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Old 29-10-11, 11:28 AM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default The 109th birth anniversary of Dr. Wijayananda Dahanayake fell on October 22

A politician like no other
The 109th birth anniversary of Dr. Wijayananda Dahanayake
fell on October 22

By Hema Liyanage

From the day W. Dahanayake entered the political arena, he attracted widespread attention. When the Duke of Gloucester arrived in Ceylon, he led a black-flag demonstration against the visit. He felt it was a way of showing the representative of the King Emperor George V our desire to be an independent sovereign nation.

Much of the early period of his political life was spent in making the people aware of the burning issues of the day. From the steps of the Galle Cricket Club pavilion, he used to address the people when there was an important national issue. People came in their numbers to listen to him.
As Mayor of Galle, Dahanayake became a national figure. He took up all the national issues of the day. Even before he entered Parliament, he had already become the champion of the masses, irrespective of race, caste, class or religion. It is significant that he was invited to speak at the Congress of Jaffna Youth by Handy Perimpanayagam. He was drawn in a chariot by the members of the Jaffna Congress to the meeting hall.

Dahanayake's parliamentary career began in 1944 when he was elected to the State Council from the Bibile constituency at a by-election, defeating bus magnate Simon Pieris. Dahanayake kept all the Ministers at bay with his sharp criticism and pungent language.

When the Free Education Bill was introduced by C.W.W. Kannangara, Dahanayake was one of its leading supporters. It was he who launched a signature campaign which led to the Colonial Secretary giving up his opposition to the Bill.

Longest speech

Dahanayake still holds the record for the longest speech ever made by a member in the Legislature of Sri Lanka- during the debate on the Appropriation Bill in the State Council when he spoke for 13 ½ hours.

When the elections to the first Parliament under the Soulbury Constitution was held in 1947, J.R. Jayewardene and Dudley Senanayake had tried to woo him just before the formation of the U.N.P. Finally, he gave the 'nod' to the B.L.P., as he had presided over most of their meetings, demanding the release of the L.S.S.P. and B.L.P. detainees. The people of Galle elected him, recognizing his immense service to them, defeating his rival H.W. Amarasuriya, one of the richest men in the island during that time.

Expelled from the L.S.S.P.

In 1952 he contested the Galle seat as a candidate of the L.S.S.P. Before long, he was expelled from the party for welcoming the then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake at the foundation-stone laying ceremony of the new Town Hall building in Galle. Dahanayake did what was correct according to his conscience. Galle got an excellent Town Hall. He was not prepared to sacrifice common sense for theory.

Confounding everybody, Dahanayake in the 1956 elections, became the chief speaker and crowd-puller for the M.E.P. The chief contenders for the post of Prime Minister and leadership of the country were S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the leader of the newly formed MEP, and John Kotelawala, the leader of the U.N.P. Dahanayake became the Minister of Education in the M.E.P. Government. His record of service as Minister of Education was outstanding. He gave the swabasha teacher his due place. He started MahaVidyalayas. He did not wait for laboratories to be built in order to start science education in rural schools but provided science kits so teachers could started work immediately.

The Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya Pirivenaswere elevated to university status. Dahanayake also provided the free mid-day meal to all school children. Following the assassination of Bandaranaike, Dahanayake found himself installed as Prime Minister, under "fortuitous circumstances", as he himself described it. It is to his credit that he brought back stability and security to the country during his short tenure of six months as head of the Government. He was responsible for holding a General Election on one day for the first time.

At the General Elections of March 1960, Dahanayake suffered the biggest setback in his political career when he lost his own seat at Galle to U.N.P. candidate W.D.S. Abeygunawardena. But he was quick to win back his seat in the elections of July 1960.

In the elections of 1965, he retained his seat in Galle and was appointed as Minister of Home Affairs in the Dudley Senanayake Government. He was elected again in 1970, but lost in the election of 1977, contesting as an independent candidate, to D.G. Albert de Silva of the U.N.P.

But he was not prepared to give in. He filed an election petition and argued his own case before the Supreme Court. Albert de Silva was unseated. J.R. Jayewardene remarked:"Dahanayake did what a generation of lawyers could not do."

At the by-election which followed, Dahanayake was nominated by the U.N.P. and won comfortably. He remained a back-bencher for some time until he was appointed as Minister of Co-operatives in 1986.
In 1989, at the age of 86, he retired from active politics, ending a remarkable career in public life. In office or out, he was always a servant of the people at all hours of the day or night, for over 60 years, a great example for young politicians of today.
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Old 29-10-11, 11:28 AM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default The clown prince of radical protest

The clown prince of radical protest
Wijayananda Dahanayake

By Gaston de Rosayro

The 109 birth anniversary of Wijayananda Dahanayake of Galle, the former caretaker Prime Minister, fell yesterday. He was born on October 22, 1902 as a twin in a conservative Kachcheri Mudliyar’s family. Perhaps more than any other politician he was an enigmatic and enchanting maverick.

