Friday, Mar. 03, 1961

Delayed Revolt

On a green island set in a blue sea, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, 44, the world's first and only female Prime Minister, was plunged deep in political strife.

In the seaport of Jaffna, an angry mob of 3,000 Tamils, a linguistic and religious minority, battled police in protest against the substitution of Singhalese for English as Ceylon's official language. There were other problems. Mrs. Bandaranaike had been confronted with a sitdown strike when she forced the nationalization of 700 Roman Catholic schools. Opposition parties in Parliament offered a motion of no confidence, hoping to bring her down, charging the government with trying to protect M.P.s who had been found guilty of bribery and corruption. The cost of living rises steadily.

Fanatic Monk. Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike took charge of Ceylon's destinies last summer after an election campaign largely given over to tearful eulogies of her much-loved husband, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, who, after three years as Prime Minister, was assassinated in 1959 by a fanatic Buddhist monk. The widow brought to her job a mystical devotion to the vaguely left-wing ideals of her slain husband, as well as a deep Buddhist piety, personal honesty and considerable intelligence. She has also proved surprisingly tough, refusing to back down in the face of opposition, and ruthlessly whipping reluctant party members into line.

Mrs. Bandaranaike gives top priority to a crusade for a Buddhist revival that has strongly nationalist overtones. This crusade terrifies the 2,000,000 Tamils in Ceylon's 9,600,000 population; they are Hindu by religion and fearful that they will be relegated to second-class citizenship. Ceylon badly needs foreign investment, yet the Prime Minister backs a bill giving the government the right to expropriate all foreign oil property down to filling stations and trucks. She has urged Nehru to accept the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of "stateless" plantation workers originally imported from India, has simultaneously proposed a vindictive head tax on resident aliens, aimed chiefly at Indians. The government's flaming nationalism is reflected in Ceylon's increasingly neutral stand in the United Nations.

Helpful Nephew. With no experience and little interest in the mechanics of government, the Prime Minister relies heavily on her heavy-set nephew, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, 30, who is Minister of Finance and Parliamentary Secretary. Arrogant and bluntspoken, Nephew Felix strongly supports his aunt's school and language policies—even though he himself is a Christian and grew up speaking English (he is now being feverishly tutored in Singhalese).

The widow has unquestionably shattered the harmony of her island nation by her attacks on the Catholic and Tamil minorities, but her insistence that Ceylon belongs to the Singhalese is vastly popular with the vast majority. In Parliament last week, she had more than enough votes to beat down the no-confidence motion, 75-44. Explaining her disrupting success, a Singhalese politician said: "Other countries had a revolution, but the British handed us freedom on a platter. The average man found freedom was no different from life under the British. We are having our national revolution now."