Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle

Chapter 22: Dance of the turkey cock

by T. Sabaratnam, January 29, 2011
A journalist who reported the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis for over 50 years

Bandaranaike ridiculed that when radical youths of the Jaffna Youth Congress enforced the boycott they acted like the turkey cock imitating the action of the Indian youth leaders of the Indian National Congress. By using the popular allegory Bandaranaike brought out the difference between the Indian and Sri Lankan situations.

Bandaranaike’s comment

The emerging Sinhala leader S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike aptly called the boycott of the 1931 State Council election by the Jaffna Youth Congress " the dance of the turkey cock." In Tamil there is a famous Venba ( a Tamil poetic form) written by poetess Auvaiyar which speaks of the turkey cock (Vankoli) imitating the dance of the peacock. 

Bandaranaike ridiculed that when radical youths of the Jaffna Youth Congress enforced the boycott they acted like the turkey cock imitating the action of the Indian youth leaders of the Indian National Congress. By using the popular allegory Bandaranaike brought out the difference between the Indian and Sri Lankan situations.

The Jaffna Youth Congress, which supported universal suffrage and territorial representation and advocated that Tamils should support the progressive forces among the Sinhalese, was furious with the Donoughmore recommendations. It issued a statement rejecting it and appealed to Sinhalese also to reject it. It said,

We are not prepared to accept anything less than total independence. We appeal to the Sinhalese also to reject it.

As we pointed out in the last chapter the Legislative Council accepted the Donoughmore Constitution in December 1929 and the process of setting up the State Council began with the appointment of the Delimitation Commission to draw up the constituencies to hold the elections to the State Council. The Delimitation Commission held its meetings in March 1930 in Colombo. 

The Ceylon National Congress which was not happy with the rejection of the Jaffna Youth Congress decided to win over the traditional Tamil leadership to its side. It sent a delegation to meet Waithilingam Duraiswamy at his residence in Kayts and work out a seat-sharing agreement with him. The delegation persuaded Duraiswamy to accept seven seats for the Jaffna peninsula, two more than the five seats it had under the 1924 reforms. The delegation also agreed to share the 50 elected seats in the State Council in the ratio of two to one; two for the Sinhalese and one for the minorities.

Duraiswamy summoned a meeting of the All Ceylon Tamil League, in his capacity of vice president to consider the agreement he reached with the Ceylon National Congress. He moved a resolution accepting the constitution subject to the agreement that he had reached with the Ceylon National Congress. He told the meeting that his agreement would give the Tamils at least two more seats.

G.G. Ponnambalam who had just returned from Cambridge participated in that meeting and moved an amendment condemning the Donoughmore scheme as “unacceptable and injurious to the Tamils.” The amendment was carried with an overwhelming majority as the progressives led by Handy Perinbanayagam had joined hands with the group led by G.G. Ponnambalam to defeat Duraiswamy’s move to accept the Donoughmore Constitution. 

Opposition to the Duraiswamy Agreement developed among the Sinhalese also. Marcus Fernando of the Unionist Association deplored the proposal to give additional seats for the Jaffna peninsula. He said that the Tamils had obtained “too much influence anyway”.

Tamils and Sinhalese presented different points of view before the Delimitation Commission. Ceylon Tamil delegations, especially the All Ceylon Tamil League led by Duraiswamy urged for additional weightage for the Tamils. He informed the Delimitation Commission about the agreement he had worked out with the Ceylon National Congress delegation and requested for two additional seats for the Jaffna peninsula.

Most of the Sinhalese leaders opposed giving the northern Tamils any additional weightage. But S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and G.E. de Silva who led the Ceylon National Congress delegation said they were willing to “conserve the present representation” of the Tamils and indicated their willingness to give two additional seats to the Tamils. Even A.E. Goonesinghe supported the giving of additional seats but Marcus Fernando and the majority of the Sinhalese delegations opposed any such accommodation. 

