I am an old Jaffna man (OJM) past the Biblical
span of 70 years, with one foot here and the other ’beyond’. My
memories go back to the General Election of 1947. Viewing the
panel discussions on TV about the current Presidential Election,
it appears that many people do not know the political climate
that prevailed then. That is the reason for tapping these notes.
In Jaffna the candidates were Mr. G. G.
Ponnambalam, leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and
Mr. A. Mahadeva, Minister of Home Affairs of the UNP. Mr.
Ponnanbalam appeared in silk national dress and was a flamboyant
orator with a resonant voice, though we could sense that his
command of Tamil was not as good as his command of English. Very
often there were shouts from the audience for him to speak in
English, and he would switch over, much to every one’s delight,
because the words would flow in a lovely stream. It was well
known that he had sought balanced representation, popularly
called 50-50 from the Soulbury Commission but failed in that
attempt. He took a strong Tamil nationalistic stance.
On the other hand, Mr. Mahadeva, son of Sir
Ponnambalm Arunachalam, came if full suit had more difficulty in
speaking Tamil, was nowhere near Mr. Ponnambalam in oratorical
skills, and cut a sorry and forlorn figure, though he was a
Minister and came from a distinguished family.
Mr. Ponnamalam won Jaffna with a comfortable
majority and the Tamil Congress won a total of 7 seats, 6 out of
9 in the Northern Province and 1 out of 7 in the Eastern
Province.. The other Tamil party, then known as the Ceylon
Indian Congress (now CWC) won 6 out of the 15 seats (14
electorates with 15 seats, one being multi member), in the
Central Province. The total number of MP’s was 101, 95 elected
and 6 appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the
Prime Minister. The UNP led by Mr. D. S. Senayake had 42 MP’s,
the Labour Party leader A. E. Goonesinghe won one seat and there
were 21 Independents. The UNP, with the support of the Labour
Party and many Independents was able to form a Government with a
The Marxist parties won as follows: LSSP led by
Dr. N. M. Perera - 10, Bolshevik Leninist Party led by Dr.
Colvin R. de Silva - 5, Communist Party led by Dr. S. A.
Wickremasinghe - 3. These three parties and the two Tamil
parties were in the Opposition and Dr. N. M. Perera became the
Leader of the Opposition.
The First Cabinet
I still remember the photograph of the first
Cabinet formed by Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, with 14
Ministers, of whom 11 were Sinhalese, 2 were Tamils and 1
Muslim. Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was the Minister of Local
Government and Health and Leader of the House, Col J. L.
Kotelawela (later Sri John) was the Minister of Transport and
Works, Mr. Dudley Senanayake was the Minister of Agriculture and
Lands and Mr. J. R. Jayewardne was the Minister of Finance.
These 4 Ministers became Heads of Government later.
The two Tamil Ministers who had won their seats
as Independents, were C. Suntharalingam, Minister of Commerce
and Trade and C. Sittampalam, Minister of Posts and
Telecommunications Mr. Suntharalingam was a brilliant product of
Oxford University, had entered the Ceylon Civil Service,
resigned to become the first Professor of Mathematics in the
University of Ceylon and resigned to enter politics, and win the
Vavuniya seat. Mr. Sittampalam was an equally brilliant man, was
a Cambridge Wrangler, had also entered the CCS and been AGA,
Mannar before he took premature retirement to enter politics and
win the Mannar seat. Mr. Bandaranaike was a product of Oxford,
where he had honed his oratorical skills and won election as
Treasurer in the Oxford Union, Col Kotelawela had entered
Cambridge but it was said that he did not complete the Tripos,
Mr. Dudley Senanayake had done the Science Tripos in Cambridge.
In other words it was a Cabinet full of talent.
What was noteworthy about the photograph was
that all the 11 Sinhala Ministers appeared in full suit, Mr. T.
B. Jayah appeared in full suit with a cap, but the two Tamil
Ministers, products of Oxford and Cambridge, appeared in white
national dress. To those sensitive enough to have noticed this,
it would have shown how strong Tamil nationalism was and how
they would react if they were not treated fairly and justly.
Independence came on 4th Feb. 1948, the Duke of
Gloucester came on behalf of King George VI to ceremonially hand
over power. If I remember right, the acceptance speech was made
by Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, No. 2 in the Government, who
delivered a memorable speech
After a few months passed, Mr. D. S. Senanayake
wooed the Tamil Congress and was able to persuade it to join the
government. Its leader Mr. G. G. Ponnanmalam became the Minister
of Industries and Fisheries, in place of Mr. George E. de Silva
from Kandy who had been unseated on an election petition. Mr. T.
