30 May, 2024


How We Came To This Pass – V

By Sachithanandam Sathananthan

Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan

Politics of Tamil mandates

In an essay in 2013 we commented on Broker Politics,[1]the essence of Tamil parliamentary politics.

To be fair, ITAK (Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi)[2]leader SJV Chelvanayakam and his lieutenants relied on the tradition well established by Tamil leaders in the colonial regime’s Legislative Council.

For more than 7 decades, from 1833 and 1910, successive generations of Ceylonese notables were co-opted through the Legislative Council to serve the colonial master. They owed their modicum of political influence (not power) and social status to the generosity of the British Governor.

The Governor appointedCeylonese “unofficial” members at his pleasure if they ingratiated themselves with him and earned his favour. They were Ceylon’s first generation of political brokers.

They performed two important functions. First they were go-betweens who conveyed the aspirations of elites of their respective communities to the Governor. Second, they simultaneously defended the colonial regime’s interests by ensuring the respective elites expressed their ambitions without threatening the stability of the colonial regime. That was dignified as colonialism’s indirect rule.

Most of the Lanka’s flatfooted historians, however, regurgitated the bilge colonial rulers fed them, that the Legislative Council was the first altruistic step to tutor Ceylonese in so-called “self-government”!

Unrepresented elites jockeyed for their own brokers. The Governor turned the pleadings for wider “representation” to the regime’s advantage by selecting more supine Ceylonese satraps as unofficial members to broad base and further entrench the colonial regime. These Machiavellian machinations were dressed up as “constitutional reforms”, such as the 1910 McCallum and 1920s Manning Reforms.[3]

The collaborationist politics of the Legislative Council’s unofficial members set the framework (or template) for what is well known as “Petition Politics”.

Petition politics

 Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan [4]intervened to defend Sinhalese leaders incarcerated for their role in the 1915 anti-Muslim violence.[5]They included DC Senanayake, FR Senanayake, DS Senanayake, DB Jayatilaka, WA de Silva and FR Dias Bandaranaike.

When Colonial Governor Sir Robert Chalmers ignored Ramanathan’s plea to release the prisoners, at first he attempted petition politics. He delivered six resounding orations[6]in the Legislative Council pleading for the Sinhalese leaders. But Governor Chalmers was not impressed, for power is not intimidated by speeches!

To his eternal credit, Ramanathan shifted tack; he sailed to London. Apparently Ramanathan’s Chanakya tactic was to pit London against Colombo. He convinced the Colonial Secretary the Governor’s actions were short sighted, counterproductive, were inflaming passions and are likely to catalyse revolt among the subjects against the Crown. It appeared to have worked!

London recalled Governor Chalmers and ordered the lifting of Martial Law and release of incarcerated Sinhalese leaders. Both Tamil and Sinhalese elites felicitated Ramanathan as a national hero on his return to Colombo. However, the ominous silence among Muslims was deafening.

Our parents’ generation lauded Ramanathan for bravely sailing through seas during WW1 in the teeth of the hostile German navy; that was true. They also claimed he achieved much because he “commanded respect” in London; that was probably more myth than reality.

Be that as it may, one cannot deny that Ramanathan stood head and shoulders above the rest of the yes-men in the Legislative Council. He overcame the congenital limitations of being weaned on feeble broker politics and the psychological burden of a “subject” in Britain’s colony. He skilfully manipulated London’s geopolitical concerns and singlehandedly manoeuvred the Colonial Secretary to recall the Governor and lift Martial Law.

Ramanathan’s unqualified success revealed a thorough grasp of the dynamics of power and a consummate skill in real politikarguably unmatched in the history of Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

His Tamil contemporaries, steeped in “petition politics”, were blind to Ramanathan’s power politics.

They preferred instead to imagine Ramanathan “commanded respect” from, and “appealed to the good sense” of, British power. A cursory reading of Sir Winston Churchill’s racist rants against brown skinned Indians is sufficient to shatter notions of his British establishment’s “respect” for, and “good sense” towards, non-white peoples; he had contemptuously dismissed Indians as “a beastly people with a beastly religion.”[7]

Regular parliamentary elections based on universal franchise introduced by the 1931 Donoughmore Reforms added an ideological imperative, of securing the “mandate of the people” as an indispensable criterion of political legitimacy.

Politics of mandates

Customarily a political party or leader obtained a mandate – “theauthority granted by aconstituency to act as its representative[8]– from the people by garnering a majority of their votes through the electoral process.

The organisation or individual who received the mandate is directly responsible to implement its terms.

The ITAK claimed to have secured a mandate in the April 1956 parliamentary elections from Ceylon Tamils resident in the northern and eastern provinces, to pursue a constitutional reform towards a federal system[9]of government. The party fielded 14 candidates and won 10 seats out of a total of 95 and set out to implement the federal mandate.

Tamils’ mandate gained immense importance after SWRD Bandaranaike’s Sinhalese political party SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party), and his allies in the SLFP-led MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna) coalition, legislated Sinhala as the sole official language – widely known as the Sinhala-Only law – in June.

But Chelvanayagam reached a dead end: there were no takers on the Sinhalese side.

Obviously ITAK had to apply countervailing forceto compel Sinhalese politicians to concede the federal mandate. The party’s Founder General Secretary and its radical minority faction’s leader, V. Navaratnam was convinced Tamils must launch popular resistance and urgently prepare for mass action to enforce the federal mandate.

He had been weaned on the decisive role of mass action in India’s independence struggle and instinctively understood power politics. He acknowledged Chelvanayagam’s utter commitment to Tamil nationalism and appreciated ITAK’s agitation against the Sinhala-Only law. However, Navaratnam regretted “it all consisted of platform speeches to which people would come, listen, and then go their own way”, which “was not going to have any impact on the government.”[10]

What’s worse, Chelvanayakam “ridiculed [mass action] as impracticable and a useless waste of energy…he had no concept of the value of mass action” in politics; Navaratnam added further: “He had no knowledge or understanding of the personalities of the Indian National Movement” and nurtured “a childish belief in parliamentary institutions.”[11]

The radical group – Navaratnam, C.Rajadurai and others –possessed a surer grip on the dynamics of power at the core of constitutional reform. Perhaps they imbibed the wisdom of Imponentes defendere libertatem non possunt– “Those without power cannot defend freedom.”They logically focussed on demonstrating and building Tamil peoples’ power, their capacity for mass action, by organising the successful Long March,[12]in which Tamils from the two Provinces converged on the Trincomalee esplanade for ITAK’s August 1956 Convention.

