Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 14

Post-colonial realignment of political forces 

By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore

Chapter 1

Chapter 13

The Minister of Trade and Commerce, C. Suntheralingham, the independent Member of Parliament representing Vavuniya and the long time associate of D.S. Senanayake, walked out of the Parliament chamber when a division was called on the second reading of the Ceylon Citizenship Bill, on August 20, 1948. Subsequently, Senanayake asked for an explanation from Suntheralingham, but he tendered his resignation.

S. A. Pakeman, the nominated MP, who was the colleague of Suntheralingham, both at University and in the Parliament, said, “Suntha was much of an individualist. He went into strong opposition, but as an independent, and very much of a lone wolf.”

G. G. Ponnampalam, the leader of the Tamil Congress, while participating in the second reading of the Ceylon Citizenship Bill, called Senanayake a “racist” and said that the day was a black one for Ceylon. But, while the Ceylon Citizenship Bill was being discussed, Sennanayake made moves to negotiate with the All Ceylon Tamil Congress leadership to request them to join the Government.

Senanayake’s emissary, Sir Oliver Goonetilake, met Ponnampalam with the promise of two ministerial portfolios and a parliamentary secretaryship (deputy minister) to the Tamil Congress. The Party was divided on the issue of joining the Government. Ponnampalam and his men were in favor of joining, while Chelvanayakam argued that the Tamil Congress joining the Government would give legitimacy to the Sinhala rule.

An emergency meeting of the General Council of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress took place on June 19, 1948, to consider the offer to join the Government led by Senanayake. They resolved unanimously in favor of, “any course of action which the Congress Parliamentary Group might decide to take in the present political situation”.

The All Ceylon Tamil Congress meeting was held at the Jaffna Town Hall on June 20, 1948, with delegates from all the electorates in the Northern and Eastern provinces attending. At the meeting, Ponnampalam emphasized that the Tamil community should “accept the hand of fellowship that is offered without loss of honor or self respect.” Dissidents were warned not to go against the decision of the party.

Meanwhile, dissidents said, “only if an honorable adjustment on our twin political demands, namely, weightage in the representation for the minorities and liberal modification of the citizenship acts were accepted by the Senanayake’s government, should the Tamil Congress Parliamentary Group be permitted to form a coalition Government with the United National Party.”

Due to the sharp differences of opinion that emerged within the Parliamentary Group, Ponnampalam hesitated to take any firm decision until August 23, 1948. Subsequently, Ponnampalam was invited by Sir Oliver Goonetilake to meet D S Senanayake, the Prime Minister. Ponnampalam demanded for the Ministry of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries and got it. According to the understandings he arrived with Senanayake, Ponnampalam, along with T.Ramalingham (Point-Pedro), V. Kumarasawmy (Chavakachcheri) and K Kanagaratnam (Vaddukottai) crossed over to the Government. Chelvanayakam (Kankesanthurai), C. Vanniasingham (Kopay) and V. Sivapalan (Trincomalee), along with Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan (Senator) refused to join. The two groups, both calling themselves Tamil Congress n the Ponnampalam Wing and the Chelvanayakam Wing, existed side by side.

On August 28, 1949, Chelvanayakam made a public declaration at a rally held in Jaffna about his intention of launching a new political party. Following the declaration, the General Council of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress met on September 4 and expelled Chelvanayakam and his colleagues and demanded them to resign their Parliamentary seats, which they had obtained by contesting on the Tamil Congress ticket.

When the new Party, Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (Ceylon Tamil State Party), was inaugurated, Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan moved a resolution for the formation of the party. It urged, “This gathering of active workers in the cause of freedom for the Tamil-speaking people in Ceylon, here met in conference at the General Clerical Service Union Hall (GCSU), Maradana, on December 18, 1949, deeply conscious of the inferiority status of which Tamil-speaking people in Ceylon are being increasingly reduced under the present unitary system of Government n which system of Government is irrational and totally unsuited to a multi-linguistic country – and fully alive to the implications of dangers inherent in the legislative and administrative policy of the Government, which policy is manifestly detrimental to the future existent of the Tamil-speaking people in the island as free and self-respecting citizens and clearly realizing that the only fair and democratic solution to these fundamental problems (consistent with the island’s unity) is the establishment of an ‘Autonomous State’ for the Tamil-speaking people of Ceylon, hereby resolve to constitute itself as Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and become the framework of the National Organization of the Tamil-speaking people of Ceylon, pledged to strive increasingly for the attainment of their goal of self-government based on the principle of self-determination for the Tamil-speaking nation of the island.”

In English, the party was called the Federal Party, but according to A Jeyaratnam Wilson, “The Federal Party was not the party’s name, but merely an explanatory note.” The following policy objectives were contained in the constitution:
a. The recognition of the right of every Tamil-speaking individual who has made Ceylon his home to full citizenship rights;
b. The regeneration and unification of the Tamil-speaking people of Ceylon by the removal of all forms of social inequities and injustices, in particular that of untouchablity which exists among a section of the people;
c. The realization of a socialist economy with equality of opportunity for education and employment without regard to caste, creed, race or sex;
d. The promotion and maintenance of goodwill and friendship with the Sinhalese people in the interests of federal unity and progress.

