Saturday, December 8, 2012

Genesis of the Sinhala - Tamil Conflict by N.Sanmugathasan

It is just as well, at this point to study the communal problem as it arose at that time.

One of the main reasons why the Tamils occupied a better place in the government service and the professions under British rule than the Sinhalese did was due to the head start they had in the sphere of learning English although this was by accident and not design.

The American Ceylon Mission was started in the Jaffna peninsula by the American Methodist Missionaries in 1816. In her very recent book, "Communal politics under the Donoughmore Constitution" Jane Russell gives a good account of the services rendered by these missionaries to education in Jaffna.

According to her, the reason why the Mission chose Jaffna as the focus of its activities was because "the colonial government was anxious to avoid a clash with the English Missions and partly because its strategic position was the key to India which was the Mission's main target".

By 1822, 42 schools staffed by Americans who were fluent in Tamil, had been established in the peninsula. In 1823, was set up the Batticotta (not to be confused with Batticaloa) Seminary at Vaddukoddai. This was the first English school in Asia. It was a free boarding school whose standard has been compared to that of a University, It taught English, Tamil prose, Mathematics, Greek, Latin History, Geography and. Philosophy.

In 1833, a professor of Medicine arrived and thereafter the Seminary turned out medical students and potential doctors. The methods of the American Ceylon Mission was reported to be infinitely more advanced and the missionaries more dedicated than those in the English Mission Schools in the rest of Ceylon.

Having learnt Tamil thoroughly, the Americans translated English text books into Tamil and compiled comprehensive English-Tamil dictionaries. As Colebrooke pointed out in 1830, the level of English education imparted in Jaffna was much higher than elsewhere in Ceylon as a result of the Americans asserting the importance of teaching English (unlike other missions).

Due to a financial crisis, the colonial government cut down expenditure on education by half during the end of 1847. This did not affect the American Ceylon Mission. The effect was that the governments schools in the South-West were outclassed completely. In 1929 there existed in the Jaffna peninsula 65 English schools, 10 of them being first/class Collegiate Schools, and 426 Vernacular schools. In that year, the Northern province had 6 out of 7 children attending some form schools.

As K. Balasingam said in a speech in 1913, we have cultivated the only thing that could have been cultivated with profit despite the aridity of our soil. We 'have attempted to cultivate men'.

The Americans were followed by Catholic and Protestant Missionaries who all proceeded to set up schools as part of their aim of proselytising. When Hindu revivalism started, there was formed the Hindu Board of Education which, in turn, opened up its schools. Thus, Jaffna became blessed with many schools. It was said that, at one stage, Jaffna had more schools per square mile than anywhere else in the world.

This gave a great impetus to the study of the English, a language which was the language of administration of the British Colonialists. Naturally, the Tamils obtained more posts in the governments service and the professions, like law and medicine, out of proportion to their numbers. But, they were obtained in open competition and not through the back door. According to Jane Russel, the Ceylon Tamils constituted over 40 percent of the franchise for the Educated Members seat in 1918.

A particular reason as to, why the Tamil felt the urgent need for better and higher education, particularly in English, was his consciousness that he lived in the most barren and uneconomic part of Sri Lanka which did not boast of a river, a mountain or forest. Education was the only passport to a better life. So he studied hard.

It was a slightly different picture with the Sinhalese in the South. They were blessed with a more fertile land where literally anything grew. Sustenance was easy. But, the educational facilities available to them were less than those available to the Tamils. Besides, till the economic crisis of 1929-1931, the Sinhala middle classes were not that keen to join government service or the professions as their lands could sustain them. It was in the years just before and just after the Second World War that the competition for jobs between the Sinhala and Tamil middle classes grew.

According to the Soulbury Commission report, in the year 1938, out of 6002 pensionable officers, 3236 were Sinhalese and 1164 were Ceylon Tamils. Much of the friction between the two communities arose over the disputes about the social proportions in certain departments in the public service. The communal problem, therefore, is at bottom a competition between the respective middle classes for entry into government service and the professions and for trade opportunities.

According to Jane Russel, the "golden age" of the Ceylon Tamils can be approximately ascribed to the 50 years between 1870 and 1920. In this period. the excellence of the English school system in the Jaffna peninsula enabled large numbers of the Jaffnese to find lucrative employment in the civil and clerical services of Malaya, India and Ceylon. Economically wealthy, the Jaffna Tamils had become politically powerful. The Coomaraswamy - Ponnambalam dynasty had been able to dominate the other communal representatives in the Legislative Council in the 19th century, and had therefore become the acknowledged leaders of the English - educated elite of both communities.