The radicals mobilised Tamil people’s countervailing street powersince politics is invariably decided by the balance of power in the street!

The enthusiastic response across the two provinces, recounted Navaratnam, stunned members of the Chelvanayakam-led majority conservative faction. But they were incapable of graspingthe historic importance of Tamils’ mass upsurge; nor could they lead the burgeoning movement. They simply couldn’t fathom Navaratnam’s emphasis on power play, which in many ways was reminiscent of Ramanathan’s adroit manoeuvres in London.

The conservative faction, guided primarily by lawyer-cum-politicians, believed through sheer force of habit they were carrying a brief (mandate) to defend their client (Tamils) based on the law of the land. They naively imagined the issue was primarily a matter of law, to be resolved by their “men who know the law” in the Sinhalese-dominated parliament and courts.

Blinded by Liberal shibboleths of “equality before law” and “inclusiveness”, Chelvanayakam, N.R.Rajavarothiam and their conservative associates viewed constitutional reform as an innocuous “sharing” of political authority between the Tamil and Sinhalese elites. They failed to grasp securing Tamils’ rights is a matter of power;that it fundamentally involved reducing the Sinhalese elite’s power and correspondingly enhancing the power of the Tamil elite.

The Sinhalese elite implacably opposed the Tamil elite’s manoeuvres to diminish its powers, as all dominant elites do everywhere and always. Nationalist Sinhalese denounced federalism as “dividing the land”, which implied reducing the land available for the Sinhalese, and stoked fears for economic survival primarily their peasantry, who were weaned on hand outs under the Land Development Ordinance (see Part II).[13]In this way the Sinhalese elite skilfully marshalled mass political opposition to granting Tamils’ rights.

When Bandaranaike suavely invited Chelvanayakam for “talks” in 1957, the ITAK’s main leaders apparently swallowed his glib story of a lofty wish to “avoid violence” in the streets. Instead they ought have recollected that Bandaranaike’s self-alleged aversion to violence was nowhere seen in June 1956 when he had unleashed his goons on protesting ITAK politicians on Galle Face Green and instructed his police to look the other way.

Unlike Chelvanayakam and his coterie, Bandaranaike in fact understood the power and political ramifications of the August 1956 Tamil upsurge in Trincomalee. He moved swiftly to decimate the challenge it posed to his power: he resorted to the standard counter-insurgency tactic; he proposed “talks”.

The ITAK’s leading conservatives took Bandaranaike’s ploy at face value, as his genuine desire to resolve the so-called “Tamil Problem”.

The starkly divergent approaches of Bandaranaike and Chelvanayakam are rooted in their differing political histories.

Both are said to have been classmates in school. The similarity basically ended there.

Bandaranaike waded into power politics in 1924 as Chairman of the Nittambuwa Village Council. He was elected to the 1931 State Council and was Member of the Executive Committee on Local Administration; in the second State Council (1936) he was Minister of Local Administration and chaired its Executive Committee.[14]In 1947 he held the post of Minister of Health and Local Government. By the time he captured power in 1956 and anointed himself Prime Minister, Bandaranaike had been steeped in power politics for more than two decades.

In contrast, Chelvanayakam practiced law till he was elected to parliament in 1947. He held no ministerial position. He had gathered some experience in electoral politics by the time his ITAK emerged as the leading Tamil political force in 1956 but had no experience in wielding executive power and consequently knew next to nothing about the rough and tumble of power politics.

Consequently Chelvanayakam and ITAK’s conservatives seemed woefully unaware of a crucial lesson of history: that power concedes nothing unless it is firmly confronted by a demand backed by the implicit or explicit use of force. Even then, the knee jerk reaction of power will be to first attempt to crush the challenge and, if that’s impossible, then concede the bare minimum.

When Bandaranaike suggested “talks”, Chelvanayakam ought have reflected on his anti-Tamil Galle Face pogrom, on his earlier fascination with the Nazi ideology of racial supremacy (see Part II). He may have surmise Bandaranaike was scheming to ruthlessly undermine the growing Tamil resistance, which had prodded him to negotiate and seen through Bandaranaike’s altruistic claim to resolve the so-called “Tamil Problem” as self-serving gibberish.

Instead Chelvanayakam and his team, apparently lulled by Bandaranaike’s Liberal rhetoric, blithely strolled into the first session of “talks” like lambs to slaughter. They were utterly unprepared for what was in store.

For starters, Bandaranaike invited Chelvanayakam to his Horagolla residencein Veyangoda. He did not schedule the meeting in the Prime Minister’s office, which implied the discussions would notcarry the imprimatur of the MEP Government. Chelvanayakam ought have smelled a rat; he should have insisted the meeting be convened under the auspices of Government, for instance in the parliament complex that would lend an official standing to the “talks”. He didn’t, we suspect, because of a poor grip on hardnosed power politics.

In Horagolla Bandaranaike stonewalled on the Official Language by facetiously dismissing the law as hardly more than a “gimmick”; but he virtually shredded both ITAK’s federal mandate and the Trincomalee Resolution, which insisted the Government establishes an autonomous state for Ceylon Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.[15]He conceded nothing!

Three days later Bandaranaike held the second meeting, again in his residenceat Rosemead Place, Colombo. By then the “talks” had lost the veneer, if any, of an official dialogue. Bandaranaike sent Chelvanayakam and his associates – some were reputed constitutional lawyers – on a wild goose chase to dredge up alternative but diluted constitutional models to satisfy MEP’s hardliners; and then he ruthlessly whittled them down to the point where they became virtually unrecognisable.

