The Third Deadly Event of the First Independence Day -Part II
It is by looking back that one can detect how coming events had cast their shadows across the political landscape.
In the previous article I showed how the two major events that were staged on the Galle Face end of the city on the first Independence Day – 1. the joint rally of the Marxists at Galle Face Green and 2. the official Independence Day celebrations at Temple Trees”, the residence of the first Prime Minister of Ceylon (as it was known then) — foreshadowed “the class war” that raged in the south. The Marxist leaders dominated southern politics with their doctrines of revolutionary politics which, among other things, legitimized political violence to achieve their ends.
They promised that the revolution that was coming round the corner would eliminate poverty and usher in the workers’ paradise. With this promise they launched wave after wave of strikes that took them nowhere. Neither the revolution nor the paradise they promised ever materialized. But they created the ideological environment for the rise of the next generation of lumpen Marxists, the fascist JVPers, who resorted to brutal violence in a futile bid to overthrow the ruling class and replace it with a regime of their own which would have been, if it materialized, another Pol Potist regime. The misguided, angry, frustrated youth, stagnating in pools of unemployment without any upward social mobility, went berserk armed with mainly ideological weapons of social destruction. Mercifully, their military adventures were short lived. The innate resilient forces that resisted anti-democratic forces, whether from the Right or the Left, saved the nation from the barbarism of the Sinhala Pol Potists in the JVP. The triumph of democracy, however flawed it may be, is the greatest achievement of the post-independent generations.
The Tamils of the North were not that fortunate. Jaffna Tamils have been the victims of their own oppressive authoritarian forces, starting from Sankili and ending in Prabhakaran. Jaffna leadership never provided breathing space for genuine democratic grassroots to rise as a dynamic force within the parameters of the peninsula. For instance, Prabhakaran’s fascist cult emerged from the vicious Vellala culture that oppressed, humiliated, and reduced the Tamils to sub-humans. The Tamil political failures were tragedies caused by their own leaders, who like the Marxists, endorsed violence to achieve their separatist goals.
The Batakotte (which became Vadukoddai) Resolution of May 14, 1976 encapsulated the distorted history, the glorification of a non-existent past, and the legitimizing of Tamil violence. The Old Guard, led by S. J. V.Chelvanayakam, who drafted the Resolution, urged the Tamil youth “to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam is reached.” With this open declaration of war to achieve a separate state the Northern leadership committed the “crime against peace” – a legal principle first introduced at the Nuremberg Trials and later incorporated into the UN Charter.(See footnote.) The misguided Tamils ran like the children following a Tamil Pied Piper who lured them with tunes anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hatred into the fateful waters of Nandikadal.
The event that forecast the coming of tragic Tamil violence had an obscure beginning on Independence Day. This mysterious event was never recorded at the time, or even noticed by anyone. This third event turned out to be the most intriguing and sinister. Over time it grew into a movement of menacing proportions that set the nation on fire. However, it was Jaffna that faced the brunt of Jaffna violence.
The original event moved stealthily in down-town suburbs of Colombo. It was flying in a car, winding in and out of Bambalapitiya, Wellawatte and Cinnamon Gardens localities. It was so insignificant that no one took any notice of the car or the symbol fluttering on its bonnet. It was only a token protest at the time but, as the subsequent events prove, it contained all the potential to breakout into the most powerful force in the post-independent era. In fact, it developed into the dominant force of the 20th century, pushing the Marxist class war into the margins of history.
The car was flying a flag which was not known to the vast majority in the south. Inside the car was Murugeysen Tiruchelvam, who was the then Deputy Solicitor-General, the father of Neelan Tiruchelvam. He was flying the Nandi (Bull) flag, heralding the Tamil separatist movement. (See, Senator Tiruchelvam’s Legacy – p 22, edited by Ram Balasubramanian, Vijitha Yapa Publications., 2007). This was the third event that cast its ominous shadow darkening the remaining days of the 20th century. Tiruchelvam, a Tamil, was flying it as an act of defiance against the British handing over the state to the Sinhalese instead of giving a share of it to the Tamils.
