30 March, 2023


Blood On Chelvanayakam’s Head & His Hands

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

H. L. D. Mahindapala

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Continuing review of Chandrika Kumaratunga’s talk on Chelvanayakam – Part III

When Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga began her talk on S. J. V. Chelvanayakam by saying “Mr. Chelvanayakam and his Party, the Federal Party, engaged in a long and difficult struggle to win the Tamil peoples’ rights” she, obviously, was not aware that she was putting her foot in the mouth. In saying this she was condemning her father and the mother because Chelvanayakam’s “difficult struggle” was mainly with her parents who tried to restrain his mono-ethnic extremism that drove the people of Jaffna to Nandikadal. The better part of the political careers of her father and mother was a long-drawn struggle to contain the intransigent mono-ethnic extremism that was, slowly but surely, exacerbating North-South relations. The politics of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike were invariably a reaction to the aggressive, confrontational and intransigent extremism of either G. G. Ponnambalam or his rival/successor, Chelvanayakam.

Consider, for instance, the formation of the Sinhala Maha Sabha by Bandaranaike in 1935. This was a response to the aggressive communalism whipped up by Ponnambalam in the 30’s. Mark you, the first communal party was formed in 1921 when the Tamil leadership broke away from the Ceylon National Congress and established the Tamil Mahajana Sabhai. This communal party was also the first political party. Communalism was first injected into national politics by the Tamil leadership to pursue their narrow mono-ethnic agenda. It was also the time when they rejected territorial representation and insisted on communal representation which was rejected by the British rulers who had begun to devolve power incrementally to the indigenous leaders in the Legislative and State Councils. In plugging for communal representation they were obstructing the democratization of the political process. The Tamil leadership even went before the Donoughmore Commissioners and objected to the granting of universal franchise in 1931.



Communalism was not a dominant part of mainstream politics before the Jaffna Tamil leadership demanded from the 1920s increased political power for the Jaffna Tamils – a demand quite disproportionate to their numbers. The root cause of the exacerbation of North-South relations has been, from the beginning, the excessive and aggressive claim for disproportionate power to Jaffna Tamils at the expense of other communities, particularly the majority Sinhalese. In fact, the first divisions in the Sinhala and Tamil leaderships occurred on the issue of the Jaffna Tamils demanding an extra seat in the predominantly Sinhala Western Province in addition to the seat allotted to them in the Tamil north. The aggressive communalism of the Tamil ethnic extremism gathered momentum under Ponnambalam in the 30’s and 40’s. Historian Dr. G.C. Mendis summarized the new threat of aggressive communalism in the 40’s in the following words : “The Communalism seen in 1943 was undoubtedly a new development. European writers such as the Portuguese Jesuit Fernao de Queyroz and the Englishman Robert Knox of the seventeenth century and James Cordiner and other English writers of nineteenth century have left us pictures of Ceylon with its various divisions of society but in none of their works does one come across communal conflicts of the type we saw then.” (p,127 – Ceylon Today and Yesterday, Main Currents of Ceylon History, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd., 1957)

The most virulent ideology that set fire to the nation is Tamil communalism which came down from the North. Dr. Mendis argues that it is a middle-class phenomenon “and the chief causes of conflict economic.” (Ibid — p. 136). He was referring to the English-educated middle-class of the North competing to protect, increase and consolidate their professional dominance, clerkships, power and privileges mainly in the public service. Ponnambalam made his name in Tamil politics in 1943 when he went before the Soulbury Commission and argued for a disproportionate share of power to the Tamils of Jaffna. Describing the political climate of this time Prof. A. J. Wilson states: “G. G. Ponnambalam spearheaded the demand for balanced representation for the minority communities (known as “fifty-fifty”); this implied a communally-balanced legislature with 50 per cent of seats for all minorities – Ceylon Tamils, Indian Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Burghers and Europeans – and 50 per cent for the Sinhalese. However, this was not supported beyond a large section of Ceylon Tamils of the Jaffna peninsula and Colombo.” (p.12 — S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A. J. Wilson, Lake House Bookshop)

Any assessment of Tamil politics must necessarily trace the political trajectory that rose from a base of demanding one seat in the Western Province in the 20’s, to 50-50 in the thirties, to federalism in the forties and Eelam in the fifties — a step by step movement that occurred long before S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike ever had the power to adjust the colonial legacies that deprived the majority their rightful place in history. The one-eyed, partisan pundits tended to blame Bandaranaike for the Jaffna Tamils crawling incrementally to the extreme, spoiling all chances of peaceful co-existence. Any holistic appraisal should begin with mono-ethnic extremism that began in the 20’s advancing, on its own steam to separatism. Like the other two communities the Jaffna Tamils too could have resolved their differences without violence.

