The assassination of a Prime Minister | Sunday Observer

The assassination of a Prime Minister

Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike

One of the most horrible crimes in Sri Lanka was the assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on September 25, 1959.

Bandaranaike formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and came to power in 1956 with the help of the left parties in the country. In his election manifesto he promised to implement several progressive projects including making Sinhala the Official Language.

His main supporter was High Priest of the Kelaniya Rajamaha Vihara and President Eksath Bikshu Peramuna (EBP) Buddharakkhitha Thera who was the Chief Organiser of the 1956 General Elections. From the beginning of the election Buddharakkhitha Thera took great pains to bring success for Bandaranaike. His main aim was to start a lucrative business through the Bandaranaike Government and give effect to his plan. The Prime Minister did not favour it. His policy was to prevent individuals from doing business at government cost.

This incurred the displeasure of Buddharakkhitha Thera and his associates as their plans came a cropper.

They then began to conspire against the Prime Minister and his government and decided to assassinate him. Before the assassination Buddharakkhitha Thera and his associates wanted Wimala Wijewardene, the then Minister of Health to seek the opinion of a soothsayer on their sinister plan. His plan was to form a government under a woman Prime Minister.

Since Wimala Wijewardene was with them they planned to form a government with her and launched the assassination plot on September 25 at the Prime Minister’s residence.

On that ill-fated day about 40 people were present at the Prime Minister’s residence with their grievances hoping to obtain relief.

At 10.00 a.m. the Prime Minister walked into the verandah. He noticed two monks among the crowd. He first went to one of the monks and bowed down to worship him. Suddenly several shots were fired in rapid succession. There followed a moment of terror and confusion.

The PM and a person in the crowd suffered grievous injury. The PM was taken to hospital in a car, and the injured were taken in a separate vehicle to hospital.

The Prime Minister was immediately operated on subsequent to which he even dictated a message to broadcast over the radio and publish in the print media. The message was about his health. He said “A foolish person in robes shot me”. After the operation his condition improved. The whole country was eager to know the message, but this became his swansong. At 8.00 a.m. the following day, leaving the whole nation in gloom, he succumbed to his injuries despite the valiant efforts of the medical experts.

After extensive investigations, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on June 14, 1959 filed a report before the then Colombo Chief Magistrate N.A. De S. Wijesekera framing charges of conspiracy and the murder of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.

The CID produced seven accused, namely, Viharadhipathi, Rajamaha Vihara Kelaniya Mapitigama Buddharakkhitha Thera, H.P. Jayawardana, owner of a printing press, Anura de Silva, motor mechanic and part time film actor, Talduwe Somarama, ophthalmics lecturer at the College of Indigenous Medicine, Colombo, Newton Perera, a Police Inspector alleged to have obtained the revolver from Ossie Corea and given to Buddharakkhitha Thera, . Wimala Wijewardene, Health Minister of the Bandaranaike Government and Carolis Amarasinghe, physician and lecturer, College of Indigenous Medicine. Wijewardene was the President of Kelaniya Rajamaha Vihara Dayaka Sabha.

Then Finance Minister of the Bandaranaike Government Stanley de Zoysa and his brother Dicky de Zoysa were also questioned by the CID but were released later.

At the conclusion of the 124 day Magisterial inquiry, Carolis Amarasinghe was given a conditional pardon and made a state witness and Wimala Wijewardene was acquitted. The Magistrate committed the first five accused to trial before the Supreme Court.

On February 22, 1961 the trial against Buddharakkhitha Thera, H.P. Jayawardana, Anura de Silva, Talduwe Somarama and Newton Perera commenced before T.S. Fernando an eminent judge of the Supreme Court and a Jury.

They were indicted for committing or abetting to commit the murder of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike between August 25 and September 26, 1958 at Kelaniya, Wellampitiya, Rajagiriya, Colombo and other places within the jurisdiction of the Court. They were indicted under Section 296 read with Sections 113 and 102 of the Penal code.