Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Koodankulam: Shoddy equipment develops leaks


Sam Rajappa.

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By Sam Rajappa

Posted on February 17, 2013, in The Island

Kudankulam Protest rally - 01
Demonstrators near the Kudankulam nuclear power project (File Photo)

ACCORDING to the Department of Atomic Energy and the authorities of Nuclear Power Corporation of India, the loading of uranium fuel rods at the 1,000 MWe-capacity first unit of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project was completed on 2 October last year, but has not produced a single unit of electricity so far. Critical equipment supplied by Atomstroyexport of Russia, building nuclear reactors abroad, were found to be shoddy and have developed leaks even before commissioning of the plant. The financial statement released by Atomstroyexport shows its losses have doubled in the last year and it is on the brink of bankruptcy. Russian engineers at the Koodankulam plant site have not been able to plug the leaks. In a desperate attempt to commission the plant, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it a prestige issue, NPCIL has flown in technicians from Croatia and Germany to carry out repairs in the Russian designed and erected plant. NPCIL claims to have spent an excess of Rs. 4,500 crore on the non-functioning power plant. The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy has threatened to lay siege on the Koodankulam nuclear complex in a non-violent manner if the Centre commissions the first unit in haste and secrecy without attending to its safety requirements, and sought a White Paper on the KKNPP and its reactors from the Centre. It was turned down.

An official statement issued by NPCIL on 25 January said the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has given permission to “repeat the full systems test at the first unit.” One needs to repeat a test only if it failed in the first instance. NPCIL’s desire to gloss over its failure and make it seem as if the ‘permission’ is a hard-won victory is understandable. But why is the AERB condescending even after RK Sinha, chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, had said that “there are some system parameters like flow, pressure, temperature that need to be maintained within particular values.” During the first hydro test conducted last December, certain valves did not behave the way the manufacturer claimed they would. These valves were opened, repaired, and some components replaced. The fact that brand new valves malfunctioned raises questions about the quality of equipment supplied. Identification of defective valves at this late pre-commissioning stage suggests that the quality of assurance of individual components was deficient.

In February last year, Russia’s Federal Security Service arrested Sergei Shutov, procurement director of Rosatom subsidiary Zio-Podolsk, on charges of corruption and fraud. Zio-Podolsk is the sole supplier of steam generators and some other key components for Russian nuclear reactors worldwide, including India. Shutov was charged with using cheap Ukranian steel blanks in nuclear reactors. NPCIL should reveal whether the leaky valves were supplied by Zio-Podolsk. A PTI feature issued in July 2011 reveals, quoting DAE sources, that the Koodankulam plant was expected to be commissioned in March 2009, long before protesters held up work on the project for nearly six months, but was delayed because of difficulties experienced in receiving equipment from Russia “in sequential order.” The article says: “The designers discovered that several kilometers of power and control cables in the reactor were missed after the completion of double containment of the reactor.” The problem was rectified after the cables meant for power supply to instrumentation in different buildings were incorporated by breaking open the concrete walls in the containment domes and was sealed again bringing the cables from the switch yard to inside. Breaking open and resealing the containment dome is unprecedented in nuclear power industry.

As the Manmohan Singh government is determined to unleash all kinds of atrocities on peaceful protesters against the shaky Koodankulam plant like filing 325 cases including sedition, waging war on the Indian State and on other serious sections of the Cr PC and IPC with 5,296 named as accused and 221,483 unnamed accused at one police station alone near the plant site, PMANE has taken up the issue with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who had earlier reached out to the tribal people opposed to Vedanta Resource’s Rs. 4,500-crore bauxite mining project in Orissa’s Niyamgiri Hills. Rahul had then said: “True development takes place by respecting the interests of the poor,” and offered to be their sipahi in Delhi. SP Udayakumar, coordinator of PMANE, in a letter to Rahul, said if the Congress did not respect people’s power, democracy and peaceful struggles, and starts the Koodankulam plant forcibly, it would prompt the voters at least in Tamil Nadu and Kerala to shun the Congress.

