Sinhalese supported and Tamils opposed federalism
government is the only solution' - S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike
cry is not a new phenomenon to Sri Lanka. It was originated by the
Sinhalese in 1925. At that crucial time, the Tamils preferred a
unitary system of government to that of a federal form. The Sinhala
leaders vigorously propagated the concept of federal formula but
the Tamils vehemently despised it. The Tamils wanted representation
on the basis of communal interests within a unitary state. Today,
the irony is that the Tamils want federalism while the Sinhalese
look at it with suspicion that federation may be a ploy to separation.
The attendant circumstances of this problem mandate that the country
should be poised to find a suitable adaptation of a federal system
to satisfy the two warring disputants.
was the only son of Maha Mudaliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike.
The young Bandaranaike was a brilliant student of Christ Church
College, Oxford. He returned to the island in 1925 with a firm resolution
to serve his motherland and to work for the upliftment of the common
man. In the same year he founded a political party known as 'Progressive
National Party' to achieve national emancipation. He was the leader
of that Party while the Secretary was C. Ponnambalam.
at that time looked upon the British Constitution as the ideal model.
Despite the political trend of that time, Bandaranaike introduced
the federal concept for the first time into the mainstream of political
life of Ceylon. He stated emphatically in the Constitution of the
Progressive National Party that 'in view of the existing differences
among the people of our country, the only solution to the problem
will be the adoption of a federal system of government'.
advocated a federal state in preference to unitary one for he described
the federal state as one in which several co-ordinate states could
get together to achieve certain common purposes. He stated that
there were three main divisions in Ceylon. They were Kandyan Sinhalese,
the Low Country Sinhalese and the Tamils. He opined that according
to his type of federation, each government, to a greater or lesser
extent, must be limited to its own sphere of action and each must
within that sphere, be independent of others. Certain matters, for
instance, foreign affairs, defence and tariffs, could be within
the exclusive sphere of the central government. In respect of the
other matters each regional government had to manage its own affairs.
declared that 'the majority of us feel that in view of the local
conditions, particularly racial differences, the most satisfactory
method to minimize and gradually remove such differences is a federal
system of Government. Such a system of Government has in other countries
particularly in Switzerland, tended national unity. We feel that
the present arrangements of nine provinces should remain and be
the basis of the Federal System'. He said he opposed a unitary Constitution
for Ceylon and put forward the Federal Constitution, as it was more
suitable for conditions prevailing in Ceylon.
the difficulties that could project under a centralized system of
government. He said that he knew no part of the world where a Government
was carried on under such conflicting circumstances as would be
experienced in Ceylon. Those would be the troubles if a centralized
form of Government were introduced into countries with large communal
He said that
in a Federal Government, each unit had complete power over itself;
yet, they could stand united and had one or two assemblies to discuss
matters affecting the whole country. That was the form of Government
in the United States. All the self-governing dominions, Australia,
South Africa, Canada had the same system. Switzerland afforded a
better example for Ceylon. It was a small country, but three races
lived there - French, Germans and Italians, yet, Switzerland was
a country where the federal form of Government was very successful.
Each canton managed its own affairs. But questions of foreign affairs,
commerce defence etc., matter about which differences and controversies
would be at a minimum were dealt with by the Federal Assembly.
it was easy at the federal centre to declare what languages should
be the official languages. It was really in keeping with the federal
form of government where each unit could use one language for its
work but at the federal centre could use more than one language.
National Party had in its Constitution set out in detail the scope
and nature of the federal system. It stated among other things that
the federal system to be based on the nine Provinces, each Province
having complete autonomy and the Federal Government should be controlled
by two Houses. The two Houses were to be called "House of Senators'
and 'House of Commons' respectively.
received necessary inspiration and strength for his federal scheme
from the Kandyan National Assembly led by A.Godamune and from C.E.Corea,
a doughty Ceylonese patriot of that time.
Bandaranaike formed the Progressive National Party to secure
national emancipation for Sri Lanka through a federal system of
government in preference to a unitary character of a constitution.
