Because of the numerous SLFP breakaway groups and one man parties, there were 23 parties in the run up to the March 1960 election. These included the MRP, now led by Philip Gunawardena, the Prajathantravadiya Party of W. Dahanayake, the Bosath Bandaranaike Party of Sam D. Bandaranaike (a cousin of the dead leader), the extremist Sinhalese Jathika Vimukthi Peramunaof K. M. P. Rajaratna and the rabidly Sinhalese Buddhist Dharma Samajaya Party of L.H. Mettananda. Most of these catered for rural Sinhalese electorates and employed exaggerated rhetoric and extravagant promises.
Since in 1956 the SLFP had won on the basis of “Sinhala only” and Buddhist “revival”, all the Sinhalese parties and leaders in the March 1960 election seemed convinced that something along the same lines would bring them victory. Since 2 January 1960 was the first working day in the changeover to the “Sinhala only” administration, and the FP had called for a Hartal (general strike) in the north and east on that day, all the Sinhalese parties pledged to the Sinhalese voters that, if returned to power, they would rigorously enforce “Sinhala only”.
In order to be one step ahead of the others, Dahanayake promised the wholesale repatriation of Indian Tamils if he came to power. The MEP and Mettananda issued a joint statement promising to implement the Sasana Commission Report, which had recommended granting Buddhism its rightful place in the affairs of state and in the government “take over” of schools. At the opening MEP rally, Mettananda predicted that “Philip Gunawardena will be the next Prime Minister”.2 Mettananda called for the poya days (Buddhist sabbath days two days a week) to be declared public holidays. With the “father of Sinhala only” by his side, Philip Gunawardena, the popularly acclaimed “father of revolutionary Marxism in Sri Lanka”, became in 1960 a Sinhalese chauvinist reactionary. The Bosath Bandaranaike Peramuna demanded the repatriation of the Indian Tamils and the nationalization of foreign assets, including the plantations.
In this way, the Sinhalese parties were unanimous in their attitude towards the Tamils; their only difference was one of degree. The UNP under Dudley Senanayake carried out a virulent anti Tamil campaign, but won only 50 of the 145 seats in the reformed legislature. The SLFP, though battered and torn, won 46 seats. The LSSP and MEP won 10 seats each, and the CP three. Because of the extravagant anti Tamil positions of the Sinhalese parties, the Tamils rallied behind the FP, which won 15 seats in the north and east, thereby emerging as the representative political party of the Tamils.
Dudley Senanayake, being the leader of the largest number of seats in parliament, formed a minority UNP government, which was at once defeated on the Speech from the Throne on 19 April. The following day parliament was again dissolved, with an election due in July 1960.
The March 1960 election verdict made the LSSP realize it had irretrievably lost its position to the bourgeois centrist SLFP. Since, in alliance with the Sinhalese forces, Philip Gunawardena’s MEP had won as many seats, the LSSP leaders became convinced that for electoral purposes Marxist rhetoric must be blended with Sinhalese chauvinism. Hence the LSSP began to shift from its “parity of status” position, implicitly accepted “Sinhala only” and, with the CP, entered into a no contest pact with the SLFP, which now came to be led by Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike. One stalwart LSSP candidate, Mrs Vivienne Goonewardene, felt such concern for the Sinhalese that she called her uncle Philip Gunawardena “the number one enemy of the Sinhalese nation” .3
In the July 1960 election the anti Tamil rhetoric of Sinhalese politicians reached its nadir. Mrs Bandaranaike, then a novice at the Sinhalese political game, was content to state that she would follow “Bandaranaike policies”, implement “Bandaranaike socialism” and continue “the Bandaranaike revolution begun in 1956”. By insidious propaganda, the credulous rural Sinhalese Buddhist voters were made to believe that her husband had been a Boddhisatva (one who will become Buddha) who had given up his life for the cause of the Sinhalese Buddhist people.
At the polls, Mrs Bandaranaike’s SLFP emerged victorious with 75 seats, which gave her an overall majority. Since the SLFP polled only 33.6% of the votes, it was clear that it had benefited most from the no contest pact with the LSSP and the CP. Indeed the UNP polled more votes than the SLFP37.6% but won only 30 seats. The LSSP won 12 seats, but received the lowest ever percentage of votes 7.4% again because of the no contest pact. In 1947 it had received 10.8%; in 1952, 13.1%; in 1956, 10.4%; and in March 1960, 10.5%. Philip Gunawardena’s MEP won only three seats. The Tamil FP won 16 seats and received 7.2% of votes both the highest figures it ever obtained. One can thus see how Sinhalese policies were driving the Tamils increasingly into the fold of the FP.
Mrs Bandaranaike was sworn in as prime minister and thereby became the first Kandyan Sinhalese, as well as the world’s first woman, prime minister. To this government too, the LSSP adopted a policy of “critical support”. Leslie Goonewardene, the LSSP secretary, wrote:
“The LSSP, while functioning as an independent group bound neither to the Government Party nor the Opposition Party, today adopts a position of general support of the Government, holding itself free to criticize the Government as well as vote against it where it disagrees.”4
The LSSP had reached the apogee of bourgeois parliamentary dilettantism, and from then on its leadership lost all leftist political directions, shed the external trappings of Marxism and degenerated into an unprincipled reactionary force coveting ministerial positions for its leadership.
When Mrs Bandaranaike made no progress whatever on the language front, the FP launched a satyagraha and civil disobedience campaign, in February 1961, in the north and east. The FP had earlier called on Tamil government employees not to study Sinhala; it now called on them not to transact any business in Sinhala. It had also called on the Tamils to correspond with the government only in Tamil. In February 1961, by assembling thousands of Tamil volunteers, both men and women, the FP blocked access to the Kachcheries (district administrative headquarters) in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. This continued for days, with batches of sit down satyagraha volunteers taking turns, and effectively paralyzed the government’s administration of the Tamil districts.
Finding that it had lost control of these areas, Mrs Bandaranaike’s government in March declared a state of emergency and dispatched military troops to occupy the northern and eastern provinces. With the army moving in, the Tamils for the first time faced military brutality in the cause of “Sinhala only” and became aware of the Sinhalese government’s resolve to use force to beat them into submission. The repression was so horrendous that an official inquiry was later set up by the government.
The government went ahead with rigorous enforcement of “Sinhala only” and passed the Language of the Courts Act, making the courts conduct their business in Sinhala rather than English. In April 1961, as a symbol of “Tamil self government”, Chelvanayakam inaugurated the “Tamil Arasu (Government) Postal Service” by issuing the FP’s own postal stamps in post offices in Jaffna district. This was quickly suppressed by the military forces on the orders of the prime minister. All FP MPs were arrested and held in detention for the next six months. On these events, James Jupp writes:
During this period Jaffna had been cut off and the whole Tamil areas occupied by the troops. The movement had very broad support, ranging from the estate workers’ unions who struck in protest against the arrest of the MPs, the Muslim Traders Association of Batticaloa, who closed their shops, most of the Leftwing unions and even the AllCeylon Brahmin Priests Associations5
Mrs Bandaranaike, being a Kandyan Sinhalese Buddhist from the Ratwatte Radala family, long time patrons of the Kandyan Malwatte and Asgiriya sects and closely connected with the Dalada Maligawa Temple in Kandy, began to move decisively in favour of Buddhism and to the advantage of the Sinhalese Buddhists, in particular the Kandyans. The Sinhalese Buddhist lobby had from the 1880s waged a battle against the Christian mission school system, which became intense with the statutory incorporation of the ACBC as a lay Buddhist pressure group in 1955. From 1930, the Buddhist lobby had stridently demanded a government take over of all schools in the country and an end to the grant in aid system. The Catholic and Protestant church hierarchy and their school Organisations had, until 1960, fought back successfully.
From the 1947 election, the Catholic church had openly supported the UNP and called upon its flock to vote for it at every election. In the run up to the 1952 election, Archbishop Joseph Cooray described the LSSP as ‘a body of Godless people whom we consider as enemies of all forms of religion”.6 Shortly before polling day the Vicar General, Revd Fr Fortin, stated: “No Catholic even with an atom of Christian conscience can vote for a candidate who belongs to a political creed banned by the church—let it be communism or any other or has pledged himself directly or indirectly to an electoral programme inimical to God and to the church”.7
In the 1956 election, because of Buddhist militancy, the Catholic church hierarchy was somewhat restrained and ambivalent, but the Sinhalese Catholics and Christians supported the Sinhalese Buddhists in the “Sinhala only” campaign. Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, being a born Anglican, who later embraced Buddhism for the sake of political expediency, soft pedalled the schools take over issue. The Christians were also successful because, from 1947, there was a substantial number of Catholic and Christian .NIPs in parliament. But this began to change. The proportion of Buddhist MPs increased from 57% in 1952 to 66% in July 1960, while the Catholics and Christians declined from 23% in 1952 to 16% in 1960 (although they were only 8.9% of the population in 1953 and 8.3% in the 1963 census).
The Committee of Inquiry to Investigate the State of Buddhism, set up by the ACBC, in its report entitled The Betrayal of Buddhism (1956) recommended a government take over of all state aided schools. Prominent among the Buddhist campaigners for the take over were L.H. Mettananda, P. de S. Kularatne, D.C. Wijewardena and C.D.S. Siriwardena. The left wing parties viewed the take over as a step heralding a national educational system and an end to Christian privileges. Hence they supported the measures.
Since “Sinhala only” was already on the statute book, and in a bid to continue “the Bandaranaike revolution started in 1956”, Mrs Bandaranaike enacted laws for the take over of all schools (except 38 prestigious mission schools which were willing to manage without state grants and without levying fees) and teacher training colleges, by Acts No. 5 of 1960 and No. 8 of 1961. Professor C.R. de Silva sums up the campaign on this issue:
The evidence regarding the campaign against Christian mission schools seems to indicate that the Buddhists were concerned with two principal issues; to prevent state aided institutions from being used as instruments to spread Christianity and to eliminate the special advantages available to Christian children by the presence of a more developed system of schools funded largely by the state. The opposition to the move also stemmed largely from desires to protect the religious identity of each of the Christian minorities and to secure educational advantages for its members. From time to time other arguments relating to educational theory, expense, fundamental rights and individual freedom were brought in by both sides . . . to the Buddhists in particular the schools were more than a symbol. They were regarded as a means of advancement. 8
Schools and education were, however, a means of advancement for the whole nation. This was not conceded. The Buddhists wanted advancement for themselves by taking over what others had built up over the centuries, and not by building something for themselves. In 1960 there were 1,170 Christian schools and 1,121 Buddhist schools, all receiving state grants.
Yielding to such demands has created and perpetuated Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. Because of the schools take over the government now had to build schools and maintain and equip them. This placed additional financial burdens on the state’s meagre resources. In Mrs Bandaranaike’s government’s decision to take over the schools, no consideration had been given to the costs involved. As a result of the measure, education took 16.2% of the budget in 1970. And public expenditure on education constituted 3.5% of the GDP, whereas in India in the same year it was 0.8% and in Pakistan 0.9%.9 This education explosion, at state expense, created an army of angry, educated unemployed who were willing to take up arms, in the name of socialism, to gain power in the insurrection of 1971.
The schools take over was yet another fiasco. Professor C.R. de Silva states:
The schools that were taken over continued to operate with the same teaching staff and often with the same principals. Many such schools especially the Catholic ones, being located in areas where there was a substantial Catholic or Christian population, continued to serve the same clientele . . . As late as 1970 Christians accounted for 21.7% of (university) admissions to the Engineering course and 19.8% of the admissions to those in Medicine . . . the results of the schools takeover appear to have hardly justified the expectations placed upon it.
The take over, although it affected the Catholic church in the loss of land, buildings and other fixed assets, did not affect the educational needs of the Catholics, particularly the upper class in the country. Thirty eight prestigious private mission schools catering to upper class children were allowed to continue as before, but without state grant and on condition that they levied no tuition fees. This was a small price to pay. Some of the upper class Buddhists also sent their children to these schools. Now, despite their affluence, they did not have to pay fees for the education of their children.
The Catholics mounted a vigorous campaign against the take over. They defied the law and occupied their schools for six weeks. But they gave in when Cardinal Gracias of Bombay intervened on the Vatican’s behalf “to restrain Archbishop Joseph Cooray and local hierarchy from persisting in policies which might have damaged the Church still further”.
The Catholic campaign, though based on fear, was a fight for the continuation of privileges. But no great change took place. On the contrary, the take over greatly entrenched the Catholics’ privileged position; now their prestigious schools were completely outside government finance and control. Yet Fr Tissa Balasuriya, who campaigned for “national harmony” on the basis of “Sinhala only”, wrote that “the schools take over was the biggest blow Christians had to face since the Dutch left our shores in 1796”.10 we shall return to this school of “national harmony” propagandists in the concluding chapter.
Since the take over did not really affect the Catholics and the Christians, ‘the tension between the Buddhists and Catholics and Christians, which had risen to a peak with the schools take over, subsided relatively quickly”.11 It led to the Sinhalese Catholics and Christians, on orders from the Vatican, ‘Sinhalizing” their religious practices. The mass, for example, came to be held in Sinhala. In this way a further strand was added to Sinhalese ethnic religious integration.
Since the FP had called upon Tamil government employees not to study and work in Sinhala, the government in response offered bonuses to those passing the Sinhala language proficiency tests and withheld increments and promotions from the bulk of those who refused to sit them. To coax them to sit the tests, the government promised that their salary increments would not be stopped if they sat; but without success. The government misinterpreted the Tamil officers’ defiance as being solely due to the FP’s call. In fact, they defied the measure because it involved abandoning their ancestral past, jettisoning their culture and language, draining away everything that was Tamil in them, in order to earn a living. And this was at a time when the Sinhalese were saying that “language was the life blood of the Sinhalese nation” 12
The government’s response was an even more rigorous enforcement of “Sinhala only”, to make the Tamils believe that “Sinhala only” was irreversible and the language issue frozen.
Many Tamil government employees were served with six months’ notice, to persuade them to study Sinhala. The General Clerical Service Union (GCSU), the national trade union of which the Tamil officers were members, failed to make an issue of their notices of dismissal. The reason was that the Sinhalese officers, forming a majority in public service, benefited from “Sinhala only” and the dismissal of the Tamil officers. This was how the ruling class divided the working class on the basis of ethnicity.
Hence the Tamil officers resigned from the GCSU and founded a Tamil union, the Arasanga Eluthu Vinayar Sangam. Its president, S. Kodiswaran, a senior Tamil officer in the executive grade, had earlier refused to sit the Sinhala proficiency examinations and his increment had been stopped. He sued the government in the Colombo district court, on the grounds that the regulation under which his increment had been stopped was illegal and unreasonable since the Official Language Act of 1956 transgressed the Section 29 constitutional prohibition against discrimination. The trial judge, O.L de Kretser, a Burgher and the most senior member of the judicial service, upheld Kodiswaran’s plea and ruled that the Official Language Act and the regulation in question were ultra fires and contravened the Section 20 prohibition.
But the government appealed against the judgement to the Supreme Court, which set aside the judgement on the (erroneous) ground that a government servant had no right to sue the Crown in a court of law for salary or increment. The Supreme Court failed to consider the constitutional issue but gave judgement on the preliminary point to the Crown. The Supreme Court, however, stated that if it became necessary to consider the constitutional issue, the matter would be placed by the Chief Justice before a five judge court.
This was the decision the government wanted; it was politically acceptable but legally erroneous. Kodiswaran appealed to the Privy Council in London, which set aside the Sri Lanka Supreme Court’s decision and directed that the Supreme Court should now rule on the constitutional question. The Privy Council judgement stated that, as the constitutional issue had not been considered by the Supreme Court, “the case should be remitted to the Supreme Court for consideration of this issue”.l3 This was in 1969; the case had started in 1962. At the time of the Privy Council judgement, Dudley Senanayake’s government was in power and Mrs Bandaranaike was the leader of the opposition.
It was the general legal consensus at the time that, if the case went back to the Privy Council on the constitutional issue, the Privy Council would uphold the district court’s decision. The government panicked. Mrs Bandaranaike, then custodian of Bandaranaike’s “Sinhala only” policy, was furious with the Privy Council. The Sinhalese politicians wondered what to do next. The Tamils felt that, at long last, justice had triumphed and their cause had been partially vindicated. And they had no doubt that in the next round the justice of their cause would completely triumph and they would become equal citizens in their motherland.
But this was not to be. Kodiswaran’s case never came before the Supreme Court again. Instead, as a direct outcome of the case, Mrs Bandaranaike’s UF government, which came to power in 1970, abolished appeals to the Privy Council (by Act No. 44 of 1971). Kodiswaran’s and the Tamil people’s legal case, over the unconstitutionality of “Sinhala only”, was summarily dismissed by political means. And Section 29 of the Soulbury constitution, then seen to be the Tamils’ only legal safeguard, was done away with by the UF government’s repeal of that constitution and the enactment of the Republican constitution of 1972. The role of the courts as the bulwark of justice, and of the constitution as the guarantor and protector of the “solemn balance of rights” between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, could no longer be countenanced by the Sinhalese. We shall return to these issues in later chapters.
