Monday, Oct. 28, 1957

Switch to the Left?

The White Ensign of Britain's Royal Navy, which had flown for 162 triumphant years over the vast Trincomalee naval station on Ceylon's east coast, came fluttering down its flagstaff for the last time. In its place, proud Ceylonese raised the Golden Lion of Ceylon's own navy. In the harbor, Her Majesty's cruiser Ceylon, the 8,781-ton flagship of Britain's once-mighty East Indies squadron, paused momentarily to exchange naval courtesies with the inward-bound Vijaya, a hastily reconditioned 13-year-old British minesweeper, which is the only "capital" ship of Ceylon's own eight-vessel navy (also one gunboat, six patrol boats). "This step," said Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Diaz Bandaranaike, "was not taken in a spirit of hostility. Our foreign policy is based on friendship with all nations and nonalignment with any power blocs."

Westerners are not so sure. After 18 months in office as independent Ceylon's fourth Prime Minister, Bandaranaike still commands a huge popularity, but he seems to be tugged steadily leftward. A stream of "diplomats" from behind the Iron Curtain have been pouring into Ceylon to offer trade, aid and advice. Little by little Western capital and know-how is being withdrawn, frightened away by increasing talk of nationalization. Unemployment increases steadily (the Trincomalee turnover itself threw 10,000 dock workers out of work).

Driving force behind this leftward trend is Bandaranaike's Minister of Agriculture and Food, dynamic, ruthless Philip Gunawardena. A rich man's son who learned about Communism at the University of Wisconsin and New York's Union Square, Gunawardena calls himself "a Marxist, first, last and always." From the moment Bandaranaike took him into the government last year (ostensibly to keep him quiet), Gunawardena has stepped up his demands for more and more nationalization. He has already won authority to control all rice and sugar sales. His latest proposal would give him the right to control and collectivize every paddy field in the nation. Bandaranaike, who originally opposed the bill, discreetly switched his stand and gave it his backing after discovering it had considerable parliamentary support.

"This fear of Communism," says the Prime Minister, "is terribly overdone." Retorts Agriculture Minister Gunawardena: "Ceylon will be all left within the next five years."