Feature Article

Learning lessons from political discourses of past

[TamilNet, Friday, 30 January 2015, 23:36 GMT]
The last advice of the late Professor A.J. Wilson, a highly respected academic who had the closest connections with the hierarchy of the government echelons from time to time, and who was an optimist genuinely believing the possibility of Tamils and Sinhalese co-existing, was that the Tamil academics and professionals should not let themselves to be lured by promises, sweet talk, and false vanity liberally dispensed by their Sinhala counterparts and Sinhala leaders. According to him this is what that had spoiled Sir P. Ramanathan, G. G. Ponnambalam, M. Thiruchelvam and to a certain extent Thanthai Selva (SJV Chelvanayagam) and A. Amirthalingam. Writing in 2003 on the positions and policies in Tamil politics in the past, Mr. V.T. Thamilmaran was comparing the discourses of two political intellectuals, A.J. Wilson and the other being the doyen of ITAK, V. Navaratnam.

Full text of the article authored by V.T. Thamilmaran, who is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Colombo, in November 8, 2002, edition of the Norheastern Herald, follows:

Positions, policies in Tamil politics: analysis of the recent past

By V T Thamilmaran

"For a nation to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it" -de Lafayette on the French Revolution.

Positions, policies in Tamil politics: analysis of the recent past
Positions, policies in Tamil politics: analysis of the recent past: By V.T. Thamilmaran
If someone looks back at the political history of Sri Lanka he or she would find that the leadership of Tamils never attempted to negotiate with the Sinhala government on the basis of the people's Will. It is true that leaders in the calibre of Sir. Pon Ramanathan to Mr. Amirthalingham had wanted to engage in talks with Sinhala leaders with the idea of sharing powers between the two major ethnic groups of this country. All these attempts proved futile and the situation went from bad to worse at the end of every negotiation, which finally culminated in the all out war for the rights of the people.

Hardliners from the majority community say that the demands of the Tamils can't be satisfied, as they (the Tamils) keep demanding more and more powers. But the Tamils would say that there has ever been a sincere attempt on the part of the Singhalese leaders to settle the crisis amicably.

Who is telling what? And which is the correct position? For a third party who wants to study the underpinnings of the calamity of this country must have access to credible materials to analyse the situation from a neutral position.

For this purpose I would like to cite the writings of two prominent ‘political intellectuals’ of the country.

One, a highly respected academic who had the closest connections with the hierarchy of the government echelons from time to time, was an optimist and genuinely believed that it was possible for Tamils and Singhalese to co-exist. The other person, who belongs to a peculiar breed of politicians, has retired from politics after half a century of active engagement. From the beginning, he was equally pessimistic about the prospects of co-existence and warned the Tamils to get ready to go their own way.

When this columnist met Prof. A.J. Wilson in his last days in December 1998 in Toronto he was a much disappointed and piqued person. Repenting for what he had believed and done, he said that he had learnt the lesson. His advice was that the Tamil academics and professionals should not let themselves be lured into by promises, sweet talk and false vanity liberally dispensed by their Sinhala counterparts and Sinhala leaders. According to him this is what spoiled Sir. Pon Ramanathan, G.G.Ponnambalam, Thiruchelvam and to a certain extent Thanthai Selva (S. J. V Selvanayagam) and Amirthalingham.

This columnist is personally aware that on many occasions Prof. Wilson was consulted by many Tamil leaders on the future course of action at critical junctures. Two such critical periods were the time the Sri Lankan state wanted to adopt its own Republican Constitution in 1972 and 1978.

The person who had consulted and in fact confronted Prof. Wilson was none other than the politician referred to above, V. Navaratnam, former Member of Parliament for Kayts. A historian turned lawyer, Nava, who was well versed in history and political science, had an active practice in Hulftsdorp in those days.

When Chelva was encouraged to launch a new political party after he broke away from the Tamil Congress, Nava advsied him to get ready to proclaim a State and negotiate for a federal union. The advice was well taken by Chelva who entrusted to him the task of drafting the constitution for the new party with the assistance of C. Vanniasingham and Dr. Naganathan. He and Dr. E M.V.Naganathan served as the first Joint General Secretaries of the newly born Federal Party in December 1949.

Known for his acute political predictions and utmost honesty, Nava, unlike many of his colleagues couldn't remain a passive member within the FR Contrary to the initial reception and acclaim that he got, Nava was later much feared and hated by those who wanted to reach the top in the FP in double quick time. Those who were sincere to the ideals of the FP, including Chelva, always stood by Nava and appreciated his dedicated contribution to the Tamil nation.

At that time Nava advocated that Tamil leaders should be prepared to relinquish any honorary post in the Ceylonese government and, if the need were to arise, should resign In Toto from Parliament and establish their own constituent assembly.

He was totally opposed to the idea of holding any ministerial post in the government. This was due to his firm belief in the principle that the Tamils had never agreed to surrender their sovereignty and become part of the State of Ceylon.

Until the mid-60s, Nava influence within the FP couldn't be ignored. And whatever he planned was put into practice, although dissenting murmurs were heard in some quarters.

