Feature Article

Doyen of FP, uncompromising on Tamil National question

[TamilNet, Thursday, 06 October 2005, 00:16 GMT]
Are leaders of Sinhala community prepared to share state power with Tamils? Mr. V. Navaratnam, the only surviving founder member of the Federal Party that provided political leadership to Tamils for more than three decades since it was formed in 1949, and described as the brain behind FP, shared with TamilNet his views on Tamil National struggle. The doyen of Tamil politics who negotiated with the father of the incumbent President Chandrika Kumaratunge and other Sri Lanka leaders for sharing state power within a federal framework for almost three decades turns 96-years this month in Montreal, Canada. He also inked the Bandaranaiyake Chelvanayagam pact.

Navaratnam was Member of Parliament for Kayts in Jaffna. Born in Karampon on 18th October 1910 in Jaffna and educated in Ceylon Law College, he was an Attorney-at-Law for nearly 58 years. In 1956 he authored the book "Ceylon Faces Crisis," and in 1995 "The Fall And Rise Of The Tamil Nation," a book that provides a historic and detailed understanding of early negotiations between the Sinhala and Tamil leaders from a Tamil perpective.

Despite his age, Mr. Navaratnam, keeps himself current with the political events in Sri Lanka from his residence in Montreal, Quebec.

TamilNet: As a co-founder of the Federal Party and as participant in dialogues with Sinhala leaders for peaceful solution in the 50s and 60's, could you share your views regarding those negotiations? Mr. V. Navaratnam
Navaratnam: Earliest agreement between Tamils and Sinhalese dates back to 1919, when Ponnambalam Arunachalam [later Sir], a Cambridge educated Tamil, founded the Ceylon National Congress and was elected its first President. He led Ceylon's intelligentsia in its agitation for political reforms under British rule. The Agreement of 1919, between Ponnambalam Arunachalam on behalf of the Tamils, and James Pieris and E.J. Samarawickrama K.C. on behalf of the Sinhalese, provided for a Tamil seat for the Tamils of the Western Province in the legislature. When it came up before the Ceylon National Congress in 1922 for ratification before forwarding it to Whitehall, a faction of the Sinhalese led by H.J.C.Pereira opposed it arguing that it was an agreement between individuals not binding on the Congress. Thus ended the 1919 pact.

The next agreement was the Sinhalese-Tamil Pact of 1925, known as the "Mahendra Pact". A delegation of the Ceylon National Congress led by its President C.E. Corea, accompanied by his brother C.E. Victor S. Corea, George E. de Silva, M.P. Jayatilake, T.B. Jayah, M.A. Arulanandam, P. de S. Kularatne, R.S.S.Gunawardene and S. Muttiah entered into a pact with a Tamil delegation in Jaffna at Waithilngam Duraiswamy's residence named 'Mahendra'. The parties agreed that in any future Constitution, the proportion of representation in the country's legislature should be one for Tamils and two for Sinhalese.

This agreement was placed before the general session of the Congress in Kandy in 1925. Ratification was postponed for a special session of the Congress. The next general session was held in Galle in 1926 when C.E Victor S. Corea proposed ratification of the 1:2 ratio agreement and pleaded not to alienate Tamils by reneging. A dissident section of the Congress led by Francis de Zoysa sabotaged it arguing that they were not at a special session.

Mr. V. NavaratnamTowards the end of the second world war in the early 40's when the prospect of the liquidation of the British Empire was in the air, S.W.R.D. Bandranaike campaigned for Sinhala as the only official language of Ceylon. The then powerful UNP leader of the Sinhalese, Don Stephan Senanayake (father of Dudley Senanayake) reprimanded Bandaranaike and got Ceylon's legislature, then the State Council, to adopt a Resolution declaring that both Sinhalese and Tamil should be the official languages of the Ceylon. Bandaranaike, however, bided his time, seceded from the UNP, and founded the Sri Lanka Federal Party (SLFP). Independence was granted under the 1948 Constitution. But, when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became Prime Minister in 1956, his very first Government business was to get an Official Language Act making Sinhala Only, passed in the Parliament Chamber while outside the Parliament House hired thugs and hoodlums had a field day, thrashing and kicking Tamil Members of Parliament and their supporters who were squatting on the Galle Face Green, in a non violent, peaceful protest.

This was a blatant repudiation of what was virtually a Sinhalese-Tamil Pact vested with the authority of Legislative Resolution.

