How is it that while, as we hear, even the eastern nations are bewailing your ruin, and while powerful states in the most remote parts of the earth are mourning your fall as a public calamity, you yourselves should be crowding to the theatres, should be pouring into them and filling them, and, in short, be playing a madder part now than ever before? Depraved by good fortune and not chastened by adversity, what you desire in the restoration of a peaceful and secure state is not the tranquillity of the commonwealth, but the impunity of your own vicious luxury. Scipio wished you to be hard pressed by an enemy, that you might not abandon yourselves to luxurious manners; but so abandoned are you that not even when crushed by the enemy is your luxury repressed. You have missed the profit of your calamity; you have been made more wretched, and you have remained most profligate.
-Aurelius Augustinus (Saint Augustine) from De Civitate Dei (The City of God), Chapter 33, referring to the conduct especially of the Roman ruling class after the sacking of Rome by the Goths in AD 410.
While Parliament had debated Home Rule [for Ireland] in 1912 and 1913 strange things were happening in the north of Ireland. The leaders of Ulster had proclaimed that they would not accept it and would resist it even if it became law. They talked of rebellion, and prepared for it. It was even stated that they would not hesitate to ask the help of a foreign Power, meaning Germany, to fight Home Rule! This was open and unabated treason. More interesting still, the leaders of the Conservative Party in England blessed this rebellious movement, and many helped it. Money from the rich Conservative classes poured into Ulster.... Arms were smuggled in and volunteers were openly drilled...
Rebellions are common enough occurrences in history, and Ireland especially has had her full share of them. Still, these preparations for an Ulster rebellion have a special interest for us, as the party at the back of it was the very party which prided itself on its constitutional and conservative character. It was the party which always talked of "law and order" and was in favour of heavy punishment for those who offended against this law and order. Yet prominent members of this party talked open treason and prepared for armed rebellion, and the rank and file helped with money! It is also interesting to note that this projected rebellion was against the authority of Parliament, which was considering, and which later passed, the Home Rule Bill.
The Ulster "rebellion" of 1912-14 tore the veil from these pretensions and high-sounding phrases and disclosed the real nature of government and modern democracy. So long as "law and order" meant that the privileges and interests of the governing class were preserved, law and order were desirable; so long as democracy did not encroach on these privileges and interests, it could be tolerated. But if there were any attack on these privileges, then this class would fight. Thus "law and order" was just a fine phrase meaning to them their own interests. This made it clear that the British Government was in effect a class government, and not even a majority in Parliament against it would dislodge it easily....
There is no essential difference in this respect between a South American republic, where revolutions occur frequently, and England, where there is a stable government. The stability consists in the governing classes having dug themselves in and no other class being strong enough so far to remove them. In 1911 one of their defences, the House of Lords, was weakened, and they took fright and Ulster became the pretext for rebellion.
- Jawaharlal Nehru, from Glimpses of World History p. 581-2
"...the secret of Gandhi's greatness lay not in the absence of human failings and foibles, but in his inner restlessness, ceaseless striving and intense involvement in the problems of mankind. He was not a slave to ideas and concepts, [which] were for him also aids in grappling with human problems, and were to be reconsidered if they did not work"
- P.C. Joshi, in Gandhi and Nehru
"You are fanning the worst of sentimental flames. We can fight on political ideologies, on economic principles, but when it comes to rousing people to a state of mass hysteria on issues like language, religion and race, there is no knowing where it will end. If Honourable Members had seen the spectacle I witnessed on Sunday at the Town Hall grounds, they would have been ashamed of themselves. They would have felt sorry for the future of this country... it is not enough for us merely to mouth phrases and say that the minority communities have nothing to fear from the majority community; that in the past we have got on well, and that we will get on in the same old way. That is not enough today... Today we have to do something positive to allay those fears that are increasing.. . if we do not take a positive stand, we will continue to give room for Sinhalese chauvinists to do what damage they can".
-Dr. N. M. Perera, LSSP leader, in the Ceylon House of Representatives on 19th October 1955. The reference is to a meeting of the Tri Sinhala Peramuna.
With the coming of independence from Britain in 1948, power was ceded to the colonial elite, and it could not have been otherwise. For it is they who had the education, and the skills in administration and government. Being in a privileged class cannot do much harm if one has the humility to recognise that it is not divinely ordained, and that if one went far enough back in one's lineage, one is likely to discover that such privilege often came into the family through dubious means. Nevertheless, the future good of the country depended on whether this class could produce leaders of vision to steer a course that would ensure justice and stability.
During the Indian struggle for example, Jawaharlal Nehru, a member of the colonial elite spent his breaks in prison contemplating and writing, formulating a vision for India. In his classic Glimpses of World History, written in prison in the early 1930s, he tries to make the reader understand India's place in the wider heritage of mankind. In the chapter on the Indian Mutiny of 1857, he places it as a lost cause, 'the last flicker of feudal India', despite the heroic resistance to the British in many parts of the sub-continent; a lost cause, against the industrial might, organisational skill and unscrupulousness of British power.
Thus to those of Nehru's way of thinking, the future good of India, a political entity of British creation, lay in being forward-looking, drawing the best from mankind's heritage, while being true to her own spiritual legacy. There was no going back to feudalism. Great men and women, and visionaries from all parts of India - Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Subramaniya Bharathi among them - helped to lay secure foundations for independent India. An India having the ideals to continue the struggle against bigotry in its various forms.
This country did not go through that process of nation building, thereby acquiring the values to sustain its independence. A ruling class that was rather deferential to British power, and comfortable in its own dominance, did not have the values to negotiate the challenges of independence. In the absence of a vision and controlling values, faced with the challenge of obtaining votes, it became easy for politicians from this class to look back to a reconstituted past. They went on to don the mantles of feudal heroes which ill-fitted them.
In a far-reaching manner, the past colonial rulers, especially the British, had determined the constituents of the post-independence ruling class. Governor Brownrigg's declaration of 21st November 1818, a year after the British had suppressed the Kandyan rebellion, listed 15 Kandyan nobles who were to be rewarded by the British for their support and services to the British crown. Those who took part in or aided the rebellion were to be punished with the loss of their lands and titles.
