Sirimavo Bandaranaike

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Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranayaka (1916-2000) (Hon.Sirimavo Bandaranaike with Hon.Lalith Athulathmudali Crop).jpg
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
In office
14 November 1994 – 10 August 2000
President Chandrika Kumaratunga
Preceded by Chandrika Kumaratunga
Succeeded by Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
In office
22 May 1972 – 23 July 1977
President William Gopallawa
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Junius Jayewardene
Prime Minister of Ceylon
In office
29 May 1970 – 22 May 1972
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General William Gopallawa
Preceded by Dudley Senanayake
Succeeded by Position abolished
In office
21 July 1960 – 27 March 1965
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Oliver Goonetilleke
William Gopallawa
Preceded by Dudley Senanayake
Succeeded by Dudley Senanayake
Personal details
Born (1916-04-17)17 April 1916
British Ceylon
Died 10 October 2000(2000-10-10) (aged 84)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Political party Sri Lanka Freedom Party
Spouse(s) Solomon Bandaranaike (1899–1959)
Children Sunethra, Chandrika, Anura
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike (Sinhala: සිරිමාවෝ රත්වත්තේ ඩයස් බණ්ඩාරනායක,Tamil: சிறிமாவோ ரத்வத்த டயஸ் பண்டாரநாயக்க; 17 April 1916 – 10 October 2000) was a Sri Lankan politician and the modern world's first female head of government. She served as Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka three times, 1960–65, 1970–77 and 1994–2000, and was a long-time leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Bandaranaike was the widow of a previous Sri Lankan prime minister, Solomon Bandaranaike, and the mother of Sri Lanka's fourth Executive President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, as well as Anura Bandaranaike, former speaker and cabinet minister.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was born on 17 April 1916, as Sirimavo Ratwatte to a prominent Radala family, who were descended from Ratwatte Dissawa, Dissawa of Matale, a signatory on behalf of the Sinhalese to the Kandyan Convention of 1815. Born to Barnes Ratwatte, Dissawa of Sabaragamuwa and Rosalind Mahawelatenne Kumarihamy of Mahawelatenne Walauwa, Balangoda, she was the eldest of six, with four brothers and one sister. Her father was member of the State Council and the Senate of Ceylon. Her brothers where Justice Barnes Ratwatte II, Dr Seevali Ratwatte, Dr Mackie Ratwatte (who served as her Private Security during her premiership) and Clifford Ratwatte, former Member of Parliament for Balangoda and Chairman of the State Plantations and Sri Lanka Tea Board. Her youngest sister Patsy Ratwatte was married to Colonel Edward James Divitotawela, who established the Central Command of the Ceylon Army.

Bandaranaike was educated at St Bridget's Convent, Colombo, but was a practising Buddhist. In 1940 she married Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, a member of the State council and son of Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, the Maha Mudaliyar (chief native interpreter and advisor to the Governor). They had three children, Sunethra, Chandrika, and Anura.

Political career[edit]

Husband's premiership[edit]

Her husband Solomon was a founding member of the United National Party (UNP) in 1946 and was elected to the House of Representatives (elected lower house of Parliament) in the first elections of the Dominion of Ceylon in 1947. Breaking away from the UNP he went on to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and became its leader. A coalition led by the SLFP won a majority in the House of Representatives in 1956 general election and Solomon became Prime Minister. After initiating much change on socialist and nationalistic lines, he had his tenure cut short three years later when he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk on 26 September 1959. The assassination created a power vacuum, due to Solomon's likely successor C. P. de Silva (leader of the House of Representatives and Finance Minister) being gravely ill and in London for treatment at the time. Wijeyananda Dahanayake, Minister of Education, was appointed caretaker Prime Minister. Turmoil in the government followed as Dahanayake sacked and appointed ministers. This led to a defeat of the SLFP in the March 1960 elections.

First term[edit]

During this time Sirimavo was brought forward as legitimate successor to her husband's party leadership and she entered politics. In 1960 M. P. de Zoysa Jnr stepped down from his seat in the Senate (appointed upper house of Parliament) paving the way for Sirimavo to be appointed as a member of the Senate from the SLFP. She led her party to win the July 1960 elections on the pledge to continue her husband's policies, notably the Sinhala Only Act, and to proceed with repatriation of the estate Tamils to India. On 21 July 1960, as a Senator she became prime minister, thus becoming the first female prime minister in the world.

Known to her fellow Sri Lankans as "Mrs. B," she could skillfully use popular emotion to boost her support, frequently bursting into tears as she pledged to continue her assassinated husband's policies. Her opponents and critics called her the "weeping widow", saying she got herself nominated a Senator and made head of her husband's party after his death by making capital out of his death, going around to different villages and weeping over their children.

Bandaranaike was a socialist who continued her husband's policies of nationalizing key sectors of the economy, such as banking and insurance, and also nationalizing all schools then owned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1961.[3] Bandaranaike was on a roller-coaster ride from the moment she took office. Within a year of her 1960 election victory she declared a "state of emergency". This followed a civil disobedience campaign by part of the country's minority Tamil population who were outraged by her decision to drop English as an official language and her order to conduct all government business in Sinhala, the language of the majority Sinhalese. This they considered a highly discriminatory act and an attempt to deny Tamils access to all official posts and the law. This led to an increase in Tamil militancy which escalated under succeeding administrations.

