By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Starting from the Dutch period to modern times, the Jaffna Tamil leadership, which consisted exclusively of the Vellalas, relied entirely on two fundamental ideologies to retain their power and privileges in the peninsula. Both ruling ideologies were defined in two separate documents. First was the Tesawalamai codified by Class Isaacksz, Dissawe of Jaffna, on January 30, 1707, for the guidance of Dutch rulers. Second was the Batakotte (Tamilised as Vadukoddai) Resolution (1976) written by the Vellalas for the preservation and glory of the Vellalas.
The Tamil translation of the Tesawalamai was vetted and endorsed by the twelve Jaffna mudliyars (all of whom were Vellalas) as the primary laws and customs of the land. In essence, it legitimised and consolidated the power of the ruling elite, the Vellahlas. Like most laws it represented the social, economic and political interests of the ruling Vellalas. It confirmed the hierarchical status of the Vellalas which included the right to own and rule over the low-castes and the slaves imported from S. India. The oppressed low-castes were legally condemned as human beings unfit for Vellala society. The low-castes remained as slaves and outcasts. They neither had the organisational power nor a leadership (example: Dr. Ambedkar of India) to challenge the oppressive might of the ruling Vellalas. The Dutch and the British accepted Tesawalamai as the legal norm and they turned a blind eye to Vellala oppression, as long as the Vellalas played their subservient role to the colonial masters.
The Batakotte Resolution, on the other hand, defined the ultimate political ambitions of the Vellalas to retain their political supremacy which was under siege by the invasions of modernity in the dying days of the British raj and post-independent era. On May 14, 1976 the creme de la creme of the Tamil elite met at Batakotte to present their political manifesto to establish a separate state – the last refuge of Vellalas to retain their power, prestige and privileges. In the feudal and colonial periods they legitimised their oppressive rule on the casteist ideology derived from Hinduism. In the post-independent era they switched to Tamil nationalism because the divine rights guaranteed in Hinduism could no longer justify their supremacy over the restless non-Vellala population rising against Vellala oppressors.
The Batakotte Resolution produced the alternative ideology of “Tamil nationalism” to replace anachronistic Hindu casteism. It now stands as the political Bible of the Tamils which contains the essential arguments for the establishment of Tamil Eelam – arguments derived from their version of history. It also outlined their means / strategies to achieve Eelam. It is necessary to examine this document even at this late stage because there isn’t a greater declaration of the Tamils justifying Tamil separatist politics and Tamil violence that went along with it. After the Batakotte Resolution a whole new industry began to justify Tamil separatism and violence.
Among those who drafted it are S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the Father of Tamil separatism, Appapillai Amirthalingam, Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan, joined by the elitist Vellalas. The authors of the Batakotte Resolution scoured the nooks and corners of history to produce a plausible justification for the creation of a separate state. Every word in it was written to pave the path for Eelam. They never expected it to end in Nandikadal.
Like all politics of Jaffna in British and post-independent times, it was drafted by the English-speaking, Saivite, Jaffna Vellala elite for the power and glory of their caste. It is the ultimate political manifesto of the Tamils which laid down the central arguments for (1) the declaration of war against the rest by the Tamil leadership, (2) on the promise of creating a separate state for the Tamils of the North. What is examined here is not their tragic political miscalculations which led the Tamils into the arms of fascist tyrant, Prabhakaran, and through him to Nandikadal. The focus here is on one of the central arguments of the Batakotte Resolution which is stated in the opening paragraphs of the Resolution. This is how it is worded in the second paragraph:
“Whereas, the Tamil Kingdom was overthrown in war and conquered by the Portuguese in 1619, and from them by the Dutch and the British in turn, independent of the Sinhalese Kingdoms; And,
Whereas, the British Colonists, who ruled the territories of the Sinhalese and Tamil Kingdoms separately, joined under compulsion the territories of the Sinhalese and the Tamil Kingdoms for purposes of administrative convenience on the recommendation of the Colebrooke Commission in 1833; And,
Whereas, the Tamil Leaders were in the forefront of the Freedom movement to rid Ceylon of colonial bondage which ultimately led to the grant of independence to Ceylon in 1948; And,
Whereas, the foregoing facts of history were completely overlooked, and power over the entire country was transferred to the Sinhalese nation on the basis of a numerical majority, thereby reducing the amil nation to the position of subject people;”
Error 1 : The Tamils blame the British for overlooking the facts of history and handing over power to the Sinhalese nation on the basis of numerical majority. In saying this the Battakottians contradict their own claim that they joined hands with the majority to win independence. According to the argument of the Tamils, independence was granted because the majority and the minority joined hands together to live together as one nation. If they “were in the forefront of the Freedom movement to rid Ceylon of colonial bondage” and if they fought together for the birth of one nation how could the British transfer power to the Tamils who never asked for a separate state? So why should the British be blamed for the miscalculated afterthoughts of the Tamils? The Battakotte argument that the Tamils joined hands with majority disprove their claim that power was transferred “on the basis of numerical majority.”
Error 2 : According to the Batakotte argument, power was transferred by the Tamil king (Sankili II) in 1619 to the Portuguese, who handed it over to the Dutch who handed it over to the British and, at independence, according to Tamil logic, the British should have transferred power back to the Tamils who transferred power initially to the Portuguese. This argument stands out as the central argument argument for the creation of a separate state. They argue that the British should have recognised the sequence of historical events and transferred power back to the Tamils who initially handed their power to the Portuguese.