Among those rewarded were the chiefs Ratwatte and Mahawalatenna, listed along with Eknelligodde Dissave. The latter's services to the British had been recorded with some embarrassment by John Davy (An Account of the Interior of Ceylon). To Eknelligodde was attributed the devastation of Lower Uva, whose men 'supported by a small party of our [British] troops' showed 'their zeal [for the British] by their depredations'. Not all the chiefs rewarded would have gone to such an extreme, but many would rather have decided on pragmatic grounds, after judging the resistance of the rebels to be a lost cause.
J.P. Lewis in his Manual of the Vanni Districts (1895) refers to the violent and extortionate conduct of one Bulankulame Dissave (Chieftain) whose appointment to that post in 1815 was a reward for having supported the British. Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and President J.R. Jayewardene were both descendants of persons rewarded for services to the Dutch or British rulers or both. Not surprisingly, it is such families who came to form the ruling class in post-independence Ceylon, and one does not quarrel with that.
What has been dangerous in politics is the manner in which they have used the past. Instead of speaking about the need to relieve oppression and poverty in all communities, they spoke about the oppression of the Sinhalese by all kinds of invaders and their resulting fall from ancient glory, and reclaimed for themselves the feudal status of being their champions. Even the heroism of the Kandyan rebellion accrues to them by glossing over its embarrassing aspects. For this backward looking brand of politics, history, the more ancient and more vague, the better. In its search for enemies of the Sinhalese Nation, Tamil invasions from India, Tamils in the plantations, Tamils in government service and Tamils in the commercial sector were all pointed to as a conspiracy against the Sinhalese.
Amidst this vote-catching propaganda, the fate of the Kandyans who had a genuine claim to patriotism, and had to lose everything to escape British wrath, went unnoticed. A case of disappearance recorded by us concerned Jayasekere, a carpenter in Pottuvil, who was then 74. His ancestor who was Nindagama Rala in Miyangoda, Southern Uva, had fled after the rebellion of 1817 and settled in Panama, south of Pottuvil, an area that remains very backward to this day. His daughter Kumarimenika had married Tharmaratnam, a Tamil. Tharmaratnam was taken in the notorious mass abductions by the STF and Police on 2nd August 1990, and disappeared. Jayasekere had to labour for the upkeep of his daughter and three grand children. The State which was in the hands of modern 'patriots' had for many years failed to respond to their appeals regarding the missing person. Jayasekere's reality is very different to that of Deputy Defence Minister Ratwatte. One of the latter's birthday observances was televised with a speech by a very nationalist monk, the proceedings giving him the heroic aura of a Dutugemunu or Prince Sapumal Kumariah from ancient and medieval history.
Of considerable significance in the fortunes of this country are the Wijewardenes of Kelaniya. Their antecedents go back to the colonial elite. The family, now Buddhists, had been in turn Roman Catholics, Calvinists and Anglicans with the transfer of power from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British, and had acquired wealth through 'less than pious business activities'. Mrs. Helena Wijewardene renovated the Buddhist temple at Kelaniya and her family became its patrons. J.R. Jayewardene who was brought up an Anglican was her eldest grandson through daughter Agnes, and Ranil Wickremasinghe, her great grand son through her son Don Richard. The latter was the founder of Lake House Newspapers - a powerful vehicle for family ambitions.
The Revolt in the Temple (1953) was an important piece of ideological writing by Helena W.'s son Don Charles, which appropriated for the Kelaniya Temple and the 'Sinhalese Race' a 2500 year history, and likewise by allusion for the Wijewardene family, the temple's recent patrons. The destiny of the country and of the patrons of the temple was linked together by the writer in his eloquent slogan, "When Kelaniya fell, Lanka fell, when Kelaniya rose, Lanka rose." Jayewardene discovered and published for the family an ancient and royal genealogy based on a dubious manuscript. (See The History of Kelaniya, Jonathan S. Walters, SSA.) The zeal of proselytes, with pretensions to an ancient legacy and a modern mission, rendered their politics highly combustible. The Revolt in the Temple, according to Walters, 'constitutes a blunt statement that the Tamils are a threat to that historic mission and lays out Wijewardene's blue-print for a post-independence Sinhala Buddhist state which has gradually become a reality.'
The whisky-drinking Kelaniya High Priest Buddharakkhita who was close to Wimala Wijewardene, the widow of the author of 'The Revolt in the Temple', had helped S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to power in 1956 on the 'Sinhala Only' cry. Chauvinist politics and commercial interests have always been close partners. It is said by contemporary observers that differences between Bandaranaike and Buddharakkhita had developed over the formers refusal to accommodate the business ambitions of a close relative of the latter. Later when Bandaranaike tried to accommodate the Tamils in a quasi-federal arrangement, Buddharakkhita orchestrated his assassination in 1959. Ironically, Wimala Wijewardene, at the close of her tempestuous political career as minister of health in the Bandaranaike government, turned to working for Back to the Bible. The monk-assassin Soma Rama, took Christian baptism before he was hanged.
The ideology of this family reverberates through the political career of Jayewardene from the 1940s and the actions of his son in the 80s as personal security advisor to the president. The other side of this politics was the nurturing of the Tamil Tigers. The very excesses of the supremacist ideology to which this family lent its weight, could not but lead to its discomfiture, resulting in previously unthinkable compromises to stay in power. Such was the social character of Ceylon's ruling class.
A more imaginative ruling class would have found other means of getting votes from all the communities, rather than having to play the champions of one community and equally having to make enemies of the others. This avoidance of modern problems and taking liberties with the truth over presumptions about heroic pedigrees and historical grievances set the country on the course of tragedy. The ideology through which this politics was articulated contained in it a crisis of identity for the ruling class having its roots in the recent colonial past.[Top]
Modern capitalism is a powerful idea born in the revolutionary climate of 17th century England. Economic activity was secularised by being freed from the sanctions of the King and the Church. Ownership of property, the means of production and economic transactions in general were made subject to the rigours of the rule of law, which, in theory at least, recognised no race or religion. It multiplied the production of wealth at the cost of exacerbating poverty. It gave a fillip to the expansion of empire. The ideology of capitalism helped to consolidate empire by the formation of an elite in the colonies having an economic stake in it.
This was the context in which the Low Country Sinhalese capitalist class, largely based in the maritime region in the south-west, had its origins. Kumari Jayawardena in her essay Ethinic consciousness in Sri Lanka: Continuity and Change traces their source of wealth to liquor renting, graphite mining and plantations. They revived Buddhism and patronised it to consolidate their social position and to further their interests. A rehabilitated Kelaniya Temple thus projected the power ambitions of the Wijewardene family.
