[lg policy] 1956’s game of thrones

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Nov 30 11:12:36 EST 2018

1956’s game of thrones
Friday, November 30, 2018 - 01:00
Print Edition
Features <http://www.dailynews.lk/category/features>

American author and screenwriter Ray Bradbury famously said, ‘One should
not belong to a political party - one should be an individual, standing in
the middle. Anyone that belongs to a party stops thinking.’

to our article under, “Prelude to 1956 General Election: SLFP and UNP
competing to Champion social causes” appeared on Friday 16th, discussing
the lead-up to 1956 polls, here we present the results and the immediate
aftermath of the revolutionary changes it brought in social, economic and
political spheres of the island that achieved freedom from four and a half
years of foreign domination.

*Elections over three days*

The election unlike today was held over three days with a gap of couple
days in between, on the first day on 5th April, the ruling party in the
absence of a powerful Elections Commissioner, decided to poll the seats
most advantageous and easily winnable by UNP. In fact out of a total
constituencies of 95, PM Sir John’s Dodangaslanda and all Cabinet ministers
seats totaling 37 were included on this day so that the electorate could be
influenced on a result favourable to them: and the oppositions strongholds,
like Attanagalle to the last or third day. This calculated move boomeranged
on them when Bandaranaike won 29, leaving only eight for UNP, that included
PM and just one minister, MD Banda winning. The government failed to return
a single member in the next two days. On the third day SWRD won with a
majority of 45,000 votes.

The year 1956 was widely accepted as a landmark because the prevailing
atmosphere had created an appropriate climate for changing strongly felt
religious and social and ‘injustices’. The results of the election proved
that the electorate had been enthusiastically waiting to grab a chance for

Language policy was one of the main issues at the time. Most of Sinhalese
and Tamils were held up without any significant place in the society.

Foreign invaders, who plundered this island from the beginning of 16th
century thought that a proper administration was not possible without
untying Buddhism from the people.

Especially under Portuguese and Dutch rulers, a slow destruction of
Buddhism and Hinduism was taking place and the system of Education in
temples or Pirivena was neglected. Traditional values were allowed to
perish. A new class emerged who embraced Christian faith and changed their
lifestyles sharply.

*The results of 1956*

The result of the 1956 Election was a surprise. Even Bandaranaike did not
imagine that he could form a government without the Marxists support.
However, the results proved otherwise. Out of the 95 seats, the MEP won 51,
and UNP only eight seats. LSSP and CP won 14 and 3 respectively while
Independents won eight. While Federal Party secured 10 seats the Tamil
Congress could retain only one. In addition to 51 the government appoints
six members to their side.

The UNP’s defeat at the 1956 Election could be attributed to economic
hardships people underwent since 1953. The gap between the ruling party and
the common man widened systematically under Sir John. Though, it altered
the nature of politics in the country from the exclusiveness that had
portrayed up till then or the domination by privileged that represented
Parliament, except for a negligible few from working and middle class.

The state of a large number of intelligentsia such as Bhikkus, teachers,
Ayurvedic doctors who were not English educated and brought up under
traditional local culture was pathetic. Catching up with key standards, the
language barrier was a huge hurdle for them. The living standard of the
majority of people was far from acceptable levels. Increased price of food,
chaotic education poor health facilities, housing, and urban unemployment
made their situation worse.

*Culture and language issues*

With the MEP led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party winning the elections in
April 1956 and Bandaranaike becoming the Prime Minister, the policy
direction of the government placed an emphasis on indigenous culture and
language, and it campaigned for nationalisation of major resources and

The new Government set up heavy industries for the manufacture of cement,
steel, and textiles. The National Planning Council that was established in
October 1956, announced a ten-year (1959–1968) development programme for
the entire economy, aiming at exploiting resources at a most favourable
level. A year later, the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact which proposed the
creation of Regional Councils as a solution to the communal disagreements
was signed between Bandaranaike and Chelvanayakam, the leader of the
Northern political party. However, due to heavy resistance by Sinhalese
extremist forces and main Opposition UNP it was abrogated in May 1958. The
abandonment led to anxiety and friction between the two communities causing
several rounds of ethnic violence finally leading to a thirty-year civil
war and loss of 60,000 lives.

Prime Minister SWRD was assassinated in September 1959 and W. Dahanayake
was sworn in as the PM. With the winning of the Elections in March 1960,
Dudley Senanayake was sworn in as the Prime Minister. It was a Government
without a majority and was short-lived; it lost the vote on Statement of
the Crown and was dissolved for holding fresh elections in July 1960.
Dudley’s inability to form a coalition; lack of minimum seats required to
defeat an opposition motion of no confidence: it was the practice under the
Westminster parliamentary democracy.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s SLFP won the General Elections held in July 1960,
she was sworn in as the PM.

The result of the 1956 general election demonstrated that people had been
enthusiastically waiting to grab an opportunity for this change. It is
generally accepted that the year 1956 was a landmark in history because it
had created an appropriate climate for taking strong actions against social
injustices. The new movements were triumphant; it defeated anti-social
elements which had hampered the progress of the country. Under foreign
rule, traditional value systems were allowed to decay: a steady destruction
of culture was carried out and the early pattern of Education in Pirivena
(temple schools) was neglected.

Both education an administration were controlled by Christians, and in
course of time, they were able to dominate public life to a great extent. A
new class that embraced Christianity and followed English education
emerged, and their lifestyles and behaviour sharply deviated from that of
the common people of this land. There were quite a few factors behind UNP’s
loss in1956. It was cautious but slow in meeting demands from the poor.
Heavy economic burdens was a cause as some columnist/analysts of the day
pointed out. However, it is not fair to say that UNP had completely ignored
the above. DS Senanayake government brought in quite a few progressive
acts. In fact, what happened was the gap between the UNP leaders and the
ordinary people widened steadily under Sir John’s regime. It failed to
assess the forces behind the language movement and the cultural resurgence.


Sixty two years are a long time in one’s life; and not a single MP who was
in parliament in 1956 is alive today. Assassins destroyed two outstanding
personalities of that parliament being victims of the socio-political
forces they themselves had unsuspectingly motivated. A misguided Sinhala
extremist monk, Somarama who had been brainwashed by his highly corrupt
political manipulator, the Chief of Kelaniya temple, Buddharakkitha who
supported SWRD’s ’56 campaign came forward to eliminate the PM motivated by
his own business interests. Next was Appapillai Amirthalingam leader of
Tamils, a gentleman politician was killed by Tiger gunmen of Prabhakaran in
1989. Amirthalingam was one among them who had been a parliamentarian in


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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