If Constitutional Making Do Not Succeed Vaddukoddai Resolution May Become Startlingly Relevant Again
“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.” ~ John F. Kennedy
An American civil rights activist Medgar Evers stated that “you can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” He was later shot dead by a Klansman, but the civil rights movement endured.
Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa from apartheid to democracy, was a humble, eloquent and inspirational figure who advocated peace, democracy and human rights. He was South Africa’s first black president who is now dead and gone, but his thoughts on freedom, equality continue to inspire millions of people around the world struggling to gain their freedom from oppression and slavery.
On equality, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (20 April 1964, Rivonia trial)
On a meaningful life “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” (May 2002)
In a similar vain, the Tamils asked for a regional council for North and East combined. Since 1979, the Federal Party (ITAK) has demanded a federal state in which the Sinhalese and Tamils can share power. After unsuccessfully agitating for a federal state for a decade, a pact was signed between Prime Minister Bandaranaike and Federal Party leader SJV Chelvanayakam on July 26, 1957.
It advocated the creation of regional councils in Sri Lanka as a means to giving a certain level of autonomy to the Thamil people and was intended to solve the communal disagreements rife at that time. The act was strongly opposed by certain sections of the Sinhalese as well as the All Ceylon Thamil Congress led by GG Ponnambalam. It was eventually torn up by Prime Minister Bandaranaike in May 1958. Prime Minister Bandaranaike’s later attempts to pass legislation similar to the agreement was met by strong opposition, and led to his assassination by a Buddhist monk in 1959.
On March 25, 1965 another agreement was singed between Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and SJV Chelvanayakam to make provision for the Thamil language to be the language of administration and of record in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. That a Thamil speaking person should be entitled to transact business in Thamil throughout the Island. Most importantly like the Pāndavas agreed to District Councils in Ceylon vested with powers to be mutually agreed upon between the two leaders. It was agreed, however, that the Government should have power under the law to give directions to such Councils in the national interest.
This Agreement was also ditched by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake under intense pressure from Sinhala – Buddhist extremists and as a result the Federal Party left the government in September, 1968.
Midway during the UNP’s term of office in 1965-70, the LSSP and CP (Moscow) performed a summersault by abandoning their previous policy of parity of status for both Sinhalese and Thamil languages. Nobody speculated this turn of events, but both the LSSP and CP (Moscow) embraced communalism in place of communism.
At the election held in 1970 the United Front (UF) consisting of SLFP, LSSP and CP (Moscow) won a land slide victory. This emboldened the SLFP to abandon the Soulbury constitution and enact a new republican constitution.
In a case before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London in 1966, it was held that Section 29 (2) (b) of the Soulbury constitution—the clause relating to minority safeguards— was an entrenched provision which could not be amended in any revision of the constitution. To the SLFP—as the champion of Sinhalese-Buddhist domination of the island—this would have been ample justification for framing a new constitution by establishing a Constituent Assembly which would derive its “authority from the people of Sri Lanka and not from the power and authority assumed and exercised by the British Crown and Parliament neither in establishing the present [Soulbury] constitution nor from the constitution they gave us.”
The constitution of 1972 incorporated two pieces of legislation which were in fact some of the most important policy formulations of D. S. Senanayake himself though they were outside the 1944 draft. Section 67 of the new constitution essentially retained the laws relating to citizenship enacted in 1948 and 1949 with their consequential amendments, while section 134 incorporated the Public Security Act of 1947 with the amendments to it introduced subsequently. (A Tale of Three Constitutions 1946-48, 1972 and 1978 by H.L. De Silva).
The UF government went further by giving constitutional status to the Sinhala Only Act. Of the many one of the most controversial provisions was regarding Buddhism. Section 6 (Chapter II) gave proclaimed “foremost place” in the constitution. This provision undermined state neutrality or non-discrimination and separation of state and religion. Also, it relegated other religions to an inferior status just like the Thamil language. The provision just stopped short of declaring Buddhism as official ‘State Religion.’
