Whereas a Viceroy with practically unrestricted powers in exercising political control over a dependent State controlled the affairs of that vast gathering of races and regions in the sub-continent: the Royal representative in little Sri Lanka was only a Governor whose discretionary authority was strictly defined by the Donoughmore Constitution.
The colonial Ceylon was in every respect—except perhaps in the sphere of strategic importance—of lesser importance to the British empire than the great sub-continent of India. The above fact became quite evident by the response at the infamous Air drop of Parippu by Indians 30 years ago. Sri Lanka described India’s action as a “naked infringement of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and an unwarranted attack on Sri Lanka’s territory.
Dixit, the Indian HC was directed to inform JRJ that if Sri Lanka reacted, it would mean a full-scale war, ‘…a message to Sri Lanka’, said Gandhi. Jayewardene, left without options, turned to his Western friends who did not care to intervene.
Margaret Thatcher responded with a short statement, “If they have done it, it is wrong” though a couple of years earlier Sri Lanka sided UK, while the whole world stood with Argentina over the Falklands issue. America maintained stoic silence while JR, moved to negotiate with India saying, ‘for US and UK, the Indian market is more important’. Coming back to our story- In 1932, the first son of the soil to be elected Speaker of the then Ceylon’s Legislature—The State Council—went so far as to remark that he did not consider His Excellency the local representative of His Majesty in England.
This remark caused a sharp exchange of notes between the Speaker, the late Sir Francis Molamure [Then plain A. F. Molamure] and the then Governor, Sir Greame Thomson, in which though the latter had the last word, the former won the day.
It all began when the State Council in 1932 was discussing a motion of the late A. E. Goonesinghe-Colombo Central moved that the conferment of Imperial honours should be abolished. S. W. Dassanayake, in seconding the motion remarked that he understood the motion to mean that all honours conferred by the Governor as the representative of His Majesty, who is the ‘sole fount of honour’ as the phrase described, should be done away with.
The Speaker: I have yet to learn that the Governor is the representative of the King in Ceylon.
The drama took place in the council on November 23, 1932. Two days later, Speaker received the following communication from His Excellency.
King’s Pavillion, Kandy, 25 Nov 1932.
Sir, I have the honour to refer to you to the following report of a statement made by you which appeared in the newspapersof 24th November1932:-
The Speaker: I have yet to know the Governor is the representative of King of Ceylon. May I inquire whether the report is correct and, if so, will you be good enough to inform me in what sense you meant the statement to be taken.
I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient Servant,
Sir Francis replied:
Sir, I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s letter…
I would take leave to point out that I question the right of the Governor to make this inquiry from the Speaker of the State Council, as I maintain that the Governor has no right to do so.
However as a matter of courtesy to Your Excellency, I would have no hesitation in answering the question put to me. The report appearing in the papers of 24th is correct.
The Governor was not prepared to leave it at that, he followed up with the following rejoinder.
December 5 1932.
“It has never being claimed that the Governor of Ceylon is vested, within the island, with all the powers and privileges with which His Majesty himself is vested within his dominions. In the exercise, however, of those particular powers which are conferred upon the Governor by His Majesty’s commission, as well as in the spheres in which strictly legal considerations do not arise, the Governor acts as His Majesty’s representative and has always been recognized as such by His Majesty, as well as by the people of Ceylon.”
The ball was in now in Speaker’s court but the Speaker was not stumped.
The force, with which he returned it to His Excellency, reflected very much to his credit.
“I was well aware of the considerations mentioned in your letter, but I would take leave to point out that the statement was made in the course of a debate in the State Council relative to the exercised by His Majesty the King of his powers and prerogatives in the grant of honours and was in no way derogatory to Your Excellency. The expression used by me was both correct and Constitutional and was intended to direct the attention of the State Council to the fact that the status of the Governor was not analogous to that of a Viceroy as the powers of the former were strictly limited to the terms of his Commission and that he did not represent the Sovereign generally.”
It was obvious that Speaker’s logic and fluency were proving too much for His Excellency who virtually surrendered his next and last communication on the subject, which ran as follows:
“With reference to your letter, I understand that your statement was made immediately after an observation by a Member of the council referring to honours conferred by the Governor as representative of His Majesty and not to powers and prerogatives exercise by His Majesty himself. With regard to correctness of the implications of your statement…..I have nothing to add….” - [Source: National Archives]
The first Afro–Asian Conference—also known as the Bandung Conference took place from April 18 to 24, 1955 in Indonesia duringSir John Kotelawala’s premiership. Twenty-nine countries participated in it with the aim to promote economic and cultural cooperation and to oppose colonialism.
There were States under Communist domination in Central and Eastern Europe. Sir John speaking stated, “Are not these colonies as much as any of the colonial territories in Africa or Asia? And if we are united in our opposition to colonialism, should it not be our duty openly to declare our opposition to Soviet colonialism as much as to Western imperialism?’
He finished amid silence. Then the silence broke. Chou En-lai got up in obvious agitation and said that, as Sir John had made references to Communist colonialism, he reserved the right to make a statement and that he would do so on the following morning.
The atmosphere was exciting as they marched out of the room. Chou asked our PM why he had said so, and whether it was Sir John’s intention to break up the Conference.
Nehru walked up to him too, and asked him in an angered tone, “Why did you do that, Sir John? Why did you not show me your speech before you made it?”Sir John rejoined,
“Why should I? Nehru, do you show me yours before you make them?”
—Source: ‘An Asian Prime Minister’s Story- 1956’
The Commonwealth’s economic situation in early 1949, was in dire straits, they attempted to impose authority over Lipton’s Estate by making a calculated attempt to manipulate our strong Dollar reserves by making us a partner to the ‘Sterling Assets Agreement’.
D. S. Senanayake, in this serious issue, lavishly displayed his patriotism. The conflict state of affairs that arose with the colonial establishment in 1949 resulted in an assignment by J. R. Jayewardene, the Finance Minister along with his adviser John Exter, [Later the first Central Bank Governor], attending a Finance Minister’s Conference summoned by Britain at their request. DS was very much disturbed over attempts to touch our dollar earnings; he was keen to have it as our own foreign reserves and he advised the team on what they were to do if the colonial government rejected their appeal.
He categorically stated,
“We are an independent nation. Our dollar earnings are our own...., if we are not allowed to act independently then obviously we must leave the ‘Sterling Area...’, the UK Government cannot oppose this. So, go ahead and tell them you will leave unless you are permitted to keep your country’s earnings” – J.R. speeches - [Presid. Archives: File 195-a].
The oil monopoly was mainly held by the West accounting to 85% of Sri Lanka’s oil requirement. The importation and distribution was handled by two US giants, Caltex and Standard Vacuum, and the third, Shell was a British company.
The prices were subjected to skyrocketing. For saving foreign exchange, the Sirimavo Government nationalised the three company’s operations and established the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation in 1961, thereby breaking down the domination of Western oil multinationals giants.
The US threatened us with withdrawal of PL-480 wheat flour aid programme and many other repercussions. Prime Minister, Sirimavo ignored all such bullying and intimidations by the West in going ahead with her decision.
“Big brothers are the ones who are supposed to pull their punches. Little sisters, well, we should be able to hit as hard as we like, shouldn’t we?”
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