The Nandi flag planted by Tiruchelvam on the bonnet of his car was the initial symbol of Tamils which represented their hopes of regaining their lost kingdom. Later Velupillai Prabhakaran, abandoned the Nandi symbol and redesigned it with the snarling face of a Tiger, imitating the MGM lion. He rejected the Nandi symbol of his Tamil political fathers in the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi, (also known as the Federal Party). Squatting in the streets of Chennai he dictated his design to a street artist who was paid a few rupees. With his limited imagination Prabhakaran replaced the MGM lion with his snarling tiger, putting his head out of a ring of 33 bullets crossed by two guns with fixed bayonets. The bellicose symbols represented the rage and hatred of Tamil violence. It had no redeeming features in it at all to express the humane side of Tamil society. Barbarism was written all over the flag.
But what he did not know was that he was predicting his own future in his design. The ring of 33 bullets predicted his own fate : Prabhakaran lasted exactly 33 years since the Batakotte Resolution declared war. The Batakotte Resolution was passed on May 14, 1976 and the war it unleashed ended on May 19, 2009.
Similarly, the Nandi flag of Tiruchelvam too foretold the future of the Tamils: the movement it unleashed ended in Nandikadal. This ill-fated Tamil movement to establish an Eelam also corresponds to the prediction of Supathidda Muni, a distinguished sage in the court of Yalpanam. King Pararajasegaram, respectfully asks the Muni about the future of the Jaffna kingdom. The reply is ominous. He foretold that after the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English “return to their countries handing over the government of the whole of Langka,” the Tamils would lose their sovereignty forever. “The sovereignty will never again come back to your descendants,” prophesied the Muni. (pp. 27 – 29 – Yalpana Vaipava Malai, or the History of the Kingdom of Jaffna, translated by C. Britto, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1999).
Obviously, Tiruchelvam would not have envisaged this turn of events when he was driving in the suburbs of Colombo flying the Nandi flag in his car on Independence Day. Nor was he aware that he was unleashing forces that were going to spin out of the control of the Tamil leadership. It was the hidden force of this obscure, unrecorded and insignificant event that burst out from its confines in Jaffna and, in the following decades, overtook all other competing political movements and dominated national politics. The car in which M. Tiruchelvam flew this Nandi flag rolled down, in due course, from the North like a juggernaut destroying everything in its wake.
This unsung flag-flying exercise happened to be the seminal sign of the most divisive and explosive event that challenged the nation, its identity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. In hindsight it stands out as the leading symbol of the events that were to unfold in its wake with disastrous consequences, mostly to the Jaffna Tamils.
Not surprisingly, the first victims of the Northern violence were the fathers who gave birth to it. There are some parallels in the violence that erupted in the north and the south. At its peak the violence of the south and the north reached unmanageable proportions threatening the elected democratic state.
The violence in the North and the South were driven by the disaffected youth. Both were victims of the identical social immobility caused by a stagnant economy. But the two groups interpreted the causes for their disaffection according to what was taught to them by their political fathers. In the south the youth took up arms on the basis of “class warfare” inculcated into their minds by their Marxist fathers. In the north the Tamil youth took up arms on the recommendation of their political fathers who legitimized violence in the Vadukoddai Resolution of May 14, 1976.
In the south the first tipping point was when the peripheral Sinhala youth coming out of universities entered the mainstream politics demanding social justice on the adulterated JVP version of the Marxist ideology. In the north the Jaffna youth inherited the extremist mono-ethnic ideology – there was no other dominant ideology in Jaffna – preached by their political fathers and waged war against the Sinhalese. Their violence was legitimized in the Vadukoddai Resolution which declared war, urging “the youth to take up arms and never cease until they attain Eelam”.
Vadukoddai violence exploded as the most brutal force that plunged the post-independent era in a blood bath for thirty three years. Quite appropriately, in keeping with its ruthlessness, the rather placid image of the sedentary Nandi was replaced by the snarling face of a brutal Tiger. The new symbol of the Tiger helped to maintain the rage. But in the end both flags sank in Nandikadal lagoon. Tiruchelvam’s Nandi Flag, which he flew on Independence Day, also went down in Nandikadal in May 2009 – exactly 33 years after the Tamils declared war against the Sinhalese in May 1976. Coming events certainly had a way of casting their grim shadows into the future.