Thus even as powerful a high priest of Kelaniya as Buddha Rakkhita derived his power not so much from his own merits as from the interests of his patrons whom he served. It points to the power of the Buddhist clergy and prelacy in Sri Lanka being a myth, and a useful one at that. It is in the very nature of capitalism that religious institutions were found useful, but they were not allowed to interfere significantly in policy decisions touching on matters political and economic. This can be seen in the experience of the English Revolution.
In his book Puritanism and Revolution, Christopher Hill observes of the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660:
...the authority first of the King, then of Parliament was challenged in the name of the people; the social justification of all private property was called into question; and speculation about the nature of the state and the rights of the people went to lengths which ultimately terrified the victorious Parliamentarians into recalling the King, House of Lords, and bishops to help them maintain law and order.
Parliament had rebelled against Charles I mainly over control of economic prerogatives and decision-making and won. Puritan religious sentiment was freely and even unscrupulously employed in propaganda against King and Church. But after eleven years of republican government under Oliver Cromwell, Parliament found that King and Church were useful as a buttress against the more radical revolutionary movements. The latter had in fact carried to extremes the same arguments used by the ruling class against the King and against church property.
The transformation of England from the time of Charles I to the emerging capitalist society of post-Restoration times is captured in Archbishop William Temples words about his forerunner: Archbishop Laud owed much of his unpopularity with the section of society then represented in Parliament to his vigourous action, often high-handed, in checking the robbery of the poor by the encroachment of landlords and the enclosing of common lands. He stood for the older ethics of a peasant civilisation. Laud too, with his King, Charles I, was executed after a political trial involving the blatant use of perjury.Lord Macaulayin The History of England) described the role of the post Restoration Anglican clergyman in these terms "he held and taught the doctrines of indefeasible hereditary right, of passive obedience, and of non-resistance in all their crude absurdity. Having been long engaged in a petty war with neighbouring dissenters, he too often hated them for the wrongs he had done them".
The sketch above illustrates the limits to the power of organised religion in a society undergoing capitalist transformation. It is after all a society in which the initiative and control over economic activity, means of propaganda and formulation of ideology, have all undergone a crucial shift towards the entrepreneurial classes. A closer look at the role of the Buddhist religious hierarchy in Sri Lanka will show that neither in origin nor in function is their present role independent of the sources of wealth, whether private or state. How does one then explain their role?
English capitalism owed something of its success to the fact that to some extent it succeeded in keeping religious and ethnic prejudices from subverting commercial opportunities. Huguenots expelled from France on account of their Calvinism, Jews seeking refuge from persecution in continental Europe and Scottish intellects and enterprise advanced the interests of English capital.
It is apparent from Kumari Jayawardenas work that towards the end of the 19th century Buddhism was co-opted into a new ideology of Sinhalese-Buddhism that was originally directed by its sponsors against business competition from Indian and Moor firms. This ideology was silent about the British. The most vocal exponent of this ideology at the turn of the 19th century was Anagarika Dharmapala, Buddhist revivalist and son of the Pettah merchant H. Don Carolis. His teachings took the form of xenophobia directed against aliens in general except the British, and temporarily excluded the native-born Tamils.
Kumari Jayewardena observes for example that Dharmapala frequently made disparaging remarks against Indian workers, writing for example in 1902, that "under the English administration, the out-castes of South India are allowed to immigrate into the Island". In fact in his works he wrote that a good Sinhalese-Buddhist should use a fork and knife and toilet paper.
The semi-legendary victories of ancient Sinhalese kings against foreign invasions were adduced in campaigns against foreign traders. Dharmapala wrote after the SinhaleseMuslim riots of 1915 that the peaceful Sinhalese can no longer bear the insult of the alien. The whole nation in one day has risen against the Moor people. The causes are economic and spiritual.
In mobilising a following to consolidate the social position of the proponents of the Sinhalese-Buddhist ideology, with the twin aims of political power and commercial expansion, it was natural for them to co-opt other sections of the country. Two such sections were the Kandyan Sinhalese and a section of the Sinhalese working class.
In the Kandyan region itself the reaction to Low Country Sinhalese small traders was often sharp. The following remarks by S.D. Mahawalatenna, Chief Headman in charge of the Kadawata and Meda Korales in the Ratnapura District, appeared in the Ceylon Census of 1901 (p.115 of Appendix in Vol.1):
The relation of the low-country Sinhalese man to the Kandyan is the same as that of the foreign born Tamil, Moor or Malay. He comes and goes The low-country man comes and sticks on. He flourishes in any soil and in any clime; he is a sort of human parasite. Given time and opportunity he will, as it were, absorb the Kandyan, leaving him neither his lands, nor his chattels, nor even his independence. Very soon the Kandyan landlord, who at first befriended the stranger, the low-country man, and lodged him, tenanted him and patronised him, owing to certain circumstances, changes place with the latter. By degrees the plot thickens till at last the low-country man becomes the landlord and the Kandyan the tenant
The Sinhalese-Buddhist ideology succeeded to a considerable extent in co-opting the Kandyan elite. A part of this process of co-optation was the re-direction of Sinhalese ire against foreign workers the Malayali urban workers and the Tamil plantation labour in the Kandyan country.
This Sinhalese-Buddhist ideology, by the 1930s, had begun to draw inspiration from German Nazism. For example, Kumari Jayewardena gives an account of how A.E. Goonesingha, the leader of the Ceylon Labour Union launched a campaign against Malayali workers, which became virulent in the late 1930s. The same leader had sponsored ethnic unity in the 1920s. In the context of the economic depression of the 1930s, the slogan became one of Malayalis (from Kerala) stealing Sinhalese jobs. Kumari Jayewardena cites a letter in Goonesinhas journal Viraya (17.04.1936), which called for a leader of the Sinhalese like Hitler, whose policies were said to be saving the Aryan race from degeneration.
It was not just Goonesingha, but also D.S. Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike whose brand of nationalism drew inspiration from Nazism. For example, Kumari Jayewardena cites an important occasion, Traditional New Years day in 1939, when D.S. Senanayake was the chief guest on Goonesinghas platform. Senanayake said:
We are one blood and one nation. We are a chosen people. The Buddha said that his religion would last 5500 years. That means that we, as the custodians of that religion, shall last as long (CDN 17.4.1989). The occasion symbolised the union between the nationalist Right and a segment of labour.
