M. D. Banda: A Leader to be Remembered



by Prof. K.N.O. Dharmadasa

Alagiyawanna Mukaveti, the 16th century Sinhala poet wrote in his Subhasitaya

Gajakum bindina ekasara kesarindu balaeti

Ketaram sa vuvat tana kabala nubuditi

Vihigum gunen yut utumo abimanaeti

Ketaram vuvat notaram kam noma karati

(The maned lion of immense power, roaming alone and tearing asunder the heads of tusker elephants, will never stoop down to eating lowly grass. Similarly, men of honour who are endowed with great self respect will never stoop down to unbecoming acts)

The life of Mr.M.D.Banda (1914 – 1974), who was a Member of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister in the 1950’s and the 1960’s whose birth centenary falls on the 9th of March 2014, stands out as a telling example of a life of honour and integrity. The exemplary lives of sons of the soil like him would show the present and future generations the qualities that lie hidden in our national psyche. He was born in the small but historic village of Panaliya (its temple has a Brahmi inscription of about the 2nd cen.BCE) situated in a corner of the Seven Korales.

Village Roots

Although he graduated from The Ceylon University College (maybe the first graduate from the area) and later in life, moved in the highest circles, here and abroad, never lost touch with village roots. Here I can recall what an elderly monk of the area said at one of the annual pinkamas held at home in his memory, "Our Banda Mahattaya could have changed his name to a more colourful one when he rose to high office. But he never did that and remained to the end the simple M.D.Banda." Mohottallage Dingiri Banda was the name given to him by his parents. The father Mohottallage Ukku Banda, who was a Korala (chief headman) was a native of Nattambure in the Rambukkana area and had married in Binna marriage to Wewlagedera Mudiyanselage Dingiri Menike. The father died when Dingiri Banda was hardly ten years of age and he ahd his two elder sisters grew up with the elders of the mother’s side in Panaliya.It needs mention that the lady Dingiri Menike was a remarkable woma. Among her acts of munificence in the cause of the Buddha Sasana was a substantial donation to the reconstruction of the Ruvanweli Dagaba in Anuradhapura. Piyadasa Sirisena, the nationalist writer in his Swarnamali Maha Kavyaya (1933) devoted number 522 dasa pada saehaella(ten lined verse) to describe this act of devotion. Most significantly, the opposite page carried a full page photograph of the lady.After primary educationin the village school, Dingiri Banda was sent to Nalanda Vidyalata in Colombo and he was staying with Mr. Piyadasa Sirisena in hin Maradana house. Later, he entered St.Anthonys College , Kandy and passed the London Matriculation and entrabce to University Collrge. It is on record thatmnhe was a good athlete and an outstanding cricketer in school as well as University College. Afterbgraduation he applied for entry to the DRO service which the colonial government was introducing to the Kandyan areas and was selected as one of the four first "Kandyan DRO’s".

Kandyan DRO

Mr.Banda, after a period of training was appointed as the DRO of Uda Hewaheta, which covered a massive area encompassing Hewaheta, Hanguranketa, Walapane and a good part of Nuwara Eliya District. Old timers of the area, like Mr. M.B.Jayasekera, a school teacher and later a principal, and Mr. M.B.Samarakoon, a Village Committee Chairman, have left their reminiscences of the impact made by the 26 year old Deeaaroo Mahataya on those sleepy hamlets in the Kandyan hinterland during the two years he was in service. The former Rate Mahattayas, who were administering these divisions, were very particular in getting themselves addressed as Disa Hamuduruvo, a remnanat of feudal times, and the poor villagers knew no better and continued the practice. But Mr. Banda discouraged the use of the epithet and the servility that went with it. When an elderly villager tried to worship him addressing him as "Hamuduruvo" he cut him short and told him "You are creating a sin for me. I am no monk to be called hamuduruvo". Then there was the usual custom of bringing some gift traditionally called "Daekum" such as a bag of vegetables or a bottle of honey, when coming to see the official. This was discouraged by getting the gift valued and paying for it.There were many other ways these innocent people were exploited and the young DRO stopped all of them. At the time there was a severe food shortage in the country and the DRO Mahattaya went on circuit encouraging people to grow alternative foods such as manioc and sweet potatoes. Soon the word went round and there was a tremendous popular goodwill towards Banda Mahattaya.

Unfortunately, Mr. Banda could not stay long in his job. There were two people in particular who did not like the young DRO’s style of doing things. One was the State Coucillor representing the area, and the other was the Government Agent of Nuwara Eliya. The first would have felt jittery about the growing popularity of the young DRO and the other would have resented the "populist" approach of the young officer. Things came to a head at a public meeting presided over by the GA in which the State Councillor made a scathing attack on the DRO, accusing him of misappropriating public funds. This was a loathsome accusation as far as Mr. Banda was concerned because then as well as later he was a man who spent out of his own pocket for public duties rather than touch even a cent of public funds. At that moment he expected the GA as his superior officer to defend him which he did not. Mr. Banda was so disillusioned that immediately after returning to his lodgings, drafted a letter of resignation which was sent to the GA in the morning. Soon word went round that the DRO Mahattaya would be resigning his post, and people of all walks of life thronged to his office to try and persuade him to withdraw that letter which he never did. He lost the job and went back to Panaliya. This incident is illustrative of the character of the man. There were several instances, later in life, when he was uncompromising when it came to matters of honour.