The ideological forces that propelled southern and northern youth into violence were introduced by the political fathers who indoctrinated and directed their children into two divergent paths of violence. The Marxist leaders demonized the capitalist class and urged their followers to take up arms to overthrow the ruling elite. They ended their public meetings with the stirring words of a call to a revolution : “Saa-dukin pelana-woon, than-ithin nakiti-yuw…..Anthima sata-nata nakiti-yuw.” Their political progeny in the JVP, who came mainly from the villages, discovered that the dividing line between the ruling class and the oppressed was the English language. They called it the “kaduwa” (the sword).
The Marxist produced children to wage class warfare and suddenly discovered that their political children had taken up arms and were coming at them to overthrow them from the seats of power which they occupied in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government. . The lesson here is obvious : beware of what you wish in the twenties you might get them in the forties, as they say.
The Tamil leadership, taking on a similar leadership role, spun their ideology on identity politics, which was filled invariably with hate, targeting the Sinhalese – all of which were encapsulated in the Batakotte (Vadukoddai) Resolution of 1976. In Northern politics too language was a key element but with a twist. The Tamil youth were told that their future was blighted because the “Sinhala Government” had made Sinhala the official language. This issue gave the Tamil political class the glue that was needed to unite the fragmented Jaffna society. Raising the specter of the Sinhala-Buddhist bogey man was easy to market than imported ideas of Marxism, liberalism, humanism etc. Demonizing the Sinhala-Buddhists was the only ideology on which they survived and thrived in peninsular politics.
The Marxists indoctrinated the youth to wage a class war. They Tamil leadership indoctrinated the Tamil children to wage a racist war. Marxists promised a workers’ paradise. The Tamil leadership promised their paradise in Eelam.
The Marxists were hoping to ride on the backs of the helpless workers into a paradise of “sahodarayas” (comrades). What they didn’t inform was that the first and leading working class state in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) was a total failure. They didn’t reveal that the “New Bureaucratic Class” in Soviet Russia, consisting of the party apparatchiks, had grabbed all the power and the riches produced by the working class.
The ageing Tamil leaders were also hoping to ride on the backs of the Tamil youth into the elusive Eelam that was on the other side of Nandikadal which they never crossed. They all sank in it. In the end both leaderships discovered, rather late, that they had sowed the seeds of their own destruction. The Muslim and the Indian leaderships were wise. They retained the leadership of their communities in their hands by not resorting to violence. They remained within the non-violent framework which helped them to save their leaderships and their communities.
Handing over guns to the youth can easily backfire. In the Sri Lankan experiment the youth first turned their guns on their political fathers who promoted violence. The Sinhala youth took up arms against their Marxist fathers who were with the ruling class. In the North the Tamil youth did not hesitate to kill their political fathers first before they targeted the Sinhalese. The armed Tamil youth also did not hesitate to turn their guns on their kith and kin. Though the majority of the Tamils were Hindus no one raised the central question in the Baghavad Gita raised by conscience-stricken Arjuna: how can I kill my own kith and kin? On the contrary, the Tamil killers acquired fame and glory, among their own community, in killing Tamils. They were first hailed as “our boys”. Their stature grew in proportion to the corpses they piled up. Velupillai Prabhakaran reached the peak of his power when he stood on the highest pile of Tamil corpses.
In desperation S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s son. S.C. Chandrahasan, cried that Prabhakaran had killed more Tamils than the others put together. So did V. Ananadasangaree, president of TULF, who moaned the fact that Prabhakaran was not only the worst killer of Tamils but also the fascist dictator who threatened to kill – and killed — Tamil dissidents. He said that when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister, opened the Jaffna University, they had the right to protest against her in Jaffna. But under Prabhakaran they did not even have the right to step into Jaffna. The punishment would have been death.
