Who came first – Sinhalese or Tamils? (Part II)
In his role of raising the flag for communalism (not nationalism) Ponnambalam stands out as the Father of Tamil Communalism. His entry into politics in 1931 marks the beginning of communal politics on a scale never seen before. The idealism of the English-educated Tamil youth coming out of anti-caste missionary schools drove Ponnambalam out of Jaffna to contest the Mannar seat. Besides, the anti-communal Jaffna Tamil Youth Congress boycotted the first elections under the Donoughmore Constitution held in 1931, demanding full sovereign rights of an independent nation. Subsequently, when Ponnambalam won in 1934 in his home town seat of Point Pedro the liberal politics of the Tamil Youth Congress had petered out. Ponnambalam’s communalism galloped into national politics like the apocalyptic horses – and no one has reined them in to this day.
Ponnambalam, however, did not have a clue about any constructive or progressive programs for the Tamil masses when he launched his political career at the age of 34. He relied essentially on two embedded ideologies in the Jaffna political culture: 1. Hindu casteism and 2. Tamil communalism –.both of which were opposed and halted temporarily by the enlightened Tamil youth coming out of Christian missionary schools in the twenties and early thirties. It was the golden period of Tamil politics. They opposed both communalism and casteism. They embraced Gandhism rejecting communalism and casteism. But the overwhelming power of traditional Vellala dynamics snuffed out their brief glory. For a brief while it swept Jaffna as the winds of change. But the entrenched Saivite Vellala forces, consolidated by the idealised caste fanatic, Arumuka Navalar, who revised Saivism as a political ideology to reinforce the supremacy of Vellalaism, triumphed in the end. After the liberating splendour of the Tamil Youth Congress came the deluge of Vellalaism led by Ponnambalam. He became the fountain head from which casteism and communalism flowed into the Jaffna electorate.
In various shades, all Tamil political parties operated on these two ideologies after Ponnambalam. There was no political space in the Jaffna Tamil political culture for any other democratic, liberal, or pluralistic ideology to gain root. Political manipulation of the Jaffna electorate depended extensively and intensively on these two ground forces, driven by the leading political elite consisting exclusively of the English-speaking Saivite Jaffna Vellalas (SJVs), until the take-over of Jaffna politics by the low-caste LTTE.
When these two intertwining forces gathered momentum and snowballed it drove Jaffna from one mono-ethnic extreme to another. From 50-50 in the thirties it went to federalism” in the forties and then to separate state thereafter, until Eelam was declared unequivocally in the Vadukoddai Resolution in May 1976. The ideological groundwork for the rise and consolidation of these forces can be found in Ponnambalam’s speech (1939) and the Vadukoddai Resolution (1976). These are two decisive and indelible landmarks in the history of Jaffna politics which defined the rising trajectory of the mono-ethnic extremism, starting emphatically from the thirties. These two documents shaped and consolidated the Tamil ideology that was designed to capture either (1) a disproportionate share of power at the centre, or (2) territory in the periphery. Ponnambalam argued for a 50% share of power to 11% Tamils of the North at the centre in the thirties. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, his junior at the bar and in the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), broke away from the ACTC and took it to another extreme level by demanding a separate state in the periphery, consisting of two thirds of the coastline in the North and East with the hinterland for 11% of Tamils.
As stated earlier, this claim is based entirely on their partisan and selected rendering of history that was woven with omissions, commissions and deliberate distortions. Tamil ideologues are aware that their political agenda of separatism, aimed at capturing two thirds of the coastline and its hinterland, will collapse without some sort of history to carry them through. Even fake history was better than no history at all. So the Tamil ideological industry in the post-independent era has focused mainly on manufacturing a history that would fit into their. separatist political agenda. Simultaneously, they laboured to rewrite history to demonise, or belittle the achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists. The documented history of the Sinhala-Buddhists, which has no parallel in Tamil records, diminishes their claims to power and territory. So the indefatigable mission of Tamil and pro-Tamil ideologues pursuing their separatist agenda has been to rewrite history as seen in the speeches of Ponnambalam and politics of Chelvanayakam.