Kumaraswamy, the member for Chavakachcheri became a
The First Blunder
Mr. D. S. Senanayake’s Government faced a
genuine problem in the Central Province. As stated earlier, the
Ceylon Indian Congress had won 6 seats, and the Kandyan
Sinhalese were under represented in Parliament. It was a human
problem and needed a carefully thought out and humane solution.
At that time, Ceylon was much more prosperous than India and
Tamils from Tamil Nadu were coming in as illegal immigrants. It
fact there was a Government organization known as TFAII (Task
Force Against Illicit Immigration) to prevent illicit
immigration. We can assess how well Sri Lanka has been led after
Independence by noting that within 35 years, there was a massive
exodus in the reverse direction in 1983 and thereafter.
A humane approach to the under representation of
the Kandyan Sinhalese would have been to have more multi member
constituencies or proportional representation. This would have
been a humane and inclusive approach and would have led to
unifying all the communities and building a strong united
nation. But the solution adopted was not based on love (metta,
karuna) but on prejudice. The Government brought in the
Citizenship Act and another Act, which in effect made the Indian
Tamil community stateless and voteless. They were living under
atrocious conditions in line rooms and working hard in the cold
and wet climate in the upcountry, producing the main export crop
tea but they were treated shabbily. It was interesting to note
how the Ceylon Tamil representatives reacted to this attack on
the Indian Tamil community. Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam voted with the
Government, Mr. Sittampalam did not attend Parliament, and Mr.
Suntharaligam resigned his portfolio and crossed over to the
Opposition. Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakm and Mr. C. Vanniasingam
broke away from the Tamil Congress and formed the Federal Party.
I think Mr. S. Thondaman, the leader of the Ceylon Indian
Congress, never forgot this betrayal by the Tamil Congress.
If you liken a nation to a mirror, Ceylon had
been dropped and developed a crack. It was to be dropped and
broken into pieces 8 years later, but we will come to this ‘in
The Prime Minster Visits Jaffna.
In 1951, Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake came on
an official visit to Jaffna. I was then in school in the 2nd
year of the University Entrance class. There was no TV then and
we had only seen his photographs in newspapers and he appeared
to be quite dark and he was called ‘Kaley John’ because his
education had not even reached the SSC standard. We were
surprised to see a commanding figure, with a typical Sri Lankan
brown complexion and he spoke very well at a public rally near
the Jaffna Town Hall. I remember him thanking Sir Ponnambalam
Ramanathan for the services he had rendered, including traveling
to England, during the World War 1, to plead their cause after
they were imprisoned after the Sinhala-Muslim riots of 1915.
A lunch was given to him and his entourage,
including Col J. L. Kotelawela and Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam, in
Jaffna Hindu College. The hostel staff and we the senior boys
were in attendance, looking after our guests. They ate a
vegetarian meal served on plantain leaves and had ‘payasam’ for
dessert. The meal was rounded off with ‘beeda’ (betel leaf and
arecanut) and I remember Col Kotelawela taking two and putting
both in his mouth and chomping on them. The lunch was followed
by numerous speeches, a local government person went on
endlessly making numerous requests. I saw Mr. Senanayake getting
drowsy, and finally his eyes closed and his chin rested on his
chest. When his turn came to speak, he stood up, agreed to about
three of the requests and said that the balance would be
considered ‘in due course’. It was clear why he had become the
Prime Minister, from the way he handled this situation.
Incidentally, I do not remember a single policeman within our
The Succession Stakes
Who was to succeed Mr. D. S. Senanayake as Prime
Minister? Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was in line for the
succession, but he suspected with good reason that there was
maneuvering to deny him the top spot. He resigned his portfolio
in 1951, crossed over to the Opposition and formed the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party. Col J. L. Kotelawela became the heir apparent.
Mr. D. S. Senanayake and Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam
used to ride horses in the early morning on Galle Face Green, as
exercise. One morning Mr. Senanayake fell off his horse, was
seriously injured and rushed to hospital, and died a day or two
later. The Governor General Lord Soulbury was away in England
and Sir Alan Rose the Chief Justice was acting as. Governor
General. He informed Lord Soulbury who said he would come back
immediately and for Sir Alan not to ask anyone to be offered the
Premiership till he returned.. Was it to be Kotelawela or Dudley
Senanayake? It turned out Mr. D. S. Senanayake had discussed the
succession with Lord Soulbury earlier and advised that Dudley
Senanayake should succeed him. So Mr. Dudley Senanayake was
asked to form a Government and he appointed the same Ministers.
Col. Kotelawela took this badly, sulked in his Kandawela home
but was persuaded to join the Cabinet. Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam had
backed Mr. Dudley Senanayake in this succession.
Mr. Dudley Senanayake dissolved Parliament, to
seek a fresh mandate. The 1952 election saw him win
convincingly, with UNP winning an absolute majority of 54 seats.