Tiruchelvam’s decision to fly the Tamil flag on Independence Day did not anticipate this disastrous end. To him it was an act of heroic defiance, protesting against “the Sinhala state”. This act also reveals another aspect of Tamil politics. The timing gives the lie to the Tamil claim that it was the anti-Tamil acts of the Sinhala governments that provoked them to pursue extremist politics. When Tiruchelvam drove out of his car from his residence at “Wellawatt-am” – a suburb colonized mainly by the Tamils of Jaffna – nothing had changed from the days of the British Empire which provided the Tamils a privileged position in the public service, the only growth industry at the time.
His act of raising the flag of Tamils on Independence Day was a deliberate declaration of hate-Sinhala hate politics which was NOT (emphasis is mine) instigated by the rise of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, or his Sinhala Only Bill of 1956, or even the Citizenship Bill passed by the D. S. Senanayake. None of these political acts had surfaced when he drove out on Independence Day challenging, as it were, the might of the Sinhala state. It did not augur well for communal harmony. He was flying the flag for divisive politics though he did not realize the gravity of his act at the time. There was no valid reason for this anti-Sinhala act because D. S. Senanayake had laid the foundations for multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-party government of rainbow colours with guarantees for the minorities (example: Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution) on a sound democratic base of the Westminster model. Besides, G. G. Ponnambalam, the acknowledged leader of the Tamils at the time, was included in the first Cabinet.
So what reason was there for Tiruchelvam to fly a divisive communal flag when the constructive and conducive elements were factored in to build a rainbow nation? It was, by far, the best of times for the Tamils and, for that matter all communities. Everything was in its place, as the British left with no changes at all to the privileges, powers and perks of the minorities. So why did Tiruchelvam come out flying his Nandi Flag unless it was to signal the anti-Sinhala hate politics of the Tamils that led to Nandikadal?
It must be emphasized again that it was done without any provocation from the “Sinhala governments”. And shortly after that, within less than two years, S. J.V. Chelvanayakam came out to declare his federal/separate state on December 18, 1949 at the government Clerical Service Union Hall in Maradana. The infant state was taking its first steps when the Tamils launched their racist offensive on bogus accusations of discrimination, denial of Tamil rights that were supposed to end in the extinction of the Tamil race, culture, language etc.
If Tiruchelvam launched the first Tamil offensive on the very first day of independence with a symbolic act then S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism, took it to the extreme end of the political spectrum by launching Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (The Federal Freedom Party of the Tamil-speaking People of Ceylon) in 1949. In his presidential speech he picks on four main issues which should be examined in hindsight to test the validity of his accusations. (See full text of his speech in Michael Roberts’ Tamil Person and State, Pictorial, Vijitha Yapa).
First, he says : “The government is indulging in a series of discriminatory legislative and administrative acts too numerous to recapitulate …..Over two years of internal self-government have reduced the Tamil-speaking people to an inferior status in their own country.” Having said that he picks on four issues: 1. de-citizenize half the Tamil people of Ceylon.” 2. the Lion Flag, saying that it is identified with Singhalese sovereignty. He adds that it is symbolic of its attitude towards the Tamil-speaking people. The Government ignores their existence as a part of the body politics”. 3. Government colonisation. We have only the beginning of it in Gal Oya,” he says. 4. the language policy. The government intends to administer seven provinces in Sinhala without making provisions for the use of Tamil in all the nine provinces, he complained.
Let’s take his accusations one by one. Re.1 : De-citizenising half the Tamils. The primary task of all ex-colonies was to redress the historical imbalances caused by the colonial masters. The restoration of the historical rights denied by the colonial masters was a sine qua non to fulfill the political aspirations of the colonized people. The primary objective of driving out the colonial masters was for the people to regain their lost heritage. Defining the citizens of a nation was one such duty of the state. Ex-colonies, burdened with the influx of imported labour by the colonial masters, engaged in defining their citizens. It was the first duty every new nation. And the new government of “DS” enacted the citizenship acts which gave citizenship to those Indians workers who could prove that their fathers were born in Ceylon. G. G. Ponnambalam, the acknowledged leader of the Tamils voted for the bill. So did all other community leaders, including the Muslims.