Unmindful of the people’s fears about the breaking open and resealing of the dome of the Koodankulam plant, the AERB, DAE and NPCIL remain tight-lipped. Even a small mishap in a nuclear facility will have the potential to destroy millions of people in our densely populated country. In a recent report, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India has passed strictures on the ‘toothless’ AERB for not even ensuring nuclear and radiation safety in any of the atomic installations in the country. The long-awaited Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, tabled in the Lok Sabha on 7 September 2011, ostensibly to bring about much needed independence and transparency in administering safety of nuclear operations, remains a non-starter. According to A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of AERB, the Bill fails to serve any of its laudable objectives in its present form.

The Bill seeks to establish a Council of Nuclear Safety to be chaired by the Prime Minister and will have as its members five or more Cabinet ministers, the Cabinet Secretary, chairman of the AEC and experts nominated by the Union government. The CAS will constitute two search committees, one to select the chairperson and the other to select members of the NSRA. The CNS is empowered to create an Appellate Authority to hear any appeals on any order or decision of the NSRA. The same Appellate Authority will also decide on appeals from the government against the NSRA. What the government tries to do under this Bill is to create a high level council under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister to control and curb the freedom of action of the NSRA. Clause 20 of the Bill stipulates the NSRA should function in a manner consistent with the international obligations of India.

If the NSRA were to find the equipment supplied by Russia to the Koodankulam plant substandard and do not conform to safety norms, the regulatory body dare not act for it would be contrary to “India’s international obligations” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised unilaterally to his Russian counterpart while on a visit to Moscow in December 2011.

The same clause also says the NSRA “shall not interact with bodies outside India without the prior approval of the government.” The subservient nature of the proposed NSRA has been made abundantly clear in Clause 48(1) which says: “the Central government may, by notification, supersede the regulatory authority for such a period not exceeding six months. Upon notification, the chairperson and members of the NSRA shall vacate their offices as such; … all the powers, functions and duties shall, until the authority is reconstituted, be exercised and discharged by the Central government.” The NSRA can never be independent unless the appointment of its chairperson and selection of members of the regulatory authority as well as suppression of the NSRA are left to Parliament and not to the ruling party of the day. (The Statesman/ANN)

Re-posted from The Island

About the author:

Sam Rajappa

Sam Rajappa is a journalist with over five decades experience in media. He is The Weekend Leader’s Consulting Editor. Sam started his career in journalism in 1960 as a sub-editor with the Free Press Journal in Bombay. In 1962 he joined The Statesman in New Delhi and later moved to Chennai. He was associated with the paper till 2008. In 1980, he took a year’s sabbatical from The Statesman to set up the South Indian network of India Today, and worked as their South India bureau chief based in Bangalore. Again, he took a short break from the paper in 1996 to launch The Andhra Pradesh Times, an English daily published from Hyderabad, as its founder-editor. For about fifteen years, since 1980, Sam was also the BBC’s South India correspondent. He was an adjunct faculty member of the Chennai-based Asian College of Journalism from 2001 to 2007 and later served as Director of The Statesman Print Journalism School, Kolkata.

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The Gang Rape Near Colombo, Peoples’ Sovereignty and the Absence of Protest by Basil Fernando


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By Basil Fernando

A 45 year-old woman was gang raped in the early hours of January 23 in Nugegoda (some reports give her age as 47). This gruesome incident only received a few lines in some of the newspapers and in the media. Yet a similar incident that occurred in New Delhi, India, when a medical student was gang raped on a bus, provoked a nation-wide protest for several days and, in fact, the protests continue internationally even up to now. This protest caused the Indian Prime Minister to intervene and take action, not only to ensure medical treatment and justice for the young girl but also to take steps towards bringing in speedy legislation to prevent the re-occurrence of similar incidents. Protests took place also in Nepal when a similar case came to the notice of the public. There too, heavy demands have been made of the government, not only to bring legislation but also to achieve other reforms needed to protect women.

The media and the active participation of the people and women’s movements, including local politicians, both in India and Nepal reflected the active participation of the people to ensure protection and to express outrage at the malfunctioning of the law enforcement agencies which are duty bound to protect the public.

