By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
December 18, 1949, which happened to be a Sunday, has been ignored by social scientists who should have evaluated it critically, at least for its bloody consequences which ended eventually in Nandikadal. It was the day on which Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), Tamil State Party disguised as Federal Party) was launched officially. It was the day on which S. J. V. Chelvanayakam delivered his presidential address of the newly formed Tamil separatist party, expressing fears of the Tamils being wiped out by the majoritarian rule of the Sinhalese, thereby setting the tone and the future direction of Tamil politics. These fears expressed in his speech will be examined in detail later in another article.
It was the day that Chelvanayakam set out officially to carve out a political career of his own after he broke away from G. G. Ponnambalam, the acknowledged Tamil leader of the day heading the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC). That was the day he laid his imprint on the sands of Jaffna aiming to be the Jinnah of Jaffna. More importantly, it was the day on which Chelvanayakam spelt out publicly his separatist ideology for the first time to the Tamils as a manifesto of his divisive politics.
The new ideology of separatism contained in Chelvanayakam’s speech signaled the climax of mono-ethnic extremism of the Vellahlas that has been creeping up incrementally in the 20s and 30s. Resistance to break up a nation is inevitable in any political context. Separatism and violence are inseparable. In the historical context of Sri Lanka it was an ideology that could be pursued only through violence, as proved by the evolving events. And the Maradana speech which contained all the seeds of separatism exploded eventually in inevitable violence, particularly after it was revised and directed towards militarism in the Vadukoddai Resolution of May 1976.
Though the Maradana speech claimed to have laid down reasons and the conditions for a federal state it was couched in deceptive ambiguity, leaving it wide open for “little now and more later” policy enunciated by Chelvanayakam (p.128 – S.J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, A Political Biography, A. Jeyaratnam Wilson. Lake House Bookshop, 1993).. The leap-frogging that went from one extra seat in the 20s to 50-50 in the 30s and to federalism in the ‘40s confirmed the ”little now and more later” policy of the Jaffna manipulators aiming at separatism. The next step was separatism (Eelam) which came predictably in the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976. The decisive leap into separatism, disguised initially as federalism, was taken on December 18, 1949 which deserves serious attention, considering that it opened up a whole new chapter in Jaffna Tamil politics.
Chelvanayakam’s Maradana speech was published by ITAK as “Booklet Series No.1”. The cover presented the speech as “the Presidential Address of Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, K.C., Member of Parliament, delivered at The Inaugural and First Business meeting of THE ILLANKAI TAMIL ARASU KADCHI (The Federal Freedom Party of Tamil-speaking People of Ceylon) on 18th December, 1949 at the G.C. S. U. Hall, Colombo – Price Cts. 50”. Chelvanayakam’s calculated speech contained merely the seminal outline of Tamil separatist politics which was to blow up later into a devastating movement, marginalizing even the Marxist revolutionaries of various shades – from Trotskyism to Maoism.
However, at the time it was delivered it fizzled out as a non-event as far as the mainstream media reportage went. On the evening of Monday 19th December, 1949, only the Times of Ceylon ran a couple of paragraphs in one of its inside pages recording the event at Maradana. Then on page 5 of The Times of Ceylon of December 27th 1949 the following letter was published in response to Chelvanaykam’s speech:
Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, K.C., M.P., seems to be in great fear that the Tamil community will be wiped off the face of Ceylon.
It should be clear to all, who have the well-being of the Tamils at heart, that such a catastrophe can never happen. I would refer Mr. Chelvanayakam to the Civil List, the General Clerical Service Seniority List, and other similar publications. They show the exact position. What more does he want?
(Signed) Friend of Tamils.
