By: T. Sabaratnam
Moderates Ignore Mandate
of the north and east of Sri Lanka had declared “their
will to exist as a separate entity ruling themselves in their own
the Kankesanthurai by-election held on 6 February 1975. As Thanthai
Chelva declared in his victory speech, the Tamils had clearly expressed their will.
They affirmed that decision in the historic Vaddukoddai Convention of 14
May 1976 and ratified it in the 21 July 1977 parliamentary election.
Four months before that ratification, on 21 February 1977,
Thanthai Chelva categorically told a meeting convened by Prime Minister
Sirimavo Bandaranaike that the TULF would not compromise its stand on a separate state. Amirthalingam in his victory speech on July 22
categorically affirmed Thanthai Chelva’s firm stand. He said:
will march forward to achieve the goal of Eelam.”
days after giving that solid assurance the TULF leadership decided to ditch
it. The TULF had emerged the biggest opposition party and the post of Leader
of the Opposition automatically fell in its lap. It did not want to lose
it. The party was prepared to delay the march towards Eelam for the sake of
that post. The informal decision to accept the Opposition Leader post
was made on July 23 when the full results of the election was known. The
decision was made in Jaffna when Amirthalingam, Sivasithamparam,
Kathirvetpillai, Yogeswaran and Anandasangari met at the party office.
should not miss this golden opportunity,” Kathirvetpillai insisted.
was reluctant. He was worried about the reaction of the boys. He said:
“We must be mindful of the reaction of the boys.” ‘Pediyangal’
was the word he used to denote ‘boys’ and not the usual ‘Paiyangal’.
said: “They will shout for a few days and then quieten down.”
formal decision to accept the post was made on 30 July when the TULF
parliamentary group met at the Vavuniya Town Hall. Amirthalingam was
elected the leader of the parliamentary group and Sivasithamparam its
deputy leader. The decision to accept the post of the Leader of the
Opposition was taken after that. There was no discussion on that matter.
The group unanimously decided to accept that post.
revolted. The TULF Youth Front issued a statement condemning the decision of
the parliamentary group and charged the members of parliament of going
back on the mandate given to them. It urged the parliamentary group to
constitute itself into a National Assembly of Tamil Eelam, as promised
in the election manifesto, to draft, adopt and implement a constitution
for the state of Tamil Eelam.
replied in a statement on behalf of the parliamentary group. He said
parliamentary group would use parliament as a forum to canvas for the
separate state. Amirthalingam, in an interview to Reuters, added two
reasons for their decision. The post gave an opportunity for the Tamils
to carry their message to the four corners of the world. It also gave
access to important persons and institutions in the globe.
decision of the parliamentary group, which met at Thondaman’s office on
August 3, to attend the ceremonial opening of parliament the next day
provoked the youths further. The decision taken that day to go slow with
the demand for a separate state and give the new prime minister,
Jayewardene, time to tackle the Tamil problem irked the
youths the most.
attended parliament on 4 August morning to elect the Speaker and
Amirthalingam occupied the seat of the Leader of the Opposition. The
TULF MPs took oaths affirming their allegiance to the 1972 constitution and
participated in the election of the Speaker. R. Premadasa, who would
later become prime minister, proposed the name of Anandatissa de Alwis and Opposition Leader
Amirthalingam seconded. Premadasa and Amirthalingam led de Alwis to the
Speaker’s chair. Amirthalingam told the Speaker the TULF would cooperate
with him to maintain the decorum of the House and help him to conduct
the affairs of Parliament efficiently.
the evening, the TULF attended the ceremonial opening of parliament,
ending the 20- year boycott which was started in 1957 as a protest
against the enactment of the Sinhala Only law. The Jayewardene government
responded to the TULF gesture by incorporating verbatim the section
“Problems of the Tamil Speaking People” contained in the UNP
election manifesto in the “Statement of Government Policy.” To
soothe the feelings of the revolting youth Amirthalingam issued a
statement on 7 August highlighting this.
rewarded Amirthalingam by providing respectability to the post of the
Leader of the Opposition. He was provided an official residence, police
security, official car and a secretariat. Jayewardene, an acknowledged
master political tactician, was implementing his clever scheme to draw
Amirthalingam and the TULF away from its commitment to a separate state.