Mrs Bandaranaike’s government soon fell victim to a Catholic military Conspiracy Having been called upon to intervene and adjudicate in politics, and inspired by this new role, the Catholic (Sinhalese and Tamil) top brass of the army and police plotted a coup d’etat in January 1962 to overthrow Sirs Bandaranaike. The plot was uncovered in the nick of time and some 24 senior army and police officials were indicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government under a hastily prepared but legally invalid retrospective criminal Law (Special Provisions) Act No. l of 1962.l4
Mrs Bandaranaike felt that she could trust none but the Kandyans. She replaced the low country Sinhalese Christian govemor general, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke) with her uncle William Gopallawa, a Kandyan Buddhist. Richard l,dugama, a relation, was appointed commander of the army and Stanley Ratwatte, another relation, was appointed commander of the army volunteer force. Similar replacements were effected in other areas of security and public services.
Kandyan control of the state apparatus was so marked that Lakshman Rajapakse, a low country Sinhalese MP in the SLFP, protested: “We cannot be blind to the active discrimination now practised by this government against the low country Sinhalese”.ts He left the SLFP and founded the Ruhunu Rata Balavegaya.
By 1962 the Communist Party had abandoned its “parity of status” stand on the language question and had adopted “Sinhala only”. This split the CP, and Tamil members left the party. The LSSP was soon to follow. In 1963 a United Left Front (ULF) was formed between the LSSP, the CP and Philip Gunawardena’s MEP. It is important to note that the ULF did not include the largest organized proletarian force in the country the plantation Indian Tamils. It could not, for the reasons already stated— namely, that their leadership represented capitalist interests.
The LSSP and the CP abandoned their “critical support” of Mrs Bandaranaike’s government and, at the ULF inaugural 1963 May Day rally, declared that the ULF would defeat the government and establish a socialist state.l6 in August 1963 Leslie Goonewardene, the LSSP secretary, said that “the Left parties would never again extend their co operation to the SLFP government ~3. 17
However, in less than a year’s time, the LSSP had become part of the SLFP government, and in 1970 Leslie Goonewardene himself became a minister in Mrs Bandaranaike’s cabinet.
Since “Sinhala only” had been achieved with relative ease at the same time as the formation of the ULF, the “father of Sinhala only”, Mettananda had founded his Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya (Buddhist Sinhalese Race Movement) and was demanding the establishment of the BuddhistSinhalese state of Sri Lanka. Paradoxically, Mettananda was a close ally of Sirs Bandaranaike and also the principal ally of Philip Gunawardena, who at the ULF inaugural rally had declared that he would establish a socialist state.
Since 1963 Mettananda had pressed Mrs Bandaranaike to accept into her cabinet Philip Gunawardena, the accredited “father of revolutionary Marxism” in the country. She was reluctant, since he had been sacked from the cabinet by her husband in 1958. Although in 1961 he had said that “the SLFP is a Radala clan, inefficient and devoid of progressive ideas”, in 1964, even after declaring that he would establish a socialist state and forming the ULF, he was pressing to enter Mrs Bandaranaike’s cabinet.
Mrs Bandaranaike’s government was faced with a critical economic situation because of a severe foreign exchange crisis, and imposed import restrictions, import quotas and exchange controls. There were shortages of several imported goods and the government instituted rationing of all consumer goods. Even dry fish and maldive fish (both imported) came to be rationed for the first time. Shortages and food queues became the order of the day. No finance minister of her government survived to present his second budget. Felix Dias Bandaranaike, when finance minister, proposed to reduce the weekly issue of rationed rice by half a measure in his 1962 budget.
But knowing that in such a crisis the people would erupt against the government, the SLFP government party itself opposed it, and he was forced to resign. .
The economy was slowly grinding to a halt. Opposition was once again resurfacing against the ruling class. Mrs Bandaranaike was fully aware that in a rapidly escalating crisis the people would not only rally round the ULF, but would even be prepared for a revolution, since the “middle path” had once again been discredited and they associated the rightist UNP with the 1953 Hartal (general strike). It was the convergence of all these factors that had brought about the ULF. Mrs Bandaranaike felt that it was far better, in the circumstances, to share power with the leaders of the working class than to be overthrown by the working class itself.
She made overtures to the LSSP to join her government with the promise of three ministries, including the ministry of finance. In this way, she realized she could rule securely; the LSSP would manage the economy for her and, if it failed, the LSSP and its socialism would be discredited. All this sociopolitical flux and these behind the scenes manoeuvres for cabinet posts broke up the ULF in less than five months after its inauguration.
At its delegates’ conference in June 1964, the LSSP accepted “Sinhala only” and resolved by majority vote to enter Mrs Bandaranaike’s government. This made the genuine revolutionary Tamil Marxists, led by Bala Tampoe, and their Sinhalese colleagues, led by Edmund Samarakkody, leave the LSSP and found the LSSP (Revolutionary), which became affiliated to the Fourth International.
Professor James Jupp writes on these events:
“After three months of contorted manoeuvres and plots, designed mainly to exclude Philip and the Communists from the government, N.M. Perera, Anil Moonesinghe and Cholmondley Goonewardene entered Mrs Bandaranaike’s Cabinet.”
Why was all this happening to the “Marxists”? They were romantic armchair socialists who could not advance Marxian theoretical discourse towards a revolutionary socialist struggle. They had grave misconceptions of socialist theory and hence failed to advance the proletarian struggle. They were alienated from the Tamil neople and failed to come to grips with the national question and with the democratic demands of the Tamil people as an oppressed people. Their knowledge of Marxism Leninism was evidently superficial and hence they failed to understand that it was their task to struggle against national oppression and to support the right to self determination of the Tamil people.
We have seen that the Communist Party formulated its political strategies on this basis in 1944, but deviated from it in the 1960s. If the Marxist parties could not successfully prevent national oppression, then it was their clear duty to fight for the liberation of the oppressed Tamil nation. Lenin, in his “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self determination”, states:
The proletariat must struggle against the enforced retention of oppressed nations within the bounds of the given state, which means that they must fight for the right to self determination. The proletariat must demand freedom of political separation for the colonies and nations oppressed by “their own” nation. Otherwise, the internationalism of the proletariat would be nothing but empty words; neither confidence nor class solidarity would be possible between the workers of the oppressed and the oppressor nations.
If they had formulated their programme on genuine Marxist Leninist bases and advanced the proletarian political struggle, and the struggle against the national oppression of the Tamils, they would at least have held in check the upper class rulers and their lower middle class cohorts, and the Sri Lankan state would have been saved from the national disaster that it faces today. Instead, the old “revolutionaries” were becoming the new reactionaries, jockeying for cabinet posts and turning proletarian internationalism into Sinhala “Marxism”, blended with chauvinism for electoral success. With the old “revolutionaries” holding pirith, attending dana and offering thanks to the Dalada Maligawa temple on their election victory in 1970, Sinhala “Marxism” became the Sinhala Buddhist “Marxism” of the Republic of Sri Lanka.
With the LSSP entering the SLFP government, a fast escalating revolutionary situation was averted. Mrs Bandaranaike generously thanked and complimented the LSSP: “The LSSP plays a dominant role among the urban working class and there are no basic differences between the two parties as the LSSP had eschewed revolution.” 19
She appointed the LSSP leader Dr N. M. Perera as minister of finance. This statement clearly reveals what she thought of the leaders and what she feared from the workers. It is also clearly indicative of her willingness to subdue the working class by co opting their leaders, who were socially of her own class. The upper class rulers knew that their class was a tiny minority without the necessary social base to justify retaining power in their hands. Hence their new political strategy of power sharing by their cooptation of the bourgeois leaders of the working class and by their willingness to accommodate even the most extreme demands of the Sinhalese Buddhist lower middle class pressure groups.
With this strategy, new alignments and new contours came to be drawn in the political landscape of the country. We have seen that, in the early period, rivalry between the Sinhalese Goyigama and the Karava elite was intense, and the Tamil Vellala elite always combined with the Goyigama. Hence the Karava elite came to be hostile to the Tamils. They were intent on cracking the Sinhalese Goyigama Tamil Vellala alliance as “senior” and “junior” partners.
They alone created the “Sinhala only” policy, became its most extreme advocates and seized upon it as the opportunity to achieve their objective. The Sinhalese Goyigama leadership was at the beginning against the policy but reluctantly fell in line with it, without sharing their extremism, solely out of political expediency. That was Bandaranaike’s stance. Jayewardene resorted to his famous march to Kandy because he was smarting under the first electoral defeat of his political career and wanted to make things difficult for Bandaranaike.
We have seen that at first the Sinhalese people were not enthusiastic about the chauvinist attitudes of their political leaders, who were really manipulating “Sinhala only” to achieve political power. The subsequent reality and the obvious benefits of “Sinhala only” unified the Sinhalese low country and Kandyan, Goyigama and Karava, Buddhists, Catholics and Christians.
Internally, these caste and religious groups were minorities within the dominant Buddhist Goyigama majority, which treated them with contempt. But now, with the achievement of “Sinhala only” and with the Goyigama Sinhalese Tamil Vellala alliance effectively severed, the Sinhalese Goyigama ruling group had to share power with the Sinhalese minority caste and religious groups. That was precisely what the latter wanted and achieved.
What was further needed for the newly emergent ruling Sinhalese upper class to perpetuate its power was the support of the Sinhalese urban working class and the continuing support of the Sinhalese lower middle class. They gained the support of the bourgeois leaders, who having “eschewed revolution” were willing to share power as subordinates and to domesticate the working class. There was no question of power for the workers and the people, whose leaders were willing to be the agents of the rulers.
The lower middle class, reaping the benefits of “Sinhala only”, was advancing in public service and other employment at the expense of the Tamils, who had come to be excluded from these jobs. To fortify their position, the lower middle class was pressing for a Sinhalese Buddhist state and poya holidays, while the Karavas, in the vanguard, were hell bent on ensuring that the Tamils were in no way accommodated, from fear of the revival of the Sinhalese Goyigama Tamil Vellala alliance. The upper class was willing to give in to these pressures and were accommodating, at times, to the Tamil Vellala bourgeois leaders, but never to the grievances of the Tamil masses.
This new alignment secured the upper class in power. The Tamils were continually held down at the bottom of the new social pyramid and, to perpetuate this situation, they needed to be portrayed as disobedient, recalcitrant contemptible and disloyal. The Sinhalese working class, for all its suffering, was made to feel that it was at least on top of the Indian and Sri Lanka Tamils. Until this class alignment plays itself out, or is smashed, power will continue to be in upper class hands and there will be no solution to the class question or the national question.
The LSSP’s decision to accept “Sinhala only” shattered the Tamils’ last hope of obtaining recognition of the Tamil language as their official language. They became gloomy and helpless, realizing that “Sinhala only” had become irreversible Unwilling to reconcile themselves to such a reality, large numbers of Tamils looked to emigration as an alternative. There was a treat exodus of educated Tamils to Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and other emergent countries of Africa which wanted their learning, skills and expertise. Many uprooted themselves and went to Australia, Canada, the United States and Britain, never to return. But this option was only available to the educated; it was an escape from oppression for the intellectuals.
The Tamil nation had to face the full fury of “Sinhala only” and covert and overt discrimination by the Sinhala government and the Sinhalese people in every walk of life. In Colombo and other Sinhalese areas, the Tamils were even afraid to speak among themselves in Tamil in public transport and public places. The discrimination effected under “Sinhala only” and the frequent beating, rape and murder of Tamils, and destruction of their homes in anti Tamil riots, reduced them to the status of a contemptible alien people in the eyes of the Sinhalese. Hence they had to hide their Tamil identity, even change their dress and their traditional ways of life, so as not to show their cultural distinctiveness.
In 1964 Mrs Bandaranaike’s government fell victim to the shifting sands of bourgeois political loyalties. When she sought to gag the Lake House newspapers in 1964, the UNP hatched a political plot with C.P. de Silva, her minister of lands and leader of the house, to defeat her on the floor of the house. At the vote on the Speech from the Throne during a new session of parliament, C.P. de Silva crossed the floor with 13 SLFP MPs and defeated the government, as they had calculated, by one vote. Mrs Bandaranaike declared that “the plot was promoted by those very same forces that engineered from behind the scenes the abortive coup d’etat of January 1969”.20 Parliament was once again prematurely dissolved and a general election was fixed for March 1965.
The arrest and detention of all the FP MPs for six months, the two year state of emergency and military occupation in the Tamil areas and, most of all, Mrs Bandaranaike’s waging of a proxy war through Sinhalese soldiers to beat the Tamil people into submission all these gave rise to a new era of oppression, and led the Tamils increasingly to question their plight.
From 1960 to 1964, Mrs Bandaranaike set herself up as a political master unwilling to have anything to do with her recalcitrant subjects. She was against dialogue and resolutely opposed to the FP MPs. As a result, during her premiership the Tamils remained outside the political system, with an intractable language problem and subjected to national oppression. Her tactics were to isolate the FP MPs and to show the Tamils that satyagraha, and other disruptive methods adopted by the FP, would not work and that the Tamils would therefore be the losers, having been misled by the FP MPs.
From that time, this line of thinking became dominant among the Sinhalese politicians of all parties, most of all among the “left wing” politicians. Their propaganda disseminated it to the Sinhalese people. Its essence was that the Tamils had no language problem; it was the FP which was the cause of the trouble.
A great many Sinhalese sincerely believed this. In a paper read at a seminar on “National Unity”, as late as February 1976, a scholar bhikkhu, Baddegama Wimalawansa Anunayake, typified this thinking:
. . . there are in this country a handful who work against the Sinhalese. Yet, except for political disruption carried on by the Federal Party, which is considered a Catholic organisation even by the Hindus, l do not think there is any clash among the communities in this country.
The reality was that the Tamils, seeing the stark reality of Sinhalese rule and their own enslaved plight, were pressing their conservative FP MPs for immediate restoration of their language rights and their human dignity. It was they who suffered from “Sinhala only” and the resulting loss of dignity, self respect, jobs and educational opportunities. It affected their everyday lives. They began to search for solutions. They were ahead of their MPs. In their minds, the situation dictated the assertion of Tamil independence. The impasse was impossible to endure. Every Tamil had become confident that there was no alternative but to resist Sinhalese rule the goal being immediate equality within a unified polity, or independence and a separate sovereign Tamil state comprising the north and east.
The FP still wished to collaborate with Sinhalese politicians of the UNP. In the run up to the March 1965 election they entered into a secret pact with Dudley Senanayake to lend him parliamentary support in return for Tamil language and other rights. On the other hand, C. Suntheralingam, always an independent Tamil MP, who in the colonial period had been in the forefront of the campaign for national unity, and had been a minister in the first D.S. Senanayake cabinet, was the first to articulate Tamil separatism in the early 1960s He correctly understood that the goal of Tamil nationalism was simply equality between people, their languages and cultures; it would never accept subservience.
His long association with his conservative Sinhalese counterparts made him aware of their new goal of Sinhalese hegemony. He unequivocally, and prophetically, declared that “the Sinhalese would never honour political agreements and Sinhalese politicians, be they on the right, centre or left, w ill never concede to the Tamils their language rights”.
Suntheralingam rejected the unitary state and called for the restoration of the status quo ante: a separate Tamil state of Eelam, comprising the ancient Tamil areas of the north and east Lanka. This demand was later taken up by V. Navaratnam, the MP for Kayts, on resigning from the FP. In this way, Tamil separatist nationalism was born.
Though at that time the FP felt there was still room for accommodation in parliamentary terms, this was very much in doubt. The FP secretary, in 1964, gave the first vague parliamentary expression of separatism, in these words:
If the leaders of the Sinhalese people persist in this attitude, I will say that when you will be advocating federalism, we will rather choose to have a division of the country even at the cost of several lives.
By attempting to gag the press, Mrs Bandaranaike paved the way for her defeat not only in parliament but also in the country. For the March 1965 election, she entered into a no contest pact with her new found partner the LaSP and her ally the CP. The UNP, led by Dudley Senanayake, formed an alliance with C.P. de Silva’s newly formed Sri Lanka Freedom Socialist Party (SLFSP). The UNP also agreed to participate in running the MEP of Philip Gunawardena, who had become a total reactionary and a willing tool in the hands of the Sinhalese Buddhist fanatic Mettananda. Senanayake also concluded a secret pact with Chelvanayakam, the FP leader. Smaller groupings like those of Dahanayake, Iriyagolle and Rajaratna, whose methods included political somersaults and chicanery, were allied to the UNP.
By its opposition to the schools take over, the UNP had forfeited the total support of the Catholics, which to some extent it had already lost in July 1960. By assembling about 6,000 bhikkhus for a mass rally against the Press Bill in November 1964, the UNP had won the support of the Buddhist leadership. This support, however, had another motive. The Maha Nayakes were opposed to Mrs Bandaranaike accepting the “Marxist” LSSP, even though at that time it supported “Sinhala only”. Since “Sinhala only” was well entrenched and rigorously enforced, the UNP, MEP, SLFSP and their allies stated that they were for a Buddhist government. In the election campaign,
While attacking Mrs Bandaranaike, Mettananda said that he would ensure that the Buddha Sasana was protected, although he was not a candidate.
Mrs Bandaranaike’s theme during the campaign was that she had faithfully followed “Bandaranaike’s policies”. To the people, faced with a siege economy with food queues and consumer shortages because of the “closed economy” from 1960 to 1964, this hyperbole meant nothing. It certainly appeared unconvincing since they saw men who had worked closely with the late leader, such as C.P. de Silva, Philip Gunawardena, W. Dahanayake et al, now ganged up against her.