This letter refers to the disproportionate share of jobs that the English-educated Tamils of Jaffna held in government service. It was the biggest growth industry of the time and Tamils of Jaffna – mainly the English-educated Vellahlas – formed a formidable force in the ranks of government service. It was also meant to indicate that the Tamils were a privileged community holding not only disproportionate share but also key jobs in the upper echelons of government service and the fears expressed by Chelvanayakam at Maradana were contrary to stark realities of the day. The cry of discrimination, based essentially on the share of jobs in government service, (this will be examined later) was one of the main issues on which Chelvanayakam raised his fears to drive Northern Tamils to the extreme point of separatism.
Chelvanayakam’s launch of ITAK, it must be noted, was also a non-event in the political landscape. Nor was it an earth-shattering event in Jaffna. By and large, the public was indifferent to the first public outburst of separatism led by Chelvanayakam. It was a time when the Marxists were the most vociferous and dominant force both in trade unions and electoral politics. No one expected the Maradana event staged by Chelvanayakam to be the cataclysmic force that exploded in the post-Vadukoddai violence.
The Maradana speech was the prelude to the Vadukoddai Resolution which was adopted unanimously by the Jaffna Tamil leadership on May 14, 1976. The Vadukoddai Resolution fleshed out the overall framework of peninsular politics adumbrated earlier in Maradana. It is the Maradana ideology that eventually wound its way to Nandikadal. The road from Maradana (1949) to Nandikadal (2009), which was repaired and reinforced in Vadukoddai (1976), ran through rivers of blood. It ran for sixty years – years spent in futility when non-violent paths were open for the Tamils of Jaffna to achieve their reasonable demands in the democratic mainstream.
The events that unraveled from the Maradana speech have proved that neither separatism nor its concomitant violence was necessary, as seen in the conduct of other minorities who managed their differences with the majority Sinhalese through non-violent politics. The self-destructive Tamil violence originated from their ill-conceived, ill-fated decision taken at Vadukoddai to declare war against the nation.
After the total collapse of the armed separatist movement in Nandikadal (2009) the leaders of the Tamil community are now proclaiming that they have abandoned separatist politics and they are for a united Sri Lanka with, of course, 13 plus. If, after taking the violent route from Maradana to Nandikadal, they have returned now to square one plus 13, why did the Tamil leaders, including the present leadership in TNA, back the Tamil Pol Pot who was their chosen instrument to implement the Maradana-Vadukoddai declarations? Doesn’t it make the violent phase of Tamil politics the work of misguided Tamil leaders who overrated their power to dictate terms to the nation?
All the machinations of the Jaffna political elite culminated in producing Velupillai Prabhakaran, “a pathological killer” (Prof.James Jupp, Australian National University). Ironically, his victims were mainly Tamils. Tamil leaders are on record saying that Prabhakaran killed more Tamils than all the others forces put together. What is more, the Tamil elite were happy to follow his lead and surrender their rights to Prabhakaran’s one-man rule without questioning. The few who dared to resist him were either eliminated or hunted relentlessly by his trained assassins. Despite their claim to be intellectually superior to others the entire Tamil leadership embraced the brutal violence of Tamil Pol Pot who came out of the Maradana-Vadukoddai political culture. Prabhakaran was hailed by the Tamil elite, particularly by those in the Catholic Church and the Diaspora, as the legitimate flag-bearer of the Maradana-Vadukoddai ideology.
Tragically, the fog of ideological myths blinded them to the grim realities facing the Tamils. They literally refused to read, understand and grapple with the realities of the times. They implicitly and slavishly relied on “the invincible power” of a single fanatic who knew only how to kill and not to negotiate with a flexible skill to achieve his goal. . They put all their eggs in one basket and the violence generated by the Maradana-Vadukoddai ideology boomeranged and crushed them in Nandikadal. There is no one to blame except the Tamils who have an unquenchable thirst to believe in their myths manufactured to chase elusive mirages (e.g: Eelams) that were doomed to perish before their own eyes.
