Communial Relations; Tamil Politics & the Nation

| by Robert Sidharthan Perinbanayagam

(September 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I would like to intercede, in the debate between Rajasingham Narendran and Illaya Seran Songuttavam, if I may, that was published recently in your pages.

The Sinhalese masses felt neglected and victimized and were willing to take steps to redress their just grievances.
While I'm in general agreement with Narendran's statement regarding Tamil politics for the last several decades, I must nevertheless point to a major omission in the presentation of his case. Soon after the demand for 50-50 failed and the Soulbury Constitution was enacted, G.G.Ponnambalam abandoned his communal stances, and then, perhaps in the only progressive step he took in his career in politics, elected to join the Senanayake government in 1948 or 49. He and his associate K.Kanagaratnam became ministers in the cabinet and along with Suntherlingam and Sittampalam became allies of the UNP. In protest against these moves two of GGP followers broke away from GGP's Tamil Congress and formed the Federal Party. Later in the elections that followed in 1952 GGP and his associates contested the Jaffna seats as allies of the UNP. Chelvanayagam and Naganathan were the leaders of this new Party along with Vanniasingham as the second string. Chelvanayagam was challenged for his seat in Kankesanturai by Subbiah Natesapillai, son-in-law of Ponnamabalam Ramanathan and he won the seat handily. Chelvanayagam had in fact defeated Natesapillai in the previous election. GGP himself was challenged by Naganathan and GGP too won easily. The FP won just one seat in the peninsula when Vanniasingham won the Kopay seat by less than 300 votes. The FP won another seat in Trincomallee, leaving them with only two seats in Parliament. This election in fact can be taken as a repudiation of the communal politics that the Tamil leadership has pursued for long and the beginnings of a national consensus--at least between the Sinhala bourgeoisie and the Tamil one. The Federal Party and its politics was rejected decisively by the Tamils and would rise again only after the "Sinhala Only" bill was passed. Now that communal divisions were no longer a practical alternative to the Tamils, the leadership was willing to unite with the Sinhalese leadership and defend the interests of their class and participate in the construction of a proper bourgeois state!

It was also a signal moment in the in the recent history of Sri Lanka him a moment rare communal amity and concord .It was a moment in which the nation consisting of of the many communities could have been built and taken forward. However, Dudley Senanayake resigned and Kotelawala took over and soon the history of the island took return that was to bring disaster to the country and all its inhabitants.

The Sinhalese masses felt neglected and victimized and were willing to take steps to redress their just grievances. However, instead of struggling for their own rights, and fighting the socio-political-economic institutions that were their real oppressors, and as a result of the shortsighted and opportunistic moves of the SLF P and its foolish leftist allies, the struggle began to be waged against the Tamils and with one step after another it has led to the present predicament for the nation. Writing in a blog in GoundViews recently one Mr.Wijayapala opined, "Tamil nationalism in this sense most certainly was created by the Sinhalese, not so much by the Tamils themselves". This is certainly true if one adds one additional word: Tamil separatist nationalism was created by Sinhalese nationalism--indeed the Sinhalese claimed the separate dispensation for themselves effectively stimulating Tamil separatism. The “Sinhala Only” bill was in fact the first separatist act, nicely captured in Colvin R de Silva’s famous statement, “One language, two nations, two languages, one nation”.( I wonder whether he contemplated this statement, when he drafted the 1972 constitution!)In short, the history of recent Sri Lankan society is really the history of two separatist movements confronting each other and like to scorpions fighting each other were able to derail the emergence a genuine Sri Lankan nationalism.

What is to be done, now? This question deserves a long answer and Narendran, in any case has sketched its board outline. I may add however that I don’t think for a moment that the road to the salvation of the Tamils has to go through Chennai or New Delhi!