190. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Cumming) to the Acting Secretary of State 1


  • Political Crisis in Ceylon

The Bandaranaike government in Ceylon is facing what appears to be the most serious threat to its life since its formation in April 1956. The center of the controversy is Philip Gunawardena, the leftist Minister of Food and Agriculture and leader of the radical element in the cabinet, who has long been at odds with the moderates. The moderate ministers, fearful that Gunawardena is determined to impose a communist mould on Ceylon, and convinced apparently that Prime Minister Bandaranaike is unable to control him, have issued an ultimatum to the Prime Minister that Gunawardena be expelled from the cabinet or effectively squelched. There is an even chance that the government may fall.

Similar—but less intense—intra-cabinet disputes over Gunawardena’s activities have arisen in the past, but have been smoothed over by the Prime Minister. Most recently Gunawardena has been attempting to enhance his power over the rural credit apparatus through a cooperative banking bill. Pressure by the moderates forced Bandaranaike to suggest a compromise that would make himself the administrator of the proposed credit establishment in place of Gunawardena. Gunawardena has accepted the Bandaranaike suggestion, but has continued to antagonize his moderate colleagues by renewed personal attacks on them as well as demands by his party for further nationalization of the economy.

The moderate ministers, who hold two-thirds of the cabinet posts, reportedly have threatened not to participate in any further cabinet meetings until Gunawardena is expelled. If they and their parliamentary followers, who together may account for 30-odd members, or more than one-half of the coalition, defected, Bandaranaike could probably not enlist enough support from other groups to recover a parliamentary majority. While the moderates could perhaps for a time carry on a minority government dependent upon the support or [Page 401] benevolent neutrality of other non-communist elements, such an arrangement would probably be short-lived and new elections would have to be held.

If the Bandaranaike cabinet falls, the prospects are good for a successful electoral union between the moderates in the present government and the former ruling United National Party, although it is doubtful that the new grouping could win an absolute majority. Such a new moderate regime would probably not change Ceylon’s neutralist foreign policy radically, but would probably be somewhat more sympathetic to the West and more outspoken than the Bandaranaike regime on issues such as Tibet.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 746E.00/5–859. Secret.