President J.R. Jayewardene Biography
Junius Richard Jayewardene was born 17-9-1906 to the lawyer and later Chief
Justice Eugene Wilfred Jayewardene and his wife Agnes Helen. The eldest of eleven
children, he was educated at Royal College, Colombo. An active career at school
included prizes for reading and oratory, being a member of the cricket team and
playing in the Royal-Thomian big match. He also captained the rugger team in 1925,
played football and was a member of the Cadet Platoon. He was known as Dickie to
his family and close friends but the world will remember him fondly as 'J. R.·.
J. R. Jayewardene initially entered the Colombo University College to read English,
Latin, Logic and Economics. However he soon switched to Law College, passing out
as an advocate in March 1932. Donning the family mantle, he started a law practice.
On the 28th February 1935, he married the charming heiress Miss Elina Bandara
Rupasinghe. They have one son, Ravindra Vimal. J.R. lived in his father's house in
Park Road, Colombo and later at 'Vaijayantha· in Dharmapala Mawatha. On
marrying, J.R. built his own house, 'Braernar' at Ward Place, Colombo and lived
there throughout his life.
Giving up a lucrative career in law, J.R. entered into politics at age 32_ The
conservatism of the Ceylon National Congress, with an identity akin to the Gandhian
Indian National Congress, attracted young J.R. He saw the Marxist ideals of the
Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the nationalism of the Sinhala Maha Sabha, the other
two contemporary political parties, contrary to his Buddhist doctrines. After a local
election win in 1940, he entered the National State Council winning the Kelaniya by-
election in April 1943. When 0.5. Senanayake formed the United National Party in
1947, J. R. was a founder member.
J.R. won the Kelaniya seat again at the General Election of 1947 and was appointed
the first Finance Minister of the first Parliament of the Ceylon. In 1951, he led his
country's delegation to the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco.
Quoting the Buddha, he famously declared, "Hatred ceases not by hatred but by
love", moving the other 51 nations to view Japan with compassion. It endeared J.R.
to an ever-grateful Japan. The 1952 General Election returned the UNP again with a
more powerful cabinet, the Prime Minister as head of government and J.R. retaining
his portfolio of Finance.
Sir John Kotelawalas new cabinet in October 1953, included J.R. as Minister of
Agriculture and Food and Leader of the House. The UNP lost the General Election of
1956 to the coalition led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party on issues of language,
religion and nationalism. In March 1960 with J.R. as Vice President and Chief
Organizer, the UNP won the General Election, forming a minority government under
Dudley Senanayake. J.R. was appointed Minister of State and Tourism. Losing
another General Election three months later, the UNP only returned to power in
1965 with J_R. again as Minister of State and Tourism.
The launching of the landmark Mahaweli Project was a glimmering hope for the
government of Dudley Senanayake, which was gradually losing popularity. The World
Bank and IMF demanded a water tax as a precondition to financing the Polgolla
Project. The government succumbed and the opposition United Left Front attacked,
bringing the UNP down at the 1970 General Election. Meanwhile an insurrection by
the People's Liberation Front (JVP) in 1971 posed a threat to the new government. A
rift within the UNP, due to a misunderstanding that J.R. was going to defect was
resolved. In May 1972 the new constitution proclaimed Sri Lanka as a democratic
Leader of the UNP
On the death of Dudley Senanayake on 13th April 1973, J.R. was elected Chairman
of the UNP. J.R. showed his mettle during this period by revamping the party
machinery and launching a massive protest against the poor economic policies of the
government and the press take-over. He called his non-violent Gandhian campaign
Sathyagraha. Under J. R.·s leadership, the UNP swept to power with a resounding
5/6th majority. On 23rd July 1977 he took oaths as Prime Minister and Minister of
Defence, Economic Affairs and Plan Implementation. It was a historic moment when
he addressed the nation from the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy as Prime Minister.
The Presidential Constitution
With his overwhelming majority in Parliament, Prime Minister Jayewardene
commenced translating his ideals of socialist democracy into legislation. His new
Constitution, with an elected Parliament and an elected Executive President was
passed. This constitution gave him strength to implement development programmes
such as the Mahaweli project, the Free Trade Zone, the Rupavahini Corporation, the
Jayewardene Pura Hospital, the New Parliament Complex, the Presidential Fund
Housing Programme, ete.
J.R. also accelerated the Mahaweli Project process, telescoping the work from 30 to
five years. On 4th February 1978 he was sworn in as the first Executive President of
the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. He opened the new Parliamentary
Complex in Jayewardenepura Kotte. In December 1982, J. R. held a referendum
seeking an extension of Parliament. It was a new experience for Sri Lanka and
Parliament was given a further lease of 6 years.
As the new Minister of State and Tourism in 1965, J.R. Jayewardene saw tourism as
an industry with great untapped potential. In order to attract investors, he tabled
the Ceylon Tourist Board Act No 10 of 1966. The Ceylon Hotels Corporation Act No
14 of 1966 followed to provide more accommodation.
President Jayewardene in 1977 inherited a dismal economic structure shackled by
state-controlled enterprise. He began three lead projects, the Accelerated
Mahaweli, the Free Trade Zone and Urban Development which commenced almost
simultaneously. These and other projects were initiated, inviting mass private
sector and foreign investment to establish a free exchange economy.
Indo-Sri Lanka Accord
The escalating ethnic conflict in the north of the island had been the subject of
several discussions brokered by India. The series of negotiations produced an
assurance that L TIE activities in Tamil Nadu and their political lobbying in New
Delhi would be curbed. India persuaded President Jayewardene to allow all Tamil
groups including militant ones, to be party to another conference under the aegis of
India. A precondition resulted in Sri Lankan troops being restricted to barracks. The
talks were fruitless while the L TIE took advantage to consolidate their positions.
In Bangalore, a finalized, revised entente was reached. Consequently the Indo-Sri
Lanka Accord was signed on 29th July 1987 by President J. R. Jayewardene and
Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi amidst strong protests. Under the agreement, all
terrorist groups had consented to disarm and join the democratic process. Only the
L TIE defaulted. India was obliged by the terms of the accord to deploy her troops
to contain the militants. Meanwhile President Jayewardene turned to pressing
economic and social problems in the South which were leading to another uprising
by the JVP.
After two hectic terms as Executive President of Sri Lanka President Jayewardene
finally retired on 1st January 1989. He was 82 years old. Throughout a political
career spanning half a century, he was a politician par excellence, a charismatic
leader and a venerated intermediary. He was a respected statesman who never
resorted to dictatorship.
One of his first instructions on becoming President was that all official gifts and
mementos be kept in a separate room in the President's House. Today these
artifacts, some priceless, are on public view at the J. R. Jayewardene Centre
Museum as memorial to the greatness of a true son of Sri Lanka.