Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Remarkable Figure in Sri Lankan Politics
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Remarkable Figure in Sri Lankan Politics

Sirimavo Bandaranaike is indeed one of the most eminent personalities that we come across when traversing back through Sri Lankan history. Of course, she is highly renowned as the first woman prime minister in the world. Besides, her political career, family background, and her qualities itself made her a significant idol on this island. Hence, we thought of sharing about her, through this read today. So, why not? Let us get to know about this inspiring character in depth!

Who is Sirimavo Bandaranaike ?

Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, famous as Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike, or rather Srimavo Bandaranaike, as mentioned earlier got to be the first female prime minister in the world. Of course, she achieved this position following a series of political movements. In fact, it was upon her party’s triumph within the 1960 common decision in Ceylon, that she became the prime minister for the first time. She cleared out her office in 1965. Still, she returned to serve two more terms as the prime minister, specifically from 1970 – 1977, and then from 1994 – 2000.

Childhood and the Family Background of Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was born on 17th April 1916, in a beautiful village around Ratnapura. Her family had a strong Kandyan high-class background. Thus, this young girl got the opportunity to study in English Medium Schools. Of course, her educational background was mainly influenced by the shades of Catholicism. Still, she grew up into a modest fine lady, who respected the Buddhist cultural values of the country. Further, her quality education and the exposure she gained, molded her into an educated woman with perfect leadership skills, fluent in both the Sinhala and English languages. On graduating from auxiliary school, she worked for different social programs as well. So, all these things paved the way to progress successfully in her political career.

Further, the family she established with her spouse, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike received special recognition in Sri Lanka those days. Srimavo Bandaranaike and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had two daughters called Sunethra and Chandrika, and one son called Anura. Playing master to her spouse S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who was a part of the legislative issues and afterward got to be the Prime Minister, Sirimavo picked up his belief as a casual advisor. Her social work continued even during those days and she mainly focused on moving forward the lives of ladies and young ladies in provincial ranges of Sri Lanka. After her husband died in 1959, Bandaranaike entered legislative issues, becoming Chairwoman of the Sri Lanka Flexibility Party (SLFP). And yes, she could drive the party to triumph within the July 1960 decision.

Sirimavo’s Political Career 

In May 1960, the official committee of the Flexibility Party chose Sirimavo Bandaranaike to lead it. At that point, there was no proper decision whether she would run within the July election. However, denying previous party ties with Communists and Trotskyists, Sirimavo was campaigning to carry forward the approaches of her spouse. Accordingly, she aimed at setting up a republic, enacting a law to set up Sinhala as the official dialect of the nation, and perceiving the prevalence of Buddhism.

The approach of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the spouse of Sirimavo, toward the stateless Tamils was indeed direct. He only gave a few citizenships for the Tamis, permitting profitable specialists to stay. This was one of the main factors that brought issues to Sirimavo’s political career. Still, Bandaranaike visited the nation and made passionate addresses, habitually bursting into tears as she vowed herself to proceed with her late husband’s arrangements. Yes, this is what gave her the title “The Weeping Widow”. The public mocked her, and some considered this as an act of her to gather sympathy. Still, many flocked into her meetings voluntarily.

However, Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s visionary changed the previous British Colony of Ceylon into a communist republic by nationalizing associations in the fields of banking, education, industry, media, and exchange divisions. Still, certain acts of this day did not win the hearts of certain groups. Further, during the term of Sirimavo, the nation was tormented by tall expansion and charges, high unemployment, and polarization between the Sinhalese and Tamil populations owing to her Sinhalese patriot approaches.

However, her political career went ahead. The following milestones of her life would further brief you about her political career.

First Female Prime Minister (1960-1965)

Sirimavo Bandaranaike began her role as the world’s first female Prime Minister, as well as the Minister of Defence and External Issues on 21 July 1960.  She represented SLFP, the party which her husband represented, and the party that she began her political career with. Besides, to assist her husband’s arrangement of nationalizing key divisions of the economy, Bandaranaike built up an organization with public-private shareholders, taking control of seven newspapers. She nationalized banking, remote trade, and insurance, as well as the petroleum industry. Also, she took over the Bank of Ceylon and built up branches of the People’s Bank as well.

Moreover, Bandaranaike actualized a law making Sinhala the official language, supplanting English. She worked to preserve great connections with both India and Russia. She kept ties to the British interface through the tea exports. Further, she also maintained good relationships with the World Bank. However, the import-export imbalance, compounded by inflation, was affecting the buying control of center- and lower-class citizens. So, many disputes and arguments came up. Finally, several consolidations were crushed within the 1965 decisions, making her end her first term as Prime Minister.

