By Gamini Gunasekara
Anura Banaranaike was a leader who lent colour to the political scene in Sri Lanka. He was one of those possessed of excellent personal qualities, superior intelligence and a very clear vision. He was an unrivalled orator in Parliament. His level of eloquence in both the Sinhala and English languages was extremely high. He marshalled his vast vocabulary meaningfully, logically and appropriately, often using an apt quotation from Shakepeare or other reputed author, to make his point. He was an embodiment of a sharp intellect, ability, honesty, organizational skills and cordiality towards his associates.
He earned an honours degree in history in 1973 from a British university. He had a deep knowledge of Western and Eastern history, literature, political philosophy, economics and international relations. He also had an unquenchable thirst for new knowledge. His personal library lacked nothing in modern local and foreign books. Whenever he could spare the time in Parliament, he had the habit of perusing the valuable books and other documents found in its library. He had the unique ability to make use of the knowledge thus acquired, logically and critically, when required.
Brought lustre to Parliament
The great majority of those in politics in the present day do not have that ability. In fact even a child who observes the present day goings-on in Parliament would realize that the majority in Parliament today are persons with empty minds. In contrast, the likes of Anura Bandaranaike brought lustre to Parliament.
Anura Bandaranaike had clean hands, unsoiled by corruption, terrorism and man slaughter. He was in the fullest sense of the term, a clean leader. Even his opponents acknowledged that without any hesitation. He received the people's affection and acceptance, in full measure, in the city and the village, from childhood. He had a physical presence which made anyone who looked at him once, to look again. He had the good fortune to enjoy the close association of the most powerful world leaders, from his childhood.
Most leaders now have forgotten the priceless service he rendered to the SLFP even from his school days, i.e. from 1965. From that time he participated directly in every election campaign and contributed his might to the advancement of the party. Old time party members even now recall with gratitude the way he traversed over hill and dale, meeting the rural folk, all the time advancing the party cause.
At the same time he identified talented young people in distant villages, brought them into the party fold and helped them along to the highest levels of the party hierarchy. Today they shine at the highest levels. Most people have now forgotten this.
In the 1970 General Elections he directed the entire campaign in the Attangalla electorate single handed, whilst pursuing his university education. He had to do so as both his sisters were abroad. Bandaranaike who was only 21 at the time, secured Attanagalla for the SLFP with a majority of 21, 000 votes. I would like it to be recalled that Sirimavo Bandaranaike had not up to then secured such a large majority at Attanagalla. In addition, Bandaranaike's addressing of campaign meetings all round the country at that election, contributed immensely to the United Front victory at that election. While pursuing university education in Britain during the period 1970-74, he came back to the country at every bye-election and conducted the party campaigns.
The fact that Anura Bandaranaike was able to generate a youth wave in favour of the party as a youth leader, since his return to the country in 1974, even in the context of a situation where the party's popularity was in the wane, is testimony to his ability. At every meeting and every seminar he attended there were huge crowds.
The 1976 Ja-Ela bye-election took place in a back ground where the United Front government had suffered a severe setback.
Therefore all the powerful ministers evaded taking charge of the campaign. Even so, Anura Bandaranaike directed the campaign single handed. He secured for the SLFP a number of votes that the party had never before polled in that electorate. Thereby he displayed in ample measure his organizing ability and his popularity.
In 1977 Anura entered Parliament not through his parental political stronghold of Attanagalla or the Gampaha District, that he was used to, but through the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya electorate which has a majority of plantation labour votes. He could spare only six days to campaign in this electorate.
During the rest of the campaign period he had to go round the country campaigning for the party. Against all expectations he secured 49, 000 votes and was elected 2nd MP, beating the estate Tamil leader Thondaman to third place. His victory in a neck to neck contest with two formidable leaders of the time, Gamini Dissanayake and S. Thondaman, after only six days of campaigning, is a remarkable incident in the parliamentary election history of Sri Lanka. The victory was in a background where strong men of the party had fallen like giant trees being uprooted, the party base was being eroded and only eight party candidates were able to enter Parliament.
Anura Bandaranaike became the youngest Leader of the Opposition not only in Sri Lanka but in the entire Commonwealth of Nations. When the office of the Leader of the Opposition fell vacant in 1983 he was appointed to that post with the consent of everyone. Everyone accepts that leading a miniscule SLFP group of eight MPs, undaunted, against a formidable UNP government side of 148 MPs, he discharged his responsibilities at the highest level of performance. His performance in that office displaying the marks of a mature politician is an excellent model for present day leaders to emulate.
He took the entire burden of the campaign in the 1988 Presidential election contested by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, in the midst of State violence and tiger terrorist threats. He addressed 115 campaign meetings throughout the island and gave leadership to the campaign amidst showers of bombs and bullets. If not for the violence and bogus votes, that election would have been won by Bandaranaike. Anura also led the 1989 general election campaign together with his mother. He was also able to raise the consciousness of the people through Padayathras and Rathayathras. Most leaders today do not remember the way people waited with lighted Huluathus to greet Anura coming in those Padayathras and 'Rathayathras'.
It is with the unanimous agreement of all Members of Parliament that Anura Bandaranaike reached the highest office in Parliament, that of Speaker, as well. He added lustre to that office. He gave a historic ruling that the Legislature is supreme. The coalition was born due to his enthusiasm and perseverance. If not for the birth of the coalition, a SLFP-led government would not have been born in 2004.
There is no one today to write about Anura Bandaranaike and to commemorate his memory. Those who climbed the steps of the political ladder with his help while he was alive do not appear to be speaking even a word about him today. Sri Lankan politics is immersed in ingratitude today to such an extent. Our society feels the absence of distinguished politicians of the calibre of Anura Bandaranaike today more than ever.
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