Predictably, the Indian Congress representing the Indian estate workers voted against it. So there is no substance to the charge that it was not an act of “the Sinhala government” against the Tamils. It can’t be an act of “the Sinhala government” if the Tamil leader, Ponnambalam, and other minority leaders voted for it. But Chelvanayakam blamed it as an act of discrimination against the Tamils by “the Sinhala government”. Furthermore, later, under the Srima-Shastri Agreement, India agreed to repatriate the Indian estate workers who do not qualify and accept them as Indian citizens. Even this was condemned by Chelvanayakam. He was more concerned about the Tamils losing their electoral clout than the Indian workers losing their citizenship. Eventually, “the Sinhala governments” revoked the earlier decision and gave citizenship to the bulk of the Indian workers who remained in Sri Lanka. The problem was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. But the Tamil lobby continues to blame the Sinhala governments of “de-citizenizing” the Indian estate workers. Today, as citizens of Sri Lanka, the Indians who were granted citizenship form a formidable bloc of votes that has the potential to make or break “Sinhala governments.”
Re 2 : “The Lion Flag is symbolic of its (state’s) attitude towards the Tamil-speaking people”. Chelvanayakam was objecting to the Lion as symbol of majoritarian supremacy. He did not object to Tiruchelvam running around with only the bull in his flag. But it was highly objectionable for “the Sinhalese government” to have the lion in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious flag. It is this kind of perverse logic that exacerbated inter-ethnic relations in the post-independent era. In any case, the overall design of the national flag was signed and endorsed by all community leaders, including G. G. Ponnambalam. The orange strip is for the Tamil and the green is for the Muslims.
“The Sinhala attitude towards the Tamil-speaking people” was expressed unequivocally in the distinguish place given to the minorities in the flag. For instance, there are 193 flags flying at the UN. The only flag that has given the Tamils a place in the world is the Sri Lankan flag. Not even India, which has the largest concentration of Tamils, has given a pride of place for the Tamils in their national flag. So how valid is Chelvanayakam’s complaint of anti-Tamil bias in the national flag when it is the only flag in the world that has given the Tamils the highest recognition and respect?
Re.3 : Government colonisation. The Tamil colonisation of the hill country by the Indian workers, evicting the Sinhala peasants, and the colonisation of the suburbs of Colombo (example : Wellawatta-am”) with government servants from Jaffna were the outcome of state-sponsored jobs created by the British. The Indian colonized the hill country with the British state sponsoring the migration of Indians. Cheap Indian labour was imported for the British state to exploit the resources of the nation for the good of their investors. In the hill country the Sinhalese villages were forcibly taken over under the fake Waste Land Act. Overnight the Sinhala villagers became homeless people evicted from their traditional homeland. Chelvanayakam did not object to that. He objects to only Sinhalese settlers going back to their traditional homeland from ancient times in the east and the north.
There was also the colonization of the suburbs of Colombo by the Jaffna Tamils who came down to occupy state-sponsored jobs created by the British to run their administration. They colonized the suburbs under British patronage. There would have been no incentive for the Jaffna Tamils to come down to the South except to occupy government jobs, or to pursue commerce. But the Tamils objected to similar jobs being created in the traditional homelands of the Sinhala people. It was labeled as “colonization”, brushing aside the colonization of the traditional Sinhala homelands by imported and native Tamils.
The Tamils benefited most under the British. But when the landless Sinhalese were given jobs created by the post-independent government in their historical habitations it was raised as discrimination. As long as the Tamils colonized the Sinhala areas under British patronage it was ok. In fact when the Indian Tamils were to be sent back to India with the consent of the Indian Government the Tamils objected to that. The Tamils could colonize any part of the nation, either through private enterprise or through state-sponsored jobs. Only the Sinhalese should be kept confined to the south. The territorial conquests of the Tamils under British patronage deprived the Sinhalese of their traditional land.