In both countries, the media responded to these protests and ensured that the unfortunate event came to be an occasion for the whole nation to introspect and to discuss the crisis of the law enforcement agencies and the failure of the government to ensure that these agencies act with the required diligence in future. On the one hand, the role of the media represented the problems of the conscience of the public. On the other hand, the media also created a discussion among the people in order to express concern as well as to critically discuss the deficiencies of the government that make it possible for such crimes to occur.

According to the short reports that appeared in the Sri Lankan media, the police reported that the woman who became the victim of the gang rape had gone to the market and having lost her way, made some inquiries as to directions from a three-wheeler driver. Under the pretext of offering help, the driver took her into the three-wheeler and then, against her will, took her near a well and threatened her. Thereafter, several persons who came in another three-wheeler, gang raped her. She is said to be taking treatment at the Kalubowila Hospital. The items discovered from the three-wheelers include some condoms which, according to observers, suggest that the attackers may have been engaged in such activities on a regular basis.

New approach to scandal management under peoples’ sovereignty

In recent times when such scandals occurred, the police filed reports of arrest and this appeased the public by creating the impression that the law was being enforced. However, shortly after arrest, these matters were forgotten. Through all kinds of negotiations and bribery exchanges, or by the intervention of politicians, the process of justice was subverted. The cases of the murder of several persons, together with a government politician, Baratha Lakhsman Premachandra and the recent murder of an elected local government official in Kelaniya are public events which demonstrate this quite strikingly. The murder of a British national and the rape and assault of his Russian companion at Tangalle, allegedly by the Urban Council Chairman of Tangalle and others, was also hushed up. The gang rape of a child by several local area politicians in another rural locality in the South underwent a similar fate. Similarly there were allegations of rape against government member of parliament, Duminda Silva which too, came to nothing. In fact, the list of crimes that have been followed by no real consequences is quite long.

It will not be surprising, if one of these days, the rape victim of this present incident and her family are called to Temple Trees and given some money from the President’s Fund. Such examples of so-called mercy have been evidenced many times, when such scandals happen. After neglecting Rizana Nafeek’s case resulting in her beheading in Saudi Arabia, her mother was called to the palace and some money was given.

Lawlessness and public apathy

In Sri Lanka while there is a public acknowledgement of the existence of widespread lawlessness involving particularly shocking offenses against women, the public itself reacts to these events apathetically. There is no energetic pursuit of justice or demands for accountability from the government.

Such apathy that prevails amongst the public regarding heinous crimes as well as the criminal negligence on the part of the government to resolve the problems of the law enforcement agencies is indicative of the deeper malaise in the Sri Lankan society and the Sri Lankan system of justice.

The collapse of the policing system has been acknowledged. This was the direct result of the politicisation process which in turn is a product of the total control of the state by the executive president which has paralysed the bureaucratic apparatus in Sri Lanka. Naturally, it is not within the capacity of the Sri Lankan president to enquire into all crimes and to deal with them. The task of controlling crime could only take place through the functioning of the law enforcement agencies within the framework of the law. The duty of the president and the government is to ensure that these agencies function and deliver the necessary services to the public. However, the nature of the Sri Lankan system at present is such that the president and the government do not have a reliable bureaucratic apparatus through which law enforcement as well as other aspects of the running of governance can be effected.

The result is crimes that re-occur and the gimmicks that are played by politicians to create the impression of law enforcement while there is no real attempt to ensure protection to the people. This situation has resulted in the creation of a sense of apathy in the society as a whole, even in the face of gruesome crimes such as the gang rape of this woman.

As an independent media is suppressed, there is apathy, widespread cynicism and shameless manipulation of news in the state media which is the only media that is allowed to function without hindrance.

While the rest of the south Asian countries are rising to demand better performance from their governments and the creation of efficiently functioning law enforcement agencies to protect all citizens with particular emphasis on the more vulnerable groups such as women, in Sri Lanka crimes continue to take place with impunity.

Re-posted from Colombo Telegraph

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Sri Lankan Tamils Are Better Off ….


By Shenali Waduge

When Tamils in Sri Lanka were not eating together, allowing others to educate themselves because of Tamil caste, it was the Social Disabilities Prevention Act 21 in 1957 that enabled low caste Tamils to gain education – this was opposed by all elite Tamils who even wrote to the British Government against this.Sinhala and Tamil are official languages in Sri Lanka and both are declared languages of administration(16th amendment – to communicate, publications, translations, records).

