| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( November 20, 2103, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Professed saviours of Tamils in the country have a notable series of succession over the years. First, from the start of the war in 1983, it was Rajiv Gandhi; it ended with the LTTE assassinating him at a political rally in Tamil Nadu in 1993. Thereafter, the mantle of acting saviour fell to the lot of Norway, which did it through its role as peace negotiator and the guarantor of the ceasefire between Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE. With the demise of Prabhakaran and the annihilation of the LTTE, the role of the saviour of the Tamils fell on India once again, until a new Messiah of the Tamils alighted in our midst, namely Britain and its Prime Minister, David Cameron, who have since been seriously performing the self-arrogated role at the international forum of CHOGM.

The Commonwealth is an amalgamation of former colonies of the former British Empire. When those countries achieved their independence from the colonial British rulers, they had to contend with different individual, political, social and cultural realities, which had been lying dormant during colonial rule in those countries. In Sri Lanka, it took the form of political dissatisfaction by the Tamils, who said that Britain had not been fair by them. This injustice as they call it, spawned the seed of dissention between the two main ethnic groups in the country – the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Tamil politicians consider the administrative provisions made first by the Donoughmore Commission and later the Soulbury Commission, had in fact subjugated the rights of Tamils' to that of the Sinhalese people. In 1935, in a speech made in the then State Council, Tamil State Councillor, N. Salvandurai, had complained about their grievances in the following terms.

"We considered ourselves to be a community side by side with the Sinhalese, and we co-operated with them. The contribution we had to make was greatly appreciated by the other communities. But suddenly, after the Donoughmore Constitution had been enforced in Ceylon, we, who were occupying a position of real importance and who by reason of numbers and by intelligence were able to contribute a very valuable share to the political progress of Ceylon, found ourselves in a very small minority."

Admission of responsibility

Incidentally, a former British High Commissioner, Dominic Chilcot, in a press interview given to 'Veerakesari' on 15 July 2006, too had highlighted a similar idea that the Tamils had been subjected to discrimination at the time of granting independence to the country. It was more like an admission of responsibility of the British for an injustice, assumed to have been caused to the Tamils.

"When the British came to Ceylon in 1796, there were three distinct kingdoms. The British made it one country for purposes of administrative convenience. In over half the number of countries in the world, the British colonial rulers adopted a 'divide and rule' policy. In that regard, this policy was not unique to the island alone. If one were to truly examine Britain's role, one important aspect deserves special mention. That is the constitutional arrangements that Britain left behind. It left behind the Soulbury Constitution as having the necessary clauses to provide for safeguards for minorities.

"Britain thought that the rights of the Tamils in particular would be safeguarded by these clauses. However, history has proved otherwise, that these safeguards were inadequate and not robust enough. I regret that Britain's policies have to such an extent been the cause for the problems," High Commissioner, Dominic Chilcott, had said.

Setting a historical blunder right?

Cameron's trip to the North and his subsequent comments, brings into sharp focus something directly arising from the just concluded CHOGM; that Britain was willing to enthrone Mahinda as Chairman of the Commonwealth Union for next two years with the intention of getting his assistance to set right presumably, a historical blunder the British had made at the time of granting independence to the country. Obviously, the British Government is hoping to use the Commonwealth under Mahinda's chairmanship to attain their goal.

The Rajapaksa Government has taken umbrage at these British manoeuvres and had openly come out against their actions, calling them as interference in internal affairs of the country. However, interestingly, the SLFP with Mahinda in it, was in the Opposition during Premadasa Government, and had defended British interference in the country's internal affairs in no uncertain terms in relation to a certain incident, which involved the then British High Commissioner, David Gladstone. For better verification of whether a free and fair election was held during the 1991 Local Government election, Gladstone visited some polling stations and found glaring violation of election laws, which were included in a report prepared by him. President Premadasa was furious, when he learnt about the report and immediately ordered the expulsion of Gladstone. Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) top-rungers then took up Gladstone's case in Parliament and strongly criticized the expulsion as wrong and undemocratic.

Excerpted below are some of their speeches in Parliament on that occasion.

The late Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, who was a Chief Organizer (and a powerful Minister in the present government), while in the Opposition at that time, had this to say on behalf of David Gladstone: "The British High Commissioner has gone to a polling booth. There he has seen a polling racket going on which he reported. What did the government do? Instead of the government investigating this election fraud, what it did was to direct its probe on whether the High Commissioner had rights or not pertaining to this matter." (Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Parliament Hansard report of 23 May 1991)

Deja vu?


Regarding the British High Commissioner's conduct, the unofficial Deputy Leader of the SLFP, the late Anura Bandaranaike stated thus: "Sir, may I finally say just one or two matters. Much has been said about the declaration of Mr. David Gladstone, the former British High Commissioner, as a persona non grata. I am not going to be an apologist of Mr. Gladstone. If he has done something he should not have done, whatever the reasons that motivated him to doing it may be legitimate, may be genuine, I am not here to argue that case. All I am asking is this. The extreme form of action you took, was it justified with what Mr. Gladstone is supposed to have done? The only person, one of the few last people, to send back a British High Commissioner was the great Idi Amin of Uganda. We have followed in the illustrious footsteps of Idi Amin. If Mr. Gladstone has done something wrong that he should not have done – I am not defending that there are ways of reprimanding him. The British were prepared to even apologize, but you were hell bent on persecuting this one individual, Mr. David Gladstone, because of a reason, Mr. Speaker. He was the most outspoken Ambassador of a foreign country in this country that criticized your human rights record. So much so that the British Government on a number of occasions has had cause to raise on international forums the human rights violations of Sri Lanka, and you felt the man behind it was none other than Mr. Gladstone. Unwarranted attacks were made on him in this house, where he has no right to reply. He is not a government servant. No minister can reply, on behalf of a Foreign Ambassador or a High Commissioner.

"Now, Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government just one matter and I am winding up. Sir, I will not take more than two minutes. What would have been the position if in the incident complained of at Dickwella, Mr. Gladstone had complained against the SLFP? If Mr. Gladstone had complained that SLFP supporters were wiping off their ink or whatever that thing is called, would you have taken the same course of action against him? No, you would have built a monument for David Gladstone at the Gam Udawa in Kamburupitiya. It is ony because David Gladstone made a complaint against. (interruption)

"Now, Mr. Speaker, I am winding up. Finally may I say this? A speech was made at the BMICH condemning Britain for colonialism and new colonialism. I am glad that certain people, Sir, have realized rather late in the day that Britain was a colonial power because, when they sent their sons to be educated at Millhill and the London School of Economics, Britain was not a new colonial power, Britain was very good then to educate your sons, but just because you had a grudge against one High Commissioner you take a completely unnecessary, unprecedented step, and we of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party unequivocally condemn the action you have taken against the British High Commissioner, David Gladstone." (Anura Bandaranaike Parliament Hansard of 20 June 1991)

A lesson to be learnt

When such seething attacks were launched on the then government by Anura Bandaranaike and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, in the course of defending Gladstone's action, it was no less than an extreme irony that Mahinda too had been applauding the comments and speeches made by his colleagues; yet today he is highly critical of Cameron charging him of meddling in the internal affairs of the country.

When considered in the correct perspective, there is a lesson to be learnt from the Gladstone incident; that he was motivated to speak for democratic, free and fair elections in this country not by the influence of any Sinhalese votes in his constituency. It was purely for strengthening of democracy in the country. Today, Cameron is making a clarion call for reconciliation purely for the purpose of avoiding another destructive war in this country. It is imperative that the people should realize this truth and not be intoxicated by the opium of ultra nationalism.

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