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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Stalin�s Antipathy and a Missed Opportunity in 1950s: An Opinion

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Stalin�s Antipathy and a Missed Opportunity in 1950s: An Opinion

12 March 2007

Comment by tamilnation.org  Sachi Sri Kantha is right to point out that though Ceylon gained independence on 4 February 1948, admission to the United Nations was delayed for more than seven years - until 14 December 1955. The ostensible reason for the objection by the Soviet Union to Ceylon's admission was that Ceylon was not truly independent because it was a condition of Ceylon's independence that she entered into an indefinite defence agreement with the United Kingdom. The Exchange of Letters between UK and Australia concerning Defence Agreement between UK and Ceylon reveals the 'conditional aspect' of the Agreement. The UK position was clearly stated on 4 August 1947(some  6 months before independence) as follows -

"...the United Kingdom Government are anxious to get substantial agreement on this and other matters before the new Ceylon Government takes office in October and to have reasonable assurance that the necessary safeguards will then be immediately agreed to by the new Ceylon Government as a preliminary to any legislation in the United Kingdom to amend the Ceylon Constitution.

Failing the immediate conclusion of such an agreement between the United Kingdom and the new Ceylon Government, it is doubtful how far progress can be made in the United Kingdom Parliament with any legislative steps to confer on Ceylon full responsibility status within the British Commonwealth.

The procedure suggested by the Australian Government for a London meeting after the new Ceylon Government has been formed would lead to delay and would deprive the United Kingdom Government of the assurance which they hope to obtain in advance from Mr. Senanayake  that, if he is returned to power, he will recommend the draft agreements on Defence and External Affairs to his Cabinet for acceptance."

Article 1 of the Agreement (which on its face was signed on behalf of UK on 11 November 1947, prior to the grant of independence, and signed by the Ceylon Prime Minister on 4 February 1948, the day of independence) provided -

" The Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Ceylon will give to each other such military assistance for the security of their territories, for defence against external aggression and for the protection of essential communications as it may be in their mutual interest to provide. The Government of the United Kingdom may base such naval and air forces and maintain such land forces in Ceylon as may be required for these purposes, and as may be mutually agreed."

The eventual admission of Ceylon to the UN was the result of a 'block' deal between the then 'super powers'. On 14 December 1955, together with Sri Lanka,  15 other states also gained admission. They were - Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Nepal, Portugal, Romania, Spain. Some of these states belonged to the Soviet Bloc and the others to the 'Western' Bloc. In December 1955, Ceylon was led by the strongly West leaning Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala. The left leaning S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike came to power at the General Elections in April 1956 and at his  request, a few months later,  the United Kingdom gave up its bases in Ceylon. By that time UK was involved in its own Suez debacle and had begun to realise that Brittania was no longer in a position to rule the waves. It was thereafter that the Soviet Union established its first Embassy in Colombo. Today the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean are being sought after by the US, India and China.

Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, more commonly known all over the world as Joe Stalin (1879-1953), died on March 5th, 54 years ago. I�m not sure how many Sri Lankans (of all ethnic groups) still cherish the name of Stalin. In Tamil Nadu at least, the DMK leader Karunanidhi had named his son Stalin and this Stalin will be the future leader of DMK party.

When I studied the political events of 1947 to 1948 recently, after I contributed an eulogy to V.Navaratnam in last December, I came to realize that if only the political leaders of Eelam Tamils of the 1940s- early 1950s decades had sharpened their political antennae and taken the timely �assist� voluntarily provided by Soviet Union�s then strongman Stalin, how things would have worked out differently in the post-independent history of the blessed island.

In his book, �The Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation� (1991), Navaratnam had faulted C.Suntharalingam (1895-1985) for joining the Cabinet of D.S.Senanayake, the first prime minister, in 1947, of a soon-to-be independent Ceylon, and thereby forfeiting the opportunity to show to the international eyes that indigenous Tamils were not sympathetic with the ideology of Sinhalese majority. Though this is indeed true, in reading between the lines of past history, I�d state that not only Suntharalingam, but G.G.Ponnambalam (1902-1977) and S.J.V.Chelvanayakam (1898-1977) also failed to read the cleavage lines handed in by Stalin. Though not denigrating the political acumen of the Tamil political leaders of 1940s, it may not be wrong in stating that they failed to �play ball� with Stalin�s idea.

A political �assist� from Stalin was no chicken scratch. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill gladly accepted Stalin�s timely political �assist� to overcome the military machine of Hitler�s Nazis. Even his millions of detractors would never doubt that Stalin had iron will and implemented his will with iron boots. He could kick literally and figuratively anything which upset him. Stalin�s �kicked� list was long; his political adversaries including the redoubtable Leon Trotsky, the skulls of his critics, the peasants who defied his fiat, and even newly independent nations. The newly independent Ceylon was at the receiving end of Stalin�s firm boots of international diplomacy. But, unfortunately the political leaders of Eelam Tamils of 1940s-early1950s couldn�t grasp the significance of Joe Stalin�s political �assist�. Here is the story in brief.

Six Facts

Fact 1: Ceylon received its Independence from Britain on February 4, 1948.

Fact 2: Ceylon was admitted to the General Assembly of United Nations, as an independent nation only in December 14, 1955.

Fact 3: For seven years, Soviet Union used its Security Council veto vote to keep Ceylon out of UN.

Fact 4: The guy who made ultimate decisions for Soviet Union then was none other than Joe Stalin. Until he died in March 1953, he wouldn�t allow Ceylon into the UN.

Fact 5: Why Stalin had such an antipathy to the newly independent Ceylon was somewhat of a riddle.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the academics or pontificating analysts had bothered to study, analyze and write about this interesting riddle. Lately, I think that I have found a plausible clue, by fitting the jig-saw puzzle blocks of spy games then operated by the Western bloc nations, which would have irritated the Soviet Union�s strong man. I�ll provide more details to substantiate my conjecture in the near future. Meanwhile, I�ll be more than pleased to admit if anyone can point out a published report by any scholar or analyst on why Stalin booted Ceylon repetitively out of UN entry.

Fact 6: Who were the nominal Eelam Tamil political leaders during Stalin�s reign in 1940s and early 1950s? The three were, namely C.Suntharalingam, G.G.Ponnambalam and S.J.V.Chelvanayakam. All three, probably because of their British-based education, tutelage and political attitude, probably because of their dim-sightedness and may be because of their �class interests�, couldn�t comprehend Stalin�s antipathy to newly-independent Ceylon and failed to press the claims for a separate Tamil nation, when the Soviet strongman was antagonistic to Ceylon as an �independent nation� which deserved a seat in the UN.


Character, Guile and Good Luck

If only Suntharalingam, Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam had �played ball� not directly with Stalin, but with his antipathy to newly independent Ceylon, or at least had the nerve to catch the �political ball� Stalin was kicking towards them, who knows that Eelam could have become a reality in 1950s! The New York Times in its obituary of Stalin (March 6, 1953), had noted that �Stalin took and kept the power in his country through a mixture of character, guile and good luck.� Character, guile and good luck are three separate ingredients which gelled neatly for Stalin�s advantage. Same could be said of Churchill and Truman too. Both Churchill and Truman also had character, guile and good luck. But, can it be said that the three Eelam Tamil leaders of that era (Suntharalingam, Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam) were blessed with character, guile and good luck? I�d say that all three had character. Chelvanayakam was deficient in guile. While Suntharalingam and Ponnambalam definitely showed glimpses of guile in public arena, they could never use it to the advantage of Eelam Tamils. On good luck, I�d say that when it appeared in front of them (via Stalin�s assist), they simply couldn�t recognize it.





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