A vision etched in the hearts of the people | Daily News
Twentieth death anniversary:

A vision etched in the hearts of the people

Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s mission to uplift the common man lives on

Great leaders may die, but their vision will, after their death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives. The forgoing maxim aptly applies to the exceptional vision of Sirimavo Bandaranaike who created history nationally and internationally by becoming the first woman Prime Minister in the world and holding the same portfolio for three terms, namely, 1960 to 1965, 1970 to 1977 and 1994 to 2000.

The outstanding domestic and global mission of Sirima Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike or Sirimavo Bandaranaike, as she was respectfully called by the people of Sri Lanka, still exists.

Although many of her beneficial and farsighted national development programmes and overseas strategies were condemned merely due to gender discrimination inherent in politics then, in the complex contemporary political composition her farsighted policies still resonate with relevance.

Born on April 17, 1916 to an aristocratic Kandyan family, she bade adieu to the nation after accomplishing the national obligation she was destined to accomplish. Even two decades after her death, the economic, political and social strategies she launched are still discussed and observed in present-day political fields which is a reiteration of the productiveness of Sirimavo’s indigenous vision and mission.

The retrogressive perpetrators of the time hoped that they could put an end to the progressive national movement which had been launched by Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and halt the revolutionary political forward march of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) by assassinating him. But their expectations were shattered as Sirimavo Bandaranaike took the reins of both her late husband’s revolutionary mission and the party, at the request of the then party leaders.

The resolute determination of Sirimavo to fill the tough political vacuum created due to the assassination of S.W.R.D was a historical undertaking. She volunteered to shoulder that challenging responsibility with no hope of any personal gain, but out of compassion for the people and the party. Since then she dedicated herself wholeheartedly to move forward the mission of ushering the ‘common man’s era’ initiated in 1956.

She rightly and completely followed her husband’s socialist policies, neutrality in global relations, and the revival of Buddhism and the Sinhala language and culture. Going ahead bravely with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s socialist policies, she nationalised a number of key economic institutions including insurance firms and banks.

The distinguished characteristic in her political manoeuvre was that she was firmly committed to her dogma even if it was disadvantageous for her political existence. It is uncertain whether present-day nationalist leaders or their movements could mirror the nationalist reforms executed during her administration.

During her second term in office, she introduced a new constitution under which the dominion Lanka was transformed into the Republic of Sri Lanka, a free state out of the Commonwealth circle of countries. The new republican constitution introduced by her government replaced the Soulbury Constitution crafted by imperial rulers, a move for which she was acclaimed worldwide.

Making maximum use of the resounding victory by the United Front Coalition consisting of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Lanka Sama Samaja Party and Communist Party of Sri Lanka, she steered a number of revolutionary reforms in the Sri Lankan polity. Her political coalition consisted of a collection of prominent party leaders of diverse visions such as socialist, capitalist and liberal. Sirimavo had the vision to deftly manage all such diverse ideologies.

Shortly after the establishment of the United Coalition government in 1970, she had to face the youth uprising of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramunu (JVP). The political competence she displayed in controlling the armed youth struggle was highly commended by local and global military analysts. At the time of the youth uprising, our armies were mere ceremonial reservists. In that unexpected difficult situation, her international friends came forward to help her in overcoming the armed conflict. Many political analysts described the international solidarity she could muster in controlling the conflict as a personal trait of Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

Following the lessons learnt from the youth unrest she formulated and promulgated a new industrial policy aimed at ensuring sustainable industrial progress in the country. She established a number of new industries such as cement, paper, steel and chemical under the patronage of rich socialist countries. Even contemporary economic forecasters are in favour of her economic strategies targeted at a self-reliance economy in place of a dependent consumption system.

She constantly worked to eliminate the inequality in distribution of wealth and resources among the rural population, understanding the economic inequalities that the rural youth had to face. Foreseeing the consequences of the Global Food Shortage in 1973 she introduced and launched the ‘Battle of Production’ to overcome the then food deficiency. Although her accelerated food production move was condemned with contempt by her opponents, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highly commended her food production strategy and awarded her the Ceres medal of honour.

The most celebrated achievement of the political career of Sirimavo Bandaranaike as I perceive is her exceptional foreign policy. Her government suffered certain embargos from Western powers as she nationalised the tea estates and petroleum firms of American and British entrepreneurs. However, Sirimavo firmly followed her brave political policies despite Western dissuasions, and bent towards China and Russia, the two giant socialist powers. She mediated wisely into the Indo-China conflict and guided the two parties to solve the issue peacefully. She also earned global admiration following her introduction of the resolution for the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace in the international arena. Her foreign policy was well accepted equally by affluent and as well as small states.

She was constantly esteemed by the leaders of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) countries. Specifically she was an enthusiastic friend of both India and China. She could provide a promising leadership to the NAM and held the Nam Summit Conference 1976 in Sri Lanka with success by which she could demonstrate the glory and prosperity of Sri Lanka to the global community.

The prominent proclamation made by her in her address to the NAM Summit in 1976 still bears justification to the modern world also. “NAM countries should oppose the injustice, inequality, outdated colonial dominance and influential interferences,” she asserted at the summit.

She always loved and defended the thousands of party members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. During the time in power and at times of no power, even without civic rights, her priority was the party and its members. She at all times defended democracy and fostered those noble democratic values in giving leadership to the party.

Although she bade adieu to the nation two decades ago, the community and the party did not say goodbye to her. The significance of her exceptional vision and mission will remain in the hearts and souls of the common masses for ages.