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S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike: Sri Lanka’s pioneering proponent of federalism

2019-02-09 00:10:16
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  • 1957 dawned with friction over issue of ‘Sri’ letter in vehicle number plates
  • FP replaced ‘Parliament’ with ‘Regional Council’
  • ‘Banda-Chelva’ pact never allowed to work due to political opposition in South
  • James Rutnam solitary dissident of SWRD’s proposal for federal Constitution
  • Federalism first proposed by Sinhala political leaders

 

By
D.B.S. Jeyaraj

 

The Constitution reform or Constitution-making process appears to be at a standstill. Apart from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), all other political parties represented in the Constitutional Assembly do not seem keen on taking the process forward at this juncture. The chief reason for this lethargy seems to be real and imaginary concerns over impending elections in the near future. The presidential elections are definitely due this year. At the same time, Parliamentary and/or Provincial Council elections too cannot be ruled out. With prospective elections looming large across the political horizon – our political parties that seldom display positive political courage – are reluctant to  register forward movement on the Constitutional front. 


This does not mean that the Constitutional journey has come to an end. It only means that there is a pause or respite. Although Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is playing his characteristic word games, it is indeed a fact that the “first draft of a draft Constitution” has been formulated. It requires fine-tuning and finalisation. This does not seem possible at this juncture. What is required now is not an abandoning of the Constitutional process, but to put it on hold for a while. In any case, there is very little choice in the matter and in a sense the emphasis on patience being the need of the hour amounts to making a virtue out of necessity. Besides, it is better to let the Constitutional process be temporarily dormant and preserve it. Attempting to fast track it in a not-so-conducive environment may prove counter-productive. 


However, this political lull has not silenced or diminished particular aspects relating to the debate on Constitutional reform or a new Constitution. Most of the contending arguments shed more heat and less light. Much of the heat generated is about the nature of the state and systems of governance. Once again, a cacophony of ill-informed and ill-intentioned voices is centring on the familiar F-word in Sri Lankan politics – FEDERALISM. 


It is well-known that the words federalism and federal have become dirty words in the Sri Lankan political milieu in the past. Sinhala hard-line opinion viewed federalism as an euphemism for secessionism or as a stepping stone to a ‘Separate State.’ Now, once again, those suspicions are being aroused and fears revived. It is being argued wrongly and maliciously that an effective power sharing arrangement based on principles of federalism would lead to a break-up of the country. Anyone speaking positively about federalism is depicted as a traitor. The federal concept is being portrayed as a sinister Tamil conspiracy to divide the island. 
An interesting question that arises in this respect is this: If federalism does amount to a political conspiracy to divide the country, then who was “treacherously” responsible for introducing this hated F-word into the political discourse of this island nation first? Whose was the original sin of proposing federalism if indeed it could be called a “sin”? To put it more bluntly, who wanted federalism first in this country? A succinct and precise answer to that is provided by Dr. Rohan Edirisingha in his illuminating essay “Federalism: Myths and realities” in which he makes the following observation – “It is significant to note that long before Tamil political leaders advocated federalism, the young S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the mid-1920s and the Kandyan Sinhalese representatives before the Donoughmore Commission in the late-1920s were advocates of a federal Sri Lanka. The Kandyan Sinhalese proposed a federal Ceylon with three provinces including a province for the North-East. In fact, it is possible to argue that it was the Kandyan Sinhalese and not the Ceylon Tamils who were not only the champions of a federal Ceylon but also the merger of the North and East. The Kandyan Sinhalese in fact viewed themselves as a nation and many of the documents of the organisations they established to advance their cause used language and arguments similar to Tamil nationalists and Tamil political groups in the more recent past. They were concerned about the influx of low-country Sinhalese into the Kandyan region.” 