When Ponnambalam Ramanathan was elected the first all-island representative in 1912 against the opposition of a Sinhalese, Marcus Fernando, he acquired de - jure the official recognition as spokesman of the English educated elite, which had been his de facto role for over 30 years.

In 1916, his brother, Ponnambalam Arunachalam entered the political arena. From the outset of his political career, Arunachalam towered above his Sinhalese and Tamil contemporaries. Almost immediately he was recognised as the leader of the English educated elite. The founder of the Ceylon National Congress, as well as a number of labour organisations, Arunachalam dominated Ceylon's politics for the remaining 7 years of his life. When he left the Congress in 1922 it marked the end of the ascendency of the Ceylon Tamils in Ceylon politics.

Under Colonial rule the Sinhalese and Tamil leaders worked harmoniously together in pursuit of more and more reforms from the Colonial power. In 1915, after the martial law riots, it was the Tamil knight, Ponnambalam Ramanathan who braved the torpedo infested seas to travel to England to plead the cause of the detained Sinhala leaders, like D. S. Senanayake. Everyone knows the story of how, when Ramanathan returned to the island, the Sinhala leaders, including the then labour leader, A. E. Goonsinha, unharnessed the horses from his chariot and dragged the chariot themselves.

When the Ceylon National Congress was founded in 1919, it was Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam who was elected its first president. In two consecutive elections, for the Educated Members Seat in the old Legislative Council, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan was elected despite the fact that a majority of the voters were Sinhalese.

But as the British colonialists gave more and more reforms, the Sinhala and Tamil leaders failed to agree about how to share the spoils. The parting of ways came over the refusal of the Sinhala leaders to support the Tamil demand for a communal seat for the Tamils of the Western province. The Sinhala leaders wanted territorial representation because it would favour them while the Tamil leaders wanted communal representation which would be beneficial to them. It was over this dispute that the Ponnambalam brothers resigned from the Ceylon National Congress.

With the advent of the Donoughmore reforms, the situation became worse. The Donoughmore constitution carried within the germs of communal dissension. By granting adult franchise and territorial representation, the British ensured Sinhalese majority rule.

That is why Ceylon Tamil leaders, like Ponnambalam Ramanathan, had vehemently opposed adult franchise. He opposed it for two reasons. One was that he didn't want to have "mobrule" by the franchise being thrown open to illiterates. On the other, he knew that majority rule would mean Sinhalese rule. That fear has been proved correct. It was for these reasons that the Tamils asked for communal representation or safeguards for the minorities which was rejected by the Donoughmore Commission.

In a homogenous society, a full franchise and territorial representation is the ideal thing. When the picture is complicated by the presence of racial and religious minorities, adult franchise and territorial representation would ultimately bring about the subjection of the minority to the majority. This is what happened in Sri Lanka. The only alternative would have been a healthy left movement which would have cut across, racial, linguistic or caste barriers and concentrated on economic issues which were common to all.

For a time, before the elections to the first State Council in 1931, there existed in the North a progressive organisation called the Youth Congress. The Youth Congress was formed in 1924 by radical Ceylon Tamil youths. Among those who were prominent in its leadership were; S. H. Perinpanayagam, C. Balasingham, P.Kandiah, 'Orator' Subramaniyam, M. Balasundaram, P. Nagalingam etc. J. V. Chelliah, Vice Principal of Jaffna College, was elected its first president.

Between 1926 and 1931 Indian independence leaders, Nehru, Satyamoorthy, Sarojini Naidu and Mrs. Kamaladevi came and spoke at vast meetings organised by the Jaffna Youth Congress and spurred the movement on which was to lead to the famous Jaffna Boycott of the State Council elections, nominations to which were to be received on May 4th, 1931.

It carried out the boycott of the 4 northern seats to the State Council during the 1931 elections on the grounds that the Donoughmore Constitution had not granted full independence (Poorna Swaraj) for the whole country - not because the Constitution had not granted special rights to the Tamils. Unfortunately, not one Sinhalese candidate either joined or sympathised with the boycott. The Youth Congress was soon to be submerged by communal politics.

In the South, Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, formed the avowedly communal organisation, the Sinhala Maha Sabha. The Sinhala Maha Sabha was founded in November 1936. A proposal to call it by that name was made by Piyadasa Srisena, a famous literary figure of that time. Bandaranaike tried to get the name changed to Swadeshiya Maha Sabha (The greater congress of the Indigenous peoples). But it was opposed by Munidasa Cumaratunga, another famous literary figure, and others and defeated. By, the late 1930s, both Piyadasa Sirisena and Munidasa Cumaratunga had left the Maha Sabha and it was developed into an effective political organisation by Bandaranaike.