Ponnambalam launched his mono-ethnic campaign on two parallel line tracks: 1. by demonising Sinhala-Buddhist history and glorifying Tamil history”. And (2) by raising the cry of Sinhala discriminating against the Tamils. The cry of Sinhalese discriminating against the Tamils, when both communities were ruled by the British colonial masters, did not carry any weight. Nor did Ponnambalam have any substantial evidence to prove this point. In fact, the Soulbury Commissioners who heard his complaint dismissed it as stuff and nonsense. Clearly, Ponnambalam’s swing to justify a disproportionate share of power and privileges to the minority Tamils (11%) needed an argument more powerful than the politically-motivated cry of discrimination against the Tamil minority by the majority Sinhalese.
Besides, in the thirties Ponnambalam was faced with a massive wave of historical research that unearthed the footprints and the fingerprints of the ancient and medieval Sinhala history buried under the jungle tide. Mark you, the thirties was a golden period for the Sinhalese who were basking in the glorious discoveries of the monumental achievements of their ancestors in the classical Sinhala-Buddhist history. Wilhelm Geiger, the famous German Indologist, had translated the Mahavamsa. All the new archaeological, numismatic, and historical evidence had reinforced the claim of the Sinhalese to a unique history. Their dominant and overarching role in history made their claim to territory irrefutable. The monumental evidence dug out from the past by European Indologists, archaeologists, historians, administrators substantiated the overwhelming historical evidence forced even the Tamil elite to acknowledge the greatness of Sinhala-Buddhist ancestors. Sir, Ponnambalam Arunachalam was a scholar who praised the achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists in their classical period. The Royal Asiatic Society, which was under the patronage of the British Governor, was glorying in the wonders of the Sinhala-Buddhist past. The Tamils claiming a superior history from the dawn of time found that there was no comparable Tamil history to substantiate their superiority, or even the role of a co-partnership in the making of Sri Lankan history. The Indo-Aryan settlers had energetically and with missionary zeal created a new (Sinhala) language, a new (Sinhala-Buddhist) culture, and a new (Sinhala-Buddhist) civilisation. The Tamils had nothing to show on this scale.
In the first flush of the historical discoveries the leaders of both communities were falling over each other to sing in praise of the glorious historical past. Anagarika Dharmapala wrote in his diary: (The) Sinhalese must wake up from their slumber…We were a great people.” And Ponnambalam Arunachalam wrote in his diary: Thought much of the unhappy conditions of our country and what a glorious thing it would be for Ceylon to emulate and excel her great past.” ( p. 226, Stimulants and ingredients in the awakening of latter-day nationalisms, Michael Roberts in Collective Identities : Nationalisms an d Protest in Modern Sri Lanka, Marga Institute.)
The new historical evidence, discovered mainly by the administrators of the British regime, had reinforced the claim of the Sinhalese to a unique history. Their dominant and overarching role in history made their claim to island irrefutable. The overwhelming historical evidence forced even the Tamil elite to acknowledge the greatness of Sinhala-Buddhist ancestors. Sir, Ponnambalam Arunachalam was a scholar who praised the achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists in their classical period. The Royal Asiatic Society, which was under the patronage of the British Governor, was glorying in the wonders of the Sinhala-Buddhist past. The Tamils claiming a superior history from the dawn of time found that there was no comparable Tamil history to substantiate their superiority, or even a co-partnership in the making of Sri Lankan history. The Indo-Aryan settlers had energetically and missionary zeal created a new (Sinhala) language, a new (Sinhala-Buddhist) culture, and a new (Sinhala-Buddhist) civilisation. The Tamils had nothing to show on this scale.
The makers of history were those created the new language, new culture, new civilisation and a new history which could match the splendid civilisations that emerged in the ancient and medieval worlds. Others were peripheral bystanders lending a hand, now and then, for the rise and glory of the new Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation. Like all the colonialists, the Tamils who marched in from S. India were opposed to this new civilisation. They were bent on imposing their culture and civilisation which could be achieved only by destroying the established Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation. Tamils from S. India did not come to foster, protect and patronise the new language, the new culture and the new civilisation. They came like all colonial masters to impose their language, their culture and religion by destroying the prevailing socio-political norms. The culture wars of the invading colonialists and the indigenous people were inevitable. The heroism of young Dutugemunu is not in defeating the elderly Elara but in restoring and securing the Sinhala-Buddhist culture threatened by the foreign invaders. Tamils could not claim to be makers of history after acting as the anti-historical forces attempting to impose an alien culture. So the next alternative available to the Tamil ideologues (following Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam) was to belittle or denigrate the history of the majority (75% Sinhalese) and elevate their version of minority history(11% ) to a superior status.
