Lord Soulbury and his soulless report
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore
On August 6, 1945, the American B-29 bomber named Enola Gay, piloted by Paul W Tibbets, dropped the “Little Boy” – a uranium atom bomb, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where more than 140,000 civilians died. Three days later, a second bomb made out of plutonium and nicknamed “Fat Boy”, was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, which resulted in the death of 70,000 people. These bombings brought about catastrophic effects on Japan, which led the Japanese to hasten dramatically their surrender, on August 14, 1945.
Later in the month Japanese troops surrendered in Burma and the British temporarily reinstated the colonial administration there. In January 1947, the British Labor Party government under the premiership of Clement Atlee, at a conference in London, conceded the Burmese demand for independence. In April 1947, Aung San’s Anti-Fascist Peoples’ Freedom League won 248 out of 255 seats in the Burmese parliamentary general elections. Unfortunately, on July 19, 1947, Aung San and five of his closest advisors fell prey to an assassination campaign organized by U San, the pre-war prime minister.
When Japan surrendered, a serious political upheaval ensued in China. During that period, China was divided into three separate political units. The eastern portion was controlled by Japan, through its puppet government in Nanking. The communist-controlled northwest was operated from the capital at Yenan, while the west and north were under the Nationalist government, led by Chiang Kai-shek, who controlled the region from the capital city of Chunking. When Japan surrendered, there was a scramble to take over the region.
A bloody civil war was imminent. The United States send a mission under General George Marshall to negotiate a settlement. As Marshal’s mediation failed, there erupted confrontation. The Communists received help from the Soviet Union and the Nationalists from the Americans. By the end of 1948, the Nationalists, or Kuomintang, armed forces surrendered to the communists. By the middle of 1949, the Red Army had overrun the entire mainland and Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island of Formosa, which is now called Taiwan. Once the whole mainland came under communist control, on October 1, 1949, Mao Tsetung, the communist leader, proclaimed the People’s Republic of China from Peking (Beijing), encompassing the entire Chinese mainland.
Another scenario had earlier unfolded in British parliamentary general elections on July 16, 1945, for 640 parliamentary seats. The Conservative Party, led by the World War II hero Sir Winston Churchill, was trounced. The Labor Party of Atlee won convincingly, with 393 seats – gaining nearly 239 new seats. Though the election was conducted under the ‘first-past-the-post system’, Labor polled 47.8 percent of the total votes, the Conservatives 39.8 percent to retain 213 seats, but they lost 219 seats they had held. The Liberal Party managed 12 seats and polled 9 percent of the total votes.
The Labor Party, in its 1945 election manifesto, declared, “The Labor Party will seek to promote mutual understanding and cordial cooperation between the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, the advancement of India to responsible self-government and planned progress of our colonial dependencies.”
The British election made it clear that the British people were not prepared to make any further sacrifices to maintain British supremacy in India. After the conclusion of World War II, by the spring of 1946, the War Military units of Britain had almost disappeared and the British government no longer had much physical force at its disposal. From then, Britain was in a quandary regarding the question of how soon power could be handed over to India.
A mission led by Lord Pethick-Lawrence, consisting of Sir Stafford Cripps and VA Alexander (later, Viscount) arrived in Delhi in April 1946. They were on a mission to promote and maintain the unity of India and alley the fears of Muslims. They soon found out that the leaders of the Indian National Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru and the Muslim League led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, were intransigent. Nehru declared at a Congress meeting that Congress would go for a Constituent Assembly, uncommitted to any plans.
On the other hand, Jinnah declared a “Direct Action Day”, on August 16, 1946. Bloody riots broke out in Calcutta and spread to other parts of India. Thus, Jinnah managed to present the Indian National Congress with two choices; either the separation of Pakistan or chaos and violence in the country. Mahatma Gandhi was opposed to the separation, but Nehru broke off with Gandhi on this issue. India became the epicenter, where the volatile eruption of Hindu-Muslim violence dumbfounded everyone. Jinnah remained adamant and insisted on a separate state for Muslims.
