Libmonster ID: U.S.-1390


Doctor of Philological Sciences

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Keywords: Republic of Sri Lanka, Bandaranaike dynasty, women in power, Sinhalese-Tamil conflict, devolution

Chandrika Kumaratunga (b.1945), President of Sri Lanka from 1994-2005, is a unique case among the six women who led governments in South Asia in the twentieth century. Chandrika is the daughter of two former prime ministers, one of whom (Solomon Bandaranaike) was martyred, and his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike - the other prime minister-became a national symbol. So Chandrika initially had all possible "dynastic rights", both patrilineal and matrilineal.

However, the reason the electorate chose her was because Chandrika's husband, movie star Vijaya Kumaratunga (1945-1988), was killed by a leftist extremist. It was Vijaya's death in 1988, which caused deep mourning throughout the country (it is known that at least twelve of his fans committed suicide after his funeral), that made his widow Chandrika a "victim of injustice", which in traditional political culture entails mass sympathy and electoral success among the people.

In Sinhala, the name "Chandrika" means "moonlight". All three of the Bandaranaike couple's children - the eldest daughter Sunetra, the middle daughter Chandrika and the youngest son Anur - grew up in the midst of political events. "Since childhood, we have been breathing, eating, and living in politics," 1 Chandrika said, and recalled sitting on the rail of her father's chair and listening to people talk about what was happening in the country.


The Bandaranaike sisters received their school education at St. Brigid's Catholic Monastery in Colombo. Chandrika was just 14 years old when her father was killed - the first heavy loss in her life. A year later, Sirimavo became Prime Minister, which made her less accessible to children. After leaving the convent school, Chandrika studied for several more years at St. Thomas Aquinas University College, Ceylon's oldest Catholic institution, where she received a scholarship to continue her education in Europe. If her older sister and brother preferred British universities, then Chandrika went to Paris, to the famous Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po), which is considered the forge of France's political and diplomatic elite.

Chandrika spent five years in Paris studying political science and international relations, as well as interning as a political journalist for the newspaper Le Monde. Life in France significantly influenced her ideas about the democratic structure of modern society, formed liberal ideas about human rights and individual freedom. It is known that in 1968 she took part in the actions of "Red May", left-wing student performances.2 "I went to the barricades," Chandrika recalled, " and there I became a revolutionary."3. In 1970, after completing her degree, she entered graduate school, intending to work on a dissertation on the problem of developing economies. But these plans were disrupted by the mother's demand to return home and take part in party work.

His long life in France and his education there made Chandrika a new type of leader. She belonged to that generation of the South Asian elite, which consisted of people who were connected with the West from a young age, who were educated at Oxford, the Sorbonne or Harvard, and who learned Western values and lifestyle from their youth. Chandrika's ethnic, national, and religious identity was unquestionable. She said of herself, " I am a Sinhalese Buddhist, a strong dark Sinhalese, as the saying goes, and a very good Buddhist."4. As for cultural identity, Kumaratunga simultaneously belonged to "two worlds": the paradigms of her native culture, of course, she learned from birth, but thanks to education and life experience acquired in the West, she easily navigated the meanings and codes of Western culture.

The article was written with the financial support of the Russian Foundation for National Research, grant No. 14-03-00014 "Heiresses of Asian Democracies: gender and political dynasties in South Asian countries".

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After returning from France, Chandrika briefly headed the executive committee of the Women's League under the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (PSSL). In 1977, the PSSL suffered a crushing defeat in the elections, Sirimavo resigned, and a new period of life began for Chandrika, where her desire for independence from both the political situation and the influence of her mother was manifested. Despite Sirimavo's displeasure, in 1978 Chandrika married film actor and aspiring politician Vijaya Kumaratung, who, despite his great popularity with the audience, was much lower in social origin than his wife.

