Anura of Bandaranaike family is dead

March 16th, 2008 - 7:48 pm ICT by admin  

By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, March 16 (IANS) Anura Bandaranaike, a former Sri Lankan foreign minister and brother of former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, died here Sunday after a brief illness, officials said. He was 59. A stalwart of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Anura - as he was widely known - had been ill and was hospitalised for a while.

A controversial politician who switched sides many times, Bandaranaike revolted against President Mahinda Rajapaksa twice in 2007 and lost his ministerial portfolio. But he was due to be taken back when he expired.

Anura Priyadarshi Solomon Dias Bandaranaike had had a chequered career in politics. He had been an MP continuously since 1977.

Born in February 1949 into Sri Lanka’s first family, his father S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was the first centre-left prime minister of the island nation.

“SWRD” ushered in a socio-political revolution of sorts by replacing English with indigenous languages and giving primacy to Buddhism and the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka.

Anura’s mother Sirimavo took power after her husband’s assassination by a Buddhist monk in 1959. Sirimavo, better known as “Sirima”, ushered in an era of indigenisation and nationalization while facilitating the political dominance of the Sinhalese-Buddhist majority community through a new constitution in 1972.

But Sirima’s unpopular leftist regime lost badly in the 1977 elections, and the new government led by J.R. Jayawardene took away her civic rights.

This gave Anura a chance to lead the SLFP. He served as the opposition leader in parliament from 1983 to 1988.

However, he fell out with his mother, the matriarch of the SLFP, and joined the ruling United National Party (UNP), to become minister for higher education between 1993 and 1994.

In 1994, an SLFP-led coalition, led by his elder sister Chandrika Kumaratunga swept the parliamentary and presidential elections. But relations between the brother and sister remained strained. Anura remained with the UNP to carry on the campaign against his sister’s rule.

By 2000, there was a rapprochement between Chandrika and Anura, and between 2000 and 2001 Anura became the speaker of parliament.

The parliamentary elections of 2001 led to his losing the speaker’s post. But when the SLFP-led coalition bounced back after the 2004 elections, Anura became minister for tourism, industry and investment.

Following the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005, Anura became Sri Lanka’s foreign minister. But when his sister demitted office as president in 2005, after Rajapaksa won the presidential election, Anura’s fortunes in the SLFP sharply declined.

He was hoping to be prime minister or at least foreign minister under Rajapaksa, but his non-involvement in Rajapaksa’s election campaign caused ire in the Rajapaksa camp.

However, being a member of the Bandaranaike family, Anura got a cabinet berth - as tourism minister.

But tensions between President Rajapaksa and Anura never died out. In January 2007, Anura lost the tourism portfolio. And in February that year, he was sacked from the cabinet, as minister of national heritage.

He was punished for joining a rebel group headed by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and junior minister Sripathi Sooriyarachchi.

However, while Samaraweera and Sooriyarachchi remained rebels, Anura responded to Rajapaksa’s overtures and rejoined the cabinet as national heritage minister. But Anura reportedly wanted a more high profile portfolio.

When this was not forthcoming, he walked over to the opposition benches in December 2007, during the crucial budget vote in which the Rajapaksa government feared defeat.

When Anura fell gravely ill earlier this year, Rajapaksa visited him and offered to take him back. It is not known if Anura’s response was positive.

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