Mrs Bandaranaike and her allies’ trump card was Dudley Senanayake’s secret pact with Chelvanayakam. Dictated by the cut throat electioneering of all political parties, it was kept secret by Senanayake, but gave his adversaries the opportunity for plenty of speculation. They assailed the pact as involving the repeal of the “Sinhala only” act, the Sinhalese having to study Tamil, “parity of status”, etc. Such rhetoric did not altogether convince Sinhalese electors, since the “father of Sinhala only”, Mettananda, was against them, and prominent supporters of the “Sinhala only” act were allied with the UNP.
In her 1965 Independence Day (4 February) message, which was delivered during the election campaign, Mrs Bandaranaike wrote to the Sinhalese nation:
We have removed the disabilities placed on the majority of our people by the foreign ruler. The language and the religion of the majority, which had been deliberately impeded and discouraged by the foreigner for his purposes, have been developed and their rightful place ensured. While respecting the rights of the minorities, the government, mindful of its obligations to the majority of the people, has restored their lost rights. 22
The election verdict was inconclusive, in that no single party obtained a working majority. Out of 145 seats, the UNP won 66, the SLFP 41, the LSSP10, the CP four, the SLFSP five and the MEP one. In the Tamil areas, the FP won 14 and the Tamil Congress of G.G. Ponnambalam three seats. The SLFP lost in all nine Catholic majority seats. It won only one of the 18 urban seats and only six of the 27 low country Sinhalese Ruhunu seats, as against 14 in July l960. These reversals were a reaction against Kandyan Sinhalese ascendancy under Mrs Bandaranaike. The SLFP won only 22 of the 69 predominantly Kandyan Sinhalese seats, as against 41 in July 1960. Her poor performance in the Kandyan stronghold was because of Buddhist opposition to her alliance with the one time Marxist parties.23
By force of circumstances, Dudley Senanayake formed what he called a “national” government with the support of C.P. de Silva, Philip Gunawardewa, Dahanayake, Iriyagolle, et al. The FP and the TC lent him their support, the FP in accordance with its secret pact and the TC according to its tradition. To enhance the government’s truly bourgeois “national” complexion, Dudley Senanayake co opted S. Thondaman, the leader of the one million Indian Tamils, by making him a nominated MP. The co opting of bourgeois leaders was Dudley Senanayake’s strategy for assuming power without conceding equal citizenship to the Tamils.
He offered cabinet portfolios to the FP, but Chelvanayakam politely declined. The FP leader sought nothing for himself or the party MPs. His was a mission fired by the cause of Tamil equality in a unified polity, if a separate state for the Tamils proved impossible to achieve. Being a conservative, he worked within the existing legal parameters, a strategy which proved totally incapable of resisting the sweep of Sinhalese chauvinism.
Chelvanayakam had another reason for declining a post. At its 1956 national convention, the FP had resolved not to enter the cabinet of any Sinhalese government until the Tamil language was given “parity of status”. But as a courteous gesture, Chelvanayakam nominated an FP stalwart, M. Tiruchelvam who was not an MP but entered the cabinet through the senate.
Since the had done so, G.G. Ponnambalam, the TC leader, also refused Dudley’s offer. Dudley’s cabinet included C.P. de Silva, Philip Gunawardena, Dahanayake, Iriyagolle, et al. It was an eminently conservative cabinet, held together by dire necessity because of the inconclusive electoral verdict. It was a strange combination of friends and foes with diverse political interests and power bases.
At first it seemed that there was some accommodation of the Tamil leaders and MPs, without much recognition of their cause. Since, while supporting the government, the FP and TC opted to stay out of the cabinet, Dudley Senanayake formed a “committee of ten”, which included Chelvanayakam, Ponnambalam, Thondaman and some senior cabinet ministers, as an unofficial cabinet. Senanayake set about taking steps to implement the pact with Chelvanayakam, kept secret until the election was over.
But no sooner was the government formed than criticism of it, because of its dependence on Tamil support, was mounted by the SLFP LSSP CP trio, then in opposition. In the course.of the debate on the Speech from the Throne, they savagely attacked Senanayake for appointing Thondaman a nominated MP and Tiruchelvam as minister of local government. They described the government as Hath Haula (seven feuding partners). Felix Dias Bandaranaike of the SLFP asked pointedly how the local government of the Sinhalese could be entrusted to a Tamil minister.
Immediately after the dissolution of parliament in December 1964, a series of meetings was held between Dudley Senanayake and Chelvanayakam, at the former’s request. Dudley wanted the support of the FP if he formed a government, as all the omens seemed to indicate. Because of its isolation by Mrs Bandaranaike and the pressure of the Tamil people for an immediate solution to their problems, the FP presented a minimum set of demands along the lines of the abortive “B C pact” of 1957, as a quid pro quo for its support. After discussions, Senanayake agreed to a somewhat modified package.
Like its predecessor, the central feature of the “Senanayake Chelvanayakam pact” of 1965, from the FP’s standpoint, was the establishment of district councils with delegated powers, which were to be agreed later. On the use of the Tamil language, since the 1958 Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act remained a dead letter and no regulations had been framed under it, Senanayake agreed to frame new regulations making the Tamil language the language of administration and record in the northern and eastern provinces.
It was also agreed that provision would be made in the regulations for Tamil speaking people to transact official and other business in Tamil throughout the country. Senanayake also agreed to amend the 1961 Language of the Courts Act, which had substituted Sinhala for English in court proceedings in the northern and eastern provinces. As to colonisation and resettlement, it was agreed that lands in the northern and eastern provinces would, in the first instance, be granted to landless residents within the districts of the two provinces, then to Tamil speaking residents in the two provinces, and finally to other citizens, preference being given to Tamil citizens, resident in the rest of the island. (The “Senanayake Chelvanayakam pact” appears as an Appendix.)
The provisions of the pact reveal, on the face of it, a retreat by the FP out of anxiety to find a face saving formula. The FP’s many reversals at the hands of Mrs Bandaranaike were also clearly imprinted in the terms of the pact. The FP’s policies had been overtaken by events. It had no comprehension of concrete historical conditions or of the dynamics of Tamil separatist nationalism. Its leaders were seeking to imprison the Tamil struggle within their conservative policies of alignment with their bourgeois counterparts.
Because of their many reversals and sufferings, the Tamils were beginning to shed their traditional conservatism and were becoming a progressive force. Some were even seeking to join with genuine progressive forces among the Sinhalese, but none could be found free of chauvinism and opportunism.
Perhaps it is appropriate, in this context, to record that in August 1969 the author brought together a number of ex LSSP and ex CP members, including Dr S. Anandaraja, R. Panuthevan, E. Vivekanandan and others, and formed the Tamil Socialist Front, which held its inaugural meeting at Anaipanthy College of Higher Studies. But its progress was greatly undermined by the LSSP and it soon collapsed.
The FP MPs, following the lead of their Sinhalese counterparts, first wanted to win elections, then seek an accommodation. They had romantic notions of being the kingmakers between the contending Sinhalese factions.
They were relying on the ingenuity and sincerity of Chelvanayakam whom they reverently called Thanthai (Father), a man of 75 years, suffering from acute Parkinson’s disease to bring deliverance to the Tamil nation.
In the political game, they too, following their Sinhalese counterparts, preyed on the passions of the Tamils, instead of evolving a realistic programme for the liberation of the oppressed Tamil nation.
Their policies led the Tamils to total disaster, reducing them to a community of slaves subjected to genocidal repression.
The Senanayake Chelvanayakam pact substituted district councils for the regional councils of the “B C pact”. The term “regional” clearly implied autonomy and so was unacceptable to Dudley Senanayake. Hence “district”, the prevailing unit of local governmental administration, was substituted. The regional councils had referred to the geographically contiguous Tamil areas of the north and east and the B C pact had contained provisions for their amalgamation “beyond Provincial limits”. But the district councils were to be fragmented units, without politico cultural coherence; yet somehow this had become acceptable to the FP, which at its 1956 national convention had called for the “establishment of one or more linguistic state or states…of the Tamil speaking people”.
The “B—C pact” had contained agreed areas of devolution, even wider and more extensive than those granted to the states under the Indian constitution, to the regions under the Nigerian federal system or to the provinces under the Canadian constitution. This new pact did not specify, even in outline, what devolved powers were to be given to the district councils. How could the FP have agreed so abjectly to an empty shell of district councils?
The FP’s political rhetoric to the Tamil people had from the first been couched in terms of Tamil Arasu (government). on this basis it had sought votes and won elections, ever since 1956, rivalling the politically nondescript, lame duck Tamil Congress. The FP had held the Tamil people enthralled with romantic and utopian notions of federalism and Tamil Arasu, but in bargaining with their political masters proved unable to secure the simplest forms of devolution of power.
The Tamil language provisions in the new pact were no more than any Sinhalese government would concede from sheer expediency. The colonization and resettlement provisions merely blunted the rough edges of current practice. Here, too, the FP retreated from the fundamental need to secure recognition of exclusive territories for the Tamil people. It also agreed to the introduction of D.S. Senanayake’s nebulous citizenship qualification for land entitlement, thereby denying the Indian Tamils the right to obtain land from the government in the Tamil homelands.
The FP never learnt any lessons from the fate that befell the “B C pact”. It also never understood the goals of the Sinhalese politicians who, after independence, adopted Dharmapala’s ideas for the Sinhalese and for Sri Lanka. During the Sinhala only campaign they propagated these ideas among the ordinary Sinhalese. Sinhala only was later contrived as a stepping stone and as the foundation from which to articulate “Sinhalese people only”, and then “Sinhalese Buddhist people only”, in Sri Lanka. This was the message of Dharmapala, the prophet of the “sweet gentle Aryan children of an ancient historic race”.
In 1965, Dharmapala’s writings were collected and published by Mrs Bandaranaike’s government, in particular by the ministry of education and cultural affairs, with the highly evocative title Return to Righteousness.24 As we have seen earlier, in Dharmapala’s view there is not only no place for the Tamils, but “the pagan Tamils . . . devastated the land, destroyed ancient temples . . . and nearly annihilated the historic race”. As the custodian, perhaps of Dharmapala’s beliefs and vision, Mrs Bandaranaike declared in 1967: “The Tamil people must accept the fact that the Sinhala majority will no longer permit themselves to be cheated of their rights.”25
And having perhaps been convinced by Dharmapala’s falsified history, the Maha Nayake of the Ramanya sect said, in May 1967, that: “If the Tamils get hold of the country, the Sinhalese will have to jump into the sea. It is essential therefore, to safeguard our [sic] country, the race, and the religion, and to work with that object in mind.”26
In order to achieve the goal set by Dharmapala, Sinhalese politicians resurrected his falsified history of the country and the people, published it at state expense and let him convince the present day generation of Sinhalese of the need to deprive and enslave the Tamil people so that they might claim the whole country as theirs. Since independence, the aim of the Sinhalese, translated into state policy, had been to deny the birthright of the Tamils and the other communities, and to achieve the goal set by Dharmapala—Sri Lanka belonged to the Sinhalese, the “sons of the soil” and, as he said, “the country of the Sinhalese must be governed by the Sinhalese” .
The realization of this goal was no easy task. It required the conscious and concerted effort of the whole Sinhalese nation the politicians, the Buddhist bhikkhus, the ministry of education and cultural affairs, the university so that learned Sinhalese could give an academic rationale to Sinhalese chauvinism by depicting it as the flowering of Sinhalese nationalism—the army, the police, in short, every institution the government could muster in the cause.
They erected statues of Dharmapala in many places in Colombo city and in the towns and villages. Likewise, many streets were renamed Dharmapala Road. In the 1960s, the second most important arterial highway in Colombo city was renamed Dharmapala Road, and a Dharmapala statue was erected beside it. In place of the earlier “country, race, religion” and the later “language, nation, country”, the unspoken trinity came to be “Sinhalese, Buddhism, Dharmapala”. His title the “guardian of doctrine” was embellished to become the “guardian of doctrine, people and country”. How these three were brought together in a monumental edifice can be seen in the following passage by Gananath Obeyesekere, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California in San Diego:
Imagine a drive down a major highway in Colombo, formerly known as Turret Road, but recently renamed Anagarika Dharmapala Road. If we turn right, we come to a traffic roundabout at a point where three roads meet. Behind the roundabout is a large bo tree (ficus religiosa) the [branch of the] tree under which the Buddha received enlightenment). On the roundabout are four huge concrete maps of Sri Lanka about five feet high, facing the four directions in a square. In the middle of each map is engraved a precept of Buddhism: mudita (“sympathetic joy”), upeka (“equanimity”), karuna (“compassion”), metta (“universal love”). At the top of each map is printed the traditional national emblem of the Sinhalese, a highly stylised lion with a sword held aloft in one paw. The lion relates to the origin myth of the Sinhalese, the themes of which deal with bestiality, incest and parricide. Thus the abstract universal ethical concepts of Buddhism are juxtaposed to a symbol representing the very opposite. This concrete edifice expresses a simple but telling fact: the Sinhala Buddhists are claiming Sri Lanka as their nation.27
The ethical concepts of Buddhism do indeed stand alongside the lion on Allagarika Dharmapala Road, guarded by Dharmapala himself in concrete fortes. The monument is clearly significant for the Sinhalese but an affront to the Tamils. To the Sinhalese, it represents what cannot be reduced to w ords. For our study, the most important aspect of this edifice is that the lion stands on top of the map of Sri Lanka (not within or below it), i.e. immediately over the heartland of the Tamil people, with sword held high. The structure, with its concrete maps of Sri Lanka faces in all four directions west to east, north to south—signifying that the lion is supreme and master of all Sri Lanka.
Professor Obeyesekere states: “Anagarika Dharmapala died in 1933; in 1948 the Ceylonese achieved independence, and in 1956 effective political power was in the hands of the Sinhalese Buddhist population . . . it became possible for them to claim for Sri Lanka the status of Sinhala Buddhist (not simply Sinhalese) nation.”
The crux of the Sinhalese Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka is over this claim, Which the Sinhalese politicians want to turn into reality and which requires that the Tamil people be subjugated and enslaved.
The inconclusive electoral verdict of 1965 constituted an important watershed in Sinhalese politics. Despite the SLFP’s break up and the departure of 14 MPs, and with all the traditionally powerful electoral forces—the Buddhist Bhikkhus, the press, the Catholic church, Mettananda, etc. assembled against her, Mrs Bandaranaike’s SLFP won 41 seats and received 30.24% of the votes, while the UNP got 66 seats and 38.93%. The combined SLFP LSSP CP alliance won 55 seats and received 40 40% of the votes.
Value judgements aside, this meant that the Sinhalese electorate had substantially accepted Mrs Bandaranaike’s policies. There was no reason why it should not. These policies amounted to Sinhalese Buddhist paramountcy .Allecular issues had to be judged as to how best they served the interests of the Sinhalese people and the Buddhist religion. This was the new super structure and the new status quo erected on Dharmapala’s philosophy to achieve his goal. Any other political ideology must serve this object; if it even remotely conflicted with it, it would be jettisoned Even the UNP had to accept this, and did accept it. There emerged a consensus, on the essentials of this new ideology, between the two main political parties. In his analysis of Sri Lanka’s politics. Professor James Jupp comments on this consensus:
Because the Sangha acts so effectively as a veto group it is essential that no Sinhalese party leader should omit to worship in public or to give thanks after election campaigns. At the week long celebrations in 1969 surrounding the placing of a gold rail around the Bo tree at Anuradhapura, both Mrs Bandaranaike and the Prime Minister took an active part, Dudley Senanayake even went so far as to pledge “that he and Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike would work together without any differences and party prejudices in all religious matters for the greater glory and welfare of the Buddha Sasana”. Part of the consensus established between the major parties is that religious observance has a legitimate part in politics. While not accepted officially it is a natural corollary of this that monks should take part in politics both as individuals and in organized groups. Above all it institutionalises, as surely as in ancient Ceylon, the principle that the Sangha advises the state. The golden age when this was so is regularly referred to by most militant Buddhists . . . The general consequence of this (Buddhist) religious pressure has been to transform the secular state of 1948 into one in which the government is obliged to give Buddhism the “foremost place” . . . After 1956 Buddhism had become sufficiently well organized to exert constant pressure, even if it had no ideological consistency.28
It was during the period of the final and fairly rapid evolution of this new Sinhala Buddhist ideology, and the state policy that reflected it, that heightened Sinhalese Tamil conflict occurred. This was only natural. What was taking place was a transformation from a secular state, in which all persons were equal and all communities and groups possessed equal rights, held together by an impartial state and ruled by an impartial judiciary, to a quasi theocratic state under the hegemony of the Sinhalese people and the Sinhala language, with Buddhism as the “state” religion, Sinhalese Buddhist partisan rule and a judiciary which lived in fear.
This new ideology was systematized by Piyadasa Sirisena, Munidasa Cumaratunga and a host of others. When the political floodgates were opened by the arithmetic of the ballot box, this ideology burst forth and made the goal a reality within a very short time. Neither the ideology nor the method arose historically; nor did political events, nor the conflict which they engendered, occur dialectically. They were merely manipulations of the Sinhalese people and of the body politic of the country. Hence the benefits that had been obtained could be retained only by an army of Sinhalese soldiers.
To establish a Sinhala Buddhist state, new propaganda was necessary to show that the Tamil people had no legitimate place in Sri Lanka it was here that Mahavamsa myths and the Vijaya legend became directly relevant. The Sinhalese people were encouraged to absorb these myths and legends, which haunted them and prevented any honest scientific investigation into ancient history. In the early 1 960s, when the renowned archaeologist Dr S. Paranavitana declared that the traditional account of Buddha’s visits to the island was pure legend, the bhikkhus were furious.