In the North Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam formed the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. The interesting point is that communalism in the South spawns communalism in the North and vice versa.

The situation was made worse in 1936, after the elections to the Second State Council, when D. S. Senanayake, in search of unanimity inside his Board of Ministers for his reforms proposals to White Hall, formed a Pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers, excluding any representative of the minorities.

Communal politics had become the order of the day. The Soulbury Commission has pointed out that the formation of the Pan-Sinhala Ministry indicated a policy of the majority using its power to the detriment of the minorities. One of the Commissioners, F. Rees said, "the minorities were naturally more convinced than ever that the Sinhalese aimed at domination". It is interesting to note that the four European nominated members of the second State Council joined Senanayake in the 'Plot' to elect a Pan-Sinhala board of ministers. But, Senanayake went back on his promise to make one of them a minister and the alliance broke up.

On behalf of the Tamils, Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam, through his All Ceylon Tamil Congress, put forward his cry of fifty-fifty. Reduced to simple terms, this demand meant that electorates must be so delimited that in a Council of 100 members, 50 members would be Sinhalese while the balance should be distributed between the minorities (25 to the Ceylon Tamils and the balance to the other minorities). This demand was not acceptable to the Sinhalese leaders although it was rumoured that just before parliamentary elections of 1947, through his party man, A. Mahadeva, who had been Home Minister, D. S. Senanayake agreed to accept a proposal of 60:40. But, G. G. Ponnambalam was not statesman enough to accept it.

But, what was tragic in this situation was that these conflicting claims of the two major communities were. used by the colonial power to perpetuate its domination -the classical imperialist strategy of divide and rule. How much better it would have been for the Tamil leaders to have joined forces with their Sinhalese brethren in a common demand to the imperialist master. But that would have been statesmanship of a stature to which the bourgeois leadership of neither was equal. The Sinhalese leadership, for its part, was unable to be magnanimous and accommodate the just demands of the Tamil people and thus present a united front against British rule. They tended to identify the Sinhalese with the Sri Lankan nation and to be unmindful of the legitimate rights of racial, and linguistic minorities.

The British Government appointed the Soulbury Commission to hear the request for more reforms to Sri Lanka. When the Commission arrived in Sri Lanka, the different communities made their separate representation to the Commission. D. S. Senanayake and the Sinhala leaders did not appear before the Commission but gave their views in private to Lord Soulbury.

British imperialism was then going through the phase of transition from direct rule to indirect rule, from colonialism to neocolonialism. The end of the second World War saw Britain reduced to the status of a second rate power. It knew that it could not continue to rule its colonies by direct force as before. It decided to come to an agreement with the dominant local bourgeoisie and to transfer political power to it in return for the safe guarding of its economic interests.

Having held out all sorts of promises to the Tamil minority, ultimately, the British came to an agreement with the Sinhalese majority, leaving the Tamils out in the cold. The system of Parliamentary government, with a prime minister and a cabinet, was granted to Sri Lanka and the Tamil representatives were reduced to a permanent minority in parliament.

D. S. Senanayake also struck against the Indian Tamils. These plantation workers, because of their class position, had supported the Left movement and helped to elect anti-UNP M. Ps in at least 14 electorates to the first parliament - apart from electing seven M. Ps through their own organisation.

D. S. Senanayake acted swiftly and, in 1948 by means of the Citizenship Acts, deprived the bulk of them of their citizenship rights and hence, their voting rights. This worsened what is being referred to as the Ceylon Indian problem. In 1964, Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike went to India and signed a pact with Indian Premier, Lal Bahadur Shastry, by which Sri Lanka agreed to grant citizenship to three hundred thousand people of Indian origin while India agreed to take back five hundred and forty five thousand. The fate of the balance was to be decided later.

The acceptance of these figures by Sri Lanka was itself a tacit admission of the unfairness of the earlier citizenship laws. But, the major draw back of this Pact was that it said not a word as to what would happen if these figures were not reached on a voluntary basis. Supposing five hundred and forty five thousands did not opt to go to India? Was forced to be used? The question was left beautifully vague.

At a subsequent date, both governments agreed to divide equally between themselves the one and a half million people whose fate was left undecided earlier. This still left about half a million people of Indian origin stateless. After every communal violence there are increasing numbers of people of Indian origin who, are even willing to forego their Sri Lankan citizenship and return to India. This figure has increased beyond measure after the 1983 violence.