The new Viceroy, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, after consultation with a cross section of political leaders, submitted a plan to maintain law and order, peace and tranquility, which was accepted, and the leaders agreed to come to a settlement under which the Indian National Congress finally agreed that partition was inevitable.
It was ultimately agreed to set up the two states – India and Pakistan – and the British Government handed over the assets to the respective countries. The handing over was advanced to midnight of August 14, 1947.
At last, Jinnah, paying the price with the lives of thousands innocent people, got his Pakistan on August 16, 1947. Two separate nations were born, fully choked in blood and over the mutilated and dead bodies of thousands and thousands of Hindus and Muslims.
Developments in the Indian sub-continent were a nightmare and the Tamils in Ceylon watched awestruck. Tamil leaders were well aware of the history of the Tamils in the country and the sovereignty they had enjoyed until 1621 when the Tamil kingdom fell into the hands of colonial marauders from Portugal. The fight for separation was a contemporary issue, which was happening next door, but the Tamil leaders, during those days, saw the horrors of communal violence and they chose not to demand for their sovereign nation, but to give a try to co-existence.
It should be reiterated that it was the Tamils who initiated the struggle for independence from the British, while the Sinhalese leaders were licking the boots of the British imperialists. The Tamils decided that with the cooperation and support of the progressive-minded Sinhalese, they should agitate and aspire to their goal of freedom from foreign colonial rule. Therefore, they decided to collaborate with the Sinhala leaders for the independence of Ceylon, however, time and again, they unhesitatingly brought to notice of the glaring discriminatory measures adopted by the Sinhala leaders against the Tamils. Unfortunately, the Sinhalese leadership simply ignored those genuine grievances by dismissing them simply as communal.
Already in 1918, Dr Visuvalingham, a leading Tamil from Jaffna, in a memorial to Whitehall, urged for the claim of a the basis of the former Tamil kingdom, as the only acceptable form of constitutional reform.
Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam, after founding the Tamil League in 1921, in his prefatory address, had declared, “The Committee and those responsible for the Tamil League consider that our aims should be to keep alive and propagate the Tamil ideals, which have through ages past made the Tamils what they are. We should keep alive and propagate those ideals throughout Ceylon and promote the solidarity of what we have been proud to call – Tamil Eelam.” – Ramanathan of Ceylon – The Life of Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan by M Vythilingham, Volume II – page 540.
Jane Russell, too, confirms that Sir Ponnampalam Arunachalam advocated a Tamil state. “Ponnampalam Arunachalam, who had turned his bitterness from the ideal of a United Lanka to the concept of a Tamil Nad or Pan Tamilian state, in his last years.” Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution – pages 321-22
Dr A Jeyaratnam Wilson, who held the founding chair of political science at the University of Ceylon, (now of Peradeniya), later professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, who also acted as the political advisor of President J R Jayewardene, was the son-in-law of S J V Chelvanayakam. In the Political Biography – S J V Chelvanayakam and the crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947-1977, when referring about the early days of Chelvanayakam, he wrote, “Two Ceylon Tamils sent petitions to Britain requesting a separate state for their people. The petitioners were Dr S Ponniah, a major in the Ceylon Defense Force and a notary of Vadamaradchy named Vallipuranathan, both of whom showed their drafts to Chelvanayakam to find out his views. While he was not discouraging, he also did not give them open support.” – Page 6.
The above references clearly show that the Tamils who lived during the Colonial days adopted different strands of political opinion and a section of them were agitating for their genuine claim of the sovereign Tamil nation, the issue of a sovereign Tamil nation was not born in the 1970s, the clamor for it was there, even during the colonial days. Anyhow, the Tamil moderate leaders of the 1940s believed in “responsive cooperation” with progressive-minded Sinhalese, which clearly overlapped for the time being the other forms of opinion that prevailed in those days. It is impossible to deny, though, that although the idea of separation was not burning brightly, the embers were there and at times the smoke and soot could be seen floating in the political atmosphere.