The ever-perceptive Navaratnam instinctively sensed Bandaranaike’s power play. For he wondered, “could it be that the whole effort was merely intended to put the [ITAK] off the track in its preparation for action in terms of the Trincomalee Resolution?”[16]Subsequent events proved him 100 per cent correct!

The third and final meeting was held on 26/27 July 1957 in the Prime Minister’s office, obviously to lend a deceptive aura of legality. Bandaranaike needed an agreement to nip the Tamil nationalist upsurge in the bud and (Navaratnam suspected) apparently convinced the few dissenters in Cabinet to agree to ITAK’s almost fatally vitiated terms, insinuating that they are unlikely to see the light of day.

At the end of the “talks” Bandaranaike arbitrarily called in the press and read out, with palpable contempt, a so-called “agreement” from Navaratnam’s handwritten notes of the meetings’ proceedings!

Bandaranaike did not sign a formal agreement with Chelvanayakam!

Nevertheless Chelvanayakam misread the situation. He apparently assumed Bandaranaike responded to the “respect” he (Chelvanayakam) supposedly commanded and displayed “good sense” – the perennial myths of Tamil politics. That probably explains why Chelvanayakam – a lawyer – on Bandaranaike’s dodgy verbal declaration,threw away his only trump card: he announced the ITAK would notpursue the mass campaign against the MEP Government.[17]

Bandaranaike completed the rout! Chelvanayakam returned home, without a signed document and leaving the Tamils’ mass movement dead in the water.

That night, Navaratnam burnt the midnight oil to salvage a measure of dignity from the humiliating defeat. He drafted a statement in duplicate of the terms agreed between Chelvanayakam and Bandaranaike, which the former took to the latter the following noon. Both parties signed the document, later dubbed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam (B-C) Pact.[18]

It was Navaratnam’s position that “the B-C Pact was in the nature of an international treaty between the Singhalese and Tamil nations.”[19]That desperate positive spin is understandable though it unfortunately was a rather dubious stretch.

The B-C Pact wasbetween two individuals written on plain paperby Navaratnam. As far as we know, it had neither the Seal of the Office of the Prime Minister nor was it adopted as part of the official policy of his SLFP or of the MEP. We are not versed in law. To our eyes, however, the Pact was neither legally valid nor constitutionally legitimate! It was unenforceable!!

The ITAK’s leaders – many of them lawyers – must have known the Pact had no legal basis but nevertheless, to save face, continued to insist the MEP government was obliged to implement the Pact. But Chelvanayagam barely noticed his bargaining power slipping through his fingers as Bandaranaike used the Pact very effectively to eviscerate and destroy Navaratnam’s mass movement.

The balance of power decisively shifted in favour of Bandaranaike. Clearly he had handsomely won by grinding ITAK’s Tamil mandate into the ground and arresting the growth of Tamils’ mass movement. He was on the verge of being crowned the 20thCentury’s Duttugemunu!

That was not to be for Bandaranaike’s political nemesis, JR Jayewardene plotted to cut him down to size. Being a lawyer, Jayewardene too surely knew the B-C Pact was a toothless document, hardly worth the paper written on. But he skilfully exaggerated it as a historic sell-out of Sinhalese-Buddhists and whipped up anti-Tamil hysteria; he pointed to the tragically unwise self-aggrandisement by a few terribly unimaginative ITAK conservatives, who falsely alleged to their Tamil constituencies the Pact was the first step towards a federal State. Jayewardene also roped in Buddhist monks, the forerunners of today’s BBS (Bodu Bala Sena), and launched the Kandy March to demonstrate the street power of his UNP (United National Party).

Thereafter it was but a matter time before Bandaranaike chose an opportune moment to jettison the essentially worthless Pact while earning maximum political dividend. He tore up the document on the lawn of his Rosemead Place residence, witnessed by extremist monks; it was political theatre! The ITAK couldn’t challenge his arbitrary action because the Pact had neither legal validity nor constitutional legitimacy.

The next credible mass movement was to coalesce around the LTTE after almost two decades, from the mid-1970s. (More on that later.)

Politics of “a small chance”

The assassination of Bandaranaike in 1959 made the B-C Pact irrelevant.  So both the SLFP and the UNP had the best of both worlds: they could cheerfully dredge it up to solicit ITAK’s political support without being bound by the Pact.

The March 1960 general elections threw up a hung parliament. The UNP and SLFP vied for ITAK parliamentarians’ support to cobble together a working majority. The ITAK claimed it had struck a “deal” with Bandaranaike’s widow and SLFP Leader Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike and voted to defeat the minority UNP government, which duly fell.

The ITAK’s conservatives and their Colombo-based advisers manipulated the balance of power. The infuriated nationalist Sinhalese media vilified Tamils as “King Makers” and urged Sinhalese to close ranks.

In the run up to the July1960 general elections the ITAK continued the balance-of-power game. It campaigned to support the SLFP, claiming under the pre-election “deal” there is “a chance” the SLFP would stand by the B-C Pact.

But Chelvanayakam had frittered away peoples’ power Navaratnam mobilised in Trincomalee three years earlier. He possessed no countervailing power whatsoever to enforce the “deal” after the elections. When the SLFP won a comfortable majority, the inevitable happened; the party’s leaders ordered ITAK parliamentarians to take a hike!

The thoroughly humiliated ITAK’s conservatives childishly accused the SLFP of “cheating”. Power politics is not a game of snakes and ladders. The Greeks spelled out the dynamics of power almost two thousand years ago. Historian Thucydides, writing on the Peloponnesian War, placed in the mouth of an Athenian the immortal words:“you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”[20]

In the Mahabharata more than a thousand years earlier Duryodhana delivered a similar message to the powerless Pandavas, who then declared war and established parity of power.

Anti-imperialist revolutions in India, China, Vietnam and Cuba, for example, conclusively demonstrated how the less powerful could achieve parity of power and trump the more powerful by drawing from the wellspring of all power – the people.