After the formation of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, they staged a black flag demonstration against the visit of Lord Soulbury, the Governor-General, to Jaffna. The Tamils showed their political revenge against Lord Soulbury, who had ignored the demands of the Tamils, when he led the Royal Commission to investigate and recommend constitutional reform proposals.

Posters and leaflets were put out by the Party urging, “Boycott the visit of the Enemy of the Tamil.” The Party decided to stage a protest meeting at the Jaffna Town Hall, on January 22, 1950. Permission was obtained from the Municipality authorities and other formalities were correctly followed, but on the day of the meeting, the venue remained locked. Municipal authorities posted police guards around the venue to prevent trespassing. Leaders of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi were not perturbed. They conducted their meeting, as scheduled, in a nearby large compound of a motorcar workshop. The meeting was well attended and the leaders denounced Lord Soulbury for his anti-Tamil stand.

“The year [1950] began with the FP (Federal Party – ITAK) staging a demonstration against the visit to Jaffna of the British Governor-General Lord Soulbury. He had earlier headed the Royal Commission, which recommended internal self-government to the benefit of the island’s conservative Sinhala leadership. The party issued leaflets and exhibited placards urging Tamils to boycott the visit. Chelvanayakam himself said at a meeting held to urge the boycott that, Soulbury, who had callously injured the Tamil people and that there was no reason to rejoice over his visit.” S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lanka Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977 by A Jeyaratnam Wilson, pages 34-35.

Meanwhile, the committee set up to advise the Government on the issue of Ceylon’s National Flag, issued its final report on February 14, 1950. Senator Nadesan, one of the two Tamil members on the committee headed by S W R D Bandaranaike (the other Tamil member was G. G. Ponnampalam), expressed his dissenting view. Nadesan said, “In my view, a national flag, apart from giving an honored place to all communities, must be also a symbol of national unity.”

“Objection was taken to a tricolor by several members of the committee on the grounds that the lion emblem will be considerably reduced in size and that will not be acceptable to the majority community. This proposal had to be abandoned. In my view, this design if adopted, far from being symbol of national unity, but it will be a symbol of our disunity.

“Once the committee agreed that the national flag should be devised by modifying the lion flag, one would have thought that any strips adopted for the purpose of satisfying the minorities will be integrated with the lion flag and that these strips will not be an appendage to the lion flag. Anyone looking at the proposed flag will see the lion flag is preserved in all its integrity and outside that flag, two strips are allotted to represent the minorities.”

The design was approved by the committee in February 1950, retaining the symbol of the lion with the sword and the Bo-leaves from the civil standard of the last king of Kandy, with the inclusion of two vertical stripes, green and orange in color. The significance of each symbol of the national flag, as expressed, is as follows:

– The lion in the flag represents the Sinhala race.
– The sword of the lion represents the sovereignty of the country.
– The noble eight-fold path of Buddhism is signified by the lion’s tail.
– The curly hair on the lion’s head indicates religious observance, wisdom and meditation.
– The beard denotes purity of words.
– The handle of the sword highlights the elements of water, fire, air, sky and earth.
– The nose indicates intelligence.
– The two front paws purport to purity in handling wealth.
– The vertical stripe of orange represents the minority Tamil race and the green vertical stripe the minority Muslim race.
– The four virtues of kindness: Kindness, friendliness, happiness, equanimity are also represented in the flag.
– The border round the flag, which is yellow in color, represents other minor races.
– The Bo-leaves at the Four Corners of the flag represent Buddhism and it’s influence on the nation. They also stand for the four virtues – Kindness, Friendliness, Happiness and Equanimity.
– The maroon colored portion of the flag manifests the other minor religions.

The Report was submitted to Parliament by Senanayake, who resting his hands on his heart, saying that in the heart there was no difference or discrimination, whether one was Tamil, Muslim or Burgher. After a two-day debate, it was approved, on March 2, 1951.

The lion flag was adopted in its entirety with the addition of “two vertical stripes, green and saffron, of equal size, each being in the proportion of one to seven of the entire flag (excluding the vertical yellow border on the outside of the green stripe)”. The two stripes represent minority communities and the motifs of Bo leaves in the four corners represent Buddhism. (Bo or Peepul represents the tree of worship. Botanical name – Ficus religiosa.)

The national flag was hoisted for the first time on March 3, 1951. Though the flag continues to be hoisted to date, in government official functions and in buildings, up to now, it has never been hoisted in the Tamil homes or during any of their functions or ceremonies. The Tamils are of the opinion that the strip representing them is a very poor symbol of the people who have lived in the country from time immemorial. It is unfortunate that, since 1950, the flag has failed to generate a sense of national awakening or any form of patriotism, or posited any sense of national feeling, not least some degree of pride.

The flag clearly reflected the desire for political domination and projected the assumption of the majority domination by the Sinhalese. The flag was described a “fraud flag”, by the leaders of the Tamils, who then cautioned of the future effects it may cause.

In 1951, C. Suntheralinhgam resigned from parliament to protest against the foisting of “the Sinhala kodiya [flag] as the national flag” and on other issues, to seek a mandate from the people for his stand on those issues. Subsequently, at the by-election held on October 31, 1951 (the date of filing nomination), for the vacant Vavuniya seat, Suntheralingham romped home uncontested.

