political outlook Anura was closer to Junius Richard Jayewardena than many of his party colleagues.
Chip off the old block
He was class conscious and was for class solidarity cutting across party lines.Anura engaged in talks with JR about an anti – left alliance in the seventies.
When a by – election to Kalawewa was held in 1974, JR announced that the United National Party would not field a candidate if Anura was the SLFP choice. This did not happen as Anura was not the SLFP candidate then.
Pedigree played a crucial part in Anura being an MP, opposition leader, speaker and cabinet minister etc at different times. Yet in his own right Anura Bandaranaike was an impressive orator in both Sinhala and English. He extensively researched facts before his Parliamentary speeches.
His address on the occasion of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s visit was a splendid effort. It was pehaps the best indication of Anura being a chip of the old block as his father had been dubbed “silver – tongued orator”.
Above all, Anura was a decent human being ! A gentleman-gentle and genteel-in the old fashioned way. In that sense he was a misfit in today’s hurly-burly world of cut-throat politics.
Anura had two characteristics that were rarities or oddities among most politicians. He was not corrupt and he was not vindictive.
But he was snooty and a “snob”. Due to this snobbishness Anura always looked down upon his brother in law Vijaya Kumaratunga .
[Vijaya & Chandrika Kumaratunga]
Anura Bandaranaike was to the Manor (or Walauwe) born and the tragedy of his life was that he was always conscious of it. He thought that being a Bandaranaike entitled him to the highest offices of the land. That was not to be.
Many persons would have been delighted to have gained at least a part of what Anura Bandaranaike had had in terms of political office. But the man had set his sights on something he thought was his birthright.
Being born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth Anura expected everything would be delivered to him on a platter. This never happened and so he was disillusioned and disappointed .
He was the grandson of Maha Mudaliar Bandaranaike and Ratwatte Disawe. The marriage of his father and mother was hailed then as a political union between two prestigious Low Country and Up Country Sinhala families.
The wedding was the beginning of a new political dynasty. With Anura’s demise that dynasty has come to an end.
What a political dynasty that was!
In sixty years of independence there has always been a Bandaranaike in the legislature (Parliament or Senate ) except for 10 months from Sep 1959 to July 1960.Members of the family have been Prime Ministers for 21 years; President for 11 years; leaders of the opposition for 14 years;
Anura was born on Feb 15th 1949. Being the youngest he was the family pet. Unlike his father who studied at St. Thomas’College, Anura went to Royal College and then to University in London where he read for a BA degree.
‘Family-based political succession’
Upon his return to Sri Lanka in 1974 Anura plunged with zest into the family “Vocation” of politics. He was placed in charge of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s youth wing.Anura was then the heir apparent to the crown of party and national leadership.
It was expected that he would have his tryst with destiny in due course. But fate had decreed otherwise.
The phenomenon of “family based political succession” in South Asia began not with the Bandaranaikes but the Senanayakes when Dudley Shelton succeeded his father Don Stephen Senanayake as Prime minister in 1951.
Then came the Bandaranaikes’ turn when the widowed Sirima became Prime minister in July 1960. SWRD was assassinated in 1959.
India’s Jawarhalal Nehru who was prime minister for 17 years died in 1964. His daughter Indira Gandhi became premier in 1966.
The Nehrus and Bandaranaikes were regarded as close both politically and personally.
There is a famous photograph of both families where Nehru, Bandaranaike, Indira and Sirima are seen with their children Rajiv, Sanjay, Sunethra, Chandrika and Anura.There is an interesting story about this.
When the picture was taken only Nehru and Bandaranaike were premiers. But soon Sirima and then Indira also became Prime ministers. Who of the children would become prime minister first? was the question.
The elder Rajiv became a pilot and married Sonia from Italy. He did not evince any interest in a political career. It was the younger Sanjay who got engrossed in politics with his wife Maneka.
But Sanjay died in a plane crash soon after he became an MP in 1980. A reluctant Rajiv was forced to fill in as MP and then after his mother’s assassination in 1984 became Prime Minister.
As for the Bandaranaike siblings both Sunethra and Chandrika were elder to Anura and were in the political limelight to an extent.
Sunethra who played an important role in the Socialist Study circle was co-ordinating secretary to her mother when she was PM. Chandrika after a stint at Sorbonne was director at the Land Reforms Commission.
Yet it was the younger brother Anura who became an MP first in 1977 when he was just 28 years old. Six years later he became Leader of the opposition at 34.
Since his father was leader of the opposition from 1952 till he became Premier in 1956, Anura also was expected to be PM in the same manner. Indeed he may very well have been PM if his mother had won in 1988 and become President.
But that was not to be.
Anura’s sister Chandrika had broken off from the SLFP with her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga and formed a new party the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya(SLMP). After her husband was assassinated by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 1988 Chandrika left for London in a state of self – exile.
Chandrika however returned and re – joined the SLFP. This led to tensions between Anura and Chandrika and also between Mother and son. Accusing his mother of favouring the daughter the son walked out of the party and joined the arch – rival UNP.
When the SLFP now heading the Peoples Alliance came to power in 1994 it was Chandrika who became Prime minister in August. In November she contested the Presidency and won in a landslide. Sirima was made Prime minister.