To convince both the Sinhalese and the Tamils that there was no rightful place for the Tamils, the new propaganda became multi faceted. To support the “Sinhala only” campaign of the 1950s, it was asserted that the Tamils had only recently come from south India and occupied a part of the country, and were now trying to occupy the rest and push the Sinhalese into the sea. This prospect was held out to the Sinhalese in meetings organized by the bhikkhus for the MEP in 1956. Similar ideas were expounded by the Maha Nayake of the Ramanya sect in 1967.
This was what some 90% of Sinhalese politicians believed. As for the Sinhalese people, this type of propaganda was immensely successful: 99% of them believed it. Asked by the Sinhalese how recently the Tamils had come, the propagandists would point to the Indian Tamil plantation workers, inferring that the Tamils of the north and east were part of the same immigrant community who, on arrival at the Talaimannar port, instead of proceeding to the plantations, had settled in the north and gradually drifted to the east and now wanted to take over the rest of the country.
Sinhalese university academics played a very useful back up role in this propaganda. They would neither affirm the facts nor deny the propaganda, but in a subtle way emphasized the 2,500 year old story of Vijaya and his men, and treated the Tamils as invaders from south India. A typical example is the standpoint taken by I.D.S. Weerawardena, Professor of Politics and Government, in his Ceylon and Her Citizens (1956):
The Sinhalese who form the largest group in our [sic] country came more than 2,000 years ago, probably from the region close to Bengal. You must have read the story of Vijaya and his 700 men. That story illustrates the fact that our Sinhalese ancestors came from North India. They settled in the north central part of the island and gradually spread over the rest [sic] of the country. It is difficult to say exactly when the Tamils came to this country. Some people think that a few Tamils might have been in Ceylon as Traders [sic] even when the Sinhalese first came. But it is certain that they came in large numbers in the Tamil invasions which began very early in our [sic] history. In the 13th Century, they were powerful enough to establish an independent kingdom in the North.
Even more important is the belief among the Sinhalese that the real home of the Tamils is Tamil Nadu, south India, and that, having recently come to Sli Lanka, they live there thanks to Sinhalese Buddhist compassion and magnanimity. The bhikkhu Baddegama Wimalawansa Anunayake wrote:
The Buddhists of Sri Lanka have never done any injustice to anyone. It is the tradition of the Sinhalese Buddhists to receive even strangers very cordially …. At present there are in this country a number of communities …. The Buddhists expect the goodwill and co operation of them all …. if there were wars, they were only against the Dravidian invaders from South India.
According to the propaganda, even after being allowed to stay and being given a part of the country, the Tamils wanted to create trouble for the Sinhalese. Since they threatened the integrity of the Buddhist state, then military occupation, state terrorism, the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act were all justified.
As a result of these beliefs, Mrs Bandaranaike sought to cut off any connection between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamils of Tamil Nadu. She banned the small Dravida Munnetra Kalazagam group in Sri Lanka in 1962; got Dudley Senanayake to ban it again in 1967; restricted and eventually banned the importation of Tamil newspapers, periodicals and films from Tamil Nadu; refused visas for Tamil film actors to visit Sri Lanka; refused to permit the visit of M. Karunanithi, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu state; deported Dr Era Janathanam of Tamil Nadu; and sanctioned police atrocities in which nine Tamils were killed, at the Fourth International Tamil Research Conference held in Jaffna in 1974, where scholars of the Tamil language and literature had assembled from all over the world.
A more recent example of this propaganda is the claim that the Tamil liberation struggle is being supported by the government and people of Tamil Nadu. David Selbourne, an investigative journalist who visited Sri Lanka in October 1982 to study the Sinhalese Tamil conflict, wrote:
At the Headquarters of the Sri Lanka Buddhist Congress, its secretary, the Venerable Diriyagaha Yasassi (bhikkhu) complains that the Buddhists are “at a disadvantage”. “They,” he adds the Tamils of Sri Lanka are always They “have the support of outside powers.””Who?” I ask.
He smiles broadly, but he does not answer. He is referring to the dark mass (in his mind) of 50 million other Tamils across the channel from Jaffna, in Tamil Nadu. In the fevered imaginations of the Buddhists, these “outside powers” are breathing down their necks, a majority with a minority complex . . . Constitution, laws, army, government to say nothing of Lord Buddha and the Prevention of Terrorism Act are on their side. Theirs is the official language and state religion; even the national flag carries a Sinhalese lion and four leaves of the peepul tree . . . Yet the Buddhists say of the Hindus: “They can always go to India. Where can we Buddhists go?” This is insularity with a vengeance.29
The so called “majority minority” mystification has been the rationale for much Sinhalese chauvinism and for the continuation of the oppression of the Tamil people under their bourgeois leadership.
I he majority minority idea arose historically from the nature of British liberal democracy in 1790. The British liberal conscience was nurtured on the Benthamite idea of the ‘greatest happiness of the greater number”. This rested on the belief that, in a culturally homogeneous state, there is always a majority opinion and that opinion should be discovered on the basis of one man one vote and given effect.
It is taken for granted that the majority opinion must be right, at least at the time. Therefore the elected majority, since it had received democratic sanction, had the right to impose its will on the minority which held a contrary opinion. It was also conceded that the minority had rights and that government by majority should be based on justice and fairness. In this way the idea that the will of the majority should prevail became sanctified. It became mystified in the dictum: “The majority shall have its way and the minority shall have its say.”
It is in this sense that J.S. Mill wrote against the “tyranny of the majority” in his On Liberty:
. . . in political speculation “the tyranny of the majority” is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard. Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of the right, or any mandates at all in things which they ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since . . . it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own.
Later writers used the terms “majority” and “minority’ in this sense, without ever defining them. In the states Which arose on the principle of nationality, from the end of the 18th Century, in which the people were culturally homogeneous or had become assimilated to the dominant culture, it was found unnecessary to define these terms, since they necessarily referred to “majority” and “minority” on a social basis, never on the basis of national ethnic or cultural plurality.
In Britain, Wales became part of England in 1536. The accession of James I of England united the crowns, without necessarily uniting the two countries. The Act of Union of 1707 united England and Scotland and created the United Kingdom. English language, a mixture of Teutonic and Latin elements, became the language of the British people. The government was secular. Imperialism further united the British, for it was colonial exploitation and the plunder of India that led to the industrial revolution and the prosperity of the middle class.30 British society divided on the basis of classes the rich and the poor and the majority minority concept referred to social opinion on the basis of classes, and not to the majority English and the minority Welsh and Scots. At any rate, it never meant the majority English having their way and the minority Welsh and Scots only having their say.
The term “minority” denotes by implication a part of a larger whole. In a culturally homogeneous society like Britain, the minority Welsh and Scots are part of the larger whole. But in a culturally heterogeneous society like Sri Lanka, the Tamils are not part of the Sinhalese nation, and Sinhalese and Tamils are not one nation but two, distinct and separate.
The Tamils are not a minority in the sense in which that term is used by sociologists or political scientists. In Sri Lanka, the democratic process of one man one vote does not produce a majority opinion distinct from the opinion of the Sinhalese and Tamil peoples as culturally diverse ethnic nations. The real majority in Sri Lanka is the oppressed class of ordinary people, both Sinhalese and Tamil; and the minority is the small upper class which, by manipulating the system through its wealth, has got hold of political power and continues to govern. If the majority have the right to govern, the oppressed majority class must be put in power, or seize power, to safeguard its interests.
The Sinhalese and the Tamils are two nations, with equal national ethnic rights, living within the same geographic entity and participating in one state. In view of their separate nationhood, numbers cease to be of any relevance. The one is not a “majority” or a “minority” vista vis the other, for they are not larger or smaller parts of a whole.
The Tamils are not a minority sub cultural group differing from the dominant group in an alien land, such as the Asian immigrants in Britain, or the Chinese in Malaysia, or the Indians in East Africa. These are cultural minorities who have no independent capacity for political organization to alter or change the state structure in those countries. The Tamils are a separate and distinct nation with an exclusive homeland of their own to which they owe patriotism as the land of their birth and of their forefathers. They are a nation possessing the capacity to alter the existing state structure and to constitute themselves a political state by their collective self determination.
The clearest affirmation of the new Sinhala Buddhist consensus between the major Sinhalese political parties was evident in Dudley Senanayake’s declaration, as soon as he assumed power, of the Buddhist poya days as the weekend holidays, making Saturdays and Sundays working days. This underlined to everyone that political power would be utilized to exalt Buddhist practices in the affairs of state.
Sri Lanka depended heavily on international trade and shipping, which were thrown into chaos by the decision. Yet this chaotic state of affairs continued until 1970, when Mrs Bandaranaike came to power and reversed it, as the accredited custodian of the new Sinhala Buddhist statism.
As a concession to win Tamil FP and TC support, Senanayake removed the dismissal notices served on Tamil public servants and gave them the option to retire from service on the ground of non proficiency in the official language. As a further demonstration of goodwill, he sent his traditional Tamil ally, G.G. Ponnambalam, to head the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly in 1967.
In 1966, Dudley Senanayake’s government formulated and published the regulations under the Tamil Language (Special Provision) Act 28 of 1958. The regulations provided for the use of Tamil in government business in the northern and eastern provinces, and for the maintenance of public records there. They also allowed official correspondence, and the conduct of affairs of local bodies, in these areas to be in Tamil. Finally, they provided for all legislation, subordinate rules and orders, and official publications to be issued in the Tamil language.
The regulation was, however, silent on the use of Tamil outside the north and east, where one quarter of the Sri Lankan Tamils, the bulk of the Tamil speaking Muslims and all the Indian Tamils lived and worked. The obvious reason was that “Sinhala only” should prevail and they must learn Sinhala.
This was to be so even though the “Senanayake Chelvanayakam pact” had stated: “Mr Senanayake also explained that a Tamil speaking person should be entitled to transact business in Tamil throughout the island” and “agreed that action . . . would be taken” to give effect to it. Nor did the regulation contain any provision regarding the use of the Tamil language in court proceedings in the north and east, as agreed in the pact. These provisions were said to be subject to the clause: “Without prejudice to the operation of the Official Language Act 33 of 1956, which declared Sinhala language to be the one official language of Ceylon.” (This regulation appears as an Appendix.)
Since the forging of the “Senanayake Chelvanayakam pact”, the SLFP LSSP CP trio had waited to see what form its provisions would take. They were confident that, if Dudley sought to give effect to the provisions, they could cause his precarious “national” government to fall. Dudley was equally aware of what was in store for him if he gave teeth even to these muted and virtually ineffectual provisions. While they waited, they had their guns pointed at him.
Hence the toothless provisions of the Tamil Language Regulations of 1966. Yet Dudley was aware that he had not successfully pre empted his opponents. It was not a question of the Tamil people and their rights, but a power struggle and a propaganda campaign designed to keep people in the dark. Dudley had taken good care to nip in the bud any agitation against the provisions. The SLFP LSSP CP alliance declared that the regulations were a sell out to win Tamil support and were ultra fires vis a vis the main 1958 act. They found nothing more concrete to seize on.
The opposition called for a leaderless procession, organized by some bhikkhus, along Dharmapala Road to the parliament building, as the first offensive. The demonstrators resorted to violence on the way by stoning and breaking shops; the police opened fire and one bhikkhu was killed. The opposition realised that the regulations, as now framed, were not worth their powder and shot.
They continued, however, to attack them as a betrayal of the Sinhalese Buddhist cause and a concession to the Tamils. Afraid of the long term consequences, Dudley Senanayake refused to implement the regulations. In this way, the 1958 Tamil Language (Special Provision) Act, and the regulations framed under it eight years later, remained dead letters from the beginning.
The FP became aware that nothing could be obtained from the Sinhalese political parties. Yet it continued to be part of the government, hoping that the promised district councils would provide a face saving formula to end its political predicament. To satisfy the FP, in 1968 Dudley Senanayake laid before parliament a District Councils Bill, designed to group together the primary local bodies, with no powers other than those they already possessed.
Even these powerless district councils were attacked by the opposition as yet another concession to win Tamil support. Dudley panicked and, not wanting to run into a storm that might affect his precarious power base, quickly abandoned the bill. The FP was left high and dry. The Tamils had once more reached a blind alley. A feeling of hopelessness engulfed them.
But these reversals made some of them more self reliant, looking no longer to government employment but to self employment, to make the best of the “arid” lands. Young educated Tamils, without waiting for jobs which the discriminatory system would not provide, took to farming of subsidiary food crops. They set up the Muthu Iyan Kadu Youth Settlement Scheme, which became a model of success for the whole island. In this scheme, by cultivating onions and chillies,
three youths earned over Rs. 20,000 each by cultivating three acres of jungle land allotted to them and eighteen others earned between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 20,000. These youths then purchased eight new tractors . . . The average annual income each youth received on this scheme (comprising 300 youths) was Rs. 6,117 significantly higher than what any of them could obtain from white collar employment.31
These are the success stories of individuals seeking to change the situation, but they do not constitute a solution to the national problems. The problem Id as created politically and must be solved politically, by the Tamil nation for the Tamil nation. This realisation was slow in coming. We shall go into it in the next chapter.
About the same time as the District Councils Bill was aborted, the FP urged the UNP government to declare the precincts of Koneswaram, one of the four ancient iswarams (famous Hindu temples) of Sri Lanka, situated at Trincomalee in the Tamil eastern province, as “a protected area”, like the Buddhist shrine areas. This aroused strong objections from the Sinhala Buddhists, who were not prepared to concede that the Tamils had their own exclusive language, land or temples. If temples were to be protected, it must be only Buddhist shrines. If Hindu temples were to be protected, then the Buddha image must first be placed in the temple so that it became a Buddhist place of worship as well, as had happened in Kathirkamam.
Nothing should be exclusively for the Tamils. This was the thrust of Sinhala Buddhist ethnocentrism. Hence in disgust the FP nominee, Tiruchelvam, a devout Hindu, resigned from the cabinet. The FP joined the ranks of the opposition. But the new Sinhala Buddhist consensus rendered the FP politically ineffectual within parliament. Nothing of importance happened until the dissolution of parliament in late March 1970, when a general election was fixed for May 1970.
1. Ceylon Daily News, 4 December 1959.
2. James Jupp (supra, p. 83) wrote: “Mettananda’s own proposed election broadcast for the MEP was rejected by the Minister for Posts (in charge of Radio Ceylon) because ‘from the beginning it breathes anti Catholic venom’. Philip Gunawardena, not to be outdone, promised to distribute the lands of the Catholic Church . . . and to expel all foreign fascist Catholics. Adding her small piece, Mrs Rajaratna of the Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (Race Liberation Front) said that ‘the LSSP was a Tamil political organisation whose leader Dr N.M. Perera was a traitor’.”
3. Ceylon Daily News, 8 July 1960.
4. See Leslie Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, Colombo, 1960, p. 65.
5. James Jupp, supra, p. 183.
6. Ceylon Daily News, 28 March 1952.
7. Ceylon Daily News, 17 May 1952.
8. C.R. da Silva, in Michael Roberts (ed.), Collective Identities . . ., p. 471.
9.. See UN Yearbook of National Accounts.
10. Tissa Balasuriya, in Race Relations in Sri Lanka, Colombo,1978, p. l 46. .
11. C.R. de Silva, supra, p. 472.
12. Quoted in K.N.O. Dharmadasa, supra, p. 131.
13. 72 New Law Reports, p. 337.
14. Liyanage v. Reginald (1966), 1 AER 650.
15. Ceylon Observer, 19 November 1963.
16. Times of Ceylon, 2 May 1963.
17. Daily Mirror, 12 August 1963.
18. In the tragic history of the rise, growth and decay of Marxism and “Marxists” in Sri Lanka, the Marxist parties polled a clear 387,544 or 20.54% of the votes in the 1947 election. But in the October 1982 presidential election, the LSSP leader Dr Colvin R. de Silva, who proclaimed that he would win, polled 584 votes, which was 0.83% of the total votes polled.
19. Ceylon Observer, 13 December 1964.
20. Ceylon Observer, 20 December 1964.
21. Reproduced in Race Relations in Sri Lanka, (ed.), Centre for Society and Religion, Colombo, 1978, pp. 53 54.
22. “Prime Minister’s Independence Day Message”, in Ceylon Today, Vol. XIV, 1965. Since 1956 the Ceylon Independence Day has been observed as a day of mourning by the Tamils. They hoist black flags in their homes and shops in the north and east.
23. I have adopted what I consider to be the generally valid grouping of Sinhalese electorates made by James Jupp, contained in the Appendix II in Sri Lanka: Third World Democracy.
24. Ananda Guruge (ed.), Return to Righteousness Selected Writings of of Anagarika Dharmapala, Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Colombo, 1965.
25. Quoted in Robert Kearney, The Politics of Ceylon, Ithaca, Cornell, 1973, p. 163.
26. Quoted in S.U. Kodikara, “Communalism and Political Modernisation in Ceylon”, Modern Ceylon Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1970, p. 103.
27. Obeyesekere, supra, p. 311.
28. James Jupp, supra, pp. 175 176.
29. David Selbourne, “Sinhalese Lions and Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka”, in The Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay, 17 October 1982.