He was trying to make Amirthalingam live in cooperation with the Sinhalese.
youths saw through this scheme. Their opposition to the TULF leadership,
for the first time, turned against Amirthalingam. They pasted Jaffna
walls with the slogan:
Ethir Kadchi Thalaivar Patavi
meaning of the slogan: We asked for Thamil Eelam, but got the Opposition Leader post. They
also issued leaflets accusing the TULF of betraying the trust the Tamil
people had placed in it. One of the leaflets headlined: What happened to the
National Assembly of Thamil Eelam? and asked the TULF hierarchy to implement
the mandate the people had given it.
As the youths stepped up their ‘war’ against the TULF parliamentary group Jaffna peninsula witnessed the first ugly police rampage in its history. It started as a minor incident. It is customary among Sri Lankan police to travel in buses and enter carnivals without buying tickets. On 12 August a group of policemen in plain-clothes went to the carnival held at St. Patrick’s College.
The carnival was held by the Rotary Club of
Jaffna to collect funds to build a cancer hospital in Jaffna. The men at
the gate refused the police entry until they bought tickets. After an
argument, the police bought their tickets, went to the bar, had a few drinks,
came back, and assaulted the ticket collectors. Dr. Phillips, one of the
organizers, reported the incident to higher police officers and
requested them to prevent police constables going to the carnival.
the next day, August 13, policemen from other stations in the Jaffna
peninsula went to the carnival, drank heavily and clashed with the
public. Members of the public chased away the police, who were not in
uniform. Police retaliated the next morning, August 14. The policemen
got out of their stations and attacked the public. They stopped cyclists, assaulted them and made them to carry the cycles. At
three policemen stopped three boys riding bicycles, one boy pulled out a
revolver from his pocket and shot at a policeman, injuring him in the
next morning, August 15, policemen from the Jaffna police station went
on a shooting spree. They killed four civilians and injured 21 others.
They told the media that they opened fire because some men resisted when
they tried to seize the arms carried by some boys. Jaffna Member of
Parliament V. Yogeswaran, complained about the incident to the police
headquarters in Colombo, but the attacks on the public continued,
repeated the attack on 16 August. They went in a truck and set shops
ablaze. Then, on August 17 morning policemen from Jaffna police station
set fire to the Jaffna market. A portion of the market and adjoining
shops were gutted. Two persons were shot dead.
who was in Colombo when the incident began, rushed to Jaffna on 17 August
night and visited the Jaffna market on 18 August morning. He saw the
Assistant Superintendent of Police standing there and went up to him,
identified himself, and asked in anger, “Why are you people shooting
the innocent people?” The police officer scolded Amirthalingam in filth and the
constable standing behind him hit him with the butt of his gun.
riots spread to the south. Sinhala students from the Jaffna
Campus instigated the riots and the police did not take any action to
prevent it. Jaffna Campus had admitted a small quota of Sinhala students
since its inception in 1964 to promote Sinhala- Tamil understanding. The
Sinhalese students were not happy because of the distance, climate and
unfamiliar social environment. They felt they were foreigners in a
totally different linguistic, religious and cultural environment. They
tried their best to get a transfer to a university campus close to their
homes, to Colombo, Peradeniya, Vidyothaya or Vidyalankara. In addition,
in 1977, there were some personal problems for some students. Sinhala
teased a Tamil female student. Her relatives had assaulted them. The
Sinhala students made use of the riots to get back home. They said it
was unsafe for them to live in Jaffna because of the heightened tension
were transported with police escort in special buses to Anuradhapura on
17 August. When the convoy
of buses stopped at the Anuradhapura bus stand, some of the students leaders
got on the bus hood and told the crowd there that Tamils were attacking
the Sinhalese in Jaffna. The enraged mob went berserk. That
ignited riots in Anuradhapura. Tamil shops, houses and even the Hindu
temple were looted and torched. Tamils were attacked. Police turned a
blind eye. They chased away the Tamils who ran to the police station
seeking shelter. They treated the Tamils as their enemies. The riots
spread to Kurunegala, Matale and Polonnaruwa on 18 August, to Kandy and
other areas in the hill country during the day on 19 August.
returned to Colombo on the morning of 19 August and raised the Jaffna
incidents in parliament as an adjournment motion. Speaking in the debate
on the adjournment motion he said, “…police aimed their gun at me. I
am lucky to be here today. The men were in uniform but wore no numbers.
