By V. Thirunavukkarasu –
First of all, let me touch on the Northern Provincial Council. Elected on the TNA ticket by an overwhelming majority in 2013 and, having assumed office as Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran had occasion to remark sometime that he would concentrate on running the Provincial Administration, leaving political issues to be tackled by the Parliamentarians. However, with the passage of time, he stepped into the political arena as well, slowly but surely distancing himself from the TNA, while joining hands with forces opposed to the TNA, viz., the Tamil People’s National Front (TPNF), led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, as well as the EPRLF led by Suresh Premachandran, both former TNA Parliamentarians.
Then, a forum called the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) was also formed, comprising some political groups and some intellectuals with Wigneswaran playing a conspicuously leading role, formally as a Vice-President. It is still not clear as to whether Wigneswaran wants to form a new political party, or to build up the TPC as a strong mass movement so as to reach whatever the goal he aspires to reach. Of course, people will judge him by the achievements he has made, or failed to make, thus far as the Chief Minister.
Wigneswaran’s quest has been for a political solution to the Tamil National Question via a Federal arrangement in keeping with the goal of the founder of the Federal Party, S.J.V . Chelvanayakam. But, as is well known, Federalism has invariably been anathema to the southern Sinhala constituency, since it used to be relentlessly misrepresented by Sinhala leaders as a demand for a separate State. It was only recently that the Supreme Court gave ruling to say that the concept of Federalism does not connote establishment of a separate State.
Well, the fundamental question involved is one of legitimate, substantive power-sharing, based on shared sovereignty, repeatedly stressed by the TNA hierarchy as an arrangement to be in place within an “undivided, indivisible and united Sri Lanka.” Even so, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna/Joint Opposition would unabashedly campaign in the South that Eelam will be conceded through the new Constitution, as was seen also during the recent “Janabalaya Kolombata” campaign conducted by the SLPP/JO, also taking umbrage that the post of Leader of the Opposition was not given to them, violating Constitutional provisions.
Early Call For National Unity & Full Independence
In the 1920s, the Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC), a progressive organization, came into existence, pioneered by the redoubtable educationist, Handy Perinpanayagam, supported by distinguished educationists, C. Subramaniam (Orator), Swami Vipulanandnda, K. Nesiah et al, and Left-oriented leaders, P. Nagalingam, (a former Senator) and Jeyam Tharmakulasingham et al. The JYC stood for full Independence from British rule, for complete National Unity, for bi-lingualism in schools, and for the eradication of caste barriers.
The JYC proved to be popular in the South as well, so much so that leaders such as Dr. N.M. Perera, George E de Silva, T.B Jayah, P de S Kularatne of Ananda College fame, and like-minded others participated in one or more Annual Sessions of the JYC. Kularatne was a more regular participant in the JYC Annual Sessions, so that he was conferred the distinct honour of presiding over one of the Annual Sessions. Here are some eulogies found in the report of the Annual Sessions” of 1925 and 1926:-
“P de S Kularatne was then formally proposed to the Chair by C. Subramaniam. It was reported that Kularatne kept the visionary youth spellbound with his speech for more than an hour. He underlined the 3 aims of the Congress – (1) to revive the National Art, (2) to make Ceylon economically independent and (3) To train the youth for national service. These 3 aims had virtually become the creed of the Congress, and participants at these Sessions had to subscribe to these aims. Kularatne was held in high regard by the people of Jaffna, because of his commitment to all-Island nationalism.”
As Independence dawned in 1948, as is well-known, one of the first acts of the D.S Senanayake Government, was the stripping of the citizenship rights of the Tamil workers in the Plantation sector. This was followed, on the eve of the 1956 General Elections, by the Kotelawela Government unveiling its intent to make Sinhala the sole official language. And then, S.W.R.D . Bandaranaike instantly reneged on his solemn pledge made in 1951 to make both Sinhala and Tamil Official Languages when he founded the SLFP. As is well-known,he outdid the UNP, pledging “to make Sinhala the one Official language within 24 hours.” Having won the elections held in April 1956, he had the Sinhala Only Act enacted in June, 1956 brushing aside all grim warnings from the Opposition benches as to the horrendous consequences that were inherently in store for the country.
Bandaranaike Tried To Make Amends, But Pathetically Caved In
Nevertheless, in order to make amends, Bandaranaike, moving to obviate the Civil Disobedience announced by the Federal Party, soon conducted discussions with FP leader , S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, and thus ironed out the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact, in 1958, providing for some measure of power-sharing. However, apart from J.R. Jayewardene’s Kandy March against the B-C Pact, about 400 Buddhist Monks laid siege on Bandaranaike’s Colombo residence, virtually intimidated Bandaranaike, face to face, and Bandaranaike caved in, instantly abrogating the Pact. (The same fate overtook the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam pact entered into in 1965).
It used to be widely and credibly believed that had the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact been really implemented, there would have been no Tamil armed struggle, nor the immensely destructive 26-year -long war. Thus, historically speaking, both the UNP and the SLFP are equally responsible for the huge calamity that eventually overtook the country. .