By 1939, we also see a change in Bandaranaike from the liberal who stood for federalism in 1929. At a public speech in Balapitiya, he said: "I am prepared to sacrifice my life for the sake of my community, the Sinhalese. If anybody were to try to hinder our progress, I am determined to see that he is taught a lesson he will never forget" (The Hindu Organ, Jaffna, 26th January 1939). At the end of the meeting, a Mrs. Srimathie Abeygunawardena "likened Mr. Bandaranaike to Hitler and appealed to the Sinhalese community to give him every possible assistance to reach the goal of freedom."
In the kind of impact Bandaranaike was having, we see a germ of what would develop into anti-Tamil violence in 1956 and 1958 during his premiership.
One sees therefore where Sinhalese-Buddhism had, one might say, almost inevitably, arrived, since the beginning of Dharmapalas career. By a different route Sinhalese-Buddhism had arrived at positions close to Nazi fascism, and especially in the 1930s the depression years was closely inspired by the latter's transient success in reviving Germany's industrial and military might. It is no co-incidence that the contemporary Hindu extremist group RSS in North India drew similar inspiration from Nazism.
The prevailing influence of Nazism in South Asia can also be seen in the Shiv Sena that was responsible for the 1992-93 anti-Muslim pogroms in Bombay. After being publicly named by concerned citizens and by the Justice Sri Krishna Commission, the Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray proudly claimed responsibility for the destruction of lives and property, citing with approval Hitler's treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. During the latter part of the 19th century a school of linguistic scholars led by Max Muller had identified Sinhalese along with Sanskrit and German as belonging to the Aryan group of languages. Although the identification has always been contested by eminent Sinhalese themselves, it fired popular imagination with the mystique of the Aryan race by equating language with ethnicity.
Thus Sinhalese-Buddhism shared with Nazi fascism a sense of victimhood amidst a sea of evil aliens (an idea already developed by Dharmapala), a mission to rectify this state of affairs, and especially when it had attained political power, a millennial vision (e.g. as Senanayake's above). The three items quoted above suggest that Nazi inspiration was reaching its high tide in 1939 on the eve of Hitlers invasion of Poland.
One could not have been an admirer of Nazism without also approving their ideologically sanctioned violence against the helpless Jews by uniformed mobs. Apart from this, one cannot find any historical precedent in this country for the mob violence unleashed against the Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1977,1981 and 1983 with the sanction of those in power. The destruction of Tamil-owned business premises was a key preoccupation of the mobs in 1977 and 1983 a section of whom were in uniform. In their public statements just after the July 1983 violence (see Chapter 11), Ministers Athulathmudali and Wickremasinghe implicitly justified the destruction of Tamil premises as a move to rectify the disadvantages unfairly imposed on Sinhalese businessmen.
This was curious, and even suicidal, reasoning in a class that had opted for free-market economics through attracting global capital. One does not attract committed long-term foreign investment by burning the premises of ones rivals with impunity.
Sinhalese-Buddhist ideology was thus instrumental in gravely impairing one of the most beneficial legacies of colonial rule the rule of law. It killed, as it were, the goose that laid the golden egg. The ideology moulded in its shadow a group of politicians, businessmen and professionals who were singularly unimaginative and inept. It led to the debasement of national life at every level.
These developments also affected the image and content of Buddhism as a partner in this millennial ideology. By becoming linked to an ethnic group and the power ambitions of its ruling class patrons, this brand of Buddhism lost its universal appeal and moral content. It became a one-issue religion that one being the Tamil issue. Buddhist clergy speaking on almost any other issue are frequently heard with indifference and bemusement. But when it comes to the Tamil question, a ritual hard-line is expected from them and is duly given wide publicity in the media.
The political leaders are then quick to point out that the Sinhalese are totally opposed to federalism. This is a unique role played in any country by the religious establishment. When a political leader prostrates himself before a Buddhist-prelate, it is a public transaction viewed with cynicism by both. It is also a ritual that they both find useful. The prelate enjoys symbolic power at the sufferance of the political leadership. At the same time intransigence on the Tamil issue, which the practical politician is loath to own up to, is voiced for him by the Buddhist establishment. This ritual hypocrisy that has become part of the political culture has made the Tamil question more difficult to resolve.
The millennial ideological assertion of the Sinhalese as being a chosen people (e.g. D.S. Senanayake above) with a mission to hold the entirety of this Island sacred to Buddhism, is one that all intelligent Sinhalese know to be hopelessly flawed. But that too has become part of the ritual hypocrisy. It has served as a useful justification for sending landless Sinhalese peasants as colonists to the arid North-East. This enabled the propertied class to hold on to huge landholdings in the fertile South and postpone land reform.
Although driven to the margins, there continued to be Buddhists who as individuals or organisations distanced themselves from the mainstream and tried to be true to the teachings of the Buddha. Kumari Jayewardena mentions the independent MP H. Sri Nissanka, a leading lay Buddhist, who opposed the Citizenship Bill that will be taken up next. Also opposed to the Bill was a group of 29 Buddhist monks in Gampola led by K. Indasara Thero who supported the rights of plantation workers of Indian origin. [Top]
The basic ideological premise sketched, superimposed on global economic factors, local economic failures, corruption, particularly from 1977, and disaffection in the North-East, was largely to determine the country's destiny.
The authoritarian and undemocratic compulsions of the ruling class can also be discerned in the Citizenship Acts of 1948/49, which rendered the Hill-Country (Plantation) Tamils non-citizens. These Acts had no precedent in any Commonwealth country, and the only other Commonwealth country to move in that direction was Idi Amin's Uganda which started expelling its residents of Indian origin in the early 70s.
By the 1950s we also discern early cracks in the impartiality of the Law. The Federal Party contested the Acts of Parliament, which deprived the Hill-Country Tamils of citizenship and voting rights. These Acts were held to be contrary to Section 29 of the Constitution, which forbade legislation which discriminated against any community. Judge N. Sivanandasundaram of the Kegalle District Court ruled in favour of the petitioners, that the legislation concerned was invalid. The Supreme Court in 1952 in Mudanayake vs. Sivanandasundaram quashed the decision of the District Court by holding that the legislation was non-discriminatory since it applied equally to all communities.
A pointer to the quality of the Supreme Court judgement is that by the same argument, legislation which denied the vote to those who applied gingelly oil on their head could also be deemed non-discriminatory by its supposedly applying equally to everyone. We see here primarily class, and also ethnic factors, distorting the Law beyond a point of common acceptability, creating a precedent for much that followed. By 1983, as we shall see, more and more unacceptable compromises were being forced on the Judiciary.
