The 45th Memorial Lecture
April 26, 1977 was the day that Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam, Esquire, QC, the founder-leader of the Federal Party (a.k.a. the Ilangai Thamil Arasuk Katchi or ITAK) who is affectionately known as SJV, passed from this realm to the next. This 26th morning, promptly at 9:30 the 45th SJV Chelvanayagam event started as scheduled. The venue was the location of his memorial stupa across the Jaffna Public Library and next to Subramaniam Park.
SJV’s legacy to the Tamil people was the political belief that Sri Lanka has different peoples with different and even conflicting needs and aspirations, so that we must live together in a federalist undivided Sri Lanka pursuing our own aspirations without treading on each other’s toes. That belief came with a firm commitment to nonviolence. His is a legacy few quarrel with. His is a stature that even his detractors fear to speak against. Even violent LTTE backers claim to adore him, hoping his stature would rub off a little on them.
Attendees and Absentees
Notable for their presence were C. Chandrahasan SJV’s son, his grandson Elangovan (also the grandson of ITAK stalwart Hensman Naganathan), and Soundari Watson who is SJV’s grandniece, the daughter of his niece Samathanam Somasundaram (nee Muththiah) of Alaveddy. Hon. K. Thirairajasingam, MP, the ITAK Secretary from Batticaloa, and Eastern PC Education Minister Mr.S. Thandayuthapani from Trincomalee were noted for their presence from the East. Present were also ITAK Secretary General Hon. Mavai Senathirajah, MP, Jaffna District ITAK MPs Hon. Shanthi Sriskantharajah and Hon. MA. Sumanthiran, and Vanni District MP Hon. Charles Nirmalanathan. The current diocesan Bishop of SJV’s Church of South India, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah, also made it despite his recent loss of his brother. The presence of Jaffna’s brand new mayor, His Worship Emmanuel Arnold, added a refreshing young face to an aging party.
Of special note was the presence of the new Indian Consul in Jaffna, HE Balachandran, an Andhra man speaking fluent Tamil. It is hoped that he would be less identified with the BJP’s religious policies. This is said to be his first public function and his presence augurs well for more secular policies from the Indian Consulate General.
Mr. R. Sampanthan and Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran were notable absentees, as also were most of the ITAK MPs. Chairman of the NPC, C.V.K. Sivagnanam whose wife’s funeral had been scheduled for 10:00 AM the same day was naturally absent. Some who came and showed their faces ran off quickly to the funeral thereby accounting for the less than expected crowd. The organizers should have coordinated better with Mr. Sivagnanam.
Perhaps the most serious absentee was the Muslim leader invited to be on the stage to show case the ITAK’s strength in having bridges to all communities as a secular party. It was Moulavi A.M.A. Aziz who was billed after he confirmed his acceptance, but did not show up.
The Chairman of the Organizing Committee, The Rt. Rev. S. Jebanesan opened the event with the welcome speech which was to be by Prof. S. Sathiaseelan, the organizing committee secretary who was another absentee. The Bishop wore a scarlet cassock but without the customary cross, perhaps to make the function more secular. The whole group moved to the stupa and the SJV statue where garlanding was done by a large number until they ran out of garlands.
The Bishop called upon Mr. S.X. Kulanayagam, the Administrative Secretary of the ITAK and the chief organizer of the event to speak. Kulanayagam spoke sweetly and briefly. He mentioned someone had complained that the event should be in a hall and not in a temporary tin-shack erected for the day. He promised that they had long term plans to build a hall and a library on the memorial grounds. These plans are being pushed by E. Saravanapavan, MP, with the government. He promised next year’s event in that new hall.
The next speaker was Nallai Aadheenakkarthar. He prayed “The people have suffered enough. We need peace, justice, and rights,” quite forgetting that in a public speech to welcome the new Jaffna Vice Chancellor last year he had entreated the new VC to make University of Jaffna a Hindu University.
The Very Rev. S.J. Emmanuel who spoke next reminded us that when things were very tight for Tamils under Mrs. Bandaranaike’s United Left Front, SJV had perceptively said, “Only God can save the Tamils.” Fr. Emmanuel added the tidbit that once Mrs. Bandaranaike had tried to needle SJV, telling him, “You are a Christian. The Hindus are the vast majority of Tamils. How can you even purport to be their leader?” The quick-witted SJV had responded, “Madam, unlike the Sinhalese, the Tamils do not demand that their leaders should change religions to be their leaders.” SJV’s path was clean and democratic, and he was always true to his principles, concluded the former Vicar General.
The next speaker was the highlight of the day – Bahu Karunaratne. He was introduced by the Bishop as a product of Ananda College, Peradeniya and Cambridge. Both he and Bahu had studied at Peradeniya at the same time. Of rigid principles and political consistency like SJV, Bahu had protested against the executive presidency and had been fired for that from Peradeniya. Among leftists he was exceptional for his consistency, perhaps the only one who spoke up for Tamils when other leftists like Colvin R de Silva had abandoned their principles claiming that “Politics is the Art of the Possible.” The Bishop thanked Bahu for being the only shining light speaking up for Tamils in the South.