The Delimitation Commission refused to accede to any request for special concessions for the Tamils. It struck to the terms of reference and carved out the constituencies on the basis of one seat for 100,000 people. It allocated five seats for the Northern Province- Jaffna, Kayts, Kankesanthurai, Point Pedro and Mannar- Mullaitivu. It gave two seats for the Eastern Province- Batticaloa South and Trincomalee- Batticaloa. Thus the northern and eastern provinces were allocated only seven seats.

Tamils were dissatisfied with the recommendation of the Delimitation Commission. Several protest meetings were held in Jaffna and petitions sent to the governor. But he continued with the process of holding the election for the First State Council.

Like the traditional leaders the radical youths of the Jaffna Youth Congress too did not give up their opposition to the Donoughmore Constitution. Their opposition was completely for different reason. While the elders agitated for more seats the youths continued their opposition because the Donoughmore Constitution had failed to grant the country full freedom.  They said Donoughmore Constitution was no alternative to their goal of self government.  The youths did not spare the Jaffna politicians. They accused them of trying to create electorates for themselves.

The Jaffna Youth Congress conducted its agitation through its network of Youth Leagues and through Jaffna and Colombo newspapers.  A survey of the Jaffna newspapers, especially the Tamil publications, reveals the virulence of the campaign conducted against the Jaffna politicians.  One of the articles published in the Morning Star under the pen name ‘A Youth Leaguer’ as a comment on the evidence led by the leaders of the Jaffna Association before the Delimitation Commission accused the Jaffna politicians as “the self-interested politicians who are bent on creating electorates for themselves”.  The writer of the article said the Jaffna Association “was in a moribund state” and added that its membership was composed of “the turbaned heads who represented only the aristocracy of Jaffna”.

The Jaffna Youth Congress held its sixth annual sessions in Jaffna on March 11, 1930. It was harsh on the Donoughmore Commission and on the Jaffna leaders. The sessions passed a comprehensive resolution rejecting the Donoughmore Constitution for failing to grant self government to Sri Lanka and disapproved the communalist thinking of the Jaffna leaders. It also called upon the Sinhala progressive forces to reject the Donoughmore Constitution and asked them to launch “a Gandhian type of struggle to free the country from the British yoke.”

T.C.Rajaratnam, a lawyer, in his emotional presidential address, was forthright. Inthu Sathanam, March 13, 1930 and Ceylon Daily News, March 14, 1930 quoted him as saying,

What we want is freedom for our motherland. We don’t want anything less. What we want are the rights to which we are entitled. We will accept nothing else. What we want is our birthright. We ask the British, “Give us our birthright.

The Valigaman North Youth league held its annual sessions in the specially erected Nehru Pandal at Tellipallai on April 17 and 18, 1930. In a hard-hitting presidential address T.C. Rajaratnam declared,

It is in fact the bedrock of all our political principles, and while in the name of justice and fairplay, we claim for ourselves the right of self-government, Enchained as we are, in our longing for liberty, we possess the right to break the shackles that bind us.

We have now arrived at a stage when there is a national demand for full responsible government. There are some who feel aghast at this idea –they call it preposterous – and some there are who say ‘we won’t go so far but will stop at safe distance from this goal because our rulers may consider such a demand as savouring of impudence”, while there are yet others who say “we are satisfied with small mercies and let us take a well-earned rest on these cushions the Donoughmore Commission has so thoughtfully provided us with”. Gentlemen, we have to surmount all these difficulties and a portion of our work lies here.

The March sessions of the Jaffna Youth Congress had an unexpected sequel in June that year. Jaffna students used to celebrate the King’s birthday with sports meet. Jaffna College students decided to boycott that year’s sports meet. The move was initiated by some of the younger teachers led by Bonney Kanagathungam, A. S. Kanagaratnam and C. J. Eliyathamby. To the surprise of all Jaffna College kept away.

The same evening a few youths ran to the Jaffna Clock Tower which was close to the Jaffna Central College playground where the sports meet was held, brought down the Union Jack, the British flag, and hoisted the Nandi flag, the flag of the Jaffna Kingdom.

The impulsive youth were only doing the dance of the turkey cock, imitating the dance of the Indian youth leaders. As we noted in Chapter 20 Indian youth leaders led by Jawaharlal Nehru and India’s emerging powerful youth and  trade union movements had moved the Poorna Swaraj rersolution at the Madras sessions of the Indian National Congress in 1927. The young leaders who had captured the leadership of the Indian National Congress by next strengthened the independence movement by December 1928.

