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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > On the First Magazine Cover Report Which Foretold the Sri Lankan Split


Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

On the First Magazine Cover Report
Which Foretold the Sri Lankan Split

25 July 2006

30 years ago, one of the leading Sinhalese journalists and analysts Vijitha Yapa visited Jaffna and filed a nearly 1,900-word length report on the Jaffna scene. It appeared in the Himmat weekly edited by Rajmohan Gandhi, as the cover story (Aug.6, 1976), with the caption �Exclusive report from Jaffna; Will Sri Lanka split?�. To my knowledge, this was the first magazine cover story in English from India which half-heartedly foretold the Sri Lankan split.

Some time markers deserve mention. It was the year when LTTE was christened. Also, one year had lapsed after the first political assassination in Jaffna � that of Alfred Duraiappah. Now, 30 years later, all the leading individuals interviewed or named by Vijitha Yapa for this report have departed from the scene; S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, A.Amirthalingam, S.Kathiravelupillai, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, K.Nesiah and K.B.Ratnayake. But the nucleus of the story covered by him is still in news. Sri Lanka indeed has got split. Nevertheless, the new SLFP leadership of Mahinda Rajapakse is bent on investing its energy on finding a non-existent �alternate Tamil leadership�. 30 years ago, the SLFP leadership propped up some incoompetent, social misfits as �Tamil leadership�. They also had come to pass. Now a next generation of sin-eating social misfits have been asked to wear the hat of �alternate Tamil leadership�.

Though Alfred Duraiappah�s assassination is parroted repetitively in anti-LTTE polemics appearing in the Colombo media, this Vijitha Yapa report of 1976 had answered the vital question of �why� it was destined to occur and what factors abetted it. Simply put, as presented by Vijitha Yapa, the recurrent arrogant trampling of Tamil rights and the attempt to create an �alternate leadership� against the legitimate choices of Tamil people by the then Leftist (Trotskyist and Stalinist) Coalition Sinhalese government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike led to the assassination of the politician who shamelessly represented the repressive regime in Jaffna.

The doomed �alternate leadership� strategy

In early 1970s, on issues pertaining to Tamil culture, an appointed Tamil cabinet minister named Chelliah Kumarasuriyar issued dictats like a czar from Colombo. But he was spineless in the Cabinet to stand up for Tamil political rights and issues facing the younger generation of Tamils like police detention, harassment, torture and tertiary education rights. And in Jaffna, crooked opportunists sprouted as SLFP organizers of electorates which had sent legitimate representatives of Tamil people to the parliament. K.Vinothan (then Uduvil electorate SLFP organizer) and K.T.Rajasingham (then Point Pedro electorate SLFP organizer) belonged to this category of crooked opportunists. Alfred Duraiappah was the leader of this gang representing the repressive Sinhalese regime of 1970-77, and while functioning as the Mayor of Jaffna city doubled as the SLFP organizer of Jaffna. A select band of left-leaning Tamil literati and academics who then monopolised the government-controlled media also danced to the tune of these crooked opportunists by pouting the ideological slogans such as �Progressive� and �Janavegaya� (People Speed).

Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike�s 1970s strategy of finding an alternate Tamil political leadership was copied by her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1990s and Lakshman Kadirgamar became the successor of Kumarasuriyar and Duraiappah. Now, President Mahinda Rajapakse is re-inventing the SLFP wheel of peddling his version of alternate Tamil political leadership. Will it ever succeed? Never, as long as Eelam Tamils have self respect in their blood.

30 years late!

Recently, P.K.Balachandran (the Hindustan Times correspondent in Colombo) had contributed a piece �Neutralisation of Tamil Moderates� [July 18, 2006], which eulogised the TULF leader Amirthalingam on his 17th death anniversary. In the spirit of �give and take� and tolerating semi-ignorance of a friendly Indian observer, the subtle positive spin provided in this eulogy for Mahinda Rajapakse, Asian Tribune blog sheet and the state-owned Daily News had to be digested by us magnanimously.

Balachandran may be unaware that in the 1970s the same Mahinda Rajapakse was a rookie SLFP backbencher, and the current editor of Asian Tribune blog sheet is none other than K.T.Rajasingham who was an SLFP organizer in Jaffna district; and both were opposed to Amirthalingam�s political stand in 1970s. If Mahinda Rajapakse, K.T.Rajasingham and even the state-owned Daily News have sincerely come to appreciate Amirthalingam now (after 30 years!), they are 30 years late by Eelam Tamils� calendar. But frankly speaking, Tamils are no fools to fall to this political deception on the part of Rajapakse and Rajasingham to shed crocodile tears for Amirthalingam.

I promptly send my comments to P.K.Balachandran. I reproduce below the relevant passage of what I sent him about the dilemma faced by Amirthalingam on the Eelam issue.

