Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam was born in Malaysia on 31ST March 1898, one century and fifteen years ago. He received his secondary education at the Union College, Tellippalai and later became a student at St. Thomas’ College, which was at that time situated at Modera. He was a contemporary of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. At the age of nineteen, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree. Soon after his graduation he became a teacher at St. Thomas’ College, which was by then shifted to Mount Lavinia. Later he moved to Wesley College and pursued his studies in law at Law College. He became an advocate in 1923 and the dignity of silk was conferred on him in 1947.
He was a Tamil nationalist to the core. Chelvanayakam once went to the classroom at Wesley College in Tamil national costume. The national dress was looked down, as it was then perceived by the Ceylonese elites as the dress of the ‘rustic natives’. The Principal expressed dissatisfaction that promptly made Chelvanayakam to tender his resignation.
Chelvanayakam formed an ad hoc body of Hulftsdorp lawyers to make representations to the Soulbury Commission and he wanted to resurrect Ponnambalam’s demand of fifty fifty – a demand for balanced communal representation for the minorities within the unitary character of the Constitution. He helped to transform the ad hoc committee into Tamil Congress in the year 1944 and caused the registration of the publication of a Weekly Tamil Paper called “Suthanhtiran”. Mesmerized silver tongue orator, G.G. Ponnambalam (Snr) became its Leader and Chelvanayakam became its Deputy Leader. Chelvanayakam, being a Tamil Congress candidate defeated the UNP candidate, S. Nadesan (Nadesapillai), the son-in-law of Sir P. Ramanathan at Kankesanthurai constituency in 1947.
On the basis of ‘responsive co-operation’ Ponnambalam desired to join DS Government in August 1948 without any prior conditions while Chelvanayakam insisted to obtain from DS Government written promises to honour four proposals. Ponnambalam blatantly refused to accept the proposals of Chelvanayakam, rendering a tug-of-war between Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam in making claim to the Tamil Congress and finally Ponnambalam established his unchallenged supremacy over Tamil Congress. Chelvanayakam inaugurated the Federal Party on 18th December 1949. In the General Elections of 1952 the newly formed FP won two parliamentary seats, Kopay and Trincomalee. It failed to make any impact of political importance because the majority of the Tamils and the Tamil Congress, which dominated the Tamil political scene, believed their political salvation in a unitary state under the leadership of UNP.
Chelvanayakam was an adherent of Christian faith and practices: he was a Christian by religion but a Hindu by culture. He had imbibed many of the Hindu ethoses. However, he never changed his religious faith for the power of a seat in Parliament or to be a Leader of the Tamils, a community of which more than eighty percent are Hindus.
Chelvanayakam was opposed in the General Elections of 1952 both by UNP and Tamil Congress candidates at the Kankesanthurai constituency. It was predominantly a Hindu electorate with historical Hindu Temples, Mavidapuram Temple. His opponents viciously reminded the electorate that a Christian should not represent the Hindu electorate. V. Navaratnam, who was described by Chelvanayakam as the ‘brain box’ of FP wanted Chelvanayakam to be photographed as accepting ‘kalanchi’ at Nallur Kanthasamy Temple in order to send the message to the Hindu voters that Chelvanayakam was observing Hindu practices though being a Christian.
Chelvanayakam was so obstinate to be counselled to descend to pretensions of worship. He preferred to loose the elections rather than practising deception on the Hindu voters and embraced defeat by the UNP candidate, S.Natesan.
In 1956 a profound change had taken place in the political history of Sri Lanka. The forces of ‘Sinhala Only’ movement were spreading rapidly in the South. The General Elections of 1956 were fought on the language issue. The MEP led by Bandaranaike swept to power on ‘Sinhala only’. The ‘Sinhala only’ cry made so loud in the South burgeoned FP to victory in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
In June 1956 when the Sinhala Only Act was brought in Parliament, the FP staged protest by way of non-violent civil disobedience at the Galle Face Green as practised by Gandhi. That was the first satyagraha campaign. The satyagrahis were attacked and injured by organized mobs and the violence spread against Tamils in Colombo and Gal Oya. Blood was freely oozing. No action was taken by the government to abate the violence and carnage.
