By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Long after his death, the macabre shadow of Velupillai Prabhakaran continues to stalk the peninsula, darkening the neck of Jaffna with the coagulated blood of those Tamils who sacrificed their lives for a cause that failed. In the end, their sacrifices turned the North into one mass graveyard that buried practically everything cherished by the Tamils except their folly, arrogance, hate politics and myths glorifying Tamil greatness that is not found in the pages of recorded history. The post-independent history of Jaffna was essentially a movement to create,if possible, and actualise Tamil greatness which existed only in the minds of the deluded Tamils.
S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and Velupillai Prabhakaran are the two Tamil leaders who attempted to transform fictitious Tamil greatness into a historical fact by establishing a separate state. With typical Tamil arrogance that rejects peaceful co-existence in a multi-ethnic nation Chelvanayakam announced that “the Sinhalese were not big enough to rule the Tamils” (p. 128 – S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A Political Biography, Lake House Bookshop, 1993). His solution to bring down to earth the pie-in-the-sky Tamil greatness was to establish Eelam. That fitted into his sense of superiority. He dismissed with contempt those who refused to join his Jaffna-centric bandwagon. Like most of the upper-caste Vellahlas his universe began and ended with Jaffna. Factors outside the periphery of the Jaffna-centric culture were denigrated and rejected as inferior because they threatened their assumed sense of superiority. For instance, he had utter contempt for his rival G. G. Ponnambalam who opted to work with “the Sinhala governments”. He branded Ponnambalam as a “thief” (p.72 – Ibid). After his break-up in 1948 he dismissed Ponnambalam as an “opportunist.” (p.36 – Ibid). Ponnambalam was relegated to a corner of his mind where he remained as “an implacable foe” to the end of time.
With more than a touch of contempt he also labelled the Tamils of Batticoloa as “the trousered people of Batticoloa” ( p. 32 – Ibid) though one of his main political strategies was to get the Tamil-speaking Muslims, Indians estate workers and the Eastern Tamils under his umbrella of the iyakkum (movement) of Thamil Payasooom Makkal (Tamil-speaking people) as opposed to Thamil Makkal (Tamil people). But the Muslims and the Indian Tamils were not drawn to his Jaffna-centric political agenda of Jaffna-centric extremism.
Chelvanayakam’s attempt to spread his tentacles into the other two Tamil-speaking minorities failed. They were suspicious of his Jaffna-centric agenda, consisting mainly of a separate state and Vadukoddai violence. Both Chelvanayakam and Prabhakaran failed – and failed miserably – primarily because they refused to accept the opportunities that came their way to resolve differences like the other two Tamil-speaking community leaders through non-violent means. Indian and Muslim community leaders succeeded because they refused to accept his leadership and his Vadukoddai violence aimed primarily to glorify Tamil greatness. Both leaders directed their energies to establish Tamil greatness by carving out a separate state based on borders imagined by Tamil cartographers. Both Tamil leaders failed because of their intransigent and arrogant belief that violence could force the break-up of the nation.
First, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism, laid the ideological foundations to drive his campaign to attain Eelam. He officially launched his Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK, disguised in English as Federal Party) on December 18, 1949 at the Government Clerical Service Union in the Colombo suburb of Maradana. By 1976 when he discovered that he can never be a Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, (1947), or a Sheik Mujubir Rahman, the father of Bangladesh, (1972) he steered the Vadukoddai Resolution at the Vadukoddai Convention (1976) legitimising violence to attain his elusive Eelam. Second, out of the military solution legitimised in the Vadukoddai Resolution came the armed Vadukoddai children who turned their guns first on the fathers of the Vadukoddai Resolution. Chelvanayakam’s military solution was a futile exercise doomed from the start because Prabhakaran, the Tamil leader assigned to deliver Eelam, was more keen on killing Tamils than the non-Tamils. In the end the Vadukoddai Resolution ran out of Tamils to fight for the Vadukoddai Resolution – the high point of Tamil arrogance and imagined greatness.