The communal situation in Sri Lanka became worse after 1956 and the passing of the Sinhala only act. The newly aroused nationalism of the Sinhalese, which was set in motion by the populist policies of Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, was unfortunately directed against the Tamils instead of against the foreign imperialists and their economic and cultural subjection of the whole country.

The communal cancer that was festering inside suddenly erupted into the open in 1955 — in the form of the language controversy. Up to that time, all political parties, had accepted that both Sinhala and Tamil (Swabhasha) would replace English as the official languages. In fact when, in 1943 Mr. Bandaranaike moved his reforms resolution in the Second State Council, he made this precise proposal. Incidentally one of the very few to oppose this proposal in the State Council was the present president, J. R. Jayawardena, then member for Kelaniya. Suddenly the agitation broke out among the Sinhalese that Sinhala only should be the State language.

Straight away one peculiar feature of this must be noted. In most countries, the communal problem takes the form of an agitation by a minority to safeguard its linguistic or other rights from being trampled, under foot by a majority. But, in Sri Lanka, it was a majority who spear headed an agitation to safeguard its language against what it feared was encroachment by the language of the minority. The peculiar reasons which make the Sinhalese majority behave and act as it was a minority must be studied and appreciated if we are to arrive anywhere near an understanding of this complicated problem

The reasons that make the Sinhalese behave like a minority in the land where they are actually a majority are many.

The first is the memory of the ancient Tamil invasions from South India. The Sinhalese are never allowed to forget this, Which school boy has not read of the epic battle between Duttugemunu, and Elara? Every time one goes to view the ruins of Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa, he is reminded that all these ancient glories of Sinhalese civilisation were brought to destruction by successive Tamil invasions from South India.

Secondly the British imperialists brought over nearly a million Tamil workers from South India during the last century to work in their plantations and dumped them in the midst of Kandyan territory. Thereby, they created the Ceylon-Indian problem — another cause for communal bickerings.

Thirdly the increased educational facilities made available to the Tamils in the North as a result of missionary activity resulted in Tamils obtaining a higher percentage in government service and in the professions than their population figures warranted. When, after the 1929-1931 world economic crisis, unemployment became a serious problem among the Sinhala middle classes and they started to turn towards service under government in large numbers they found the Tamils well entrenched.

It must be pointed out that economic issues were at the bottom of the language crisis. Before 1956, knowledge of the English language had been the passport to service under the government. As a result, the Tamils were able to compete on equal or even better terms with the Sinhalese. Compelled by the pressure of unemployment the Sinhalese wanted Sinhala only to be the official language — thus giving them the best chances of service under the government. Because, in a non-industrialised country like Sri Lanka, government is not only the biggest single employer but government service is also the most gainful occupation, the battle of the languages was in reality a battle for government jobs for the respective middle classes. That is also the reason why no solution other than an economic one can ever bring lasting results.

Fourthly, Tamil happens to be a language spoken by over 53 million people in Tamilnadu across the Palk straits. The Sinhalese thus feel that the number of Tamil speaking people in the region (bracketing Tamilnadu with Sri Lanka) out number those speaking Sinhalese by about 5 : 1. Hence the fear of cultural absorption of the Sinhalese by the Tamils.

Without an appreciation of these historical realities, it is impossible to understand the development of the language question of Sri Lanka. After the MEP victory, Mr. Bandaranaike made one serious attempt to settle the language question through negotiation with the Tamil leader, S. J. V. Chelvanayagam. The result of these negotiations was the famous Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact. It accepted certain safeguards for the Tamil language in the Nothern and Eastern part of Sri Lanka under the general context of the acceptance of Sinhala as the official language of the whole of Ceylon. It also reached certain compromises on the vexed question on colonisation in the Tamil areas.

It is necessary here to make some reference to the relationship between the communal problem and colonisation. The question of land or territory is intimately connected with the national or minority problem. Without a contiguous territory to inhabit, no national group can develop into a nation. That is why we find in Sri Lanka that, on the one hand, the Tamils want to protect their traditional homelands from forcible colonisation by State schemes which would end up by changing the ethnic character of these areas. On the other hand, we find that Sinhala bourgeois leaders, from D. S. Senanayake onwards, have harboured ideas about changing Tamil majority areas into Sinhalese majority areas by means of state colonisation schemes.

When, after the 1935 Land Commission report which highlighted the fact that the peasantry in Sri Lanka was dying out as a class, D. S. Senanayake started his colonisation schemes, most of these were located in what is called the dry zone. In the beginning most of these were in the North Central province. But some were also started in the northern and eastern provinces, which had been claimed by the Tamils as their traditional home-lands.