Sinhala and Tamil are the language of the Courts throughout Sri Lanka.In addition, Sri Lanka’s national flag depicts both Tamils and Muslims through the colors orange and green.

All public documents – marriage certificate, death certificate, immigration forms etc. are all in Sinhalese and Tamil, so too is currency and notes.

All public events are presented in all 3 languages [Sinhalese, Tamil, and English].

Tamils have no restrictions on owning property, starting business ventures, obtaining state loans, owning land – whereas Sinhalese and Non-Vellalas are denied from obtaining land in the North (thesavalami a law).

Tamils have access to all state services and public utilities – hospitals, schools, healthcare services, public transport (at no stage did Tamils suffer as the blacks did in the US and in South Africa).

Tamils have access to all forms of sports with Tamils even representing national teams.

All road signs, buses etc. are all in both languages.

While Tamils will not allow low caste Tamils to enter hotels or restaurants of high castes, there is no hotel, restaurant, shop that says “Tamils are not welcome”.

Those that accept false propaganda and lies may like to visit Sri Lanka to realize that Tamils in Sri Lanka are better off than Tamils in any other part of the world.

Can we then please know where Tamils are being discriminated against in Sri Lanka?

As for Tamil Nadu – close to 20% of its population are Dalits and 80% of this number live in villages where illiteracy is over 60%. 62% of these Dalits suffer from some type of abuse ranging from physical assault, sexual harassment, verbal abuse to even rape. This is how Tamils appear to be treating their own in India where the Indian Government is telling Sri Lanka to treat Tamils with “dignity and respect”.

— Excerpt from “Shouldn’t Tamil Eelaam Be In Tamil Nadu? – OpEd” By Shenali Waduge, October 18, 2012.

To read the full article click here —>“Shouldn’t Tamil Eelaam Be In Tamil Nadu? – OpEd” By Shenali Waduge 

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ICC T20 World Cup 2012: Super Eight Stage Points Table as on October 1, 2012.


ICC T20 World Cup 2012 Points Table and Team Standings for Super Eight stage as on October 1, 2012:

Group 1

Teams Matches Won Lost Points
Sri Lanka 3 3 0 6
West Indies  3 2 1 4
England 3 1 2 2
New Zealand 3 0 3 0

Sri Lanka and West Indies have entered the semi-finals.

Group 2

Teams Matches Won Lost Points
Australia 2 2 0 4
Pakistan 2 1 1 2
India  2 1 1 2
South Africa 2 0 2 0

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THE KOODANKULAM EXPOSÉ-AND THE RIGHT TO KNOW


Reproduced from 

Sunday 10 June 2012

THE KOODANKULAM EXPOSÉ-AND THE RIGHT TO KNOW

Aerial view of Tamil Nadu, India from Space ta...
Aerial view of Tamil Nadu, India from Space taken by NASA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week’s front-page lead story tells us everything we need to know about the premium value of Right to Information in any democracy. Indian advocacy groups making use of new Right to Information laws have unearthed an evaluation report which exposes startling information that has implications not just for South India and Sri Lanka, but almost the entirety of the Indian Ocean — particularly the Bay of Bengal.

For those who have not read the story, the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu is poised to deposit dangerous quantities of nuclear wastes in the Indian Ocean, which is a potential calamity facing our people, and possibly a calamity facing the people of India as well.

The story speaks for itself — and what action the Government of Sri Lanka will take in this regard remains to be seen. This is in short order, a disaster waiting to happen. Indian environmental scientists themselves are saying so, as could be gathered from our front-page story and the other feature story in perspective on page 5. (sic)

How all these dangers were exposed is another issue in its entirety. No Indian could have got close to ferreting out the truth on the calamitous dangers of the nuclear plants in Tamil Nadu had they not had the benefit of Right to Information laws.

So, the Koodankulam example is one in which it could be said without hyperbole that Right to Information legislation possibly meant the difference between life and death. No doubt the Indian authorities would heavily contest the assertions of the environmental lobbyists, but it clearly is a tall order to contradict the Site Evaluation Report (SER) which states unequivocally that a good part of the Indian Ocean is bound to become a dumping site for nuclear wastes once the T’ Nadu plants are commissioned.