When I asked them why they shot innocent persons the policemen abused me
in filth and assaulted me.”
UNP lawmakers asked Amirthalingam to repeat the filthy words used by the
Mr. Speaker. I will not repeat those mean, vulgar words in this esteemed
chamber. Those words are unparliamentary.”
gave a detailed account of the incidents in Jaffna and blamed the police
for those incidents. Then he pointedly asked the Prime Minister,
"Can you rule the country with policemen like this?”
replied: We were at the receiving end of police action not long
in the adjournment debate Jayewardene denied Amirthaligam’s accusation
with anger. He adverted to the Puttur shooting and said the ‘boys’
had the audacity to shoot at the police. He accused Amirthalingam of
promoting secessionism and thundered amid applause from the UNP
become restive when they hear that a separate state is to be formed,
that Trincomalee is to be the capital of the state, that Napoleon said
that Trincomalee was key to the Indian Ocean and that it is going to be
the capital of the state. I do not think Napoleon ever said that - I do
not think Napoleon ever made a foolish remark like that. Whatever it is,
when statements of that type are made, the newspapers carry them
throughout the island, and when you say that you are not violent, but
that violence may be used in time to come, what do you think the other
people in Sri Lanka will do? How will they react? If you want to fight,
let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there be peace; that is what
they will say. It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say
was not repentant about the violence and tension that made thousands of
Tamils flee their homes. He only promised
to appoint a commission of inquiry.
Jayawardene's angry speech violence spread to Colombo, Panadura and Kalutara on
19 August night. Sinhala mobs gathered at junctions and attacked Tamil
shops and business establishments in the presence of the police. Unlike
in 1958, this time they went in search of Tamil houses, attacked the
looted them and burned them. Mobs also destroyed Hindu kovils [temples].
government clamped a 35- hour curfew at 5 P.M. on 20 August and deployed
the army and the navy to quell the riots. The curfew hours were
restricted to the night from 22 August and the curfew's duration was gradually
reduced thereafter and lifted on 30 August. The Daily News of 29 August gave
the official figures as 112 Tamils killed, 25,000 rendered homeless and
Rs, 1000 million worth of property destroyed. Independent sources gave
the number killed as 300, refugees as 30,000 and 300 temples damaged or
destroyed. The government set up several refugee camps and chartered three
ships to transport the refugees to safety in the north and the east.
riots angered the Tamil public and youths and there were whispered
threats to the Sinhala people living in Jaffna. Though there were no
attacks on the Sinhalese, some of whom were settled in Jaffna for
generations, they sought refuge at the police stations. The police
opened refugee camps for them at the Sinhala Maha Vidyalaya and Naga
riot provoked indignation in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu Assembly
expressed “rude shock” and requested Prime Minister Morarji Desai to
depute a cabinet minister to Sri Lanka to investigate the violence.
Desai, who had a soft corner for Jayewardene, asked the Indian Foreign
Ministry to express India’s concern to Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner
in Delhi. In Madras the DMK staged a mammoth demonstration of support
Lankan Tamils and handed a memorandum to the Sri Lanka’s Deputy High
1977 riots was a turning point in Sinhala- Tamil relations. The riots had
varied and far reaching consequences. They can be summed up as:
particularly the youths, lost their faith in Jayewardene.
lost their faith in the
Sri Lankan Police. They
had become the
faith in a separate state had been reinforced.
homeland, the land to which Tamils were sent, had become a real need.
moderates, particularly Amirthalingam, had been weakened. Armed militant
groups had won respectability.
back', had grown popular.
Nadu and India had been drawn in.
moderates were the worst sufferers.
Tamil youths were incensed with Jayewardene’s defence of the
police and his war cry. Militants issued a leaflet in which they
declared their readiness for a fight. If
Jayewardene wants to fight, the militants were prepared for it, the
who suffered indignity during the rots were also itching for a fight.
