14 April, 2024


Power Sharing In Sri Lanka

By Rajitha Senaratne

Rajith Senaratne

When we were political cubs, we knew of Chelvanayakam as one who was the “father” figure of Tamil Nationalism. He was one Tamil political leader who was affectionately called “Thanthai” – meaning ‘Father’ – Chelva. Samuel James Velupillai Chelvanayakam dominated Tamil politics in the first 03 decades in post independent Ceylon.

I would say that Chelvanayakam was fortunate. He did not live to see the agony of the Tamil people and of Sri Lanka that got dragged into a long brutal war. He was fortunate that he was not there to shoulder the heavy responsibility that his most favoured political recruit, R. Sampanthan, is burdened with now as leader of TNA.

Chelvanayakam was a man of principles. He never compromised on his convictions and principles. He differed with leaders like G.G. Ponnambalama Snr. in the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and C. Suntharalingam on the issue of disfranchising the Indian origin Tamil labour. He stood by their rights consistently, as Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole had recently confirmed.

Like both Mr. Sampanthan and Mr. Sumanthiran today, Chelvanayakam’s conviction that Tamil people need to be treated as equals in the island of Ceylon made him give up a very lucrative legal profession. This was a political position he was determined to work towards. He became a full time politician on his convictions.

It was the issue of the rights of Plantation Tamils that led to his departure from ACTC in 1950 to form the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK). ITAK is popularly known as the “Federal Party” in English. A “federal State” was the fundamental Tamil political demand that Chelvanayakam stood for. How Chelvanayakam defined federalism was written in the resolution adopted at the first national convention of ITAK in 1951 in Trincomalee.

“The I.T.A.K recommends to the Tamil-speaking people the feasibility and desirability of establishing the autonomous Tamil linguistic state within the framework of a Federal Union of Ceylon, as the rational and natural culmination of centuries of close association between these two nations it is their common motherland and with a view to promoting and maintaining national goodwill and close co-operation with the Sinhalese people.”

There’s nothing about a “separate State”. Nothing about an “Eelam”. It is about living together in a single country; a “federal Union of Ceylon”.

What is “federalism“? Federalism is the most democratic form of power sharing within a single united country. It allows people in different regions to take care of their day to day responsibilities including their cultural life, while acting together as a single Nation State.

Chelvanayakam was a man born for peace. He was ever ready to sit and talk through issues, and to negotiate.

He proved his willingness to be flexible, as long as it did not hurt the dignity of the Tamil people, when he signed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact in 1957. It was far less than federalism. It was for Regional Councils. Chelvanayakam dropped his idea of a merged North-East federal government for Tamil people in accepting Regional Councils.

Regional Councils were clusters of 22 administrative districts then in Ceylon. All local government body members within a region were to elect Regional Councillors.

Certainly, Chelvanayakam went a long way to settle the issue with dignity. Having very badly being let down in 1957, he was once again willing to engage with Dudley Senanayake in 1965 to sign the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact.

Instead of Regional Councils, the compromise in 1965 was to “establish District Councils in Ceylon vested with powers over subjects to be mutually agreed upon between the two leaders”. The two main “Left” political parties, Samasamaja and Communist parties also played a racist role in 1968 to undermine the D-C Pact.

The First Republican Constitution in 1972 was also a bad let down for the Tamil people. This compelled Chelvanayakam to consider the option of a Separate State.

After 30 years in active Tamil politics from 1944, after he resigned his KKS parliamentary seat in 1972 as a protest against the ’72 Constitution, the Coalition government postponed the due by-election for 02 years and finally held it in 1975 February. Chelvanayakam polled over 72% at this by election. This was the highest ever percentage a candidate polled. He declared to the Tamil people, that this was a mandate for a “separate Tamil Eelam”:

“I wish to announce to my people and to the country that I consider the verdict at this election as a mandate that the Tamil Eelam nation should exercise the sovereignty already vested in the Tamil people and become free.” 

