Monday, Feb. 10, 1958

Conflict & Complacency

Ceylon is swinging sharply left, and frail, fidgety Premier Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, 58, seems unwilling or unable—or both—to stop it. This week, as Ceylon marks the tenth anniversary of its independence from Britain, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Rountree is flying out to check for himself reports that the Indian Ocean island off the southeast coast of India is well on the way to becoming another Syria.

Twenty-two months ago, "Banda" led a coalition of socialists to power in the land of star sapphires, tea terraces, umbrella-shaped shrines, and the world's most luxuriant greenery. In the process, he all but destroyed the island's only pro-Western party, the United National Party of Sir John Kotelawala. Today the chief opposition party is Trotskyite, and headed by a rabble-rousing double doctor (philosophy, science) of the University of London.

Unlike his fellow neutralist Nehru, who abominates home-grown Communists, Banda gave the full scope and support of his office to the island's most militant Marxist, shock-haired Agriculture Minister Philip Gunawardena, 58. A shouting, sarong-clad union boss who learned his leftism in the U.S.—at the University of Wisconsin and in Manhattan's Union Square—Gunawardena built his power month after month. By tying up island transport in incessant union warfare against rival Marxists, Gunawardena drove Banda to nationalize all buses Jan. 1. Later in the month, after even rougher bullyboy tactics by Gunawardena's dockworkers immobilized 72 cargo-crammed freighters in the harbor, Banda nationalized the port of Colombo. Over the opposition of moderate members of Banda's coalition but with Banda's approval, the legislature last week passed a bill empowering Gunawardena's Agriculture Ministry gradually to take over most of the island's paddy land.

Theory of Conflict. Banda, a onetime Oxford undergraduate who shared the same Christ Church staircase with Sir Anthony Eden, is a devout Buddhist, is Buddhistically sure that everything is for the best in Ceylon's green world. "Conflict is very essential to life," he says. "But it must be confict that does not militate against a higher harmony above it. I have always felt that ultimate reconciliation was possible, and the people of this country have now made it possible for me to put my theories into practice."

Soothing four of his moderate ministers after they complained of Gunawardena's public attacks on them, Premier Banda said: "It is true that Philip Gunawardena has Communist views, but the presence of Philip in our government is a protection against our country being stampeded into Communism." But Gunawardena, bent on using the land-reform program to gain for himself the national following he has so far failed to win, openly trumpets to his pajama-clad dockers: "Within 20 years the whole world will come under Communism's banner. As surely as there is a sun and moon, our island will become a Communist country."

Between East & West. In such green pastures, the Soviet-bloc countries are making hay. Having bartered Ceylon's basic rubber crop to Peking in 1957, Banda's regime last week signed an economic agreement with the Soviet Union for machinery and technical aid in return for Ceylon's tea. In the last year, 600 Ceylonese have toured the Soviet Union as Moscow's guests. Under a new Soviet-Ceylonese cultural pact, 21 Russian teachers last week bustled about the island meeting their Ceylonese counterparts. Premier Banda professes no fear that his tiny country might be overwhelmed in such exchanges. "My dear fellow," he assured a visitor, "there is great power in Buddhist thought. Our impact is much greater than our size would suggest." As proof, Banda cites the fact that the Buddhist scholar he sent to Moscow as Ceylon's first ambassador "is very much in demand at Moscow and other universities for lectures." The ambassador has just returned to reveal to his countrymen that crime no longer exists in the Soviet Union.

Two months ago Ceylon was struck by a major natural disaster. Blinding monsoon rains washed half a million people from their homes and breached 500 of the earthen irrigation tanks that the civilization of antiquity bequeathed to the cultivators of the island's food crops. U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Gluck called on Washington for emergency help. Flocks of helicopters from the aircraft carrier Princeton dropped food that saved the lives of hundreds and, incidentally, gave the U.S. a needed boost in popular esteem.

Since then, the Ceylonese have contracted with the Russians to prepare a plan for harnessing the Kelani River. But even here, Banda believes in conflict. He insisted on accepting a U.S. firm's bid for a TVA-like development of their largest river, the Mahaweli. And despite its assiduous courtship of the Communists, Banda's government still lets the Voice of America operate a relay station in Ceylon for its Asian broadcasts.

The Middle Way. "Anything can happen," says a Western observer in Colombo. "We were bound to see a certain amount of assertion of independence in a country where until a few years ago citizens couldn't send telegrams, make long-distance calls, make out a bill of lading or hold a government job unless they spoke English. I just hope it doesn't get out of hand." The hand is Lawyer Banda's, fluttering excitedly out of his white robes as he says: "If we have peace in the world for the next 25 years, then I feel reasonably confident that the world will become stabilized. Communism will move to the right, capitalism will move to the left and most of the world will be in the center—what we call democratic socialism." His friends in the West would feel more reassured if he had a more realistic view of the Communists as they are today.