G G Ponnampalam, an emerging politician, began to fill the leadership vacuum created by the demise of Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan. Dr A J Wilson was generous when referring to this situation, writing, “The vacuum was soon filled by a promising newcomer and stormy petrel, the young G G Ponnampalam, who came to mesmerize the Tamil people with brilliant rhetoric and his formula of balanced representation (half of the seats in the legislature for the majority Sinhalese and the remaining half for the combined minority communities). Ponnampalam was a skilled debater in the State Council, the legislature under the Donoughmore Constitution, and is best remembered for his famous speech in the State Council of the mid 1930s, on ‘Minorities Constitutional Reform’. This was a statement of his defense of minority rights in the context of self-aggrandizing Sinhala communalism.” Political Biography – S J V Chelvanayakam and the crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947-1977 by A Jeyaratnam Wilson, page 6.
G G Ponnampalam formed the All Ceylon Tamil Congress; the first political party for the Tamils was inaugurated on August 29, 1944. When he formed this there was an overwhelming support from a large section of the Tamil community.
Earlier, the Tamils were not politically united under a single leadership. There were several groups in their midst holding different political opinions and they all pulled in different directions. Tamil nationalism was at the crossroad when Ponnampalam entered national politics in the 1930s. “Ponnampalam had evolved at a reasonably swift pace from the lone campaigner for rights for the minority communities, which he was when he was elected to the State Council in 1934, to the charismatic leader of the Ceylon Tamils in the late 1930s.”Political Biography – S J V Chelvanayakam and the crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947-1977 by A Jeyaratnam Wilson, page 14.
Ponnampalam managed to bring together the faction-ridden Tamil leadership into one group, called the Ad-hoc body, to discuss and represent the Tamils in matters of constitutional reforms. Earlier, Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva, Subbiah Natesan and other moderate Tamils, including leaders of the Tamils of the Indian origin, joined the body, in a show of solidarity. The Ad-hoc body later evolved into the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, in which joined the innocuous looking civil lawyer of repute, S J V Chelvanayakam, who in the years to come was destined to play a leading role in the political life of the Tamils.
The inaugural meeting of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress was held at the Jaffna Town Hall, on September 4, 1944. Dr S Subramanian presided over the meeting and others on the platform were G G Ponnampalam, S Natesan, C J Tyagarajah, all four members of the State Council and K Balasingham, Reverent James Mather, Dr C Sivasithamparam, T M Sabaratnam, A V Kulasingham, R Sivagurunather, T Muttusamypillai, R C Proctor, P Mortimer, A R Subramaniam, K K Natarajan,and K V Balasingham.
The meeting confirmed the election of G G Ponnampalam as the president of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. S N Rajudurai and A V Kulasingham were elected as joint secretaries. The aims and objects of the Congress were moved by G G Ponnampalam and seconded by I P Thurairatnam. The following aims and objectives were adopted:
“The attainment of swarajyam [independence] for Ceylon; the recognition of the sovereignty of the people of Ceylon by the establishment of a free constitution based on the just principle of democratic equality under which no single race, community, class or such other groups will be in a position to dominate over the others; the establishment of political equality for all sections of the population of the island; the recognition of the cultural autonomy of all communities in the island; the recognition of the right of self-determination of the people of Ceylon; the promotion and maintenance of goodwill and cooperation with the other communities in the island in the interest of national solidarity; the cultivation of close and friendly relations and the promotion of political and economic collaboration with the people of India and the maintenance of friendly relations and cultural contacts with the people of Great Britain and other progressive countries of the world.”
Other aims and objectives were “the recognition of the dignity and personality of man and the removal of all forms of disability and inequality; the recognition of the unity and indivisibility of the Tamil people in Ceylon- based on a common racial and cultural heritage; to preserve and develop the Tamil language and literature; to spread Tamil culture and ideals; to promote the industrial and agricultural development of the Island based on a scientifically planned and coordinated economy; to obtain a living wage for labor; to raise the standard of living for the people; to establish social security and equality of opportunity for the people; to work for universal free education based on sound principles; to abolish social inequalities; to remove any unjust disabilities which may prevent the Indian residents in Ceylon from discharging their obligations and exercising their rights as members of the body politic; and generally to promote and safeguard the cultural, economic and political interests of the Tamils for the purpose of the common wealth.”