Blaming Bandaranaike for the sins of the Tamil leadership is not substantiated by historical facts. The Northern leadership began their communal politics long before Bandaranaike ever dreamt of forming his own political party. He began his politics in the Ceylon National Congress – the united front of all communities against British colonialism. Then he joined UNP, another rainbow party under the Senanayakes. But the internal dynamics of peninsular politics were driving the Tamil leadership down the aggressive and confrontational politics to communal extremism, with or without Bandaranaike. The Tamils use Bandaranaike as the whipping boy because their politics is based only on blaming the “other”. They have never accepted responsibility for the worsening of the North-South relations. They have thrived on victimology – a myth manufactured by them to cry “Mumma No, Pappa No, Appa cun-da thut-tu No.”

Clearly, there is a need to take a broader view to get to the bottom of the North-South relations. In her memorial speech on S. J. V. Chelvanayakam she announces, somewhat pompously, using the jargon of a self-proclaimed “political scientist”: “We must adopt a holistic view of conflict, their genesis and causes.” If she really means what she states then she must survey the entire period that was submerged in Chelvanayakam’s Tamil-separatist-ideology. She must begin from December 18th, 1949 when Chelvanayakam first launched his federalist/separatist movement at the Government Clerical Serviced Union in Maradana which led the Tamils of the North eventually to Nandikadal in May 18th, 2009. It is his leadership and ideology that directed the Jaffna Tamils during this period and he should take total responsibility for leading his people all the way to Nandikadal, via Vadukoddai.

He fathered the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976 which endorsed violence. It was declaration of war against the rest of the nation. In it he urged the Tamil youth to take up arms and never cease until they arrive at Eelam. Though he posed as a Gandhian (“a trousered Gandhian”. at that – p. 95, A. J. Wilson) he was not averse to wear, in place of the traditional yellow pottu, a dripping red spot on his forehead drawn from the blood in the veins of a Tamil extremist (Ibid –p. 119). His entire career stands out as absolute proof of Bandaranaike’s prophetic assessment that he was a “dangerous and delusional man”, particularly to the Tamils. It was his delusions that lured the Tamils to their watery grave in Nandikadal. Chelvanayakam was the Pied Piper of Jaffna who enticed the Tamil youth, like the rats of Hamelin, to their doom in murky waters of Nandikadal.

Living without a father who had abandoned his mother and the family, must have caused deep psychological scars in the mind of young Chelvanayakam. To begin with, he was not born in Sri Lanka. He was born in Ipoh, Malaysia. His father, Viswanathan Velupillai, left him, his mother, Harriet Annamma Kanapathipillai two brothers and a sister in Tellipallai and he never saw him until he was on his death bed. Chelvanayakam was only four years old when he was sent to Ceylon, as it was known then. The separation must have left its mark on fatherless Chelvanayakam, says Prof. Wilson. Chelvanayakam’s indifference to the Tamil youth whom he virtually sentenced to death in his Vadukoddai Resolution could be a subliminal reaction to his father abandoning him in his childhood. Wearing a bloody pottu on his forehead, mobilizing the Tamils to wage war, legitimizing violence in the Vadukoddai Resolution, declaring war knowing the consequences cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be the work of a “Gandhi”.

He is the only leader in the mainstream politics who abandoned the democratic political culture and decided to go down the war path. He, of course, died of natural causes. But his main disciple, Appapillai Amirthalingam and thousands of Tamil youth died because of the violent forces he unleashed in his declaration of war in the Vadukoddai Resolution. He ran through every word in that Resolution and endorsed it heartily, says his son-in-law Prof. Wilson. (p.128 – Ibid). The Tamils who hail him as their “father” should also hold him responsible for sending his children to war that ran all the way to Nandikadal.