Of course, during a greater part of history the island was ruled by the Sinhalese. But there were intermittent invasions by the Cholas who had ruled big parts of Sri Lanka. Despite the attempts by the Sinhalese kings to subjugate them, Tamil Kingdoms repeatedly made their appearance, in the north. When the Portuguese arrived in the island in 1505, one such Tamil Kingdom existed in the north and was overrun by them. Therefore, if we take the last four centuries or so, the claims of the Tamils to have inhabited the Northern and Eastern provinces is not far fetched.

D. S. Senanayake, was not only a through going reactionary but a shrewd Sinhalese leader. He never openly professed communalism despite the fact that he was responsible for the pan-Sinhala Board of Ministers in 1936. But he steadfastly worked towards the goal of Sinhalising the Tamil areas. This fact was revealed by one of his closest colleagues. V. Ratnayake, in a speech made after the death of D. S..

The Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam pact was possibly the best compromise under the circumstances, But it was not given a chance. The UNP tried to fish in troubled waters and organised a march to Kandy to mobolise opposition to the pact. This March was led by Mr. J. R. Jayawardena who was later to become the president of the country. The march was aborted at Imbulgoda by the SLFP M. P. for Gampaha lying on the road with his followers.

Bandaranaike probably rose to his greatest height as a statesman in his defence of the pact. His famous - probably his best - speech made at the Bogambara grounds, Kandy, will always be remembered as embodying all that was best in him. That speech was recorded and relayed repeatedly over Radio Ceylon. Faced with a hostile press, which was then entirely privately owned, Mr. Bandaranaike put his skill as an orator to the best use and used the state Radio to publicise his views.

But, the chauvinistic elements in his camp also rebelled. Instead of coming to his help, the leaders of the Federal party chose this very moment to launch the silly anti-Sri campaign. They did not have the statesmanship to realise that Mr. Bandaranaike was the only Sinhalese leader of recent times who had sufficient national stature and public support to have pushed through a solution to the Tamil problem. The pact was torn up. The anti-Sri campaign of the Federal Party was countered by the Tar-brush campaign led by the Sinhala 'warrior' K. M. P. Rajaratna in the south, in the, course of which Tamil words on public -places were all obliterated by a liberal application of tar.

1958 Communal Violence ; there after

Tension mounted on both sides till it led to the worst communal bloodbath so far in Sri Lanka's history. A much worse one was to occur in July 1983. The 1958 communal violence against the Tamils is an event about which every right thinking Sri Lankan should hang his head 'down in shame. It will remain a permanent blot in our country's history. Overnight, men turned into beasts, and descended to the level that they could pour petrol over and set fire to people with whom they had no quarrel except that they spoke a different tongue.

I well remember watching the beginning of this communal violence on the streets of Colombo from the top storey of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank building, seated in the offices of Messrs. Julius and Creasy Ltd. where I was discussing the terms of the settlement of an industrial dispute with a senior partner of that firm. Simultaneously, I received a telephone message from my office to hurry back immediately. Colombo was going up in flames and it was no longer safe for Tamils to be on the streets.

I was then staying with a Sinhalese couple in Pitta Kotte. After spending an uneasy night there, we decided that it would be unsafe to stay there. With my friends' entire family we went by car to an estate belonging to a relation of my friend near Getahetta. There, we stayed for about a week till Colombo came back to normal. The anti-Tamil violence was a reflection of the political bankruptcy of both the MEP' and the federal party. The fact that the Tamils stranded in the south had to be taken to the north by ship, represented the lowest ebb to which communal relations between the Sinhalese and the Tamils had fallen up to the time.

The only two parties, with a majority of Sinhala members, who took up a principled stand on, the language question were the CP and the LSSP who stood for parity between Sinhala and Tamil and whose members in parliament voted against the Sinhala only act. But they took a severe beating among the Sinhala communalists. Their meetings were broken up. Ultimately they succumbed to Sinhala chauvinism because of parliamentary opportunism and finally declared their support for Sinhala as the only official language. The rot of revisionism and reformism had already set in inside these parties.

It is time to continue the story of the question of the national problem. The passing of the Sinhala Only Act in 1956 was a watershed in the relations between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Clearly the Federal party was faced with a political crisis. Its leaders, who were detained during the early days of the state of emergency which followed the communal violence, had proved themselves powerless to protect the Tamils outside Jaffna. But it continued its sterile course - preaching communalism in the north and estranging even progressive Sinhalese opinion, by opposing every radical measure brought forward by the two Bandaranaike governments e. g. the nationalisation of the buses, the paddy lands bill, the school take over etc.