In November 1970, Mrs Bandaranaike laid down two objectives of the SLFP. (1) “In addition to steps taken by the late SWRD Bandaranaike’s Government of 1956, and (2) the present Government to give Buddhism its proper place in the country as the religion of the majority.” But in the 1972 constitution “proper place” was replaced with “foremost place.”
Ironically, Colvin R de Silva the erstwhile Trotskyite and Minister for Constitutional Affairs was carrying out the biddings of Mrs. Bandaranaike like an obedient servant. He has obviously abandon his earlier prophesy that “two languages one nation, one language two nations.” During the debate in Parliament he roundly condemned the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. He described the issue at hand as a choice between ‘two languages one nation, one language two nations’ saying: ‘Do we want an independent Ceylon or two bleeding halves of Ceylon which can be gobbled up by every ravaging imperialist monster that may happen to range the Indian Ocean? These are issues that in fact we have been discussing under the form and appearance of the language issue.’
The LSSP founded on 18 December 1935 in its first manifesto itself prominently pronounced that one should utilize the vernaculars Sinhala and Thamil in lower Courts of Law and statements recorded in police stations and extended the use to government offices. Thus, so early the LSSP took a position to accord equality of status to the two indigenous languages. Again on July 23 1936 Sama Samajists introduced two motions in the State Council about the use of the local languages in Police Courts and lower Education. The LSSP was steadfast on giving parity of status to Sinhala and Thamils officially.
Stung by the rejection of their demands by the government, the FP walked out of the constitutional assembly and stopped further participation. By this time SJV Chelvanayakam has grown bitter over his failure to win any meaningful concessions from the Sinhalese, and became sympathetic to the cause of Thamil separatism abandoning federalism.
The situation was exacerbated by the UF government adopting two new policies that discriminated against the Thamil people. First, the government introduced a double standard for admission to universities, requiring the Thamil students to achieve higher grades than the Sinhalese students. Secondly, the same kind of policy was adopted for jobs as public servants, which were held by less than ten percent of the Thamil-speaking population.
Chelvanayakam resigned from Parliament on October 2, 1972 as a protest against the new republican constitution. The following was the statement he made on the Floor of the House hen he resigned his Seat in order to give an opportunity for the then Government to test its claim that the Tamil people accepted the Constitution.
I am resigning my seat in this Honourable House. I wish to state my reasons for doing so.
The History of the Tamil people in this country since 1948 has been one of deterioration. In the then Parliament of ninety five elected Members there were eight Tamil Members representing the estate Tamil population who are today not there. They have been replaced by Sinhalese Members now in double that number. The eight Tamil Members were there by the grant of the vote of the bulk of the workers on the estates. This was thought to be a just decision on the question of Tamils of Indian Origin by the United Kingdom Government.
As soon as Ceylon became independent the first thing the Sinhalese Government did was to deprive the Tamil worker in the estates of the vote. This was carefully manoeuvred through a citizenship law that deprived them of citizenship and by granting the vote to citizens only. The entire structure on which the Soulbury Constitution was based collapsed. It must be said to the credit of the LSSP and the CP that they opposed this move though they have now succumbed to a purely communal policy.
The next important thing that took place was the passing of the Sinhala Only Act by the Bandaranaike Government in 1956. Even this was made possible by the depriving of the vote of the Tamil worker on the estates. Although the Tamil worker has been deprived of the vote, the seats that were allotted to them have not been removed but have been given to the Sinhalese voter. This has meant that from 1952 onwards the legislature has been a Sinhalese weighted body and all legislation thereafter has been communal Sinhalese. Had the vote remained as it was in 1947 the landslide in the election of 1970 would not have taken place.
The next important event has been the creation of a new Constitution by a legislature that was so Sinhalese weighted. The Constitution has given everything to the Sinhalese and has given nothing to the Thamils. The Sinhala Only Act has been so strengthened that it requires a two-thirds majority to alter it. Sinhala has been made the language of the courts. All talk about a man being tried in his own language applies to the Sinhala man and not to the Tamil man. There are many other features in the Constitution that I need not mention here. Even the slight protection that was given to the minorities by Section 29 of the old Constitution has been removed.