The other parties won as follows: SLFP-9, LSSP-9, CP-VLSSP-4,
Tamil Congress-4, Federal Party-2. There were 12 Independents
but the number of Ceylon Indian Congress members dropped from 6
to zero. Mr. Bandaranaike became the Leader of the Opposition.
But the Government did not last long. At that
time, Ceylon was importing the bulk of its rice needs, and there
was a Commissioner of Food doing this work. I think the price of
imported rice went up and the Government was forced to increase
the price of rice in 1953. A strike was organized by the Left
parties and there was a procession. When this became unruly, the
Police fired and one clerk Kandasamy was killed. Mr. Dudley
Senanayake took this hard - it is said that his mother asked
him, "Your father went to prison for the people, have your
become Prime Minister to shoot them?" He resigned from the post
of Prime Minister and retired from politics.
Thus Sir John Kotelawela became the third Prime
Minister of Ceylon. He was an ebullient man fond of wining and
dining, but with his army background led a disciplined
government. Mr. Ponnambalam was dropped from the Cabinet and Mr.
S. Natesan, appointed. There were some successes too, Ceylon
became a member of the UN in a package deal between the Western
powers and the Communist bloc Apart from the Eastern European
countries which had become Communist as a result of the Soviet
Army marching upto Berlin in 1945, China had become Communist in
1949, under the leadership of Mao Zedung. The young Queen
Elizabeth paid a state visit, the non-aligned movement was
formed and at-the inaugural meeting held in Bandung, Indonesia.
Sir John Kotelawela created a sensation by condemning
‘neo-colonialism’ of the Communist bloc. When Pandit Nehru of
India asked Sir John why had not shown his speech to him before
delivery, Sir John responded bluntly, "Did you show me yours?".
But there were nationalistic rumblings. The
Buddhist Commission report was out and Mr. Bandaranaike was
contemplating how to win power. At that time Government business
was conducted in English and education in the bigger schools and
in the university was in English. A debate was emerging whether
to introduce Sinhala and Tamil for government business and
education. Sir John went on a visit to the north, was well
received, was profusely garlanded and crowned ‘King of Delft’
when he visited that island. He responded generously that he
would make Sinhala and Tamil the official languages. This visit
was in 1955; 1 think no head of government has visited Jaffna in
the succeeding 50 years.
The Mirror Is Broken
Mr. Bandaranaike coined the slogan ‘Sinhala Only
in 24 hours’ in 1955 and had this adopted as SLFP policy. The
UNP found that its popularity was sinking and also switched over
to Sinhala Only. Mr. S. Natesan who was the only Tamil minister
in the Cabinet resigned in 1955. It may be noted that there was
not a single Tamil Cabinet Minister in Government from 1955 to
1970, when Mrs. Bandaranaike appointed Archt C. Kumarasuriyar to
the Senate and made him a Minister.
It was assessed that the UNP was losing
popularity and Sir John decided to seek a fresh mandate one year
early, in 1956, to avoid further deterioration. This proved
disastrous. Mr. Banadaranaike had formed an alliance named
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) with Mr. Philip Gunewardne’s
VLSSP and they swept the polls winning an absolute majority of
51 seats. The UNP was reduced to 8 from its earlier 54. The
other parties won as follows: LSSP-14, CP-3, Federal Party -10,
Tamil Congress -1 and Independents-8.
Mr. Bandaranaike formed his Cabinet, there was
not a single Tamil in it but Mr. ‘Sinhale’ Marrikar became
Minister of Posts. For the official photograph, all the
Ministers wore national dress, but it was rumoured that some did
not have a national dress and had to borrow from friends. Mr. C.
P. de Silva, also a former Civil Servant who had won Polonnaruwa,
became Minister of Agriculture and Lands and Leader of the
House, Mr. W. Dahanayake became Minister of Education Wild
scenes of support were seen when Parliament first met, people
entered the chamber and one even sat on the Speaker’s chair.
In a few months, the Sinhala Only Bill was
presented in. Parliament. It was opposed by the Tamil parties
and the Marxist parties. It was during Dr. Colvin R. de Silva’s
speech that he made the prediction "Two languages, one nation;
one language two nations". The Federal party staged a peaceful
Satyagraha on Galle Face Green - at that time Parliament was in
the present President’s Office at the northern end of Galle
Face. The seated Satyagrahis were attacked with stones and clubs
by goons backed by the Government and physically harmed. Mr.
Amirthaligam, returned to Parliament with a bandaged head, still
bleeding and was greeted by Mr. Bandaranaike with the remark, "Honourable
‘wounds of war". The bill was passed with a comfortable
To every Tamil, this was a kris knife stab in
the heart. If we get back to our earlier analogy of a mirror,
Mr. Banadaranaike dropped the mirror and it broke into 5 pieces,
Sinhala, Ceylon Tamil, Indian Tamil, Muslim and Burgher.
Continued on Monday