People’s Voice, an Independent News Weekly, edited by K. Vaikunthavasan, in the 2 March 1951 issue wrote as follows: “Ex-Minister Will not Sit under the New Flag. Minorities Given a Place outside.” With these two banner headlines, the news item went as follows:

“Ex-Minister Suntheralingham who hold such strong views on the question of national flag and who has given expression to it in his characteristic fashion, is reported to have come to the decision not to sit in the House of Representatives under the new flag if the recommendations of the Bandaranaike Flag Committee are accepted.

“When, as a result of his absence from the House, his seat will be declared vacant, he hopes to re-contest it and fight it on the issue of the national flag. Mr. Suntheralingham is opposed to the idea of national flag being decided by a majority vote. He believes that any flag should be representative of all section of the people. In one of his letters to the Prime Minister, he says, ‘The Union Jack is now taken to symbolize domination of all Ceylonese. The Sinhla Kodiya might well be made to appear to the masses as symbolizing the domination of some Ceylonese by other Ceylonese’.

“Senator S. Nadesan, the only member of the Flag Committee who did not append his signature to the committee’s report explaining in his dissent: ‘As the Lion Flag has been used as distinctive flag anyone viewing the design that has been agreed to by the rest of the committee cannot be blamed if he thinks that the minorities are given a place outside the Lion Flag’.

“12 December, 1947
My Dear Prime Minister,
I continue to receive a large number of letters and messages in regard to the question of the Ceylon Flag. It seems desirable that early steps be taken and some decision reached and implemented before the appointed date – 4th February 1948. I need hardly add that the question is one of sentiment which, with or without reason, affects, the feelings of peoples. The unpleasant sight of the Lion Flag flying half-mast with the Union Jack at top-mast which the member for Kurunogala referred in Parliament needs to be avoided. I would suggest that the procedure followed by India and other countries in the past may be followed in evolving a flag that will evoke in all a true Ceylonese patriotism.”

In 1951, the country faced another political jolt when the Sinhala Maha Sabha (Sinhalese Great Council) held its annual session at Madampe. Under the leadership of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, it was resolved, “The Sabha is convinced that for the prosperity and happiness of the majority of the people of the country, who are Buddhists, it is necessary that Buddhism, which has seriously decayed during foreign rule, should be revived, and that assistance of the free government of Lanka be afforded by such government, in addition to other steps necessary in helping in the formation of a constitution for the Buddhist Sangha and the setting up of a suitable department to help in protecting and maintaining Buddhism and the Buddhist institutions until the aforesaid constitution becomes operative.”

The Sabha added that the reasonable and just aims of other religions should also receive the sympathetic consideration of the Government. The session demanded that the Sinhala language should be immediately declared the official language. The Maha Sabha also resolved to request the United National Party to consider incorporating these resolutions as part of its program. D. S. Senanayake, the leader of the UNP and the Premier, was hesitant in accepting the resolutions.

“Senanayake, though an ardent Buddhist himself, believed that, as a secular state, Ceylon could not do the things asked for by the Maha Sabha, and that the constitution of the UNP did not permit it. On the resolution demanding that Sinhalese should immediately be declared the official language, he was not prepared to take hasty action.” Sri Lanka’s First Prime Minister: Don Stephen Senanayake by H. A. Hulugalle, page 188.

Annoyed by the UNP’s stern refusal to accept the resolutions adopted by the Sinhala Maha Sabha, Bandaranaike on July 12, 1951, resigned his office as Leader of the House and Minister of Local Government and Health. Five other parliamentarians, namely, A. P. Jayasuriya (Horana), George R. de Silva (Colombo North), Jayaweera Kuruppu (Balangoda), D. S. Gunasekera (Udugama), and D. A. Rajapakse (Beliatte) followed him and crossed over to the opposition. Politics in Ceylon were not the same thereafter.

Speaking from the opposition benches for the first time he said, “When I assisted originally in the formation of the United National Party and persuaded the Sinhala Maha Sabha to join it, and when I myself agreed to serve the present Government, I did so in order to ensure that stability of the Government which was needed particularly at the beginning of the new era of freedom. I also hoped that, as time went on, there would be increasingly manifested a greater tendency towards progressive policies and a greater readiness to deal effectively with many important problems that face our country. The former purpose of securing stability was achieved, but I regret to say that the latter hope flickered and has finally faded away.”

Bandaranaike in his speech declared, “I go in the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘with malice towards none, with charity to all’, not only in regard to those who honored me with their friendship, but even in regard to those who honored me with their enmity.” He added, “I am myself solaced on this rather melancholy occasion by the thought that personally I have at least achieved the most difficult conquest of all: I have conquered myself.”

In September 1951, Bandaranaike disbanded the Sinhala Maha Sabha and inaugurated the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on September 2, 1951, at the Colombo Town Hall. The new Party was considered a middle-way party between the UNP on the extreme right and the Marxist on the extreme left. S .W. R. D. Bandaranaike was elected as the president and B Aluwihare, Dr Badi-ud-din Mahmud and S Thangarajah were elected as the Joint Secretaries. The party was considered a centrist political force and was expected to become the focal point of those groups dissatisfied with the UNP and to those who opposed the Marxists.

The succession battle had been going on from the days of the State Council, between Bandaranaike and Sir John Kotelawala. The latter was a nephew of Senanayake and it was rumored that he was grooming his nephew as his heir apparent. When Bandaranaike crossed over to the opposition, Sir John Kotelawala was made the Leader of the House and the senior Vice-President of the United National Party, which amounted to second-in-command in the Government.