�Before the rise of Tamil militancy and until he assumed the Leader of the Opposition role, i.e., from 1949 to 1977, Amirthalingam was recognized for his militancy in FP and TULF. His militancy was expressed in satyagraha campaigns, arrests by the Sri Lankan service personnel and in parliamentary speeches. Sirimavo even hoisted a 'Trial-at-Bar' case against him in 1976. That was the tenor of his times. But he was hopelessly outfoxed by J.R.Jayewardene since 1977 and he lost his stature because he couldn't outsmart Jayewardene�s moves tactically within or beyond the parliament and other podiums. After Amirthalingam left the island and camped in Madras after the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots, a 'leadership vacuum' was created among the Eelam Tamils, which came to be filled perfectly by Prabhakaran. Simply speaking, Prabhakaran had/has a 'weapon' which threatened the over-dominating power of the Sinhala-majority parliament. It still remains so. All the pleas and threats from anti-Tamil corners for LTTE to give up violence (i.e., weapons) is nothing but a charade to take away the only power Eelam Tamils have to blunt the Sinhala tyranny in the island�.

[Having noted this], I still have a fond corner for Amirthalingam. [He] was a tragic hero among Eelam Tamils. He was like the Abhimanyu character in [the epic] Maha Bharatha. He knew how to enter the vyuham [Formation] of enemy camp, but he didn't know the way to exit. Between 1977 and 1983, he had to confront quite a number of adversaries/blocks among Sinhalese and Tamils. These include, (1) J.R.Jayewardene and his Cabinet minions like racist Cyril Mathew, (2) in the Eastern front, he had to counter the departure of C.Rajadurai, because of Amir's support for Kasi Anandan in the 1977 election, (3) in the Northern front, G.G.(Kumar) Ponnambalam Jr. was against Amir, because TULF didn't allocate him the Jaffna seat, (4) within the TULF, the then young radicals like S.C.Chandrahasan and M.K.Eelaventhan were opposing Amir's cozy relationship with UNP, (5) the rising Tamil militancy were plotting to push Amir from the nominal leadership ranks, (6) MGR didn't look favorably to Amir's pleas, since he felt that Amir and his TULF colleagues were cozy with Karunanidhi. Amir's only triumph card since 1980 was that Indira Gandhi listened to him to a greater extent, and to Jayewardene she was an anathema. And with Indira's assassination in 1984, Amir's political life got busted.�

I should add that unlike Narasimhan Ram, this Hindustan Times correspondent promptly acknowledged my comment to him. Now, please check the Vijitha Yapa�s 1976 report from Jaffna.

Will Sri Lanka Split?
by Vijitha Yapa, in Jaffna

[courtesy: Himmat weekly, Bombay, August 6, 1976, pp.5-6 & 17]

�Recently I visited Jaffna, the capital and headquarters of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). Its leaders can be easily identified by the rising sun emblem that flutters gaily from the bonnets of their automobiles.

Jaffna was calm, there was no sign of tension or confrontation. Yet I was constantly conscious of the fact that four leaders of the TULF are being tried in Colombo under the Emergency (Prevention of Subversion) Regulations for distributing anti-constitution and pro-separation literature on May 22, 1976, Sri Lanka�s Republic Day. If found guilty, the four Tamil politicians will not only go to jail but could have all their property confiscated by the State.

To understand the present crisis, some background facts are necessary. Of a population of 13 million in Sri Lanka, over nine million are Sinhalese and three million are Tamils. The minority Tamils are concentrated mainly in the northern and eastern provinces. Led by the Federal Party (FP), a section of the Tamil people began demanding federal status 20 years ago and have recently begun to voice aspirations for a separate state.

The Sinhalese outnumber the Tamils three to one, but they fear the numerical strength of the Tamils combined with India�s 35 million Tamils in neighbouring Tamilnadu, (at the nearest point, the distance between Sri Lanka and India is only 22 miles). The DMK is sympathetic to the aspirations of the island�s Tamils. The matter is further complicated because even educated Sinhalese think that most Indians are Tamils!

The fear of Tamil domination lies deep in history. Since 600 AD, Sri Lanka was subject to invasions from adventurous South Indian kings. In Ceylonese history books that span 2,500 years, it is the Tamils who are the villains. Though both communities came from India, the Sinhalese are Aryans from the North while the Tamils are Dravidians. The Sinhalese jealously guard their language as it is spoken only in Sri Lanka and therein lies much of the trouble.

Ever since Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike was re-elected in 1970, the gap between the Sinhala and Tamil speaking people has continued to widen. In 1972 a new constitution was promulgated. Demands put forward by the Tamils for certain safeguards and rights were ignored and the Federal Party MPs walked out of Parliament. They formed a Tamil United Front (TUF) and began non-violent agitations. Their letters asking for a dialogue were ignored by the Government and only a few weeks ago the name of the organisation was changed to TULF, the �L� standing for liberation.