How the entire issue would play out in India, and with reference to Indo-Sri Lankan relations would be interesting, and would be moot, but the success of the Indian lobbyists in making use of Right to Information legislation leaves us Sri Lankans envying our Indian neighbours, trying as we have been to get similar legislation passed in our parliament.

The government stymied the UNP’s efforts to ram through such laws, but this was at that time on condition that the government would come up with its own draft. It was argued as many observers of events at that time would recall that the UNP Bill was in fact redundant as the government had plans for a Right to Information Bill, and was close to making the whole thing a fait accompli.

But no Bill on the Right to Information has materialized, and despite the fact that noises are being made about Private Members’ motions etc., that might gift the people this vital legislation at last — everybody including lobbyists, journalists and private citizens have waited in vain.

There could be larger calamities than the Koodankulam plants that are waiting to happen, particularly at a time when concerns of ‘development’ seem to take precedence over all rational considerations.

Please also read about the flouting of environmental legislation to install an entire village in the Nilagala/Gal Oya forests, elsewhere in this newspaper. How many more such depredations are being kept under a lid, simply because we do not have the right to know?


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CEYLON 3 cents Postage Stamp


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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A week ago, my nephew Reny Vincent, shared a post that he had come across in Facebook. This post written in Tamil is about a CEYLON stamp with a face value of 3 cents issued on the occasion of the Sambuddha Jayanthi 2500 Era 2nd Issue. After sharing this post, Reny wrote on my timeline on Facebook,  “Periappa, any comment? :-)”

I read the article. The author of this post has written very accurately the story about prince Vijaya, who hailed from the north-east part of India, arriving in Sri Lanka. What irked me, (and might have irked Reny as well, otherwise he would not have asked for my comment) was that the author after writing so beautifully has slandered the government of Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese people using vituperative language.

This is the post that Reny shared:

I have pointed out in red the stamp in question and the legend in Tamil that’s written underneath it.

Under the postage stamp, the author has described it as follows in Tamil:

The postage stamp that was released and retracted by the Lankan government

To see this post yourself click on this line. 

As I told your earlier this post is in Tamil and a lengthy one. If you can read Tamil, please click on the above link and try to find out the fallacy in the author’s statement about the postage stamp.

I feel that the the author, ignorant on the subject of postage stamps, had used this 3 cents postage stamp unscrupulously to rouse the rabble. And I would say that he had succeeded in his mission. Mind you, this post has been shared 97 times. And has been commented by 122 persons, and all of them, using abusive language against the government of Sri Lanka, its politicians, and the Sinhalese people

Here are 2 sample comments:

Comments #1: V nice to here the history of sri lanka how ever i also have this stamp with me but i don’t know the history i am v. grateful for your information. (sic)

Comments #2: இது சில‌ த‌மிழ் துரோகிகள் ப‌டிக்க‌ வேண்டிய‌து ஏன் என்றால் இவ‌ர்க‌ள் தான் கேக்கின்றார்க‌ள் பிழைக்க‌ போன‌ இட‌த்தில் ஏன் நாடு கேட்டு ச‌ண்டை போடுகின்றார்க‌ள் என்று அந்த‌ அயோக்கிய‌ர்க‌ள் ப‌டிக்க‌ வேண்டிய‌ முக்கிய‌ ப‌திவு இது. (sic)

I just don’t understand why some of these guys from Tamilnadu are so gullible. Is it the hate towards the Sinhalese stymieing their mind and obstructing their eyes from seeing what is apparently placed before them?

Okay. Here is my reply to my nephew:

Dear Reny,

The story of Vijaya and Kuveni is correctly told by this person as per what I learned. Also, Vijaya and his companions marrying Tamil women brought from South India is correct.  In fact, even the Sinhalese accept this.

I remember seeing a Sinhalese TV short film (a short story and not a documentary) on Rupavahini during 1983-84 or so at the height of ethnic troubles in which a Buddhist monk admonishes the irate crowd of Sinhales saying something like this: “Aren’t you ashamed to attack these (Tamil) women. Don’t you remember we originated from their wombs and drank the milk from their breasts?

