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The Bandaranaikes of Sri Lanka

Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike was born in 1899 in Colombo, Ceylon. He was educated in law at Oxford and when he completed his legal training in 1925 he returned to Ceylon.

A State Council for Ceylon was formed to administer Ceylon under British governance. SWRD Bandaranaike was elected to that council in 1925 at age 26.

In 1940 at age 41 SWRD Bandaranaike married Sirinavo Ratwatte Dias, who was 24. He joined the United National Party (UNP) and when a House of Representatives was created for Sri Lanka he ran for office and was elected in 1947. But his political orientation changed with Sri Lankan independence and he left the Western-oriented UNP and founded the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP). In 1952 he was re-elected to the House of Representatives as a member of this new party, which became the party of opposition in the House. In 1956 SWRD Bandaranaike took his SLFP into a coalition of nationalistic and socialistic parties called the People's United Front (Mahajana Eksath Peruma) (MEP). This alliance won the national election of 1956.

The MEP stood for Sinhalese nationalism and the formation of relations with the socialist world. Sinhalese replaced English as the language of administration and legal proceedings. Buddhism was given a prominent place in state affairs. These measures, although popular with the majority Sinhalese population, were ultimately detrimental for Sri Lanka because they alienated the Tamil minorities and produced a division in Sri Lanka that has never healed.

SWRD Bandaranaile was assassinated in 1959 at age 60 not by a political dissident but by a Buddhist monk disgruntled over not getting a government contract he felt he had been promised. His much younger wife, Sirimavo, at age 44 was prevailed upon to assume leadership of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party. This party again won the national election in 1960. Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world's first woman prime minister.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike continued her husband's policies of Sinhalese nationalism and socialism. However difficulties with her coalition partner, the Marxist Lanka Same Samaja Party resulted in her party losing the 1965 election. But at the next election,in 1970, her nationalistic-socialistic coalition won and she was once again prime minister. She brought Trotskite communists into her administration and they promoted a welfare state approach to socialism. She also brought members of her extended family into her administration.

(To be continued.)


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