The next annual session of  the Indian National Congress was held in Calcutta in December 1928 and the younger leaders led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose demanded immediate independence. Gandhi suggested that the British be given two years' notice but a compromise  to give one year was reached. The conference resolved that if India had not achieved Dominion Status by December 31, 1929 a struggle for independence should be launched.

The Labor Party won the General Elections in Britain in May 1929 and Ramsay Macdonald became Prime Minister and Wedgewood Benn the Secretary of State for India. Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India visited London to consult the new Government and announced that he would hold a Round Table Conference to discuss granting of Dominion Status for India. Gandhi and the Indian National Congress welcomed the statement.

Salt Satyagraha

Lord Irwin’s announcement raised a howl of protest in London. Conservatives and Liberals combined to condemn Irwin forcing him to retract his promise. Thus Lord Irwin was non-committal about the outcome of the Round Table Conference when Gandhi met him to seek clarification. The Indian National Congress thus decided at the December 1929 annual session to launch a campaign of civil disobedience. Jawaharlal Nehru was the president.

A model constitution for independent India drafted under the guidance of Motilal Nehru (Jawaharlal's father) was adopted at the 1929 annual sessions at Lahoor and  January 26, 1930, was observed as India’s Independence Day. Gandhi launched the famous salt satyagraha on March 12, 1930. The 400 kilometer march from his ashram in Ahmadabad to Dandi, on the coast of Gujarat, to protest against the tax on salt mobilized the entire population of India behind him. Gandhi reached the coast after the 24-day march on April 6 and collected salt symbolically defying the British rule.

Hindu Organ gave detailed coverage for the Salt March. It also carried the following story from the English journalist, Webb Miller, who witnessed one of the clashes, a classic description of the atyagraha:

Gandhi's men advanced in complete silence before stopping about one-hundred yards before the cordon. A selected team broke away from the main group, waded through the ditch and neared the barbed-wire fence.

Receiving the signal, a large group of local police officers suddenly moved towards the advancing protestors and subjected them to a hail of blows to the head delivered from steel-covered Lathis (truncheons). None of the protesters raised so much as an arm to protect themselves against the barrage of blows. They fell to the ground like pins in a bowling alley.

From where I was standing I could hear the nauseating sound of truncheons impacting against unprotected skulls. The waiting main group moaned and drew breath sharply at each blow. Those being subjected to the onslaught fell to the ground quickly writhing unconsciously or with broken shoulders.

The main group, which had been spared until now, began to march in a quiet and determined way forwards and were met with the same fate. They advanced in a uniform manner with heads raised - without encouragement through music or battle cries and without being given the opportunity to avoid serious injury or even death.

The police attacked repeatedly and the second group was also beaten to the ground. There was no fight, no violence; the marchers simply advanced until they themselves were knocked down.

Following their action, the men in uniform, who obviously felt unprotected with all their superior equipment of violence, could think of nothing better to do than that which seems to overcome uniformed men in similar situations as a sort of "natural" impulse: If they were unable to break the skulls of all the protesters, they now set about kicking and aiming their blows at the genitals of the helpless on the ground. "For hour upon hour endless numbers of motionless, bloody bodies were carried away on stretchers. 

The paper also carried several photographs of salt satyagraha.  Handy Perinbanayagham told me the entire youth population in Jaffna was highly worked up.  He said,

We held several marches during that period. We held special prayers in all the places of worship. We held street corner meetings. In short, we transformed the Jaffna peninsula into an emotional volcano.

The highly charged emotional atmosphere was maintained throughout 1930 and the next year. Indian political community received the Simon Commission Report issued in June 1930 with great resentment. Different political parties gave vent to their feelings in different ways.

The Congress started a Civil Disobedience Movement under Gandhi's command. The Muslims reserved their opinion on the Simon Report declaring that the report was not final and the matters should decided after consultations with the leaders representing all communities in India.

