70th birth anniversary on February 15: Anura Bandaranaike spurned racism | Sunday Observer

70th birth anniversary on February 15: Anura Bandaranaike spurned racism

File photo
File photo

A certain era in Sri Lankan politics stands stamped with the mark of the late Anura Bandaranaike. He was the only son of a politician couple who achieved international fame, the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the late Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first woman Prime Minister in the world.

All attention focused on young Anura growing up amidst the abundant affection of his parents, as everyone expected him to be the leader of Sri Lanka, one day. But fate decided otherwise, and this humane leader could never attain that position. Perhaps this turn of events was due to the fact that Anura never indulged in politics of deceit and opportunism. It was also perhaps brought about by false friends who surrounded him. As things turned out, the leadership of the country eluded him while it was almost within his grasp.

Racism

Racism or religious bigotry was never manifest in Anura Bandaranaike’s political life. That fact stands out when his speeches in Parliament, political speeches elsewhere and his scholarly addresses are perused. He was a true humanist. He had affection for men and women of all races. He respected all religions. He never condemned any one for his race or religion.

Anura wrote his own speeches and edited them himself. I have seen manuscripts of his speeches, in his beautiful English handwriting. Usually he would end any speech of his with a poem or passage from a prestigious western writer, blending it excellently with the theme of his speech. He was quite at home with Shakespeare, T.S. Elliot and other greats of Western literature. He had exquisite taste in those works. Dr. Sarath Amunugama told me once that Anura was a fan of classic foreign films. He also told me that he still has notes that Anura had written to him in his own hand for he had the habit of sending handwritten letters and messages to his friends.

Knowledge

Although Anura was brought up in a busy and even tumultuous environment, he always found time to read, savour poetry, novels and watch classic cinema. His father was also an avid reader. Perhaps that inclination ran in his veins. Even amidst the most serious problems, he managed to face the world with a smile and lightness in his heart. As I had the opportunity to associate with him closely, I was able to observe that he had a wide and deep knowledge on diverse subjects. Only a handful of people equalled him in Parliament in his knowledge of history, literature, political science and economics. It is well known that although the legislature had in former days many of members who were educated and intelligent and who came from distinguished backgrounds, the present is different.

Those who ascended the political ladder with Anura’s guidance and help are at the zenith of political eminence today. Yet, none of them are grateful enough to remember him, commemorate his birthday or even have an alms-giving in his memory. Such is the descent or malformation of political life today. The sense of gratitude is at its lowest.

Philanthropy

Anura Bandaranaike distributed among the domestic aides of Horagolla several acres of commercially valuable land from his ancestral property, along the Colombo-Kandy road. There is no other person in the present political scene who has done anything similar to that.

In former times it was people such as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Philip Gunawardene who did things like that.

In the present day, the endeavour of 99 per cent of politicians is to accumulate wealth even for unborn generations of descendants.

Due to the erosion that politics in Sri Lanka suffered after 1977, the pursuit of wealth and power by politicians became the order of the day. Therefore, politicians such as Anura Bandaranaike are rare today.

Political heritage

Anura Bandaranaike had his early education at Royal College and thereafter gained a first class honours degree in history from the prestigious London University. He declined a lecturership offered by that university and came home to take up his family heritage of political leadership. Thereafter, he reorganised and strengthened the SLFP from the party branch to the national level, giving them guidance and leadership. While the party suffered an ignominious defeat in 1977, young Anura succeeded in entering Parliament from Nuwara Eliya polling over 49,000 votes, after only six days of campaigning. He became the 2nd MP for Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya, relegating senior politician Thondaman to third place.

In the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya electorate with its predominant Tamil estate worker population, the SLFP was never again able to poll such a high percentage. The implication is that Anura’s popularity, his organising skill and his oratory made the difference. In the 1977 General Elections Anura addressed meetings in every electorate island wide. It was Anura who pulled the SLFP back from the abyss. When in 1977 the UNP with its 5/6ths majority was out to flatten the Opposition, it was Anura leading the eight MPs of the SLFP who gave them a fight using his oratory to effect. He kept the Government at bay with his eloquence, so much so, that it was said that Prime Minister Premadasa used to walk out of the Chamber whenever Anura got on his feet. His argument was sharp and logical.

Anura took action after 1977 to raise the SLFP gradually from the depths to which it had fallen. Although some people launched conspiracies, he faced them successfully and went round the country building up branch organisations and holding seminars.

He thus, rebuilt the party. Unlike today, money did not dominate politics then. The people and political activists who engaged in politics were honestly dedicated to it. Therefore, unlike today, politics was not a complicated mess.

Anura, when he served as the Leader of the Opposition was the youngest to hold that position in the Commonwealth.

He performed his duties diligently and devoted his office to public welfare and democracy. When he later became the Speaker of the Parliament, he served in that office withsuch distinction, that he came to be considered the most eminent Speaker holding that office. Some others who had held that office would give their rulings according to signals from their party leader.

The way Anura Bandaranaike maintained the dignity and prestige of this office was an example to others.

His absence is a great loss to present day politics in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan politics is unlikely to be blessed again with such an eloquent and imposing personality.

The writer is the President of the Education Friendship Guild.

Comments