Maradana and Vadukoddai proved to be fatal to the Tamils. They were hoisted by their own petard. They thought that they were riding a winning political horse that would take them to Eelam. But the wild, unmanageable horse they rode took them to Nandikadal instead. The sagacity and the capacity of the Tamil leadership to lead their people responsibly and non-violently would have been confirmed if they avoided the turns they took to mono-ethnic extremism in Maradana and Vadukoddai. But in hindsight it is now obvious that the English-educated Vellahla leadership, obsessed by an unwarranted sense of arrogance, intransigence and superiority, took the wrong turns in Maradana and Vadukoddai.
In Maradana Chelvanayakam took the first wrong turn to nowhere. In Vadukoddai, unaware of the frightening forces of terror he was unleashing, he went through the wording with a fine comb and endorsed violence, blaming the Sinhalese and declaring war after, mark you, having “gain(ed) some rights, if not all of what we experienced, throughout the method of cooperation,” as stated by S.M. Rasamanickam, in his 1969 presidential address to the Federal Party.(p. 111 – Ibid, Wilson). Rasamanickam was summing up the political experiences and the positive outcomes gained by the Federal Party in joining the Dudley Senanayake government. Prof. Wilson went further and concluded that “the period of Dudley Senanayake’s ‘National Government’, 1965 – 70, marked the golden years of Sinhala Tamil reconciliation.” (Ibid – p. 111). This gives the lie to the Tamil separatists’ claim that there was no political space for them to win their rights within the democratic mainstream of Sri Lankan politics dominated by the Sinhala majority. (More of this later.)
Prior to December 18, 1949 the Tamils of the North had no cohesive nationalist movement / ideology aimed at achieving a separate state. There were vague rumblings but there was no organized political structure, nor a formidable movement or a defined ideology, even vaguely, to divide the nation on ethnic lines. A movement that could move the masses against another community needed an ideology. Jaffna needed a bonding ideology to unite the internal fissiparous forces coming apart on casteist lines. Jaffna was threatened by internal caste divisions that were beginning to raise its head, slowly but surely, against the crumbling Vellahla ancien regime clinging on to their feudalistic and colonial privileges. And there was none, other than the “50-50” cry raised by G. G. Ponnambalam, the acknowledged leader who shot into prominence in the ‘30a exploiting anti-Sinhala-Buddhist racism.
Ethnic politics rose to a new level of intensity when Ponnambalam formed his All-Ceylon Tamil Congress in 1944. This political organization reinforced the rising forces of mono-ethnic extremism in the north. He had escalated the demands of the Tamils from one extra seat in the Legislature carved out from the Sinhala-dominated Western province, in addition to the seats given to them in the Tamil-dominated north, to a fifty per cent share of power to the 12% Tamils in the north. Though he disguised this demand to represent all the minorities – the Tamils in the Eastern and Central Hills, the Burghers, the Moors the Malays and even the Europeans who were considered a part of the minorities at the time, – none of them fell in line with him on this demand. So it remained essentially as a 50% share for the 12% Tamils of the north.
Besides, at a time when colonized countries were battling for independence on the rising waves of nationalism Ponnambalam led campaigns focused on giving weightage to the minorities on a percentage basis. The futility of this campaign of percentage politics was highlighted by Prof. A. J. Wilson when he wrote: “G. G. Ponnambalam spearheaded the demand for balance representation for the minority communities (known as ‘fifty-fifty’), this implied a communally based legislature with 50 per cent of the seats for all the minorities – Ceylon Tamils, Indian Tamils, Malays, Moors, Burghers and Europeans – and 50 per cent for the Sinhalese. However, this was not supported beyond a large section of the Ceylon Tamils of the Jaffna peninsula and Colombo. The Eastern Province Tamil representatives in the State Council were not in favour of it, and the Indian Tamils were not definitely committed. The Muslims under T. B. Jayah’s leadership expressed qualified approval, but other prominent Muslim leaders did not accept the formula as a solution. Finally the Governor Sir. Andrew Caldecott, in his Reforms Despatch to the Colonial office in 1938, refused to endorse it, It received a mortal blow when one of the fifty-fifty group, Arunachalam Mahadeva, broke ranks on being elected to the Donoughmore Board of Ministers and declared that, as far as the imperial government was concerned, it was” as dead as a dodo.” (p.12 — Wilson ) .