So it was S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the greatest intellectual among Sinhala political leaders of that era, who advocated some form of federalism as the only solution as far back as 1926. Kandyan Sinhala leaders recommended a federal arrangement of two units for low and up-country Sinhalese and one unit comprising the North–East for Tamils in 1927. It could be seen therefore that federalism was first proposed by Sinhala political leaders. Ironically, the Sri Lankan Tamils rejected federalism when recommended by the Sinhalese. If Sri Lankan Tamil political leaders had availed themselves of the opportunity and demanded that the British granted federalism for the Tamils of the North and East, there was every chance that the request might have been acceded to. The Kandyan Sinhala and Sri Lankan Tamil political leaders could have pressurised the low-country Sinhala leaders in a political pincer. Yet, this did not happen. The Sri Lankan Tamil political leaders did not demand federalism or even a ‘Separate State’ while the British were ruling. Instead, these demands were raised only after the British left our shores. 


SOLOMON WEST RIDGEWAY DIAS BANDARANAIKE 


Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike was born on January 8, 1899. He died due to assassination on September 26, 1959. This year (2019) therefore marks the 110th anniversary of his birth and 60th anniversary of his death. If the “Lion of Boralugoda” Philip Gunawardena could be described as the “Father of Marxism” then the Laird of Horagolla Solomon Bandaranaike could be termed in lighter vein as the “Father of Federalism” in Ceylon as Sri Lanka was known then. SWRD was enlightened enough to feel the necessity for some form of decentralisation and/or devolution when the unified Ceylonese nation began progressing towards self-government under British rule. Both decentralisation and devolution were used interchangeably in those days. Although Bandaranaike did espouse federalism at one point, it is a fact that in later years, he modified or amended it to decentralisation. It is against this backdrop that this column focuses on the first person of eminence who proposed federalism in Ceylon/Sri Lanka during colonial rule and what transpired thereafter. 


S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike returned home in 1925 after pursuing a brilliant academic career at Christ Church College, Oxford. Like many young idealists from countries under colonial bondage, SWRDB too came back with a zealous sense of mission to serve his country and people. While being a member of the Ceylon National Congress, Bandaranaike also founded a political party known as the ‘Progressive National Party’ to achieve the goal of political self-government. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became the leader of the Progressive National Party while C. Ponnambalam of the Jaffna Youth Congress was the party secretary. 


The Oxford returned SWRDB was of the view then that Ceylon should become a federation. The Progressive National Party in its Constitution detailed an outline of the federal system Bandaranaike had in mind. While noting that the three main groups in the country were the low-country Sinhalese, up-country Sinhalese and the Tamils, the party Constitution wanted the federal system to be based on the nine provinces with each having complete autonomy. There was to be a bi-caramel legislature consisting of a “House of Commons” and “House of Senators.” Bandaranaike’s proposal for a federal Constitution was supported by all members of the Progressive National Party except one. The solitary dissident was the scholar James T. Rutnam who was Bandaranaike’s close friend and associate. 

 

The advent of ITAK was a watershed in Ceylon politics as it was the first party to articulate the federal idea as its main ideology and goal after Independence. Unlike SWRDB who emphasised regional autonomy for good governance, the FP wanted  federalism to protect Tamil interests and achieve ethnic harmony.  Unfortunately, there was a hiatus between precept and practice

 

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike wrote a series of six articles for the “Ceylon Morning Leader” articulating his vision for federalism. The preliminary article appeared on May 19, 1926. The following excerpt consists of the introductory paragraphs from the preliminary article; 


“At a time when the desire for self-government appears to be growing ever stronger, and successive installments of ‘reforms’ seem to bring that goal almost within sight, two problems of vital importance arise, which require careful and earnest thought. The first is the question of Ceylon’s external status, that is what is her position as a nation in relation to other nations. The second is her internal status, the adoption of a form of government which would meet the just requirements of the different sections of her inhabitants. No effort has yet been made seriously to consider these problems, nor indeed in some quarters is it realised that the problem exists at all! There is the usual vague thinking, there are the usual generalisations, to which politicians are only too liable, the catch-words are the bane of politicians all over the world… in Ceylon we find in constant use, such phrases as “co-operation, ” “self-government,” “Cabinet-government,” without any clear understanding of either what they really involve or whether and to what extent, they are applicable to our own particular difficulties. The writer believes the true solution to the problem mentioned is contained in the federal system and these articles are intended as a general introduction to the subject”. 