When he was going around the island and propagating the lofty principles
of federalism and publishing articles in the national newspapers
promoting the federal concept and the Kandyan National Assembly
were demanding for a federal form of government the Tamils were
opposing the idea of federalism. The Tamils preferred some kind
of arrangement on the ground of representation within the frame
of a unitary character.
non-violent agitation by Mahatma Ghandhiji to make free India from
the British was inflaming the political inclination of the Jaffna
youth to the independence movement of India. Their enthusiasm was
prominently felt due to Indian Tamil newspapers commonly circulated
in the Jaffna peninsula. The freedom struggles were avidly read
by a group of politically conscious young teachers and students.
Under the leadership of S.H.Perinpanayagam, later, Principal of
Hindu College, Kokkuvil, they formed the Jaffna Students' Congress
with a view to 'organize a movement embracing young people and all
races creeds and castes, so that, they may all come to know one
another and join in an earnest endeavour to do the little they can
for their country'. The Jaffna Students' Congress was later re-named
as the Jaffna Youth Congress.
a unitary system of government. The Jaffna Youth Congress was only
interested to organize meetings to boycott the elections of 1931
as a protest against the Donoughmore Constitution.
G.G.Ponnambalam, who possessed a unique forensic skill and
a mesmeric style in the art of cross-examination of witnesses and
was a silver tongue orator mooted out the fifty-fifty demand - a
balanced representation within the unitary character of the Constitution.
In 1937 when the Reform for the Constitution was considered G.G.Ponnambalam
advanced this formula before the Governor, Sir Andrew Caldecott.
However, the Governor rejected his formula. Though he receded to
the background for some time, he founded the Tamil Congress in 1944
just before the arrival of the Soulbury Commission to make his fifty-fifty
demand before the Commission. S.J.V.Chelvanayakam was the Deputy
Leader of the Tamil Congress. Ponnambalam never supported a federal
system of government. He adopted a policy of 'responsive co-operation'
within a framework of a unitary system.
Tamil Congress founded a weekly political paper known as Suthanthiran'.
An advertisement was published in the paper calling for a clerk
with an attractive monthly salary of rupees sixty. The work of the
clerk was to assist the Leader G.G.Ponnambalam and the Deputy Leader
S.J.V.Chelvanayakam of the Tamil Congress in the preparation of
the memorandum for fifty fifty demand to be submitted to the Commission.
A young Law College Student, Mylvaganam Nagarathinam was selected
for this post.
The young Nagarathinam
felt that fifty fifty demand within a unitary system would not help
the minorities and he thought of a federal system that was in Switzerland.
Without the knowledge of the leaders of the Tamil Congress, he forwarded
a memorandum on the basis of federal system for Ceylon. His memorandum
received great publicity in the newspapers and the Leader of the
Tamil Congress G.G.Ponnambalam sent word to Nagarathinam to appear
before him immediately. Nagarathinam appeared before the Congress
Supremo G.G.Ponnambalam, Deputy S.J.V.Chelvanayakam and the Secretary
S. Sivasubramaniam. G.G. deprecated the federal system as a eunuch
formula. Ponnambalam gave him a dressing down and terminated his
Nagarathinam went before the Commission on January 30, 1945 and
presented his federal formula.
Bandaranaike's erstwhile friend James T. Rutnam, a scholar
and prolific writer, vehemently opposed the reforms for a Federal
Constitution propagated by Bandaranaike. He was a member of the
Progressive National Party of which Bandaranaike was the Leader.
Of all the members of the party, James T. Rutnam stood for a unitary
James T. Rutnam
opposed federation stating that 'it would bring disunion among the
people. Tamils and Sinhalese would be segregated. The Burghers,
Muslims and the Europeans would be overwhelmed, for they were distributed
throughout the country and in no single state do they command the
necessary importance or influence to justify special representation
in the local body. In the Federal Parliament in Colombo there would
be eternal wrangling and complaining over the voting of supplies.