The Indian political situation seemed deadlocked. The British government refused to contemplate any form of self-government for the people of India. This caused frustration amongst the masses, who often expressed their anger in violent clashes.

The Labor Government returned to power in Britain in 1931, and a glimmer of hope ran through Indian hearts. Labor leaders had always been sympathetic to the Indian cause. The government decided to hold a Round Table Conference in London to consider new constitutional reforms. All Indian politicians; Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians were summoned to London for the conference.

Gandhi immediately insisted at the conference that he alone spoke for all Indians, and that the Congress was the party of the people of India. He argued that the other parties only represented sectarian viewpoints, with little or no significant following.

The first session of the conference opened in London on November 12, 1930. All parties were present except for the Congress, whose leaders were in jail due to the Civil Disobedience Movement. Congress leaders stated that they would have nothing to do with further constitutional discussion unless the Nehru Report was enforced in its entirety as the constitution of India.

Gandhi picks grains of salt on April 6, 1930 thus breaking the British Indian laws on salt tax
Gandhi picks grains of salt on April 6, 1930 thus breaking the British Indian laws on salt tax

Almost 89 members attended the conference, out of which 58 were chosen from various communities and interests in British India, and the rest from princely states and other political parties. The prominent among the Muslim delegates invited by the British government were Sir Aga Khan, Quaid-i-Azam, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jouhar, Sir Muhammad Shafi and Maulvi Fazl-i-Haq. Sir Taj Bahadur Sapru, Mr. Jaikar and Dr. Moonje were outstanding amongst the Hindu leaders.

The Muslim-Hindu differences overshadowed the conference as the Hindus were pushing for a powerful central government while the Muslims stood for a loose federation of completely autonomous provinces. The Muslims demanded maintenance of weightage and separate electorates, the Hindus their abolition. The Muslims claimed statutory majority in Punjab and Bengal, while Hindus resisted their imposition. In Punjab, the situation was complicated by inflated Sikh claims.

Eight subcommittees were set up to deal with the details. Those committees dealt with the federal structure, provincial constitution, franchise, Sindh, the North West Frontier Province, defense services and minorities.

The conference broke up on January 19, 1931, and what emerged from it was a general agreement to write safeguards for minorities into the constitution and a vague desire to devise a federal system for the country.

All those discussions were carried in great detail by the Jaffna papers. Elakesari which was published from Jaffna from the beginning of 1930 and Virakesari which began publishing from Colombo on August 6, 1930 carried graphic accounts of those developments. Handy Perinbanayagam told me that Tamils, especially those of the Jaffna peninsula were aware of the demands Muslim leaders placed before the Round Table Conference.

I asked him: Why were you not influenced by the demand the Muslims placed before the Round Table Conference?

Handy Perinbanayagam: Because we identified ourselves with Gandhi, Nehru, Subash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Ciongress.

Question: Looking back, don’t you feel you had erred in not identifying the Tamils with the demands of the Indian minority community?

Handy Perinbanayagam:  At that time we were only moved by Indian nationalism. We thought that with the help of the Sinhala progressives we could build Sri Lankan nationalism. We simply identified ourselves with Sri Lankan nationalism.

Gandhi at First Roundtable Conference
Gandhi at First Round Table Conference

Boycott in Action

Unmindful of the agitation in the Northern Province the governor published the Order in Council to establish the State Council on April 15, 1931 and dissolved the Legislative Council two days later and the election was fixed for the period June 13 to 30. The last day for the filing of nominations was May 4, 1931.

Tamil leaders who rejected the Donoughmore Constitution started scrambling for electorates to contest the election. Then the Jaffna Youth Congress struck.

The hard core of the Jaffna Youth Congress was highly disturbed by that scramble for electorates and decided to adopt the 1 928 Indian example of boycotting the elections. They held the Seventh Annual Sessions from April 25 to 28, 1931 at the Jaffna esplanade, presided over by S. Sivapathasuntharam, the principal of Victoria College. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, a fire-brand orator of the left wing of the Indian National Congress, was the chief guest.