Those who joined the FP in their youth by now had become mature politicians.

Instead of setting precedents on sacrifice and sincerity to the goals, these new leaders portrayed and held out that Tamil politics was all about how one could become a Member of Parliament by merely making fiery speeches from the party platform and hailing Thanthai Chelva.

Although this tendency had started to erode the image and future of the party, senior leaders like Nava couldn't do any thing to prevent the decline. There were two reasons for the hapless situation.

By the late 60s, the Chelva had become physically infirm and he had to act according to whatever M. Thiruchelvam Q.C. and Amirthalingham told him. Amir even acted as the voice of Chelva. Although he had some leadership qualities, Amir was intolerant of opposite views within the FP. No contrary views ever reached Chelva and what he was forced to hear was only the rosy part of the FP's activities. The fatal error committed by the leaders of the FP was that they couldn't realize that the revered leader was being misled by his trusted confidants on the path of no return.

In other words, the Colombo based leadership of the FP wanted a lieutenant within the party and Amirthalingham was groomed as an ideal candidate. A few like Nava were terribly disturbed by the turn of events and tried their best to convince Chelva of what was going on. But it was of no avail. The outcome was the FP's decision to join the 'National Government' of the UNP and the Colombo leadership achieved what it had wanted to.

The crack was unbridgeable and ardent supporters of the original goal of self-determination were either expelled or resigned from the FP.

By expelling Nava and Senator Manickam of Batticaloa from the FP, the hierarchy was happy that it was the end of a headache. His loyalty and personal attachment to Thanthai didn't permit him to leave the Party on his own. However, by the end of 60s he had reached the end of the tether. The brain that was useful in drafting the Constitution of the FP, the B-C Pact, the Dudley-Chelva Pact, and in organising the 1961 Satyagraha, brilliantly planning the release of the Tami Arasu Postal Stamp Campaign, and assisted the leader in almost every negotiation with the majoritarian government without pawning the Tamil cause suddenly became useless for the FP and was mercilessly shown the door.

He was accused of violating the party discipline in voting against the Srimavo-Sastri Pact and the Registration of Persons Resident in Ceylon Bill in 1968 – both of which the FP decided support in Parliament. Nava voted against these two Bills according to his conscience. He was left with no option other than forming his own party, Tamilar Suyadchi Kazhakam (TSK). It was an acid test but he came out with glory. Those who were wedded to principled politics for Tamils' cause joined Nava.

It included those forerunners in the Tamil Clerical Service Union Mr. S. Kodeeswaran, S. Sivagnanasundaram, S. Pathmanathan and P. Surendran. The followers of Nava strongly believed that the only solution was to set up a separate state for the Tamils in the Northeast of Ceylon. In the General Elections of 1970 all candidates of the TSK were defeated by the FP. But Nava met Prof. Wilson and relentlessly argued for setting up a Tamil Constituent assembly. But the academic in the latter couldn't come to terms with the political foresight of Nava. Later events proved that the Professor's reading of Tamil politics at the time was destined to become merely academic.

For Nava, 1972 was a lost opportunity. The Sinhala nation, according to him, exercised its sovereignty at the time to form a constituent assembly to enact a new constitution. The Tamils in his view never intended to surrender their sovereign power to the Sinhala nation. Hence they too should have exercised their sovereignty to form their own constituent assembly on the basis of the popular mandate at the elections, he said. Then the Sinhala nation would have unleashed its armed forces to stop the Tamils from exercising their rights as a sovereign people. Selva would have become a Mandela. Then it would have been the case of one nation oppressing the other rather than the majority oppressing a minority in a pluralist society. Therefore, according to him, any attempt at a solution would have had to ultimately recognise the equal sovereignty of both nations.

It was an irony that in 1977 the TULF contested the General Elections borrowing what Nava put before the Tamil People in 1970 and won all the electorates it contested. Prof. Wilson again got a chance to rethink of his position in advising the TULF and the UNP government led by J.R. Jayawardene in 1977.

Nava confronted and pointed out to him the incongruity and inconsistency of the leader of the TULF holding the Office of Leader of Opposition after being elected with a mandate for a separate state. But Prof. Wilson still believed in finding a solution to the Tamil problem within the Sri Lankan state through negotiations.

By this time, the small number disgruntled Tamil youth had begun seeking Nava's advice. He saw the writing on the wall and pitied the TULF. Even at the moment of leaving for Canada, despite of his feeble and frail physical condition, Nava was very firm in his conviction that Tamil Parliamentarians would push the history back by another 20-30 years in continuing to hold talks with the Sri Lankan government.

No wonder today, from his Montreal residence, Nava must be definitely smiling to hear that the LTTE talking to the Sri Lankan government as an equal, with armed forces to back the Tamil side. To be fair by Prof. Wilson, he had at least the courage to confess that he was wrong and Nava was correct in reading the politics of Sri Lanka.

[V. Navaratnam turned 97 and passed away in Montreal, Canada, on 22 December 2006]



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