The Bandaranaikes who made history as the first husband – wife prime ministerial duo had made history again as the first father – mother – daughter premier trio and also as the first daughter President – Mother premier combination. Anura with his record – creating ambition was out in the cold.
When Anura first contested elections in 1977 he did not do so in Gampaha district where the Bandaranaike family had much political clout. Instead he went to the Central province and contested in the three – member constituency of Maskeliya -Nuwara Eliya.
It was only a few months before elections in Sri Lanka that parliamentary polls were held in India. Angered by the excesses of emergency rule the Indian voters delivered a resounding blow to the Congress which had been in power for 30 years since Independence.
Both Indira Gandhi in Rae Bareilly and Sanjay Gandhi in Amethi lost. The UNP notably JR Jayewardena and Ranasinghe Premadasa sought for a parallel in SWri Lanka.
Just as the cow(Indira) and calf (Sanjay)lost in India the Cow (Sirima) and calf (Anura) will lose their seats here also, thundered the UNP. The SLFP suffered a disastrous defeat in 1977 winning only eight to the UNP”s 141 in a Parliament of 168. But both Sirima and Anura won.
The SLFP suffered a temporary split in the opposition when Anura along with people like Maitripala Senanayake and Haleem Ishak rebelled against Mrs. Bandaranaike’s leadership. President Jayewardena tried to widen the intra – SLFP chasm further. The crisis was ultimately resolved.
In 1983 the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) lost their seats as they refused to take oaths disavowing separatism under the sixth amendment to the Constitution. Mrs. Bandaranaike had been deprived of her civic rights in 1980 and was out of Parliament.
So Anura became leader of the opposition. He succeeded Appapillai Amirthalingam. Perinbanayagam was the opposition leader’s secretary. When Perinbanayagam appealed to Anura that he be retained as secretary to Bandaranaike also the SLFP leader consented despite the political differences. That was Anura the magnanimous.
In 1988 Anura, Kumar Ponnambalam and Dinesh Gunewardena went up to Vavuniya to meet with former tiger political commissar Naren alias Yogi. But that trek came to naught as the tigers refused to play ball.
It was in the early nineties of the 20th century that Chandrika returned to SLFP folds again. Mrs. Bandaranaike felt that Chandrika was better equipped to lead the SLFP to victory and favoured her .
Anura resented this and instead of resisting such attempts within the party , crossed over to the UNP in 1993
He became minister of higher education and national reconciliation under Dingiri Banda Wijetunge. In 1994 the UNP was out of office after 17 years. Anura was in the opposition again.
Mrs. Bandaranaike’s declining health and consequent death saw an end to sibling enmity.There was rapprochement among both the sisters and brother. After the 2000 October election Anura was elected unanmiously as speaker in Parliament.
As Speaker Anura distinguished himself by upholding the independence and supremacy of the Legislature during a difficult period.
Anura later broke ranks with the UNP and re – joined the SLFP in 2001. The UNP came to pwer but once again Anura was in the opposition.
It was finally in 2004 that Anura came to be on the winning side. He was instrumental in forging an alliance with the JVP.Anura was made Investment Promotion, Enterprise Development and Industries minister.. He became Foreign Affairs minister after Lakshman Kadirgamar’s death.
When SWRD Bandaranaike crossed over from the UNP it was President Mahinda Rajapakse’s father who followed him in the house. Thereafter he remained a loyal deputy to the Bandaranaikes.
In 1970 Mahinda entered Parliament as its youngest MP. Though Anura was not an MP , Mahinda used to play second fiddle to him then.
In fact Mahinda and some of his siblings refer to Anura as “lokka”. It was both a term of respect and endearment.
Fluctuating political fortunes saw Mahinda’s stock rise and Anura’s fall. It was Mahinda who became PM in 2004 and also Presidential candidate in 2005 after Chandrika.
Anura was to be a running mate of sorts. He would be Prime Minister if Rajapakse was elected President.
But then Anura was always star – crossed.
He did not cooperate in the presidential campaign as he ought to have. Thus when Rajapakse won due to the tiger enforced boycott , Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was made PM instead of Anura.
Anura was made Tourism minister and later “demoted” to national heritage minister.
A disgruntled Bandaranaike revolted twice.
First with Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathy Sooriaraachi. Within two weeks he was back with Mahinda.
The second was on Budget voting day when he crossed over rashly to the opposition. Realising that he had been taken for a ride Anura walked out of Parliament.
Once again he mended fences with Rajapakse but restoration of ministerial portfolio was delayed due to his deteriorating health.
And then came the final farewell.
Time and tide waits for no man, they say.
In the case of Anura his sense of political timing was atrocious. He frequently made the wrong move at the wrong time and so was always in the wrong place.
He regularly missed the” tide in the affairs of men”.
In that sense he was a tragic figure.
For all his follies and faults and foibles few could be “angry” with him or nurse grudges against him. Neither could he be “angry” for long with others. This personality trait was his greatest asset.
He may not have been very lovable but like Billy Bunter of Greyfriars, was not entirely unlikeable either.
With Rajapakse becoming President the spotlight shifted from Horagolla to Medamulana.
With Anura’s death the era of the Bandaranaike dynasty is over. A new dynasty is emerging.
DBS Jeyaraj can be contacted on: email@example.com
41 comments March 18th, 2008