Earlier, Bandaranaike, thinking that Senanayake was grooming Kotelawala as his successor, had met Sir John, and said, “Lionel, my father is very old and is keen to see me as prime minister before he dies. You are a young man and can afford to stand down.” Sir John’s response was, “My mother too, is old, and would be very happy if she could see me as prime minister before she dies.”

Whether the story is apocryphal or not, it suggests a likely scenario. The duel between the two hopefuls was spurious anyway as the real players had not entered the ring, for Senanayake had other intentions.

Bandaranaike, the scion of the Sinhala aristocracy, considered the Senanayakes inferior in social status. He was unwilling to subordinate himself to a Senanayake. On the other hand, Bandaranaike and his supporters felt that the elder Senanayake did not trust them. Bandaranaike, by crossing over to the opposition, left Sir John Kotelawala as the most senior leader next to Senanayake and was on line for succession in case something happened to the prime minister.

Senanayake, during his tenure, initiated a number of social welfare measures that were acceptable to most people:
1. In 1945, the State Council under D. S. Senanayake was responsible for introducing a bill assuring free education for all children from primary school to university entrance level, in all government schools, and free tuition at the University of Ceylon.
2. In 1949, Senanayake’s administration introduced a rice subsidy, whereby two measures of rice were made available at 25 cents a measure, which would otherwise have cost 75 cents per measure on the open market.
3. In1951, his administration extended free education to all denominational school whereby they retained their autonomy.

Senanayake’s administration also enacted the Public Security Act of 1947 and the Trade Union Amendment Act of 1948, both of which were directed against Marxist-dominated working class organizations.

D. S. Senanayake, who was born on October 20, 1884, at Botale, in the Negombo district, turned 68 in 1952. He was one of the wealthiest men and a landed proprietor. He generated his wealth through the plumbago mines he owned, which was his family business. He had two sons, Dudley and his younger brother Robert. Senanayake was a towering figure with a robust physique, but was a diabetic. As he grew older, his loosing battle with the illness became apparent. In January 1952, he was taken ill and was warded in the general hospital in Colombo.

The physical condition of Senanayake deteriorated, and his heart condition gave cause for grave anxiety. Lord Soulbury, the Governor-General, learning of his serious condition, visited the premier before leaving for England on home leave. He tactfully discussed the issue of succession, and the prime minister, too, showed tact in revealing his decision to Lord Soulbury. “Lionel [Kotelawala] cannot win an election; only Dudley can. If the UNP is to come back to power, Dudley is my choice. However, being my son, I do not wish to say anything more.”

When Lord Soulbury was absent from the island, the Chief Justice, Sir Alan Rose, deputized. But prior to Lord Soulbury’s departure aboard SS Chusan, L. M. D. de Silva QC, an eminent lawyer and a friend of Senanayake, arranged a luncheon meeting at which Emend Wickremesinghe, the Managing Director of the Lake House Group of Newspapers – he was also the son-in-law of D. R. Wijewardene – and Sir Alan Rose participated.

The trio finalized a plan, in case, should Senanayake die while Lord Soulbury and L. M. D. de Silva were outside Ceylon. It was agreed that Sir Alan Rose would not appoint a successor, but would immediately inform Lord Soulbury. Then it would be left to Lord Soulbury to rush back to the island and call on Dudley Senanayake to form a Government. Also, Rose would inform the Cabinet that, Lord Soulbury had instructed him not to make an appointment and to wait until his arrival.

Meanwhile, Senanayake began to recuperate and attended to the daily official duties. On March 20, 1952, he presided over a Cabinet meeting, after which he invited the Ministers for lunch in the Senate restaurant. On the following day, as usual, he was on his pre-breakfast horse ride in the Galle-Face green, along with two friends, Sir Richard Aluwihare, the first Ceylonese Inspector General of Police, and G. G. Ponnampalam, the Tamil Minister in his Cabinet. His horse suddenly broke into gallop and threw Senanayake, who fell unconscious to the ground. He never recovered, and died 32 hours later.

According to the Constitution, when the office of the Prime Minister falls vacant, the Governor-General was empowered to call on a party leader of his choice to form the next Government, as was the case in Britain.

Sir Alan Rose, the officer administering the Government, duly contacted Lord Soulbury by radio and officially informed him of the passing away of the Premier. In the mean time, a crisis erupted within the Government. Sir John Kotelawala, who was the Leader of the House and senior Vice President of the UNP, had every reason to believe that he would be called upon to be the next Prime Minister. At Kandawala, the beautiful mansion of Kotelawala, located in the midst of a country estate adjoining the Ratmalana airport, Kotelawala was adding the final touches to his broadcast to the nation.

While at Woodlands, the residence of Dudley Senanayake, Party stalwarts and many Cabinet members continued their persuasion to convince the baby-faced, 40-year-old Dudley to accept the prime ministerial nomination.

Sir Alan Rose met the ministers on Sunday, March 23 and informed them officially that he would not summon anyone to form the government, but would await for Lord Soulbury’s arrival. He informed the ministers of the discussion Lord Soulbury had had with the late premier and that Lord Soulbury was committed to invite Dudley Senanayake to form the government. On March 24 1952, Sir John Kotelawala wrote a letter to Sir Alan Rose, enclosing another letter addressed to Lord Soulbury:
“My dear Alan,
The document in a separate cover is intended to be handed over to H. E. Lord Soulbury on his arrival on Wednesday, and I shall be glad if you will be good enough to see that this is done immediately he arrives. In fairness to you, in view of certain references I have been compelled to make, I am annexing a copy of this communication for your information. It is the only copy that has left my office, and I trust that Lord Soulbury would not object to this action of mine.

