SIR DON BARON JAYATILAKA: THE EPOCH MAKER | Daily News

SIR DON BARON JAYATILAKA: THE EPOCH MAKER

Continued from yesterday

He presented the first budget of the State Council, thus entering the record books as the first Sri Lankan to do so. During the budget he stated that every child should receive education and that a government elected by the uneducated can be dangerous. Many progressive policies were introduced especially in the fields of irrigation, land development and agricultural development. In 1932 D.B. Jayatilaka was knighted by the King thus entering the record books once again as the first Buddhist to be so honoured.

The second election to the State Council took place in 1936 and D.B. Jayatilaka was elected once again as the member for Kelaniya. His national leadership was repeatedly endorsed when he was reelected to the coveted positions of Minister of Home Affairs, Vice Chairman of State Council and Leader of the State Council. The second world war officially commenced on the third of September 1939 with the entry of German troops to Poland. On the fifth of September 1939 under the able guidance of D.B. Jayatilaka the State Council passed an address to the King pledging support to the prosecution of the war.

This was not only an act of allegiance to the throne but also an expression of solidarity in defence of democracy and basic human values. This bold move which was spearheaded by D.B. Jayatilaka; even though scoffed at by some extremist elements paid rich dividends, for it helped in no small measure to Sri Lanka gaining Independence shortly after the war.

The Japanese air raids over Colombo took place on April 5, 1942. The panic stricken residents of Colombo fled to rural areas. The unloading of ships at the Colombo harbor came to a standstill resulting in a food shortage. D.B. Jayatilaka rose to the occasion, mustered 400 volunteers from Kelaniya electorate and unloaded the food ships. As Minister of Home Affairs and leader of the State Council, D.B. Jayatilaka was responsible for maintaining peace and good order in the country. He lost no time in rationing food, organizing food production, establishing Town Guards and stepping up civil defence. The fact that D.B. Jayatilaka was indeed the one and only uncrowned national leader of the Pre Independence era was reaffirmed when the University of Ceylon at its first convocation held on October 15, 1942 conferred on him the honorary doctorate of laws, LLD.

Final assignment of a National Hero

In 1942, D.B. Jayatilaka was cunningly dispatched from national leadership to near oblivion being appointed as the Resident Representative of Sri Lanka in India with residence in New Delhi. In order to hood-wink the masses in Sri Lanka who loved him, wide publicity was given to the two concocted reasons that compelled the authorities to station him in India. Firstly, that it was necessitated by the acute food shortage in Sri Lanka as a result of war and the need to obtain urgent food supplies from India.

Secondly, that there was an urgent need to find a solution to the simmering issue of the expatriate South Indian labour force in Sri Lanka. Whether this assignment demanded the services of the de facto head of government and the first in line for the post of Prime Minister of independent Sri Lanka is a debatable issue. Future historians will be debating as to whether the decision to throw him into the political wilderness was taken in good faith or with an ulterior motive. It could be that D.B. Jayatilaka innocently fell prey to a trap laid by his own fellow ministers; as otherwise there was no need to use an axe to kill a mosquito. Moreover, D.B. Jayatilaka who was 74 years of age at the time was not in the best of health being the victim of malaria. Dr. Nandadeva Wijesekara in his biography of D.B. Jayatilaka has summed up the intrigue and the machinations that had been unleashed to get rid of him as follows. “The time was drawing near when the malignant forces were manifesting. Old age seemed to be an obstacle in the path of those who were in too great a hurry”.

In February 1944 D.B. Jayatilaka while serving in New Delhi fell ill with a recurrence of malaria. From the early 1930’s malaria had plagued him and he suffered from several relapses. In April he went to Mussorie as the heat in New Delhi was unbearable. There, he developed a stomach ailment and a minor heart attack too. He wanted to return to Sri Lanka as soon as possible. The Viceroy of India hurriedly arranged a special plane. He passed away in Bangalore on the 29th of May 1944.