Evidently ITAK ignored these lessons of history. Nevertheless Chelvanayagam, who by then had matured into the revered leader of Ceylon Tamils,belatedly sought to rekindle people’s power through the 1961 Satyagraha, “to bring pressure upon the government by non-violent means to make it realise the just demands of the Tamil speaking people.”[21]

In other words, he attempted Mahatma Gandhi’s idealistic “direct appeal to the soul of the oppressor”,[22]to reform the oppressor. In Ceylon, the Satyagrahis bravely demonstrated noble non-violent direct action at its best.

But, the ITAK made a fundamental (ontological) category mistake, in which people “believe two things with similar properties are necessarily part of the same category.”[23]

The party mimicked Gandhi’s Satyagraha against British colonialism. But in India the majorityof 400 million Indians challenged a minorityof British rulers and their Indian satraps across the length and breath of the country.

Instead, ITAK ought have drawn lessons from the Gandhi-led failednon-violent movement of the minorityIndian population against the South African Apartheid State, which brutally put the resistance down.

In fact, Martin Luther King’s experiments with non-violent campaigns similarly reached a dead end. He soon discovered it was ineffective since the African-American minoritycould not withstand the onslaught of the white-supremacist State. Some Black activists believe King had begun distance himself from non-violence and gravitated towards the Black Power movement and, especially, the Black Panther Party (BPP); that, they claim, swiftly precipitated his assassination.

In Ceylon, Chelvanayakam used a very similar unproductive technique; he marshaled a numerically smaller Tamil community against a State backed by the vast majority of Sinhalese. His category mistake was to expect Gandhi’s approach, backed by the overwhelming majority in India, to be equally effective in the diametrically opposite ground condition of resistance by the smaller Tamil group against the Ceylonese State.

To make matters worse, despite the overwhelming advantage in numbers and terrain, Gandhi’s success was dubious at best. Plaudits heaped on him ignore the pivotal contribution of Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA (Indian National Army), the violent mass uprisings against the colonial regime,[24]and the debilitating impact of WW2 on British Power.

In short, despite the bravery and self-sacrifice, Tamils’ non-violent Satyagraha was destined to collapse as it did when the military violently swooped in to disperse the activists, incarcerate the leaders and place the northern and eastern provinces under a military administration.

The Tamil parliamentarians were left to drag the Tamil Mandate, by then diluted into the impotent B-C Pact, pleading the Sinhalese politicians to implement it. This political clowning was dressed up as “negotiations”, for ITAK was utterly bereft of political power; nor was it remotely capable of building armed power.

In the aftermath of the 1965 general elections, Dudley Senanayake too humoured ITAK when he sought its parliamentarians’ support to prop up his minority government. The go-between was a prominent Tamil lawyer Murugeysen Tiruchelvam.

Like Bandaranaike, Senanayake too dodged the issue of State-aided Sinhalese land colonization. When Navaratnam insisted on restricting Sinhalese colonisation, “Senanayake threw up his arms and cried, ‘then where are my people to go for land’”.[25]

Clearly the UNP had not outgrown its congenital obsession with land distribution and opposition to broad based industrialization going back to DS Senanayake in the 1930s (see Part II). Navaratnam also noted Tiruchelvam had been bought over by the promise a Ministry, for he mumbled about making changes from within the UNP government.

The reality was that ITAK once again had no power to enforce the ensuing Dudley-Chelvanayakam (D-C) Pact.[26]So the party deluded itself that Tiruchelvam, who by his own admission was neither an ITAK member nor an elected parliamentarian,[27]ought be slipped in through the Senate and parked in the UNP government to ensure the Pact is implemented. It’s the old mindless tactic of sending “men who know the law”!

There is hardly any other action by Chelvanayakam and his associates that so comprehensively revealed their utter political naiveté. Senanayake let Tiruchelvam twiddle his thumbs in the Ministry long enough to keep his UNP government afloat with ITAK parliamentarians’ help. Then flushed them all down, together with the D-C Pact!

From 1965 ITAK and, later, its avatar the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) refined the politics of mandates by adding the theory of small chances. At every election it beseeched Tamils for their mandate. After every election they concocted a lie: that there is “a small chance” one or another Sinhalese leaders may grant “something” to Tamils. After all, if there were no chance at all, why would Tamils give a mandate?

The ITAK/TULF deceitful propaganda masked the obvious question: why on earth should Sinhalese leaders implement the mandate Tamils gave their own Tamil politicians? How often do Sinhalese politicians honour the mandate given by their own Sinhalese voters?

 Every Sinhalese president from 1994 onwards, for example, asked for, and received, a mandate to abolish the Executive Presidency.Did any of them execute the mandate? Did any of them perform the bizarre political jugglery of asking Tamils to implement that mandate?Indeed, The collapse of the 1977 election mandate based on the Vaddukottai Resolution is emblematic of ITAK/TULF’s duplicity. Tamil parliamentarians thumped their chest and pawed the ground, that they were taking the mandate to the Sinhalese parliamentarians; they, as always and appropriately, contemptuously threw it out!

Memories also flow back of a 1993 conversation we had with a firebrand TULF politician at his residence. His party was gearing up for the 1994 parliamentary elections in which it hoped to secure a fresh mandate to hold “talks” on Tamils’ rights.

Quite out of curiosity we asked him what he intended to do with the mandate. “We’ll take it to the Sinhalese people. They must accept it.” “They won’t”, we interjected. Visibly annoyed, and perhaps expecting us to wilt as his party minions do, he vigorously slapped the table for emphasis: “it will be the democratic mandate of the Tamil people”; and wagging a thick finger (which inevitably drew attention to the subsidised parliament cafeteria), “they [Sinhalese] have to accept it.” We smiled but persisted: “perhaps; but they’ll not accept it.”

In 2016, a very senior ITAK/TNA politician said to us, with an aura of mystery, there is “a small chance” the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government “may” grant Tamils’ rights! He harboured the same childish belief in parliamentary manoeuvres as Chelvanayakam had done about seven decades ago. We could only feel deeply sorry for that man!