BANDARANAIKE’S ADVOCACY OF FEDERALISM 


S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s advocacy of federalism did not create a major political splash at that time; it only caused ripples. The federal idea did not evoke a communal or Sinhala backlash then. The strongest critique was not from a Sinhalese but from a Tamil. Educationist and scholar James T. Rutnam wrote articles in “Ceylon Morning Leader” arguing against the views of his friend S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. James Rutnam was for a unitary Constitution. He opposed a federal Constitution saying it would cause disunity among the people. Rutnam opined that the Sinhalese and Tamils would become segregated under a federal Constitution. He pointed out that the Muslims, Malays, Burghers and Europeans would become submerged as they were a scattered minority in all provinces which were dominated by either Sinhalese or Tamils. Rutnam stated that there would be much haggling by each province for greater shares of resources. He even predicted that increasing friction among the federal provinces may even lead to secession in the future. It is however noteworthy that James Rutnam revised his opinion of 1926 thirty years later. He advocated federalism after 1956. Incidentally, James Rutnam was the father of well-known filmmaker Chandran Rutnam. 


Federalism when suggested by SWRDB in 1926 was opposed by the Jaffna Students’ Congress (later renamed as the Jaffna Youth Congress). Bandaranaike was invited by the Jaffna Congress to deliver a lecture to a large audience in Jaffna. SWRDB travelled up to Jaffna and spoke on federalism at a meeting held on July 26, 1926. The well-attended meeting was presided over by Dr. Issac Thambyayah. Young Bandaranaike spoke eloquently on the topic “Federation as the only solution to our political problems.” SWRDB argued that regional autonomy was the ideal way to manage communal differences. The audience was neither impressed nor enamoured by the federalism pitch. Bandaranaike was subjected to a barrage of questions challenging federalism as a valid form of government for the island. SWRDB answered with great erudition but there were few takers for federalism among Tamils in Jaffna then. Nevertheless, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike stood firm saying “A thousand and one objections could be raised against the system, but when the objections are dissipated, I am convinced that some form of federal government will be the only solution.” 


With the advent of the Donoughmore Constitution resulting in the introduction of universal franchise and territorial representation, Bandaranaike’s political vision underwent a transformation. He now felt that the largest community the Sinhalese had to be “united” to bring about national unity. Hence, along with some like-minded souls, Bandaranaike formed the “Sinhala Maha Sabha” in 1936. Bandaranaike also contested the Veyangoda constituency at the State Council elections of 1931 and 1936. In both instances, he was elected unopposed.

 

The historic 1956 general elections resulted in a deep polarisation between the Sinhala and Tamil communities. While the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) joint front headed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike swept the polls in the South, the Federal Party led by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam won six out of nine seats in the North and four out of seven in the East

 
The “Pan – Sinhala” board of ministers set up in 1936 saw Bandaranaike become Local Government Minister. Subsequently, SWRD moved away from espousing federalism to encouraging decentralisation. It must be noted that there was really no antipathy towards federalism then. It was more apathy and dis-interest. SWRD himself had great political ambition and sought to build up his base through the Sinhala Maha Sabha and through enhancing the local government system. So he wanted to revamp the local government system and provide greater autonomy through decentralisation. 


SWRD began envisaging the province as the unit of greater local authority. He wanted to set up Provincial Councils. The local government ministry’s executive committee released a report advocating more powers to these proposed councils. In 1940, R.S.S. Gunawardena introduced a motion in the State Council proposing the setting up of Provincial Councils. The State Council approved it but for some inexplicable reason SWRD did not proceed further and present a Bill in the State Council during its tenure. 