Prime Minister Bandaranaike felt the danger of escalation of violence of Sinhala-Tamil conflict due to the prolonged agitations of the FP. He made conciliatory measures. He brought the Reasonable Use of Tamil Act and promised to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to consider amendments to the Soulbury Constitution, including federalism. Then, Education Minister, Badiuddin Mahmood and the famous lawyer S. Navaratnarajah who was later conferred silk as QC brought both the disputants to the Conference Table at Bandaranaike’s ancestral home in Horogolla.
The conversations of Prime Minister Bandaranaike and Chelvanayakam were duly reported in the newspapers. Chelvanayakam held the hand of the Prime Minister and said “Banda, I agreed to meet you after considerable thought. You must do something to solve this problem. If we fail to solve this problem now, after our death, it will cause great havoc to the country”. The Prime Minister had cautiously replied “I see your point. Chelva, I will do something to solve it”.
The negotiating parties had a meeting with the press and had tea with them. During the session, Amirthalingam told the Prime Minister “Sir, though we are demanding federalism, we are ready to settle for much less, some sort of autonomy”. Bandaranaike turned to Chelvanayakam and asked “Chelva, do you accept what Amirthalingam said?”. Chelvanayakam then replied “He is the voice of the youth. He is prepared to compromise and accept much less. I am an old man. You must try to satisfy the youth”. “I am seriously concerned about this problem. I am prepared to find a settlement. I talked to Dudley. He is also agreeable. The difficulty is with JR and his group” so said the Prime Minister.
The BC Pact was signed on 26th July 1956. The UNP alleged that the Pact was a sell-out to the Tamils and the country was divided. JR organized Kandy March against the Pact and certain monks led by Budharakkita Thero and Mrs. Vimala Wijewardena, a Cabinet Minister demanded the Pact be abrogated. Bandaranaike declared that the ‘Pact was no more’.
The Sinhala Only Act was implemented in all its rigour with effect from 1, January 1961. However, the successive governments were reluctant to implement the Reasonable Use of Tamil and the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act. The failure to implement the Acts made Chelvanayakam to entertain an idea that they should become members of the government in order to minimize the grievances of the Tamils. So, in 1965 he helped Dudley Senanayake and his UNP to form a ‘National Government’. Consequently Dudley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact was signed and the District Councils Bill was gazetted in 1968. The Bill was opposed by the joint protest march organized by SLFP, LSSP and CP. The Bill was abandoned. However, the FP allowed Thiruchelvam to remain as Minister of Local Government and its representative. Thiruchelvam appointed a Committee to look into the question of declaring the Koneswaram Temple area a sacred city. The high-profile Buddhist priest from Seruwila electorate led a protest delegation to the Prime Minister. The priest perceived that declaring the surrounding area of the Temple a protected area was a ploy to divide the country. The Prime Minister dissolved the committee and forced Chelvanayakam to leave the government.
All the democratic non-violent agitations and parliamentary devices promoted and practised by Chelvanayakam failed to secure the rights of the Tamils as the South never yielded to any kind of political accommodation. The non-violent agitations were rendered irrelevant and unworthy of emulation. It was a sad state of political governance of the majority leaders that they refused to come to terms with Chelvanayakam who espoused non-violence and demonstrated willingness to settle problems of the Tamils for weighted representation within a unitary British model as an amicable solution to share power with the Sinhalese.
The actions of the successive governments in enforcing draconian measures depriving the Tamils of their due and legitimate rights and periodic pogroms and the 1983 a Communal Riot devastated the Tamils. They were compelled to turn to a different alternative. Chelvanayakam who had incessantly and assiduously pursued a policy of ‘not to lend support to any political movement that advocated the bifurcation of our country’ but to achieve a federal unit for the Tamils had in or about 1975 ‘reluctantly switched his stand to call for a separate state’. The rest is history. The Nation still continues to bleed without any kind of sustainable solution.
But a pilitical solution acceptable to both communities at that time would have saved a lot of lives and seen us through to great heights by now over many asian nations! We the majority never had the will! The politicians were more interested in their positions. The two major political parties blamed each other, but were not interest in resolving the issue, sadly to-date! We are now caught at international level. More to come!
Sudath P. Thursday, 31 January 2013 10:42 AM
Chelva was not consistent in his political stand. He espoused the 'little now more later' policy creating suspicion among the rulers. His infamous Vadukoddai resolution ruined the country triggering thousands of Tamils to seek shelter in far away lands. In the first place he shouldn't have demanded 50-50 formula which is absolutely unreasonable on the majority community. Even Malaysia where he was born, Tamil remains third language followed by Malay and Chinese.
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