Tamil parliamentarians in ITAK, TULF and now the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) bamboozled Tamils to send them to parliament with a mandate in each election from 1965 to the present. They would fumble through “talks” where possible and return empty handed each time to weep about being betrayed by Sinhalese politicians. They have carried on this duplicitous charade for more than five decades while Tamils’ rights have been systematically denuded.

Tamils in the north and east could continue to give mandates to the same lot for the next five decades; but nothing will change for the better.

For how much longer would Ceylon Tamils in the north and east tolerate this political fiasco? How soon would they throw up a new, young leadership that can actually defend the rights of Tamils in the streets??

End Notes

[1]Sathananthan, Sachithanandam, “Tamils: broker politics or democratic action?” Colombo Telegraph, 7/aug13.


[2]Wikipedia, “Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi”. 15/sep/19.


[3]Wikipedia, “Legislative Council of Ceylon”. 15/sep/19.


[4]Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. 15/sep/19.


[5]Verite, “Revisiting 1915: lessons from a violent past”. 15/sep/19.


[6]Rajasingam, K.T., Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 3. 17/apr/19.


[7]Tharoor, Ishaan,“The dark side of Winston Churchill’s legacy no one should forget”. Washington Post, 3/feb/15.


[8]Wikipedia, “Mandate (politics)”. 15/sep/19.


[9]Sri Kantha, Sachi, “Anointed Federalists and Anandasangaree”, Ilankai Tamil Sangam, jul/07. 15sep19.


[10]Navaratnam, V, Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation. Toronto: The Tamilian Library, 1995. p.113.


[11]Ibid., p.115.

[12]Ibid., pp. 118-19.

[13]Sathananthan, Sachithanandam, “How we came to this pass – II”. Colombo Telegraph, 25/jun/19.


[14]S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike. 27/sep/19.


[15]Navaratnam, op.cit. pp. 122.

[16]Ibid., p.129.

[17].Ibid., pp.124-131.

[18]Wikipedia, “Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam Pact”. 15sep19.


[19]Navaratnam, op.cit. p135

[20]Long, Roderick T., “Ancient Greece’s Legacy for Liberty: Thucydides and the Gods of Melos”. 16/may/16; accessed 2oct19.


[21]Sri Kantha, Sachi, “Satyagraha of February 1961 in Eelam”. Ilankai Tamil Sangam, 20/feb/11. Accessed 6/oct/19.


[22]Ojha, Anil K,Relevance of Satyagraha as a Weapon of Conflict Resolution. Accessed 7/oct/19.


[23]Norton, Sean, “How to Define a Category Mistake”. 30/jan/19. Accessed 6/oct/19.


[24]Navaratnam, op.cit. pp.194-96.

[25]Ibid., p.224.

[26]Dudley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact.24/mar/65.


[27]Navaratnam, op. cit., p.230.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Dear Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan,
    You have asked, “How often do Sinhalese politicians honour the mandate given by their own Sinhalese voters?”
    This series of five brilliant articles, you had begun as a response to “The Easter Bombings”. I had overlooked the first two parts, but then chanced upon the Third, which dealt with Education, with special emphasis on “language” – which is the issue that continues to divide our country. I realised just how brilliant that article was; I could judge because I knew the ground well. I note with joy that there are more articles to come, sensing “instinctively” that they will do us much good.
    This article is difficult for me to judge, but I realise how vitally important the subject is, leading upto the Elections four weeks from now. No comments to be seen yet. I hope that people better qualified than me to judge will contribute sincerely.
    What all Sri Lankans need is to get rid of the corrupt politicians. By now most readers of CT have understood the system of voting:
    I have made many comments there. In two of them, I have shown how what you detailed in your Fourth article gets implemented on the ground. Let me hope that in the run-up to the Elections, the people will realise how important it is that they vote so as to make reconcilliation possible.
    There are some people who have succeeded brilliantly during the seventy-one years of “Independence”. They have lined their nests, whilst most of us have been driven to the wall. How do the author and other readers view the prospects of our getting “somewhere” with our efforts to end corruption – which in my view is the reason for stoking all this racism?

    • 3

      Dear Sinhala Man,

      Thank you for the comments and the link.

      You have asked, “How do the author and other readers view the prospects of our getting ‘somewhere’ with our efforts to end corruption – which in my view is the reason for stoking all this racism?”

      In my view, we cannot get anywhere by re-electing utterly corrupt politicians who have practiced, and will continue to practice, the disastrous non-rule of law.


      The depth of the tragedy is well illustrated by the NEGATIVE electoral tactics of Liberals and the Left to PREVENT the worst presidential candidate from winning. Apparently intelligent men and women are juggling how to share out preferential votes, very much like primary school children muddling through elementary Arithmetic!!

      In the ensuing chaos, they ignore the obvious question: why is the vast majority of Sinhalese voters LIKELY to elect a man Liberals and Leftists consider the worst candidate?

  • 1

    Minority Tamil rights cannot be promoted through exclusivist street campaigns either. Exclusivist street action occurred in the past too without tangible results. Even during the last stages of the war, massive street action were taken in all the major capitals in the West and in Tamilnadu though the “boys” could not be saved. Exclusivist minority street action doesn’t work because state has coercive power backed by the majority. Minority rights could be advanced when they are amalgamated with majority citizen rights. The exclusivist Tamil psyche seems too arrogant to consider a combined effort with the masses of the majority . The other avenue of improving Tamil representation within mainstream political parties such as UNP, SLFP and now SLPP also has been shunned by the arrogance of that exclusivist narrow ethnic mindset. Anyone who was willing to work within the major parties have been branded as either traitors or collaborators. Some like Duraiappah and Neelan Tiruchelvam have been physically eliminated thus enabling majority thinking to be dominated (almost exclusively now) in the major mainstream political parties. For example Sajith will find it very difficult to accept the 13 point demands of TNA during this presidential campaign. Efforts of people like Douglas Devananda are considered treachery or selling out Tamils. Nothing will be achieved even in the next 50 years if the current exclusivist trajectory is pursued, on the street, with the arms or in the legislative domain.

    • 1


      Thank you for the comments.