Bahu: Entertaining as Usual
Bahu’s speech titled “SJV Chelvanayagam, the Father of the Tamil Nation,” was delivered in Sinhalese with a translation by Mr. S. Sivagurunathan who had come for this all the way from Colombo. Some wondered whether, given SJV’s language policies, it would not have been more appropriate to speak in English especially when large chunks of speech had to be translated with Sivagurunathan having to take notes to remember it all. Surely, parts were missed in translation. So my notes also from which I write might have gaps. Remember, Bahu probably framed his sentences in English, going by the fact he occasionally asked Sivagurunathan for appropriate Sinhalese words. His speech was in Sinhalese. The translation was into Tamil. And I am transcribing that Tamil back into English!
Bahu began saying the idea of a Sinhalese nation is recent. The idea of Sinhale can be traced to Anagarika Dharmapala. To show that the idea of a Sinhalese nation is new, he pointed out that until recently among the Kandyans it was said it is better to beg than to marry in Ruhuna. There was simply no one Sinhalese nation. Our eyes need to be open to the dangers of this thesis of the anciency of Sinhale. Expressions like national people, and jathiya (caste) were work-related. In England too, the idea of a national people is after Cromwell. Similarly, in France and Germany the concept of a national people came with Napoleon and Bismarck, respectively.
In contrast, said Bahu, Tamil is 6000 years old (Yes, no mistake, that is what he said; it is an anciency rejected by most serious scholars who would put it at 2000 years). People like Gunadasa Amarasekera, said Bahu, will fall sick when they hear this about Tamil being so much older. In Ceylon the Tamil presence might be from 50 AD but in India it is from long before that.
After the establishment of Ceylon, all our representatives were English language based. They believed we could function in English. However, a trade-based economy created a need for Tamil and Sinhalese education. In the meantime, the voter-strength through elections forced all communities to work together and cooperate using the English language.
SJV and Bandaranaike studied together at St. Thomas’ College in/from 1926. Bandaranaike went for Samashti (equality). But later, under pressure over citizenship and language, Bandaranaike went back on his policies and under pressure SJV had to leave the All Ceylon Tamil Congress which was with the government in denying the franchise to many Tamils. When the Federal Party (ITAK) was formed, its focus was on principled policies – secularism, justice, devolution of powers, etc. But the people in the South selectively saw only devolution and Tamil rights, and politicians used these like showing the devil (poochaandi) to scare children.
In 1956 Bandaranaike was against Samashti and SJV was for it. By 1957, despite his Sinhalese only law, Bandaranaike saw the merit in SJV’s positions and proposed devolution through the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact (the BC Pact). It is the Left that failed to support devolution. If not, the BC Pact could have been saved.
For this, Bandaranaike has been likened to a bandakkai (okra), and called slippery and having no backbone. There is some truth in this. But the real blame must be laid on the Left. In 1956 Dudley Senanayake’s stomach had masala vadai.
If there had been socialism, there would be no Tamil problem today.
Even after two defeats in the BC- and Dudley-Chelva Pacts, SJV never lost heart. Even after he fell sick, he never deviated from his principles. Even the Sri campaign brushing off the Sinhalese Sri and painting the Tamil Sri on motor car number plates was to show that the Tamil language too could be used, just like the Sinhalese language. When he travelled from Jaffna to Colombo on the Sri campaign, the Sinhalese really had nothing to fear from him.
The problem is not yet over. We still have no Tamil government. We cannot give up. During the recent no confidence motion, the communalists behaved like rowdies. We, the Tamils and the government, joined together and defeated the motion.
Vote of Thanks
With Bahu’s speech ended, Hon. K. Thirairajasingam extemporaneously delivered the vote of thanks in place of V.G. Thangavel of the organizing committee, another absentee. He thanked the family for its presence. He also thanked SJV’s Puthiri (daughter) for her presence although she was in Canada. The meeting concluded by 11:30.
The Future of ITAK
Looking back and writing as a nonpartisan technocrat, ITAK needs to really rethink its policies and reorganize itself. This was a major event to keep alive the memories and democratic ideals of its most revered founder. Nevertheless, there seems little interest in his principles as its MPs and Chief Minister quietly make undisguised pro-LTTE speeches. Most attendees were over 60 years of age, if not over 70 (The youngest, besides my daughter, seemed Kesavan Sayanthan of the Northern PC and the reporters). There were only five women present of whom two were from my family. Most ITAK MPs were absent. The ITAK voted against the recent No Confidence Motion and saved the government but has little to show for it, not even in getting its nominees in, on the University of Jaffna Council. SJV’s sweet memory and his party’s survival are at stake.