The whole process of the Citizenship Acts was blatantly dishonest and a travesty of statesmanship. The Left strongly objected to the Acts and saw in them parallels to the Nazi State. The Tamil leader S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, who was soon to form the Federal Party, foresaw in the legislation dark times ahead for the minorities. He said in Parliament in December 1948, on the eve of the first Act: "But when the language question comes up, which will be the next one to follow in this series of legislation, we will know where we stand. Perhaps, that will not be the end of it. But whatever that may be, this Bill is a piece of legislation which is not based on the highest principles on which the differences and difficulties of inter-communal problems have to be solved..."
Earlier he had pointed out how the Prime Minister and the Minister for Food (A. Ratnayake, a Kandyan) were casting aspersions on the floating Indian population of traders and were cleverly by allusion generalising these to the permanently settled population on the plantations. It was for example stated that when Colombo was bombed during the Second World War, many from the Indian floating population in Colombo went to India - as did many Colombo residents who moved to other parts of Ceylon. It was also argued as though it was the plantation labour, rather than British capital, that took over Kandyan lands. Chelvanayakam said, "Every argument, for example, that can be used against that class of Indians for whom protection is not asked, is directed against the permanently settled Indian labour on the estates. Now take the case of the people who ran away because of the bombing. Did the tea estates stop working? For whose sake is this Bill being brought forward? In order to deprive whom of citizenship is this Bill being brought forward?"
Chelvanayakam also pointed out how the Indian Government had been systematically deceived. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake had written the following to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India on 22nd June 1948: "The present proposal of the Government of Ceylon extends to Indian residents in the Island full rights and privileges of Ceylon Citizenship." Chelvanayakam stated that the Government had later substituted a different class of citizenship to that contained in the proposal submitted to the Indian PM. The real catch however came in the manner in which administrators later applied the Act selectively, so as to deprive practically the entire estate population of the vote.
This episode contained a strong hint of the direction in which the country was moving. An indignant Chelvanayakam went on to found a politics of self-imposed isolation of the Tamil-speaking people.
The Sinhala Only Act of 1956 and the Constitutions of 1972 and 1978 were further symptoms of the authoritarianism of the ruling class. They were so intent on their perceived narrow interests that they refused to see that there was a multiplicity of communities, not simply determined by ethnic labels, who wanted to be served differently by the government.
These developments also show the weakness of civil society. It had no corrective impact, in spite of the opposition to both the Citizenship and Sinhala Only legislation by the Left, then the main opposition in the South, and most of the Tamil representatives. The habit of undue deference to the party in power which represented the State, was also a carry-over from the colonial era. This allowed the State to get away with almost anything. By the end of the 80s, following the 1983 violence and the JVP rebellion, almost every section of society in the South was grievously compromised. Whether it was the Press, academia, religious bodies, study and research groups or lobbies for democracy and human rights, there was a crucial core of the Southern experience that they would not touch.
A particular consequence of the inability to bring about a consensus in the approach to problems, was the enhancement of communal politics. [Top]
The justification for communal politics in defence of Tamil rights and an indication of the future direction it would take, are contained in S.J.V. Chelvanayakam's deeply felt speech of 1948 on the Citizenship Bill:
"The Honourable Leader of the House told us that race is an important factor and that we must do everything to protect the race. What race did he mean? Is it the majority of this country? I say that this is the wrong approach to the whole question. Therefore, I say on behalf of those of us in the minority community who feel frightened by this trend of legislation that I protest against this type of legislation. As long as there are activities directed against communities and as long as these communities are minority communities, they must for their self-protection bind themselves in a communal way. The moment you remove the necessity for communal organisations, these communal organisations will cease to exit."
There was also in the speech a sense of the Tamils having to look to India for their protection, which became a reality in July 1983:
"If the plantation labour in Ceylon did not even have the semblance of protection that it now has from the Indian Government, would they have even this measure of concession granted to them of becoming B-class citizens? Therefore, what is the use of saying that they ran away to India? That is their only piece of protection and you want to deprive them of that one piece of doubtful protection and place them completely at your mercy to do what you like with them."
He admonished Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake who made a show of amity with Indian Prime Minister Nehru by flying with him in the same plane from New Delhi to London. He pointed out that the duplicity over the Citizenship Bill had resulted in Ceylon 'not being able to come to agreement with our nearest neighbour on an extremely important matter'. It is not any number of joint plane rides, Chelvanayakam told the Prime Minister that would bring amity with Nehru. Senanayake, he added, 'must join the Honourable Prime Minister of India on a different plane, on the mental and moral plane in which the latter is flying through history.'
It is difficult not to be moved by Chelvanayakam. But on looking back it is also difficult to avoid the conclusion that the isolation and exclusive sense of victimhood Federal Party politics brought to the Tamils was unhealthy and ultimately tragic. There was little hint of recognition by him that the Left which was then powerful in the South took the same stand as the Federal Party on the key issues of the day - the Citizenship and Language issues. The possibility of an alliance was never taken seriously, if ever contemplated. After all, it was a time when perhaps most of the leading intellectuals in Jaffna, including school principals and former veterans of the Youth Congress, supported the Left rather than the Federal Party.
The Federal Party need not have lost electorally. Its main electoral rival was the Tamil Congress from which it had split off in 1948. It could have allowed the Left two or three seats in the North where they had a strong following and have used Left support to marginalise the Tamil Congress in the remaining seats. It would have helped the Tamil cause a great deal. There were probably many reasons why it did not happen. One of them is no doubt that the Colombo Tamil elite who had a strong influence in the Federal Party were UNP at heart.
This brings us to the class character of the Federal Party. Its leaders were Tamils whose professional and commercial interests were centred in Colombo. For over a century they had close links with the Sinhalese ruling class with similar westernised backgrounds. Thus, even as the Sinhalese elite drifted towards dangerous chauvinistic posturing, they also tried to soften its impact on the Tamils and even woo Tamil votes. This they did by giving private assurances to the Tamil leaders with whom they had close personal links - through for example University College and schools like St. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia, where Bandaranaike and Chelvanayakam were contemporaries. This worked up to a point.
