This letter refers to Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka's reflections on the book "Senator Tiruchelvam's Legacy" (Sunday Times Plus, February 14).
I will restrict my response to Mr. Jayatilaka's comment on the abolition of Section 29(02) in the Soulbury Constitution. In fact, there was no abolition but a complete break away from the old Constitution. It was a legal revolution.
It should be noted that even though the Federal Party and capitalist intellectuals argued that Section 29(02) safeguarded minority rights, the Citizenship Bill and the Sinhala Only Bill were passed in Parliament when this provision was in force.
As a result, thousands of estate workers became "stateless" overnight. As voting rights are linked to citizenship, these people became disenfranchised overnight.
In 1952, the Citizenship Act was challenged in Court on the grounds that the law was in breach of Section 29(02).
The case Kodakkanpillai vs. Mudannayake went up to the Privy Council. The case failed. So much for the protection of the minorities!
This particular provision was put to the test when the Sinhala Only bill was debated. G. G. Ponnambalam, QC, raised the issue in Parliament. The Speaker ruled that the provision did not infringe the relevant section, and that the Bill could be passed with a simple majority.
The constitutionality of the Sinhala Act surfaced again in the Kodeswaran case. This case too went up to the Privy Council, which dodged this substantive matter and sent it back to the Supreme Court. This was how Section 29(02) safeguarded minority rights under the Soulbury Constitution.
I would like to ask whether any similar legislation was passed against the Tamils under the first Republican Constitution, when the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) was a constituent partner in the United Front (UF) Government.
Let us turn to the subject of the Constituent Assembly.
When the Federal Party started agitating over Section 29(02), the then Minister of Plantation Industries and Constitutional Affairs, Colvin R. de Silva, asked the party to present specific proposals. This is a little known fact. The party proposed dividing the country into five regions, five strips running North-South, each being a constituent state. The idea was to have a Tamil majority in three regions.
This is what the then Secretary to the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs, Walter Jayawardana QC, said: "Colvin was able to get a few hours' notice of the proposal and realising that an explosive situation would result if it received publicity in the Sinhala press, took action immediately to persuade reporters to give it as little publicity as possible."
With this, S. J. V. Chelvanayagam and others boycotted the Constituent Assembly. Minister Murugesan Thiruchelvam never made such extreme demands when he cosily sat in the liberal Dudley Senanayake's Cabinet for five long years.
A Constitution reflects the politics of the day. At the time the First Republican Constitution was being formulated, it primarily reflected the politics of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Sensitive issues such as language and religion were more important to the SLFP, while national sovereignty and the ushering in of socialism were the LSSP's main considerations.
Mr. Jayatilaka may not like socialism. The real contradiction lies there. That is by the way. The two of us had our secondary education in an environment of complete racial harmony.
Ranjith Chandrasekara Kurunegala