So, to cut short a long history of promises, negotiations, agreements, abrogation of pacts and a brutal war, we still remain without a decent, workable, power sharing system to allow peaceful and productive living in this country.

Who is to be blamed? Both major political parties and the two traditional “Left” parties have to be held responsible for this catastrophe. That does not leave me out. I am also part of mainstream politics in the South.

In the 80’s, we were in a different political formation and we sacrificed many lives in Kurunegala, Moneragala, Anuradhapura, Badulla, Kalutara, Galle, Hambantota and Matara – all Sinhala local leaders who stood for power sharing within Provincial Councils. Vijaya Kumaratunga was the popular political leader to have lost his life over Provincial Councils. Thanks to the JVP, I still carry shrapnel in my nape as proof of our commitment to have provincial councils established. I suffered this not because I raised my voice on behalf of my own community, but for the rights of the Tamil people. I consider this an honour.

I have always stood for the rights of the Tamil people. And the more I stood for this, the more my vote bank in the South increased. That is because we have stayed consistent in our position, and the people trust us because of this.

We have failed despite all those sacrifices to convince the Sinhala South to agree to power sharing. My question is, “where did we go wrong”? I firmly believe, we in the South have approached the issue of “Federalism” in a very wrong way. We were only supporting “federalism” as a demand by Tamil people. Therefore the Sinhala South was made to understand that “federalism” is a path to a “separate” State. We have to talk of “federalism” as a democratic model for national development.

We should have asked, “Why only for Tamils? We in the South also need federalism”. We need “federalism” because centralised power from the Parliament of 1947 to that of 2017 – for 70 years – have failed to develop the rural Sinhala society. Every Constitution – the Soulbury, the First and the Second Republican Constitutions – have centralised power in Colombo. The poor rural South has been left out. Even my district Kalutara, though within Western Province, is lagging behind the Colombo and Gampaha districts. We have not been telling the South they are poor because political power is centralised in Colombo.

According to the Central Bank, in 2012/2013 the per capita income in the Western Province was Rs.16,124. But in the South it was Rs.10,973, in the North Central province it was Rs.9,877 and in Uva it was Rs.9,382. The per capita GDP in the Western Province in 2015 was Rs.771,117 when it was Rs.453,714 in the South, Rs.446,138 in Uva and Rs.392,913 in Sabaragamuwa. This disparity can be seen in all Sinhala rural areas. For 70 years with a centralised power structure, rural society both in Sinhala and Tamil areas have not gained any economic benefit and social development.

It is therefore time, I believe, that we change our approach in politics to achieve national development within a stable and a peaceful Nation State. It is time for the South to go with Chelvanayakam’s formula – to have provinces “within the framework of a Federal Union” of Sri Lanka. That, I think, is how we in the South can respect and honour this great democratic, Tamil leader – S.J.V. Chelvanayakam – in post independent Sri Lanka.

Thank you.      

*S.J.V. Chelvanayakam Memorial lecture – delivered by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine on 26th April 2017

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Dear Mr Ravin ….your comment.

    There are many Tamil leaders SJV of FP , Amrithlagam of TULF , Professes . Sundraligam, G.G Ponnabalam of Tamil Congress are Federalist and Separatist political road MAP. In fact such political parties survival a democratic society that was politically roots goes to the deep cause of anti-establishment politics of order of Democracy state of Sri lanka or Ceylon.

    Therefor these political leaders and parties their nexus to the key politics of issues by advocated for installed rough Tamil regime in North or Eastern province to be partition of Island for Chauvinists Tamil state which threaten very foundation of existence of Democratic state.

    The Federal Party of SJV was Tamil separatist who want to destroy bridge between Majority Sinhalese and Tamil-minority undermined national harmony and reconciliation both parties of his beginning of politics and End of his Era has leads towards uncertainties an Island.