With some psycho-babble Prof. Wilson tries to cover up the violent politics of “the trousered Gandhi”. He says that because Chelvanayakam had no father he tried to be the father for the Tamils. If that is so, he must have been a bitter and frustrated father who had no compunction in sending his children to commit brutal violence including the decimation of the entire Tamil leadership and “more Tamils than all the other forces put together.” (S.C. Chandrahasan, son of Chelvanayakam and V. Anandasangaree, leader of TULF).

A “holistic view” does not begin and end with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the mono-causal starting point and ending point for the Tamil lobby, who uses to constantly to divert their sins on the Sinhalese. Chandrika Kumaratunga too blames the Sinhalese for reacting to the violence unleashed by the “father of the Tamils”. The sporadic Sinhala violence was a knee-jerk reaction of the lunatic fringe to the aggressive and confrontational politics of Tamil extremism. No other community had officially decided, at the highest level, to unleash violence against other communities like the Tamil leadership that met in Vadukoddai in 1976.

There were alternatives to the violent Vadukoddai Resolution and its winding war path all the way to Nandikadal. If Chelvanayakam decided to go down that path then neither he nor his apologists can blame the “other” for the reaction of the democratically elected government of the people to defend security, peace and territorial integrity of the nation. Chelvanayakam was fully aware of the consequences of the violence he endorsed in his Vadukoddai Resolution. Beneath the veneer of Gandhian politics he was preparing for violence. His son-in-law and biographer, Prof. A. J. Wilson, the political scientists boasts that Chelvanayakam had between 1956 – 64 “mobilized the Tamil people to their full capacity and placed them virtually on a war footing.” (Ibid – 111). If Chandrika Kumaratunga was genuine about presenting “a holistic view” she should have begun with Chelvanayakam’s Maradana speech and traced the violent path he took brazenly to achieve his political goal.

Chandrika Kumaratunga had tried to cover-up Chelvanayakam’s “delusional and dangerous politics” by dressing him up in emperor’s clothes. Her regurgitation of Tamil propaganda to turn Chelvanayakam into a saint does not substantiate her claim to be a “political scientist” either. Her talk is an outright insult to her parents who had contributed constructively to the building of the nation with peace and good will to all. All Sri Lankan governments managed to maintain peace with the other two communities. They failed only with the Tamils of the North because of their arrogant, intransigent and confrontational politics. If she was genuinely concerned about presenting a holistic view she should have at least asked a simple question: Was it necessary for Chelvanayakam to take the Tamil people to war when there were non-violent and democratic alternatives to violence? For instance, how did the other two minorities resolve their difference without resorting to violence?

Her speech does no reveal any depth of understanding of the historical realities that worsened the North-South relations. History has never moved from one stage to another on a mono-causal factor. There are many dimensions in history. In Sri Lanka history neither began nor ended with the Bandaranaikes. As in all other times, Chandrika Kumaratunga would have looked wiser if she kept her mouth shut. It is when she goes out of her depth to make heavy pronouncements that she falls into delusional and dangerous politics.

PS: There are many aspects in her speech that should be examined critically. If the need arises these will be exposed later.


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  • 2

    I don’t often find myself in HLDM’s corner but I must say I found much of what CBK had to say in the course of her SJV Chelvanayagam memorial lecture, quite surprising. The presentation, itself, was poor. It was rambling, clumsily crafted, poorly edited/proof read, boring, repetitive in parts and devoid of real depth – not quite befitting a memorial lecture.

    CBK has made clear she prefers a Federal ‘solution’. That’s her prerogative. But I find unacceptable, her lack of objectivity as she attempts to make out that ALL blame in respect of the ‘ethnic problem’ lies with the ‘uncaring, racist’ Sinhalese, while the minorities are presented as wholly blameless and oppressed. No sane person would suggest that either of these parties can claim a monopoly of virtue or be assigned the role of sole villain. I also find unacceptable, her disregard for facts and the history of the ethnic issue. She has noted how the minorities “enjoyed many privileges” before Independence but what she fails to mention is that part of the ‘ethnic problem’ was due to the reluctance of these minorities, primarily the Tamils, to countenance any erosion of their privileged status after independence.

