When the Tamils
trusted the Sinhalese
at the beginning rejected the agitation of DS for dominion status.
However, DS renewed it in February 1947 and commissioned Sir Oliver
Goonetilleke who was in London at that time to negotiate for dominion
status. The political scene started to change and the British Government
demonstrated its willingness to grant dominion status to Ceylon.
masters were carefully manipulating to avoid the transfer of power
to the left-wing forces led by Philip Gunawardene and Dr N. M. Perera.
They preferred to transfer the power to their own class friends
among the Ceylonese. Sensing their desire, Sir Oliver made the policy
makers of the British Government to feel that DS was facing great
challenges from the left-wing forces and paved the way for the transfer
of political power to the UNP and its leader Senanayake.
thought that success of a constitution depended on the ideal spirit
of unanimity of all the peoples. If unanimity was not possible they
thought of obtaining at least three-quarters of the members to support.
They insisted that the proposals of the White Paper for the grant
of independence be accepted by not less than 75 per cent vote of
the whole Council without the Speaker. DS succeeded in passing the
Motion by more than 90 percent as the 'minority members were as
anxious for self government as the majority members', and did not
wish 'to hold up a real constitutional advance merely because their
claims were not met'. Only three members, W. Dahanayake, an Indian
Member and I. X. Pereira voted against and three others abstained
Tamils were not politically united under one banner. GG led the
major group while Handiperinpanayakam led the left oriented group.
Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva led the moderates. The Tamil leaders at
that time lacked political wisdom and foresight. They were only
concerned in their vested interests in Colombo and other Sinhala
areas, which had been influencing their political thinking. They
wanted their dominance to be felt in Colombo and wanted the use
of English language. They failed to think in terms of the future
of the Tamil race as a whole. They only sought protection to the
rights of the Tamils in terms of sectarian interests.
leaders felt the Tamils 'would cooperate with them if they could
make a declaration showing a spirit of generosity towards the Tamils
acknowledging their grievances".
such as DS, Bandaranaike and Molamure appealed to Tamil leaders
to cooperate with them to achieve independence. They pleaded 'please
trust us and afford us an opportunity to prove that we are worthy
of your trust'. DS proclaimed louder that "there is determination
on our part to cement the good feelings that exist in the country.
I assure the communities that every Sinhalese here is worthy of
the trust placed in us, we will not disgrace our ancestors".
He even went further to cite history as usual, to say that the Tamil
kings ruled the Sinhalese and the Sinhala kings ruled the Tamils
and all lived in amity and peace. DS appealed to the minorities
for support and had offered them places in the ministry if he became
no academic attainments but was an astute politician and master
strategist. After the 1947 elections DS constituted his Cabinet
comprising members from all communities to send the message to the
British that all communities were standing together for the grant
was elected to Parliament as an independent candidate at the 1947
General Elections from the then Vavuniya electorate. The UNP won
42 seats out of ninety-five. All other parties, including the independents
got more than the UNP. NM made a great effort to form a government
sans the UNP. In the meantime DS telephoned his erstwhile friend,
Suntharalingam and advised him not to be misled by the leftists
and invited him to join his Cabinet.
period of Donoughmore Constitution, Suntharalingam was responsible
for manipulating the electoral procedure for the election of Pan-Sinhala
Ministry. He said: "By permutation and combination, the members
were grouped into several Executive Committees. After the details
were worked out, they were checked by my senior lecturer in Mathematics,
Gulasekeram. The evening before the 'conspirators' could meet in
'kusu-kusu-kootams', Senanayake discussed the situation with me
and accepted the grouping of the members into the committees. As
planned, every committee was packed, and Senanayake rushed from
the meeting direct to my house to congratulate and thank me'. He
told later that he wanted to 'teach the Tamil leaders a lesson concerning
political mathematics' ".
Most of the
elected Members of the Tamils were opposing Suntharalingam joining
the UNP ministry. Suntharalingam convened a meeting at the New Town
Hall to explain why he had accepted the offer of a Ministry under
the DS government. Suntharalingam said, "I am determined to
trust the Sinhala leaders, come what may" and walked out of
the meeting ending it in pandemonium. He joined the Cabinet with
his supporters. He became the Minister of Trade and Commerce while
his friend, Sittambalam, became the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.
One of the
first acts of DS as Prime Minister was to pass a resolution in the
Cabinet requesting Britain to grant complete independence. Suntharalingam,
representing the Tamil community, signified his consent for such
a request without bargaining for any measure of power sharing. Later,
he voted for the Citizenship Act and the Ceylon (Parliam-entary
Ele-ctions) Amendment Act. The former made the Indian labourers
stateless and the latter disfranchised them. The ostensible cause
was to deprive them of determining the outcome of the elections
in the country. It is in reality a communal manoeuvre.
Many of the
Tamil leaders opted to place trust on the Sinhalese except a small
group led by GG who soon after independence joined hands with DS
on a policy of 'responsive cooperation'. The Jaffna Youth Congress
leaders welcomed DS and Sir John stating that they were the 'saviours
power that was with the British was thus transferred to the Sinhalese
leaders on February 4, 1948. Sundaralingam's act was the final nail
placed on the fate of Tamils. Later, when the Sinhala Only Act was
passed, Suntharalingam issued public statements stating that he
signed because he placed absolute faith and confidence in DS and
he alone was responsible to the sorry plight of the Tamils. He proclaimed
further that had he not given the consent in requesting Britain
to grant complete independence. Britain would not have granted independence
without satisfying the interests of the Tamils as a minority community
and in that event the Tamils could have bargained and secured their
due share of political power on the models of devolution of power
as in Scotland or Wales or could have at least secured the incorporation
of a well entrenched Human Rights Charter in the Constitution.
was that all Tamil leaders at one time or other trusted the Sinhalese
leadership and never bargained for any gain of political power thinking
the majority would treat them well without discriminating in any
form whatsoever. Subsequent events in the political history of Sri
Lanka have proved that they were wrong.
The Tamil leaders,
devoid of political vision and divided by internecine dissension,
plunged the Tamils into political wilderness. They became easy prey
for cajolery and political chicanery of Sinhala leaders. Successive
governments after independence exploited the weakness of the Tamil
leaders and changed the constitutional structure, taking away even
the minimum safeguards granted to the minorities, thereby demonstrating
a policy that the 'Sinhalese leaders would use their power to the
detriment of the minorities'.
than never. The politicians should resolve to say good-bye to the
practice of communal politics. Would the miasma of political bitterness
that is raging between the two major communities for the last three
decades be eradicated from the dictionary of the Sri Lankan politics?