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S. J. V. Chelvanayakam:

The man and his mission

"His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world. This was a man!" - Shakespeare

S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the founder president of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, co-president of the TULF, above all, the undisputed beloved leader of the Tamils threw away his mortal framework and has gone to the land of no return. He passed away on April 26, 1977, roughly a month after the freedom lovers celebrated his entry into the eightieth year.

The wonder in Mr. Chelvanayakam was that though he was very old and in declining health he was not classified as a person who had outlived his usefulness, It was strange but true that even contradictory forces valued his presence in Tamil politics as the main unifying factor.

In fact the death of Samual James Velupillai Chelvanayakam, as his full name goes, removes from the political scene, a fatherly figure who was respected, loved, admired and venerated by all irrespective of their political ideologies.

Many leaders were respected and admired but only few have been venerated. Mr. Chelvanayakam ranks foremost among them. Politics is a dirty game but it must be said to his eternal credit that he purified it to a very great extent.

When many politicians formulated policies to suit the next election. Mr. Chelvanayakam thought and acted in a manner that would give an everlasting solution to the future generations. That's why he was not classified among the ordinary politicians.

He was an ascetic, a saint, and a statesman of colossal stature. In fact he was a leader who could not be bought over for the plums of office.

Mr. Chelvanayakam really entered politics in his late forties, in the year 1947. His hold on the Tamil masses and the respect he has earned from non-Tamils and his political opponents continued undiminished. That speaks for the quality of the man.

The Sinhala political parties and the Sinhala masses, though opposed to his political philosophy, felt his continued presence was necessary to prevent Tamil 'extremists' taking an upper hand.

The Tamil youths remember with deep gratitude his political vision and prophecy. We fear to think as to what would have happened to the Tamils if he had not entered the political scene in the late forties to guide them.

It won't be considered an exaggeration to say that if he had not taken to politics not only Tamil rights but even the Tamils as an entity would have ceased to exits.

Ceylon has witnessed the birth of innumerable politicians but it is not difficult to count on one's fingers the number of statesmen produced by this island. Mr. Chelvanayakam ranks foremost among the statesmen Ceylon has produced.

After Sir P. Arunachalam the vacuum that was created, though filled to some extent by the late G. G. Ponnampalam was not sustained by him. It is to the eternal credit of Mr. Chelvanayakam that he has filled this void in a most able manner.

Though Mr. Chelvanayakam may not have attained such eminence as the Ponnampalam brothers yet he stands unique for his political vision, sagacity and honest conviction. It was a Herculean task he had to perform to convince the Tamils of the dangers that were in store for them. The Tamils are now convinced as to what political philosophy they should adopt if they are to survive in this country.

But it is beyond doubt that all Sinhalese are now convinced that there is a gigantic Tamil problem and that it should be solved if there is to be real peace, harmony and progress in the country.

Mr. Chelvanayakam stood for a federal constitution for the past 25 years or more as the ideal solution for the multi-lingual and multi-national problems facing the country. He pursued this policy with the sincere, hope of changing the hearts of the Sinhalese leaders.

After having agitated for this goal and after repeated disappointments on talks and pacts he had with the successive Sinhala governments, he came to the irrevocable decision of having a sovereign Tamil state - Tamil Eelam as the only solution left for the Tamils if they wish to live with self respect in this country.

This was not an easy decision for Chelva; it was a very painful decision knowing quite well the consequences that would flow from implementing same.

Very often in this public pronouncements he has said the Tamils must be prepared to undergo untold suffering, in the process of which they may even have to embrace death. He compared the present plight of the Tamils to a cancerous growth in our body.

As all medicines and injections have been tried and have failed, we are left with no alternative but to perform an operation. The operation is fraught with dangers but if the operation is not performed death awaits the Tamils patient. He appealed to us to try this method and we are determined to follow him though he is no more with us.

Mr. Chelvanayakam was by no stretch of the imagination an orator. Oratorical skill was something unknown to him. But where brilliant orators and legal luminaries could not succeed, he succeeded immeasurably.

When he spoke in an inaudible feeble voice measuring each word and pausing in between words the audience tuned their ears to grasp the meaning of what he said because each word he uttered conveyed deep and profound thoughts. It was really a treat to listen to his speech and watch the reaction of the audience.

In his personal life he was simple. His residence at Tellipallai, Jaffna and his rented house in Colombo revealed his simplicity. Anybody could meet him at any time and explain their problems. His patient hearing and above all his natural smile had a magnetic and a soothing effect on all who came in contact with him.

In Ceylon many enter politics with little wealth but amass wealth during their political careers, Mr. Chelvanayakam's career was just the reverse. As a leading civil lawyer he was very wealthy when he entered politics but at the time of his death it can be said without contradiction that his wealth was at its lowest ebb. That speaks volumes for the enormous sacrifices he has made for the cause he championed.

Mr. Chelvanayakam who was a man of few words and deep thought was an outstanding civil lawyer. Unlike some lawyers who for their love of words have lost their cases, Mr. Chelvanayakam was extremely careful in choosing his words.

In fact every word was measured and uttered. If he was ever guilty of anything when choosing his words it was more the case of understatement than overstatement. It was often said that he used Biblical language. At the negotiation table he was at his best. He was a hard bargainer who never yielded on fundamentals.

The BC pact was a classic example of his grasp of the essentials. Tough Mr. Chelvanayakam was very often compared with Gandhi for his political honesty it would not be wrong to compare him with Jinnah for his grip and determination and for his unyielding attitude on fundamental issues. Typical of an able civil lawyer he knew how and where he should lay the stress.

"He died like Moses himself, without reaching the Promised Land, but the vision he saw, he leaves behind as the heritage and challenge to his people ............" Rt. Revd D. J. Ambalavanar.


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