The Kumaratunga family had two children: a daughter, Yasodhara (b. 1980), and a son, Vimukti (b.1982). The Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga dynasty obviously ends there. Yasodhara became a medical practitioner, and Vimukti became a veterinary surgeon, both of whom live in the UK and have nothing to do with politics. This, of course, was the choice of their mother, who, on the one hand, sought to protect children from the tragic fate of their grandfather and father, and, on the other, as a modern politician, understood the inferiority of "dynastic democracy". Whenever journalists asked Kumaratunga about the future of her children, she said that she "brainwashed them from childhood so that they would not think about getting involved in politics." 5


In 1988, Chandrika experienced a new tragedy. On February 16, she was standing on the threshold of her own home when an armed motorcyclist appeared from nowhere and shot at her husband, who was standing at the gate. "I was the only one who rushed to his aid. The others scattered in different directions, so I must have always had that courage. I saw the killer shoot bullet after bullet into my husband's head. Then he glanced at me and disappeared. When I ran up to my husband, he had no head."6. Vijaya's killer turned out to be a mercenary commissioned by the National Liberation Front (Janata Vimukti Peramuna, JVP), a Sinhalese extremist organization whose rebellion was suppressed in the early 1970s by Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

Vijaya's funeral, held in Colombo's Independence Square, drew crowds and was broadcast on television. The day of his murder is called " Black Tuesday in the history of Sri Lanka." The handsome movie star had to be buried in a half-closed coffin, as his face was disfigured by bullets. Shortly after her husband's funeral, Chandrika left for England with her children, fearing for their safety and her own life. However, the backlash caused by Vijaya's death proved to be long-lasting and ultimately played a crucial role in Chandrika's political ascent in the early 1990s.

Why did they kill Kumaratunga, at that time only a novice politician who did not hold any serious positions in the government or parliament? In 1983, the Sinhalese-Tamil ethnic conflict, which arose in the 1960s under Solomon Bandaranaike, turned into a phase of armed confrontation. The war between government forces and Tamil separatists has had mixed success: at some times, the separatists have managed to control up to a third of the island's territory. Kumaratunga, an ethnic Sinhalese, was nevertheless a proponent of devolution, the delegation of some of its powers by central government bodies to local authorities.

Vijaya considered devolution, i.e. the transfer of some of the power to Tamils, to be the only real means of resolving the ethnic conflict. In 1984, he founded a new party, the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (Sri Lankan People's Party), whose program included dialogue with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and subsequent separation of powers. Chandrika became the vice-president of the new party. At the same time, both spouses harshly criticized the "family" party Bandaranaike PSSL and the ruling United National Party (ONP) at that time for their "feudal" policies and discrimination against minorities.

Vijaya's active contacts with Tamils drew the rejection and condemnation of most Sinhalese politicians, in particular, the leadership of the ONP, who saw devolution as an attempt on a unitary state, such as Sri Lanka. They considered Vijaya himself a Tamil agent and a traitor to the interests of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. In the end, it was the commitment to devolution that led to Kumaratunga's removal.


Chandrika lived in London for more than two years, working at the International Institute for the Study of Emerging Economies, and in 1991 decided to return home and at the same time enter public policy. She has re-established her membership in the PSSL, a party she had previously described as"monstrously chauvinistic." Chandrika's return worried her brother, Anura, a former member of Parliament from the PSL. He, like many members of this party, expected Sirimavo to make him his successor.

However, my mother decided otherwise and preferred to hand over the reins of the PSL to Chandrika, who was more active, flexible and responsive, better able to talk to the people and, in addition, overshadowed by the aura of Vijaya's "martyrdom". In the 1994 elections, Chandrika ran as a candidate for the People's Alliance, a group of seven left-wing parties led by the PSSL. The People's Alliance won, and Chandrika became Prime Minister. This, however, was not all she did in November-

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re also won the presidential election in 1994 and was sworn in as the fifth President of Sri Lanka.

In her election program, Chandrika promised to immediately start peace talks with the LTTE and give the country a new constitution that would grant Tamils regional autonomy. Sinhalese and Tamils alike suffering from the war saw Chandrika, the daughter of the martyred "father of the nation" and widow of the villainously murdered "hero of the nation", as their savior and last hope. And this explains the high percentage of votes she received in the elections-63%. However, many sober-minded people understood that "the seeds of ethnic conflict were sown by Kumaratunga's father, the soil was fertilized by her mother, and she herself is left to reap a bitter harvest." 7

Kumaratunga's victory meant the end of the ONP's 17-year rule and the return of power to the Bandaranaike "family", especially since the new president's first step was to appoint her mother as Prime Minister. In fact, the situation where the two main positions in the country were held by women, in addition to a mother and daughter, had no precedent in South Asia. At the same time, Sirimavo's leadership style, views, and political beliefs differed significantly from Chandrika's. Chandrika, a political scientist and economist by training, had no illusions about the socialist economy, in particular, the nationalization of leading industries, which her mother was a supporter of.