Further problems arose with the state takeover of foreign businesses, particularly petroleum companies, which upset the United States and Britain; they ended aid to Sri Lanka. As a result, Bandaranaike moved her country closer to China and the Soviet Union and championed a policy of nonalignment. At home, she crushed an attempted military coup by Christian officers in 1962 and appointed her uncle William Gopallawa Governor-General of Ceylon. In 1964, she entered into a historic coalition with the Marxist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). At the end of 1964, she lost a vote of confidence. The SLFP coalition was defeated in the 1965 elections, ending her first term as Prime Minister.

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike with Soviet Union Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin, Tissa Wijeyeratne and Anura Bandaranaike

Pact with India[edit]

Under the terms of the 1964 agreement with India, 600,000 Indian Tamils were to be repatriated, while 375,000 were to be granted Sri Lankan citizenship. By 31 October 1981, when the two countries were to have settled this issue, India had taken more than 300,000 persons as repatriates. Sri Lanka had granted citizenship to over 185,000 plus over 62,000 post-1964 offspring. Over 207,000 Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka before 1964, plus nearly 45,000 offspring, were granted Indian citizenship but still awaited repatriation. In the wake of the July 1983 anti-Tamil violence, some in this latter group are being processed for repatriation or have emigrated to India.

With the lapse of the 1964 agreement India declined to consider any more applications for citizenship. The government of Sri Lanka believes that the 1964 pact remains in force until the citizenship cases and permanent residence of all Indian Tamils covered by the pact have been settled. The All-Party Conference has agreed that the government should grant Sri Lankan citizenship to stateless Indian Tamils who did not apply for Indian citizenship and were not granted Sri Lankan citizenship under the 1964 agreement.[4]

Second term[edit]

She regained power after the United Front coalition (SLFP, LSSP, and the Communists) won the 1970 elections with a large majority. But after just 16 months in power, the government was almost toppled by the 1971 JVP Insurrection of left-wing youths. Bandaranaike had disbanded the government's intelligence service, suspecting that it was loyal to the opposition United National Party (UNP). Thus there was no warning of the uprising, and Sri Lanka's small army was caught off guard. The army mobilized its reserves and held the capital, but some outlying areas were occupied by the insurgents. The government was saved by military aid from both India and Pakistan, thanks to Bandaranaike's skillful foreign policy. In those tough political years, she turned herself into a formidable leader. "She was the only man in her cabinet", one of her officials commented during the height of the insurgency.

Her second term saw a new constitution introduced in 1972, replacing the Soulbury constitution. Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka and became a republic, abolishing the monarchy of Ceylon. The 1973 oil crisis had a traumatic effect on the Sri Lankan economy: the government had no access to Western aid and her socialist policies stifled economic activity. Rationing had to be imposed. Bandaranaike became more and more intolerant of criticism and forced the shut-down of the Independent newspaper group, whose publications were her fiercest critics. Earlier she had nationalized the country's largest newspaper, Lake House, which has remained the government's official mouthpiece. Bandaranaike enjoyed continued success in foreign affairs. She was chosen chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1976, and hosted the Movement's conference, attended by numerous heads of state. Despite her high international standing, she was losing Sri Lankan support rapidly amid allegations of corruption and against the background of a rapidly declining economy.

Under the Soulbury constitution, election would have been held in 1975. However, the government had become very unpopular. Bandaranaike used a clause of the 1972 constitution to delay elections until 1977. This did not help. In the 1977 elections, the United Front was routed, winning only 8 seats.

Opposition[edit]

Bandaranaike held her own seat in 1977, but in 1980, she was charged with abuse of power for the 1975–77 delay in elections. She was expelled from parliament and banned from public office for seven years.The 1980s were her dark days. She became a political outcast, rejected by the people who had once worshipped her. Bandaranaike spent the next seventeen years in opposition warding off challenges to her leadership of the SLFP, even from her own children. Always the politician, she played her ambitious daughter Chandrika and son Anura against one another, holding on to party control despite losing every subsequent general election.

Third term[edit]

In 1994, the SLFP-led coalition won the general elections. Chandrika then outmanoeuvred her mother to become prime minister; and then was elected President the same year.

Bandaranaike became prime minister again, but the constitution had changed since her last tenure. As prime minister she was now subordinate to her daughter, the President. She remained in office till a few months before her death, but had little real power. She died on Election Day, 10 October 2000, after having cast her vote for the last time.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Dudley Senanayake
Prime Minister of Ceylon
1960–1965
Succeeded by
Dudley Senanayake
Prime Minister of Ceylon
1970–1972
Position abolished
New office Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
1972–1977
Succeeded by
Junius Richard Jayewardene
Preceded by
Chandrika Kumaratunga
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
1994–2000
Succeeded by
Ratnasiri Wickremanayake