Faced with this situation the Tamil people of different parties formed the Thamil United Front and appealed to the Prime Minister to remedy some of these evils. I, on behalf of the Tamil United Front, wrote to the Prime Minister a letter raising six points on which the Constitution has to be amended, and we gave her time till the 30th September to do that. But nothing has been done. In this situation the responsibility falls on my head, as the Leader of the Thamil United Front, to appeal to the Tamil people for them to say whether they are with me or not.
It is claimed by the Government that a sizeable section of the Thamil people accept the Constitution. We deny this and want to give an opportunity to the Government to prove that claim. The best way in which that can be done is for me as the Leader of the Tamil United Front to resign my Seat in this Honourable House and re-contest it on my policy and ask the Government to oppose me on its policy. Of course, the decision will be that of the Tamil people. My policy will be that in view of the events that have taken place the Tamil people of Ceylon should have the right to determine their future whether they are to be a subject race in Ceylon or they are to be a free people. I shall ask the people to vote for me on the second of these alternatives.
Let the Government contest me on that position. If I lose I give up my policy. If the Government loses, let it not say that the Tamil people support its policy and its Constitution. Let not the Government deprive the people of their decision on the issues raised by postponing the by-election.’ (OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October 1972; vol.2, cc.883-4)
The government kept postponing the date for the by-election for more than two years and finally held it on February 07, 1975. SJV Chelvanayakam (TUF) won the election polling 25,927 (72.54%) out of 35,737 votes. V. Ponnambalam (CP) who came second polled just 9,457 (26.46%) votes.
In his acceptance speech Chelvanayakam said “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.”
In what was to be his last speech in parliament, Chelvanayakam on November 19, 1976, declared that, “the Thamil speaking people have abandoned the demand for a Federal constitution.
“We started the federal movement at one time to obtain the lost rights of the Thamil speaking people and now we have found that through federalism we cannot achieve our objective. In view of this experience we have come to the conclusion that we must separate and if we do not do that, the Thamil speaking people will never be able to get back their lost rights.
“Our ancient people were wise. They had their own kingdom. In the history of Ceylon we had a place. We are not asking for a division of the country by our movement, but we are only trying to regain what we lost.
Our party is today moving with the idea of establishing a separate state. It is not an easy matter to get a separate state. It is a difficult matter. We know that it is difficult. But either we get out of the power of the Sinhala masses or we perish. That is certain. Therefore we will try and get this separation. We have abandoned the demand for a federal constitution. Our movement will be all non-violent.”
The FP and other Thamil parties formed the Thamil United Front in May 1972, with Chelvanayakam as their leader. Shortly after, in 1973, the Federal Party decided to demand a separate, autonomous Thamil state. Until 1973, Chelvanayakam and the Federal Party had always campaigned for a unified country and thought that any partitioning would be “suicidal”.
The new policies of the UF government, however, were considered to be discriminatory by the Thamil leadership, and this modified the official position on Thamil Nationalism. To further the new political agenda, in 1975 the Federal Party merged with the other Thamil political parties to become the Thamil United Liberation Front (TULF). In 1976, after the first national convention of TULF, the Ceylon Tamils moved toward a revised nationalism and were unwilling to live within a confined, single-island entity.
The Vaddukoddai Resolution was a resounding endorsement of Thanthai Chelvanayakam’ s policies and pronouncements since 1972. It ended with a clarion call to the Thamil Nation in general and the Thamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom.
Vaddukoddai Resolution was ignored by Sinhalese politicians at their peril, but that was the one historical document that stirred the Thamil youths on the path of militancy and a costly and bloody war that lasted for 26 years. It is our hope that the current attempts at constitutional making based on rule of law, universal justice and equality will succeed. If we do not succeed Vaddukoddai Resolution may become startlingly relevant again!