Besides, the Vadukoddai Resolution which claims equal partnership in the making of history from the dawn of history does not claim a creative or constructive role in the making of history. They have been forced to skip this early phase because they have nothing to show except their invaders, colonialists,, marauders, mercenaries, traders and exploiters and anti-national aggressors. They did not come to make history. Their mission was to destroy it. The attempt of the Tamils to rewrite Sri Lankan history is a continuation of their early attempts to destroy it. And the impetus to this project began with Ponnambalam in the thirties.
Ponnambalam returned from Cambridge, London, to enter politics in Jaffna in 1931 without any progressive ideology like the Marxist returnees from Western universities. He took to racism as the easy way to climb the political ladder. He had to fight on two major fronts: 1. The establish aristocracy of the turbaned Arunachalams, Ramanathans and Mahadevas and 2. The rising Sinhala leaders in the South. He had no program to combat the establishment in Jaffna. Nor did he have a strategy to capture the leadership from the more respected turbaned aristocracy. Embracing racism was the best card he could play to oust the Arunachalams and Ramanathans.
On the contrary, the Sinhala returnees from the West were imbued with leftist liberalism. Mrs. Selina Perera, wife of Dr. N. M. Perera, made a dash to Mexico to meet Leon Trotsky who was hiding from the assassins of Stalin. But she was stopped at the Mexican border and missed the opportunity. (p.185 – Origins of Trotskyism in Ceylon – George Jan Lerksi, Stanford University, 1968). Dr. Colvin R. de Silva went to USSR to take a look at the first socialist paradise” and he wrote a scathing article criticising Stalinism in the Ceylon Daily News. Philip Gunawardena, the Father of the Marxism, was with Jayaprakash Narayan, imbibing Marxist-Socialism at the feet of Scott Nearing at Wisconsin University in USA.(p. 10 – Lerski.) Dr. N. M. Perera returned from the London School of Economics with a double-doctorate – a leading school of politics that produced most Afro-Asian leaders in the post-war era — influenced by the eminent left-wing guru, Harold Laski. Ponnambalam was the exception. In the thirties he visited, with his British fascist companions, Hitler’s racist Germany where he had seen the rise and success of rabid anti-Semitism. (This ride to Hitler’s Germany act is footnoted in Jane Russel’s book…………….)
Apart from that, the deep-rooted casteist dynamics of Jaffna were not conducive for the rise of liberalism, humanism, Gandhism, Marxism or any other varieties of socialism, pluralism, or multiculturalism as a viable political ideology. The dominant decision-makers in all layers of Jaffna society – temples, lands, professions, administrative links to the British colonial masters, schools, government and even leading private institutions, etc., — consisted exclusively of those in the Vellala political caste/class. They ran Jaffna, as adjunct sub-rulers / subalterns to the British with a fascist fist. The low-caste had no say in determining the destiny of Jaffna. The last mission of Sir. Ponnambalam Ramanathan to London in the late twenties was to make representation to the Colonial Office on the need to protect and preserve the caste system. There was no one to speak on behalf of the non-Vellala low-castes. Communalism and caste were the twin ideologies that went hand in hand to determine the destiny of the Jaffnaites.
Ponnambalam was quick to pick up the internal dynamics of the Jaffna electorate. Even Chelvanayakam tip-toed out” of the caste crisis that erupted on the issue of entry to Maviddipuram Temple by the low-castes, said Prof. Bryan Pfaffenberger, the American specialist on Saivite casteism in Jaffna. Ever since Ponnambalam launched his racist ideology in the thirties, the Jaffna electorate swung from one form of mono-ethnic extremism to another. Fifty-fifty became federalism – a deceptive term which meant federalism” in the south and separatism in the north. On December 18, 1949 when S. J. V. Chelvanayakam launched his Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi in Colombo it was meant to be federalism” but its hidden objective was to aim at a separate state. Chelvanayakam’s declared policy was little now and more later.” This hidden objective was revealed in the Vadukoddai Resolution of May 14, 1976 when they declared war demanding Eelam, a separate state. The underlying theme in it was the superiority of the Tamils because they arrived in Sri Lanka before the Sinhalese. They even claimed the first kings were Hindu Tamils. This claim that Sri Lanka is their country because they came first has passed into Tamil folklore without any substantial historical evidence to back it.
It is the distortions of known historical facts that twisted Tamil politics and took them all the way to Nandikadal.