    SJV was who betray reconciliation and remobilization both races of Sinhalese and Tamils by myth of “Tamil Eealm” advocated by Federal Party for Tamils.

    Indeed SJV is man goes to modern political history is traitor of Tamil people in Sri lanka.
    The Dentists of Rajitha Senrataha is member of Parliament who change one party to another by overnight ,but he is not a politician with vision of philosophy of Political strategists.

    • 0

      From Wikipedia:

      “Chelvanayakam was part of the delegation, led by Ponnambalam, to the Soulbury Commission which argued unsuccessfully for balanced representation (50% of seats in Parliament for the Sinhalese, 50% for all other ethnic groups).[29]”

      So SJCV was a co-father, along with Ponnambalam, of the racial politics in this country. He was unfortunate to miss the results of his initiation.


  • 0

    Sinhalese politicians say something to please the Tamils and catch vote and once they are in the south they act against what they say or promise. This is history. Tamils have learnt so many bitter lessons in the past. If these Sinhalese politicians has the guts and backbone let them put in action what they say to the Tamils in the North.

  • 0

    Comment by Mr Kumarthasan ……

    By engaging political activities of the Tamil Political Parties and their class members, who are stand for the rock bottom of
    anti-Sinhalese-Buddhist and pro-western political elements in the our soil.

    Whither Federal Party of SJV or TULF-Amthrhaligam or TNA of Samapathan and Sumanthrain or Tamil Congress, of Ponnambalams or LTTE-terror out-fits are that principle standard for to be undermined Sovereignty of Our nation. All in all are they anti-establishments politically and anti-democracy.

    All Tamil petty-bourgeoisies in locally and Tamil Diasporas are jointly Aim of that the political perspectives are closed to partition of an Island for Tamil Rough State is First Step.

    They are barging with govt. of Sri lanka by crossed borders of alliances with USA and UK led forces one side. And other side looking after vested interest of Indian big-bourgeoisie in center of Indian Republic. Tamil political class walking in two legs of appear on behalf foreign vested interest!

    Tamils -origin in Tamil Nadu who are living outside their homeland and in case of last 300 years Tamils living in Sri Lankan the knows that very well ,is quite impossible win Tamil nation state in Tamil Nadu India by present context of ongoing Global politics.

    The Power balance and classes forces is concern that Globally, Indian Republic is internally which system “Democracy” is weak. Do not work well. Poverty is challenge by Indian democracy because millions of People of Indian below two dollars per day Indian that exceed 500 millions ,are struggle for survival ,result of that people power seek New Democratic Revolution across the India.

    The politics of Tamil-parties of chauvinist of Sri Lankan did not realized this facts that they barging for New Tamil State in by partition of Island myth Tamil Eealm .

    Having basic understanding of politically in the by compromised of hard-core Tamils are working in many fields AIM of weaken center of of Sri lanakn state power is their immediate; political task of TNA and North Council Chief Minister and Tamil Diasporas.

    Timely TNA aim to instability of Island of Sri lanka by demanding new constitutional changes from ruling allies led by UNP Old and New leadership and CBK of Neo-federalist of Tamil descends from SWRD family history.

  • 1

    Hon.Minister Mr.Rajithe Senaratne expressed his honest views about Federalism. He deserves credit for this contribution. Federalism is only a power sharing arrangement to preserve and protect the Languages, Cultures and the unique identities of an ethnic communities.This is the task of the UNESCO also. It kills the separatist urge. It allows and encourage skillful responsible management of the Economy of the region and promote and protect democracy and rule of law. It strengthen the nation’s security. The modern UN thinking of introducing and protecting Universal Human Rights initiates all these power sharing activities, to protect all the citizen’s equal rights and dignity. Because human beings are born free to enjoy liberty and fundamental freedoms. The communal mindsets have to be broken to understand the benefits, needs and realities for the progressive 21st century world, where Sri Lanka should play an honorable role an influential example for a better change.

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