30. Brooke Adams, in his The Law of Civilization and Decay (1928), pp. 259 60, wrote: “The influx of Indian treasure, by adding considerably to the nation’s cash capital, not only increased its stock of energy, but added much to its flexibility and the rapidity of its movement. Very soon after Plassey, the Bengal plunder began to arrive in London, and the effects appear to have been instantaneous, for all authorities agree that ‘industrial revolution’ began with the year 1770. . . Plassey was fought in 1757, and probably nothing has ever equalled the rapidity of the change that followed. In 1760 the flying shuttle appeared, and coal began to replace wood in smelting. In 1764 Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny, in 1776 Crompton contrived the mule, in 1785 Cartwright patente the power loom and in 1768 Watt matured the steam engine . . . But though these machines served as outlets for the accelerating movements of the time, they did not cause the acceleration. In themselves inventions are passive . . . waiting for a sufficient store of force to have accumulated to set them working. That store must always take the shape of money and money not hoarded but in motion. Before the influx of the Indian treasure, and the expansion of credit which followed, no force sufficient for this purpose existed . . . Possibly since the world began, no investment has ever yielded the profit reaped from the Indian plunder, because for nearly fifty years Great Britain stood without a competitor.”
31. Satchi Ponnambalam, Dependent Capitalism in Crisis Sri Lankan Economy 1948 1980, London, 1981, p. 82.
Before the dawn of the 1970s Sinhalese rule and Buddhist hegemony had been asserted and successfully established. What now remained necessary was to entrench them in a constitution. The state machinery and national finances (including foreign aid) had been used to benefit the Sinhalese and had been denied to the Tamils. They had been symbolically affirmed by the use of the lion and the pipal leaves in the national flag, by the Sinhalese national anthem, by the Sinhalese national emblem, by the declaration of Anuradhapura as a “sacred city” and by the conversion of the ancient Hindu Kathirkamam temple, in the south, into a Buddhist shrine, while the Hindu request that the Koneswaram temple precincts be made a “protected area” had been turned down.
The Tamils had been reduced to a subject nation. Their future had been tied to Sinhalese power politics and to the chariot wheels of Sinhalese imperialism From the deprivation of citizenship in 1948 to the “Sinhalaonly” act and beyond, they had suffered reversal after reversal. In the 1970 election campaign, there was nothing left for the Sinhalese chauvinist forces and their leaders but to beat the drum of Sinhala Buddhism.
The economy had moved into stagnation and crisis because of the reactionary policies adopted to perpetuate the status quo. During Mrs Bandarnaike’s administration of the 1960s, no finance minister could survive to present a second budget. Under Dudley Senanayake’s administration, the growth of the economy in conventional terms benefited only the rich, and the poor continued to suffer. The strategy of the upper class politicians of both parties to divert the wrath of the Sinhalese against the Tamils for a time contained the revolutionary pressures, which continued to smoulder.
Hence, in the 1970 election campaign, there was much talk of socialism and constitution making, and the wildest promises were made to win power. The Tamil FP and its bourgeois politicians were under the illusion that, in the factional struggle for power between the two contending Sinhalese forces, they could wrest something from both, since many believed the 1970 election verdict was likely to be inconclusive. In fact, this prospect generated such optimism and made the FP so oblivious to the political consensus that had taken shape among the Sinhalese parties, that A. Amirthalingam, the FP secretary naively asserted during the campaign that “the FP MPs are going to have to decide whether the UNP or the SLFP would form the government” .
In the run up to the May 1970 general election, the opposition parties— SLFP LSSP CP—which since their defeat in 1965 had been collaborating closely, formed the United Front (UF) alliance. The UF drew up a common programme and a joint election manifesto. Neither said anything about the Tamil national question but, under the inspiration of the LSSP and CP exMarxists, made the framing of a new constitution and “further advance towards a socialist society” their priorities. They declared that, on coming to power, the UF would set up a constituent assembly to frame a Republican constitution, but made no mention of what the essentials of the new constitution would be. With regard to the “socialist society”, they were more explicit in their rhetoric. But their “socialist society” did not entail changing the ruling class. The common programme stated:
We shall put an end to these policies of economic dependence and neocolonialism which have characterized the UNP’s regime. Instead, we shall seek to develop all branches of the economy at a rapid rate and according to a National Plan in order to lay the foundation for a further advance towards a socialist society.
The “socialist society” was to be achieved by nationalization of banking, plantations, state monopoly of the import trade, assertion of national sovereignty, opposition to imperialism, etc. According to the programme, all these were to lead the country to “the progressive advance towards the establishment of a socialist democracy that was begun in 1956 under the leadership of S.W.RD. Bandaranaike”.
The SLFP had, by now, added to its feudal and notable family loyalists a number of upper middle class members possessing the legendary bourgeois qualities of parasitism and lethargy, as well as the new Dasa Mudalalis, who depended on bonanzas and patronage rather than enterprise and hard work. By their association with the more progressive LSSP and CP since the mid1960s, the SLFP leaders had developed vague anti capitalist, pseudosocialist rhetoric, which they articulated during the election campaign. With veteran left wing politicians such as Perera, de Silva and Keuneman behind her, Mrs Bandaranaike assumed a supremely confident posture in the election rallies. As for the LSSP, it had purged its revolutionary Marxist sections in the early 1960s and had gravitated towards a compromising centrist leadership, which—like the CP—had established ties with Buddhism, some even beginning to attend pirith ceremonies and offering dada. These mutual adjustments among the UF partners were conceived as strategic imperatives in playing the parliamentary game of musical chairs.
Even the conservative UNP had, at its Kalutara sessions in the mid 1960s, adopted a democratic socialist society as its goal. Dudley Senanayake started the UNP campaign very confidently with the boast that his food production drive had brought the country almost to self sufficiency. If he was given another term the country would even export rice, in view of the impending implementation of the Mahaweli Ganga project. The emotive and volatile issues of language and religion had been previously exploited and were no longer useful. Mrs Bandaranaike sought to woo the Catholics and Muslims: to win over the former she promised to revert to the Saturday Sunday weekends, and to placate the latter she gave great prominence to Badiuddin Mahmud .
Of the smaller parties, mention must be made of the Sinhala Mahajana Paksaya (SMP) (Sinhalese People’s Party), formed in June 1968 by R.G. Senanayake, which contested the 1970 elections with 51 candidates. R.G. Senanayake, while vice president of the SLFP, had in the mid 1960s founded the Api Sinhale (We Sinhalese) movement, articulating an extreme chauvinist anti Indian and anti Tamil position. In 1967 he had established accord with the Sinhalese Buddhist extremist Hema Basnayake, who had just retired after being Chief Justice for over 10 years. At the inaugural founding ceremony of the SMP he had presented his programme to the bhikkhus. It attacked the Indian Tamils and demanded their repatriation, attacked the Sri Lanka Tamils, the ] 966 Tamil Language Regulations and the District Councils Bill, and threatened to run 100 candidates to save Sri Lanka for the Sinhalese and Buddhism. In the 1970 elections, the SMP fielded 51 candidates. The Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna and the MEP also contested the elections.
At the end of the UNP’s five year term of office, their capitalist economic and social policies ensured that the rising cost of living, unemployment and increasing inequalities of income were major election issues. I’he hitherto relatively stable cost of living index (1952 = 100) rose from 112 in 1965 to 122 in 1970. The rise in prices was due to policies which tied the country to the global economy and to pressures generated by money supply increasing at twice the rate of the GNP, because of the government’s expansionary financing. In 1969 unemployment shot up to 546,000, or 14% of the total labour force, including a high proportion of educated rural youth. According to the official socio economic survey, 65% of the people were living below the poverty line in 1969.
Meanwhile the UNP’s policy of paternalism towards the rich and the business class, by the introduction of a dual foreign exchange system te encourage exports, the open general licensing system for imports, special land leases for companies and capitalist agriculture under the “Green Revolution programme brought visible prosperity for the few. In this context, the UF’s programme of socialism had immediate relevance, offering salvation from intolerable economic conditions. Furthermore, for the 1970 elections tlae voting age had been reduced to 18. “These 18 91 years group organized themselves so well that they left nothing to chance to undo the Senanayake government .” l
During the closing stages of the campaign, the UNP’s decision to cut the weekly rice ration from two free measures to one became a contentious issue. The opposition UF seized on it as their trump card in a highly demagogic campaign. Mrs Bandaranaike promised to restore the second measure of free rice. When Dudley Senanayake countered that this was an empty promise because there was a world shortage of rice, she replied that she would give the second measure even if the rice had to be brought from the moon.
|Total Seats Contested
|% of Votes Polled
|United National Party (UNP)
|Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)
|Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP)
|Federal Party (FP)
|Communist Party (CP)
|Tamil Congress (TC)
The results of the May 1970 elections surprised victors and vanquished alike. As Table 6.1 shows, although the UNP polled the largest percentage of votes, it won only 17 seats. The SLFP received only 36.9S, less than the UNP, but won 90 seats. The turn out of voters was an incredible 85.2%. All the parties in the United Front had benefited from their coalition. In fact, the LSSP’s l9 seats was the highest it had won in its 35 year history; likewise the Communist Party’s six seats was the best result in its 27 year history. In the Tamil areas, support for the FP was considerably reduced although it won 13 seats as against 14 in 1965. The FP’s percentage of the total votes polled—4.96So was its lowest since 1952. Its leader Chelvanayakam lost support in his own constituency. Two FP stalwarts, the party chairman S.M. Rasamanickam from the eastern province and deputy leader E.M.V. Naganathan, were defeated. The TC virtually retained its 1965 position and won three seats, although its leader G.G. Ponnambalam was defeated by a narrow margin in Jaffna town.
Mrs Bandaranaike formed the SLFP LSSP CP United Front coalition government. From the LSSP, she appointed three MPs as ministers—Dr N.M. Perera (finance), Dr Colvin R. de Silva (plantation industries and constitutional affairs) and Leslie Goonewardena (communications); and from the CP, Pieter Keuneman (housing). Surprisingly, she appointed a Sri Lankan Tamil political non entity, C. Kumarasuriar, a practising chartered engineer, as minister of posts and telecommunications through nomination to the Senate. This was intended to show the Tamils that they were not completely ostracized and that, if they and their representatives toed the line in accepting the new Sinhala Buddhist order, there was still room for them in Sri Lanka.
The strategy of Prime Minister Bandaranaike and of the UNP’s J.R. Jayew ardene in the 1970s was not to deal with the Tamil MPs, particularly the FP MPs, but to foist their chosen yes men on them, or induce the Tamil MPs to leave their party and join the government. Such a strategy immediately exposed the remaining FP MPs as powerless in the eyes of their constituents, who faced all manner of problems with education, jobs, land, passports, trade licences all created by the government problems whose solution required Tamil MPs to collaborate with the government, not oppose it.
In this way, the whole object of Mrs Bandaranaike and likewise of J.R. Jayewardene, was to break the will of the Tamils and undermine the determination and solidarity of their elected MPs to struggle for Tamil equality, if not full Tamil liberation and the establishment of a separate state of Eelam. In pursuance of this objective, Mrs Bandaranaike appointed Kumarasuriar a minister, induced S. Thiagarajah and A. Arulampalam, two TC MPs, to support her government and appointed Thiagarajah as the powerful District Political Authority for the northern Tamil districts. She also made a great hero out of a political novice and opportunist, Alfred Duraiyappah, the defeated independent MP for Jaffna, who on agreeing to become the SLFP Organiser in Jaffna was given full government patronage.
In the same way, Jayewardene won over S. Canagaratnam and R. Rajadurai, two FP MPs from the eastern province, who on leaving the FP in 1978 were made ministers. In this way, he drove a wedge between the unity of the MPs and people of the northern and eastern provinces. Nothing was said about the subjugation of the Tamil people by these deserters or their patrons. After two of them Thiagarajah and Duraiyappah were shot and killed by the Tamil liberation fighters for betraying the Tamil cause, Jayewardene found that this strategy did not work. Therefore, in 1983, he carne up with a new formula a national government of all parties”. This will be considered in more detail in a later chapter.
What was important to Mrs Bandaranaike was the Tamils’ acceptance of the Sinhala Buddhist system. Excluded from power sharing the Tamils began to look inwards. Following Dudley Senanayake’s earlier stratagem of appointillg Thondaman, the Indian Tamil leader of the CWC, as a nominated MP,
Mrs Bandaranaike appointed Abdul Aziz, the leader of the rival DWC, as a nominated MP in 1970. The election results made the parliamentary opposition futile in the face of the steamroller majority of the UF’s government partners. This introduced a new attitude of intolerance and total disregard of the opposition and of its conventional role in criticising the government of the day. The first symbolic act of the prime minister and her cabinet, including the ex Marxists, was to go to Kandy and offer their thanks to the Dalada Maligawa temple and the Sangha.
In July 1970, on the invitation of Prime Minister Bandaranaike, the parliament returned in the May 1970 elections constituted itself into a constituent assembly to draft a new Republican constitution for the government and people of the country.
It was expected that the new government would take action to resolve the economic difficulties. The socialist option, which the people had decisively chosen, meant the adoption of policies to reduce the cost of living, unemployment and income inequalities and to eliminate poverty. But, once victory was won, the campaign rhetoric was forgotten and the government actively pursued constitution making, with great fanfare, to entrench itself more securely in power.
It was this unwillingness, or more correctly refusal, to translate the rhetoric S of socialism into social and economic action that led to the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna’s (JVP) (People’s Liberation Front) armed attempt in April 1971, less than a year after the election, to take power. The JVP had existed as a secret political movement from the late 1960s. It consisted mainly of rural SinhalaBuddhist youths from the Karava, Durava, Wahumpara, Batgam and other lower caste groups, who had received some measure of education in Sinhala.
The movement was born of the leadership of Rohana Wijeweera and Mahinda Wijesekera, both Sinhalese Buddhist Karavas. From the exclusively non Goyigama composition of the JVP’s supporters, it was evident that the movement was directed against the Goyigama and Christian Karava caste’s dominance in the national life of the country. The movement became critical of both the pseudo socialist politics of the traditional left wing parties and the family politics of the UNP and SLFP. The JVP leadership had a limited grasp of Marxism and revolutionary theory and practice, yet succeeded in organizing a vast force of young people who wanted to remould Sri Lanka’s future.
At first, the JVP sought a democratic political solution to the socioeconomic crisis, by supporting and campaigning for the socialist programme of the SLFP LSSP CP United Front in the May 1970 elections. But from the start the JVP quickly became aware that the UF government was not committed to a socialist programme, and so it secretly organized an insurrection. The JVP leadership drew inspiration from the Chinese and Cuban revolutions. Though the movement was fairly widespread among young lowcountry Sinhalese, its clandestine character, which was its strength and brought it close to success, also constituted its chief weakness, since it failed to develop into a mass movement.
On 5 April 1971 the insurrection started with a concerted attempt to attack police stations, capture Mrs Bandaranaike and her ministers and take power. At dawn 93 police stations were attacked and a large area of south and west Sri Lanka fell into the hands of JVP forces. The government declared a state of emergency and a curfew, and, finding the army incapable of facing the ‘insurgents”, called in foreign military assistance from Britain and India. It was the prompt military (particularly airforce) assistance from the Indian government that saved the day for Mrs Bandaranaike.
What is important for the theme of this book is that the armed forces were called in, not to defend the state from aggression, but to defend the new rulers who had taken power by deceiving the people
The ex Marxist ministers were quick to justify the army’s ruthlessness, which led to the death of more than 5,000 youths. Dr Colvin R. de Silva who came into politics as the leader of the Bolshevik Leninist Party in the 1940s and was Mrs Bandaranaike’s minister for constitutional affairs, described the JVP uprising as a putsch and gave the following rationale for crushing it ruthlessly:
I he country was facing an unusual and unprecedented situation created by a group of narrow minded people, conspiratorially organized, who had launched an effort by force of arms to displace the duly constituted government of the day in order to replace the entire system of parliamentary democracy.2
This was the view of the deputy leader of the LSSP. Yet when attacking the Soulbury constitution less than a year before, Leslie Goonewardene had stated the LSSP’s opposition to that constitution thus: “The present constitution in Ceylon aims at two ends—one to collect taxes from the people and the other to suppress the people if they try to rise against the government in power.”3
As stated earlier in Chapter 2, on independence and transfer of power in 1948 no independence constitution had been framed for Ceylon by the British parliamento The Soulbury constitution, which had been in operation from 1946, was intended for a constitutional stage prior to independence. As such, it had not been enacted by an act of parliament but by an order in council—the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council, 1946. That constitution gave power to the Ceylon legislature “to make laws for the peace, order and good govern^ ment of the island”. When independence was being hurriedly prepared in the Circumstances outlined earlier, the Ceylon Independence Act, 1947, was passed by the British parliament providing that, as from 4 February 1948, (1) HM Government should have no responsibility for the government of Ceylon, and ( ) the parliament of Ceylon should have full power to make laws having extraZterritorial operation. The Soulbury constitution was to continue to operate as the independence constitution.
Although in legal terms Ceylon became independent and the Ceylon parliament had full legislative power, it transpired that it was not a sovereign legis ; lature with unfettered legislative power as befitted an independent country. It was a legislature bound by conditions imposed by the Soulbury constitution itself. In 1964 the Privy Council, in the case of Bribery Commissioner v Ranasinghe4 stated that “a legislature has no power to ignore the conditions of law making that are imposed by the instrument which itself regulates its power to make law”. Before we proceed to discuss the restrictions on the legislative power of the Ceylon parliament, it is necessary to set out the relevant provisions of the Soulbury constitution, namely, the instrument which regulated the Ceylon parliament’s power to make law, as contained in Section 29. .
S.29 (1) Subject to the provisions of this Order, Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the island.(2) No such law shall— (a) prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; or (b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or (c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions; or (d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body.
(3) Any law made in contravention of subsection (2) of this section shall, to the extent of such contravention, be void.