They were angry that they were attacked by Sinhala mobs because they
were Tamils. Some of them joined the two active militant groups,
Thangathurai's group and Pirapaharan's group. The government’s
intelligence outfit, the Colombo Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) estimated
that in September the number of cadres in both groups had risen from 30
to 50 and sympathizers from 100 to 200. Public sympathy also shifted towards the militant groups.
militants' immediate pressure was against the TULF leadership, especially against
Amirthalingam. He was told to take a tough stand against the government.
The TULF leadership had no alternative but to fall in line. When the
Government Policy Statement was debated in the first week of September
the TULF moved an amendment regretting the failure of the government to
mention the mandate the TULF had obtained to establish a separate state
of Tamil Eelam. This amendment provoked the UNP parliamentarians who
accused Amirthalingam of making inflammatory speeches. Mahaweli
Development Minister Gamini Dissanayake was very harsh on Amirthalingam.
He blamed Amirthalingam for being “double-faced and forked-tongued,”
showing a sweet face in the south and a hideous one in the north. He
said Amirthalingam’s provocative speeches had incited the Sinhala
that month, on 22 September, Jayewardene
moved a resolution in parliament to empower the Speaker to appoint a
select committee and chairman to "consider the revision of the
constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka and other written laws as the
committee may consider." The resolution was adopted the next day. Amirthalingam,
yielding to the pressure of the youths, announced on that day the TULF”s
decision to boycott the functions in which ministers participated and to
keep out of the deliberations of the Select Committee on the Revision of
the Constitution. Jayewardene was annoyed. He was anxious to become the
executive president on 4 February 1978 and wanted to show the world that
the main opposition party, the TULF, was with him. By this action, he wanted to
neutralize the opposition of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s SLFP.
composition of the select committee was announced on 3 November.
The committee did not contain a representative of the
TULF, but CWC leader S. Thondaman joined. The committee consisted of J R Jayewardene
- chairman, R Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Disanayaka,
Ronnie de Mel, K W Devanayakam, M H M Naina Marikar, all from the UNP,
Srimavo Bandaranaike, Maitripala Senanayake from the SLFP and Thondaman,
of the CWC.
was under attack from both sides. I did an interview with him on his
plight for the Daily News on 5 October 1977, just after he made a
statement in parliament. He told parliament the boycott of the
constitution drafting process did not mean the TULF opposed the
presidential form of government. It only meant that Tamil people were not
worried whether Jayewardene ruled the country as prime minister or
president. “When our house is on fire, can we worry about the colour
and texture of the window curtains?” he asked.
the interview, Amirthalingam told me he was in the position of the drum and
was being beaten on both sides. “Boys think that I am on Jayewardene’s
side and are beating me. Jayewardene thinks that I am with the boys and
is beating me.” Then he told me in confidence: J. R. (Jayewardene) is
the most dangerous of the two, a revengeful man. If we rub him hard on the
wrong side he will destroy the Tamils.”
assessment of the revengeful character of Jayewardene was not something
new. In the early 1950s, Sir John Kotelawala called Jayewardene “a serpent
under the grass.” Sirimavo Bandaranaike had repeatedly called him a
revengeful man and had suffered at his hands. Tamils accuse him of
engineering the 1977 riots. They charge that he wanted to weaken the
Tamil race because he was disgraced by the Jaffna public.
incident in which he was disgraced occurred during the 1977 election campaign. Jayewardene went to
Jaffna to address a UNP election campaign. A temporary stage had been
put up on the esplanade, next to Duraiappah Stadium. As Jayewardene got
up to address the meeting, the stage crashed, causing pandemonium.
Jayewardene and others on the stage fell down. The meeting was abandoned
and Jayewardene took it as an insult.
sabotage was the work of EROS and some of the boys who caused the stage
to crash are now with the EPDP in Colombo. They told me they stood around
the stage and cut the coir rope used to tie the poles on which planks of
timber were placed.
13. Militants to the Fore
Introduction Part 1
Introduction Part 2
Chapter 1: Why didn’t he hit back?
Chapter 2: Going in for a revolver
Chapter 3: The Unexpected Explosion
Chapter 4: Tamil Mood Toughens
Chapter 5: Tamil Youths Turn Assertive
Chapter 6: Birth of Tamil New Tigers
Chapter 7: The Cyanide Suicide
Chapter 8: First Military Operation
Chapter 9. TNT matures to LTTE
Chapter 10. Mandate Affirmed
Chapter 11. The Mandate Ratified