The refusal of other communities to tag along with Ponnambalam’s “fifty-fifty” led to the natural death of his campaign which never really got off the ground. Eventually Ponnambalam joined the first national government led by D. S. Senanayake and forgot about his “outrageous” demand for a share of fifty per cent to 12% Jaffna Tamils. Like Chelvanayakam’s Eelam movement it was doomed to fail. The two acknowledged leaders of the Jaffna-led movements failed to take Tamils anywhere near their promised goals. While other Tamil-speaking minorities – the Indian Tamils and the Muslims – cooperated with the majority and resolved their differences, the Tamil leadership went berserk, believing in myths manufactured by them to prop up their mono-ethnic fantasies. .
The “fifty-fifty” claim was essentially a political ruse by the Tamil leadership to grab a disproportionate share of power to the casteist elite of the 12% minority of Tamils in the North. This obsession to grab an undue share of power to an elitist majority of the Jaffna Tamil minority has been the bane of inter-ethnic relations that led to the Maradana speech and finally to Nandikadal. All Tamil politics, driven by the Jaffna Tamil leadership (unlike the other minority leaders), has been bedeviled by a refusal to co-exist with the other communities in the democratic mainstream. Obsessed by the arrogance of ethnic superiority (Jaffnaites considered themselves to be superior even to the Batticoloa Tamils and the Indian “coolies” in the hill country) they insisted perennially on a disproportionate share of jobs in government service, seats in the legislature, political power and territory.
More importantly, when the waves of nationalism rising against colonialism were sweeping Afro-Asia in the post-World War II period the Tamil leadership was with the Sinhala nationalists / memorialists jointly campaigning for national independence. The Tamil separatist ideology was manufactured late in the day, after Sri Lanka gained independence. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam acknowledged the absence of a nationalist movement in his Maradana speech. He said : “The solution by way of a separate autonomous state for the Tamil speaking areas was a new idea to which people had not given much thought.” (p.283 – Tamil Person and State, Pictorial, Michael Roberts, which reproduces the full text of the original Presidential speech of Chelvanayakam at the inaugural meeting of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, (ITAK) held at the Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU) Hall, in Maradana, Colombo — Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014.)
Even at this late stage, the separatist movement launched by Chelvanayakam in Maradana did not catch fire as a passionate nationalist movement – ideologically, organizationally/structurally or demographically — to achieve goals of separatism. In other words, the idea of nationalism remained as an alien concept to the Tamils in 1949. Chelvanayakam’s aim to be the Jinnah of Jaffna received a severe blow when he lost his seat in the parliamentary elections of 1952. But in his Maradana speech he had laid the seeds that were to steer Jaffna politics to Nandikadal. At Maradana his aim was to mobilize thee English-educated, Saivite, Jaffna Vellahlas (ESJVs) elite to mono-ethnic extremism. He succeeded in that. There was no returning back to sanity from Maradana.
It gathered a momentum of its own and raced to its nemesis in Nandikadal. From its origins in the 20s to grab an additional seat in the Western Province, on top of the seats allocated to the Jaffna Tamils in the North, it morphed into a claim of “50-50” in the 30s. In the forties Chelvanayakam took it to the extreme of demanding a separate state (disguised initially as federalism) in his inaugural speech at Maradana. He restructured the Maradana outline to a more broader concept of Eelam in Vadukoddai in May 14, 1976. At Vadukoddai he decided to opt out of the democratic stream and take up arms. This so-called Gandhi of Jaffna went all out to embrace militarism.
The rest, of course, is history written in the blood, sweat, tears and graves of the Tamil people.. They paid the price for his misguided politics that took them nowhere.
To be continued..