The most publicly noticed reneging was that of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact (B-C Pact) of 1957 because it was an agreement which generated high hopes for a resolution of the Self-determination demand of Tamils. One Sinhala leader, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike of the SLFP, was seen as conceding, while another Sinhala leader J. R. Jeyawardene of the UNP, was sabotaging it.

TamilNet: What made Mr. Bandaranaike concede?
Navaratnam: It was the historic Trincomalee Convention of the Federal party in August 1956. The convention, consequent to passing of the Sinhala Only Act, adopted a single Resolution giving an ultimatum to Colombo to abolish the 1948 Unitary Constitution and replace it with a Federal one within a year, providing for Tamil and Sinhalese states as constituent units vested with autonomous and residuary powers. The Federal Party threatened with continuous nonviolent direct action if Colombo failed. In order to avoid direct confrontation, Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike entered into the B-C Pact providing for “Regional Councils” of a sort. Even so, at the negotiating table there was opposition from a Minister of his own Government. Philip Gunawardene, Minister of Agriculture, and at that time an LSSP Marxist, refused to concede any of the powers of his Ministry to the proposed Tamil Regional Councils.

Claiming that Bandaranaike had sold the Country to the Tamils by this Pact, J. R. Jeyawardene resorted to protest with a marathon march from Colombo to Kandy to rouse the extreme nationalist feelings of the Sinhalese Buddhists. In February 1958, a crowd of Buddhist monks in saffron robes sat on the lawn of the Primie Minister's residence, refusing to leave unless the B-C Pact was abrogated. Bandaranaike emerged from his door with the document and tore up the B-C pact. Ceylon's career of crises was well and truly under way.

Federal Party leaders at the Trincomalee Convention, August 1956
Federal Party leaders at the Trincomalee Convention, August 1956. (L-R) M. M. Mustapha, MP for Poththuvil, K. Thurairatnam (smiling), MP for Point Pedro, N. R. Rajavarothayam (foreground), MP for Trincomalee and Chairman of the Reception Committee for the Convention. V. A. Kandiah, MP for Kayts, A. Amirthalingam, MP for Vaddukoaddai, C. Vanniyasingam, MP for Koappaay and President of the Party for the year. S. Sinnathurai (with mustache) retired Postmaster and administrative secretary in charge of Party headquarters at 2nd Cross Street, Jaffna. S. Nadarajah (later Senator), S.J.V Chelvanayakam, MP for Kaangkeasanthu'rai and Leader of the Party (holding thalikody and neckchains of gold donated by Trincomalee women), V. Navaratnam, then General-Secretary of the Party and Organizer of the Convention and later MP for Kayts (holdig rupee notes donated by the public) and Dr. E.M.V Naganathan, Joint General-Secretary, later MP for Nalloor.


TamilNet: And your personal experience with the then UNP leaders who followed?
Navaratnam: It is now 40 years since that illfated day in 1965 when some of us were seated in the hall of the Turret Road residence in Colombo of Dr. M.V.P.Peiris, facing Dudley Senanayake, Esmond Wickramasinghe (father of Ranil Wickramasinghe) and J. R. Jeyawardene and negotiating what came to be known as the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam pact (DS-C Pact), under which the Federal Party of the Tamils agreed to supply the numbers in Parliament which Senanayke needed to become Prime Minister and form a UNP government. Dudley Senanayake in turn promised the Federal Party to grant self-determination to the Tamils through District Councils.

Mr. V. NavaratnamTowards the closing stage of the meeting, I raised the question of state-aided Sinhala colonisation of the Tamil Northern and Eastern Provinces and asked whether the District Councils would be granted exclusive control of Crown lands. Suddenly Dudley Senanayake threw up his hands in the air and shouted: "Then where are my people to go for land?" Silence fell in the room for a couple of minutes, after which Esmond Wickremasinghe turned to me and said, "Don't hold up the talks, Nava. I can suggest a formula which will meet your concern." He took my sheet of paper on which I was jotting down notes of the terms and wrote the clause about priority being given to applications from the Tamil provinces and only if there was dearth of sufficient numbers, applications from other provinces would be considered. In the end, this helped signing of the DS-C Pact, but not what Esmond meant.

Having thus taken over the reigns of government as Prime Minister, and having tied the hands of the Federal Party, Dudley Senanayake lost no time in rushing through Parliament, and government administrative machinery, measures which were uppermost in the minds of Sinhala nationalists.

TamilNet: What measures?
Navaratnam: Dudley Senanayake forcibly uprooted 525,000 upcountry Tamils who had laboured on the plantations for generations and shipped them to India, ostensibly implementing the Sirima-Sastri pact which his SLFP predecessor Srimavo Bandaranaike had entered into with an obliging Indian Prime Minister.