But the main thing that distinguished Chandrika's policy from Sirimavo's was her deep conviction in the need for a peaceful settlement of the ethnic conflict, her refusal to solve the "Tamil problem" by military means, and her willingness to negotiate even with LTTE terrorists. She sincerely believed that changes in the constitution that transferred some of the power to the ethnic minority, i.e., the notorious devolution, could help to cut this "Gordian knot".

Negotiations with the separatists began in April 1995, but quickly stalled after LTTE fighters sank two warships in Trincomalee Bay, where a British naval base was once located. Negotiations were interrupted and then resumed, then stopped again, because the contracting parties did not have any confidence in each other.

Gradually, Kumaratunga developed an ambivalent approach to the ethnic conflict: it believed that the "Tamil tigers "should continue to be suppressed by military means, but that greater autonomy should be constitutionally granted to territories inhabited by" peaceful " Tamils.


Early presidential elections were scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka in December 1999. Three days earlier, Kumaratunga spoke at a rally in an open area near the metropolitan municipality. After the speech, Chandrika descended from the podium and, accompanied by journalists and cameramen, went to her car. Suddenly, a column of orange flame burst into the air: five meters from the podium, a suicide bomber blew herself up with explosives attached to her belt. Fragments of her torn body, along with metal bolts and balls that were stuffed into the suicide belt, fell on the crowd. The cameramen's cameras were still on, dispassionately filming Chandrika lying on the ground in a pool of blood, surrounded by wounded and dying people.

Kumaratunga later recalled, "People were moaning, screaming, crying, asking,' Am I dying?' Both of my eyes were bleeding. Then it turned out that the shrapnel had damaged my optic nerve, and my right eye was blinded. One of the bolts slammed into my neck. The third bullet passed at a distance of half a centimeter from the brain. And even at that moment, I had to make arrangements for people to be taken to hospitals."8

A few days later, Kumaratunga was re-elected with 51% of the vote. She delivered her inaugural address with a blindfold over her eye, barely holding back tears. She said: "I have experienced all the suffering of our people in every way imaginable for a human being. In the cruel pain of losing my father. In the loving pain of motherhood. In the heartbreaking pain of losing her husband. And now I almost stepped over the threshold of my life into a deep abyss of unknown darkness and was miraculously saved by higher powers so that I could continue to serve you. " 9

In this exceptionally strong, emotionally charged speech, Kumaratunga uses the most vivid motives of "maternal" political rhetoric: sacrifice (the loss of her father and husband); motherhood; the suffering of the people, coinciding with her personal mental and physical pain; miraculous salvation; readiness to serve the people further, despite the experienced proximity of death. The images of suffering, pain, service, self-sacrifice, and divine intervention on which the speech is based were extremely convincing in the context of the attempt on Chandrika's life that she had just experienced. Obviously, the victory was guaranteed to her.


In December 2001, the Kumaratunga People's Alliance was defeated in the next parliamentary election. The ONP came to power again, and its leader Ranil Wickramasinghe became Prime Minister. Chandrika remained president, but now both the government and the parliamentary majority consisted of people who did not recognize her political authority, which created a situation of constant conflict between different branches

page 45

authorities. In addition to the political differences, Kumaratunga felt a personal dislike for the ONP leader, despite the fact that they were childhood friends, and this further aggravated the conflict. Chandrika accused Wickramasinghe of all the sins, in particular, that he knew in advance about the attempt on her life, which was not clearly proved.

It is obvious that with such hostile relations between the President and the Prime Minister, the adoption of the new constitution, which Kumaratunga so much sought, was constantly postponed. Chandrika hoped that she would be able to pass her draft constitution through Parliament by a simple majority vote without the support of the ONP.