Their tactics consisted in hoping that the Sinhalese voters would divide more or less evenly between the two major Sinhala parties, the UNP and the SLFP and that they could strike an opportunistic bargain with whichever party was willing to grant more concessions to the Tamils. It was nothing but an attempt to trade the rights of the Tamils at the table of one or the other of the two Sinhalese parties. Such an opportunity did arise for the Federal Party in 1965. But we will refer to it later.

It was a fact that in the general election in 1956 the Tamils in the Sinhalese areas had voted for the SLFP as against the UNP. Mr. Bandaranaike realised that the Sinhala only act had irrevocably estranged this support. He, therefore, brought forward a bill in parliament to provide for the Reasonable Use of Tamil. But, due to the pressure of the die hards in his camp, no regulations were framed under it and it remained a virtual dead letter. When a subsequent UNP government tried to frame these regulations, it came into violent opposition from the SLFP. In any case, the bill was not acceptable to the Tamils.

In the meantime internal strife had begun inside the MEP. The MEP was. at its best, only a marriage of convenience between forces holding divergent views but united under the personality of Mr. Bandaranaike and by their common opposition to the UNP.

The stress of keeping forces with such divergent views together proved too much. The split came in early 1959 over the issue of an Agricultural Cooperative Bank and that of raising the guaranteed price of paddy - both of which were mooted by leftist Gunawardena. Philip Gunawardena and his colleague. William Silva quit the Cabinet. At the Kurunegala sessions of the SLFP which took place almost immediately after this, Bandaranaike was forced to make his first anti-communist speech.

Mr. Bandaranaike was left as a prisoner in the hands of the reactionary elements in his cabinet - some of whose representatives successfully planned his assassination on 25th of September 1959. As he bent low to pay his respects to a Buddhist monk, who was seated on his verandah the monk whipped out a pistol from out of his robe, and emptied it into the frail figure of the prime minister. It was the eve of the day on which the Prime Minister was to have left for the UNO. On the next day, the Prime Minister succumbed to his injuries.

The circumstances of his death as well as the spirit of forgiveness he displayed to his assailant have built a halo around his name. An attempt was even made to deify him. Under such circumstances, no sober appraisal of his place in Sri Lankan politics has been made. A legend has sprung up about the so called Bandaranaike policies which he is alleged to have followed. But if anyone is pinned down to explain what is meant by such policies, no satisfactory answer is forthcoming. Perhaps, the vagueness of the concept permits each one to interpret it in his own way and do as he likes, all the while claiming to be a devout follower of the Bandaranaike policies - which is what is happening now.

But even if one tries to discern any recognisable element in the policies followed by Bandaranaike, one might say that he thought that he was a sort of bridge between two worlds - one that was not yet dead, and the other not yet born. That was why he was fond of referring to Sri Lanka's present phase as an age of transition. He tried to outline what he called a middle way, by which he meant the avoidance of the extremes of both capitalism and communism. This was, ofcourse, an illogical and unscientific concept.

The choice for Sri Lanka was not between capitalism and communism. Anyway there is no middle way between the two. The choice for Sri Lanka was between the slavery of neo-colonialism and genuine national independence.

Bandaranaike could not see this. When, he died, the chains of neo-colonialism were riveted on Sri Lanka even more firmly than when he took power. The exploitation to which the mass of the people was subjected remained just as severe. Not a single economic problem had been solved. The concept of a middle way is really an attempt to prettify the continuance of the status quo and an explanation for postponing radical change.

In the realm of foreign affairs, at least, Bandaranaike's policy of nonalignment meant that Sri Lanka moved away from her position of being a camp follower of the imperialist powers. But non-alignment was not a dynamic policy. For the most part, it meant making the best of both Worlds, and playing one side against other. Still, it paid dividends up to a point. Beyond that all countries have to choose sides. Some of the most vociferously non-aligned countries have today ended up among the most aligned countries. In any case Bandaranaike's non - aligned policy won Sri Lanka more friends in the inter- national field than ever before.

One result of Mr. Bandaranaike moving away from the pro-western attitudes of the previous UNP governments was the opening of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the Socialist countries.

The Soviet Union was the first socialist country to open an embassy in Colombo. It was soon followed by the People's Republic of China and then by other Socialist countries of Eastern Europe.

The importance of this significant change can be understood when one remembers that during Sir John's regime, even a Soviet Scientists' team to view the solar eclipse and even a Soviet Soccer team were refused permission to enter Sri Lanka.

