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
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
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
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
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
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
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.