Imagining Tamil greatness, which was never there in the first place, has been an obsession fixated in the Tamil psyche. Looking for the missing greatness has been like Chelvanayakam looking for his missing father. His father brought him from Ipoh. a town in Malaysia, and left him with his mother in Tellipallai in 1902 when he was four and the young boy never saw his father ever again, except once when his father was in his death bed in Malaysia. The void caused by the absence of a father warped his psyche. His biographer, Prof. A. J. Wilson, who knew him better than anyone else, wrote: “The absence of his father from home in his formative years was a key factor in his development. Living in a social ethos that was and still is male-centred, he witnessed the daily discomforts and petty humiliations suffered by the mother whom he revered. He could not compensate for this lack of a paternal presence; he could merely repress it by his own conscious will.” (p.viii – Ibid). Prof. Wilson cannot be challenged on this because of his intimate knowledge of Chelvanayakam and his politics. In analysing Chelvanayakam’s “career and character from within” he wrote: “… I knew him intimately and was privy to his innermost political thoughts between 1953 and 1977. ”(p.viii – Ibid). Besides, as his son-in-law he would have worked intimately with his father-in-law who would have been a gold mine to him as he was specialising in political science.
Prof. Wilson makes it abundantly clear that there was nothing in Chelvanayakam’s life that “could compensate for this lack of paternal presence.” The emotional pressures would have left indelible mental scars. Prof. Wilson added: “Chelvanayakam’s separation from his father, growing up with only his mother and two brothers and sister, left its mark. The family system in Tellipalli placed a premium on the presence of a father in the home. In the extended Ceylon Tamil family system the nearest uncle fulfilled the paternal role, and Chelvanayakam’s maternal uncle, S. K. Ponnaiah, a minister of the then Church of England in Ceylon, attempted to act as his guide. However, despite fine qualities and many friends in the elite circles of Colombo, he could not fill the gap in the young man’s life.” (p 5. – Ibid).
The humiliations in his early life and his repressions would have been the factors that caused him to withdraw into his Tamilness as an internal defensive mechanism. A boy thrown into an alien, threatening milieu, without the comforting and confidence-building hand of a father protecting him, could only be bundle of insecure nerves. Not only young Chelvanayakam the entire family felt the absence of the father. “The Velupillai household lacked a vital element with the absence of the father, and Chelvanayakam’s mother felt diminished in the company of her sister and brothers and their spouses. In that world women needed to have husbands to make the family unit complete.” (p.1 – Ibid). Isolated as a repressed and humiliated youth Chelvanayakam found his comfort zone only in exclusive Tamil institutions and territory. Besides, growing up in Tellipallai, a village deep in the heart of Jaffna and nearest to Tamil Nadu, contributed to his being essentially a Tamil “village man”, a label which he was proud to claim even when he was moving in the highest circles in Colombo. Even though he was a Christian he made sure that he was not alienated from the Hindu society that dominated his world. “He therefore made the paradoxical claim that he was a Christian by religion and Hindu by culture”, says Prof. Wilson (ibid- p.4).
The Jaffna Tamil Christians were faced with the dilemma of being a Christian in a predominantly Hindu culture. Some of them like Fr. S. J. Emmanuel, the Vicar of Jaffna, openly declared that he was a Tamil first and a Christian second. To prove their worth to the Jaffnaites they also tried to hijack Christianity to serve the political agenda of Tamils. The first missionaries tried to convert Hindus into Christians. But the Christians of the 20th century went the other way about : their aim was to make Christianity serve the Tamil political agenda. However, the overweening factor that dominated their minds was just not Tamilness but the sense of being superior to all other ethnic groups that accompanied Tamilness. Chelvanayakam consoled his conscience by having one foot in each tabernacle. He got away by saying that he was a Christian by religion and Hindu by culture. Prof. Wilson says that “he was able to function as a convinced Christian while retaining in himself those aspects of Hinduism which he felt were quintessentially Tamil.” (p 4. – Ibid)
Besides, “(T)he cultural effects of his formative environments were strong…..” and he clung on to the Hindu culture which made him “quintessentially Tamil”. His sense of insecurity caused by “the lack of paternal presence” would have driven him to find security only by identifying his being with the larger community of Hindu Tamils. That feeling of being one with the Tamils made him feel great too. In short, Tamil communalism was his substitute for the missing father. Prof. Wilson confirms this when he states that he decided to play the role of the father for the Tamils because he had no father. From all available accounts there is no doubt that the intense impact of the lack of paternal protection played a key role in shaping his youth and political life.