The landless Sinhalese have a right to regain their lost territory. If the Indians and Jaffna Tamils could colonize Sinhala lands why is it a crime for the Sinhalese to get a share of their lands. At least there should have been an attempt to compensate the losses of the Sinhala land to the Tamil migrants. Clearly, Chelvanayakam was scare-mongering to push the Sinhalese out of his imagined Eelam and replace them with Tamils. His objective was to increase and consolidate his electoral clout to (1) increase his power for political bargaining and (2) establish a separate state for the Tamils only. Hence the fake claim of “colonization” of Tamil lands by the Sinhalese. It is a part of aggrandizement of territory for the Tamils. Their argument boils down to this: the Tamils have a right to settle down in any part of the island but not the Sinhalese and the Muslims.
Re.4: The language policy. The claim of Chelvanayakam that the Tamil language will disappear and Tamils will be reduced to slaves under Sinhala Only legislation have proved to be nothing but scare-mongering. Tamil language has been given a place in the state as never before. Better than even in India. Better than also what is available to the Tamils in the diaspora. They live in various parts of the world. In which of those country has Tamil language a place as in Sri Lanka. Which currency declares its value in Tamil? Which stamp of other countries prints its identity in Tamil? Which international airline announces in Tamil? And yet the Tamils go round demonising the Sinhala state as the enemy of Tamils which had suppressed and denied the Tamils their linguistic rights. From its inception Radio Ceylon, the state-run broadcasting institution, (the BBC of Sri Lanka) has been a centre for the promotion of Tamil culture.
Chelvanayakam and his team had never stopped talking of discrimination. How far is this true? Consider, for instance, a fundamental issue affecting all communities. Children of all communities are given free education, irrespective of race, religion or caste, from kindergarten to university. Not even Tamil Nadu, the only homeland of Tamils, give free education to the Tamils. I googled fees for a university degree in Chennai. I was shocked. It’s one crore for MBBS in private universities. In state system free education is only up to secondary level. At the university levels all students, except the scheduled caste, have to pay fees. And the Tamils have the gumption to accuse “the Sinhala state” of discrimination for giving them free education from kindergarten to university.
It is the doctors who got free education from the Sri Lankan medical faculties who financed the Tiger war, crying discrimination. Tamil humbuggery knows no limit. They are scared to acknowledge the realities because they know that the truth will demolish their claim to be victims of “the Sinhala state”. Besides, their only means of hiding their brutal persecution, murder, and discrimination against their own people down the feudal and colonial ages is by pointing a finger at “the Sinhala state”.
Chelvanayakam complained that the Tamils have been reduced to an inferior status at a time when Sir Kandiah Vaithiyanathan was the first Prime Minister’s first Permanent Secretary, the highest position in the public service. Also the first Sri Lankan Army Commander of Independent Sri Lanka was Maj-General Anton Mutucumaru. The second Navy Commander was Rajan Kadiragamar. There were at least four Tamil IGPs. Head of the Treasury was Raju Coomaraswamy, the father of the present head of the Central Bank. The list is unending. Yet the Tamils were made to believe that they are the victims of Sinhala discrimination. Yes, there was discrimination – and that has been mostly against the Sinhalese by “the Sinhala government”. When the UNP wins all the Sinhala SLFPers, are beaten, houses burnt, transferred, demoted, or sacked. And vice versa. Now if that happened to Tamils it would be broadcast as discrimination.
It is time that the Tamils faced reality and worked for reconciliation first by apologising to their own people – not the Sinhalese — for the crimes committed against them for centuries. I am sure that if all the crimes committed by the Sinhalese are piled up next to the crimes committed by the Tamil against the Tamils the Sinhala crimes would stand at the level of an ant hill compared to the Himalayan heights of Tamil crimes. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the words of S. Chandrahasan, son of Chelvanayakam and V. Anandasangaree, one of the last of the Chelvanayakam generation, who have declared that Prabhakaran had killed more Tamils than all the others put together. What more evidence is needed to prove that the Tamils have been better off under the Sinhala governments than under centuries of fascist Vellala rule or the Pol Potist regime of Prabhakaran?
End of story – a tragic story indeed in which the Tamil crimes against the Tamils, particularly against the Tamil children make Jaffna the grim black hole of Sri Lankan history.