Kamaladevi was also a leader of the Indian Congress Socialist Party and one of the most colourful figures of the Indian liberation movement. A South Indian, she was the wife of the poet/playwright Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, brother of the renowned Sarojini Naidu. In 1926 she was the first woman in India to run for the Legislative Council. She was jailed for participating in Gandhi’s Salt March of 1930.

The president-elect C. Balasingham was taken in a procession from Thattatheru junction to the venue of the meeting in a carriage drawn by three white horses headed by several bands of musicians and youth clad in khadar and wearing Gandhi caps. They carried the red, green and saffron flag of the Jaffna Youth Congress which symbolized the unity of all communities living in Ceylon. The sessions witnessed the largest gathering at any sessions. The proceedings began with the singing of ‘Vande mataram’ followed by Subramaniya Bharathi’s songs on freedom.

A specially erected pandal at the Jaffna esplanade was the venue of the sessions where T.C. Rajaratnam played a pivotal role in pushing through the Boycott Resolution. That historic resolution drafted by the drafting committee headed by Handy Perinbanayagam and comprising T.C. Rajaratnam and S. Sivapathasuntharam, rejected the Donoughmore constitution and demanded Poorna Swaraj for Sri Lanka.

The resolution moved by T M Suppaiah read,

The conference holds swaraj to be the inalienable birthright of every people and calls upon the youth of the land to consecrate their lives to the achievement of their country’s freedom. And whereas the Donoughmore constitution militates against the attainment of swaraj, this congress further pledges itself to boycott the scheme.

According to Morning Star of May 3, 1931 the motion was carried by thousands of emotionally-charged youths who attended the conference chanting, “Freedom is our birthright” and “We are ready to sacrifice our lives for freedom.”

In a moving speech delivered before he moved the motion on April 25, nine days before closing of nominations for the State Council election, Suppaiah said that the youths of Jaffna had decided to reject the Donoughmore proposals because they did not confer self-government on Ceylon. He explained the boycott call was similar to that made by the Indian National Congress in 1928 which asked the Indian people to boycott the Simon Commission. “What does the Donoughmore constitution bestow on us the Ceylonese?” Suppaiah asked and answered, “Nothing. It is designed to keep us under the British bondage.”

Sivapathasuntharam who presided, said they were only following the example adopted by the Indian National Congress three years earlier. He said that Kamaladevi Chattopadhya, one of the proponents of the Indian boycott movement was with them and had advised them to adopt the Indian technique of agitation. Kamaladevi gave details about the Indian boycott decision, its implementation and outcome.

She reserved her oratorical skill for the public meeting that followed the conference over which T.C. Rajaratnam presided. Rajaratnam prefaced his speech explaining the rationale of the boycott decision. He said that was the outcome of their concern for the entire Sri Lankan people, Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and others. He said unlike the elders in Jaffna they never adopted a communal approach to Sri Lanka’s constitutional development. He added that the youths followed an all island approach.

 Then he provided the environment for Kamaladevi’s fiery outburst. Inthu Sathanam of April 27, 1931 quoted him as saying,

We are here not to celebrate but to dedicate our lives for the cause of freedom. We are here not to talk, pass resolutions and go home and sleep. We have had many leaders who did that.

We belong to a different generation. We belong to a generation of action. We have adopted this evening a resolution to boycott the election because the Donoughmore constitution did not give Ceylon swaraj. We are not prepared to take anything less. To prove our resolve we are going to take action from now onwards. Action will be our sacred mantra.

Kamaladevi kept up that tempo. She declared that all should treat the freedom of their motherland more sacred than their lives. “It is better to die than live as slaves,” she thundered. “Boycott the election and demonstrate your will to live as free men and women,” she declared.

Handy Perinbanayagam Memorial Volume captures the reaction of the youths thus:

The youths were all worked up. They chanted ‘Boycott, boycott’ and paraded the Jaffna streets. Two of them climbed the Jaffna Clock Tower and pulled down the Union Jack, the British flag, and burnt it. In the next few days the message of boycott was spread throughout the peninsula by groups of youths who visited the villages.

