Monday, Apr. 06, 1959

The Muddler

In the eleven years since it won independence from Britain, Ceylon has had a cautious, conservative government and a wild-eyed Socialist one. Last week, in the third year of the Socialist administration of frail, fidgety Premier Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, 60, Ceylon sweltered in the pre-monsoon heat. In the capital city of Colombo, the stores were packed with luxury goods, the streets jammed with cars, the sidewalks filled with smiling people and saffron-robed Buddhist monks under black umbrellas. In the lush countryside there were signs of the paralyzing drought that had lasted for months. But the island's cash products—tea, rubber, coconuts, rice—still found a ready world market.

Little Outbreak. There seems to be no hint in Ceylon of last year's bestial communal riots between Hindu Tamils and Buddhist Sinhalese, in which an estimated 1,000 died—some of them soaked with kerosene and burned alive (TIME, June 16, 1958). Premier Bandaranaike now refers to the riots, largely caused by his own ineptitude, as "one of those little outbreaks." In addition to the riots, "Banda" has buoyantly survived incessant strikes, a rising cost of living, unemployment, a flight of capital, floods, drought and hysterical politics. Having survived so much, Banda has a fair chance to last out his five-year term of office, even though movie audiences hoot at his appearance in newsreels, and he has lost much of his 1956 electoral support.

Typical of Banda's nimble maneuvering is his makeshift coalition Cabinet, where the political spectrum ranges from Communist-minded Food Minister Philip Gunawardena, 58, to an efficient combine of right-wing, pro-Western politicians.

"The only cementing factor," says Opposition Leader Dr. N. M. Perera, a handsome, sleepy-eyed Trotskyite,* "is the mutual dread of an election." By gently shifting his influence, Banda alternately encourages and hampers Gunawardena in his proposals for land reform and rural cooperatives; little has been done to fulfill election promises of nationalizing tea and rubber plantations, or of turning Ceylon into a model Socialist country.

Banda has even succeeded in pushing through his wrangling Parliament a tough public security bill giving the government emergency powers against local disturbances and against strikes that it considers "politically motivated." The debate on the bill got so heated that police had to storm Parliament and carry out opposition leaders, including Dr. Perera, who kept right on orating as he was being borne horizontally from the hall.

Cool Heels. Banda's guile is equally evident in his dealings with East and West. After a flurry of deals last year with the Soviet-bloc nations he is now slipping from their deadly embrace. A Red Chinese delegation has cooled its heels for a month in Colombo trying to arrange a new rice-for-rubber barter, after the other one worked out badly. Of 16 ambitious projects to be set up with Soviet Russian aid, only one—a sugar factory—is beyond the planning stage. Banda's smiles are currently lavished on the U.S. aid missions, which since 1956 have spent $36 million on a variety of Ceylon's problems, from malaria control to extending the runways at Colombo airport. More than 1,600,000 schoolchildren get a daily glass of milk and a bun from U.S. surplus foods. Even glowering, anti-American Food Minister Gunawardena works closely with U.S. people on agricultural and irrigation projects.

Economically better off than India, politically no more unstable than Indonesia, Ceylon moves imperfectly forward—but it does move. Said a Western observer to a TIME correspondent in Colombo last week: "It's utterly chaotic, and yet I'm less worried about Ceylon today than I was a year ago. If the Ceylonese have learned anything from the British, I guess it is the art of muddling through."

* The Trotskyite, or antiStalinist, Communists hold 14 seats in a 100-man House of Representatives. The only other place in the world where Trotskyites have any real influence is Bolivia.