Meanwhile, the Ceylon National Congress, at its 25th annual conference, resolved to demand ” for a complete freedom after war”. It further resolved that the constitution the Board of Ministers be drafting, and it should not make provision either for a second chamber or provide for His Majesty in Council to revoke or amend the constitution, and further that the power to amend the constitution be given to the legislature of the island.
Subsequently, according to a news item in the Ceylon Daily News, dated December 24, 1943, with the caption “Mr Senanayake resigns from the Congress – break on Communist Party Issue,” created a mild stir in the Sinhalese leadership. According to the news item, “The leader of the State Council, Mr. D S Senanayake has resigned his membership of the Ceylon National Congress. He has intimated his resignation in a letter to the Joint Secretaries of the Congress.
“At the annual session of the Congress held last year at Kelaniya, Mr. Senanayake, who up to that time had been a founder member and member of the Executive Committee of the Congress, disagreed with the resolution proposing to change the main aim of the Congress, from that of obtaining dominion status to the achieving of ‘freedom’.
“The Congress later resolved as a political party to shut out members of other political parties from membership of the Congress. At the recent session of the Congress held at Amblangoda, it was discovered that, instead of adhering to this resolution, the Congress had admitted to its membership a large number of members of the newly formed Communist Party. Mr. Senanayake was not present at this session, but had sent to it a protest against the presence in the Congress of members of the Communist Party. His protest was not read out to the Congress.”
Senanayake’s letter dated December 21, 1943 was said to be a very cleverly calculated move. It was an attempt to show his impartiality to the minorities by the severance of ties with the Ceylon National Congress, which had still not regained the confidence of the minorities. Furthermore, he resigned from the Congress so that he might have a free hand in his negotiations with Whitehall.
Senanayake’s resignation was severely criticized in an article communicated to Young Ceylon, in its issue of November-December 1943 under the headline “Emancipation of the National Congress”, as follows:
“Another result of the decision of the session is the resignation of Mr. D S Senanayake from Congress. As a matter of fact, those who followed carefully Congress activities during the last three years were at a loss to understand why Mr. Senanayake did not leave the Congress much earlier. It would seems as if Mr. Senanayake has been seeking for some excuse to leave the Congress, and the latest decision of the Congress has been made use of. Mr. Senanayake has also been deliberately acting against the Congress principles. It has been the declared policy of the Congress that no paid servant of the Crown or a Minister should draw a salary of over Rs 1,000 a month. But, Mr. Senanayake as a Minister, has been drawing ever since Congress decided on this policy Rs 1,500 and when the matter was brought home to him at a meeting of the Congress executives, he threatened to resign from the Congress if a decision adverse to him was arrived at by the Executive.”
Young Ceylon demanded his resignation from the State Council, his position as Minister of Agriculture and Lands and also from the position of the Leader of the House of the State Council.
“The conclusion is irresistible that he made use of this opportunity to leave the Congress. What of the State Council? What about his position as Minister of Agriculture and Lands and Leader of the House? Mr. Senanayake entered the State Council on the Congress ticket. On the Congress ticket he became Minister and later Leader of the House. Why won’t he follow suit and tender his resignation as a Member of Minuwangoda, Minister of Agriculture and Lands and as the Leader of the State Council? He kicks the ladder by which he climbed to giddy fame, but clings tenaciously to the position that the ladder enabled him to reach. A historian of the Congress, since the days of Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka, would point to Mr. Senanayake as an “evil genius”. It was he who prevented the Congress from being a force in the country. He found Congress a giant powerful organization. He reduced it to a petty cabal with himself as its leading Olympian tin-god.”
The Soulbury Commissioners arrived on the island on September 20, 1944 and the following terms of reference on the reform of the Ceylon constitution was made public:
“To visit Ceylon in order to examine and discuss any proposals for constitutional reform in the Island, which have the object of giving effect to the Declaration of His Majesty’s Government on that subject dated May 26, 1943, and after consultation with various interests on the island, including minority communities, concerned with the subjects of constitutional reforms, to advise His Majesty’s Government on all measures necessary to attain that object.”