It is interesting to note that when during the immediate flush of his electoral victory in 1956, Mr. Bandaranaike was asked for his views on the threat of world communism, his characteristic reply was, "If the world wants to go Communist. who am I to stop it".

In fact, it must be conceded that he was very much to the left of Pandit Nehru then Prime Minister of India who was even, then a prisoner of India's right wing forces. This is, in part, explained by the fact that Bandaranaike came to power at the head of the progressive forces and by defeating the right wing and reactionary forces represented by the UNP whereas Nehru, from the beginning, united both right and left behind his broad back. In fact, Nehru was so worried at the progressive turn in foreign affairs by the Bandaranaike's regime that he sent his trouble-shooter, Krishna Menon, to Sri Lanka to caution Bandaranaike to follow a more moderate policy. It would seem that Bandaranaike agreed to fall in step.

One result of the liberal foreign policy, followed by Mr. Bandaranaike was the first visit to Sri Lanka. by China's Prime Minister, Chou-en-lai. He was to come a second time during Mrs. Bandaranaike's SLFP regime. Chou-en-lai's visit was an extremely popular one and crowds mobbed him where ever he went.

One event that happened during his visit deserves to be mentioned. The Chinese Prime Minister was here on a February 4 which was then celebrated as National Day. There was a public meeting held at Independence Square, Colombo and Chou-en-lai spoke at that meeting. Professor G. P. Malalasekera translated him into Sinhalese. During the speech, it started to rain. Prof. Malalasekera who, with Chou-en-lai, was standing on the open platform, tried to withdraw into the pavillion in order to avoid the rain. But Chou-en lai held him firm by the arm and got him to continue the translation while he spoke in the rain. By this time the crowd was covered oy a sea of umbrellas. In a spontaneous gesture of appreciation of Chou-en-lai's action, one and all closed their umbrellas and braved the rain. I have never seen such a spontaneous and silent tribute to a leader.

In internal affairs, the MEP government's rule was like a breath of fresh air. After the rigours of UNP repression there was a sense of freedom which was reflected by the incident of the first day of the opening of parliament when crowds burst through ail cordons to swamp the House of Representatives and to feel and touch the seats on which their representatives sat. It was, to a certain extent, an identification of the people with the newly elected government on which they placed so much hope.

In the labour front also it was a reversal of the pro-employer attitudes and policies of the previous UNP governments. Labour felt free not only to voice their demands but also to come out on strike in support of their demands. The inevitable result was a rash of strikes for which some people have condemned the left movement which gave leadership to the strikes.

Such people failed to realise that you cannot give freedom to people and not expect them to use it to obtain their demands. However, one immediate victory to the working class as a result of the MEP government coming into power was the reinstatement of all those who lost their employment from government service as' a result of the general strike of May-June 1947.

In 1956 our Ceylon Trade Union Federation itself was not recognised by the Employers' Federation of Ceylon because it was led by the communist party. They never replied to our letters nor attended conferences at the Labour Department. This was a serious handicap, particularly because the LSSP - led Trade unions had no such difficulty, We were forced to function through the factory committees at the various work places. I remember well that, soon after the MEP government was formed, we led a strike at Brooke Bond Ltd. who were the premier tea exporter of the country. In as much as revenue derived from the export of tea continued to be the main source of income for the government, no government could tolerate a prolonged strike in the tea export industry. Mr. Bandaranaike immediately called a conference of both parties at his prime minister's office. I represented the striking workers and was promptly asked by Mr. Bandranaike why we could not talk to the employers and arrive at a settlement. I replied that the employer did not recognise us and that, therefore, we were not on talking terms.

Mr. Bandaranaike showed his disapproval. The English vice-chairman, of the Employers' Federation, who was mainly responsible for our non - recognition, was away on leave in England. The employers were represented at this conference by Mr. Rowan who was a senior partner of Julius & Creasy, lawyers to the employers. He took me to a side and assured, me that he would see to it that recognition was granted. There afterwards the settlement of the strike was not difficult.

I am mentioning, this incident to prove that Mr. Bandaranaike's liberal policies and his readiness to permit the organisation of labour certainly increased its bargaining capacity. It must be stated on record that Mr. Bandaranaike never enunciated the policy of refusing to negotiate during a strike. This reactionary position was to be put forward during the subsequent SLFP govenment, by Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike.

There were two general strike in this period - one in 1957 led by the LSSP and other in 1958 led by the. CF. The first strike resulted in the increase of the cost of living allowances to public servants, while the second one won the extension of these increases to the private' sector. Of course, this period also witnessed bitter, internecine rivalry between the LSSP and the CP for leadership of the Trade Union Movement. This seriously weakened the bargaining capacity of the, workers. Nevertheless trade union membership increased several fold during this period. It also saw the emergence, for the first time, of Trade Unions sponsored by the government party - thus enjoying official patronage and support - a kind of company union. This was a most unfortunate development because it led to the pernicious habit of workers crossing over to unions sponsored by the ruling party (particularly in the public and corporation sector) after every general election.

