"War or Peace...," Chapter 1


From T.D.S.A.Dissanayake's new volume of "War or Peace... ": 

Was early universal franchise a disaster?

The well-known author T. D. S. A. Dissanayaka is now writing his fourteenth book "War or Peace in Sri Lanka" (Volume IV) to be released in October 2003. The Sri Lanka edition will be printed in Colombo and the international edition printed simultaneously in New Delhi.

The Sunday Observer has obtained exclusive rights to publish three instalments of Chapter I "Sri Lanka: What Went Wrong?" Our publication is in conjunction with the crucial conference in Tokyo to be held on June 9th and 10th when forty nations and twenty international organisations will gather to pledge economic assistance to Sri Lanka. Chapter I

Sri Lanka - What Went Wrong?

At the time when the sun never set on the British Empire, the British were so fond of Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was then known. That enchantment resulted in the British referring to Ceylon as "The Pearl of the Orient". The affection the British had for Ceylon was due to several factors. For example, the British raved over our scenic beauty. (Today British tourists to Sri Lanka still do so.) The British admired the stability of the Crown Colony of Ceylon.

Besides the British admired how fluently the Ceylonese spoke English, adapted themselves to the British public school system, played cricket, and appreciated the finer points of the British way of life. By the same token the British could never comprehend a complex dichotomy in Ceylon. The English speaking minority and the Sinhala and Tamil speaking majority lived in two separate worlds, of their own making.

Against this background, a very pertinent reference to Ceylon in 1930 was the internal memorandum prepared by Sir Charles Jeffries, later Under-Secretary for Colonial Affairs.

"Ceylon provides the classic example of how with good sense and goodwill two nations can carry through the extremely difficult and delicate transition from a subject-ruler relationship to an equal partnership.

Ceylon has been the prototype and model for the new Commonwealth hopefully in the latter half of the twentieth century.

In Ceylon we British learnt, by trial and error, the art of Colonial administration. They also learnt the wisdom of learning systematically the art of self-governance, which is essentially a process of trial and error."

Taking all these encomiums into account, the British decided to give special treatment to the Crown Colony of Ceylon. Therefore in 1931 universal franchise became a gift to Ceylon from the British, under the Donoughmore Constitution. No leaders of Ceylon had agitated for it in the Legislative Council from 1924-1931. At best there were the lone voices of the Labour Leader, A. E. Goonesinghe and George E. de Silva, the Member for Kandy. Nowhere in the British Empire was the experiment carried out in the decade of the nineteen thirties.

The first General Election in Ceylon under universal franchise was held in 1931. The new State Council of Ceylon had fifty seats to be filled by election. Forty six seats returned duly elected Members. In the electorates of Jaffna, Kankesanturai, Kayts and Point Pedro, the Tamil community which accounted for approximately 95% of the voters in those constituencies, boycotted the General Election because they perceived the Donoughmore reforms were inadequate.

For example the idealistic Jaffna Youth Congress led by Handy Perimbanayagam wanted self-rule immediately. Others bemoaned that in the last Legislative Council, which was elected on a restricted franchise based on property and educational qualification, there were eight elected Tamil Members in a Council of twenty nine elected Members. In the new State Council, there were only seven Members in a House of fifty elected Members.

Yet others claimed that universal franchise being introduced so suddenly, just three years after it was introduced to Britain, was a disaster. This created the impression, both amongst the British rulers and the Sinhalese, that the people of the Jaffna peninsula where over 50% of the Tamil population lived according to the Census of 1931, were opposed to universal franchise.

In fairness to the Ceylon Tamil community, it must be added that outside the Jaffna peninsula they participated enthusiastically in the General Election of 1931. For example G. G. Ponnambalam, then a young, up and coming politician who had taken a First at Cambridge and had done brilliantly as a law student at Lincoln's Inn, wanted to contest either the seats of Jaffna or Point Pedro. He could not do so because of the all pervading boycott.

Therefore he decided to contest the seat of Mannar where he was altogether an alien. He lost narrowly to a candidate who was a resident of Mannar. In Colombo North, Dr. R. (later Sir Ratnajothi) Saravanamuttu won easily. In Trincomalee, M. M. Subramanium formerly an elected Member of the Legislative Council, was duly elected. In Batticaloa South, H. M. (later Sir Mohamed) Macan Markar defeated E. R. Tambimuttu, formerly an elected Member of the Legislative Council.

The Burghers, Christians from all ethnic groups and Ceylon Tamils, in that order, were the pampered minorities in the Crown Colony of Ceylon. They respectively accounted for 0.6%, 9.1% and 11.2% of the population according to the Census of 1931. The British systematically played these minorities against the majority, the Sinhalese Buddhists, who accounted for 64.3% of the population.

With the introduction of adult franchise, the Sinhalese found an equitable representation in the State Council. Nevertheless in the Public Service, the British continued to recruit Burghers, Christians and Ceylon Tamils in large numbers and Sinhalese Buddhists as few as practicable. That pernicious policy of divide and rule continued unabated until Independence in 1948 because it was part and parcel of British policy throughout their Empire. Even after Independence, in the Mercantile sector which was dominated by the British, Company Directors continued the policy of giving favoured treatment to Burghers, Christians and Tamils, be they of Ceylonese or Indian origin. All these considerations filled the hearts of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority with resentment.