The bankruptcy of Tamil politics is revealed in this Resolution. It confirms that the best of Tamil leadership had no better argument than this unsustainable assertion drawn from their version of history. In the first place, there are no credible records in history to justify this argument. More of this later. But on the surface of it alone, this is argument reveals the failure of the Jaffna Tamil leadership to justify their claim even with a modicum of commonsensical reasoning. In examining this argument closely it is clear that it verges on the edge of irrational absurdity.
The implication of this argument is that the British had a moral, political and legal obligation to hand over power to the Tamils in 1948 because the Sankili II handed over power to the Portuguese in 1619. If this argument is valid then the British should have handed over the territories / kingdoms they acquired from the maharajas of India to their descendants and not to Nehru or Jinnah. Where would India be today if the Batakotte argument was raised to break-up the sub-continent into separate states?
The argument that the British should have handed over the territory they held under colonial rule to extinct regional powers who held it once upon a time is not justifiable because both India and Sri Lanka fought for freedom not on a regional basis but on a common national front. This is conceded by the Tamils in the Battakotte Resolution. If, as stated in the Batakotte Resolution, the Tamils were “in the forefront of the independent movement of Ceylon”, there was no necessity for the British to recognise regional borders. More so, because the Tamils never asked for a separate state in 1948. That began on December 18, 1949 when S. J. V. Chelvanayakam launched his Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachci at the GCSU Hall in Maradana. Mark you, not in Jaffna – the so-called “homeland” of the Tamils!
Nor did the Nallur Convention (1619) contain a clause to prove that the Portuguese, or their colonial successors, undertook to hand over Jaffna to the descendants of Sankili II at the time of leaving the shores of Sri Lanka. The plain historical fact is that they captured Sankili II, took him to Goa and hanged him. End of story. So on what basis did the Tamil legal eagles who assembled at Batakotte conclude that the British should have handed over Jaffna to the Tamils? In any case, the successive colonial masters (the Dutch and the British) had no contractual agreement with each other or with the Tamils to hand over power to the descendants of Sankili II. If this argument is valid then the British should have handed over power in 1948 to the Kandyans which is the only state with whom they concluded a treaty of accession. There is no tenable theory to prove that the regional borders of feudal times should remain valid in mid-twentieth century. The fact that there was a separate kingdom in feudal times does not necessarily mean that the colonial masters had to restore in 1948 the bygone borders of 1619.
Besides, why stop at the borders of 1619? Why not go beyond that to the time when the Sinhalese borders circled the entire island. The British, in fact, did nothing wrong. They transferred power to the nation as a whole, based on the original borders established by Dutugemunu and Parakramabahu who, among others, were the sole sovereigns from coast to coast without any regional borders obstructing their supremacy. Their claim supersedes that of latter-day feudatories of Tamil rulers, who invariably paid tributes to the Sinhala kings. Fr. Queroz states that Jaffna was one of the fifteen kinglets that paid tribute to the Sinhala kings. The British, restored the historical borders of the Sinhala sovereigns that ruled the nation before the itinerant Tamil migrants established, for the first time, a permanent settlement in the 13th century.Tamil historians dates the Tamil kingdom from 1215 – 1619. The British, therefore, rightfully transferred power to the Sinhala sovereigns who ruled Jaffna before 1215 without any borders..
Besides, this there is a more telling historical argument which debunks their claim of Tamil power being transferred by the last King of Jaffna to the Portuguese. The Batakotte argument assumes that power was transferred to the Portuguese by the last Tamil King of Jaffna, Sankili II. If this claim is historically accurate then there is the possibility of mounting an argument on the grounds that power was transferred by Sankili II, however flimsy it may be. But history records a different story. The last battle for Jaffna was not fought by Sankili II but by the King of Kandy, Senarat in 1629. This makes him the last king of Jaffna and power finally flowed from him to the Portuguese. So this knocks the bottom out of the Batakotte argument that power was transferred by the Sankili in 1619.
In 1629, King Senarat of Kandy, whose two sons had married princesses of Jaffna, sent his kinsman, Mudliyar Atapattu to rescue Jaffna from the tyrannical grip of the Portuguese who were persecuting the people of Jaffna. Mudliyar Attapattu swept through Jaffna, virtually unopposed with the backing of the oppressed Tamils. For a short while Mudliyar Atapattu was the master of Jaffna, as stated by Queroz, until Constantine de Saa sent his forces from the south to defeat him.
History records that the last battle for Jaffna was fought by the Sinhalese. And power flowed from Sinhala-Buddhist king to the Portuguese. This negates the basic argument in the Batakotte Resolution that power was transferred by the Tamil king to the Portuguese.
In an earlier article (see : The last king of Jaffna was a Sinhala-Buddhist – Colombo Telegraph) I cited the Portuguese historians who confirmed that it was the Sinhalese who waged the last battle to save Jaffna from the Portuguese oppressors. Mahinda Rajapakse repeated that history when he fought the final battle to save Jaffna from the fascist oppression of Velupillai Prabhakaran – the first born child of the Batakotte Resolution. Ironically, it was the children of the Batakotte Resolution that turned the guns on the Fathers who legitimised their brutal violence.
It seems that history has a way of making those who distort its sacred contents pay dearly for their inexcusable sins.