“I feel sad to think that I should give you such a headache over this, but you will appreciate that I have given the closest thought to the present situation, and the country’s good has been uppermost in my mind. I cannot be a party to any move which I consciously feel will hand the country over to the ranks of the leftists, whom I have opposed, both by precept and example, throughout my entire political career. It is not that I am hankering after office, but I feel that I owe a duty to myself as much as to the country, to make Lord Soulbury aware of the situation with the utmost despatch.

“Even if it means that this is my ‘swan-song’ in politics, it is appropriate that the advice and guidance of one who has helped to direct the country’s affairs for so many years would be given due heed before anything is done which is likely to set in motion the forces of destruction which everyone alike on our side of the House would wish to be resisted stoutly to the bitter end.
Yours sincerely,

(Letter to Lord Soulbury)
Your Excellency,
Ceylon has become aware, through a communique issued by the officer administering the government, that you had expressed a desire, before your departure on leave, to return to the island in the event of the office of the prime minister falling vacant in your absence.

“The communique that was finally issued did not contain a statement, which was fortunately deleted at my instance, as all the ministers who were present when the communique was considered at Queen’s House last morning, agreed that its inclusion would cause grave misgivings in the public mind by reason of the very nature of the statement itself.

“I refer to a statement you are said to have made to Sir Alan before your departure, that the prime minister had privately indicated to you whom you should send for in order to form a government should his office fall vacant. You must be aware of a statement, which the late prime minister made in reference to Mr. Bandaranaikeis crossing the floor, when he clearly pointed out that the question of his successor is not a matter for him to determine.

“We all know that Mr. Senanayake meant what he said on that occasion, and, knowing him as I do through close association with him and a full knowledge of his political acts and intentions, I must confess that I fear Sir Alan must have misunderstood what you told him, because I for one cannot reconcile such an act with his own recent public statement to which I referred above. Giving currency to such a statement, as you will see, is likely to discredit Mr. Senanayake, whom the whole country regards as a great national figure.

“The question of who should be commissioned to form a government in the event of the office of the prime minister falling vacant is so much a matter of convention that the leader of the party in power is customarily summoned to do so immediately the office falls vacant. If you should now contemplate to act on any other basis, it is my painful duty to have to point out that such an act would constitute a serious breach of convention, besides setting up an utterly unacceptable constitutional precedent, that the governor-general can make or break an established political party by exercising his discretion in any method other than the conventional practice referred to.

“The late Mr. Senanayake was summoned to form a government by your predecessor as the head of the largest single party of the House of Representatives. In the tragic circumstances in which he has been taken away from us, it is my duty to point out that, as leader of the House of Representatives appointed by him, in which capacity I have presided at meetings of the cabinet in his absence, as the one to whom he delegated the functions of his ministry during his recent absence abroad, as he led, as the chairman of the UNP Protect the Country Fund, and as the one who officiated as the chairman of the UNP Youth League at his personal instance, I claim that there should have been no delay whatever in my being summoned to form a government.

“That this obvious step was not taken would appear to be due to some oral suggestion, which you had personally made before your departure on leave to the officer administering the government, in the course of which you appear to have informed him about certain indications which the late prime minister had given you about the question of his successor. The result is that a great campaign of political mischief has grave repercussions not merely on the UNP, but on the entire country for which the blame will have to be placed in the appropriate quarters.*
I am, Your Excellency’s Obedient Servant
Leader of the House of Representatives and Senior Vice-President of the UNP

Kotelawala refused to believe the story of succession that was told by Sir Alan Rose. He insisted that “dead men tell no tales”. But when on March 26 Lord Soulbury flew back, he failed to respond to Sir John Kotelawala’s letter, instead on the very same day, he sworn in Dudley Senanayake as prime minister.

Dudley Senanayake met Sir John Kotelawala at his residence and persuaded him to accept a ministerial portfolio. About this episode, Sir John in his Asian Prime Minister’s Story, relates, “… The same afternoon, at a carefully chosen auspicious hour fixed by an astrologer, Dudley Senanayake arrived at my home at Kandawala to persuade me to join the cabinet. On a sober reflection, I realized the sanest and most patriotic thing I could do was to accept office and continue to be Minister of Transport and Works. It would have been an insult to the memory of our dead leader if I forgot all he had taught me, and did not place my country before personal considerations in this crisis in my life.” – pages 81-82.

Subsequently, 12 ministers were sworn in and Sir John Kotelawala retained his portfolio and remained as the Leader of the House. Almost all the other ministers of the earlier government retained their portfolios, except for Punchi Banda Bulankulame Dissawe (Anuradapura), who was Dudley’s junior minister, who was assigned the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, which had earlier been held by him. The prime minister, along with Ministry of Defense and External Affairs, also undertook to be the acting Minister of Health and Local Government, a portfolio earlier held by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike before his crossover to the opposition. The Tamil ministers, Ponnampalam and C. Sittampalam, retained their same portfolios.