LOCAL GOVERNMENT MINISTER UNDER D.S. SENANAYAKE 


Bandaranaike later joined the United National Party (UNP) with his Sinhala Maha Sabha. He was appointed the Local Government Minister in Independent Ceylon’s first Cabinet under D.S. Senanayake. It is said that SWRD tried to revive his Provincial Council formulation again as a means to bring government closer to the people. But his Cabinet colleagues enjoying power as full-fledged ministers were reluctant to dilute or reduce their newly gained authority. So SWRD could not go through with his plans. This was indeed a great pity because the envisaged Provincial Councils could have been set up without much problem then as the ethnic dimension was not prevalent then as it was later. In 1951, Bandaranaike crossed over to the opposition and founded the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). 
There was now a new “federal” phenomenon on the political horizon. The main Tamil party – the All–Ceylon Tamil Congress – had split and the splinter group had formed a new party espousing federalism. Earlier, the Tamil Congress fought hard for a scheme of balanced representation popularly called “fifty–fifty.” This was rejected by the Soulbury Commission. G.G. Ponnambalam was leader of the Tamil Congress then. His deputy was S.J.V. Chelvanayagam. GG as he was generally known was seen as a pragmatic politician by his supporters. After full independence dawned, Ponnambalam revised his approach. With balanced representation an impossibility, GG now articulated the concept of “responsive cooperation.” 


Ponnambalam opted to join the D.S. Senanayake Cabinet. The price he paid for that was the stigma of betraying the up-country Tamils who were deprived of citizenship and franchise by the UNP regime. GGP became Industries and Fisheries Minister and established many factories and fishery harbours in the North–East. But some of his deputies like Chelvanayagam, C. Vanniyasingham, E.M.V. Naganathan and V. Navaratnam rebelled against Ponnambalam. They broke away and formed a new party. It was called the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) in Tamil. Its English translation should have been Ceylon Tamil State Party but instead it was called Federal Party (FP). The new party wanted an autonomous Tamil State comprising the Tamil dominated Northern and the Tamil–majority Eastern Provinces within a united Ceylon. 


The advent of ITAK was a watershed in Ceylon politics as it was the first party to articulate the federal idea as its main ideology and goal after Independence. Unlike SWRDB who emphasised regional autonomy for good governance, the FP wanted federalism to protect Tamil interests and achieve ethnic harmony. Unfortunately, there was a hiatus between precept and practice. Federalism as promoted by the ITAK was embroiled in controversy. It was misrepresented, misunderstood and therefore much maligned and much hated. 


MISCONSTRUING THE FEDERALISM CONCEPT AS SECESSIONISM 


Initially, the opposition to federalism came from the Tamil Congress itself. With the ITAK calling Ponnambalam a traitor for accepting a Cabinet portfolio the congressmen hit back by distorting the federal concept. Even before Sinhala politicians started misconstruing the meaning of federalism as secessionism, the Tamil Congress began doing so. The Tamil voters were “terrorised” by the propaganda that federalism meant a break with the rest of the country and that the Tamil businessmen and government servants in the South would have to return the North. “The Yal Devi won’t run that side of elephant pass,” was one such threat. 
The ITAK wanted a federal union between the Tamil autonomous Tamil State and the residual Sinhala State. This demand too was ridiculed by G.G. Ponnambalam who pointed out that such union entailed consent by both parties. “Are the Sinhalese prepared for federalism,” he queried. Doubts were also raised whether Eastern Province Tamils, Muslims and Wanni Tamils were ready for federalism. The plantation Tamils and Tamil leftists too were not receptive. The Communist Party later advocated regional autonomy. 

The 1952–56 years saw a sea change in Sinhala and Tamil politics. The Bandaranaike-led SLFP began raising the communal cry and advocating Sinhala as the sole official language. This in turn created insecurity in Tamil areas. The ITAK vowed to resist Sinhala imposition and began mobilising support. In this raucous atmosphere saner voices calling for parity of status like the LSSP were shouted down. 