He was educated at two leading multi-ethnic Christian schools - St. Aloysius’ Galle and S. Thomas’ Mount Lavinia. He was part of a consummate nucleus that had modified splendidly as anglicized elite but clung fiercely to their proud local ancestry. Paradoxically he was endowed with an exceptional crossbred acumen that was an offshoot of colonization. An illustration of his hybrid mindset and way of life is best expressed in his flawless command of both the Queen’s English and the Sinhala vernacular in which he could expound on any subject with equal facility.

In brief this is Dahanayake, the political legend. He was a member of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party before joining the administration of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, Prime Minister and leader of the Lanka Prajathanthravadi Pakshaya (LPP) which he founded when he was prime minister. He served as Cabinet Minister of Education from 1956 to 1959. He took office as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and External Affairs, holding his previous Education Ministry when Bandaranaike was assassinated in September 1959.

He contested the March 1960 General Election under the nomination of his newly formed LPP, also humorously dubbed the Lanka Pisthola Pakshaya. He was not re-elected as an MP as he lost his Galle seat in that election. He had later served as Minister of Home Affairs in Dudley Senanayake’s government from 1965 to 1970 and Minister of Cooperatives in Junius Richard Jeyawardene’s government from 1986 to 1988.

Daha, as he was affectionately known, actually defied classification and could not be pigeonholed or summed up in the class of any of his contemporaries in the dovecotes of political power. Yet on many occasions he set the feathers flying in that august assembly with his inimitable larrikin streak. It is true that many had categorized him as the innocuous joker who had shuffled himself into the legislative pack with the dexterity of a card sharp. True, but the mistaken notion of his naiveté is clearly established when one considers the reality that he was able to integrate into any of the mixed ideological suites to suit political expediency.

Above all he was a paradox. No one in the administration, legislature or the media was actually able to penetrate the veneer of his real character. He was certainly capricious although amiable, but faintly eccentric in an avuncular sort of way. But if one were to scratch the façade of unconventional, genial behavior there would emerge a sagacious, astute and manipulative mindset.

He projected himself as the clown prince of radical protest. He was the epitome of perennial youth, a sort of juvenile delinquent with graying hair. No political writer then or now has actually been able to capture the contradictions of the complicated teacher-turned-politician that was Wijayananda Dahanayake.

Daha was a man whose successes and failures are the stuff of legend. His quixotic temperament was grist for the right wing press which lampooned him without let up. Ironically, these traits had made him a pet of the media who always found him a great foil in contrast to his many elite contemporaries. But all the same, he was considered an endearing and entertaining subject always compellingly engaging with his rib-tickling cameo roles within the legislature and outside it. And it was almost impossible to separate the reality from the myth of the anecdotes attributed to him from time to time.

But he was also one of the most complex, colourful, creative and crafty figures who ever strode the island nation’s political stage. He was a stand-in, no doubt, a sort of stunt man in the wings who was thrust into the leading role by default.

The death of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike hurled the island headlong into yet another political crisis. Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, whose office was one of the country’s few remaining links to the British Commonwealth, ordered the armed forces to patrol the streets. He also asked Bandaranaike’s chosen successor, Education Minister Dahanayake to take over the government. But the problem was that the ruling SLFP held only a one vote majority in parliament.

Unlike Bandaranaike, a gentle-mannered and cultured man who graduated from Christ Church, Oxford, Dahanayake was a more flamboyant, grass-roots type of politician imbued with the rustic homespun streak. A rough diamond so to say, he had a flair for the unpredictable. Like his predecessor, however, he was a fervent nationalist and neutralist.

Bandaranaike and Dahanayake had been in the political firmament for several years starting from the old State Council days. They were both being superlative debaters who transformed the legislature into a verbal dueling arena. The cut, thrust and parry of wordplay flew like sparks from fencing foils. Their rapier sharp wit along with some of the greatest parliamentary orators the country has ever known provided dream copy for lobby correspondents, headline writers and newspaper editors.

Dahanayake had a fêted rhyming couplet against Bandaranaike too, which ran:

"I do not love thee Banda dear,

The reason why is very clear,

I do not love thee Banda dear,

Because you change from year to year."

Again in 1952 as an independent in the opposition he had parodied J. R. Jayewardene, then minister of finance, who had suddenly and with far-reaching consequences for the government of the day, removed the subsidy on rice. It went thus replicating a take-off of ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

‘I thought I saw a kangaroo,

In sherwani on the beach

I looked again and found it was

Our J R’s Budget speech

I’ll sell you bags of rice, he said

At a price beyond your reach.’

He was always prancing around like a hyperactive caterpillar, slithering from one political party to another without the slightest qualm as a matter of conviction. As caretaker prime minister he faced internal party dissensions as well as loud opposition demands that his government resign. But Dahanayake flummoxed the entire shebang with one fell stroke. In quick succession he dissolved parliament, fired five Cabinet ministers, quit the SLFP, and announced the formation of a new political party of his own.

When he died on May 4, 1997 as a simple man at the age of 94 years, he was the longest surviving Sri Lankan parliamentarian.

In all, he was considered the most flamboyant and charismatic political figure this country has ever seen. He was voluble and enlivened every parliamentary debate. We will never see the likes of such a bubbly personality ever again. Sadly the country does not make politicians of his calibre anymore and it never will.

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