Independence struggle for a hundred and thirty
Our chronicle Mahavansa is written from the
arrival of Prince Vijaya in 544 BC. The rule by a king lasted for
thousands of years until the last monarch of Sinhale Sri
Wickramarajasingha, was taken captive as a prisoner by the British and
till the 2nd of March 1815 on which date the Kandyan Convention was
signed in the audience hall at Senkadagala.
Pomp and pageantry at independence celebration
From this date our country was ruled by the English East India
Trading Company on behalf of the king in England and subsequently as a
colony of the British until we became a dominion in the Common wealth.
This article is written to reminiscent the events that led to our
present day rule by an Executive President elected by the people.
The maritime provinces that were ruled by the English East India
Trading Company from Madras as their Headquarters was relieved and
brought under the English Crown as a Colony on 01st January 1802. This
was the beginning of the rule of Ceylon as a Crown Colony. The English
East India Trading Company ruled over India, Madras, Bombay, Bengal etc.
when India was a Crown Colony under the British. For about two hundred
years the Indian Civil Service was running the Colony at their will and
powers. Governor Fredrick North copies the Indian model to govern Ceylon
and created in 1802 a parallel service to the Indian Civil Service by
starting the Ceylon Civil Service with eight English youths who
accompanied him to the country. Later twenty English youths sent by the
Colonial Secretary joined the ranks and much later when the British left
ruling India, some officers of the Indian Civil Services were absorbed
to the Ceylon Civil Service.
Thus it is seen that the Civil Servants were managing the affairs of
the country. The English educated civil servants were all powerful and
they were on behalf of the Crown Members of the Executive and
Legislative Councils. The Civil Servants managed the affairs of Colombo
as well as the provinces. They were also empowered in Judicial matters
as well. All laws in the country were promulgated by the Governor with
the assistance of a Board.
This Advisory Board consisted of the Chief Justice, Commander of the
Forces, Secretary of State for Colonies and two others appointed by the
The annual budget for the country was prepared by the Governor. For
this purpose he summoned all the Government Agents to Colombo. This
practice of preparing the annual budget started by Governor William
Gregory continued until it was abandoned by Sir Arthur Gordon.
Evolution of self rule
In the month of April 1829, King George IV appointed Major W.M.C.
Colebrook to recommend a suitable Constitution for Ceylon. He was
requested to report on necessary amendments to the existing laws in the
country, the distribution and composition of the population, and how the
administration of the country will affect various population groups.
Later Charles Hay Cameron was appointed to assist him. Cameron's main
responsibilities were to study the Laws of the country and to recommend
various amendments necessary to the existing legal system. The Colebrook
- Cameron Commission travelled through out the country, met people's
representatives, delegations, listened to their views, recorded evidence
from various organizations, groups and representatives of the people
including Tamils, Europeans, Malays, Burghers. They recorded evidence on
a questionnaire consisting of four hundred and eighty five points.
Ehelepola Maha Adikaram too submitted his views to the Commission.
This Commission recommended the establishment of a Legislative and an
Executive Council to balance the powers of the Governor. Cameron
recommended the establishment of a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice
and two Puisne Judges. The initial steps to give power to the peoples
representatives commenced with the establishment of a Legislative
Council. The first Legislative Council which was scheduled to meet in
May 1884 had to be postponed as six unofficial members to this body
could not be selected.
At last the council was established with the selection of John Reed a
businessman, Johannes Godfrid Felix the Interpreter Mudliyar of the
Supreme Court, Jeffrey, a businessman, J.P. Hilband a Burgher Lawyer,
P.H. Bhird and A. Kumaraswamy the Interpreter Mudliyar of the Royal
Revenue Commissioner to represent the Tamil Community. However the
agitations of the people to increase the number of elected
representatives of the Council continued. The British rulers were of the
view that the Ceylonese were not so matured and knowledgeable to have
more elected representatives in these Councils. But the public opinion
to have more elected representatives was a voice to reckon with towards
the end of the nineteenth century.