The historic 1956 general elections resulted in a deep polarisation between the Sinhala and Tamil communities. While the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) joint front headed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike swept the polls in the South, the Federal Party led by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam won six out of nine seats in the North and four out of seven in the East. 


One of the first acts by the new government was the enshrining of Sinhala as the sole official language of the country. On June 5, 1956, Tamil Satyagrahis peacefully protesting at Galle Face were beaten up by thugs as the police watched and did nothing. Anti-Tamil violence erupted in several parts of the country. On June 15, Sinhala was made the sole official language by a vote of 56 to 29. 


FRICTION OVER “SRI” LETTER IN VEHICLE NUMBER PLATES 


The year 1957 dawned with much friction over the issue of the ‘Sri’ letter in vehicle number plates. The earlier system was to use English alphabet letters from the country’s name CEYLON (CE, CL, CN, EY, EN etc). Now the new government wanted it to begin with the Sinhala ‘Sri.’ The Tamil politicians resented this as a form of Sinhala imposition. They protested and demanded that the Tamil ‘Shree’ also be substituted. Ironically, there was no letter ‘Shree’ in the Tamil alphabet. The ‘Shree’ used was derived from Sanskrit. 


On January 19, the FP began an anti-Sri campaign in the Northeast. Vehicles began running with Tamil letters. The ‘Sinhala’ Sri was changed into the Sanskrit derived ‘Tamil’ Shree. A counter-campaign began in the Sinhala majority provinces. Tamil letters were tar-brushed or blacked out on street signs and name boards. There were widespread incidents of communal friction on a minor scale. The FP also called for a boycott of government ministers and deputy ministers visiting the Northeast for ‘official’ purposes. Satyagrahis would surround places where ministers were scheduled to go and curtail movement. 


With increasing communal tension the country seemed to be heading for a bloodbath. SWRD who was arguably the most intellectual of all Sri Lanka’s prime ministers realised that the situation had to be checked and reversed. He understood that the Tamils had genuine grievances that had to be redressed. Bandaranaike, the man who proposed federalism for Sri Lanka in 1926, knew that effective power sharing was the only solution. Instead of federalism, he now wanted extensive decentralisation through the setting up of Regional Councils. 


It is widely believed that the Regional Councils scheme was introduced by Bandaranaike as a result of the B-C pact. Actually, a draft Bill for Regional Councils was published on May 17, 1957. The B-C pact came later in July. After presenting the Regional Councils Bill, SWRD wanted to arrive at an understanding with the Tamil leaders and modify it further. 


SAMUEL JAMES VELUPPILLAI CHELVANAYAGAM 


A meeting between Premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and ITAK/FP leader Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayagam was mooted. It was done on the personal initiative of Prime Minister Bandaranaike himself. Two Tamil lawyers, P. Navaratnarajah QC and A.C. Nadarajah arranged for the rendezvous. Navaratnarajah was a personal friend of both SWRD and SJV. A.C. Nadarajah was a Vice-President of the SLFP. From the government side, Finance Minister Stanley de Zoysa played a commendable role in promoting this dialogue. 


The first meeting was held on June 22, 1957 at the premier’s residence in Horagolla. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike himself came up to S.J. V. Chelvanayagam’s car and helped him get out. Both men seemed to realise the gravity of the situation. The first meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere. When the question of power sharing arose, the FP presented its case for a federal State. The FP pointed out that SWRD’s own viewpoint in the ’20s that federalism was the ideal solution had been a source of inspiration for the party in demanding federalism. The FP approach was to encourage Bandaranaike to view matters through a federal prism by acknowledging his historic role of being the pioneering proponent of federalism in the country. 