Leader of the Opposition (1965-1970)

Bandaranaike won the House of Agents from the Attanagalla Discretionary District in the 1965 election. Her party was able to win 41 seats. Accordingly, Sirimavo became the leader of the opposition. And yes, she was the first lady ever to hold that post in Sri Lanka.

She was the opposition leader for a term of five years, and during this time, she kept up her collusion with liberal parties. Severn elections took place during the period between November 1966 and April 1967. And out of them, SLFP succeeded in winning six elections. However, by the end of 1969, Sirimavo Bandaranaike was again ready to return to power. Successful campaigns took place.

Second Term as the Prime Minister (1970-1977)

In 1970 May, an election was held. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party and Bandaranaike’s Freedom Party won this election with a larger proportion of votes. Accordingly, Sirimavo Bandaranaike assembled a constitutional gathering and took steps to establish a Sri Lankan institution that is free from colonial influence.

Besides, she did her best in maintaining international relationships. When considering international trade, Paris and London Tours are indeed important, since several serious discussions took place with regard. Further, Bandaranaike opposed the development of an Anglo-US communications center within the Indian Sea. Accordingly, she was able to keep that zone an “unbiased, nuclear-free zone”.

And then in December, the government passed the Business Undertaking Securing Act. With its effect, the state had the power to nationalize any business with more than 100 representatives. This was indeed a great move, as Sri Lanka was able to decrease the foreign control over the major business-related to tea and rubber production. Still, it brought huge negative impacts to the Sri Lankan economy as the foreign investments hindered.

Moreover, 1972 happens to be a significant year in the history of Sri Lanka after independence. Yes, it was thenceforth, that this country got its name, the Republic of Sri Lanka. Until then, this island was popular as Ceylon, and this name change took place as a result of this constitutional reform. This also made this country’s rule free from components of federalism, and it also freed Sri Lanka from British rule, under Elizabeth II. Accordingly, Sri Lanka’s official, legal and administrative branches finally came into one authority.

Besides, this constitutional reform ensured equal security to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Apart from that, Sirimavo worked to uplift the lives of ladies, by establishing the Service of Ladies and Child Issues in Sri Lanka.

Party Leader (1977-1988)

Towards the end of the second term of Sirimavo, the country struggled domestically. And in the 1977 general election, her party faced a huge defeat. President during that era was J.R. Jayawardene. In 1980, he appointed a special presidential commission to examine charges against Bandaranaike for mishandling control during her period. Meanwhile, the joined together National Party government received a movement in parliament in 1980 to strip Bandaranaike and her nephew, Felix Bandaranaike as convicts for corruption. Accordingly, Sirimavo had to leave parliament, and she lost her civil rights as well. Still, she remained the party leader. However, owing to all these situations, Sirimavo was not in a position to run the campaigns for her Freedom Party. Thus, his son, Anura served as the parliamentary party leader.

Under his leadership, the Freedom Party moved forward. Chandrika Bandaranaike, daughter of Sirimavo, further shaped the party towards betterment, along with his spouse, Vijaya Kunmarathunge. One of their main aims was to build harmony with the Tamil population in the country. However, by 1986, a presidential proclamation reestablished Sirimavo’s civil rights. This indeed strengthened the journey of the Freedom Party.

Meanwhile, in 1987, a civil war emerged in Sri Lanka owing to the conflicts between the government and the separatists, especially, the Tamils. Besides, the Indo-Sri Lankan Acord came into action in 1987 laying out terms of trace between the state and the rebels. This created space for the Indian Peace Keeping Force to occupy the country in an attempt to promote disarmament. However, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her party opposed this decision. As a result of all this unrest, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) militants re-emerged in the country. Meanwhile, Sirimavo decided to compete for the election again in 1988. Still, Ranasinghe Premadasa succeeded in the election and became the president of the country.

Leader of the Opposition  (1989-1994)

Even though the party of Ranasinghe Premadasa defeated Sirimavo and her team, they managed to acquire 67 seats. Further, Sirimavo was elected to the parliament from the Gampaha electoral district. Owing to these achievements, she again got into the position of opposition leader of the country from 1989 to 1994. And one of the major incidents that took place during this period was the 13-month ceasefire which was broken by the Tamil Tigers after other local armies surrendered their weapons, in1990. At this moment, the government decided to go ahead with military arrangements. Sirimavo opposed this arrangement, and her son Anura, supported the move.