The elected representatives were given a period of five years instead
of the three year period which they were already entitled to. Sir Henry
McCullum recommended that the Legislative Council should have English
educated representatives on the basis of one member each for the Kandyan
and Low Country.
Sinhalese and the Muslims, and two members for the Tamil community.
However the Legislative Council faced a crisis when the Council failed
to pass the votes on the maintenance of the British Army as the
nominated representatives C.A. Lawrance, George Wall and the elected
representatives W. Thomson, James Coper, James de Alwis and J. Eaton
unanimously resigned from the Council.
Legislative and executive councils
The executive committee system was introduced in 1832. The main
objective was to balance the powers vested with the Governor in earning
revenue and expenditure incurred in the development activities. Though
the Governor had the powers to veto the decisions of the Council the
Governor usually did not exercise such powers as he had to explain to
the Colonial Secretary reasons why such action was taken. The members of
this Council were the Colonial Secretary, the Kings Counsel, the Royal
Treasurer, the Government Agent of the Central Province and the Officer
commanding the Army. Three out of this five were members of the Civil
Services. Making laws of the country were entrusted to these officers
and the Governor. The Civil Service Officers were so powerful that they
were members of the Executive as well as Legislative Councils. Later the
Legislative Council formed under the guidance and advise of the Chief
Justice Sir Alexander Jhonston had powers to frame necessary legislation
for the country.
The number of nominated members from the first Legislative Council
remained more than the elected members until this composition changed in
the first Council established in 1921. A jury in the Supreme Court was
established. The powers of the Civil Servants who were members of these
Councils were reduced to some extent with the establishment of a Supreme
Court under a Royal charter in 1861.
The first Supreme Court consisted of Codrington Edmund Carrington as
the Chief Justice and another, Edmond Henry Lucington designated as
Puisne Judge who were sent from England. Six Courts were established for
the maritime provinces presided over by a Civil Service Officer while in
the Kandyan kingdom from 1815 to 1832 judicial matters rested with the
Board of Commissioners appointed to administer area. After the rebellion
of 1817 Army Officers were appointed to rule the Districts. Accordingly
Major Rojer who was first appointed to Alupotha was later shifted to
Badulla as the Government Agent from 1828 up to 1845. Rojessangama is
named after him. Lt. Col. J. Campbell was appointed in charge of Hatara
Korale and Nuwara Kalaviya and George A. Forbes was appointed to Matale.
Out of the nine Govt. Agents in 1818 six were Army Officers, while out
of eleven Govt. Agents in 1831 nine were Army Officers. The British
Government placed these Officers under strict disciplinary control. So
much so that the Government Agent Nuwara - Eiliya de La Mousier who
changed his name to Abdul Hameed to marry a second wife was dismissed
from service. Lamasooriyagama and Lamasooriyawela in Walapane is named
after him. The Government Agent Anuradhapura H.R. Freeman who won the
confidence of the people was elected as the NCP member to State Council.
P.A. Dyke who was the Government Agent in the North from 1829 to 1867
was so popular among the people that he was known as the "Raja of the
According to the recommendations of the 1833 Colebrook Commission the
Kandyan provinces were amalgamated to the maritime provinces to have a
uniform system of administration to the whole country. The whole island
was first divided into five provinces as Northern, Southern, Eastern,
Western and Central and placed under a Government Agent. Later these
provinces were further divided into Districts under an Assistant
Government Agent. Later 1845 North Western, in 1873 a Northern Central
and in 1889 Uva Provinces were created. These divisions remained even
after Independence and Additional Districts Moneragala and Mannar were
created in 1960 and Ampara to develop the Digamadulla area was created
Moneragala District in 1960 was established for the Development of
Lower Uva area. Mulaitivu was created 1978 and Kilinochchi in 1984. The
legacy we inherited from the administration of Ceylon under the British
East India Trading Company is the Kachcheri system - the word "Kachcheri"
is a Hindi word we have derived from the Malabarshi language. Today
Kachcheri is the indispensable and indefeasible administrative
headquarters of a District.