For example, when Bandaranaike started articulating Sinhala Only, the UNP, then led by Sir John Kotelawela, increasingly became shaky over its previous commitment to parity of the languages. At a reception at Kokkuvil Hindu College, Jaffna, in 1955, Sir John pledged that his party remained committed to language parity. Subsequently, while Sinhalese cabinet ministers remained tight-lipped on language policy, Tamils in the government went about reassuring the Tamils. Eventually the UNP adopted Sinhala Only in time for the 1956 elections where it lost badly to Bandaranaike's SLFP and its allies in the MEP.
Knowing that he had played a dangerous game, it was Bandaranaike's turn to reassure the Tamil elite through the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact, which he then unilaterally abrogated. Tamil votes were also useful in the South and assurances of future remedy were kept up by both the UNP and the SLFP. The Tamil elite were thus divided into apologists for the government and Tamil nationalists. But both were closely linked to economic interests in Colombo and the Tamil elite were in practice made amenable to waiting in hope over promises made, rather than leading the Tamils in sustained protest. The class character of the Federal Party moreover made it a natural ally of the right-of-centre UNP, rather than the left-of-centre SLFP.
The violence of July1983 was the final slap-in-the-face to Colombo-based Tamil elite aspirations. It turned the majority of the uncommitted Colombo Tamil elite into nationalists, separatists, and later in foreign climes, the propaganda vanguard of the LTTE. Their earlier indifference to the rural Tamils was, from their safe vantages, transformed into an eagerness to turn the children of these rural Tamils into cannon-fodder.[Top]
As the country drifted towards chauvinism in the post-independence years, the Left until the early 1960s offered hope as an alternative to a politics entrenched in feudalism and the past. In the first Parliament, the Left was almost in a position to form the government. The Citizenship Bills which turned Tamil plantation labour into virtual serfs was largely intended to take a huge slice off the Left's support base. The battle to resist the Bills was staunchly fought by the Left and lost. The Sinhala Only Bill of 1956 too was ably opposed by the Left and from the debates came those memorable words of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva of the LSSP, that are etched in this country's history: "One language, two nations; two languages, one nation."
Even before his assassination in 1959, the government of Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike was in crisis. Weighed down by Sinhala Only, two bouts of communal violence, the broken pact with the Tamils, a restive section of the Buddhist clergy charging him with betrayal and an air of conspiracy in the cabinet, the Prime Minister, whose moderation never completely deserted him, was an isolated man. The two main Left parties, the LSSP and the CP, which had long taken an ambivalent view of parliamentary democracy - as against revolutionary change - had by 1960 firmly opted for parliamentary democracy. In contesting the 1960 elections, the Left was optimistic about forming the government. They failed. The debate about parliamentary democracy once more emerged in the Left. The early 1960s was a period when a Left front and coalition with the SLFP were discussed in a parliamentary context. The Left divided and subdivided with some sections rejecting parliamentary democracy and working towards newer expressions of democracy at the grass roots or even revolution.
We trace some of the developments in the form of questions posed to Mr. Hector Abhayawardana, a senior LSSP theoretician, whose 80th birthday was commemorated recently in December 1999, and his answers.
Q: Leading Tamil intellectuals from the Left, including V. Karalasingham from your own party, saw very clearly in the early 60s where the nationalism of the Tamil-speaking people, founded on alienation and self-imposed isolation, as expressed by the Federal Party, would eventually drag them and the country. Karalasingham described their politics as 'burning themselves out in impotent rage'. Knowing the dangers very well, why did the Left distance themselves from the Tamils by abandoning their earlier stand of parity for Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages and adopt 'Sinhala Only'?
H.A: In 1960, the LSSP (Lanka Socialist Party) had overestimated its electoral strength. When we went for the first electoral contest in that year, we were hoping for the formation of a government with our leader Dr. N.M. Perera as prime minister. The result was a hung parliament with the UNP of Dudley Senanayake having the largest number of seats. It was a great come down for the Left, and at the second elections in 1960, the LSSP publicly committed itself to helping the SLFP to form a government. The SLFP won. The Party thought desperately of means to break out of its isolation. One idea was the formation of a United Left Front (ULF) under the leadership of Philip Gunawardene of the MEP, Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe of the CP (Communist Party) and Dr. N.M. Perera of the LSSP. Now, by the early 60s, Philip Gunawardene had consolidated a Sinhalese chauvinist line. He had taken the lead to line up with Bandaranaike's SLFP in the mid-50s to form the MEP, which swept the 1956 elections on a Sinhala Only platform.
Q: Philip Gunawardene was of course a leading light of the LSSP. Why did he do that?
H.A: It was opportunism of course - to break out of his isolation. As a condition for forming the ULF, PG insisted that we adopt Sinhala Only. We discussed it in the Party. There were those who opposed it, but we eventually decided to accept it.
Q: But Edmund Samarakkody led a group that split off from the LSSP and stood by the policy of parity on languages.
H.A: That is true. But Edmund was part of the move to form the ULF, and there is nothing in the record of the discussion which says that he opposed the adoption of Sinhala Only. But ironically the ULF was formed in 1963, and before it could consolidate itself Philip broke it up and went his way. We were left with Sinhala Only and we could not go back to our old position since it was now awkward to explain to the public why we changed to Sinhala Only and changed back to parity.
The early 60s were a period of drift. The SLFP government narrowly survived an attempted coup in January 1962 by a right wing section of the armed forces. After the coup attempt the SLFP was feeling more and more isolated and was beginning to show signs of collapse. The split between the right wing of the SLFP and the left wing was open. The Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike publicly appealed for support from the LSSP and CP and there was a drift to commence talks. The right wing of the SLFP was violently opposed to the LSSP and CP. Felix Dias Bandaranaike who belonged to the right wing sought to counter Mrs. Bandaranaike's strategy by appealing to Philip Gunawardene to join the SLFP and form a common government. The left wing of the SLFP led by T.B. Illangaratne pressed Mrs. Bandaranaike to open talks with Dr. N.M. Perera without delay. She did so and this led to the short-lived United Front government of 1964.
The Government was defeated on the Press Bill in December 1964 where several members of the SLFP Right led by C.P. de Silva voted against the Government. The UNP came to power in the elections which followed. Thereafter the SLFP, LSSP and CP formed a United Left Front and campaigned to form the government at the next elections. So you see that these years, 1960-65, were characterised by a feeling of isolation and uncertainty on the part of the SLFP, particularly after the coup attempt in January 1962. Both the CP and LSSP were faced with having to consolidate a united front or going back to a relatively isolated political existence in the face of the UNP and SLFP. This period saw shifting relations between the parties and an anxiety to cement some coalition with the Left or the Right to stabilise the SLFP government. Without being unconcerned about the Tamil question, these were the main issues which impelled decisions at that time. Once we had dropped parity in 1963, there was no way of going back to it.
