A Visionary Strategist | Daily News
Former President J. R. Jayewardene’s 116th birthday falls tomorrow:

A Visionary Strategist

Signing of Indo-Sri Lanka Accord on July 29, 1987.
Signing of Indo-Sri Lanka Accord on July 29, 1987.

The Executive Presidential System was established 44 years ago and the first Executive President of the country was the Leader of the United National Party J. R. Jayewardene. His 116 birthday falls on September 17.

After Independence, he directed his sole aim to new political, economic and social educational systems and continued his governance.

James Alfred Jayewardene, who was very talented among the lawyers who served in the Colombo Court, lived for a very short time. He died at the age of 44 as a father of six children. Five of the six children entered the legal profession like their father as members of a famous family of lawyers.

Among these six children, the second was Eugene Wilfred Jayewardene alias E.W. Jayewardene who worked as a lawyer and then served as a judge. He was born in Kalutara and received his education at Royal College, Colombo and later became a lawyer. He married Miss Helen Agnes Wijewardene, the elder daughter of Don Philip Wijewardene Mudliyar, who was a rich man and philanthropist and lived at the Sedawatte Walawwe in Colombo. This couple had eleven children. Their eldest was born on September 17, 1906. He was Junius Richard Jayewardene. Although his name was thus, he was renowned worldwide as J. R. Jayewardene.

He commenced his education at Royal College, Colombo and subsequently entered the Law College of Sri Lanka and studied law. J. R. Jayewardene was sworn-in as a lawyer 90 years ago in the year 1932 and took to the legal profession and later got involved in politics in the year 1943 by contesting the by-election for the Kelaniya Seat.

From the time he was studying at the Law College, J. R. was an anti-imperialist. This was clearly evident because of the historic steps taken by J. R. Jayewardene as a law student to declare open a portrait at Law College, of Mahathma Gandhi who was engaged in fighting a great non-violent battle against the British Empire.

Young JR who grew in wisdom and knowledge day-by-day lived his life according to Christianity. His mother's brother, Walter Wijewardene, was a relative who advised JR in terms of definitions and the Dhamma. He advised his nephew JR to learn Buddhism and the Sinhala language. Following his uncle’s advice, JR Jayewardene studied Buddhism under former Chief Incumbent of the Vajirarama Temple Most Venerable Pelene Vajiragnana Thera and Venerable Narada Thera who lived at the temple. Later, the young JR Jayewardene who embraced Buddhism set his national religious and political path by taking inspiration from the non-violence philosophy of Mahathma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian freedom struggle. As a result, in the year 1938 he obtained membership of the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya and held the post of co-secretary with Dudley Senanayake.

Sir Baron Jayatilaka was a well-known, learned politician who lived in our country. In 1931, he was the Chairman of the State Council and Minister of Home Affairs, was also the State Councillor for the Kelaniya Constituency. Since he left politics in 1942 to accept the post of Sri Lankan High Commissioner in India, the post he had held up to then as the State Councillor for Kelaniya, fell vacant. JR Jayewardene contested this post in the by-election held going against a very special political leader in then Ceylon. He was, E.W. Perera a state lawyer nicknamed Kotte Sinhaya. JR Jayewardene, who recorded a resounding victory in the by-election held on April 17, 1943 became the Kelaniya member of the State Council, and engaged in politics as an active member. From then onwards he became popular in the entire country. On the occasion when the United National Party was established in the year 1946 under the auspices of the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya together with other political organisations, it was JR Jayewardene who was appointed as co-treasurer of the new party. Later, he became the Finance Minister in the Government established by the United National Party in 1947 and entered history as the first Finance Minister of Ceylon.

JR who represented the State Council for 13 years from 1943 had to suffer defeat in the 1956 general election when he lost the Kelaniya seat. While the victorious celebrated by eating Milk Rice, saying that the final nail had been hammered into the UNP coffin, some UNP political leaders left politics and went to settle down abroad. But JR Jayewardene arrived at Sirikotha which was closed after the defeat. He reopened the party headquarters, got rid of the cobwebs and cleaned the environment and took the initiative to begin the future work of the United National Party.

Many joked that JR was crazy. A number of young leaders such as R. Premadasa, Jinadasa Niyathapala, Ananda Tissa De Alwis and J. R. P. Suriyapperuma joined the new move launched by JR Jayewardene. M. D. Banda, Wijayapala Mendis, Paris Perera, V.A. Sugathadasa, E.L.B. Hurulle, E.L. Senanayake etc., joined JR ready to move forward. The first to be held was the Colombo Municipal Council election. JR Jayewardene hesitantly presented a team from the United National Party for this election. The battle of the election was heated. The United National Party gained power in the Colombo Municipal Council, dampening all the hopes and wishes of the Bandaranaike Government that came to power. It revived the United National Party which was said to be dead. At the time of the Bandaranaike assassination which took place in 1959, the Government had become very unpopular. The people had once again realized the need for a United National Party Government. Dahanayake became the Prime Minister in an unimagined heroic manner. With this appointment, the Government became subject to various problems. Dahanayake dissolved the Government while there was still time left.