Clamour for representative Government
The agitations for a representative form of Government surfaced
throughout the country. "The Ceylon League" was formed to continue these
agitations. The League held public meetings, met peoples
representatives, leaders of groups and organisation and even drafted a
Constitution suitable for the country. Fifty three years after the
Kandyan Convention signed in 2nd March 1815 to cede the country to
British, it was Kandy that the first salvo for freedom was fired in 1868
with the printing of a newspaper named "Kandy Herald." the editor of
Kandy Herald Richard Morgan gave the leadership for these propaganda
meetings held all over the island. The Burgher community including
leaders such as Dr. Christopher Elliot, A.M. Ferguson, George Wall and
the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslims who were English educated at the time
joined the struggle. George Wall sailed to England to obtain the support
of the Members of the British Parliament to win freedom to Ceylon.
The end results of these agitations led to the dissolution of the old
Council and the establishment of a new State Council in January 1917.
Later in 1920 the new Donoughmore Constitution was introduced.
The ratio of 2:1 which existed to represent the minority communities
was reduced to 5:1 by this commission which led to the Jaffna Tamils
boycott the elections under the new Constitution. This resulted in no
Tamils representing Tamil community in the first State Council.
They demanded a representation on the ratio of 50:50. Their argument
was that they were more advanced in Education and therefore more
knowledgeable than the Sinhalese and also they were economically more
sound than the rest of the communities who lived here.
Tamils were more advanced than the rest of the communities because
they were exposed to English education introduced by the Dutch and
English in the Jaffna peninsula under the foreign missionaries. For
instance a report issued as far back as 1885 states that there were 147
graduates in Jaffna out of which 57 were in the teaching profession in
Jaffna and Madras. There were 20 graduates in other Government services
while 10 were teachers in other Districts out of Jaffna in Southern
Ceylon and six were teaching English to affluent families out of Jaffna.
Because of the education systems started by the Missionaries in the
peninsula they were holding high positions in public service.
These were the reasons for their "Superiority complex" that led to
the demand of representations in the council on a 50:50 basis. This
complex as defined as "paranoid schizophrenic" in Mental psychology led
to today's crisis brewing to separatism and demand a division of the
country to an Eelam State in the present day. The Executive Committee
form of Government was introduced to balance power under these
situations. In 1944 Soulbury Commission was appointed to recommend
suitable measures to a new form of Government.
This commission totally rejected the 50:50 ratio and recommended a
form of Cabinet Government based on the Westminster model with a
bi-cameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of
Representatives with Dominion status within the Commonwealth.
This Constitution safeguarded the interests of the minority
communities with clause 29 (2) which could be repealed only with a
two-third majority according to clause 29 (4) of the Constitution.
The term of a elected Representative was five years while a Senator
nominated by the Governor held office for six years.
The Senate had power to delay the laws passed by the Parliament for a
period ranging from one to two years. The Soulbury Commission report was
adopted with a vote of 50 members voting for it. Later in 1972 the
Republican Constitution was adopted declaring Sri Lanka a Republic and
the Parliament became a National State Assembly.
In 1978 the Constitution with an Executive Presidency and a
proportional representative system of members was introduced.
This system of representation abolished the earlier system of
electoral representation and the new system of District representation
The net result is that the voter has no representative for the
electorate and he has to go to the District representatives to get his
needs attended to.
At the same time this system has created unprecedented bargaining
power to minority communities and they hold the majority community
leaders at ransom. The ethnic representations rejected by the
Donoughmore Commission more than half a century ago has come to play in
another guise and how long we are able to retain the unitary State and
celebrate Independence will be decided in course of time only.
Sources: Diaries of Leonard Woolf,
History of Ceylon of Schools - S.G. Perera,
Report of the Sinhala Commission.