But this was more than 30 years ago. The situation had changed. The negative, vitriolic propaganda against federalism had distorted the meaning of the concept in general Sinhala perception. Although the intellectual giant Bandaranaike knew what federalism was all about, he was not prepared to accept or associate with federalism now. So SWRD, the pioneering proponent of federalism, replied by saying that though he espoused federalism then, he had subsequently changed his mind. Besides, he had no mandate for introducing federalism. “Could not the FP think of an alternative solution short of federalism that would redress Tamil grievances and address aspirations?” he queried. The FP understood the prime minister’s situation and agreed not to press for a federal solution. Both parties agreed to seek ways and means of power sharing within the parameters set out by the Choksy Commission report on decentralisation and the draft Bill on Regional Councils. 
The PM then suggested that the FP should come up with alternative proposals envisaging ‘massive decentralisation’ but not ‘federal autonomy.’ The FP agreed and departed. Former Kopay MP C. Vanniyasingham and ex-Kayts MP V. Navaratnam set about drafting an alternative scheme. The FP leaders accomplished the task in three days and forwarded the draft through Navaratnarajah for SWRD’s perusal. 


The Northeast was to be a subordinate State with a unicameral legislature and Cabinet. External affairs, defence, currency, stamps, customs and inter-regional transport would remain with the central government. Block grants would be made by Colombo while domestic taxation could also supplement revenue. Policing was a State responsibility. The subordinate State would be represented in Colombo through elected MPs. There would be a central Cabinet minister for Tamil affairs. 


REGIONAL COUNCIL CONCEPT BRAINCHILD OF BANDARANAIKE 


The second round of talks was at SWRD’s Rosemead Place residence. Bandaranaike pointed out that the proposals in essence amounted to federalism. He suggested that the scheme be whittled down in point form to emphasise administrative decentralisation. He also objected to words like ‘Parliament’ and ‘Cabinet’ being mentioned saying they smacked of a separate State. 


The FP then returned and revised the document by summarising proposals in point form. Since the Regional Council concept was a brainchild of Bandaranaike, the FP replaced ‘Parliament’ with ‘Regional Council.’ ‘Cabinet’ was substituted by ‘board of directors.’ The substance of the original proposals was retained to a great extent. Thereafter, a series of discussions took place among Stanley de Zoysa, Navaratnarajah and FP leaders. The PM did not participate but proposed many changes through his representative Stanley de Zoysa. 


The conclusive meeting took place on July 25, 1957 at the prime minister’s office in the old Senate building. Several Cabinet ministers were in attendance. Many FP leaders also participated. Navaratnarajah the ‘facilitator’ was also there. It began at 7.00 p.m. On the unit issue, the FP consented to the premier’s stance that the North be one council and the East be divided into two or more councils. The councils could merge if desired even cutting across provincial boundaries. Existing boundaries could be re-demarcated if necessary. When it came to powers of the council several ministers led by Philip Gunewardena refused to delegate their powers. The FP members retired to another room while Cabinet ministers sorted out the issue. Subsequently ‘line’ ministers agreed to devolve their powers. At 2.00 a.m. on July 26, V. Navaratnam read out in point form the agreement reached. Both sides formally agreed. 


“HISTORIC NIGHT FOR YOU, FOR US, FOR COUNTRY” 


At 2.30 a.m., the members of the fourth estate, waiting eagerly for a sensational breakthrough, were called in to the Cabinet room. Amid flashing cameras Bandaranaike apologised in his courteous manner: “My friends, I am sorry to have kept all of you awake. But it is a historic night for you, for us and for the country.” Ranji Handy was then a Lake House journalist. The irrepressible Ranji who became Mrs. Maithripala Senanayake in later life blurted out “tell us the result please.” Then Stanley de Zoysa announced, “We have reached an agreement.” 


SWRD then turned to SJV and said, “Chelva they want to hear from you.” Chelvanayagam said an agreement had been worked out and that the details would be given by the PM. Bandaranaike then asked the press whether there was time to catch the printing deadline. Joe Segera of Lake House shouted spiritedly that special arrangements had been made to print late and wanted the full details. SWRD then read out from V. Navaratnam’s notes. The press rushed out and the morning papers came out later than usual with the full text of the agreement. The evening papers came out earlier than usual with more details. 


