By the time I knew him, my mother’s eldest brother Esmond was emphatically a supporter of the UNP. Soon after I was born he had been sent to New York by Sir John Kotelawala, to negotiate the entry of Ceylon into the United Nations, and family legend had it that it was the charm displayed by him and his wife that finally ensured our admission. Until then the Soviet Union had opposed this, on the grounds that we were still a colony, with the British still having troops here. But, long before Mr Bandaranaike came into power and asked them to leave, Esmond had succeeded in averting a Soviet veto, in terms of a compromise that saw the admission also of other countries that had been disputed.
Esmond was by then seen as Sir John’s right hand man, or rather one of them, for that wily old bird made use of several capable people. But none of them was able to prevent his shattering defeat in 1956, when he led his party to an election called prematurely. Blaming him however would be wrong, for a clear reading of what happened that year suggests that he was forced into calling an election he did not want, and contesting it on a platform he abhorred. Or, rather, blaming him alone – he cannot escape all responsibility for allowing such a situation to arise, and letting himself be carried along by it, a practice that has been followed since by many other Sri Lankan leaders.