Till Mr S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike opened the floodgates of communalism in 1956 by promising to make Sinhala the official language in 24 hours, both languages had official status. The Tamils demanded parity and ordered their people not to learn or work in Sinhala. A civil disobedience movement was launched to win their rights. By 1958 the island was engulfed in bloody race riots and relations between the communities have not improved since.

Compulsory education in the official language, instead of English, isolated the communities further. Today, though many Tamils have learnt Sinhala out of necessity, very few Sinhalese can speak Tamil. Many Tamils in Government posts who refused to learn Sinhala were retired. The power of the Tamils held in the civil service has diminished.

Mrs Bandaranaike became Prime Minister in July 1960. But it was not till October 1974 that she made first official visit to Jaffna, 250 miles from Colombo. Instead of using her visit to win over Tamil leaders, Mrs Bandaranaike chose to preach the danger of communal politics. She attacked Tamil politicians and called them power hungry and emotional. This was in line with her strategy to create an alternate leadership among theTamil people and ignore the TUF.

On my recent visit, I sat for three hours with Mr A.Amirthalingam, 48, Joint Secretary of the TULF. He is also the President of the Federal Party, the most powerful constituent of the TULF. A rickety table fan tried in vain to keep us cool in the stiffling heat as he outlined the history of Tamil demands.

With a smile on his face even when talking about confrontation with police, Mr Amirthalingam said, �The present agitation began on June 15, 1972 when we gave an ultimatum to the Government with our six-point demand. We gave the Government three months� time which we hoped was enough to start a dialogue. We were treated with contempt and callousness. When nothing happened, we felt we should give the government a chance to assess public opinion. So our leader, Mr S.J.V.Chelvanayakam resigned his parliamentary seat in October 1972. The Government refused to hold a by-election for nearly 2 1⁄2 years but when held, Mr Chelvanayakam polled 26,000 of the 36,000 votes.�

The septuagenarian leader Mr Chelvanayakam says, �The hostile attitude of the Government helped to promote opinion in favour of separation. This proposal, which has hitherto been considered only as an �alternative solution� thus became the �only solution�.

I asked Mr Amirthalingam at which point he decided to opt for separation. He replied, �The last straw was in January 1974. The Government would not allow us to hold the World Conference of Tamil Research Studies in Jaffna. They wanted the venue shifted to Colombo and even denied visas to foreign delegates. At the last moment they allowed it to be held in Jaffna. But on January 10 there was provoked police violence at a public meeting which resulted in nine deaths. We asked for a commission of inquiry. The Government did not oblige so the citizens had to appoint their own. It was then we realised that the only solution was to have our freedom.�

The TULF resolution on separation was endorsed unanimously at Pannakam on May 14, 1976 (Mr K.Nesiah, prominent educationist and founder member of the TULF, was the only abstainer) to establish a Tamil Eelam (Ceylon). On July 10 the TULF decided to initiate a week of protest by publishing, distributing and putting up posters for the purpose of establishing a separate identity of the Tamil people.

�Ours is a non-violent movement and we have decided to start by breaking certain specific laws�, said Mr Amirthalingam. The distribution of anti-constitution leaflets on May 22 was a token act. A record figure of 67 lawyers are appearing free of charge on behalf of the four accused.

The trial is progressing at the moment before the Colombo High Court and has aroused wide interest as it is the first time that the Court will have to decide whether it can pronounce a judgement on the Constitution. The Government says that the High Court does not have that right.

The older generation may be all for non-violence and satyagraha, but what about the youth? �A section of the youth are for violence. They feel we are going too slow and want quicker action. One group has already broken away and formed a Tamil Eelam Liberation Movement. Many of these youth are in custody, quite a few having been arrested for allegedly participating in the recent spate of bank robberies�, replied Amirthalingam.

On Gandhi�s birthday last year, the TULF collected Rs 10,000 to help the families of those who are imprisoned. Amirthalingam referred to those like the Chinese Communist Party, who are instigating them to violence. Then there are even police officers who try to encourage youth to violence acts.
With Mrs Bandaranaike hosting the non-aligned conference in mid-August, the Tamils are planning to intensify their campaign. �If she retaliates, she will cut a sorry figure. No one likes to beat a servant, when there are guests in the house�, said Amirthalingam. If she uses the Tamil agitation as an excuse to postpone the elections due by May 1977, there is bound to be opposition and struggle in the South both from the UNP and the (Trotskyite) LSSP.