For the first time, in 1931 Ceylon had a Legislature which represented a cross section of our population, besides being elected on the basis of universal franchise. The General Election of 1931 was indeed interesting. The Sinhalese accounting for 69.2% of the population were delighted that three quarter of the State Council consisted of their kind. (In the Legislative Council, half were Sinhalese).

The Sinhalese Christians who accounted for approximately 5% of the population were in clover. Twelve State Councillors were Sinhalese Christians. The Muslims could not understand why they won only one seat when their community accounted for 6.9% of the population. The Indian Tamils who accounted for 12.0% of the population also did not fare too well and won only two seats. The Ceylon Tamils bemoaned that adult franchise was not workable in our nation!

Very significantly the Burgher community could not conceivably win a seat because they accounted for only 0.6% of the population. Their sole representative in the State Council was one of the eight Appointed Members. However the Burgher community accepted reality. Some Burghers who went to Britain for higher studies or training, never came back. A small number migrated to Australia. After Independence they migrated to Australia, in large numbers.

The British were embarrassed by the boycott of the General Election in the North. Therefore Sir Edward Stubbs, the Governor of Ceylon, used his influence on the Ceylon Tamil community, and in 1934 by-elections were held in the Jaffna peninsula.

Accordingly Arunachalam (later Sir Arunachalam) Mahadeva (Jaffna), S. Natesan (Kankesanturai), Nevins Selvadurai (Kayts) and G. G. Ponnambalam (Point Pedro) were duly elected.

From T.D.S.A. Dissanayake's new volume of "War or Peace..." 

DS threatens to break JR's neck

The well-known author T. D. S. A. Dissanayaka is now writing his fourteenth book "War or Peace in Sri Lanka" (Volume IV) to be released in October 2003. The Sri Lanka edition will be printed in Colombo and the international edition printed simultaneously in New Delhi. The Sunday Observer has obtained exclusive rights to publish these instalments of Chapter I "Sri Lanka: What Went Wrong?" The third instalment will be published next Sunday.

Chapter I (Contd.)

Sri Lanka - What Went Wrong?

The second General Election held in 1936 generated considerable interest in all communities. Universal franchise was accepted by all communities but there were justifiable misgivings about some iniquities. For example the Muslim community was astonished that despite accounting for 6.9% of the population they won no seats in 1936 and just one seat in 1931. The Indian Tamil community accounting for 12.0% of the population, as against 11.2% of the Ceylon Tamil community won only three seats as against seven by the Ceylon Tamils. Quite obviously there was some error in the delimitation of the electorates made by the British. As a first step Governor Stubbs opted for two Muslims, T. B. Jayah and Razeek (later Sir Razeek) Fareed as Appointed Members.

G. G. Ponnambalam, unquestionably a rising star in the Ceylon Tamil community, had serious misgivings about the preponderance of Sinhalese both in the Board of Ministers and in the State Council itself. All seven Ministers in 1936 were Sinhalese as against five Sinhalese, one Tamil and one Muslim in the last State Council. The Sinhalese accounted for 69.2% of the population. Therefore in a State Council of 50 elected Members, there should have been around 35 Sinhalese elected as Members but there were 39. He therefore clamoured for balanced representation. However by 1937 he devised the slogan fifty-fifty, which represented anything but balanced representation.

According to Ponnambalam power should be shared in the ratio fifty-fifty, with parity of status for:

(a) The Sinhalese speaking majority

(b) The non-Sinhalese speaking minorities. The English speaking minorities, the Burgers (0.6%) and the British (0.2%), ignored the proposal. Therefore Ponnambalam modified his proposal as follows:

(a) The Sinhalese speaking majority

(b) All Tamil speaking minorities.

That proposal worked like a charm on the Tamil community living in the Jaffna peninsula and in the Wanni, which accounts for the entirely of the Northern Province, and in the entirety of the Eastern Province. In direct contrast the Indian Tamil Community, 12.0% of the population as against 11.2% of the Ceylon Tamils, was lukewarm. They lived amidst the Sinhalese in the Central Province, Sabaragamuwa and Uva and they did not want to antagonise the majority community. Therefore Ponnambalam the demagogue campaigned vigorously in the North and the East and Ponnambalam the brilliant lawyer, articulated his case before the State Council. His address to the State Council was the longest speech ever made in the history of our Legislature. It was no accident that he was looked upon as the uncrowned King of Jaffna.

In direct contrast in the eyes of the Sinhalese, the fifty-fifty proved only one thing. The Ceylon Tamils, especially those from Jaffna, just did not know how to live as a minority.

Those Sinhalese who were enraged claimed publicly that all Tamil speaking minorities, the Ceylon Tamils, the Indian Tamil and the Muslims put together accounted for only 30.1% of the population whereas the Sinhalese accounted for 69.2%. How then they griped aloud, were Ceylon Tamils clamouring for fifty-fifty? The exact parallel today is that the Ceylon Tamils are bargaining for two-thirds of the coastline of Sri Lanka and one-third of the land mass, while accounting for only one-eighth of the population.