Q: But the Left has been accused of encouraging communalism when in the opposition from 1965-70....,the so-called 'Masalavade line' of the Left? (Masalavade is a popular Tamil delicacy.)
H.A: That was a misunderstanding. The Left had to adopt a common position on language with the SLFP. On May Day in 1966, the Left and the SLFP marched in a common procession from Victoria Park. Someone started shouting "Dudlige bade masalavade" ("Prime Minister Dudley's stomach is filled with masalavade"). The slogan went right down the line. Thereafter people thought that it was a Left slogan.
Q: In the coalition government of 1970, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva was entrusted with the task of drawing up a new constitution. The new constitution adopted in May 1972 was a psychological blow to the Tamils. It made no accommodation with Tamil demands. Sinhala Only remained the policy on language and Buddhism was given the foremost place. Unlike the Soulbury Constitution of 1947 where the Law was supreme, the one of 1972 made Parliament supreme in the name of the people. To the minorities outside the mainstream in a polarised polity, this arrangement appeared even more a tyranny of the majority - the Sinhalese Buddhists. Section 29 of the old constitution which, symbolically at least, guaranteed protection to the minorities against discriminatory enactment was also dropped. The Tamil youth especially were left feeling bitter and in a rebellious mood. It has been widely said that the Federal Party leaders found Dr. Colvin R. de Silva from your party less accommodative than the SLFP?
H.A: What you say may be true of the left of the SLFP. But the right of the SLFP would have gone no further than the 1972 Constitution. Where the LSSP was at fault was in mishandling the matter of the new constitution - we were already caught in the compromise made with Philip Gunawardene on the language question. Where we were at fault was on the issue of talks between S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and Mrs. Bandaranaike on the new constitution. Mr. Chelvanayakam asked for talks and Mrs. Bandaranaike refused. We could have insisted that Mrs. B should talk to Chelva, but we did not.
It was then that Chelvanayakam resigned his seat and announced his intention of turning the bye-election into a referendum calling for a mandate to form a separate state for the Tamil-speaking people. The LSSP could have insisted on going the full length of talks with Chelvanayakam and the Tamil leaders, but did not.
Q: On looking back, the Left was deeply divided on ideological issues while their positions on key issues affecting this country were similar. Today many see the traditional differences in the Left as unreal in comparison with the challenge of formulating a programme for political action to defend the interests of the powerless against the enormous power of corporate institutions. Why did this not happen in the 50s and 60s?
H.A: After the Russian revolution of 1917 and the setting up of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), the Marxist movement was appropriated by the new Soviet government and the Communist International. With the death of Lenin, the factional crisis in the Soviet Communist Party came to a head, and the entire leadership of Lenin's Bolshevik Party, with a few exceptions, was wiped out by Stalin. From its centre in Moscow, the Stalinist movement appropriated the goodwill that belonged to the former Marxist movement. At the same time, it converted that movement into one that devoted all its energies to the military defence of the Soviet State and the carrying out of the foreign policy of the Soviet Government
Irrespective of our wish as Trotskyites, we were converted into a permanent opposition to the official communist movement and one that had behind it the entire resources of the Soviet State. The Stalinist - Trotskyite split became a worldwide split and everyone had to contend with the policy of the Stalinist-movement. It was then impossible to get away from it.
So far as the world was concerned, Marxism consisted of the Soviet State and its worldwide projection. Until the death of Stalin in 1953, no one outside the Trotskyite movement could reasonably expect that this state of affairs could be changed. Only subsequently with the coming to power of Gorbachev could the possibility of radical transformation of Stalinist politics be visualised. Today, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, the concrete fact is established. Today Stalinism and Trotskyism look unreal. Then they were a reality we could not get away from.
We may however mention here that contemporary political observers close to the Tamil Left do not fully agree with Hector Abhayavardhana's reading of events. They find it wholly unconvincing that the Left joined the SLFP in a coalition to counterbalance the Right in the SLFP and to maintain a viable Left option. They rather see it as a piece of parliamentary opportunism with very predictable results - the suicide of the Left in an entity where the forces of the Right had the upper hand. A telling instance of this opportunism, they point out, was the experience of the Jaffna District Communist Party while the new constitution promulgated in 1972 was being drawn up. We give the experience as related by V. Ponnambalam, the leader of the JDCP, a very responsible man, to a Left intellectual:
The Jaffna District Committee of the Communist Party decided at a meeting that they would press for the abrogated Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 to be incorporated in the new constitution as a settlement to the Tamil question. They asked CP leader Pieter Kenuman to arrange for a deputation to meet Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike and Minister for Constitutional Affairs Dr. Colvin R. de Silva. The delegation led by V. Ponnambalam presented their case cogently and pointed out that if the aborted B-C Pact was implemented, the Tamil militancy (which was just beginning to emerge) could be nipped in the bud.
Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike listened very intently and agreed with the delegation that implementing the B-C Pact would be the best way out.
Then up jumped Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, and in a two-hour harangue interspersed with his usual histrionics, painted a grim picture of Buddhist bhikkus and Sinhalese mobs taking to the streets and literally bundling the United Left Front out of power. This so unnerved Mrs. Bandaranaike that she told the delegation that the matter would be shelved for the moment. Those close to V. Ponnambalam blame Colvin R. de Silva for the present impasse in addition to S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene and other individuals like Badiuddin Mohammed. Being in that coalition, Colvin R. de Silva, they contend, appears to have been impelled to prove himself more SLFP than the SLFP Right. The 1972 Constitution, which entrenched Sinhala Only, and placed Buddhism in the foremost place, was an ironic testament to the man who once said, "Two languages one nation, one language two nations".
It is moreover hard to understand how this constitution was found acceptable by the LSSP leader, Dr. N.M. Perera. At the beginning of the chapter, we quoted from a speech made by him in Parliament on 19th October 1955, when signs of the deluge of the coming year were all-too-evident. He moved a motion to make Sinhalese and Tamil state languages enjoying parity of status. He said that such a timely gesture was necessary in view of the chauvinist sentiment being whipped up by the Tri Sinhala Peramuna. Articulating essentially 'Ceylon for the Sinhalese', the Tri Sinhala Peramuna was a precursor of present day extremist groups with the same social base - the commercial and professional elite of Sinhalese society.