Race individualism would be intensified, which would ultimately
tend to internecine troubles and racial secession'. James T. Rutnam
supported the federal formula after 1956.
S.J.V. Chelvanayakam has been described by Jane Russel as a
person whose 'attachment to the Ceylon Tamil culture came much closer
to a true Tamil nationalism and his gloomy views and oracular attitude
proclaimed him the heir to the aged Ponnambalam Arunachalam who
had turned in his bitterness from the ideal of United Lanka to the
concept of a Tamilnad or Pan-Tamilian state in his solstitial years'.
broke away from the Tamil Congress and inaugurated the Federal Party
on December 18, 1949 to 'attain freedom of the Tamil speaking people
of Ceylon by the establishment of an autonomous Tamil unit on a
linguistic basis within a framework of a federal union of Ceylon'.
Though he formed the Federal Party to advocate a federal form of
government, the Tamil-speaking people did not support the federal
cry of Chelvanayakam.
Elections to the House of Representatives came in 1952, about three
years after the Federal Party was formed. Chelvanayakam was defeated
at Kankesanthurai, not by a Tamil Congress candidate but by a United
National Party candidate, S. Natesan, the son-in-law of Sir Ponnambalam
Party fielded seven candidates and had only managed to win two seats,
Kopay and Trincomalee. C. Vanniyasingham won the Kopay seat while
S. Sivapalan was elected from the Trincomalee seat.
problem was gathering momentum in 1956. Bandaranaike wanted Sinhala
only within twenty-four hours. The UNP too adopted Sinhala Only
at its party conference held at the Kelaniya Convention.
declared that Sinhala Only would help the people of Sri Lanka to
finally emerge as a stronger, more united and truly progressive
people than ever before without realizing fully the true ramifications
of the prophetic statement of Dr. Colvin R.de Silva that 'one language
two nations and two languages one nation'.
Only Act projected the Federal Party in the eyes of the Tamils as
the only party that was safeguarding the interests of the Tamils.
It was the Sinhala Only Act and not the federal concept that made
the Tamil people to feel the political importance of the Federal
Thanks to Sinhala
Only Act, the Federal Party won ten seats at the General Elections
Only Act did not make Sri Lanka to 'emerge as a stronger, more united'
nation. It made it a weaker nation devastated by animosity and frustration.
It did not create a homogenous nation.
of 'one country, one nation' will be a futile exercise if one fails
to develop a solution to satisfy the multi-ethnic groups of Sri
Lanka as there are three main groups, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims
who are distinct, separate, unassimilable and communally very conscious
of any one community cannot be suppressed whether by way of force,
democratic manipulations or parliamentary mechanisms.
of the Sinhalese to re-build their rich language, glorious ancient
culture and religion is quite understandable, appreciable and commendable.
It is equally
true that their national tradition is a precious one. It should
be preserved and developed but it should not be done on the liquidation
of the aspirations of the other communities.
For a nation-state
we must create a healthy political atmosphere to promote a satisfactory
Sinhalese-Tamil-Muslim partnership in the field of political power
We have past historic evidence of son cementing his father alive
for the seat of power: we have record of history of inviting foreign
powers to defeat one's brother or another foreign power to get rid
of the foreign power so installed.
Let us not
continue this disastrous game: we may make the pearl of the Indian
Ocean an island of blood by our internecine quarrels and dissensions
and petty minded actions.
is the only solution for all the ills of Sri Lanka. It could only
be done effectively and safely through federalism.
nightmare of Sri Lanka being divided by federalism was well answered
by Bandaranaike himself at a mass rally held at Jaffna on 17th day
of July 1926 and presided by Dr. Issac Thambyah. Many Tamils gathered
at that meeting fired at Bandaranaike several questions challenging
the validity of federalism as a solution to Ceylon.
cleared all doubts and professed thereat that "A thousand and
one objections could be raised against the system, but when the
objections are dissipated, I am convinced that some form of Federal
Government will be the only solution'.
words will remain valid forever. Let us translate his solution into