(4) in the exercise of its powers under this section, Parliament may amend or repeal any of the provisions of this Order or any other Order of Her Majesty in Council in its application to the island:
Provided that no Bill for the amendment or repeal of any of the provisions of this order shall be presented for the Royal Assent unless it is endorsed on it a certificate under the hand of the Speaker that the number of votes cast in favour thereof in the House of Representatives amounted to not less than two thirds of the whole number of Members of the House (including those not present).
These provisions, which give the Ceylon parliament the power to make law, impose two restrictions one absolute, the other conditional.5 The absolute restriction is that the parliament has no power to make law on matters touching on S.29(2)(a), (b), (c) and (d). if it did, such a law would be void. The conditional restriction is that a two thirds majority is necessary to amend or repeal any of the provisions of the constitution.
In the 1964 case mentioned above, the Privy Council ruled that the soulbury constitution was based upon separation of powers, and that the judicial power of the state was vested in the judiciary, not by the constitution but by the Charter of Justice of 1833. The Ceylon parliament was therefore unable to take away that power except by amendment of the constitution bv two thirds majority, in accordance with S.29(4).
Thus the Bribery Tribunals, established by the ordinary process of lawmaking, were ultra fires the constitution. The Privy Council further stated that the independence of the judiciary from political control was secured by constitutional provision namely, that judges of the Supreme Court could not be removed except on address of the Senate and House of Representatives, and by vesting control of the lower judiciary in the hands of an independent Judicial Service Commission, consisting of the judges of the Supreme Court .
Section 29(2) unalterable, entrenched provisions
In Bribery Commissioner v Ranasinghe the Privy Council went further and stated that Section 29(2)(a), (b), (c) and (d) the provisions prohibiting the making of any law discriminatory against persons of any community or religion were unalterable, entrenched provisions in the constitution. To quote: “No such law shall (a) prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; There follow (b), (c) and (d), which set out further entrenched religious and racial matters, which shall not be the subject of legislation”.
The Privy Council then went on to say: “They [S.29(2)] represent the solemn balance of rights between the citizens of Ceylon, the fundamental condition on which inter se they accepted the constitution; and these are therefore unalterable under the constitution.”
In other words, the S.29(2) safeguards were built into the constitution by the Soulbury Commission as its cornerstone and were so accepted by the Sinhalese, Tamils and others, when they accepted the whole of the constitution Earlier in its judgement, the Privy Council referred to the Soulbury Commission Report. By implication, if the S.29(2) safeguards had been absent or had been unacceptable to the Sinhalese or the Tamils, then the conStitution itself would have been unacceptable to the people of Ceylon and there would have been no transfer of power and no independence.
It was on this basis that the Privy Council gave it “unalterable and entrenched status “under the Constitution”. Further, it was not “ordinary entrenchment which the Privy Council stipulated, but what in constitutional law is called ‘*inviolability”.6 This was made clear when the Privy Council judgement stated: ‘S.29(3) expressly makes void any Act passed in respect of the flatters entrenched on and prohibited by S.29(2), whereas S.29(4) makes no SUCh provision, but merely couches the prohibition in procedural terms.”
The Ceylon parliament had therefore no legal power or competence to alter, amend or repeal S.29(2). This could only be done by the paramount authority—the Queen in Council or the British parliament with royal assent.
In the same judgement, the Privy Couneil also stated that “the Court [the Supreme Court of Ceylon] has a duty to see that the constitution is not infringed and to preserve it inviolate”.
The judgement directly affected the creation and working of the Bribery Tribunals outside the regular courts structure. But the clear and unequivocal opinions expressed as to the restrictions imposed, and the “unalterable and entrenched ‘ status of S.29(2), caused a great flutter in legal and political circles. This was not so much because the Ceylon parliament was denied the status of a sovereign legislature, but because a number of laws had already been passed contravening the separate judicial power vested in the judiciary. Moreover the important appeal over the case of Liyanage et al v. Regina was already pending before the Privy Council. Also, because of the clear and forceful opinions expressed by the Privy Council with regard to the S.29(2) safeguards, the fate of the ‘Sinhala only” act, raised by the Kodiswaran case, which was then on its way to the Privy Council, was already clear.
In the more important case of Liyanage et al v. Regina,7 the Privy Council struck down the Criminal Law (Special Provisions) Act No.l of 1962, passed by the first Sirima Bandaranaike government to try and punish the suspects in the attempted coup. This law, introduced by Felix Dias Bandaranaike, cut across the known canons of criminal justice, created new crimes and set out mandatory minimum penalties, with retrospective effect, specifically applicable to those who were to be tried for conspiracy to overthrow the government. Contrary to regular procedure, this law provided for the nomination of three judges by the minister of justice, to try the defendants without a jury. The judges so nominated held their nomination, and other features of the act, to be contrary to the constitution, but nevertheless convicted the defendants according to the new law. It was clear that the judiciary was being circumscribed and intimidated.
The defendants appealed to the Privy Council, which struck down the law as ultra fires the constitution and condemned it in these words:
If such acts as these were valid the judicial power could be wholly absorbed by the legislature and taken out of the hands of the judges …. What is done once, if it be allowed, may be done again and in lesser crisis and in less serious circumstances; and thus judicial power may be eroded. Such an erosion is contrary to the clear intention of the constitution. In their lordship’s view the Acts were ultra fires and invalid …. The convictions should be quashed.
Both these decisions made it clear that the Ceylon parliament was not omnipotent, but was a legislature with severe restrictions on its law making power. The S.29(2) safeguards had been held to be immutable. In these and a number of other cases, such as the Devaelavagarl Case, the Privy Council consistently struck down legislation enacted by the Sri Lanka parliament as being ultra fires the constitution.
The SLFP governments under Mrs Bandaranaike could not work within the constitution, the laws and the courts powers. This was so despite the tact that the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had argued that “the independence of the judiciary was the last citadel of democracy”.8 Mrs Bandaranaike could not countenance the supremacy of the constitution: to her, political power, however obtained, was supreme.
At the same time, according to the Privy Council’s direction, the Kodiswaran language rights case was to be decided by the Supreme Court on the constitutional issue. But the case was held over from 1969, without being brought before the Supreme Court. It was not the Supreme Court’s decision that was important to Mrs Bandaranaike but constitution making. With the summoning of the constituent assembly and under the state of emergency declared because of the JVP revolution, Mrs Bandaranaike and the UF government abolished appeals to the Privy Council by Act No. 44 of 1971. What then of the Kodiswaran language rights case? We shall return to it at a later stage in our discussion of the Republican constitution.
The Making of the New Constitution
Because of the forthright view expressed by the Privy Council in these cases that (1) the judicial power of the state resided in the judiciary, and (2) the Ceylon parliament was not sovereign in the extent of its legislative powers, clearly the parliament could not legally repeal the existing constitution and replace it with another. Hence a new device had to be contrived. From the beginning, great care was taken, on the advice of certain self styled constitutional pundits, to show symbolically that the MPs were not acting as the parliament of Ceylon but as a “constituent assembly”. According to these constitutional pundits, if the parliamentarians called themselves a constituent assembly, then they would make a break in the legal continuity of the state, and the new constitution would not derive its legal validity from the existing constitution.
This was simply a bid to press into service Professor K.C. Wheare’s notion of constitutional autochthony9 with reference to Eire, India and Pakistan. The pundits mutilated Wheare’s concept of autochthony and made it the rationale for the so called constituent assembly to draft and enact a new conStitution for Ceylon. Relying on this concept, Colvin R. de Silva argued that there had been a “legal revolution” in Ceylon in 1970 and that the “constituent assembly” had received a “mandate” from the people to draft and enact a new constitution for Ceylon.
Hence, breaking with tradition, the inaugural session of the constituent assembly was held at Navarangahala, a stadium three miles from the parliament, with great fanfare and with Buddhist ceremonies.
The principal engineer of this comical spectacle was Colvin R. de Silva, the minister for constitutional affairs. The constituent assembly was sumlllolled on the invitation of Mrs Bandaranaike. All MPs, including the FP and TC MPs, attended. They did not seem to be aware of the Privy Council’s decisions. Nobody asked how Mrs Bandaranaike had acquired the power tat assemble such a body to draft a constitution. If they knew anything about the Privy Council decisions they should have questioned how its entrenched and inviolate safeguards could be removed.
Only C. Suntheralingam, the father of Tamil separatism, petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ to prohibit the so called constituent assembly from functioning. Predictably, the Supreme Court refused, on the ground that it had no power to prohibit a meeting of the MPs, whatever name they called themselves, until they had produced an illegal result. Suntheralingam prepared to appeal to the Privy Council, but appeals to the Privy Council were soon abolished by the 1971 Act.
The ministry of constitutional affairs accordingly called for representations and memoranda from all interested parties, organizations and individuals. Various memoranda were sent, of which only the FP’s need receive our consideration. The FP asked for a federal form of government, with an autonomous Tamil state, an autonomous Muslim state and three Sinhalese states. The FP’s ignorance of autonomy was so great that it could define neither the basis for Muslim and Sinhalese autonomy nor the territorial boundaries of the different autonomous units or states it was calling for. It therefore failed to make a case even for a federal form of government for the Tamil people, which had been the cornerstone of FP policies since 1951. Not surprisingly, the FP’s ludicrous demand for five autonomous states was summarily rejected.
Then, while continuing to participate in the constituent assembly, the FP asked for the provisions of the 1966 Tamil Language Regulations to be incorporated into the constitution. Even this was refused, for, according to Colvin R. de Silva, “. . . the view of this Government, as was the view we held and which we continue to hold, [was that] these regulations were ultra fires the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act and that therefore this Government was not applying these regulations in the administration”.l° Equally, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, minister of public administration and justice, said: “. . . I think you have no right to vindicate, because I believe those regulations are ultra fires the main Act”.’l
The FP had once again come to the end of the road in its compromise negotiations. The party’s feelings on the situation ran high:
Realizing the futility of any continued participation, the Tamil representatives in the Constituent Assembly walked out. The Assembly meeting of 22 May 1972 which was summoned to pass the constitution was boycotted by 15 out of 19 elected Tamil representatives …. Hen it is obvious that this constitution was rejected 100% by the Tamil people. The manner in which the unanimous opposition of the Tamil nation was ignored and how the new constitution was imposed on them has only confirmed the psychology of the Sinhalese imperialistic masters that they are ruling over a slave nation according to their own whims and fancies. They have done away with the meagre safeguards provided for the minorities in the constitution left behind by the British . . . and through this imposed constitution made the Tamils their slaves without any share in the political power of this state.12
On 22 May 1972 the constituent assembly purported to enact the draft constitution as the constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka. The earlier constitution was not expressly repealed but, by Article 12 and Schedule 1, it was effectively abrogated. Mrs Bandaranaike sought to give the constitution : eligious sanctity, since it possessed no legal validity. She went to the Dalada .\laligawa temple in Kandy and ceremonially invoked the blessings of the sacred tooth relic on the new constitution. She declared: “Today we are in a proud position of owing no allegiance to anyone else, but totally and in every espect, owing allegiance only to our own country ”l3
Between the 1970 election and the purported enactment of this constitution, the constitution makers had done nothing to consult the people of the country. There was no referendum or plebiscite on the constitution. However, the preamble to the constitution stated:
We the People of Sri Lanka being resolved in the exercise of our Freedom and Independence as a Nation to give to ourselves a Constitution . . . Which will become the fundamental law of Sri Lanka deriving its power and authority solely from the people …. Acting through the Constituent Assembly established by us Hereby Adopt Enact and Give to Ourselves This Constitution.
The plain truth is that it was not the people of Sri Lanka, but less than 1’5 MPs who were in rebellion against the people of Sri Lanka, the constitution, the laws and the courts, who resolved that this should be the new constitution of the country.
The Main Provisions and Their Effects
The 1972 constitution cannot be called a genuine constitution for it did not give the people what they wanted. By “people ‘ is meant all the people of Sri Lanka, for whom a constitution is “a solemn balance of rights”, not one section of the people, the Sinhalese Buddhists. The makers of the ‘constitution (we shall call it so for convenience) had two objectives: firstly, to get rid of all that stood in the way of their unbridled exercise of political power under the earlier constitution; and, secondly, to write into the new constitution all the gains that had been made and that needed to be made in turning Sri Lanka into a Sinhala Buddhist state.
The separate judicial power of the state vested in the judicature since 1833 ~as abolished, and with it the separation of powers. This was made explicit n Article 5, according to which the “National State Assembly is the supreme lnStrulllent of state power of the Republic, in which was vested the legislative, executive and judicial power of the state. The judiciary was subjected to political control, for, according to Article 126, ‘ the appointment of judges and °t]ler state officers shall be made by the Cabinet of Ministers . To balance tlli5 the nominal independence of the judiciary was affirmed in Article 131, according to which, in the exercise of its judicial powers, it should not be “subject to any direction or other interference”. J
One of the immediate results of this change was that Jaya Pathirana, a former SLFP MP, was made a judge of the Supreme Court. From that time, to give effect to this new reality, all judicial appointments were only of government party loyalists, supporters or sympathisers. The Soulbury constitution’s “solemn balance of rights between the citizens of Ceylon . . . the fundamental condition on which they accepted that constitution”, and on the basis of which independence had been granted, was abolished. The question of state and legislative sovereignity was resolved in the first t and fourth articles. The first declared: “Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic.” Article 4 unequivocally affirmed: “The Sovereignty of the People is exercised through a National State Assembly of elected representatives of the People.”
The questions of federalism, devolution and the like were unequivocally put to rest by Articles 2 and 45(1). Article 2 stated: “The Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State.” Article 45(1) provided: ‘The National State Assembly may not abdicate, delegate or in any manner alienate its legislative power, nor may it set up an authority with any legislative power, other than the power to make subordinate laws.”
Article 6 stated: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster Buddhism.” Other religions were given the private rights of freedom of thought, conscience, worship, observance, practice and teaching.
In Article 18(1) individual fundamental rights, severely restricted by law “in the interests of national unity and integrity, national security, nationaleconomy, public safety, public order”, were provided for. It was expressly stated that “all existing law shall operate notwithstanding any inconsistency with” these so called fundamental rights. The fundamental rights of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups were not recognized, however.
In this connection, it is instructive to note that the Indian constitution in its Chapter on Fundamental Rights, in Article 29(1), begins: “Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.” And Article 30(1) states: “. . . all minorities whether based on religion or language shall have the right to establish and administer schools of their own”. The Indian constitution makers, comprising such eminent men as Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Benegal Rao, Alladi Krishnaswamy and Ramasamy Iyengar, left the task of drafting the Chapter on Fundamental Rights to an equally eminent but minority caste leader, Dr Ambed khar, and thus secured a consensus and compromise to bind together the diverse peoples of India into a single political unit.
In the State of Bombay v. The Bombay Educatiosl Society the Supreme Court of India interpreted Articles 99(1) and 30(1) as necessarily implying the fundamental right to impart and receive educational instruction in one’s own language. and thereby secured for every linguistic group, however small, a fundamental right to its linguistic and cultural preservation. More import Ult, in the famous Colak.\tatll case the Supreme Court of India, in 1967, ent further and held that the Chapter on Fundamental Rights was unalterlble, inviolate and beyond the reach of the Union Parliament of India.
On the official language, Article 7 of the Republic of Sri Lanka constitution reaffirmed: “The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala as provided by the Official Language Act, No. 33 of 1956.” The Official Language Act provision was thus enshrined in the constitution, despite the judi.ial decision that it was ultra Wires.
The status of the Tamil language reached its nadir. According to Article s. the use of the Tamil language shall be in accordance with the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act of 1958. This act, as we have seen, had no substantive provisions and therefore the 1966 Regulations had to be framed. The constitution said that the Tamil Language Regulations “shall not in any manner be interpreted as being a provision of the constitution but shall be deemed to be subordinate legislation”. This meant that the Tamils outside the northern and eastern provinces, as well as the Muslims and the Indian Tamils, were effectively tied to the yoke of “Sinhala only” by the constitution of the country. Even the 1966 Tamil Language Regulations were substantially whittled down and “Sinhala only” was given constitutional teeth by Article 9, which provided that all laws should be enacted in Sinhala. What was permitted in the Tamil language was mere translation.
Article 11 provided that “the language of the Courts and Tribunals shall be Sinhala throughout Sri Lanka and accordingly their records, including pleadings, proceedings, judgements, orders and records of all judicial and ministerial acts, shall be in Sinhala”. Again, what was permitted, even in the Tamil northern and eastern provinces, was mere translation.
The Illegality of the 1972 Constitution
We have seen that the S.29(2) safeguards are entrenched and immutable, and that they could be changed only by the Queen in Council or the British parliament with royal assent. It is a trite dictum in law that if a part cannot be withdrawn, then the whole cannot be withdrawn. This is the rationale for inviolate and unamendable provisions to safeguard certain interests in the Constitutions of multi ethnic countries such as Ceylon and Cyprus. Having an inviolate and unamendable provision is not unusual and is not contrary to the principle of legislative sovereignty. The legislature is aware that such a provision is a protective safeguard, a cardinal feature of the constitutional settlement between the citizens, and it agrees to be elected to uphold and work within that provision, according to the constitution.
The safeguard becomes a fetter only when the legislature wants to ride roughshod over the interests protected by it, as was the case with Mrs Bandaranaikens government, which sought to achieve objectives destructive of the Ceylonese nation state and so prohibited by the constitution. When lrs Bandaranaike’s government came into conflict with the constitution, the courts upheld the constitution.