Before the arrival of the Soulbury commissioners, a special session of the Ceylon National Congress was held on September 2, 1944 at the Town Hall, Colombo. It resolved, “Whereas the original Declaration by His Majesty’s Government on the Constitutional Reform read out in the State Council on May 26, 1943, was declared by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and understood by the Board of Ministers and the people of this country to mean that if the Board of Ministers could produce a Constitution which in the opinion of the Commission or Conference, satisfies the condition in paragraphs 2 to 6 thereof, and that the Constitution is subsequently accepted by three quarters of all the members of the State Council, excluding the Officers of State and the Speaker, His Majesty in Council will put that Constitution into operation and whereas the latest declaration of His Majesty’s Government, made on July 5, 1944, is a gross violation of that undertaking in that a commission is to be sent out to explore the whole subject of constitutional reforms in Ceylon, this Congress fears that this is an attempt to take away from the people of Ceylon the undoubted right that they have to draft their own Constitution and to impose upon them a slave Constitution drafted by the foreign ruler, and calls upon the country and the State Council:
a. To reject the Declaration made by His Majesty’s Government on May 26, 1943 and subsequent declaration
b. To boycott such commission or conference
c. To make a united demand for the immediate recognition of Ceylon rights to independence and a free constitution.”
The Soulbury commissioners by means of advertisements in newspapers invited the public to submit proposals designed to give effect to the declaration of May 26, 1943, and to send in criticisms of any such proposals as had been made public, on or before January 15, 1945. The commissioners received 165 such memoranda. The commissioners held 20 public hearings at the Colombo Town Hall, from January 22 to March 15, 1945. The commission examined nearly 80 deputations and individual witnesses.
Meanwhile, as a sideline show, Susantha de Fonseka, the State Council member for Panadura, moved a motion in the State Council, by November 1944, to the effect that the Ministers “be directed to introduce immediately a Bill conferring on this country a constitution of the recognized dominion type for Free Lanka”.
Subsequently, a Bill entitled “An ordinance to provide a new constitution for Ceylon”, known as the “Free Lanka Bill” was introduced in the State Council, on January 19, 1945. The draft constitution that embodied the Bill was produced with such speed by making use of the Ministers’ draft Constitution. The Free Lanka Bill diverged from the ministers’ draft constitution only in regard to provisions dealing with the powers of the Governor General, which were of necessity much more limited because control over defense and external affairs lay with the cabinet of ministers and not with the Governor General, as envisaged in the Whitehall declaration of May 1943.
As a related development, the 26th annual session of the Ceylon National Congress was held on January 27-28, 1945 at the Colombo Town Hall, where George E de Silva, the Minister of Health, was elected as the new president. In his address he said, “The Congress which stands for freedom cannot crawl before a commission, whose terms of reference do not go beyond internal self-government. Today we stand pledged to strive for freedom. Nothing less than that can be accepted.”
The Congress also resolved, “Whereas the decision of the State Council ‘to frame a Constitution of the Dominion type for a Free Lanka’, falls short of the full national right for freedom, nevertheless, this Congress instructs its members in the State Council to support the Bill providing ‘a new constitution for a Free Lanka’ as an advance in our struggle for freedom and to incorporate in it a solution of the minority problem, in accordance with the direction of the All Ceylon Congress Committee.”
A second reading of the Free Lanka Bill was moved on February 6 and after lengthy debate it was passed without division on February 16, 1945. The Bill was then referred to the committee of the whole House and brought up for a third reading, with amendment, on March 22. Then G A Wille, a nominated member of the State Council, moved that, “The Bill be read the third time six months hence”. This amendment was defeated by a majority of 33 votes. Those opposed to the amendments were 40, while seven supported the amendments and one declined to vote. Later, the Governor, Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore (1944-1948), said that the State Councilors knew from the very day that the Bill was moved in the State Council that it would be disallowed.
“British officials on the island and in the Whitehall – to say nothing of the Soulbury Commissioners themselves – recognized this debate on the Free Lanka Bill for what it was – a piece of political play-acting, set in an atmosphere of unreality and therefore not to be taken seriously.” – J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka – A political Biography – Volume One: The First Fifty years, by K M da Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 179.
