Ilankai Tamil Sangam
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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA
A man ahead of his time
A tribute by S. Raymond Rajabalan, Monsoon Journal, January 14, 2007
V. Navaratnam, former Member of Parliament for Kayts, passed away in Montreal on Dec.22nd at the age of 97, creating a void in the midst of Eeelam Tamils at this hour of need.
Navaratnam, born in Karampon in the island of Kayts on18 October, 1910, was educated at Ananda College, Colombo and Ceylon Law College. He was a successful civil lawyer for more than fifty years. He was the only living founder member of Federal Party (Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi) which provided political leadership for Tamils for over thirty years after independence
A man with a prophetic vision, in 1949 Navaratnam, along with some other members of the Tamil Congress, opposed the Ceylon (Elections) Amendment Act which deprived the voting rights of Plantation Tamils. This resulted in the formation of Federal Party under the leadership of S.J.V.Chelvanayagam.
A political activist and writer with a sharp intellect and strategic thinking, he was the brain behind the Federal Party’s peaceful campaigns. His loss, coming hard on the heels of the recent demise of Anton Balasingham, has dealt a double blow to the Tamil-speaking community. In 1956, when the government of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike enacted the Sinhala Only Act, Navaratnam was the brain behind the planning of the Satyagraha (peaceful protest) campaign at Galle Face Green protesting the passage of this act.
He was a parliamentarian who refused to compromise the rights and interest of his people for political expediency. Hoping to win the rights by peaceful means, he participated on behalf of the Federal Party for more than a decade. However, he was disillusioned by repeated failures of each and every set of talks.
When the government led by Srimavo Bandaranaike declared in 1960 that Buddhism was to be elevated as the state religion, followed by legislation making Sinhala the language of the courts, the late Navaratnam spearheaded the civil disobedience campaign in the NorthEast. He was also the brain behind running a parallel postal service during this campaign, a unique event which made him a legend in the annals of the history of the freedom struggle of Eelam Tamils.
Navaratnam, contesting in the Kayts electorate during the 1963 August by-election, resulting from the death of V.A. Kandiah, won by more than 9000 votes. He again won the subsequent election in 1965
Soon after the 1965 elections, when Dudley Senanayake formed a ”National Government”, the Federal Party as well as the Tamil Congress extended their support. When the Shrima-Shastri Pact (1964) and the bill associated with the implementation of the Indo-Ceylon Agreement was introduced by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, Navaratnam decided to defy the government Whip and speak and vote against it. However on the request of his leader S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, he agreed not to express his opposition on the floor of the parliament. However, Navaratnam’s opposition to the Indo-Ceylon Act was a matter of public knowledge.
In 1967, the government in power introduced an Act relating to the Registrations of Persons Resident in Ceylon. The Act proposed a law under which every person in the island, 18 years of age and over, was required to register himself with the Department of Persons and obtain a photo identity card. This was the proverbial last straw to break the camel’s back.
In 1968 when the White Paper for the establishment of District Councils (DC) was submitted in the parliament, Navaratnam vigorously opposed it and made a clarion call to the Tamil youth to come forward to reach the ideals of achieving Tamil Eelam .When even this worthless DC bill was dropped due to anti-Tamil riots organized by Srimavo Bandaranaike, the Federal Party quit the government. Navaratnam was once again proved right.
This was how a soft-spoken politician changed his way of thinking when every peaceful means ended up as failure
In 1969, Navaratnam's patience worn out thin, Navaratnam finally decided to have his own way and quit the Federal Party.
He was a man ahead of his time and, at that time, because of the dominating influence of the Federal Party among Tamils , Navaratnam’s voice was drowned and swept away as a voice in the wilderness. He was a Moses denied the opportunity to lead the Tamil-speaking minorities, though he never aimed for fame or power.
Having realized the uncertainty of finding a political solution through long years of experience gained by short-lived meetings with the Sinhala leadership, on Aug. 1969, Navaratnam launched his own party, the Tamil Self Rule Party (Tamils Suyaadchchi Kazahagam). In fact, he was the man who planted the seeds of the freedom struggle, which took a different dimension in the late seventies.
After losing the 1970 elections, Navaratnam faded away from politics, but continued to keep himself informed about the developments in the country. His views, however, were sought by politicians as well by newspaper editors.
Events of the past three decades have proved beyond doubt that Navaratnam was a man with a vision and foresight. From time immemorial, the value of many are realized long after they are gone, a case in point being the late Mr. Navaratnam, a soft - spoken peace – loving man who, after numerous dialogues with many Sinhala leaders, realized very early the folly of continuing peace talks.
A man of honesty, who initially believed that peaceful means will bring an end to the political inequality, was reluctantly compelled finally to advocate alternate means.
The majority of Sri Lankans have expressed their hope for peace and an end to the hostilities, as proved by a number of opinion polls. There is a saying “More flies are caught by honey than by vinegar.“ There is yet another saying “Hope is the basis of life.” Let us all hope that sanity will prevail in Sri Lanka and the parties involved in the ethnic conflict will come to an amicable agreement sooner than later, so that there will be peace, prosperity and happiness - dreamt of by Navaratnam - in the not too distant future.
May his soul rest in peace.