It may be hard to believe but the funny thing was that no pact had been signed by Bandaranaike or Chelvanayagam at that point. There was no B-C pact. It was like a gentleman’s agreement. Chelvanayagam and Navaratnam returned to the FP leader’s residence at Alfred House Gardens. It was there that Navaratnam pointed out that there was nothing concrete in writing that an agreement had been entered into. There would only be media reports. 


SJV then suggested that Navaratnam take some rest and handle the matter in the morning. Getting up early morning, Navaratnam drafted in triplicate, the terms and clauses of what is known as the Banda-Chelva pact now. It was in two parts. Part A – was a summary of discussions and agreements reached. Part B – was about the structure, powers and composition of the proposed Regional Councils. 


Chelvanayagam then took the copies and went at noon on July 26 to the prime minister’s office. It was there that the old Thomians – Solomon and Samuel – endorsed the historic agreement known as the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact. It was done quietly away from the media glare. Bandaranaike had one copy and Chelvanayagam the other. Navaratnam the ‘draftsman’ kept the third copy. 


AGREEMENT KNOWN AS BANDA-CHELVA PACT 


The agreement signed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and S.J.V. Chelvanayagam in 1957 was a significant event in the political history of post-independence Sri Lanka. The prime minister of the day and the leader of the biggest Tamil political party had come to an understanding which if implemented may have helped contain the ethnic conflict at its nascent stages. The agreement known generally as the “Banda-Chelva” pact was never allowed to work because of political opposition in the South. The opposition came from hardliners among the Sinhala Buddhist clergy and laity as well as hawkish elements among both the government and opposition. 
The United National Party (UNP) was vehemently opposed to the B-C pact calling it a sell-out of the Sinhalese. The UNP had only eight seats in Parliament being buried in the landslide victory of SWRD in 1956. With Sir John Kotelawela reduced to a mere figurehead and Dudley Senanayake becoming inactive it was Junius Richard Jayewardena’s task to revive the UNP’s flagging fortunes. Just as SWRD rode to power by playing the communal card, JR too resorted to communalist politics to discredit the new regime. Jayewardena seized on the B-C pact as a vulnerable target and began whipping up communal frenzy against it. 


On the Tamil side, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) led by G.G. Ponnambalam (snr) that was opposed to the ITAK also protested against the B-C pact for its own reasons. The act of sending new buses to the north with ‘Sinhala’ Sri number plates provoked the FP into commencing a tar brush campaign again. This evoked counter measures in the South. 


200 Buddhist priests and 300 others squatted outside Bandaranaike’s house on April 9, 1958 demanding the pact be revoked. Finally, SWRD caved in and repudiated the pact unilaterally, tearing up a copy to symbolise it. He blamed the FP tar brush campaign for his action. Both Bandaranaike and Chelvanayagam had entered into the agreement to avoid an ethnic conflagration. Yet, a month after the B-C pact was aborted, ethnic violence erupted on a large-scale. The ethnic crisis deteriorated into open war and the country kept bleeding for many decades. In 1959, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike himself was assassinated by a Buddhist monk, Talduwe Somarama Thera. 


DECENTRALISED POWER SHARING IMPERATIVE 


This then is the story of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who started out as the pioneering proponent of federalism and later transformed into an advocate of decentralisation in the form of Provincial and Regional Councils. This transition from propounding federalism to espousing decentralisation is strikingly illustrated by the essence and nature of the Regional Councils envisaged by the pact Bandaranaike signed with Chelvanayagam. The political evolution and transformation of Bandaranaike is by itself a fascinating study. Despite the changes in his political outlook, an underlying thread remaining constant in Bandaranaike political thinking was that some form of decentralised power sharing was imperative for the essential well-being of this resplendent island and her people. This is a salient factor that cannot be dismissed, ignored, overlooked or glossed over in any Constitution making or Constitutional reform exercise.


dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com