D. S. Senanayake’s embalmed body was taken to Temple Trees, the official residence of prime ministers. Later, it was taken to Parliament, where it lay in state. Over half a million people filed past to pay their last respects. On March 30, the body was taken on procession for cremation to a specially constructed funeral pyre in Independent Square, at Torrington.

The term of Parliament was due to end in September 1952, but on the advice of the new Prime Minister it was dissolved on April 8, and the date for filing nominations for elections was scheduled for April 28. Polling was to take place on four different days, on may 24, 26, 28 and 30, instead of the 19 days earlier allotted for the first parliamentary elections. These were the first elections for Parliament since Ceylon had become a free country. The new Parliament was scheduled to be summoned on June 10, 1952.

The general elections were held in 89 constituencies to elect 95 members out of 305 candidates by a total of 2,990,912 registered voters. The UNP fielded 81 candidates, while the SLFP had 48, the LSSP 39, the Communist Party and the Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party 19, the ACTC 7, the ITAK 7, the Labor Party 5, the Republican Party 9, the Buddhist Republican Party 3, with 85 independent candidates.

Once the elections were scheduled, for the first time the Tamils in the Northern province witnessed the polarization of political forces, led by G. G. Ponnampalam, the leader of the Tamil Congress, and S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, leader of the Thamil Arasu Kadchi. Tamils were divided on party lines and witnessed politics based on personalities. The leaders were at each other’s throats, which shattered any hope of unity for the best interests of the Tamils. Sinhalese political leaders, and the mass media owned and controlled by the Sinhalese contributed to this disunity.

The United National Party failed to nominate a Tamil candidate in the Colombo Central electorate. Even the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which was in the fray for the first time, simply ignored the nomination of Tamils, as candidates outside Eastern province. The Ceylon Indian Congress, which won seven seats in the first Parliament, was unable to have a single seat because the Tamils of the Indian origin had been made stateless and were deprived of their franchise.

In the Jaffna district, the United National Party had Subaiyah Natesan as its lone candidate in the Kankesanturai electorate, and he was pitted against Chelvanayakam. Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi nominated its candidates in all the electorates in the Northern province, and one candidate for Trincomalee and supported S. N. Kadirgamar, an independent candidate at Batticaloa. C. Vanniasingham, the deputy leader of the ITAK contested Kopay, where he was opposed by C. Arulampalam of the ACTC. Dr E M V Naganathan, a former senator, contested against G. G. Ponnampalam in Jaffna. Alfred L. Thambiaiyah, the sitting member of Kayts, who contested in 1947 as an independent candidate, joined the ACTC and fought against V. Navaratnam, one of the joint general secretaries of ITAK. An emerging young firebrand, A Amirthalingham, contested Vaddukottai on the ITAK ticket against K. Kanagaratnam of the ACTC, who was also the sitting member and V Veerasingham, an independent candidate. In Chavakachcheri, Arunachalam contested on the ITAK ticket against ACTC’s V Kumaraswamy, the sitting member. In Trincomalee, the ITAK’s nominee was N. R. Rajavarothayam. Both C. Suntheralinhgam and C. Sittampalam – a minister in the outgoing government, contested as independent, the former at Vavuniya and the other at Mannar.

The UNP election campaign started at Kelaniya. Dudley Senanayake thundered, “The Sama Samajists and the communists are embracing the Indians as their comrades. I want to remind the country that the Indian government has threatened to give no rice supplies to Ceylon if the land of Knavesmere estate was not distributed to the 400 Indian workers.” Immediately, the Indian High Commission denied the allegations made by Dudley Senanayake. In the south, the election was held along communal lines.

Further, it was reported from a UNP election meeting held in the southern region that Dudley Senanayake had declared publicly that his party had with one stroke of the pen prevented Thondamans, Rajalinghams and Velupillais from ever emerging as members of parliament. The communal rhetoric of the leader of the UNP heralded a new version of communalism in the country.

“In 1952, the new Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake openly displayed the class and the race bias of the bourgeoisie when he frankly boasted the UNP had succeeded in ‘liquidating the Indian menace in Ceylon by the simple device of denying the vote to Ramasamy and Meenanchchi, [Congress News 12 May 1952]’. However, during these years of blatant anti-minority legislation, the left leadership stressed class rather than ethnic consciousness.”Ethnic and Class Conflicts in Sri Lanka by Kumari Jayawardena, page 66.

The Sinhalese leaders openly rejoiced at describing the Tamils of the Indian origin as stateless and people without votes and displayed publicly discriminatory race and communal bias against them. But the general elections in 1952 were not fought on the language issue, which was to become an overwhelming issue only after this elections.

Kumari Jayawardena, in Ethnic and Class Conflicts in Sri Lanka, analyzes the situation succinctly as follows, “The elements of Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness which formed the ideological basis for discrimination and violence against minority ethnic groups were also marshaled in the campaign against the plantation labor. The assumption behind the movement for depriving the plantation workers of citizenship and voting rights was that the Sinhalese were the original and rightful inhabitants of Sri Lanka in whom alone, lay the right to give or take away minority rights. Plantation Tamils were seen as the latest manifestation of incursions from India,’ which had been resisted for so long by the Sinhalese: this concept was advanced at an ideological level in appeals to the Sinhala Masses arousing fears of India threatening the country externally and internally, but was significantly not allowed to interfere with the supply of necessary labor to the plantations. Racism could be used to mobilize the Sinhalese against the democratic rights of the workers of Indian Origin, but in the last analysis, as long as the plantation economy needed cheap labor, the class interest of bourgeoisie prevailed.” – Pages 66, 67.