Before we proceed further, it is necessary to clear up two misconceptions introduced and perpetrated by the 1972 constitution makers and widely believed in Sri Lanka. These relate to the basis on which Mrs Bandaranaike and her men came together as a constituent assembly and enacted the 1972 constitution .
First, it was asserted that, since the UF had received a more than twothirds majority, the special majority necessary for constitutional amendment according to S.29(4), it had the power to repeal the constitution and replace it with another. This is not so. The special majority was necessary to “amend or repeal any of the provisions” of the Soulbury constitution, not to repeal the constitution itself. The Ceylon parliament possessed no legal power to repeal the constitution. It must be remembered that, even by a two thirds majority, the S.29(2) safeguards cannot be amended or repealed, . Hence the repeal of the constitution, which involved repeal of S.29(2), was void.
Second, and more important, it was asserted that the people of Sri Lanka had an ‘inalienable right”, based on sovereignty, to devise and enact a constitution for themselves, that this was the basis on which the constituent assembly proceeded. This too does not stand up. When a constitution is in force which binds the legislature, the people and the courts, and there is a prescribed legal procedure for its amendment and a known legal mechanism for its repeal or replacement (by the Queen in Council or the British parliament with royal assent), there is no legally recognizable sovereignty which enables the people to assemble somewhere, call themselves a constituent assembly, abandon the old constitution and replace it with a new one, as Mrs Bandaranaike and her men did in 1972.
The existing constitution must be legally repealed for the repeal to be valid. Otherwise, any citizen can claim that the earlier constitution is still in force and the courts will uphold him. Both the repeal of an old constitution and the enactment of a new one are legal steps and must comply with the law. Since there was no legal power within Sri Lanka to repeal the old constitution, the assembling of MPs under the name of a constituent assembly could not give them any legal power of repeal. In fact, the “consti 0 tuent assembly” was simply the parliament of Ceylon, whose legal powers were limited to those of a parliament and did not include the legal power of repeal.
Furthermore, the “constituent assembly” never existed in the eyes of the law, because there was no law that created it. Hence any purported repeal was illegal. Equally, the purported enactment of the new constitution was also illegal.
Thus the constitution that prevailed from 1972 to 1978 was an illegal constitution. The claim that there was a ‘legal revolution” and a break in the legal continuity of the state was a shibboleth. Legal theory and the courts the world over recognize only a successful coup d’etat and a revolution as the,> two instances of a break in the legal continuity of the state. The foremost titlltional autiloritv on Commonwealth constitutions, Professor S.A. de Smiths hastened to condemn the 1972 constitution as illegal.l4
The entire enterprise of the “constituent assembly” was a farce, but it became illegal only on 22 N1ay 1972 when the assembly declared it had enacted a new constitution. The question may be asked: if the constitution in as illegal, why has the Supreme Court not declared it illegal? It is in answering this question that the whole plot comes to light.
The new constitution, by Articles 132 and 133, required every judge and judicial officer to take an oath to uphold it. According to Article 132, if they failed to take that oath they “shall cease to be in service or hold Oftice” The oath required the judges to swear to “bear true allegiance to the Republic of Sri Lanka . . . and duly and faithfully execute the duties of my office . . . in accordance with the constitution”. Once the judges had been compelled to take this oath and execute their duties in accordance with the constitution, the question of the illegality of the constitution was placed beyond issue in the courts.
It may perhaps be asked at this point: if the new constitution was illegal and the earlier constitution legal, what of the oath the judges would have taken to uphold the old constitution? The earlier oath was a judicial oath which did not require the judges to uphold the old constitution. In fact, constitutions everywhere in the world are left open, so that judges can adjudicate whether they are legally valid or not. The 1972 Sri Lanka constitution was the first constitution in the world to compel the judges, under the threat of losing their jobs, to uphold the constitution. This was simply because the “constituent assembly” was fully aware that the constitution was illegal. Worse still is the 1978 Jayewardene constitution, which remains in force. Its illegality was so self evident to the parliament which framed it that the oath was made much more explicit. It says: “I will to the best of my ability uphold and defend the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.” Such oaths are contrary to judicial office and against the judicial conscience.
The simple truth is that the Sri Lanka legislators have never known how to act within the law; for if they had, they would have been unable to create the Sinhala Buddhist theocratic state in 1972, or to let loose state terrorism against the Tamil people after 1978. The courts have not been allowed to act as the bulwark of justice in Sri Lanka. In November 1982 thc thief Justice of Sri Lanka charged that executive action had eroded the position of the Chief Justice and the judges of the Supreme Court. President Jayewardene was quick to deny it.ls
From the early 1930s, when power came into the hands of upper class Sinhalese politicians on the basis of universal franchise and national electzolls they turned the state into an instrument of political gain by adopting Vote winning policies. D.S. Senanayake was the first to commit the government to satisfying the Sinhalese people in return for their votes, by introducing Sinhalese peasant resettlement, free education, free health services, subsidized food rationing and subsidized transport. From 1956, government policies underwent a structural change when they began to be conceived, not from the point of view of Sri Lanka as one nation, but in terms of how they would benefit the Sinhalese nation.
Janice Jiggins rightly stated in 1976 that, from 1956, “over the next 20 years MPs have increasingly expressed their role as largely, if not wholly, relating to the satisfaction of their supporters’ demands, the solution of their problems . . . by personal intervention and the securing of tangible benefits for their constituents”.l6
This resulted in the use of national resources for the benefit of the Sinhalese people and their outright denial to the Tamil people. The Sinhala Buddhist system at the ideological level combined with Sinhalese Buddhist welfare and advancement at the practical level, in the implementation of government policies. Hence, to the Sinhalese, the Sri Lankan government became a benefactor encompassing every facet of their life; while, to the Tamils, the government became a monstrous leviathan crushing them under its heel.
The “Sinhala only” policy and its implementation divided the people and turned the government into one for the Sinhalese people only. From 1956, everything in national affairs came to be viewed by the Sinhala Buddhist politicians in terms of Sinhalese Buddhist advancement. The equally chauvinist Sinhalese academics and social scientists, instead of attacking and exposing policies fraught with national disaster and advocating a culturally neutral secular state, interpreted and justified them on the basis of Sinhalese “nationalism”, “majority”, “preponderance”, “redress of past wrongs and present grievances”, etc.
Professor Shelton Kodikara wrote superficially that “the communalization of politics has certainly contributed to increased political consciousness and political participation among all communal groups in the island”.l7 Again, while describing Sinhalese chauvinism as “political modernisation”, he wrote:
Just as individuals, groups and structures are adapting themselves to a dominant Buddhist ethos, the present outlook of Sinhala Buddhism itself is accommodative rather [than] aggressive. The teaching and or, practice of Buddhism has emphasized the virtues of toleration, non violence and peaceful co existence, and the Sangha are assertive only to the extent of redressing the past wrongs and present grievances of Sinhala Buddhists.l8
We will go into this type of rationale in the next chapter. Such rationales led to Sri Lanka being caught up in ethnic quotas, Sinhalese Tamil proportions and educational ratios, despite the fact that it is a unitary state in which the equality of all citizens is a necessary precondition for its forward starch as one nation. All these policies and rationales led to the destruction At the Sri Lankan nation and to the justification for its division.
The single major field of government investment from 1948 to the present ,13y has been irrigation, dry zone land development and Sinhalese peasant Settlement. As an ILO publication states
. . . the government has controlled between two thirds to four fifths of total productive investment. As a share of GNP this investment rose from around 49 in 1963 to between 6% and 79 in recent years . . . irrigation has remained the major single component, accounting for some 2% of GNP. It is this sizeable portion of government investment which has financed land development in the dry zone.l9
No less than Rs. 3.7 billion was spent in this field between 1948 and 1974, and not even 0.01% accrued to the benefit of the Tamil people. One call see how the Sinhalese peasantry were rehabilitated from the following statement in the same ILO publication:
Resettlement programmes have opened around 700,000 acres of jungle land for agricultural production and human settlement and have directly benefited over 80,000 landless families. This would have meant that around 160,000 people have been provided with primary employment in agriculture
All those resettled were Sinhalese from the wet zone areas. The ILO’s indictment of this governmental programme is very revealing:
The irrigation and resettlement programmes have been highly capital intensive. The cost of settling one family was as high as Rs.21,000 in Gal Oya (1965) and remained around Rs.16,000 for other major schemes. The foreign exchange share of major schemes has been close to 55% and for Colonisation 75570…. The majority of these schemes have been low yielding, often not paying back their full cost even after 50 years. With the project costs amortized over 50 years the benefit cost ratio worked out to only 0.56 for Mahakandarawa and 0.67 for Rajangana. For Gal Oya, one of the oldest and largest, it was only o.5 20
How these policies directly benefited the Sinhalese peasants is described n the same ILO publication:
These schemes have created a class of well to do farmers who have not only received a fully developed holding and other amenities at no cost but also continue to absorb a high proportion of benefits most from hlcelltive pnces and subsidies—offered by the state to the peasant sector As a result income disparities have increased between colonists on the one hand and the peasants in their original villages of the wet zone . . . on the other.
This is not all. Successive governments adopted a systematized policy of enriching the new Sinhalese peasantry by giving them cheap credit and subsidized fertilizer, seed paddy and agro chemicals. Credit was introduced in 1947 and, despite a disastrous record of defaults, every subsequent govern ment was willing to write off the debts and bring the defaulters into newer schemes with an offer of increased credit. As a result, of the Rs.805 million granted as credit between 1967 and 1977, only 40SO was recovered and Rs.477 million was lost.2′
The ILO report stated: “. . . credit has now become virtually a political issue, its withdrawal likely to seriously affect the vote”.
The policies of the present Jayewardene government, however, in the field of dam construction, irrigation, land development and Sinhalese resett ment have surpassed all that went before. Since 1977, several major high da and irrigation projects, including the Mahaweli Ganga scheme, have been financed by major Western donors (Britain, the US, Canada, France, West Germany and others) to the tune of more than Rs.50 billion. Neither the Sri Lanka government nor the donor countries can speak of a single project in the Tamil areas. The Tamil homelands stand virgin and untouched by these Q developments and, in contrast, look atrophied and desolate.
What of the major industrial development projects established by the Sri Lanka government with foreign aid? Since independence, all the industrial and manufacturing factories established have been sited in Sinhalese areas. The predominant consideration has been employment. The three factories in the Tamil areas—a cement factory at Kankesanturai, a chemical factory at Paranthan and a paper factory at Valaichenai—were built before independence and sited in Tamil areas because of their mineral resources. Industrial projects in the Sinhalese areas include a steel factory at Oruwella, a foundry at Enderamulla, a tyre factory at Kelaniya, a sugar factory at Gal Oya, a glass factory a Nattandiya, a plywood factory at Kosgama, a paperboard mill at Embilipitiya, three large textile mills at Tulhiriya, Veyangoda i and Kandy, a hardware factory at Yakkala, an asbestos factory at Colombo,3 ceramic factories at Nittambuwa and Piliyandala, an industial estate at Ekkala, a barbed wire factory at Colombo, a petroleum refinery at Kelaniya a fertilizer factory at Hunupitiya, cement factories at Puttalam and Galle, a flour mill at Colombo and many others.
Between 1970 and 1975 alone Rs.10,908 million was spent by Mrs Bandaranaike’s UF government as capital investment in state industrial ventures—all in Sinhalese areas.22 Although a Russian petroleum prospect corporation carried out a seismic survey of Sri Lanka and recommended Jaffna and Mannar for oil exploration, Mrs Bandaranaike commenced petrO leulrn prospecting in Mannar, which turned out to be a failure. She did not want to try out Jaffna, being the heartland of the Tamil people, as any success would have made the Tamils economically strong.
In the early 1960s, the World Bank recommended, after a survey, the Cst3hlishment of a large sugar plantation and factory in the Thunukkaip~oneryn area, which it considered the ideal location for sugar in Sri Lanka. because these were Tamil areas, the projects were shelved by Mrs Bandarae. although, according to the proposals, they would have made Sri Lanka self sufficient in sugar in three years.
The numerous requests by Tamil MPs for the development of the KankeS ~lturai and Trincomalee ports were turned down, but millions were spent to) turn the uneconomical port of Galle, in south Sri Lanka, into the second port. Even the US government’s offer to develop the Kankesanturai port as a grallt in aid project was not accepted.
Thus there has been no development of the Tamil areas since 1948. As a result the Tamil nation has been losing ground at an increasing pace while the monlentUm generated by high capital transfers of foreign aid, at unprece tented levels since 1977, has made the Sinhalese a prosperous master nation. In this way, Tamil self reliance was denied and dependency on the Sinhalese government was firmly established
Before we go into the government’s policies, and their effects, in the important educational and employment fields, it is necessary briefly to cover the cultural field. The assertion of Sinhalese Buddhist hegemonism in this field began even before the “Sinhala only” campaign.
Anuradhapura city and its vicinity to the south constituted the dividing line between the Sinhalese areas to the south and west and the Tamil areas to the north and east. The city was the ancient capital of the Tamil kingdom of Ceylon and, after the death in battle of the Tamil king Ellalan in 101 BC of the Sinhalese kingdom. As stated earlier, Ellalan reigned from Anuradhapura for 44 years from 145 101 BC. He treated the Tamils and Sinhalese equally and gave equal status to Hinduism and Buddhism, building Hindu temples and Buddhist Shares (monasteries), even though he was a Tamil Hmdu king. On winning victory in battle, the Sinhalese prince Dutugemunu decreed that the people should pay homage to Ellalan for his just rule. Ellalan s tomb lies in Anuradhapura to this day. In 1928 Professor Malalasekera wrote that “. . . it is to the credit of the people of Ceylon that during two thousand years or more they obeyed this decree and continued to pay their homage to one who was a brave man and just and humane ruler”.23
At the Ruvanwali Saya Buddhist temple in Anuradhapura town, probably built Soon after Dutugemunu, the statues of both Ellalan and Dutugemunu have remained side by side from that time, near an icon of Buddha. Thus Anuradhapura is a great historic city for both the Tamils and the Sinhalese In the late 1940s, its Tamil and Sinhalese citizens were equal in number, and Until 1956 the chairman of the urban council was generally a Tamil.
The Sinhalese and the Tamils lived together, side by side and in perfect annltY. Up to the mid 19SOs the Sinhalese often voted for Tamil candidates and vice versa, in the urban council elections. In 1954, when Queen Elizabeth 45lted Sri Lanka, the Mayor of Colombo (Rudra) and the Chairman of the nuradhapura urban council were both Tamils, and so the Queen was received, in both the new and the old capital, by Tamils. This caused great resentment among the Sinhalese chauvinists.
Accordingly, on Bandaranaike s assumption of power, a plan was drawn up to destroy the power and influence of the Tamils in Anuradhapura. The Sinha lese crusaders claimed it as a Buddhist Sacred city’; while the Tamils claimed it as the capital city founded by Tamil kings and the site of Ellalan’s tomb The former won. The urban council was dissolved, Anuradhapura was declare a Buddhist ‘ sacred city’^, the residents were forcibly evacuated to a new town nearby costing several million rupees, and there the Sinhala were put in total and effective control.
There was no economic return whatever from this new town building; the only purpose was to destroy the power of the Tamils, erase the Tamil connection with the old city and build a new image of Sinhalese dominance. The many millions spent on founding the new Anuradhapura city, and on the Gal Oya irrigation and Sinhalese resettlement scheme, drained away the nation’s resources and were the underlying cause of the economic crisis the country 4, faced from the early 1950s.
Immediately the “Sinhala only” law was enacted, the Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara Privenas (Buddhist seminaries) were elevated into universities and opened to Sinhalese Buddhist students. Then a ministry of cultural affairs was created, at the prompting of the ACBC. Later this became the ministry of cultural affairs, information and broadcasting. All these were defined only in terms of Sinhala Buddhist culture. The history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka on the basis of archaeological finds was deliberately ignored as it would have contradicted the popularized history based on legends and myths.
Belatedly, in the 1970s, a University of Sri Lanka campus was established in Jaffna. The teachers, using endowments from a German foundation, under took archaeological excavations and, on the basis of their finds, asserted that, the Tamils were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island, several centuries before the 6th Century BC. This was in early 1982. Soon afterwards, to counter this claim, the director of archaeology, Dr Hema Ratnayake, issued Or a press release stating that he had found archaeological remains at Jetavanaramaya consisting of Buddhist statues, clay vessels, etc., which could be dated to as early as the 5th Century BC. This statement was made in August 1982.24 The director of archaeology had forgotten that Buddhism was introduced to the country two centuries later, in 247 BC.
In the 1970s Mrs Bandaranaike banned the importing of Tamil films, books, magazines, journals, etc. from Tamil Nadu. She once more proscribe the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham and the Tamil Youth League. Culturally, the Tamil people were cut off from Tamil Nadu. In 1970 she cut off foreign; exchange for the long established practice of Tamil students going to India for university education. Equally, examinations for external degrees from th University of London were abolished.
Having thus cut off Tamil students from their traditional educational opportunities, Mrs Bandaranaike’s government introduced various restriction on Tamil education.
