Sri lanka 1974, Madame Prime Minister would like you to remember her late husband

Breaking away from the colonial power is hard. For how much do you throw away or at least pretend to. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

The stamp today does not give away many clues to the world wide philatelist. The former prime minister on the stamp was assassinated years before with his widow taking over his political party. The early 70s saw her and her party back in power and soon follows a tribute to her late husband. All well and good and domestic philatelists can follow what is happening. For world wide collectors more investigation is required to know what is going on. Sounds like a job for The Philatelist.

Todays stamp is issue A168, a 15 cent stamp issued by the Peoples Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on September 25th, 1974, It was a single stamp issue honoring S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the then current Prime Minister’s late husband and former Prime Minister himself from 1956-59. According to the Scott Catalog, the stamp is worth 40 cents whether mint or used. If you have the later version with 15 cents blotted out and 25 cents in it’s place, you are in luck because that version is worth $7.

Ceylon got it’s independence from Britain in 1948. The people to whom power was given were those who had participated in the colonial administration. So the British first names and Oxford educations did not mean a lot to vast bulk of the people  that were not participating in the tea plantation based economy except as exploited workers. This lead to much tumult in the 1950s.

I suppose a true grass roots movement could have formed but instead why not have the feelings coopted by those in power. There was a natural divide as many of the new leaders had come back from their Oxford education as indoctrinated socialists. Since socialism is of course in favor of the worker and happy to take on affectations of local nationalism, it seemed a great fit. Solomon Bandaranaike was just such a leader. He was the son of a knighted colonial administrator and when his party won the election he was ready to give his country full independence.

Well at least he was willing to do the standard socialist things. The British were blamed for troubles and the English and Indian Tamil languages were targeted. The tea plantations were nationalized and instead of being closed down or privatized among true locals the exploited workers were now being exploited on behalf of the state. British military bases were closed and even the local military was targeted as a bastion of colonial sympathy, which was true but now a thought crime. Eventually the name of the country was changed and notably not to Kandy, the name of the place before colonization.

Naturally policies like this made a lot of enemies and soon Mr. Bandaranaike was assassinated. Not by the British, by then they didn’t care enough, but by gunman working for the Indian minority that were a left over from the colonial period. Remember how small the elite of independent Ceylon was. The two large parties were both in the hands of single families. Mrs Bandaranaike became the worlds first female Prime Minister and continued and intensified her late husbands policies. This perhaps would be a better milestone for female empowerment if it were not just nepotism and a would be cult of personality.

Economic output dropped and the UK and USA aid dried up as there was ever more socialism and by extension opposite side cold war posturing. Eventually the Tamil rebelled and the decimated military was not in a good place to fight it, so it dragged on and on. Also going on and on was the families political party which later featured such diverse leaders as the Bandaranaike’s son and daughter, who show their solidarity with the people by no longer having British first names.

Well my drink is empty and my learned musing/screed above might be thought of as pro British. It is actually the opposite. As the colonial power, it was their job to lift up all the people and not just a small elite. It was also a crime to permanently change the demographics of the place for their own convenience without a thought to what that meant for the future peace. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.


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