Entry into Politics

It was as indeed an irony of fate that propelled Mr. Banda into politics. Mr. Abeygoonesekera, the sitting State Councillor for Nuwara Eliya, was among the several Councillors of the second State Council who were accused of bribery and corruption, and after investigations by a commission were found guilty and removed from office. People of Uda Hewaheta area were thronging to Panaliya requesting the former DRO to contest the bi-election. Mr. Banda agreed and contested. Incidentally, Mr. Piyadasa Sirisena, editing his weekly paper Sinhala Jatiya, in several articles gave full backing to his former ward, Mr. Banda. He won with a decisive majority. Unfortunately, however, some of his supporters had been over enthusiastic and prevented some estate workers from voting. Mr. James T. Rutnam, one of the defeated candidates filed a petition. At this juncture, Mr. Banda’s lawyer, the legal luminary Mr. R.L.Pereira took him to a side and told him , "Look, there is no clear proof that these men who have disrupted the voting are your supporters. If you get into the witness box and declare ‘I don’t know these people’ the case is over" Mr. Banda’s curt response was "How can I say that? They are in fact my supporters!" Mr. Pereira was so annoyed at this response he is said to have declared "You better take a Nava Guna Wela (garland of meditating beads) and go and be an ascetic" and walked away. The case was proved and Mr. Banda was unseated . He went back home to Panaliya. He entered the Law College thereafter and was reading for the Advocates Examination and had completed two parts in it, when fate intervened again. Independence from colonial domination was in the horizon and preparations were being made for the first general elections to the new Parliament. Mr. D.S.Senanayake was busy creating the United National Party and with his remarkable knack for recognizing new talent, contacted young M.D.Banda asking him to join the party and contest a seat. The natural choice was the newly created Maturata seat encompassing a good part of old Uda Hewaheta. In the election held in 1947 Mr. Banda scored a resounding victory and it so happened that at all subsequent elections, until the Maturata seat existed, the people retured their beloved Banda Mahattaya without fail. It happened in 1956 too when the UNP was routed and reduced to eight seats, with only two Cabinet members managing to survive, namely the PM Sir John Kotelawala from Dodangaslanda and Minister of Education M.D.Banda from Maturata. In 1960 at the next delimitation of seats two new seats came up replacing Maturata, Hanguranketa and Walapane and at the 1960 April and June elections Mr. Banda contested Hanguranketa and the voters retuned him without fail, such was the impact made by him on the minds of the people

On Peoples’ Service

What did Mr. Banda do for of Maturata to endear him so much to the people? He believed that the social advancement of village folk of Uda Hewaheta lay in education and proceeded to provide them with the best facilities available. The Poramadulla Central College, which became one of the leading educational institutions in the Kandyan areas was his creation. Incidentally, there is no name board announcing his contribution anywhere in this school – the only testimony being a small photograph with Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake at the opening ceremony. Other schools founded by him were Gamini Maha Vidyalaya, Denike Maha Vidyalaya, Padiyapellella Maha Vidyalaya and Gonagama Maha Vidyalaya. In addition to these many schools in the area were upgraded with the provision of new buildings, laboratory facilities and so on .Thousands of young men and women have benefited from this magnificent gesture, thus fulfilling his vision for them. Another memorable facility he provided for the area was in the area of irrigation . The mountain streams were just allowed to run and there was no irrigational planning to preserve and redistribute this natural resource. Mr. Banda had several anicuts and canals constructed to regularize this resource and some of the irrigation schemes such as Kitulpe Ela, Bodhi Ela and Waduwawa Ela, survive to this day as monuments to his far seeing planning.

At the 1965 General Elections, Mr. Banda decided to come back to his native place and contested the Polgahawela seat which he won. He found Polgahawela too needed good educational institutions. The Polgahawela Central College was founded with Mr. Banda providing over 15 acres from his ancestral property to put up the class-room buildings, staff quarters and the playground. Again as typical of the man there was no monument declaring his donation and the matter was almost forgotten until a year or two ago Mr. Jayakody assumed duties as the Principal and started A Founders Day, to commemorate annually the founding of the college and its benefactor. Several other schools have also benefited from his generosity, receiving land from his ancestral properties for expansion of facilities. Incidentally, only a few people know that the Wijayatungaramaya in the Polgahawela town is situated in the land donated by Mr. Banda’s family. It is named after his brother-in- law, who was took the lead in building the temple.

To be concluded on Monday

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