Some random thoughts about the first Buddhist Governor-General and First non-executive President of Ceylon/Sri Lanka. These are clearlybiased thoughts about my own grandfather. Hopefully, there won’t be too many personal insults for sharing these thoughts about a couple of things I observed growing up around him.
So many serious/depressing articles in these columns, and I felt I should just go down memory lane to change the tone a bit. Everyone talks about good governance. Yet, like in the US, politics and governance in Sri Lanka has been far too driven by angry rhetoric. Hence some thoughts on a person who epitomized good governance.
I remember a politically significant event in 1965. When the government led by Mrs. Bandaranaike lost, and Dudley Senanayake’s UNP became the party to control the most number of seats, some of the coalition member parties of my aunt’s government did their best to find minority parties and other people to back the losing government party coalition to re-form a government. The UNP had commanded the majority in Parliament and was entitled to form the government as it commanded “the respect of the majority of the Parliament” as per constitutional tradition of the Westminster kind.
Some in the coalition government were asking him to delay inviting the UNP to form the government so they could find MPs to form a new government. But as Governor-General, he upheld the constitution as tradition deemed; he did not delay the process and invited the UNP to form the government according to the constitution. This great judgment call came up in some heated conversations in our family.
To date, I can say that he did the right thing; and did what was expected and required of him according to the constitution even though it was Mrs. B who appointed him GG in the aftermath of the 1962 coup which had dangerous links to some who were very high up in the government.
Another small note is about his personality: one time we were at Queen’s Cottage (as it was known before 1972) in Nuwara Eliya on vacation. He always walked everyday without fail no matter where he was. In Nuwara Eliya he was very fond of walking from President’s house, cut across St. Andrews Golf Course and take us to Cargill’s which was a landmark back then in old Nuwara Eliya. He dressed modestly in shirt, waist coat, jacket and had his walking stick. He was never a sloppy dresser but neither was he flashy and vulgar. He never wore bling.
Those were the peaceful days of Sri Lanka before JVP terrorism or Tiger terrorism. The bodyguard he had was a token CID sergeant who used to actually wrap his revolver in plastic and paper to prevent grease stains on his clothes. Well the reason to mention is, that while the police sergeant had a gun, no one could think of there being a need to use it. This was the era before gun violence and terrorism after all.