|Tuesday, 27 April 2004|
Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam departed this life on the 27th day of April 1977, two decades and seven years ago.
He was born in Malaysia on 31st March 1898, one century and six 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.
In 1927, he married Emily Grace Barr Kumarakulassinghe. At his wedding day, he wore 'verti' and 'Salvai', the Tamil national dress in lieu of the Western attire, which was the prerequisite customary dress among the elite Tamils of the day. He was a Tamil nationalist to the core. Chelvanayakam once went to the classroom at Wesley College in Tamil national dress.
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.
An ad hoc body was formed to make representations to the Soulbury Commission on the demand of fifty fifty - a demand for balanced representation for the minorities within the unitary character of the Constitution. The ad hoc committee was transformed into Tamil Congress in 1944 just before the arrival of the Soulbury Commission. G. G. Ponnambalam became its President while Dr. Naganathan was its Secretary.
Chelvanayakam became its Deputy Leader.
Chelvanayakam, being a Tamil Congress candidate defeated the UNP candidate, S. Nadesan (Nadesapillai), son-in-law of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan at Kankesanthurai Constituency in 1947.
On the basis of 'responsive cooperation', Ponnambalam wanted to join the UNP Government while Chelvanayakam opposed his decision to join the government. Despite the vociferous opposition of Chelvanayakam, Vanniyasingam and Dr. Naganathan, Ponnambalam, joined the Government and became a Minister in September 1948 under the premiership of D. S. Senanayake.
There was political tug-of-war between Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam in making claim to the Tamil Congress and finally Chelvanayakam inaugurated the Federal Party on 18th December 1949.
In the General Elections of 1952, the newly formed Federal party 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, then, believed their political salvation in unitary state under the leadership of the Sinhalese majoritarianism.
Chelvanayakam 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 85 percent were 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. 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 refused to be counselled to descend to pretensions of worship. He preferred to lose the elections rather than practising deception on the Hindu voters and embraced defeat by the UNP candidate, S. Nadesan.
Sinhala only movement
In 1956, a profound change took 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 Federal Party, headed by Chelvanayakam staged protest by way of non-violent civil disobedience at the Galle Face Green as practised by Gandhi. That was the first Satyragraha campaign.
Due to the series of Satyragraha campaigns organised by the Federal Party, Bandaranaike signed a Pact known as Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact on 26th July 1956, commonly known as BC Pact.
The UNP alleged that the Pact was a sell-out to the Tamils and the country was divided. JR Jayawardene organised Kandy march against the Pact stating that Bandaranaike sold North and East of Ceylon to the Tamils. The implementation of the Pact would have healed the political wounds of the Sinhalese and the Tamils and made Sri Lanka a peaceful homeland of all the ethnic groups.
JR, a Machiavellian of all times, disrupted a peaceful solution that would have made Sri Lanka once again the 'pearl of the Indian Ocean'. Certain monks led by Budharakkita Thera and Mrs. Vimala Wijewardena, a Cabinet Minister too demanded the Pact be abrogated. Bandaranaike declared that the 'Pact was no more'.
Dudley Senanayake - Chelvanayakam pact
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 minimise 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 abandoned as there was strong opposition mounting in the country.
Thereupon, the FP withdrew its support but 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.
Though Chelvanayakam was agitating for a federal unit for the Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces under a federal form of government, he was only striving to attain some autonomy for the Tamils within the framework of 'a quasi-nationalism'.
He descended from federal unit to Regional Councils and District Councils. He demonstrated his willingness to compromise by accepting special provisions for the use of Tamil Language instead of parity of status.
His dedication to the cause of the Tamils was supreme and unshakable. He believed sincerely that he could find satisfactory reasonable solutions from the Sinhala leadership through parliamentary devices. Chelvanayakam honestly hoped that he would be able to convince the Sinhala leaders that a federal form of government was the answer to the problems that faced Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese would accept at least a kind of federalism in the interest of preserving the territorial integrity of the country.
He wanted to build a united Sri Lanka out of her diversity. Moses, a biblical personality had great impact on him and Chelvanayakam too felt that he had to lead the Tamils to the promised land of federalism to which he was so incessantly dedicated.
Rights of Tamils
The actions of the successive governments in enforcing draconian measures depriving the Tamils of their due and legitimate rights and periodic Pogroms devastated the Tamils. All the democratic non-violence 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 Sinhalese leaders that they refused to come to terms with Chelvanayakam who espoused non-violence, democratic principles and demonstrated willingness to settle problems of the Tamils for something far short of his original demands.
There is now a change of thinking among the Sinhalese and the Tamils that a reasonable solutions could be achieved on the basis of a federal formula as proclaimed in the Oslo Declaration. The achievement of a reasonable solutions depends on the leadership qualities that would be displayed in the future by both sides of the ethnic divide. Let us hope for a peaceful solution and a prosperous Sri Lanka.
by C. V. Vivekananthan, Attorney-at-law
Produced by Lake House