I must mention here that, in 1957, I was appointed General Secretary of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation- the post in which I have served ever since. In the preceding years, I had mainly worked in the party front. Now I devoted the major part of my time to Trade Union work. This accidental fact was to have a lot of bearing in the split that developed inside the CP in 1963-1964.

I was General Secretary of the CTUF when it called the general strike in the private sector in April 1958 over the main demand for payment of the, government rate of dearness allowance for employees in the private sector' too. It was a near complete success in the Tea and Rubber export trade, while workers in several large engineering establishments also came out. A section of the harbour workers also struck. The near complete strike in the tea and rubber export trade brought about the cancelation of tea auctions in Colombo. The government could not ignore the strike beyond 3 to 4 weeks because the major income of the government was derived from the export of tea.

Mr. Bandaranaike called the CTUF for a conference. M. G. Mendis was president of CTUF at this time. For some reason which I have forgotten, Mendis was persona non grata with the then Commissioner of Labour, Mr. C. B. Kumarasinghe. The latter telephoned me with the request that I should be the sole representative of the CTUF. This was obviously with the intention of keeping Mendis out of the discussions I was not happy with this condition. But Mendis as well as the executive committee persuaded me to go alone because they did not want any chance of placing our point of view before the Prime Minister to go by default.

The conference was fixed for 10 'o' clock of a morning at the Senate Office of the Prime Minister. I remember Mr. T. B.. Illangaratne, then Minister for labour, waiting with me for the Prime Minister's arrival. He eventually arrived at 2 P. M. without any word of apology for the delay. it would seem that punctuality was never one of the 'virtues' of Mr. Bandaranaike,

However, the discussions yielded no result. There were other discussions too, but with the same disappointing results. Employers met the Prime Minister separately. The strike had ultimately to be called off because of the outbreak of communal violence and the declaration of the state of emergency.

I remember that the Labour Commissioner telephoned me and told me that the Governor-General wanted the strike called off. There was, of course, no question of continuing the strike under the tense situation that prevailed in the country. But we stuck out for one condition. The Employers had declared that all strikers who did not report to work by a certain date had already been considered to have vacated post. In fact' some of them had even recruited, new labour. We told the Labour Commissioner to inform the Governor-General that we would call off the strike if all strikers were taken back in employment. The demand was accepted. We called off the strike and no striker lost his job. Before another year had passed most of the demands of the strike were won by us by means of a collective agreement with the Employers Federation of Ceylon.

In other spheres too, Mr. Bandaranaike's government took progressive steps. Fulfilling a promise made by him during the 1955 South. Western bus strike (led by the CP) he nationalised the bus services. This was a clear boon to the travelling public. He also established an Employees Provident Fund to cover the entire private and semi public sectors. This was a great step forward for the working class because for the first time it started to receive compensation for their past services. To the credit of Mr. Bandaranaike it must be stated that he overcame chauvinistic objections among his own ranks and succeeded in getting the plantation workers of Indian origin included in this provident fund scheme.

1956 also saw the election, for the first and the last time, of a left candidate to Parliament from a Tamil area. P. Kandiah was elected as Member of Parliament to the Point Pedro seat on the ticket .of the Communist Party. I have already referred to Kandiah as one of the three who returned to Sri Lanka after studies at Cambridge and Oxford. He returned during my second year at the University and played a big part in influencing me towards communism.

He had contested the seat twice earlier and succeeded on his third attempt. I remember going to Point Pedro to work for him and speaking at several election meetings. It would, of course, not be correct to claim Kandiah's victory entirely as a victory for the communist party. There were a lot of personal reasons for his victory. Kandiah was a highly respected intellectual who was loved for his personal traits. In addition, the vote of the sizable so-called depressed castes came to him as a candidate for the Communist Party.

Kandiah's election to Parliament at. that time was a shot in the arm for the communist party and increased its influence among the Tamils. Kandiah was an able Parliamentarian and shone in debates. He also did a lot of work in his electorate, particularly for the so- called depressed castes - like building separ ate schools for them. Unfortunately building separate schools does not abolish the caste system. It only perpetuates it. Whatever that may be, no future communist candidate was able to reap the benefit of his work.

Source: Political Memoirs of an Unrepentant Communist

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