      You have raised an interesting point: that “Tamil rights cannot be promoted through exclusivist street campaigns”.

      My first response: V.Navaratnam and his radical minority ITAK faction mobilised Tamil people in the street in 1956. It was people’s democratic power that compelled Bandaranaike to sit at the negotiating table and, in my opinion, there was a strong possibility of wining Tamils’ rights. But the politically naive ITAK’S conservative faction led by Chelvanayagam gloriously fumbled and botched the historic opportunity for peace. These issues were discussed in my post above.

      My second response: as for Tamils’ “exclusivist” approach, you may be referring to the failure of the Sinhalese democratic forces to join and support the Tamils’ struggle for justice. You may aware that in the western capitals you refer to democratic and anti-racist forces among the white majority openly and courageously backed the street campaigns of the discriminated coloured peoples.

      Tamils’ approach appears exclusivist precisely because progressive forces among the Sinhalese turned their backs on Tamils. That was amply clear during the 1956 Galle Face protest by ITAK politicans; it was reinforced during the 1958 anti-Tamil pogrom. In both instances Sinhalese progressives abysmally failed to ensure the the arrest and punishment of Sinhalese attackers. Not a single criminal was convicted!!

      That set the precedence for blatant impunity for which the whole country has paid dearly ever since.

      • 1


        My third response: progressive Sinhalese forces, by opposing Tamils’ struggle for justice, blocked “Tamil rights” from being “amalgamated with majority citizen rights”.

        My fourth response: as for “improving Tamil representation within mainstream political parties”, the futile attempts by Tamil politicians to do so between 1936 and 1948 is well documented. More to the point, Muslim people had enthusiastically joined the political mainstream. Indeed they loyally served security forces under successive governments to defeat the LTTE. The “rewards” they received after 2009 is in the public domain.

    • 1


      Take it easy.
      Whatever happened in this island regarding equal status of languages happened not because of the racist Sinhala/Buddhists but because Hindians caught JR by his b***s and dragged him all the way to sign Indo-Lanka pact.
      You couldn’t stop it.

      Hindians have already started the process of annexing this island, a work in progress. You couldn’t see it because you are blinded by your bigotry, envy of minorities, ……… stupidity, …. stop raging and see things around you.

  • 6

    Thanks again Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan. It’s now patently clear how we came to this pass.
    No future SL Govt will ever tackle this issue. However it will be tackled again, this time once more by the Tamils themselves from within and outside using strong international and Indian pressure. They will get some form of self government (short of a separate state of course, which India will never allow).
    I am positive that this will happen in the near future.

    • 2

      It all depends on Indian Interests. India will never allow powers that go beyond powers enjoyed by Indian states to be granted to Tamils. Withwhat ever the powers that would be granted, the area is likely to be smaller than the northern province with the entirety of the North at most. Certainly it won’t be North and East. If you keep insisting on the North and East India will not be in a position to argue on your behalf. Of course by using force, India can do whatever they want, but the application of force will be done only if there is a benefit for India. Your biggest stumbling block would be the ghost of Rajiv Gandhi

      • 1

        ravi perera
        Sinhala speaking Demela

        The Operation Poomalai and subsequent invasion by the Hindian IPKF in 1987 was only a dry run.

        Seriously, are you a Hindian plant among CT readers?

        • 0

          This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

          For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

          • 1

            ravi perera
            Sinhala speaking Demela

            Thanks for being brief.

  • 4

    Sachi, you sure helped us to see the Tamil minority issue, with a different view. (from what we have been told for years and few still blindly believe). I am convinced in my opinion , that Tamils have been their own enemy. Over to the NAYsayers.

    • 4

      Thank you very much Dr.Satchithanandam Sathananthan for your thought provoking contribution on how the British Colonials governed this island right down to the grant of self government with a self proclaimed constitution inflicted on it’s subjects without giving them the freedom to tailor one to suit their own requirements and needs.
      Understanding readers of your article will know who the TULF firebrand politician was who wagged his thick finger at you all in the subsidised Parliamentary canteen.
      He was the leading master brain behind the impetuous Vadducoddai Resolution.
      He couldn’t stomach dissent.That was his defect, but he was an honourable man.

      • 0

        Are we getting dates mixed up? 1993 conversation with someone murdered in 1989?

        • 0

          There seems to be a mix up about the place where the firebrand TULF politician wagged his fingers also.At his residence or the parliamentary canteen.
          But there is no mention anything about anyone’s 1989 murder in my piece.

      • 1


        You may well be correct, that the politician in question “was an honourable man.”

        Unfortunately, in knuckle duster politics honour though welcome is grossly insufficient.

  • 0

    THIS MAN SATCHITHANANDAN wants a young NEW TAMIL LEADER SHIP to fight for the tamils rights on the streets he has no memory power to WHAT WAS THE RESULT OF STREET FIGHT BETWEEN TAMILS AND SINGALESE FROM 1983-2009. to gain the tamils rights.

    • 2


      It is extremely unwise to caricature the demonstration of street power as a “street fight”. I did not remotely suggest a “street fight”.

      What’s more, there was no street fight between Tamils and Sinhalese between 1983 to 2009. That is the propaganda of Sinhalese nationalists which does injustice to the vast majority of peace-loving Tamils and Sinhalese peoples.

      JVP’s mammoth public rally at Galle Face recently, for example, was one such show of street power. V.Navaratnam’s 1956 mass mobilisation is my understanding of street power. Mahatma Gandhi too mobilised people in the street. That what I have in mind and it is both DEMOCRATIC and NON-VIOLENT.

  • 4

    Dr Satha

    Sir, all five parts should be translated into Tamil and Sinhala languages and published as a book and distributed free of charge. I believe this will educate the ordinary people particularly the youths to think twice before they elect another person to represent them, if at all they wanted to elect one. I still refer the book ” The Elusive Dove ” authored by you and Mano in 1996. Such a brilliant work.

    Now that the Sinhala politicians are dictated by Buddhist monks and at the mercy of armed forces, and all of them are working towards assimilation and acculturation, their final stage, I urge you to express your views to the Tamils in a separate article. Hope you will consider it soon.