When the president assumed the emergency powers, Sirimavo demanded that the state of emergency should be lifted. Also, she gave her support to the impeachment of Premadasa that took place in 1991. Yet, that impeachment was dismissed.

However, during this period, Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s health condition was turning bad. Meanwhile, her daughter Chandrika, who lived in London after her husband’s death, returned to Sri Lanka and rejoined the freedom party in 1991.

Following the assassination of Premadasa, D.B. Wijethunge became the acting president. Sirimavo gave up the idea of competing for the presidential election owing to her bad health.

Meanwhile, Chandrika Kumaratunga Formed a new coalition, the People’s Alliance (PA), to contest the 1993 provincial election. Accordingly, she became the  Chief Minister in 1993. Later, this coalition led by Kumaratunga could win the southern provincial council elections, and the general parliamentary election in 1994 as well. By this time, Kumarathunge was also the leader of the Freedom Party. With this win, Bandaranaike announced that Kumaratunga would become Prime Minister. Bandaranaike was in a wheelchair by this time. However, she was re-elected to the parliament, and she was appointed to her daughter’s cabinet as a Minister without Portfolio.

Third Term as the Prime Minister (1994-2000)

At the presidential election in November 1994, Chandrika Bandaranaike achieved a great win, and accordingly, she became the first woman president in Sri Lanka. Further, she appointed her mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the prime minister, and accordingly, she again got into this position for the third term. While the prime minister post appeared more like a ceremonial post, Chandrika emerged as a strong politician day by day and remained as a strong leader for the party as well. However, in 2000, Sirimavo Bandarainke stepped down for wellbeing reasons, concluding a remarkable political career in Sri Lanka.

Social Work of Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Social work always remained a special part of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s life. In fact, she began her social work several years before she entered politics officially. And one of the significant features of her social work career is that her main attention was on the women of Sri Lanka. Accordingly, one of the main highlights in her social life is her membership in the Lanka Mahila Samiti (Lankan Women’s Affiliation), the country’s biggest women’s deliberate association. Apart from that, she played many important roles in several other associations as well. Accordingly, she focused her attention on issues of girl’s instruction, women’s political rights, and family planning. Besides, these roles created her opportunities to strengthen the provincial ladies and fiasco relief as well.

Besides, the ventures she began with an agrarian program with the aim of meeting the nourishment generation deficiencies of the country are indeed significant. She was the secretary of the association. This made her assemble cultivation specialists, and promote strategies for creating yields of rice crops. Apart from that, she was also a part of the All Ceylon Buddhist Women’s Affiliation, the Cancer Society, the Ceylon National Affiliation for the Anticipation of Tuberculosis, and the Medical Attendant’s Welfare Association.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Death and Legacy 

Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first woman president of the world passed away on the 10th of October, 2020 at Kadawatha, owing to a heart attack. On that day, voting for the parliamentary election took place, and she had also cast her vote. However, Sri Lanka declared two days of national mourning with regard to her death. Her remains were laid in state in the parliament, and the funeral took place at Horagolla. Further, Sirimavo Bandarainke was interred in the mausoleum there, which was originally built for her husband.

Even after the death of this lady, the name of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, still remains strong in the political history of Sri Lanka. Apart from being the first female Prime Minister in the world, Sirimavo Bandaranaike was also Sri Lanka’s longest-served Prime Minister. She has served this island as the prime minister for 18 long years in total when considering her three terms.

Besides, her children also could reach greater heights in their political careers. In fact, her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga served as the fourth official president of Sri Lanka, and she was the first woman to hold the presidency of the country. Moreover, no other woman could be the president of Sri Lanka until now. Besides, Sirimavo’s only son Anura Bandaranaike served as a Speaker of Parliament of Sri Lanka and additionally remained a cabinet member. So, all these things together indeed added more value to this significant lady of Sri Lankan politics, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

The Bottom Line

So, conclusively, it is a must mention that Sirimavo Bandaranaike is an irreplaceable living legacy in Sri Lankan Political History. During an era as such, where no lady had taken up the position of a prime minister, the strength and courage she had to step in, even bearing the great loss of her husband, is indeed appreciable. The pride she earned, the service she did, and the political path she paved are indeed incomparable. Therefore, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the trail-blazing role she played would forever keep shining in the history of Sri Lanka.