Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Stalin’s Antipathy and a Missed Opportunity in 1950s

An Opinion

by Sachi Sri Kantha

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

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

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

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

A political ‘assist’ from Stalin was no chicken scratch. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill gladly accepted Stalin’s timely political ‘assist’ to overcome the military machine of Hitler’s Nazis. Even his millions of detractors would never doubt that Stalin had an iron will and implemented his will with iron boots. He could kick literally and figuratively anything which upset him. Stalin’s ‘kicked’ list was long; his political adversaries including the redoubtable Leon Trotsky, the skulls of his critics, the peasants who defied his fiat, and even newly independent nations. Newly independent Ceylon was at the receiving end of Stalin’s firm boots of international diplomacy. But, unfortunately the political leaders of Eelam Tamils of the 1940s-early1950s couldn’t grasp the significance of Joe Stalin’s political ‘assist.’ Here is the story in brief.

Six Facts

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

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

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

Fact 4: The guy who made the ultimate decisions for the Soviet Union then was none other than Joe Stalin. Until he died in March 1953, he wouldn’t allow Ceylon into the UN.

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

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

Fact 6: Who were the nominal Eelam Tamil political leaders during Stalin’s reign in the 1940s and early 1950s? The three were, namely C. Suntharalingam, G.G .Ponnambalam and S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. All three, probably because of their British-based education, tutelage and political attitude, probably because of their dim-sightedness and maybe because of their ‘class interests’, couldn’t comprehend Stalin’s antipathy to newly-independent Ceylon and failed to press claims for a separate Tamil nation, at a time when the Soviet strongman was antagonistic to Ceylon as an ‘independent nation’ which deserved a seat in the UN.

Character, Guile and Good Luck

If only Suntharalingam, Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam had ‘played ball,’ not directly with Stalin, but with his antipathy to newly independent Ceylon, or at least had the nerve to catch the ‘political ball’ Stalin was kicking towards them, who knows that Eelam could have become a reality in the 1950s!

The New York Times in its obituary of Stalin (March 6, 1953), noted that “Stalin took and kept the power in his country through a mixture of character, guile and good luck.” Character, guile and good luck are three separate ingredients which gelled neatly to Stalin’s advantage. The same could be said of Churchill and Truman, too. Both Churchill and Truman also had character, guile and good luck. But, can it be said that the three Eelam Tamil leaders of that era (Suntharalingam, Ponnambalam and Chelvanayakam) were blessed with character, guile and good luck? I’d say that all three had character. Chelvanayakam was deficient in guile. While Suntharalingam and Ponnambalam definitely showed glimpses of guile in the public arena, they could never use it to the advantage of Eelam Tamils. On good luck, I’d say that when it appeared in front of them (via Stalin’s assist), they simply couldn’t recognize it.