Since January 22, the Soulbury commissioners were busy examining witnesses, while conducting personal interviews. The declaration of 1943 was published as sessional paper XIV of 1944. They also arranged the publication of the comprehensive draft constitution, provided by the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, in leading newspapers published on the island.
On February 15, 1945, a deputation led by G G Ponnampalam met the commissioners on behalf of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress to present their viewpoints on proposed constitutional reform of Ceylon. Ponnampalam reminded the commissioners that Ceylon, with its oriental outlook, differed vastly from Western civilization and culture; therefore, a parliamentary democracy in the English sense could not exist in Ceylon. He presented his demand for “fifty-fifty”, or balanced representation, before the commission and presented his case in a 10-hour marathon session, arguing that the Tamils would suffer discrimination at the hands of a numerically predominant Sinhalese majority in the legislature. Subsequently, the commissioners met Ponnampalam exclusively, to hear more of his views, regarding issues connected with the Tamils and minorities in Ceylon.
Given below are excerpts of the Soulbury Commission Report, Chapter 8, which dealt with the grievances of the minority community and the commissioners’ comments. This chapter remains forever as a display of a well-orchestrated partiality the commissioners exercised. Also, it proved that the commissioners were strangers to the existing political situation of the country. Unfortunately, they took up a position, strangely enough, similar to that of the Sinhalese leaders in repudiating the genuine grievances of the Tamils and dismissing them, putting forward illogical counter arguments which are not acceptable. The comments made by the commissioners amounted to a pre-planned design. They, instead of condemning the government for its discriminatory and communal approach, continued to ignore the views of the Tamils as non-consequential issues:
Chapter 8 – Discrimination
138. “The attitude of the Ceylon Tamils in this matter is epitomized in the following passage from their memorandum of evidence:
Discrimination against the Ceylon Tamils arises not so much from legislative as from administrative or executive acts of commission or omission. The community has been filled with grave apprehension by the cumulative effect of the inequitable distribution of public expenditure and the manner of dealing with public appointments.
“If discrimination is practiced against a minority, it is usually by means of administrative actions which are more difficult to detect and expose than are legislative measures. Apart from enactments affecting immigration and the franchise of the Indian Tamils, with which we deal later, the Ceylon Tamils cited only two instances of legislation – the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance (No. 19 of 1931) and the Anuradhapura Preservation Ordinance (No. 34 of 1942).”
The Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance, 1931.
“139.In consequence of the general dissatisfaction felt by the Buddhist community, both priesthood and laity, with statutory provisions affecting the administration of the Buddhist Temporalities, an amending Ordinance was passed in March 1931, providing that all the revenue and expenditure of Buddhist Temples should be supervised by the Public Trustee, who was to recover the cost of this administration from the property of the Temples. The Governor was required to make provision for the levying of the necessary contribution.
“140. The Ceylon Tamils complained that a total loss of nearly half a million rupees during the period 1931 to 1943 [the cost of the Public Trustee’s administration] has been incurred by the public revenue and that, from year to year, the general taxpayer is being compelled to pay for the administration of the temporalities of a section of the population.
This is considered by the minority communities to amount to discrimination in favor of Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the Sinhalese. Prima facie, this contention seems to us to be correct and to afford evidence against the Sinhalese majority in the Council of partiality.”
The Anuradhapura Preservation Ordinance, 1942
“142. The purpose of this measure was to preserve the historic city of Anuradhapura and facilitate the development of a new town outside the zone of its archaeological remains. An Estimate was carried in Council in the autumn of that year the Bill was introduced. It was severely criticized on the ground that the Tamils and Muslims formed a considerable section of the population of Anuradhapura (about 10,000 in all) and either owned or occupied the greater portion of the land affected by the measure. The Bill was passed and forwarded for assent to the Governor in December, 194. Subsequently, the Governor notified the reservation of Bill for the Signification of His Majesty’s pleasure, and on receipt of instructions from the Secretary of State that His Majesty had been pleased to give his assent, it was proclaimed by the Governor in September, 1942
“143. Whether the method adopted by the authors of this measure are the best way of preserving the ruins of Anuradhapura, we are unable to say. Our brief visit to this historic city would not qualify us to express an opinion; but we are naturally in sympathy with a measure designed to safeguard the remains of an ancient city of great extent and beauty. We think that we are entitled to assume that the Ministers have given long and careful thought to this proposal, which is in any case in the best interests of Ceylon as a whole, and not to the advantage of any one community; and we are not deposed to ascribe to them in this matter an intention to discriminate against any section of the minorities.”