The anger of the Sinhalese was based on two issues. The British played the Ceylon Tamil minority against the Sinhalese majority at every turn. For example the Ceylon Tamils accounted for 11.2% of the population but over one-third of the then prestigious Public Service were from this community. In contrast the Sinhalese accounted for 69.2% of the population but less than one-half of the Public Service was from this community.

That was a sore point in the relationship between the two communities which were traditionally hostile to each other, having fought wars for 2,000 years. The Sinhalese were hoping that these anomalies would hopefully be straightened out after Independence and justice given to the discriminated majority community. Now it transpired that under universal franchise, the Ceylon Tamils themselves were attempting to subvert natural justice stemming from simple arithmetic and clamouring for fifty-fifty, a thoroughly illogical proposition.

G.G. Ponnambalam was both an orator and a demagogue. As a demagogue he could appeal to emotional issues with the greatest of ease. He produced the gunpowder, one of two essential ingredients for an explosion. All that was necessary for the Sinhalese was to produce a demagogue who produced the fire, the other key ingredient for an explosion. For hypothesis if there was a demagogue who advocated Sinhala as the sole Official

Language after the British left, then the explosion would certainly have ripped Ceylon apart and the British would not have left us in 1948. Mercifully there was no such demagogue in the Sinhalese community in the decade of the nineteen thirties.

The concept of Sinhala Only was first introduced into the Legislature by J.R. Jayewardene (Member of the State Council - Kelaniya) shortly after his swearing-in on May 23rd, 1943. At that time there was no United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party. (They were formed in 1946 and 1951 respectively). Nearly everybody of consequence belonged to the Ceylon National Congress which was a conglomeration of forces, not a political party. Without consulting anybody J.R. Jayewardene advocated Sinhala to replace English when he tabled the following Motion on June 22nd, 1943 within one month of entering the Legislature !

"Sir, the Motion tabled by me reads as follows:-

(a) That Sinhala should be made the medium of instruction in all schools;

(b) That Sinhala should be made a compulsory subject in all public examinations;

(c) That legislation should be introduced to permit the business of the State Council to be conducted in Sinhala also;

(d) That a Commission should be appointed to choose for translation and to translate important books of other languages into Sinhala;

(e) That a Commission should be appointed to report on all steps that need be taken to effect the transition from English into Sinhala.

My motion seeks to displace English from the position which it has held for over 125 years as the official language of this country.

Thank you, Sir." (Hansard)

There was pandemonium in the Legislature.

The Minister for Home Affairs, Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva (Member of the State Council - Jaffna) angrily said,

"Jayewardene, you are a disgrace to Royal College. I will have you expelled from our Old Boys Union."

G.G. Ponnambalam shouted,

"It was such a pleasure to appear before your famous father, Justice E.W. Jayewardene. He was the embodiment of justice. You are the embodiment of injustice." The ensuing bedlam was so great, the Speaker Sir Waitilingam Doraiswamy (Member of the State Council - Kayts) adjourned the House.

This information was given to me by J.R. Jayewardene himself when I was writing my second book "J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka" in 1977.

D.S. Senanayake, the Leader of the State Council, was livid. He sent his son Dudley Senanayake (Member of the State Council - Kegalle) to warn J.R. Jayewardene that he would like to break his neck. Dudley Senanayake himself told me this when I was writing my first book "Dudley Senanayake of Sri Lanka" in 1972, while on an extended home leave after serving with the UN in the Civil War in Nigeria and in the War of Independence of Bangladesh.

J.R. Jayewardene was a brilliant product of Royal College, the Colombo University College (later the University of Ceylon) and the Colombo Law College. He entered the Colombo Municipal Council in 1938 from the New Bazaar Ward and entered the Legislature in 1943 from Kelaniya. Many expected the elder statesman, E.W. Perera, a Christian, to win that seat at the by-election of 1943. However J.R. Jayewardene then 37 years old, a son of a devout Christian father and a devout Buddhist mother, and himself a devout Buddhist campaigned on the basis:

"Kelaniya is sacred to the Buddhists and this bye-election will be held on a Poya day. How can Kelaniya send a Christian to the State Council?"

J.R. Jayewardene won by a landslide! Thus he too was a demagogue. This information was given to me by Sirisoma Ranasinghe, the Campaign Manager of J.R. Jayewardene and the founder Chairman of Swastika (Private) Ltd., my publisher in Sri Lanka.

D.S. Senanayake, livid though he was with the proposal of J.R. Jayewardene, quickly got Tamil Members of the State Council to propose amendments. Wherever the word "Sinhala" appeared, the amendment proposed read "Sinhala and Tamil". To calm, ruffled feathers, with the co-operation of the Speaker the proposal of J.R. Jayewardene was deliberately delayed.

In due course J.R. Jayewardene himself amended his Motion substituting "Sinhala and Tamil" for "Sinhala". He addressed the State Council on the amended Motion on May 24th, 1944. A superb orator, that day he spoke like a real statesman, and was honoured by a standing ovation by the State Council. Therefore, his entire speech is reproduced at this juncture.