One reading N.M. Perera's speech from 1955 would be impressed by the fact that it came from the heart with a sense of urgency. To an interruption by Mr. D.B.R. Gunawardena that J.R. Jayewardene headed the Tri Sinhala Peramuna, Dr. Perera said, "I have no doubt that there are important members of the Government apparently associated with the organisation." Its sponsors, he said, were good capitalists and supporters of the UNP. Parliament has been greatly impoverished with the passing of such giants of the past who combined intellectual brilliance with lucidity of exposition and a passion for justice - a combination no longer in vogue. There were already rumblings of Sinhalese being made the sole official language. The UNP government of Sir John Kotelawela was being ominously silent on the issue. After Kotelawela said in Jaffna, when asked pointedly by Handy Perinpanayagam that the Government stood for parity of Sinhalese and Tamil, he denied in Colombo that he had said such a thing.
Arguing his case with great clarity, Dr. Perera pointed out that democracy is not majoritarianism and the absurdity of forcing 23 lakhs of Tamil speakers to transact all their official business in Sinhalese because 58 lakhs (official figures) were Sinhalese speaking. This kind of reasoning, he pointed out, would make it legitimate to pass laws forcing everyone to adopt the religion of the majority or entitling only Sinhalese speakers to get government jobs. "The sovereignty of the majority", he said, "is automatically checked by those inalienable rights the minorities have, which cannot be overridden by the mere whim and fancy of a majority."
Dr. Perera then went on to demolish the case of those who protested that things would not be so bad: that while Sinhalese remained the state language throughout the country, Tamil would be a regional language in the Northern and Eastern Provinces that are predominantly Tamil speaking. Dr. Perera said that the logical outcome of this arrangement would be to drive and confine this non-Sinhalese speaking element - the Tamil-speaking element - to the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This, he pointed out would concede Mr. Chelvanayakam's case for a federal state comprising the North and East that would have a separate government.
He then put the pertinent question: "Is there any earthly reason why they should agree to be a portion of Ceylon if they are confined to those areas?" This region, he said, not being economically viable would be forced to look to India or to 'other imperialistic countries' (i.e. the US and Britain). Having Sinhalese as a state language and Tamil as a regional language in the North and East, he concluded, 'would lead to so much rioting, bloodshed and civil war'. (See CDN 13 & 14 Nov.1997.)
His foresight, events have shown, was unimpeachable. Few would contest these conclusions today except for the intellectual progeny of the Tri Sinhala Peramuna. The Sinhalese extremists to this day, while vociferously insisting on a unitary state under Sinhalese hegemony, were all the time in their actions conceding Dr. Perera's arguments. (See 4.8 for an extract from an extremist leaflet issued about the time of the 1958 pogrom.) It was ironically Jayewardene who made Tamil a state language towards the end of his presidency when his logic had run its course. Perhaps Dr. N.M. Perera himself came to underestimate the gravity of the situation as a result of the deceptive calm of the 60s.
The Left had indeed faced very difficult challenges in a small country where the economic problems were superimposed on a feudally dominated, abnormally polarised polity, with a good section of the working class disenfranchised. Decisions were forced on the actors under pressures of the hour. But the question needs to be asked if the compromises in principle made to get into the mainstream of parliamentary politics helped the Left's objectives. Their flirtation with chauvinism did not impress the chauvinists who believed their chauvinism to be fake. By the time of the 1977 elections, the prospects for the Left were at their nadir. The giants of the Left - Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, Pieter Kenuman and Dr. S.A. Wickremasighe - were all defeated in their secure electorates by largely unknown UNP candidates.
It took another 4 years for the Left to make a re-entry into parliament in the form of Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party, at a bye-election in 1981. After years in the wilderness, the parliamentary Left went back to its old positions, dropping its veneer of chauvinism. The key younger figures from the Left who held the stage during the 1980s were Sarath Muttetuwegama, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Dr. Vikramabahu Karunaratne (the latter two from the NSSP - which broke away from the LSSP in the 70s) and Vijaya Kumaratunge. All of them distinguished themselves as anti-chauvinist and champions of minority rights. Had elections been free and fair, more of them would have become MPs in the early 80s. They demonstrated that it was possible to fight elections successfully in a Sinhalese constituency while strenuously opposing chauvinism.
Vijaya Kumaratunge broke new ground in another way. After leaving the SLFP, he and his wife Chandrika Kumaratunge (nee Bandaranaike) founded the SLMP in the mid-80s. It espoused socialism, while the time also permitted it to remain oblivious to the old questions of Stalinism and Trotskyism that had bedevilled the Left. Even if these developments were not so visible electorally in the 80s, they made the break in public opinion of 1994 possible, when the Peoples Alliance led by Chandrika Kumaratunge came to power. The PA which comprised the SLFP, SLMP, LSSP and CP, while depending on older SLFP figures for its electoral support, was closer to the old Left on the Tamil question.
But paradoxically, the first step in creating a break was taken by Jayewardene - who has been described by some of his contemporaries as the most unprincipled politician in Sri Lankan history. These important changes did not come because of agitation by the Left. They came because of Jayewardene's rash and intemperate handling of the Tamil question. Conditions started improving for the Plantation Tamils who had not already left for India, because Jayewardene needed peace on the estates and the income they generated to sustain a costly war in the North-East. Moreover, by getting the Indian Government involved in the internal affairs of his country, he was forced to go a long way in accommodating Tamil demands in the form of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987. He got it through parliament not by campaigning for mass support, but by using the undated resignation letters of his MPs in his possession. The Left to their credit helped their traditional adversary to soften the impact by publicly supporting the political solution under the Accord.
There was the other important segment of the Left, which rejected the parliamentary line and went into mass work at the grass roots. Some of the dissidents (e.g. Bala Tampoe and N. Shanmugathasan) remained active in trade union work. Many among the younger generation rejected middle class aspirations and lifestyles and sought a closer identification with the people. They became active in protest movements on issues. An important one was against the expropriation of peasant lands in Moneragala for multi-national investment in sugar in the early 80s.
Most of the second-generation groups survive as issue-based NGOs. One political movement of significance from the second generation is the JVP, which will be referred to in the coming chapters.[Top]
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