Administrative Actions: Trade and Commerce
“146. It has been the policy of the Government of Ceylon sedulously to foster the co-operative movement in the Island, and as a result of State action, this movement has made great strides, particularly since the outbreak of war. There arose at that time widespread profiteering in consumer goods, especially food and clothing, and in order to control the prices of essential commodities and ensure that they reached every citizen, the Ceylon Government imposed a state monopoly on imports and encouraged the Co-operative movement. The great success of this movement has led to an increase in the volume of Government support and to its extension to the remotest parts of the Island.
“147. The All-Ceylon Tamil Congress stated to us that, ‘the practically compulsory nature of the application of this movement over the whole island at state expense cannot be looked upon without serious misgiving,’ and deduced from this policy a desire on the part of the Sinhalese to cut out the trade of the Indians and the Europeans. They averred that the Indians had an aptitude for trade which the Sinhalese did not possess, and that the Government was seeking to employ the machinery and finances of the State to benefit the Sinhalese community at the expense of others.
“148. It may well be that the Indians are specially qualified by racial characteristics and habits to become successful traders, and have in that respect an advantage over the Sinhalese; but we think that this is a consideration which should not be allowed to militate against the encouragement by the Government of co-operative trading. It is of course quite intelligible that Indians and other merchants, including Sinhalese should regard with anxiety and disfavor the development of this movement – particularly when it is mainly the result of government stimulus. Nevertheless, we think that this policy cannot reasonably criticized on the grounds of the communal discrimination. On the contrary, having visited a number of these cooperative institutions, we are convinced that they are of great value not only materially, but educationally to a large proportion of the poorer inhabitants of the Island, Tamils as well as the Sinhalese.”
“150. Wherever a minority problem exists, it is in the sphere of public expenditure and in the distribution of public revenue that the minorities are likely to be suspicious and sensitive. The minorities of Ceylon are no exception, and we have been furnished by the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress with data purporting to demonstrate the preference shown by the Government of Ceylon towards the Sinhalese community in the allocation of public revenue and works.”
“153. From the beginning of this century, up to 1931, about eighteen and a half million rupees were spent by the Government on what is termed ‘major works – construction,’ i.e. irrigation works, maintained by the Government for which land-owners are liable to pay irrigation rates. Of this amount, over eight million rupees, or nearly 50 per cent of the total expenditure were devoted to the Tamil (Northern and Eastern) provinces. The population of the northern Province is estimated, as at 30th June, 1944, at about 426,000 and the Eastern Province at about 235,000, making in all about 661,000 or a little more than one-tenth of the total population of the country.
“154. In 1931, the estimated irrigable area, i.e. the total rate-paying lands, plus lands which could be served by irrigation works, was 238,000 acres, of which about 130,000 acres were in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
“157. The question now arises whether these figures can reasonably be held to indicate discrimination against the Ceylon Tamils. We must here observe that the seriousness of a charge of discrimination based upon differential expenditure per head of the population or upon the acreage of areas benefited by irrigation is extremely difficult to evaluate … But certain facts and arguments have been submitted to us by way of answer to this charge.
“(i) Of the estimated area of the Northern Province for which irrigation facilities have been provided (40,100), only 31,687 acres have been cultivated, leaving a balance of about 8,000 acres for which irrigation exists but which have not yet been brought under cultivation. The comparable figure for the Eastern Province is about 24,000 acres. There is, therefore a balance of about 32,000 acres in these two provinces irrigable land capable of cultivation, but not cultivated.
