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Death anniversary of Chellappah Suntharalingam on February 11:

A national figure with an international reputation

Jaffna was blessed during the first half of this century with a brilliant band of supermen with a vision, mission and mandate who have by their sublime thoughts, power-packed words and dazzling deeds attained immortality.


Chellappah
Suntharalingam

To this select group belongs late Chellappah Suntharalingam whose death anniversary fell on February 11, 2012.

Suntharalingam was a Member of Parliament for Vavuniya, Minister of Trade and Commerce in the D. S. Senanayake's Cabinet, Professor of Mathematics, Ceylon Civil Service (CCS), Indian Civil Servant (ICS), and tutor to the Queen Elizabeth in Mathematics.

If the Ponnambalam Mudaliyar's children, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam represented the high watermark of Tamil achievement in the field of politics, culture and statesmanship, Suntharalingam's brothers namely Panchalingam was a medical doctor, Nagalingam was an acting Chief Justice, Thiagalingam was an advocate and (Queen's Counsel) and Amirthalingam (CCS) was Director of Fisheries and excelled in their respective professions.

Suntharalingam was born on August 19, 1895 and was the son of Chellappah and Meenachchi from Urumpirai in Jaffna. He was educated at St John's College, Jaffna and St Joseph's College, Colombo. In 1914, he entered the University of London from where he graduated with a BSc (Hons) Degree in Mathematics. He then went on to Balliol College, Oxford, from where he was awarded a double first in Mathematics Tripos. After graduation he returned to Ceylon where he joined the Indian Civil Service, but resigned in 1920.

He was called to the Bar from Gray's Inn in 1920 and became an advocate and practised in Ceylon. Thereafter he served as Vice Principal of Ananda College, Colombo and was also Professor of Mathematics at the Ceylon University College.

Parliamentary election

As he was very much interested in politics, Suntharalingam retired in 1940 and entered politics. He tried unsuccessfully to enter the State Council during by-elections in 1943 and 1944.

He stood as an Independent candidate for Vavuniya at the 1947 Parliamentary election. He won the election and entered Parliament.

He was persuaded by D. S. Senanayake to join the United National Party government and on September 1947, he was sworn-in as Minister of Trade and Commerce.

He supported the controversial Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 which deprived citizenship to 11 percent of the Ceylon population, but when division was called on the second reading of the Indian and Pakistani Residents’ Citizenship Bill on December 1948, Suntharalingam walked out of Parliament. Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake asked for an explanation but Suntharalingam resigned from his ministerial position instead.

He resigned from Parliament in 1951. He was the only candidate in the ensuing by-election returned to Parliament.

He was re-elected at the May 1952 Parliamentary election. Suntharalingam boycotted Parliament from August 1955 as a protest against the attempts to make Sinhala the sole official language of Ceylon. After three months of absence he forfeited his seat in Parliament. He won the ensuing by-election and returned to Parliament. He was re-elected at the April 1956 Parliamentary elections.

At the March 1960 Parliamentary election Suntharalingam contested as an Independent candidate and was defeated by T. Sivasithamparam, another Independent candidate. He contested the March 1965 Parliamentary election as an Independent candidate, but came third. At the May 1970 Parliamentary election he contested in Kankesanturai as an Independent candidate and again came third.

Blessed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, enthusiasm, inspiring leadership and quickness of thoughts, he attained eminence as a mathematician, lawyer, Indian Civil Servant, Ceylon Civil Servant, Member of Parliament, Minister in the D. S. Senanayake's Cabinet and above all these a tutor to Queen Elizabeth.

No field of human endeavour was left untouched by the swaying amplitude of his imagination, the encompassing sweep of his thought, the penetrating yet lucid felicity of his words and the indefatigable zeal of his actions. No wonder he left an indelible impression on most of what he touched with rare dynamism and exemplary zeal.

Extraordinary combination

It is very often said that “there can be supreme technical skill, originality, intelligence in a person and yet there can be an absence of genius.” Initially, the word genius signified an attendant spirit, and animate power that gives to a very few human beings the secret of radiance.

The ordinary man casts a shadow, the man of genius casts light, in a way we do not quite understand. Instinctively, we flinch from this light.

We take it for granted that genius must pay a terrible price either in some twist of personality or through private and public desolation and dramas of rejection that seem to characterize famous lives. To find genius and happiness in perfect blend is nearly an impossible task. But in late Suntharalingam we found a happy blend of both. In fact, he was an extraordinary combination of scholar of exceptional breadth and depth, a prolific writer, a historian, professor, politician, Member of Parliament, Minister, Administrator of extraordinary ability.

Possessed of a sparkling versatile genius he illumined any and every task which he undertook with extra sense of devotion, dedication, commitment combined with a unique organizing ability and with a dedicated harmonizing touch.

Undoutedly Suntharalingam was literally a comet who blazed momentarily across our skies, leaving in his trail a luminescence which the passing of time can hardly erase. Indeed, he was a colossus, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional personality who will be always remembered by all the communities.

In the words of the poet, Suntharalingam was a statesman, yet friend to truth, of soul sincere, in action faithful and in honour - clear.

‘He was noble, nobility itself.’

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