G. G. Ponnambalam — An Appreciation — a reply

K. D. G. Wimalaratne
An appreciation of G.G. Ponnambalan (Snr) by Appaturai Vinayagnamoorthy which appeared in the Sunday Island of 2nd February 2003, Pg.16 contained factual errors, as well as distortions and misinterpretations of history.

In an appreciation of a great leader of the Tamil community, it is evident and accepted that a writer is inclined to emphasize on the great achievements of his leader. However, to distort and misinterpret certain facts of history with an emotional, ethnic flavour would be harmful at a time where the ethnic conflict needs a reasonable and a gentleman’s accord.

Firstly, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress was not inaugurated on 29th August 1944, but on 29th October, 1944 at the Colombo Town Hall. The oldest Tamil Party in Sri Lanka had been identified as the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. However, the Ceylon Indian Congress led by K. Natesa Iyer is to be considered as the first Tamil Party in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Vinayagnamoorthy in his appreciation of G.G. Ponnambalam has misinterpreted the formation of Sinhala Maha Sabha by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. The Sinhala Maha Sabha was inaugurated by Mr. Bandaranaike in 1935 and revived in 1936 to unite the low-country and upcountry Sinhalese who where divided by Governors Manning and Caldecotte 15.08.1921. He invited the Tamil Mahajana Sabha,to join hands with the Sinhala Maha Sabha in order to fight the British as one unit. G.G. Ponnambalam never started the All Ceylon Tamil Congress as an answer to Sinhala Maha Sabha. All Ceylon Tamil Congress was started nine years after the Sinhala Maha Sabha to galvanize Tamil opinion in Jaffna and Vavuniya for Tamil rights and to challenge the older Tamil leadership in the north.

As Ponnamblam Ramanathan and Arunachalam fell into the plot of Governor Manning’s divide and rule tactics, G. G. Ponnamblam was also taken for a ride by Governor Caldecotte’s by his division of communities in a colony, for the delaying tactics of granting independence.

In 1937 the All Ceylon Tamil Congress presented their views for an united Sri Lanka in the following manner.

"The conception of corporate unity in the minds of the Sinhalese is in the nature of a merger and absorption of the minority in the majority. A just and more correct idea of an united Ceylon is that of a rich and gorgeous many coloured mosaic set and studded with the diversities of communal consciousness within a glorious one minded solidarity".

The Pan-Sinhala ministry of 1936 was a tactic of D.S. Senanayake to prove that under the executive committee system there is no guarantee for the minorities of their safeguards, as the British rulers thought that this executive system was good enough for Sri Lanka in managing their affairs while giving security and representation to minority members in the Board of Ministries to circumvent British tactics of delaying a cabinet form of government with collective responsibility for Sri Lanka, Prof. C. Suntheralingam was invited to use his mathematical skills by D.S. Senanayake. Senanayake did not want to persist with Pan Sinhala against the rising fears of the minorities.

Quoting the speech of G. G. Ponnambalam in the State Council in 1939 further complicates matters in a period where a solution to the ethnic problem is being pursued. It is futile to argue and conclude who came or lived first in this island. It is like trying to find out what came first, the chicken or the egg. I think this is not the time for such silly arguments.

The "fifty -fifty" campaign of the Tamils did not originate from G. G. Ponnambalam, although it has been attributed to him. It was a campaign returning to the electoral system of the 1920’s - the Manning constitution. This was in fact no more than a slogan devised by G. G. Ponnambalam in 1937. "50: 50" did not always mean an equal division of seats between the Sinhalese on the one hand and minorities on the other- what G. G. Ponnambalam originally asked for was a ratio of 13.7 Sinhalese seats to Tamil, to be awarded on a territorial and geographical basis. It amounted to a very considerable weightage in favour of the Sri Lankan Tamils and G. G. Ponnambalam advanced the historical precedent of 2:1 ratio. Caldecotte did not favour the "50:50" demand and subsequently the Tamils changed it to 60:40. The Governor opposed any form of ethnic based representation and the 50:50 demand was dropped. The "50:50" demand lacked both conviction and political viability.

The writer also connects the Tamil separatist cry to the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. It is very clear from the history of Sri Lanka, that the separation of the Tamil community began with the Manning Constitution in 1920 when Ponnambalam Arunachalam and Ramanathan left the Ceylon National Congress, as a result of Governor Mannings tactics to divide the majority communities and delay the granting of independence to this country.

The Sinhala Only Act of No. 33 1956 was misread by the Tamil minority during that time and used to mislead the Tamil population on emotional and ethnic grounds without understanding the majority’s aspirations as understood by the other minorities such as Muslims, Malays and Burghers of that era.

The operation of the language policy in other developing countries at that time, such as India, China, Malaya, Singapore was not appreciated and recognized by the Tamil leaders, such as G.G. Ponnambalam of Sri Lanka.It is the hour that a Sri Lankan nation has to be built, and the people given, shelter, clothing, water, electricity and help a struggle launched for the alleviation of poverty and the advent of prosperity of our motherland. This is not a time to indulge in any sort of ethnic nationalism. The call should be "unity in diversity" and not "disunity in similarity".