Please note that this postage stamp was issued on May 23, 1956 and was invalidated on October 1, 1966 after a period of 10 years and 4 months. It has value of 3 cents and the name of the country is CEYLON and not Sri Lanka.

The name Sri Lanka for Ceylon came into existence only in 1971 when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party under the leadership of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike came to power. See my article “Remembering Sirimavo – The Modern World’s First Female Head of Government ”

So, the writer saying :

தபால் தலையை பார்த்த சிங்கள தலைவர்கள், அதற்கு எதிர்ப்பு தெரிவித்தனர். “விஜயன் இந்தியாவில் இருந்து இலங்கைக்கு வந்தவன் என்ற கருத்து ஏற்கத் தக்கது அல்ல. தவிரவும், விஜயன் வந்தபோதே இங்கு குவேனி என்ற தமிழ்ப்பெண் இருந்திருக்கிறாள் என்று கூறினால், இலங்கையின் பூர்வகுடிகள் தமிழர்கள் என்பதை நாமே ஒப்புக்கொண்டது போலாகிவிடும். எனவே, இந்த தபால் தலையை வாபஸ் பெறவேண்டும்” என்று கூறினார்கள்.

can not be accepted since during 1956 to 1966, there was no ethnic war in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and peace prevailed throughout the Island.

Also whether Kuveni was a Tamil woman and spoke Tamil is not authenticated. Since Tamil is an ancient language she might have spoken Tamil.

To accept the statement of mine about the 3 cents postage stamp, please click on this link Sambuddha Jayanthi 2500 Era 2nd Issue.

Also to know a little more about prince Vijaya and Kuveni click on these links :

So, please remember this axiom of mine:

Don’t immediately conclude that whatever that appears in Facebook is 100% true, and don’t come to the conclusion that all Sinhalese are bad because someone said so in Facebook.”

Remembering Sirimavo – The Modern World’s First Female Head of Government


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Today, March 8, 2012 (Thursday) is the 101st International Women’s Day.

Currently, there are 17 countries with women as head of government, head of state, or both, which according to Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women has more than doubled since 2005.

The honour of being the modern world’s first female head of government goes to the late Sri Lankan politician Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. She served as Prime Minister of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, three times, 1960–65, 1970–77 and 1994–2000.

Mrs. Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike (Sinhala: සිරිමාවෝ රත්වත්තේ ඩයස් බන්ඩාරනායක, Tamil: சிறிமாவோ ரத்வத்தே டயஸ் பண்டாரநாயக்க) was born on April 17, 1916 as Sirimavo Ratwatte to Barnes Ratwatte Dissawe and Rosalind Mahawelatenne Kumarihamy of Mahawelatenne Walauwa, Balangoda. She was the eldest of six, with four brothers and one sister.

Mrs. Bandaranaike was educated at St Bridget’s Convent, Colombo, run by Roman Catholic nuns. She was a devout Buddhist. In 1940 she married Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike. They had three children, Chandrika, Sunethra and Anura.

Her husband Mr. S.W.R.D. 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 of Ceylon), was elected as Prime Minister of Ceylon in 1956. His election marked a significant change in Ceylon’s political history. In 1959, a Buddhist monk assassinated him while in office.

After the death of  Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, there was much confusion in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), founded by him, and it was on the verge of collapsing. At the request of senior party members, Mrs Bandaranaike took over the presidency of SLFP. Though she was an untried leader, she quickly established herself as a formidable politician in her own right, and was the long-time undisputed leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. She remained leader of the party for the next forty years.

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 vaguely socialist policies. Hence her opponents and critics dubbed her as “the weeping widow”.

In 1960, M. P. de Zoysa (Jnr) stepped down from his seat in the Senate (appointed upper house of Parliament) paving the way for Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike to be appointed as a member of the Senate from the SLFP.

As a bereaved wife and mother of three, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike 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 July 21, 1960, she took the oath as prime minister of Sri Lanka, thus becoming the first female prime minister in the modern world.