Five days later, on April 30, the Youth Congress held a seminar at the Vaitheeswara Vidyalayam, Jaffna to persuade the Tamil leaders to abstain from filing their nomination papers to contest the election. They invited Vaithilingham Duraiswamy, president of the Jaffna Association to preside. The prospective candidates who were brought there declared that they would not contest the election and issued an appeal to others not to contest.

As indicated earlier, T M Suppiah who moved the boycott resolution also issued a fervent appeal to the Sinhala youth to support the boycott. The Jaffna Youth Congress which firmly believed in one independent country in which all communities would live, work and prosper together had already  forged links with the Colombo Youth League formed by a group of Sinhala youths fired by the Gandhian struggle in India. The Jaffna Youth Congress expected the Colombo Youth League to back its boycott call.

The leaders of the Jaffna Youth Congress wanted to bring Nehru for the April Seventh Annual Sessions as well but Nehru who was then in Ceylon on a holiday was not free during those days. He agreed to visit Jaffna on May 8 and his visit was confirmed on May 1.The organizing group – Handy Perinbanayagam, T.C.Rajaratnam, Nagalingam, Suppaiah and Muthusamy – met and decided to show results at the massive reception scheduled to be held at the Jaffna esplanade on May 8. They also decided to bring the candidates who obeyed the boycott call to the meeting and thank them publicly for their cooperation.

Meanwhile, The Ceylon Daily News under the stewardship of D.R. Wijewardene, a strong supporter of the Jaffna Youth Congress and a virulent critic of the Donoughmore constitution, welcomed the boycott in Jaffna in its editorial written on the nomination day, May 4. It criticized the candidates in the other parts of the country for contesting the election as lacking in political principles. “One relieving feature of this soporific performance is contained in the news from Jaffna,” the editorial said.

Leftist leaders in the south supported the Jaffna boycott. Philip Gunawardene, then in London, wrote: 

I longed for the day when the youth of Ceylon would take their place by the side of the young men and women of China, of India, of Indonesia, of Korea and even of the Philippine Islands in the great struggles of a creative revolution of all the mighty forces of old age, social reaction and imperialist repression. During the last few years the Jaffna Students’ Congress was the only organization in Ceylon that has been displaying political intelligence … Jaffna has given the lead, They have forced their leaders to sound the bugle call for the great struggle for freedom- for immediate and complete independence from imperialist Britain. Will the Sinhalese who always display supreme courage, understand and fall in line? A tremendous struggle faces us. Boycott of the election was only a signal. It is the duty of every Sinhalese to prepare the masses for a great struggle ahead.

The boycott was successful only in the Jaffna peninsula and on the nomination day, May 4, no nomination paper was filed for the four constituencies in the peninsula. The Jaffna Youth Congress volunteers ensured that no one slipped to the Jaffna kachcheri on the sly and filed his papers. They blocked all the roads leading to the kachcheri including the adjoining lanes. The Jaffna Government Agent, the returning officer, thus announced that no election could be held in the electorates of Jaffna, Kayts, Point Pedro and Kankesanthurai.

Tamil candidates filed nomination papers in the Mannar - Mullaitivu electorate in the Northern Province and two electorates in the Eastern Province. In the rest of the country the boycott was ignored. And in the 46 electorates in which nomination papers were filed nine were uncontested. The members elected uncontested were: D.B. Jayatileka, D.S.Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Peri Sundaram, D.H. Kotalawela, J.C. Ratwatta, A.M.Molamure, J.H. Meedeniya  and J.C.Rambupota.

The Jaffna Youth Congress was elated that the boycott was successful in the Jaffna peninsula. Its members collected a massive crowd on May 8 to listen to Nehru. The Ceylon Daily News quoting the police said that was the biggest meeting held in Jaffna and estimated the crowd to be over 10,000. Most of the Tamil leaders who boycotted the election were honoured and allowed to address the crowd.

Nehru, according to the newspaper reports, delivered a sober and thoughtful speech. He welcomed the success of the boycott movement but gave a guarded warning. He said that the organizers should endeavour to make it effective throughout the country. Then only that would be total and fruitful, he said.