The Ceylon Indian Congress, which represented the plantation workers, finally resorted to a peaceful protest of a Satyagraha campaign, on April 28, 1952, the day stipulated for filing nominations for the general elections. The congress, in a statement, explained that it had decided to launch the campaign “to appeal to the country’s conscience … there is and can be no trace of intimidation or vilification of the government or any section of the people.

“Through Satyagraha, we wish to focus public attention on the need for securing (a) a citizenship law that is reasonable and fair and (b) the immediate restoration of the franchise to those deprived of it, enabling them to exercise it at the forthcoming elections. In this endeavor to achieve an amicable settlement of a long- standing problem, we invoke the blessings of God and the cooperation and the sympathy of all.” Out of Bondage: The Thondaman Story by T. Sabaratnam, page 40.

The Satyagraha and a fasting relay continued for 143 days, from April 28, 1952 and was ultimately called off on the advice of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India. Several Indian political dignitaries who participated in the Hatton session of the Ceylon Indian Congress, held in September 1952, also insisted that the CIC give up the agitation. Such eminent Indian leaders as Archarya Kripalani, his wife Sujatha Kripalani, both from the Indian National Congress, Ashok Metha, an Indian Socialist leader, M P Sivagnam Gramani, a Tamil scholar and a Tamil leader from South India, advised the congress to withdraw the campaign.

After the end of the fourth day’s polling, on May 30, 1952, the UNP won 54 seats, the SLFP 9, the LSSP 9, the CP and VLSSP 4, the ACTC 4, the ITAK 2, the Labor Party 1 and independents 12. A total of 2,114,615 people cast their votes, which was 70.7 percent of the total registered voters. The UNP polled 1,026,005 votes against 751,432 in 1947, representing a 35 percent increase, as against a 20 percent increase in the total votes polled. The ACTC’s 4 seats and the 6 independents supported the UNP. With the support of the 6 appointed members, the UNP parliamentary group managed 70 seats, which amounted to more than two-thirds of the 101-member House of Representatives.

The disenfranchisement of the Tamils of the Indian origin had its effect in the hustings. The electorates earlier represented by the Ceylon Indian Congress members now returned Sinhala members thus increasing the Sinhala representation, which was 67 percent in the 1947 elections, to 73 percent in 1952.

In the 1952 elections, two Cabinet Ministers, A E Goonesinha and H W Amarasuriya were defeated. J. R. Jayewardene scraped through in Kelaniya, defeating the female SLFP contender, Vimala Wijewardene, who was given the full backing by another of his sworn foes, Mapitigama Buddhrakita Thero, the chief incumbent of the Kelaniya Buddhist Temple.

S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the Ilanakai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, was trounced at Kankesanthurai, while A Amirthalingham, V. Navaratnam and Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan were defeated. C. Vanniaasingham (Kopay) and N. E. Rajavarothayam (Trincomalee) won on the ITAK ticket. The two independent candidates, C. Suntheralinhgam (Vavuniya) and C Sittampalam (Mannar), retained their seats. Two other Tamil independent candidates, R B Kadirgamar (Batticaloa) and S. M. Rasamanickam (Paddirupu) defeated sitting members, A Sinnalebbe (UNP) and S. U. Ethirmannasingham, (independent), and after the elections both came forward to support the UNP.

Edmund Samarakody, one of the leftist leaders, who unsuccessfully challenged D. S. Senanayake at Mirigama in the 1947 elections, as a Bolshevik Leninist Party candidate, contested on the LSSP ticket from Dehiowita and won. Unfortunately, Dr. Colvin R. De Silva, the former leader of the BLP, was defeated by little-known S de S. Jayasinghe, at the Wellawatte-Galkissa constituency.

In Colombo Central – a three-member constituency – A. E. Goonesinghe was defeated and for the first time two Muslims, Dr. M. C. M. Kaleel (UNP) and Sir Razik Fareed (independent), were elected as second and third members. Other Muslims who won were Mudaliyar M. M. Ibrahim, UNP (Pottuvil), C. A. S. Marikar, SLFP (Kadugannawa 2nd), A. M. Merza, Independent (Kalmunai), M. E. H. Mohamed Ali, independent (Muthur), H. S. Ismail, UNP (Puttalam). This election saw the entry of two colorful personalities, S. D. Bandaranaike from Gampaha on the SLFP ticket and T. B. Subasinghe from Bingriya, on the LSSP ticket.

One of the nominated members was Sidamparapillai Vythilingam, who had been elected twice to represent Talawakele, in the two State Councils, from 1931 to 1947.

A 14-member cabinet was sworn in on June 19, 1952. G. G. Ponnampalam retained his original portfolio of Minister of Industries and Fisheries, C. Sittamapalam was not considered for a ministerial slot, instead V. Nalliah, a veteran politician from the east, who contested on the UNP ticket at Kalkudah, was sworn in as the Minister of Post and Information. Unfortunately, due to an incident with a Tamil lady announcer at Radio Ceylon, he was compelled to resign, on July 12, 1952. S Natesan (Kankesanthurai), the son-in-law of Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan, succeeded him. While J. R. Jayewardene retained his finance portfolio, the country witnessed the emergence of R. G. Senanayake, the son of F. R. Senanayake, as the Minister of Trade and Commerce. Bulankulame Dissawa was offered the Ministry of Land and Land Development, while Sir Oliver Goonetilake became the Minister of Agriculture and Food. Sir John Kotelawala retained his Ministry of Transport and Works, also the Leader of the House. However, his position in the government suddenly became controversial.

