When the Tamils trusted the Sinhalese


 
When the Tamils trusted the Sinhalese

By C. V. Vivekananthan

The British at the beginning rejected the agitation of DS for dominion status. However, DS renewed it in February 1947 and commissioned Sir Oliver Goonetilleke who was in London at that time to negotiate for dominion status. The political scene started to change and the British Government demonstrated its willingness to grant dominion status to Ceylon.
The imperial masters were carefully manipulating to avoid the transfer of power to the left-wing forces led by Philip Gunawardene and Dr N. M. Perera. They preferred to transfer the power to their own class friends among the Ceylonese. Sensing their desire, Sir Oliver made the policy makers of the British Government to feel that DS was facing great challenges from the left-wing forces and paved the way for the transfer of political power to the UNP and its leader Senanayake.
The British thought that success of a constitution depended on the ideal spirit of unanimity of all the peoples. If unanimity was not possible they thought of obtaining at least three-quarters of the members to support. They insisted that the proposals of the White Paper for the grant of independence be accepted by not less than 75 per cent vote of the whole Council without the Speaker. DS succeeded in passing the Motion by more than 90 percent as the ‘minority members were as anxious for self government as the majority members’, and did not wish ‘to hold up a real constitutional advance merely because their claims were not met’. Only three members, W. Dahanayake, an Indian Member and I. X. Pereira voted against and three others abstained from voting.
The Ceylon Tamils were not politically united under one banner. GG led the major group while Handiperinpanayakam led the left oriented group. Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva led the moderates. The Tamil leaders at that time lacked political wisdom and foresight. They were only concerned in their vested interests in Colombo and other Sinhala areas, which had been influencing their political thinking. They wanted their dominance to be felt in Colombo and wanted the use of English language. They failed to think in terms of the future of the Tamil race as a whole. They only sought protection to the rights of the Tamils in terms of sectarian interests.
The Sinhala leaders felt the Tamils ‘would cooperate with them if they could make a declaration showing a spirit of generosity towards the Tamils acknowledging their grievances”.
Sinhala leaders such as DS, Bandaranaike and Molamure appealed to Tamil leaders to cooperate with them to achieve independence. They pleaded ‘please trust us and afford us an opportunity to prove that we are worthy of your trust’. DS proclaimed louder that “there is determination on our part to cement the good feelings that exist in the country. I assure the communities that every Sinhalese here is worthy of the trust placed in us, we will not disgrace our ancestors”. He even went further to cite history as usual, to say that the Tamil kings ruled the Sinhalese and the Sinhala kings ruled the Tamils and all lived in amity and peace. DS appealed to the minorities for support and had offered them places in the ministry if he became its head.DS possessed no academic attainments but was an astute politician and master strategist. After the 1947 elections DS constituted his Cabinet comprising members from all communities to send the message to the British that all communities were standing together for the grant of independence.Math politics
Suntharalingam was elected to Parliament as an independent candidate at the 1947 General Elections from the then Vavuniya electorate. The UNP won 42 seats out of ninety-five. All other parties, including the independents got more than the UNP. NM made a great effort to form a government sans the UNP. In the meantime DS telephoned his erstwhile friend, Suntharalingam and advised him not to be misled by the leftists and invited him to join his Cabinet.
During the period of Donoughmore Constitution, Suntharalingam was responsible for manipulating the electoral procedure for the election of Pan-Sinhala Ministry. He said: “By permutation and combination, the members were grouped into several Executive Committees. After the details were worked out, they were checked by my senior lecturer in Mathematics, Gulasekeram. The evening before the ‘conspirators’ could meet in ‘kusu-kusu-kootams’, Senanayake discussed the situation with me and accepted the grouping of the members into the committees. As planned, every committee was packed, and Senanayake rushed from the meeting direct to my house to congratulate and thank me’. He told later that he wanted to ‘teach the Tamil leaders a lesson concerning political mathematics’ “.
Most of the elected Members of the Tamils were opposing Suntharalingam joining the UNP ministry. Suntharalingam convened a meeting at the New Town Hall to explain why he had accepted the offer of a Ministry under the DS government. Suntharalingam said, “I am determined to trust the Sinhala leaders, come what may” and walked out of the meeting ending it in pandemonium. He joined the Cabinet with his supporters. He became the Minister of Trade and Commerce while his friend, Sittambalam, became the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.
One of the first acts of DS as Prime Minister was to pass a resolution in the Cabinet requesting Britain to grant complete independence. Suntharalingam, representing the Tamil community, signified his consent for such a request without bargaining for any measure of power sharing. Later, he voted for the Citizenship Act and the Ceylon (Parliam-entary Ele-ctions) Amendment Act. The former made the Indian labourers stateless and the latter disfranchised them. The ostensible cause was to deprive them of determining the outcome of the elections in the country. It is in reality a communal manoeuvre.
Many of the Tamil leaders opted to place trust on the Sinhalese except a small group led by GG who soon after independence joined hands with DS on a policy of ‘responsive cooperation’. The Jaffna Youth Congress leaders welcomed DS and Sir John stating that they were the ‘saviours of Lanka’.
The political power that was with the British was thus transferred to the Sinhalese leaders on February 4, 1948. Sundaralingam’s act was the final nail placed on the fate of Tamils. Later, when the Sinhala Only Act was passed, Suntharalingam issued public statements stating that he signed because he placed absolute faith and confidence in DS and he alone was responsible to the sorry plight of the Tamils. He proclaimed further that had he not given the consent in requesting Britain to grant complete independence. Britain would not have granted independence without satisfying the interests of the Tamils as a minority community and in that event the Tamils could have bargained and secured their due share of political power on the models of devolution of power as in Scotland or Wales or could have at least secured the incorporation of a well entrenched Human Rights Charter in the Constitution.The tragedy was that all Tamil leaders at one time or other trusted the Sinhalese leadership and never bargained for any gain of political power thinking the majority would treat them well without discriminating in any form whatsoever. Subsequent events in the political history of Sri Lanka have proved that they were wrong.
The Tamil leaders, devoid of political vision and divided by internecine dissension, plunged the Tamils into political wilderness. They became easy prey for cajolery and political chicanery of Sinhala leaders. Successive governments after independence exploited the weakness of the Tamil leaders and changed the constitutional structure, taking away even the minimum safeguards granted to the minorities, thereby demonstrating a policy that the ‘Sinhalese leaders would use their power to the detriment of the minorities’.
Better late than never. The politicians should resolve to say good-bye to the practice of communal politics. Would the miasma of political bitterness that is raging between the two major communities for the last three decades be eradicated from the dictionary of the Sri Lankan politics?
About editor 3042 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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