On August 3, 2000, Mrs. President, guarded by armed escorts, snipers on roofs and helicopters in the sky, went to Parliament to vote on the draft constitution. Her impassioned speech lasted an hour and a half, during which members of Parliament from the SNP interrupted her with rude shouts, and she tried to put them down, calling them "a bunch of howling jackals." At the end of her speech, the parliamentarians tore the draft constitution into small pieces and burned them.

The scandal in Parliament was preceded by a violent protest campaign organized by the National Council of Buddhist Monks (Sangha) and JVP, who claimed that the new draft constitution "treacherously transfers the country to the power of the Tamil minority".10 However, Kumaratunga was betrayed not only by her native Sinhalese Buddhists, but also by Tamils, in whose interests devolution was conceived. Chandrika needed the support of several Tamil parties represented in Parliament to get the necessary two-thirds vote to pass the bill. But they also refused to support the project, considering that the rights that the Sinhalese majority was going to share with them were too limited.

In the end, the draft was not even put to a vote, and its adoption was postponed indefinitely. This whole story was certainly a huge disappointment for Chandrika.

In August 2005, the country's Supreme Court ruled that Kumaratunga's second presidential term ends in December 2005, and not in 2006, as she claimed, referring to the fact that the previous presidential election was held a year ahead of schedule. Despite disagreements on a number of important domestic policy issues, Kumaratunga supported the candidacy of Mahinda Rajapakse, who eventually won and became the next president.

For Chandrika, a new life was beginning - the life after power. Yes, she failed to get a new constitution adopted and establish peace in the country, but she managed to convince all the political forces of Sri Lanka during the years of her rule that the solution to the ethnic conflict is possible only through political peaceful means.

She herself summed up the results of her presidency, saying: "I sincerely tried to reach a political consensus to resolve the ethnic issue and did everything possible to adopt a pluralistic constitution that would meet the political expectations of Tamils without dividing the country. This constitution was viciously torn up by the opposition. Perhaps my main achievement is to change the attitude of Sinhalese people towards devolution as a solution to the problem that does not lead to separatism. And also that Tamils have come to believe that not all Sinhalese leaders are going to deceive them and ignore their interests. " 11

It was during Kumaratunga's rule, and thanks to her efforts to resolve the ethnic conflict peacefully, that Sri Lanka received the status of a "democracy" (though still "defective")from international organizations like Freedom House12. In 2005, Forbes ranked Kumaratunga as the 25th most powerful woman in the world13.


Kumaratunga was in power for 11 years, but when she left office, she could not boast of visible achievements. Most of its initiatives have not been completed: the resolution of the ethnic conflict through devolution and the new constitution have remained at the draft stage. Even an attempt to share international aid to victims of the 2004 tsunami with the LTTE failed, and here Kumaratunga faced resistance from her own Government. Not surprisingly, as soon as Chandrika left the presidential office, she was hit with allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

Indeed, Kumaratunga's political legacy has proved highly controversial. She often made hasty decisions that hindered the implementation of her own plans, was not able or unwilling to negotiate with the opposition, embittering opponents with unsubstantiated accusations, as in the case of Wickramasinghe. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that during all the years of her presidency, she stubbornly and consistently fought for a peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict. Kumaratunga turned out to be the most liberal and broad-minded of all the PSL leaders, including her own mother. Moreover, it transformed the PSSL from a nationalist party to a truly national party, representing not only Sinhalese Buddhists, but also other groups of the population.

At a time when most Sri Lankan politicians from the ONP and other parties were making statements about "betraying the interests of the Sinhalese majority" and "threatening to strengthen separatism", she had the patience and courage to change the public's perception of the need for dialogue with Tamils, including even separatists. Kumaratunga is sometimes referred to as " President Devolyu-

page 46

It's either a homage to her main mission, or a condemnation of her obsession with Idee fixe. In any case, here she proved to be a visionary who foresees the future development of the country and society.

In 2014, Kumaratunga announced that she was returning to politics. "I was silent for nine years, but finally decided to break the silence. From now on, I will actively participate in politics. I am happy to continue this historic mission, and I thank all the parties that supported my return. The current Government does not tolerate any dissent, the country is lawless, and the entire system is in chaos. Members of the ruling party were forbidden to communicate with me. I was kicked out of my party on my birthday and harassed in every possible way. The basic values and basic principles of the party were violated in broad daylight, " she said in an interview with 14.