From early times, the Tamils took to education not so much as a means of gaining knowledge but to acquire a qualification for a job, mainly in the government service. In the system of meritocracy instituted by the colonial governments through open competition, the Tamils entered the higher civil service and the lower general clerical service in substantial numbers. To the Tamil people, education was the central artery of life and “nothing arouses deeper despair among the Tamils than the feeling that they are systematically squeezed out of higher education”.25
But with “Sinhala only” the government decreed a change to swabasha i.e. either Sinhala or Tamil as the medium of instruction in schools and colleges. Children must be educated in their mother tongue Sinhala for Sinhalese children and Tamil for Tamil children. Pedantic educationalists lent their support to this on the ground that there should be no linguistic gap between home and school, and that the cultural influence of the child’s home environment must operate in the learning process as well. The practical objective using education to gain employment was relegated to the background .
For the Sinhalese student the argument was valid, since the language used at home, school and work was Sinhala. But what of the Tamil student, who studied in the Tamil language in a county where Sinhala was the only official language and the language of employment and administration?
This policy negated the very purpose of education and served to shut out Tamils from their traditional avenue of employment. Simply by requiring a knowledge of the “official language”, it became possible not only to eliminate the Tamils but also to open the door for the employment of Sinhalese without any competition. As a result, the Sinhalese, knowing the official language, became the effective rulers and the Tamils were reduced to a subject people, never reconciled to their inferior status
The requirement that Tamil students should study in Tamil, their mother tongues exposed the futility and the basic contradiction of “Sinhala only” as the official language. For Sri Lanka became the only country in the world where the official language was not taught to all students and in all schools. Even then the folly of “Sinhala only” was not admitted. Instead, in 1963 .Mks Bandaranaike’s government appointed a national education commission to sort out the mess.
The commission’s majority report (the Tamil members submitted a dissenting report), accepted with some amendments by the government and publlShed as a White Paper, offered an ingenious solution. The medium of instructlon should be Sinhala or Tamil, according to the wishes of the parents. This Was designed to put pressure on Tamil parents. The commission considered that, since Sinhala was the language of employment. Tamil Darents wouldopt to have their children taught in Sinhala. In the case of Indian Tamil children, the commission recommended (and its position was reflected in the White Paper) that, to achieve their integration with the indigenous population surrounding them, they should be taught in Sinhala.
The minister of education, P.B.G. Kalugalle, threatened to send some 2,000 Sinhalese teachers to the northern and eastern provinces and also said, in a press interview, that his conscience would not give him peace unless he did all in his power to teach Sinhala to Tamil children so that “they may equip themselves for employment under the government”.
These threats were not carried out, however, for Mrs Bandaranaike’s government was soon defeated.
The two language policy nevertheless continues to this day, and Sinhala is not taught, even as a second language, to Tamil schoolchildren. It cannot be, because Tamil parents and the school authorities have resolved that the Sinhala language will not be taught unless Tamil is made an official language.2 The government’s policy segregated the younger generation of Sinhalese and Tamils.
In the implementation of “Sinhala only” as the language of administration, the government progressively phased out Tamil recruitment which was eventually no more than a trickle in public services, teaching, defence and other areas. At independence, employees in the service of the government numbered 82,000, of whom 30% were Tamils. Although government recruitment then expanded rapidly to 225,000 by 1970, the proportion of Tamils declined to 6% in the same year.
In 1973, of 100 persons selected for higher administrative service by examination, 92 were Sinhalese, four were Tamils and four were Muslims. The decline in Tamil recruitment to government service from 1956 to 1970 was as follows:
|Ceylon administrative service
|Clerical service (incl. postal, railway, hospital and customs services)
|Professions (engineers, doctors, lecturers)
But these figures do not tell the whole story. After 1956 the biggest creators of jobs were the state industrial and commercial corporations that were established, and from these too the Tamils were shut out because of “Sinhala only”. Between 1956 and 1970,189,000 persons were recruited by the public sector corporations and 99% of them were Sinhalese.27 The Ceylon Transport Board, the biggest employer in south Asia, recruited > n OOO employees up to 1970, of whom more than 98Fo were Sinhalese.
The Ceylon Institute for National and Tamil Affairs, in a memorandum to the International Commission of Jurists, stated that in the private sector “the chance of a Tamil securing employment is negligible, if he is not Sinhala educated In government managed corporations recruitment is at the discretion of the Minister and not by open competition. The chances of a Tamil securing employment are very rare”.
Of 22,374 teachers recruited between 1971 and 1974, when Badiuddin \i31lmud was minister of education,18,000 were Sinhalese, 2,507 were Muslims and only l ,807 were Tamils. During those four years, 3,500 Tamil teachers retired and hence there was no net addition but an actual decline in the number of Tamil teachers. In the police and defence services, Tamil ecruitment after 1970 was virtually nil.
As to the admission of students to the university, the national education commission headed by Professor J.E. Jayasuriya (in its Sinhalese majority report), pandering to the Sinhala Buddhist lobby, recommended that admissions should be determined by quotas based on the religious composition of the country.28 Because of the swabasha policy, the enrolment of students in secondary schools increased from 65,000 in 1950 to 225,000 in 1960. Due to the economic crisis resulting from the dependent capitalist policies pursued over the years, which created a large pool of unemployed, increasing numbers of secondary school leavers sought admission to the university, particularly from the Sinhalese Buddhist areas. There was an explosion in the numbers seeking university admission—from 5,277 in 1960 to 30,445 in 1970 The number of available places, on the other hand, only increased from 1,812 in 1960 to 3,471 in 1970.
Since the bulk of Sinhalese students who had entered the university in the late 1960s and graduated in arts subjects were without jobs, Sinhalese students turned to science courses. But in the Sinhalese areas the schools and colleges providing science courses were few, because of the absence of laboratory facilities compared to the northern and eastern province schools, which provided 70% of the university science student admissions in 1970. In the prestigious medical and engineering courses, the Tamil students were equal in number to the Sinhalese, who were mostly from the leading Colombo schools. Until 1970, no distinction was made between the Sinhalese and Tamil students seeking admission to the university, and admission was strictly by merit on the basis of open competitive examination held in the English medium.
In 1970, however, the science, engineering and medical faculties adopted a t~o language policy, using Sinhala and Tamil. It was felt by the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists that, if admission were by merit, the Sinhalese students could not get as many places. Hence, on the eve of the release of that year’s engineering course admissions, a rumour was started that, of the 160 students W]40 had qualified, 100 were Tamils. On the basis of this rumour, a strident campaign was mounted by the Sinhala Buddhist lobby, under the aegis of the ACBC, for the merit system to be abandoned. As a result, on the direction of the ministry of education, lower qualifying marks were fixed for Sinhalese than for Tamil students, both regarding the language of instruction and the subjects themselves. The different qualifying marks were as follows
|Medicine & dentistry
Source: C.R. de Silva, “Weightage in University Admissions: Standardization and District Quotas”, inModern Ceylon Studies, Vol.5,2, 4 July 1972.
Once the norm of open competition had been abandoned owing to Sinhala Buddhist pressure, then to make it look more acceptable and to secure further benefits, new strategems were invented which constituted further departures from the previous norms. In the next four years, four different schemes of university admission were devised by the ministry of education and put into effect, each of which brought further benefits to the Sinhalese at the expense of the Tamil students. The four schemes were: standardization in 1973;standardization and district quotas in 1974; standardization and 100% district quotas in 1975; and standardization and 70% on marks, and 30% on district quotas, in 1976.
All these resulted in large numbers of Tamil students, who had studied and passed the examinations and were qualified for admission to the university, being debarred because they were Tamils. The percentage of Tamil students entering engineering courses fell from 40.8% in 1970 to 24.4% in 1973, and 13.2% in 1976. The percentage of Tamil students entering science courses fell from 35% in 1970 to 15% in 1978. The fall for medical courses was from 50% in 1970 to 37% in 1973, to 26% in 1974, and to 20% in 1975. In dental surgery, veterinary science and agriculture the denial of places for Tamils was even greater.
Each of these schemes generated great controversy. The country came to be caught up in debates on quotas, weightages, proportions and the like. Nobody seemed to realize that in a multi ethnic country, with two distinct nations living under a unitary form of government, all these issues were destroying the very fabric of the Sri Lanka nation state.
Professor C.R. de Silva, who made a detailed study of these schemes, stated:
… each successive change brought further gains for the Sinhalese …. The application of the [1973 standardization] system resulted in considerable gains for the Sinhalese and won support among several sections of this group. The share of the Sinhalese in places for Engineering courses shot up to 73.1Sc and that for medicine to 58.8Fo. The Tamil share in places for Engineering dropped precipitously to 24.4%.
Taking all these schemes into account, he wrote of their results:
The Sinhalese emerged as the main beneficiaries. Their share in admissions to science based courses rose to 75.4% in 1974 and to over 80% (estimate) in 1975. Since they have consistently had over 85% admissions to Arts oriented studies for many years, their representation in all fields of study within the university rose to proportions well above their percentage of the population.
These manifestly discriminatory schemes in the field of higher education shut out a large number of young Tamils who had qualified for unversity education. The only reason they were debarred was because they were Tamils. The young Tamils saw their Sinhalese counterparts, who had failed the admission examination, enter the university in their place because they were Sinhalese. Faced with this situation and having nothing to lose, they sought to correct the disadvantage of Tamil birth by taking up arms to liberate the Tamil nation and create a separate state of Tamil Eelam.
Professor C.R. de Silva, himself a Sinhalese, sums up the Tamil educational disaster and its consequences thus:
On the other hand the damage already done by discriminatory measures against the minorities is considerable. Unlike in the case of the struggle for the schools take over the hostility and suspicion between the Sinhalese and the Tamils is unlikely to die away …. Unlike the Roman Catholics whose religion was the only factor which distinguished them from the rest of the Sinhalese (or Tamils), the Tamils of Sri Lanka have developed feelings of nationalism on their own and the question of educational opportunity only aggravated the conflicts that had risen owing to questions of language and employment. Nevertheless the question of University admissions is clearly one which mobilized the youth in Jaffna and prodded the Tamil United Front leadership to declare in favour of a separate state.29
Since the constituent assembly had rejected outright all the proposals of the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress, and had proceeded to adopt a Buddhist theocratic state structure, the hitherto divided Tamil political parties and pressure groups came together even before the constitution was “enacted ‘ by the constituent assembly. The FP, TC, CWC, the Eela Thamilar Otrumai Munnani and several Tamil youth and student Organisations met at Trincomalee on 14 May 1972 and formed the Tamil United Front (TUF).
The TUF was born of the realization of the danger facing the Tamil nation and because of the uncompromising manner in which the proposals of the Tamil parties had been rejected by the constituent assembly. The three bourgeois Tamil leaders S.J.V. Chelvanayakam (FP), G.G. Ponnambalam (TC) and S. Thondaman (CWC) had no vision for the future of the Tamil nation except the need for their own unity and a new front to project it. But the smaller groups which joined the TUF were aware that the opportunity for political solutions was long passed and that the new constitution was the clearest affirmation not only of Sinhala Buddhist rule but also of Tamil subjugation.
The TUF adopted a vague six point programme: (I) a defined place for the Tamil language; (2) Sri Lanka should be a secular state; (3) fundamental rights of ethnic minorities (sic) should be embodied in the constitution and made enforceable by law; (4) citizenship for all who applied for it; (5) decentralization of the administration; and (6) the caste system to be abolished.
These proposals, on the face of it, meant a whittled down negotiating basis for the Tamil political leaders, but meant nothing to the Tamil people, for whom qualitative equality with the Sinhalese, and the results that would flow out from this were the important issues. As far as the Tamils were concerned, there was only one clearly defined place for Tamil: the Tamil language must enjoy the same status as Sinhala, as the official language of the country; this was not a matter for political compromise or negotiation by Tamil politicians. If they could not achieve that, they alone were to blame for the policies they had pursued over the years. The institution of a Buddhist theocratic state and the denial of fundamental national ethnic, linguistic and religious rights to the non Sinhalese were the very bedrock of the constitution and therefore they had become non negotiable.
With regard to citizenship, the constituent assembly had resolved that the laws in force on the subject should continue. They became Article 67 of the constitution. The question of the abolition of the caste system was not a contentious matter vis a vis the Tamils, Sinhalese and others, and its abolitio was always within the grasp of the high caste Tamil leaders themselves. The abolition of caste was stumbled upon because of the temple entry issue that raged in the late 1960s, when the Tamil politicians cautiously stood aloof from the controversy. They now incorporated the abolition of caste into thei programme because of increased depressed caste militancy and the arrival of Buddhist bhikkhus in Jaffna, seeking to capitalize on the situation and convert the low caste people to Buddhism; also because, to undermine the FP’s political solidarity, Mrs Bandaranaike nominated the depressed caste leader George Nalliah as a senator in 1970.
Although the Tamil leadership came together after nearly a quarter century of personal rivalry between Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam, they failed to formulate ally strategy to galvanize the people and their struggle for stlrxival as a distinct nation. The FP and the TC consisted, in the main, of middle class lawyers to whom politics was an out of court pastime; because (.i their conservatism they lacked the intellectual capacity to formulate the correct theoretical position and evolve the appropriate strategies to meet the threat of Tamil national extinction. Their policies were merely the tricks of the charlatan, without any rigour of thought, speech or analysis. Hence they were often ridiculed, threatened and challenged by Sinhalese politicians. In the face of these challenges, they let the Tamil people’s cause go by default, by resorting to compromising postures walk outs and boycotts when they should have carried home their points and convinced the Sinhalese waverers and the resignation of MPs’ seats—all useless gimmicks of bourgeois politicians, not the policies of the leaders of an enslaved nation.
Protesting over the proclamation of the new constitution, Chelvanayakam resigned his seat for Kankesanturai in December 1972 and challenged the government to hold a by election. Under the constitution, as enacted without the participation of the Tamil people and their representatives in the legislature, there was no longer any justification for Tamil MPs to continue in the legislature. But they stayed, and their very presence gave the illegal constitution a colour of legitimacy. They still believed in elections and political solutions, when the contrived relationship ordained by the constitution was that between Sinhalese masters and Tamil subjects.
Even the political agitation against the constitution by the Tamil politicians was muted. No one denounced the constitution as illegal, having no legal binding force or effect on the Tamil people. They were afraid of the state of emergency that lasted from 1971 to 1977, when political activity and even trade union work were severely curbed, citizens’ liberties circumscribed and judicial independence substantially curbed. The 1970 elections produced an unbridled monster in the UF government, which ran wild for seven years until it met its inevitable nemesis at the hands of the people its the 1977 elections.
Like the “Sinhala only” act, the “Sinhala only” provisions of the constitutiOn regarding the language of the courts were unworkable. Hence the I language of the Courts (Special Provisions) Law was passed, in March 1973, providing for the use of Tamil in proceedings in courts and tribunals exercising jurisdiction in the northern and eastern provinces. This act provided that the courts and tribunals must cause a Sinhala translation to be made in the event of appeal. The legislature was particularly careful to emphasize the ti~)minance of Sinhala in the Tamil areas, and so provided for the right to Interpretation and translation into Sinhala for those not conversant with Talllil This was essentially to benefit those Sinhalese who had been resettled Untler the government’s colonization schemes. But it showed no concern for tile language rights of the Tamils in the Tamil areas when the constitution was framed and proclaimed, or for the Tamils outside the northern and eastern provinces when this law was enacted.
According to Section 6 of the 1973 law, regulations had to be made to put its provisions into practice. But no regulations were made. Hence these legal provisions for the use of Tamil language in court proceedings in the northern and eastern provinces remained a dead letter. But, once again, they were of necessity put into effect in the Tamil areas.
Mrs Bandaranaike’s continued strategy in the 1970s was to have nothing to do with the FP MPs. Since G.G. Ponnambalam, the TC leader, failed to win the 1970 elections, the three TC MPs were leaderless in parliament. So Mrs Bandaranaike inveigled S. Thiagarajah and A. Arulampalam to support her by offering the powerful post of District Political Authority, created outside the constitution, to the former, and extensive political leverage to the latter
To isolate the Tamil FP MPs she entered into alliance with the Tamilspeaking Muslim MPs of the eastern province. And generally she was willing to placate the Mllslims in order to show the Tamils that co operation, not defiance, would bring some amelioration to their enslaved plight.
She appointed the defeated MP Alfred Duraiyappah as the SLFP organizer for Jaffna, and in January 1973 sent her appointee in the cabinet, C. Kumarasuriar, the Tamil leader chosen by her, to visit Jaffna. He was promptly greeted with a large black flag demonstration by the Tamil students excluded from the university by the discriminatory “standardisation” policy. He retreated post haste to Colombo.
Then in March 1973 the ex Marxists Pieter Keuneman and N.M. Perera went to Jaffna to win support for the government. They too were met by students demonstrating with black flags and by the closure of shops in Jaffna. In order to break the growing Tamil student solidarity and militancy, over 100 Tamil students were arrested and kept in custody. As a result on 15 March 1973 Tamil students, for the first time, called a strike and boycotted schools and colleges in the whole of Jaffna.
When the 1972 constitution came into force all government employees, and even lawyers in private practice, were compelled to take the oath to uphold it. Kasi Anandan, a young revolutionary Tamil poet in government service, refused to do so and was arrested and incarcerated for more than 1,000 days. Because of increasing Tamil student militancy Mavai Senathirajah Vanni Ananadavinayagam and more than 200 other young Tamils were arrested and held in custody for more than four months in 1973.
Because of these arbitrary student arrests under emergency powers, youngt Tamils became a political force and demanded that the TUF resolve upon separation of the Tamil areas as the only political alternative. Hence the TUF Action Committee met at Valvettiturai in May 1973, under the chairmanship of Chelvanayakam, and resolved upon a separate state of Tamil Eelam as its goal and adopted the rising sun as the flag of the state of Eelam