Dudley Senanayake nationalized the Port of Trincomalee in the Tamil country of the Eastern Province, which paved way for Sinhala colonization and the creation of a new Parliamentary constituency of Seruwela (assented to by Tiruchelvam and Amirthalingam) providing a seat in Parliament for the Sinhala settlers in the Eastern Province, thus driving a wedge between the Tamils and Muslims.

Mr. V. NavaratnamHe dismissed three Government Servants, Pathmanathan, Surendranathan and Kulamani from the Public Service for not learning Sinhala, thus sending a message to all Tamils that his Government meant business, in carrying out the Sinhala Only law to the letter.

But when it came to implementing his promise of District Councils granting self-determination to the Tamils he reneged - true to the tradition of the Sinhala leaders. He submitted a White Paper in Parliament claiming to contain proposals for District Councils. Upon scrutiny it was found that the existing local government village committees had greater and more meaningful powers than these District Councils.

TamilNet: How did you react after witnessing the failure of these agreements and pacts?
Navaratnam: It was while addressing during the debate in Parliament on the White Paper that I made a call to the Tamil people never again to enter into any agreements or pacts with Sinhala leaders or governments and not ot expect the Sinhalese leaders to honour their word. It is in the Hansard dated 11th June 1968. I recounted in my speech the long history of the Sinahalese chicanery on every single agreement or pact from the year 1919 to the last repudiation by Prime Minister Dudley Senanake in 1968. The hollowness of the proposals contained in the White Paper dashed all Tamil hopes and made me call upon the Tamils to work towards the establishment of a separate self-governing Tamil State. Following that speech of mine in Parliament, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake withdrew the District Councils proposals, the Federal Party Members of Parliament seceded from the Government Parliamentary Group, and their Minister M. Tiruchelvam left the Cabinet.

The failure of every one of these long line of “Pacts” is always attributable to the many divisions among the Sinhalese. When one party agrees to condescend towards some solution on the Tamil problem , the others will rise in unison to object and obstruct. They will never compromise or agree on any decision when it comes to solving the Tamil problem by consensus. It is not in the ethos or in the political character of the Sinhala leaders and governments to honour and abide by agreeements and pacts conceding rights to the Tamils as a people.

It is pertinent here to recall the history of 1948 Unitary Constitution. When the Soulbury commission submitted a draft constitution which contained Article 29(2) as a safeguard for the Tamils and other minorites, and Britain insisted that all the communities of Ceylon must unitedly accept the constitution, there was utter confusion among the leaders. One important section of Tamil leaders was for rejection of the Soulbury draft. D.S.Senanayake, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike and other leaders on the Sinhalese side, speaking in the State Council debate in 1946, begged and pleaded with the Tamils to trust them and join the Sinhalese in the acceptance of the British offer. Even if they were not prepared to trust the Sinhalese, they said, there was the Article 29(2) which would be a sure and permanent safeguard for the protection of the Tamils and other minorities for all time. Professor C. Suntharalingam trusted Senanayake's assurances and voted with the Sinhalese on behalf of the Tamils for the acceptance of the Soulbury draft. A series of anti-Tamil policies and legislative Acts of Parliament by both the UNP and SLFP governments under that Constitution exposed the calculated deceit of the “trust us” mantra.

Mr. V. NavaratnamThe culmination of Southern leaders' betrayal of trust came when Colvin R. de Silva, the constitutions expert of the socialist LSSP, spearheaded the drafting and setting up of Srimavo Bandaranaike's Republican Constitution of 1972 which repealed Article 29(2) and reduced Tamils to be eternally at the mercy of the Sinhalese.

The 1972 Constitution and all constitutions that followed are illegal ones. They are in blatant violation of the Supreme Law of the 1948 Constitution, along with Article 29 which was supposed to contain the safeguards and which had been declared by Her Majesty's Privy Council in England, to be unalterable and to be with entrenched powers. Yet, this was replaced by a totally illegal constitution which declared Ceylon a Republic, without Tamil mandate.

When I left the Federal Party, I founded the Tamils' Self-Rule Party to work for the attainment of a separate self-ruling independent Tamil State in the Tamil homeland of North-East Ceylon. This inspired and influenced the young school-going student Velupillai Pirapaharan and his friends to start the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam movement for the achievement of the separate State. Federalism became a dead-letter to the Tamils, since then, consigned to the dust bin in history.