    • 1


      Thank you for the comments.

  • 3

    What can a youthful leadership accomplish via street action. The author is at his weakest in implying that the Black Power movement and Subhas Chandra Bose succeeded in their more militant forms of struggle. Indeed, in the last several decades, there haven’t been cases of any armed struggle succeeding, except perhaps Eritrea,.

    Instead we have quagmires in Iraq, Yemen and Libya; and the annexation of Crimea, India’s unilateral action in Kashmir, and Turkey’s incursion into Kurdish lands in Syria, all succeeding. The international community expresses ‘concern’ while doing nothing tangible to stop it.

    That is a changed reality — a multi-polar world and declining Western power — that the author doesn’t recognize.

    Like Karikalan Navaratnam , Dr. Sathananthan is good at articulating the Tamil predicament and analyzing events of the past, but provides little in terms of what the way ahead should be. As is typical of such political visions, he ignores the fact that people also have an economic life. What will be the impact of repeated street action on human security and economic life of the Tamil people?

    The Tamils in the North-East today have shattered bodies and a devastated economy; in the aftermath of Mullivaikal, they are not in a position to take street action.

    Limited street action on issues like the return of lands and release of prisoners, religious and language rights, etc., can make sense but such action has to be focused on specific rights and achievable goals.

    Physical and economic recovery takes a long time. External actors should continue to help with that, while coming up with a long term strategy to protect the dignity, human security and rights of the Tamil people in light of changed local and global realities.

    In the mean time, voting at elections to try to prevent the more racist elements of Sinhalese political leadership from gaining power can be a prudent step. In my mind, abstaining, boycotting, or voting for candidates who have no chance whatsoever of being elected at all, will be a wasted opportunity.

    • 2


      I fully understand your concerns for the “human security and economic life of the Tamil people.”

      What is germane is the fact that both have deteriorated severely from 1948 onwards and Tamil politicians have been utterly incapable of arresting the decline, and perhaps contributed to it. Obviously there is something fundamentally wrong with their parliamentary politics.

      As mentioned in my post above, “those without power cannot defend freedom” and cannot protect their human and economic security.

      The issue is, how to acquire that power? My preference is to build non-violent peoples power that is informed by mature politics.

      • 0

        Yes, human security and economic life of the Tamil people have deteriorated severely. There is no doubt about that.
        Tamil politicians had fettered themselves by a policy of denial and also had unwittingly caused successive Sinhalese majoritarian dominated governments to ignore and neglect doing anything meaningful or beneficial to the people of the NE in keeping with the words of a former President JRJ who more or less said ‘we need no more to be concerned about the lives of the Tamils or their welfare’.
        You say “that those without power cannot defend freedom” and that your preference is to build non-violent people’s power that is informed by mature politics and that the issue is to acquire power.
        So why not start the ball rolling by establishing contact with what you perceive as the least racist and progressive Sinhalese political leadership and take a grip on the levers of power.
        There are many of us Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslim’s and others who are utterly fed up with the current situation prevailing in the country who will be willing to join and attack the foundation of the fascist mafiosi that has dragged this island into the mire of despair and hopelessness.

        • 0


          You have suggested, “why not start the ball rolling by establishing contact with what you perceive as the least racist and progressive Sinhalese political leadership and take a grip on the levers of power.”

          Progressive Tamils joined their Sinhalese comrades and formed the “T Group” (for Trotskyist) to start that ball rolling in the 1930s. In late 1935 this group launched the LSSP. The founding conference, attended by some 40 Marxists and radicals from around the island, attracted a number of Tamils. Chellapa Tharmakulasingham, the first Tamil Marxist in Ceylon, organized the Omnibus Union in Jaffna. The brothers Vallipuram Sittampalam and Vallipuram Sachithanandam helped build the Tobacco Workers Union in Jaffna. B.M.K. Ramaswamy and his elder brother Shanmuganathan were also founding members of the LSSP.

          Ramaswamy’ translated the party’s anthem into both Tamil and Sinhala and the Communist Manifesto into Sinhala (published in 1940).

          Vaithianathan Balasingham and his brother V. Karalasingham too joined the LSSP and jumped feet first into the anti-colonial struggle. Balasingham fled to Madras but was arrested there in 1941 and imprisoned to three months.
          (See https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/ceylon-srilanka/ervin01.htm).

          V. Ponnambalam, a die hard CP member from Point Pedro left the party in disgust in the late 1970s

          The progressive Sinhalese turned out to be Sinhalese first Leftists second. They mouthed vapid phrases about Parity of Status for Sinhala and Tamil.

          They avoided campaigning in the street for the arrest and punishment of racist Sinhalese politicians who unleashed their hired thugs in 1956 (Galle Face) and 1958 (anti-Tamil pogrom) because they feared the label “Tamil-lovers” the same politicians threw at them would weaken their Sinhalese electoral constituencies.


          • 0



            The moral collapse of the Sinhalese Left, led by Dr Colvin R de Silva and Pieter Keuneman, in the 1970 UF regime is a matter of public record.

            Despite this odious political history of progressive Sinhalese, Tamils would gladly try again. But this time the initiative has to come FIRST from what you say is “the least racist and progressive Sinhalese political leadership”.

            If you have the JVP in mind, would they step forward with an offer, risk offending their largely rural Sinhalese-Buddhist vote base and fall foul of the BBS?

            • 0

              Dr. Satchithanandam
              Whether the JVP would risk offending their largely Sinhala-Buddhist rural vote or surrender to the BBS is not something anyone can reasonably be expected to comment with a presidential election impending.
              All what I can say with a strong conviction is that one day the SL masses of subjugated people will raise up to break free their shackles of racial and religious obscurantism to be free of plunder and exploitation.
              They will then form a state irrespective of racial, religious and communal differences in which knowledge of the priests,the culture of the military, the profiteering and exploitation of the commercial and the ideal of equality can all be kept intact minus their evil.
              They will reach their destiny in that ideal state.