A state funeral was ordered jointly by the civil government and the military authorities. A sea of humanity assembled in Colombo to pay their last respects. Tributes flowed from all parts of the country and all corners of the globe. The premature passing away of the great national hero and the irreplaceable epoch maker was indeed an irreparable loss to the country and more so to its people. A newspaper editor of the day while paying a glowing tribute in his editorial said that “no leader had touched the hearts of the people of Sri Lanka at so many points or embodied so authentically the very spirit of Sri Lanka as did Sir D.B. Jayatilaka.”

Uniqueness

The uniqueness of Sir D.B. Jayatilaka is indeed legendary. His uniqueness lies in the fact that the qualities and the characteristics which were possessed by him and his singular achievements could not be surpassed or even equalled by any single individual who lived before or after him. This uniqueness reflected the sum total of the values of our people’s cultural heritage. His gentle manner was felt and known by all who met him and spoke to him. He was fearless in action. He planned every detail of his life and work well in advance. He spoke true to his conscience. He feared nothing. He feared nobody. The only things he feared were going against justice, truth and righteousness. His serenity of mind and calm mental peace was legendary. He remained unperturbed and untroubled amidst troubled situations. He had the placid serenity of the cultured mind. He approached human problems with all pervading love. He was wise but did not display his wisdom. He was humble but did not yield to any power. He could walk with Kings without losing the common touch.

Sir D.B. Jayatilaka had a tremendous capacity to remember things. His retentive memory was as good as that of an electronic computer. He had the ability to quote from memory whole passages from classical texts. He was a master of sarcasm, irony and innuendo. He never lost his temper nor did he display any emotions of anger. His personal life was exemplary. He led an unassuming, principled, simple and elegant life. Caring and sharing were natural traits ingrained in him. Humility was the hallmark of his popularity, success and greatness. He was accessible to all and sundry. Even though a man of substantial means, he preferred a simple, frugal and non conspicuous style of living. The money thus saved was generously utilized for worthy causes such as helping the needy, meritorious deeds and rural regeneration. His generosity was prompted by sympathy with the suffering humanity. He established several social welfare organizations. As a final act of “dana” he bequeathed to the public of Sri Lanka the entirety of his estate which he owned at the time of his death.

The combination of Eastern and Western systems of education provided him with the knowledge, training and discipline unrivalled by anyone of his time. That by itself made him unique. His knowledge of Sri Lanka history, Buddhism and oriental languages together with the study of European history and western classics enabled him to command a wealth of material for his writings, speeches and consideration of national problems. In his day there was no greater or better Buddhist disciple (Upasaka) than Sir D.B. Jayatilaka. He travelled abroad to propagate and deliver lectures on Buddhism spending his own money.

He started Dhamma schools throughout the island. He prepared and published a graduated series of Dhamma books for systematic teaching. Today it is difficult to find a boy or a girl or a man or a woman who has not attended Dhamma school.

It has been said that there was no greater servant of the people and their cause than Sir D.B. Jayatilaka. For well nigh thirty years she had suffered for the sake of the people and the country and sometimes in jail too for vindicating the rights and fulfilling the aspirations of his countrymen.

Sir D.B. Jayatilaka was no extremist, nor was he a communalist. He always followed the middle path expounded by the Buddha. He was not racial minded nor was he religious minded. He fought for the restoration of the rightful place for the Sinhalese as well as for the Buddhists. At the same time he respected all races and religions equally. Because of this, the minorities treated D.B. Jayatilaka with utmost respect and confidence. His name was proposed and seconded by minority State Councilors for the high post of Vice Chairman of the State Council. When Tamil members were abandoning the National League he made every endeavour to win them over.

In the political sphere the crowning glory of all his struggles and achievements was bringing the country to the brink of freedom and independence. If not for Sir D.B. Jayatilaka’s sustained struggle for progressive political reforms the attainment of freedom could have cost dearer in blood and tears. Tamils and other minorities had confidence in him and associated with him loyally. He proceeded on the basis of many races and many religions but one people and one nation. Sir D.B. Jayatilaka, the epoch maker was a unique character indeed. Without him Sri Lanka’s pre-Independence history may not have been so rosy nor so smooth.

 


 

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