    CBK would have us believe the ethnic ‘problems’ only arose after independence in 1948. According to her, “With the emergence of independent Sri Lanka ……………….. the majority community in Sri Lanka established itself within the political power structures, claiming their rights in the economical,(sic!) social and cultural spheres, setting up laws, institutions and practices to guarantee their privileges to the exclusion of the “other” that are the minorities. The ruling elite, comprised mainly of the majority community, arrogated an unequal share of opportunities to itself, while excluding the others.”

    CBK cannot be unaware that separatist Tamil sentiment goes back a long way before 1948. Has she not heard of GG Ponnambalam’s infamous 50:50 demand which preceded Independence and is she unaware that the Tamil Congress, his party, was of the same vintage?

    A majority does not have to arrogate to itself an unequal share of opportunities. Isn’t it a simple matter of simple mathematics that the shares of the majority and a minority will not be equal? Or did CBK mean to say ‘inequitable’?

    Like Dayan Jayatilleke, whom CBK had chosen for special (and not flattering) mention, it seems she loves to quote from the famous. So we have her telling us that “ Leon Trotsky described the two emotions central to terrorism as despair and vengeance.” What profound insights! What a pity it did not occur to poor Trotsky to also mention other factors like anger and passions aroused by dangerous ideology.

    CBK’s next authority is a Professor Frances Stewart who is quoted as saying “that the exclusion of some communities from an equitable share of the benefits of prosperity causes inequalities and lead to conflict.” This author must be a favourite of CBK, and the sentiments stated must be for her so attractive, that she has seen fit to re-visit them, albeit, in slightly different form, later, when she says, “Stewart and Brown in an Oxford University study affirm that cultural, economic, political inequalities occurring between specific groups cause deep resentment, resulting in violent struggles” It’s the same sentiment the second time around; only this time, Stewart has Brown for company!

    Among the alleged disadvantages that the Northern and Easter regions suffered, according to CBK was “relatively little opportunity to access quality education”. Is she implying that the rest of the country was better off in this regard? The fact is that the North and East enjoyed better access to quality education than did the rest of the country. And the reason for that was simple; the North and the East had better schools. I am not saying there was anything wrong about that or that was an advantage unfairly gained. I am merely stating what the factual situation was. For CBK to state otherwise is to state an untruth.

    CBK has said that “The Tamil community and their leaders first demanded equal opportunities, especially in education, jobs and political sharing. The continuing non-resolution of the issues led to political mobilization and the demand for political powers – first a Federal State and then a separate State.”

    Here, CBK is either ignorant of history or opts to disregard it. The Federal Party was formed as early as 1949, the year following the grant of Independence. So, the demand for a Federal State did not come later in the piece as she suggests.

    Referring to the Banadaranaile/Chelvanayagam and the Dudley/Chelvanayagam agreements, CBK tells us that “the opposition to these Agreements was always led by small groups of Sinhala extremists who would join themselves to the major political party in Opposition.” What rubbish! The opposition to the BC pact was spearheaded by JR Jayewardene, hardly, a Sinhala extremist. And JR was absolutely right to have mounted the opposition to the pact. SWRD had no mandate to enter into the agreement. Nor did he give due thought or consideration before entering into it. And that seemed characteristic of him. He did not think his projects through. In an effort to get the better of the UNP, he made an election commitment to make Sinhala the only official language, without giving due thought to the potential consequences. And when the Federal Party politicians went on a satyagraha SWRD was on knee-jerk-reaction mode again. It is important to note that the Federal Party satyagraha was ostensibly to protest the alleged disadvantages that Sinhala Only visited on the Tamils but what SJV demanded as the price for calling off the satyagraha went well beyond language related grievances. The BC pact was not so much about language. It was substantially to do with ‘colonisation’ in the N & E, and what the pact sought to achieve was in effect to deny non Tamils any land rights in those areas. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for SJV, the BC pact as the first step towards achieving his

    It is good to see CBK ending her presentation on a sensible note, and I am sure we can all agree on the need “to essentially change the attitudes and deeply entrenched fears of our people” Of course, these must apply to ALL our people, not just the Sinhalese. We can agree also on the need to “start writing on a fresh page” not, as has been stated, to “cease the unprecedented opportunity history has today presented to us” but rather, to seize it.

  • 0

    SL Voter.

    Why are you glad that Mahindapala has a wife who is a Tamil Lady?
    It is true that his wife is a Tamil.

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