By this era, former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake had once again become the Leader of the UNP. He became the leader within the strong environment built for the party by JR Jayewardene. Although the General Election held in March 1960 was not extremely successful, the United National Party gained some strength to form a Government. Accordingly, even though it was possible to establish a new Government under the leadership of Dudley Senanayake, it lasted only a little more than a month. Once again, a General Election was held in July 1960. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party won a mandate to set up a Government. Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the Prime Minister. The UNP took their seats in the Opposition. By 1964, even this Government became very unpopular with the public and many Government Ministers and Parliamentarians were organising themselves internally against it.

JR Jayewardene who realized this situation very well, defeated the Government in a No-Confidence Motion prior to the end of their term and created an opportunity to establish a Government before the lapse of four years after the defeat. Accordingly, from 1965 to 1970 a new Government led by the UNP was set up. A new ministerial position in that Government was the title of Minister of State. JR Jayewardene was appointed to this post.

Accordingly, under the guidance of JR Jayewardene, a special institution, named the National Youth Services Council was established on behalf of the progress and future development of youth. The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Service which was maintained up to then became the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. The farmers’ (peasant) Army started a mass cultivation campaign to make the entire country self-sufficient in rice. Establishment of the Kelaniya Tyre Corporation, opening of Thulhiriya Mill, establishment of the Atomic Energy Authority, establishment of the Anuradhapura Buddha Sravaka Dharma Peeta, establishment of the Sri Lanka Ayurveda Pharmaceuticals Corporation, establishment of State Printing Corporation, establishment of the State Timber Corporation, establishment of the River Valley Development Board, establishment of the Oruwala Steel Corporation, commencement of the Mahaweli Development Scheme were launched and huge development programmes were implemented all over Sri Lanka. Even though this Government implemented programmes such as weekly free rice ration to poor people, free food to patients undergoing treatment in hospitals, free lunch and a glass of milk for schoolchildren, due to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party announcing in 1970 that they would bring two measures of rice even from the moon, for the people, that Government also lost power, unexpectedly.

In the general election held on May 27, 1970, the United National Party was able to win only in 17 constituencies. Although Dudley Senanayake decided to present the title of Leader of the Opposition to JR Jayewardene, he took over the responsibility as the new Opposition Leader in Parliament, as the party leader of a massive Government with a power with a two-thirds majority. In the meantime, with the demise of the Leader of the UNP, former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake on April 13, 1973, JR Jayewardene was appointed as the leader of the party.

From then onwards the path of the UNP changed. He commenced the giant leap of making the party a common people's party by paving the way for anyone to pay one rupee to become a member of the party. JR thought of producing young leaders who will work with the old leaders of the party. Gamini Dissanayake was the only youth leader in the front line of the party at that time. Young members such as Lalith Athulathmudali, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Samaraweera Weeravanni, Gamini Athukorala, Renuka Herath, Jayawickrama Perera, Premaratne Gunasekara, M.G. Premachandra, Vincent Dias etc. were newly appointed as electorate organisers and entrusted with the responsibility of the party. A separate group of speakers were trained and sent to villages and meetings were held on all weekends to raise awareness among the people. They published newspapers in the three languages of Sinhala, English, Tamil such as Siyarata, Daily, The General, Namdesham etc. and created readers all over the country.

The path was opened for the people to protest democratically by holding Sathyagrahas, marches and meetings against the Government's tyrannical working order. Because of these new practices, the people gathered around JR Jayewardene fighting for their places. Those who were fighting for the leadership or inciting people, were expelled from the party realizing that the internal disputes will interfere with the mission to be carried out on behalf of the country and the nation. JR Jayewardene won a great victory in the general election held on July 21, 1977, with a 6/5 majority power for the new Government. The Constitution that ruled the country until then was completely changed within a year. Five years after gaining power, the country's capital city was also changed and a new Parliament was built there and Parliament was set up there. Providing free school books to schoolchildren, completing the Mahaweli campaign within six years, creating Free Trade Zones, creating new agricultural colonies and cities, starting the cultural triangle, holding Wap Magul ceremonies according to traditional customs and starting farming activities, holding a State Literature Festival annually. It was the Jayewardene Government's policy to include history and literature in the school curriculum since it was not taught through school books until then. President JR Jayewardene was the person who involved Sri Lanka with the developing world.

It was a famous saying of JR Jayewardene that his mission bears fruit not for his benefit but for the future of the next generation. JR Jayewardene said that when someone makes a right decision, it is customary to be reprimanded temporarily and if he makes incorrect but popular decisions, he will go four feet under the ground, not just for the sake of saying it as a leader but someone who has studied world history well. “Sri Lanka is too small for you to rule, better for you, is to rule a big country like America,” American President Ronald Reagan once told President JR because he had studied JR Jayewardene quite well.

However, most people in Sri Lanka had not recognized JR Jayewardene. If our country has such a leader, he is the current President Ranil Wickremesinghe who is ruling our country. He was the youngest Minister 44 years ago, when J.R. first took the helm of governance in this country. The fact that the youngest minister of JR Jayewardene's Government became the President of the country after he completed 44 years in politics shows us that JR is a creator of leaders. It is on this great occasion when a great son of the people was born in this country 116 years ago in my belief that the wonderful name of Jayewardene will shine further in the future.

(The writer is a Member of Parliament and Chairman of the United National Party)

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