Monday, Apr. 23, 1956

Auspicious Hour?

Harking to his astrologer, Solomon West Ridgeway Diaz Bandaranaike selected high noon as the most auspicious hour to be sworn in as Ceylon's new Prime Minister. Before setting out in his ten-year-old Plymouth for the Georgian mansion of Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke in downtown Colombo, he faced the sun, to bring success to his venture. That afternoon at exactly eight minutes past 4, another auspicious hour, his new Cabinet of 12 scrambled for their cars and joined Bandaranaike at the mansion for a mass swearing-in ceremony. The Cabinet, at the Prime Minister's instruction, had laid aside their Western-style clothes and appeared, slightly selfconscious, in long white sarongs and sandals. "Gentlemen." said Bandaranaike, "this will be our official dress."

Bandaranaike's upset victory over Sir John Kotelawala (TIME. April 16) was apt to prove much more than a change of clothes. Sir John's pro-Western government, it now seemed clear, had been defeated mainly by domestic issues, e.g., a rise in rice prices, failure to please Ceylon's militant Buddhist majority. But domestic issues were all but forgotten as the new government, with strong left-wing and neutralist ties, sounded its first keynotes.

Close to Nehru. Bandaranaike called SEATO "pregnant with danger," reiterated his intention to establish relations with the U.S.S.R. and Red China. As for Britain's two strategic bases in Ceylon : "We are completely opposed to the concession of any bases, military or otherwise, in our country to any foreign power." To underline his neutrality, Bandaranaike told reporters that his thinking was "very close to Nehru's." Delighted, the Indian press hailed him as the "conscience of the new Asia."

After first recoiling in horror, London decided that it might be possible, and it would certainly be necessary, to live with Bandaranaike. He has already assured worried British tea planters that, despite his fiery campaigning, nationalization of their plantations, when it comes, will take place without "any form of expropriation." Britain hopes that he will negotiate a new agreement for the bases, keep Ceylon within the Commonwealth even after it becomes a republic. The U.S. is planning to go ahead with $5,000,000 in aid to Ceylon this year.

Too Near Anthony. Bandaranaike is an aristocratic country squire who made a brilliant record as a classics scholar and orator at Oxford in the '20s. At Christ Church College he argued Asian affairs with Upperclassman Anthony Eden, was often disturbed at study by boisterous parties in Eden's rooms. He once beat out Malcolm MacDonald, Britain's High Commissioner in India, for secretary of the Oxford Union.

In 1925 he went back to Ceylon and began competing for higher stakes. Once in politics. he discarded his Western dress. Though brought up an Anglican, he turned Buddhist. Today, at 57, Bandaranaike lives a fairly Spartan life with his wife and three children. Stooped, gaunt and bespectacled, he has an uncanny understanding of his fellow Ceylonese. And his talent for expediency has never left him. Those who do not admire him are fond of reciting a little jingle:

I do not love you, Banda dear, Because you change from year to year.

The West could only hope that Banda's next change would be in its favor.