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In 1956 S W R D Bandaranaike became Prime Minister, in a coalition of nationalist forces dominated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that he established on leaving the UNP. Though initially he had presented himself as the champion of the common man against the elite which had dominated Sri Lankan politics, due to the pressures of political competition his victory was seen as the triumph of Sinhala nationalism. Practically his first measure was a bill that made Sinhala the official language of the country. Earlier both he and J R Jayewardene, who was the virtual leader of the UNP after its defeat, had advanced the claims of Sinhala as opposed to English (without any desire to denigrate Tamil). By 1956 however parity of status of Sinhala and Tamil was abandoned by both parties in their pursuit of votes.
The Act was challenged under the provisions of Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, which forbade discrimination against any segment of the population. That clause was supposed to be entrenched, in that it could not be changed without a 2/3 majority of Parliament, which Soulbury had believed no party would ever achieve. The Official Languages Act was passed with a simple majority, and the Sri Lankan courts seemed to find against some of its provisions, but the government appealed to the Privy Council in Britain which, under the Soulbury Dominion Constitution, had the final say. Unfortunately the Privy Council, which followed the British tradition of subscribing in general to the supremacy of Parliament, upheld the legality of the Act. Read the rest of this entry »