And, in the case of Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, not only did Bandaranaike unilaterally abrogate the Pact, but also paved the way for the first major anti-Tamil riots to break out in Colombo ad certain other Districts. Tamils in such areas ran for their lives, into makeshift refugee camps, and were then shipped off to the North and East for a period for their safety. And, whereas the riots broke out on 22nd May, 1958, Bandaranaike, in his belated address to the Nation, on 26th May, made a grievously erroneous statement to say that the murder in Batticaloa, of a former Mayor of Nuwara Eliya, D.A. Seneviratne on the 25th of May, was the the cause for the riots to break out.
The doyen of English journalism then, Tarzie Vittachi, sat down to write the book titled “Emergency ‘58 – The story of the Ceylon Race riots”, giving graphic details of the deadly riots, lamented in his Conclusion as follows: “What are we left with, A Nation in ruins. Some grim lessons which we cannot afford to forget, and a momentous question: Have the Sinhalese and the Tamils reached the parting of the ways?”, Bandaranaike’s address to the Nation itself again “had the effect of blowing raw oxygen into a fire that was already raging vigorously” to quote Vittachi. He lamented also that “when a Government, however popular, begins to pander to racial or religious emotionalism and begins to meddle in the administration of law and order for the benefit of its favourites, or win the plaudits of a crowd, however hysterical it may be, CATASTROPHE IS CERTAIN”
Advent Of The Jayewardene Dispensation
J .R Jayewardene, elected Prime Minister in 1977, converted himself as the first Executive President through Constitutional manipulation, trumpeting that he had all the powers under the sun “except to make a man a woman, or a woman a man”. The second major ant-Tamil riots were unleashed in just about 2 months after he came into power, declaring, “if you wat peace, it will be peace, if you want war, it will be war”, infuriated by some sppeches critical of Jayewardene’s track record emanating from the Tamil constituency. And, he rosy promises made to the Tamils in the 1977 election manifesto then vanished into thin air, and the May 1977 riots engineered And then followed the “Black July” pogroms, 1983, tens of thousands of Tamils getting massacred (as happened during the 2 JVP insurgencies in 1971 and 1988) and many more of them fleeing to India, Canada and some European countries.
After President Premadasa’s induction in 1988, he opened negotiations with the LTTE, which was getting prolonged, and Premadasa had reportedly sought LTTE helping hand to pack off the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The Premadasa-LTTE negotiations dragged on, fsast becoming a talking shop, and the tragic outcome was the assassination of Premadasa in 1994.
Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Rule Begins
Thereafter, Chandrika Bandanaike Kumaratunga’s election to the Presidency in 1994 generated much hope, especially among the Tamils, and the women sporting “Chandrika Bangles”. Negotiations soon opened in Jaffna, but with neither a Ministerial level delegation, nor any serious proposals on the table. So, the LTTE perceived CBK’s moves as a mere propaganda exercise, and pulled out of the talks before long.
The war re- commenced, with “Operation Leapforward’ taking off, and running into a number of such code-named Operations, and CBK stepped down from the Presidency in 2004.
Mahinda Rajapaksa Takes Over The Reins
When Mahinda Rajapaksa became President in 2004, he too conducted some negotiation with the LTTE, ably assisted by a highly eminent lawyer, H.L. de Silva. Meanwhile, the President got down his ex-Military officer brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa who had l migrated to the US long before and become a citizen, to function as the Defence Secretary, while at the same time stopping the impending retirement of the then Jaffna Commanding Officer, Major General Sarath Fonseka, who was immediately appointed as the Army Commander, as reportedly wished by the new Defence Secretary, an arrangement apparently to be in readiness to take on the LTTE, if or when the need arose, and fight it to a finish, and that is precisely what eventually happened. Of course President Rajapaksa publicly declared the he had the support of 12 countries including India, Pakistan and China.
Meantime, President Rajapaksa had gone on and on assuring, say, former Indian Premier, Manmohan Singh, that he would go beyond the 13th Amendment introduced previously with India’s intervention, but that was merely for the consumption of the International Community.
National Unity Government Headed By Maithripala Sirisena
The present Good Governance National Unity Government, supported overwhelmingly by the Tamils as well in January 2015, is still not meaningfully moving toward a lasting solution to the chequered Tamil National question, and the new Constitution making process keeps dragging on with no end In sight , while the tenure of the Government ends late next year. Nor has the Government made any headway in the area of economic development, but the redeeming feature being the absence of fear and tyranny. “There is tyranny when the people fear a Government, and there is democracy when a Government fears the people”, said Thomas Jefferson, third President of the US.
To conclude, this writer’s candid view is that here in Sri Lanka, Sinhala nationalism has to be devoid of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism, and Tamil nationalism should cease to be insular, for durable unity, amity, peace and prosperity to emerge. That is the only way, the paradigm shift indispensable to catch up with, say, Singapore, whereas ,the late Singporean leader, Lee Kuwan Yew wanted to “catch up with Ceylon” in 1952, and later ridiculed Sri Lanka, in his Memoirs “for getting into turbulent waters”, having made Sinhala the sole official language.
*V. Thirunavukkarasu, Former Member, Colombo Municipal Council