Will a change of government in 1977 help the Tamils? �Our experience with the UNP is also one of disappointment�, he said. �We have worked with all Sinhala parties and have found that they will not consider any minority demands.�

Does Mr Amirthalingam feel there cannot be negotiations with the Government? �We will never shut the door. But certain fundamentals must be accepted.�

A short drive across Jaffna in Mr Amirthalingam�s Peugeot and we were in the home of Mr S Kathiravellupillai, MP for Kopay, Secretary of the FP and Treasurer of the TULF. Like most of the Tamil leaders, he is also a lawyer by profession. I ventured to ask him which leader had moral authority among the Tamil people.

�Mr Chelvanayakam is our moral leader,� answered Kathiravellupillai, in a tone which made it clear he was shocked that I had even hinted it was otherwise. I left it at that, knowing fully well that at 74, Chelvanayakam is a very sick man, suffering from Parkinson�s disease. Even his words are hardly intelligible, with an aide helping to translate his English.

Kathiravelupillai constantly harped on the fact that Government industrial ventures in the North and East were restricted to chemicals, cement, sugar and paper. When I asked why even prosperous Tamil businessmen preferred to invest in Colombo and the suburbs rather than in the Tamil territory, he replied that it was due to imports and exports being easier through Colombo.

Would �Tamil Eelam� be economically viable? Sri Lanka as a whole is only 25,000 square miles, and a Tamil state would mean about a third of this land area. He says the whole of Sri Lanka has 1,262,000 acres of paddy of which 382,000 acres are in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The harvest feeds a population of 126 lakhs, while the population of the conceived Tamil Eelam is 16 lakhs. �So we should just have enough rice for export�, he boasted. He has plans for the development of Trincomalee into a Singapore. �There is plenty of land to develop an industrial complex.�

While the TULF is busy planning the campaign, a new movement called Tamil Speaking Peoples� Rights Movement was launched on June 26. Over 460 Tamil-speaking people from different walks of life and belonging to both Government and Opposition have appealed to the Government to act now. They want Tamil recognised as a national language (as opposed to official language) and measures to make provisions made for the Tamil people in the constitution more meaningful and effective. They stress that theirs is not a parallel organisation to the TULF but it is their intention �to break the stalemate and pave the way for friendly and cordial relations�.

Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike has so far been silent on any possibility of negotiations. Her one Tamil cabinet minister (who is a nominated MP and not elected) has been trying valiantly to create an alternate leadership to the TULF but has not succeeded.

With elections due by May 1977 Mrs Bandaranaike may not want to be caught on the wrong foot on an emotional issue for the Sinhalese. But this problem must be faced squarely. Only a decision by all political parties to keep it out of the political arena and to find a solution unitedly will create confidence in the Tamil people.

There are men like Transport Minister K.B.Ratnayake, who speak and read both languages, who could take the initiative. On the side of the Tamil people, there are those like Mr Nesiah, the lone dissenter at the TULF meeting on the question of secession.�

End Notes

I list below some items needing comment in this Vijitha Yapa report of 1976.

(1) Despite the concluding sentiments of the reporter that both among Sinhalese and Tamils there were folks who were capable of promoting harmony between the two ethnic groups due to their bilingual fluency and passion for moderation, 30 years later, it is evident to any sane person that Sri Lanka has got split.

(2) No mention was made either by reporter Vijitha Yapa or by his Tamil interviewees about the Muslim angle or position of the then forthcoming split.

(3) The context relating to the purported Amirthalingam quote of servant metaphor in the house is rather opaque. It may indeed be true that Amirthalingam would have equated the status of Tamils in the island as akin to that of servants while Sinhalese behave as masters. But the printed version doesn�t bring out the proper context clearly.

(4) In a few instances, Vijitha Yapa�s descriptions were faulty. The cliched phrase �the Sinhalese are Aryans from the North [India]� used prominently by local Sinhalese journalists and copied by their foreign counterparts has little historical validity. Linguistic, religious, cultural and genetic evidences demonstrate that more than 50 percent of the Sinhalese since the past seven centuries were converts from the immigrant stock from Dravidian Tamil Nadu and Kerala states. This is strongly supported by the geographical fact that �the distance between Sri Lanka and [South] India is only 22 miles�, as stated by Vijitha Yapa himself. Again, the phrase that �in Sri Lanka history books that span 2,500 years� is nothing but a hyperbole. Even the most cited �Mahavamsa� chronicle is not 2,500 years old.

(5) The specific numbers in the statistics cited by S.Kathiravelupillai, on paddy acreage in whole of Sri Lanka and Eelam region, need correction now. But his overall logic is not flawed. The North and East regions combined provide nearly 30 percent of the total paddy harvest of the island. Since the population burden in these two regions is lighter than the heavily-populated Sinhalese regions, Kathiravelupillai�s assertion that �we should have enough rice for export� is not incorrect.



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