Nehru had made reference to his Jaffna visit in his book Glimpses of World history. He did not mention the public meeting but he recorded an incident he remembered. The relevant extract:

The little incident lingers in my memory; it was near Jaffna, I think. The teachers and boys of a school stopped our car and said a few words of greeting. The ardent, eager faces of the boys stood out, and then one of them came to me shook hands with me, and without questioning or argument said, "I will not falter." That bright young face with shining eyes, full of determination, is imprinted in my mind. I do not know who he was; I have lost trace of him. But somehow I have the conviction that he will remain true to his word and will not falter when he finds life's difficulties.

Inthu Sathanam has reference to that incident. It happened in Kokuvil when he was taken around Jaffna suburbs by T.C. Rajaratnam in his car.  Rajaratnam  was looking after Nehru. He had met Nehru a week earlier at Dehiowitta when he attended a youth conference organized by the left group headed by Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe. Rajaratnam attended that conference as the leader of a small delegation of the Jaffna Youth Congress. He garlanded Nehru on behalf of the Jaffna Youth Congress.

Nehru says in his book that he came to Ceylon with his wife Kamala and daughter Indira on the advice of his doctors to take rest. He says that he had to attend several meetings. That was Nehru’s first visit to Ceylon.

The Tamil leaders made a joint call from that meeting urging the Sinhalese to join the boycott. Duraiswamy read a resolution which said that though they had filed the nominations and some had been declared elected uncontested they should join the boycott by declining to participate in the proceedings of the State Council. The resolution said,

… the Jaffna Youth Congress calls upon the people of Ceylon to boycott the State Council and to work for the immediate attainment of Swaraj.

The Colombo Youth League responded to this call with a resolution of support for the boycott. It was passed at the instance of T.B. Jayah, Valentine and Aelian Perera. The appeal for boycott sent to the nine members who were elected uncontested was ignored. One of the candidates contesting the election, Francis de Zoysa, sent a telegram to Duraiswamy asking him and other Jaffna leaders to send them a signed joint statement declaring their support for the enactment of a new constitution “granting Responsible Government based on adult suffrage without any form of communal representation.”

Francis de Zoysa’s request showed the unwillingness of the Sinhalese leadership to forgo the advance they had gained: territorial representation and universal suffrage which placed the Sinhalese at a position of advantage. The Sinhalese leaders, quite legitimately, feared that the Jaffna Tamil leadership would reopen their demands of communal representation and limited suffrage whenever they got an opportunity.

The Jaffna Youth Congress, in a booklet published in 1939 which reviewed the reasons for the failure of the boycott  said,

The Sinhalese were afraid to join the boycott and let slip the opportunity of once and for all abolishing communal representation. They thought, if they boycotted communal representation would not be abolished.

Opposition to the boycott surfaced in Jaffna soon after the nomination was over. Anti-boycotters issued a leaflet calling for a meeting on June 12, the day before the election. The leaflet warned that by keeping out of the election the Jaffna Tamils would be the ultimate losers. The Jaffna Youth Congress activists broke up that meeting.

Next: Tamils Beg for By-election



Chapter 1: The Context

Chapter 2: Origins of Racial Conflict

Chapter 3: Emergence of Racial Consciousness

Chapter 4: Birth of the Tamil State

Chapter 5: Tamils Lose Sovereignty

Chapter 6: Birth of a Unitary State

Chapter 7: Emergence of Nationalisms

Chapter 8: Growth of Nationalisms

Chapter 9: Religious Revival

Chapter 10: Parallel Growth of Nationalisms

Chapter 11: Consolidation of Nationalisms

Chapter 12: Consolidation of Nationalisms (Part 2)

Chapter 13: Clash of Nationalisms

Chapter 14: Clash between Nationalism Intensifies

Chapter 15: Tamils Demand Communal Representation

Chapter 16: The Arunachalam Factor 

Chapter 17: The Arunachalam Factor (Part 2)

Chapter 18: The First Sinhala - Tamil Rift

Chapter 19: The Birth and Death of the Jaffna Youth Congress

Chapter 20: The Birth and Death of the Jaffna Youth Congress (Part 2)

Chapter 21: Tamils Take the Wrong Road

Chapter 22: The Dance of the Turkey Cock

Chapter 23: Tamils Beg for By-election


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