But within a year of her historic 1960 election victory, she was inundated by a prolonged ‘civil disobedience campaign’ by the minority Tamil population, outraged by her action in replacing English with Sinhala as the official national language and her order to conduct all government business in Sinhala, the language of the majority Sinhalese. The Sri Lankan Tamils considered this 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. With no other solution in sight, she declared a state of emergency.

Further problems arose when the government took over foreign businesses, particularly petroleum companies. This move irked the United States and Britain, and aid to Sri Lanka was stopped. So, Mrs. Bandaranaike moved towards China and the Soviet Union and championed a policy of nonalignment.

At home, she crushed an attempted military coup also known as the Colonels coup by Christian officers in 1962.

In 1964, Mrs. Bandaranaike entered into a historic coalition with the Marxist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP).

In December 1964, Mrs. Bandaranaike and her cabinet were defeated by a no-confidence vote when some of her MPs deserted the party over the nationalization of Lakehouse Newspapers. The SLFP coalition was defeated in the 1965 elections, ending her first term as Prime Minister.

In 1970, she became prime minister of Ceylon once again, after an electoral landslide victory by United Front, her left-wing coalition coalition consisting SLFP, LSSP, and the Communists. She developed strong personal ties with China and the then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

But after just 16 months in power, the government was almost toppled by the  April 1971 JVP Insurrection of left-wing youths led by the Sinhalese Sri Lankan People’s Liberation Front, or Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a movement started in the late 1960s by Rohana Wijeweera, the son of a businessman.

There was no warning of the uprising, and Sri Lanka’s small army was caught off guard, since Mrs. Bandaranaike had disbanded the government’s intelligence service, suspecting that it was loyal to the opposition United National Party (UNP).

Although the insurgents were young, poorly armed and inadequately trained, they succeeded in seizing and holding major areas in southern and central provinces of the island before they were defeated by government forces. Thanks to Mrs. Bandaranaike’s skillful foreign policy, the government was saved by military aid from both India and Pakistan.

This unsuccessful rebellion by Sinhalese Marxist youth claimed more than 15,000 lives. Their attempt to seize power created a major crisis for the government and forced a fundamental reassessment of the nation’s security needs.

During those tough political years, Mrs. Bandaranaike 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.

In 1971, she declared the country a republic, and changed the name of the island nation from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.

She also nationalised some companies in the plantation sector and restricted some imports.

By 1975 her government gradually became very unpopular. Under the Soulbury constitution, election should have been held in 1975, but she used a clause of the 1972 constitution to delay elections until 1977.

But in 1976, despite high international standing, Mrs Bandaranaike’s popularity at home declined with a faltering economy and allegations of corruption; and she lost much of the support given to her by the left parties, thus paving the way to a crushing election defeat in 1977, winning only 8 pathetic seats and she managed to win her own seat.

The 1980s were her dark years. Sri Lankan parliament expelled her in 1980, accusing her of misusing power for the 1975-77 delay in elections, and banned her from holding any office for seven years.  She became a political outcast, rejected by her own people who had once idolized her.

Her civic rights were restored in 1986, and she narrowly lost the election for the new, more powerful post of president in 1988.

In 1994, the SLFP-led coalition called the People’s Alliance (PA) won the general elections. Mrs. Bandaranaike’s daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga first become prime minister and then became president of Sri Lanka the same year in November 1994.

Chandrika Kumaratunga then appointed her mother Mrs. Bandaranaike, as prime minister for the third time. As the constitution had changed since her last tenure as prime minister Mrs. Bandaranaike was now subordinate to her daughter, the President.

Political observers said that Mrs. Bandaranaike and her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga did not have a good rapport, and that her daughter wanted her mother to leave the office to make way for a younger person.

Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike remained in office till a few months before her death, but had little real power. She reluctantly gave up the reins of power on 10 August 2000. Exasperated she said, “I believe it is time for me to quietly withdraw from the humdrum of busy political life, to a more tranquil and quiet environment”

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike died on Election Day, October 10, 2000, after having cast her vote for the last time. She was 84.

“May Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka’s charismatic matriarch, attain Eternal Bliss.” – Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Sri Lanka, in a  tribute on her 88th Birth Anniversary commemoration  (April 17, 2004).

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