      • 1

        Dear Sir, I agree that your writing is methodical; your arguments are analytical. However, something is amiss. Your preference is to build non-violent peoples power that is informed by mature politics. Has this not been tried already, in the past, by our political leaders?
        I am in total agreement that “those without power cannot defend freedom”. Was this not why Tamils of every shade tacitly condoned the birth of rebel movements among us. Wouldn’t we have achieved something if only we would have been more proactive?

        • 1

          Dear Thappu,

          In my understanding, as explained in the post above, Tamil politicians V. Navaratnam and his associates in ITAK’s radical minority faction made the first, only and a very successful non-violent mobilisation of Tamil people’s power in 1956. The 1961 Satyagraha was people’s DEFENSIVE agitation that cannot and did not evolve into people’s power.

          You said “Tamils of every shade tacitly condoned the birth of rebel movements among us”. Not every shade, I am afraid to say. While the LTTE led the armed resistance for Tamils’ rights for more than three decades. Tamil politicians – an utterly impotent and minuscule minority in parliament – deliberately distracted northern and eastern Tamils kept by offering them the mirage of a non-existent parliamentary path to achieve the same.

          By this crass duplicity – obviously crafted to hold on to their “jobs” as MPs – the Tamil parliamentarians fatally weakened the LTTE-led movement. As a result, as you put it, Tamils only “tacitly condoned the…rebel movements.”

  • 0

    Dr. Sathananthan, Uthungan,

    If you compare the military presence at the time when SJV passed away and now, the deterioration had quite a bit to do with the course of LTTE’s armed struggle. They and those who supported them did not think through the fact that if they resorted to direct military confrontation and lost, the result would put the people in a much worse shape than when it started..

    You can’t simply blame the TULF/TNA for the LTTE leadership’s failures.
    And why would any street ‘power’ accomplish something that the LTTE’s military power at its peak couldn’t ? Street power might have been effective if they had used it well before starting an armed struggle, but it has dubious effectiveness after such a struggle has been crushed. At this juncture, with Sirisena-RW having dashed any hopes of corrective action by the GoSL, I am afraid some sort of external intervention may be the only thing that can work.

  • 2

    Sinhala Speaking Sri Lankans, who have emigrated to other Countries like Canada and Australia, are NOT trying to assimilate with the People of those Countries!
    Because of their Insecurity due to Lack of English, they tend to form Associations of Sinhala Speaking Immigrants, and so create Divisions within the other Immigrants from Sri Lanka, even those Sinhala Buddhists, who are fluent in English!
    Can One Blame the Tamils for this State of Affairs?

    • 3


      I am told Sinhal/Buddhists have formed their own mental ghetto so have the Tamil/Saivaites.

  • 2

    “power concedes nothing unless it is firmly confronted by a demand backed by the implicit or explicit use of force” says it all. Brilliant analysis as always by Dr Sathananthan

  • 0

    You could argue, the outcome (a civil war) was expected. Nowhere in the world will 85% of the majority give both federalism and 50-50 parliamentary representation to any minority. In any event, the federalist demand was not about federalism but about a separate state. Chelvanayakam was one of the backers of the Vaddukoddai Resolution, meaning he was a separatist the whole time. Federalism was just pulling the wool over the sheep’s eyes. It is even possible that he knew the Sinhalese would reject federalism, thereby giving him an excuse to push for separatism. The best outcome for the Tamils would have been to accept Sinhala-Only. The medium of instruction in universities has always been English. Tamil as an official language is merely a symbolic gesture.

  • 1

    “Satha” seems to have concluded his magnum-opus in a Pentateuch like form covering at most the last couple of centuries’ to the present. Is not its genesis around the 5th century BC around the time of the Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates? It may have been even earlier without the word Sinhala. There are said to be over 900 odd groups like the Kurdish/Elamist Revivalists entities wanting freedom less mindful of the practical realities and costs over the centuries with a handful of exceptions succeeding?

    His Pentateuch may satiate those within the normal IQ range of 85-115 but will it be of use to those below 79 on both sides? None of us had an operations & maintenance manual given by nature with the umbilical cord to make the best of our genetic and memetic heritage to harness to the best our biochemistry with many being born handicapped in many visible and other ways.

    Are not our educational foundations wonky without the proper empirical priorities to equip us for a better Life due to unreliable and eventually misinterpreted religious, social and political brainwashing that hinder our growth and maturity. Is there also not the fact of our left and right ideological leanings of a rainbow spectrum being genetic which later gets refortified by the milieu of our upbringing?

    Is Satha an exception born as one of the son’s of a then National Savings Commissioner living at the then McArthy Road Govt quatres with the numerous left-leaning contacts and visitors at home from whom he would have imbibed much as he once told me.

  • 1

    What is there for any of us to take pride in when our parents, birth-place, race, class, religion, first language erroneously called mother -tongue, ethnicity with other relatively skewed ethics, are nor chosen and mostly accidental? Is not Science lately saying that we don’t have a freewill that was once thought to be even as low 2%?

    Are not we all pouring our fears, disappointments, dejections, humiliations, and frustrations on this CT website akin to those spewing from a psychiatrists couch that many like the dumb eagle HDLM are so ashamed of themselves that they don’t use their real names? Is Satha more concerned from his high-horse with elementary math’s to be not empathetic enough to help prevent the present calamity turning into a catastrophe in SL? Perhaps Satha too cannot help it like NGR having similar streaks of im & amorality to that of NGR?

  • 1


    As a PS to this mini-saga in the absence of any responses to my comments, I suspect that “Satha’s” present relatively richer journalist wife would have been co-contributor as well. Likewise, I suspect that HLDM aka “eagle eye” which should really be known as “lower than a snake’s A Hole”. This person’s problems may not only be from his life-long frustrations with a leased out through marriage Tamil pussy but more from the brain washings that he indirectly conceded to from his grandmother who took him to Buddhist Pan-Sala’s and Dhansalas in his early childhood that has caused irreparable damages to his brain for any dispassionate thinking capacities as evidenced from his vitriolic outpourings akin to few others well on this CT website.

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