Kumaratunga wasn't exaggerating about her enforced isolation. President Rajapakse, who established authoritarian rule after his victory over the LTTE, banned the PSDLP parliamentarians from maintaining any contact with Chandrika, closed the office she was supposed to have as a former president, and eventually expelled her from the party. However, it was not so easy to deal with Kumaratunga. She found an ally in the same Ranil Wickramasinghe whom she once blamed for all her failures, and together they developed a strategy to fight against a common enemy, Rajapaksa, and put forward a single opposition candidate for president, Maithripala Sirisena. In the 2015 election, Sirisena beat Rajapakse by a narrow margin to become president. Wickramasinghe became Prime Minister as planned.

Since all phone calls and meetings of Chandrika were "under the hood", the oppositionists used the Viber Internet phone for negotiations, which, due to poverty or computer illiteracy, the Sri Lankan special services did not know how to use. During his visit to India in 2015, when asked by journalists whether India helped the Sri Lankan opposition in regime change, Kumaratunga admits:: "It was Viber, not India, that helped reset Rajapaksa." 15 In short, Kumaratunga was able to play the role of the "gray cardinal" who was behind the radical changes in power, not only because of her diplomatic abilities, but also because of her knowledge of modern information technologies.

Kumaratunga is currently the head of the National Unity and Reconciliation Directorate , a position that is more honorable than politically significant. Her office is responsible for returning land confiscated by the military to its owners, providing compensation to families whose members were forcibly "disappeared" during the war, and resettling and building housing for victims using international financial assistance. However, given that her mother became Prime Minister at the age of 78, Kumaratunga still has time to lead a government or state for a third time.

Kumaratunga spent most of her 11-year rule following a pragmatic policy with a modern "neutral" discourse, and only twice - before the 1994 elections and after the 1999 assassination attempt-actively used the image of the victim, daughter and widow of the "martyr", which is in demand in the political system of "maternalism". A political scientist by training, she saw that the time of "weeping widows" surrounded by sobbing people is running out, and it is necessary not to descend to the level of a patriarchal electorate guided by emotions, but to gradually raise this electorate to its own level of understanding of problems.

And Kumaratunga succeeded: her idea of devolution, initially perceived as a bogeyman, eventually penetrated into different layers of society and became part of the everyday life of national politics. As if to justify the meaning of her name, Chandrika lit up the minds of her countrymen like a "moonlight" over Sri Lanka.

Dugger Celia 1. The Blood Is Over // The New York Times Magazine, October 08, 2000.

2 Profile: Chandrika Kumaratunga // BBC News, August 26, 2005.

Dugger Celia 3. Op. cit.

4 Chandrika's Devolution Proposals // -

Subramanian Nirupama. 5 When a dynasty read the future // The Hindu, February 28, 2014.

Jha Prashant 6. Sri Lanka's ex-prez Chandrika Kumaratunga on her political comeback // Hindustan Times, September 06, 2015.

Manor James 7. The Expedient Utopian: Bandaranaike and Ceylon. Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 197.

8 Cit. by: Wilson Graeme. CBK. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and her leadership of Sri Lanka, Colombo: Media Prima, 2005, p. 142.

9 Cit. by: Dugger Celia. Op. cit.

Ratnayake K. 10 "Sri Lankan government crisis deepens as Kumaratunga postpones constitutional reform bill" -

11 Cit. by: Handunnetti Dilrukshi. The Queen ponders the return // Himal South Asian, October 2007, p. 142.

Merkel Wolfgang. 12 Embedded and Defective Democracies // Democratization. Vol. 11, N 5, 2004, p. 38-58.

Skard Torild. 13 Women of Power, Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers. Bristol: Policy Press, 2014, p. 152.

14 Chandrika announces her return to active politics after nine years // Asian Mirror, November 21, 2014.

Haidar Suhasini. 15 Viber, not India, helped in unseating Rajapaksa // The Hindu, September 06, 2015.


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