His mind was buried deeply in Tamilness. He had nothing else to hang on to as an alternative to his father. His isolation was deepened by being a Christian in a Hindu world. In the political culture of Jaffna there was a stigma attached to it from the time the missionaries set foot in Jaffna. Arumuka Navalar, (1822 – 1879), the Pope of Vellahla casteism, ran this anti-Christian movement It did not impact on Chelvanayakam adversely because he identified himself with the Hindu culture in everything except religious rituals and the plethora of Hindu gods. But he aligned himself with Saivite Vellahla socio-economic hegemony of Jaffna to the extreme point of going along with the casteist politics of the Vellahlas.
Politically it would have been suicidal for him to be thrown out of the dominant Vellahla upper caste. No Tamil leader could risk that isolation. In peninsular politics where the ambition of every Tamil leader is to be the “sole representative of the Tamils” – and this is a trait that ran from Sankili to Prabhakaran — his biggest dread was to be isolated from his community. He refused to buy a house in Colombo fearing that its multi-cultural cosmopolitanism would pollute the purity of his children’s Tamil minds. Anything alien to his familiar Tamil culture was abhorrent to his closed mind. Even when it came to his Christian religion he jumped, at the first opportunity, from the Church of England, as it was known then in colonial times, to the Church of South India when it opened a place of worship in Colombo. (p.4 – Ibid). Chelvanayakam’s repressed personality is written all over in his dogged personality that hid behind Tamil communalism as the answer to his personal problems as well as that of the Tamils.
He was no different to the other Tamil who found confirmation of their greatness only by convincing themselves that they are superior to everyone else. The fact that the Tamil segment of history is bereft of any notable leaders or original achievements did not disturb their mythical beliefs in Tamil greatness. It must be emphasized that the native Tamils of their only homeland in Tamil Nadu achieved great cultural heights but not their carbon copies in Jaffna. But driven by their imagined sense of superiority they felt that they deserve a separate state. They felt it infra dig to play second fiddle in a state dominated by another non-Tamil ethnic community. The acquisition of a state by a stateless people naturally confers a sense of superiority though not security as seen under the leadership of the Tamil Pol Pot.
Chelvanayakam’s political ideology of separatism was linked to this claim of Tamil superiority – a claim which is also allied to his sense of insecurity which he acquired from his fatherless home in Tellipallai. That sense of superiority demands a separate existence from alien territory which is threatening their sense of superiority. It is obvious that only a community obsessed with their imagined greatness would contemplate writing a theology in praise of their glory derived from their special relationship with God. The insecurity caused by the absence of a father in the family was off set only by identifying himself with a collective gathering of Tamils – and that too only from Jaffna.
When the fragments of Chelvanayakam’s political personality are put together it can be seen that his inner compulsions had played a key role in determining his politics. He has been a complex character with a narrow vision driven by mono-ethnic extremism. By 1976 he had been many things to many people. He had been a Gandhian pacifist and also a Vadukoddian militant. He had been a Christian and also a Hindu who dared not to disturb his casteist universe. His ambition was to be a Jinnah or Sheik Mujubir Rahaman of Sri Lanka but he ended up as the Pied Piper of Jaffna who lured his people like the rats of Hamelin to their watery grave in Nandikadal. His notable political legacy was the Vadukoddai Resolution which he handed to his political children who ran amok with the violence he legitimised. His Gandhian pose deceived many of his followers.
My memory goes back to the day when I was climbing the stairs of the old Parliament after lunch. I caught up with Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan, a leading light of the Federal Party, who was labouring to climb the stairs. He put his hand on on my shoulder to prop himself up, every step of the way. On the way up he was chatting and what he told me about Chelvanayakam made me think. He said that Chelvanayakam is able to maintain his saintly Gandhian pose because of his Parkinsons disease. Then it struck me that It was indeed his feebleness that made him look like a quiet Gandhian, though in reality he was a tough Vadukoddian committed to the military solution – a solution which he knew would lead to the deaths of countless Tamils and, of course, non-Tamils. He was not averse to the brutal consequences of war as long as it brought him his Eelam. But he failed.
Taking an overview, it is not possible to escape the overwhelming question : Were the traumatised Sri Lankans – from Point Pedro to Dondra – tormented,persecuted and made to pay with their lives for 33 years because Chelvanayakam did not have a father?
*To be continued
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