In August 1952, Trine, a leftwing weekly news sheet, published, in serial form, a document entitled “Premier Stakes 1952”. It was a detailed version of how Sir John Kotelawala lost the premiership after the death of D. S. Senanayake. It was alleged that Sir John had a ghost writer pen the pamphlet.

The pamphlet gave details of the two contenders for the premiership – Dudley Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala. Also, as how the Leader of the House, Sir John, relied on the constitution and convention, and how he expected with confidence that Governor-General Lord Soulbury would call him to form the government.

The phamplet revealed in detail the battle-lines – Dudley versus Sir John – were drawn within the cabinet and in the party. According to the Trine publication, A Ratnayake and Henry Amarasuriya, both ministers, supported Sir John. Eddie Nugawela, M. D. Banda and Dudley were on the sidelines watching developments. Ponnambalam actively worked for Dudley. Sittampalam, formerly of the Ceylon civil service and the Minister of Post and Telecommunications, insisted that the governor-general should stick to tradition and call on the senior vice president of the party and the Leader of the House, Sir John, to form the government. Jayewardene played it both ways, saying that unity must be preserved and that whoever was selected, everyone should back that person.

The Trine reported that Sir John invited Dudley to a dinner at Horton Lodge, his mother’s residence. At the dinner, Dudley gave an undertaking that he would not accept the premiership. The publication further revealed those who frequented Woodlands and Kandawala during the height of the crisis. It also gave details of visits by S. Thondaman of the Ceylon Indian Congress to Kandawala, and they assured their support if Sir John agreed to restore citizenship to Indians. Kotelawala rejected the offer.

When the crisis reached its climax, Kotelawala was on an official visit to the United States and Canada. By then, Dudley Senanayake was unable to contain the outpouring of criticism against Sir John and demands from his own cabinet colleagues, Lord Soulbury and others, for immediate action against Sir John, even though he was away from the island. The cabinet crisis began to unfold, when, on September 7, 1952, the prime minister sent a cable to the Ceylon embassy in Washington, for urgent onward transmission to Sir John.

“The publication of ‘Premier Stakes 1952’ has created a situation which makes it impossible for me to retain you as member of my cabinet. I shall therefore be glad if you will hand in your resignation to me by top-secret telegram through our Embassy in Washington. I have decided that this matter should not be delayed beyond Monday, September 15. I regret the circumstances that have compelled me take this decision.”

The reaction of Sir John is given in his Asian Prime Minister’s Storypages84-85, as follows:

“The message was delivered to me with utmost formality by an official of the Ceylon embassy in America, who was very correctly dressed for the occasion. He took it out of an inner pocket of his coat, and insisted on handing it to me personally. He said that his instructions were that I should read it myself, and not get it read out to me. When I had digested the contents of the cabled message, I asked the spruce diplomat if it had been received in code. ‘Yes Sir’, he said. And it had been duly decoded. ‘Would he send a reply in plain English, signed Kotelawala?’ He certainly would. The reply I dictated made our uneasy diplomat shrink from its emphatic and rudely specific terms. The prime minister was asked to thrust the message he sent me into the place where I thought it belonged.”

That was Sir John – one of his known wild outbursts. He rushed back to Colombo, where he was given a rousing welcome at the airport by UNP youth leaguers. He wrote in his autobiography that he appreciated their loyalty and said to himself, “I can deal with my enemies; God save me from my friends.” In Kotelawala’s words the scene of the meeting with Dudley Senanayake, “When I did meet Dudley Senanayake, I was fully prepared for a reconciliation, and there was a tearful scene with much weeping on both sides. It was agreed that everything should be forgiven and forgotten. My explanation, which the prime minister accepted, was that I had nothing to do with the publication of ‘The Premier Stakes’, and I also denied the truth of the statements attributed to me in that document.” – Page -89

Sir Oliver Goonetilake, the suave diplomat in the cabinet, worked out a face-saving solution. Accordingly, Kotelawala issued a statement on September 10, “I returned to the island today, in order to discuss with the prime minister the situation arising from the publication in the newspaper of the document called ‘Premier Stakes 1952’. I explained to the Prime Minister that I had nothing to do with the publication. I also denied the truth of the statement in the document, which are attributed to me. The Prime Minister has accepted my explanation.”

According to J. L. Fernando, the author of Three Prime Ministers of Ceylon, the following interlude took place shortly thereafter, “I took Kotelawala to my room for private conversation, where in salty language he condemned those who had induced the prime minister to despatch the dismissal order. When I reminded him that he should help his kinsman, he said ‘of course I will help Dudley, but you tell him not to be misled by that B—–d Soulbury’. Then I took him completely by surprise and took out from my drawer the only copy of ‘Premier Stakes 1952’, which was autographed by the author. The handwritten message read, ‘To J. L. Fernando, for his reflections when an old man [sic].’ It was signed J. L. Kotelawala.” – Page 61.

Chapter 15: End of the UNP saga – turbulence ahead 

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