amuel James Veluppillai (SJV) Chelvanayakam was born on March 31, 1898 in Ipoh, Malaya. He passed away on April 26, 1977. Today is his 39th Death Anniversary.
SJV received his secondary education at the Union College, Tellippalai and later became a student at St. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia. At the age of 19, he secured a Bachelor’s degree in Science. While being a teacher, he pursued his studies in law at the Law College. He became an advocate in 1923 and became a Queen’s Counsel in 1947.
He never intended to play a role for himself in the Tamil political movement. He was at the fringes of Tamil politics. In 1944, Soulbury Commission visited Ceylon. G.G. Ponnambalam, a charismatic leader and an orator was in the forefront of Tamil politics. Ponnambalam advocated a formula for balanced communal representation, popularly known as fifty-fifty demand for the minorities within a unitary character of the Constitution.
SJV was a great admirer and supporter of Ponnambalam. He convened an ad hoc body in 1944 at Zahira College, Colombo to support the formula of fifty-fifty demand. Earnest efforts were made to bring all groups of varying political opinions among the Tamil under this ad hoc body to present a united demand before the Soulbury Commission. This ad hoc body was later evolved into Tamil Congress Party of which G. G. Ponnambalam became its undisputed leader and SJV became his deputy.
G.G. Ponnambalam led the Tamil Congress at the General Election of 1947 and sought the mandate from the Tamils to reject the Soulbury Commission Report. The Ceylon Tamil voters rejected it and gave Ponnambalam an overwhelming mandate. Later, Ponnambalam articulated the mandate as the mandate of ‘responsive co-operation’ with progressive-minded Sinhalese parties in the South and joined the D. S. Senanayake Government on September 4, 1948.
SJV has, on the other hand, desired to use Tamil co-operation as a stepping-stone to secure ‘an acceptable resolution of the Tamil concerns relating to (a) citizenship rights for the Indian Tamil plantation workers, (b) parity of status for the Sinhala and Tamil languages, (c) an acceptable National Flag and (d) the cessation of state-aided colonization of the Tamil-speaking areas with
He was advancing a federal system of government. However, could not receive sufficient support from the Tamils as against the charismatic leadership of G. G. Ponnambalam.
When Ponnambalam became a Minister in the D. S. Senanayake government, SJV did not resign from the Tamil Congress but continued the tug-of-war of making claim to the Tamil Congress till he inaugurated the Federal Party on December 18, 1949. In the General Election of 1952, the newly-formed Federal Party won two parliamentary seats, Kopay and Trincomalee, and Ponnambalam emerged as the undisputable leader of the Tamils till 1956.
The Sinhala only wave of 1956 gave a new political life to SJV. From 1956 till his death on April 26, 1977, he became the undisputed and acknowledged leader of the Tamils for an uninterrupted period of 21 years.
SJV was a Christian by religion and a Hindu by culture. This reconciliation paved his political way easier to identify himself with the politics of the Tamil people. He never changed his religion to gain advantage for his political leadership. Many of his Sinhalese counterparts -- with the introduction of universal franchise -- gave up Christianity in favour of Buddhism to gain political mileage.
His political opponents criticized him of being a Christian leading a Hindu population. Chelvanayakam sent a fitting reply to a letter of criticism from Ven. Hewanpola Ratnasara Thera, President of the Sinhala Buddhist Organization of the Vidyalankara University which appeared in the Daily News of October 3, 1970. Chelvanayakam replied ‘You referred to my religion as Christian and therefore, I had little in common with Tamils who were mainly Hindus by religion. It stands to the credit of the Hindu people that they have not forced me or other Christians to change our faith before we lead them’.
SJV was a committed proponent of a Sri Lankan entity which encompassed a Federal State. He was advocating a federal unit for the Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces under a federal system of government. He wanted to attain some autonomy for the Tamils within the framework of ‘a quasi-nationalism’. His political objective of a federal union of all the Sri Lankans gave the Tamils a new political vocabulary of a new idea of a traditional homeland.
He brought unity among the Tamils which he considered as a sacred trust and not to be frittered away in exchange of ministerial benefits and other political perks. It was Thondaman, the renowned leader of the Ceylon Workers’ Congress who had rightly and aptly said at a Meeting held on October 11, 1972 that “Chelvanayakam was the Tamil people; and the Tamil people were Chelvanayakam”.
SJV’s dedication to the cause of the Tamils was unquestionable and supreme. He believed in his cause and translated it into action. Freedom for his people was his goal, from which he could not be distracted by ministerial office or worldly gain. He was a well principled leader. He expected that the Sinhala leadership would give reasonable solutions for the problems of the Tamils through parliamentary devices. Chelvanayakam honestly believed to build a united Sri Lanka out of her diversity. It is sad to note that all his democratic non-violent agitations and parliamentary devices met with failure. It was a sad state of political governance of the majority Sinhalese leaders that they declined to compromise with him who demonstrated willingness to settle problems of the Tamils for something far short of his original demands.
Now the new Government has openly declared that the new Constitution would embody proposals, satisfactory of power sharing and it would end for good further conflict or another war. Let us hope peace would dawn with the 39th Death Anniversary of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and the
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