The early cracks
by an Old Jaffna Man

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 comfortable majority.

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 Parliamentary Secretary.

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 due course’..

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 school premises.

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 majority.

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


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