Today the Tamils are not concerned or interested in whether President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's country should be a unitary state or a federal one, whether the Executive Presidency system should continue or be abolished, what system of government is best suited for her country.

TamilNet: What do you think about the CeaseFire Agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers and the scuttled Joint Mechanism P-TOMS?
Navaratnam: I have no means of knowing what realisitic conditions existed in the country which persuaded the LTTE to disregard all this history and enter into yet another Pact called Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in February 2002. Nor do I want to know what made the LTTE acquiesce with President Chandrika Kumaratunga in P-TOMS. But, of course, I can see the value of the CFA and P-TOMS for being a de facto recognition by both the UNP and SLFP Governments of the Tamil State in North-East Ceylon which is a reality on the ground.

TamilNet: How do you view the forthcoming Presidential election?
Navaratnam: It is not the concern of the Tamils whether Mahinda Rajapakse or Ranil Wickramasinghe will or should win the Presidential election on November 17. All these are matters which concern only South Ceylon. Let the Sinhalese people sort it out and decide for themselves.

It will be inappropriate for the Tamils to use the Presidential election of 2005 as an occasion to demonstrate what they really are.

They are a separate independant State centred in the Vanni with its own Government, Police, a conventional Army and Defence Forces, a separate economy, legal system, banking and administrative machinery. Let the Tamils keep out of the election on November 17, and have nothing to do with events in South Ceylon. Enough is enough. I have not reached my 96 years in this world with my eyes shut. I have seen enough of the Senanayakes, Bandaranaikes, Ratwattes, Kotalawelas, Jayawardenes, Wickramasinghes, Premadasas, Pereras and Silvas. There is no denying that they are all genuine, sincere patriots, every one of them - but Sinhalese, not Ceylonese.

There is no need for the coalition led by the Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, to circulate the message that the Presidential election applies only to the Sinhalese part of the country, namely, the south of Ceylon.

The South is only following what has been a regular Sinhalese practice for over fifty years ever since the British pulled out from Ceylon. It is like the SLFP-LSSP coalition led by Srimavo Ratwatte Bandaranaike, the then Prime Minister, summoning a so-called constituent assembly in 1972 consisting of members elected by the Sinhalese electorates of South Ceylon only, and deliberately drafting and enacting a brand new Constitution for South Ceylon only.

Book Cover
Book authored by V. Navaratnam in 1995
I have been crying hoarse for forty years urging the Tamils never again to trust Sinhala governments or to enter into agreements and pacts bartering away Tamil interests and rights. They can never make any decision for the solution of the Tamil problem by consensus.

For all practical purposes, the citizens of Tamil North-East Ceylon do not count at all. The Tamils come in only when their help is needed by one or the other of the two major Sinhalese political parties in their contest for the seat of power in Colombo. In a tricky situation of uncertainty as to which way the Sinhalese votes of South Ceylon may go, and knowing their own people's, well known trait of "divunum paththatta hoyya" (jump to the winning party), both the Sinhalese parties, the UNP as welll as the SLFP, have always been in the habit of wooing for Tamil votes promising the moon in return. Once their objective is achieved with the help of the Tamil votes, and having fulfilled none of the things promised to the Tamils in return for their support, it has always been the parctice of Colombo governments to kick the Tamils out and tell them to go to hell. The forthcoming Presidential election on November 17th is just another of such seasonal contests between the UNP and SLFP.

TamilNet: What is your reaction to recent stand taken by the European Union?
Navaratnam: One is unable to think of the real reason for this Declaration. The declared reason, namely violence and terrorism, cannot be the real reason because Britain, which holds EU's presidency, itself resorted to violence and terrorism to shoot and kill the last Tamil king, Pandara Vanniyan, from behind a hiding place, seize his kingdom and amalgamate it through Captain Colebrook with the Sinhalese South Ceylon.

It is more obvious that the EU (or, rather Britain) has taken this action at the behest of the Sinhalese Colombo Government. The EU cannot pretend not to know that showing bias in favour of one negotiating partner and prejudice against the other negotiating partner is not the way to advance Peace Process.

The European Union (EU) countries of the Western World has now thought it fit to insult the Tamils by making a public derogatory Declaration about the LTTE. The EU is well aware that in all Peace Process negotiations LTTE means the Tamils and Tamils means the LTTE. For reasons best known to itself, the EU declares that the Tamil representatives are no longer admissible into its member states. Let the European Union's insult of the Tamils during Britain's rotating Presidency be the last straw.


Chronology:

 

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