“It is possible that one of the reasons for the failure to cultivate the available irrigable area to its full extent is lack of labor due to the requirements of the military authority. But while this area of land remains uncultivated, the Government may feel disinclined to incur expenditure on further development …
“(iv) On the basis of public expenditure per head of the total population of the Island, the people of the Northern and Eastern provinces were very well served in the era prior to 1931 and received a good deal more than their proportionate share of the revenue available for works of irrigation, and though since 1931, their share has been substantially diminished, it is still in excess of the per capita ratio.
“158. Even so, the fact remains that of an irrigation expenditure of some thirty million rupees between 1905 and September1943, over ten million rupees have been spent in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and complaints of special favors shown to these provinces might well have come from other provinces in the Island. But the sharp decline in expenditure in the Northern and Eastern Provinces since 1931 has, as might be expected, provoked the charge of discrimination to which we have referred.
“159. We think that the following is the true explanation. It appears to us that prior to 1931 agricultural policy had been largely based on strictly economic considerations, it being held that, in terms of output – particularly of rice -better results at less cost could be obtained from the Northern and Eastern Provinces than form the others. Consequently, a large portion of the available resources was allocated to the construction and restoration of tanks and irrigation in areas most favorable to production and, as a result, agricultural conditions there and particularly in the Eastern Province where afforestation has also been carried out on an extensive scale- compare in our opinion favorably with conditions in the Sinhalese Provinces such as the North-Central, the North-Western and the Southern.
“160. 1931, the first year of the State council, coincided with a year of severe financial stringency, and a sub-committee of the Executive Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands was appointed to consider measures of reorganization and retrenchment. This sub-committee recommended that the principal activities of the Irrigation Department should be directed to the restoration and improvement of the village irrigation works throughout the Island, and that the development of existing major works should be undertaken only to meet the actual demand (as opposed to the possible speculative demand) for irrigable land. The recommendation was accepted, but it is clear to us that this policy was designed to meet a period of financial stress and was not a policy to be pursued at all times and in all circumstances. When conditions improved and more funds became available, the Executive Committee took steps to a long-range policy in the matter of land development and in the extension of irrigation and agriculture. It should here be remembered that under the Constitution then and now in operation, the responsibility for agricultural policy is shared between the Minister for Agriculture and the members of the Executive Committee, which may include State Councilors belonging to any racial group un the Island.
“161. Within a few years of 1931 a vigorous campaign was started to improve the state of agriculture in the more backward areas, to arrest the drift from the countryside to the towns, and to enable villages to remain on lands which were fast sinking back into the jungle. That population of these areas was mainly Sinhalese, is in our judgment, a factor that played little part in the formulation of this policy. Indeed, it was endorsed in the State Council by a leading member of the Tamil Congress, who warmly eulogized the Minister for agriculture and made no suggestion of discrimination.
“162. Extensive schemes of colonization and land development were instituted, numerous experimental and demonstration farms established, and a far-reaching program for the improvement of livestock set in motion …
“164. In view of the criticisms expressed by representatives of the Northern and Eastern provinces, we are glad to have been able to see for ourselves a number of these colonies, farming institutions and cattle breeding stations, and to inspect the provisions made for agricultural education and training. It is no part of our duty to report upon the agricultural development of the Island, but we cannot refrain from expressing our admiration for the immense efforts which have been made and the results already achieved, in spite of the lack of staff, plant and material due to the exigencies of war.
“165. The policy which is being pursued is a long-term one. The Ceylon Tamil witnesses have criticized on two grounds,
(i) That at a time when the cessation of imports of rice from Burma made the cultivation of home-grown rice exceptionally important, public funds were devoted to schemes which would not materially augment the rice supply for many years.
“We think that this criticism overlooks the fact that the policy was formulated and put into practice some years before the outbreak of war with Japan, and that to have abandoned it and switch over at a moment’s notice to a short-term programme would have been very difficult, if not impossible.
“(ii) That, confronted with the alternatives of opening out and developing land in the jungle and settling on it a population moved from other areas, or of extending the cultivation under village irrigation works, the consolidation of areas already developed in the villages and their improvement by intensive methods, the Government was ill-advised in adopting the first alternative and concentrating their efforts on the major works instead of the minor.
“Here again, we think that it has escaped the notice of the critics that it is only since 1931 that appreciable sums of public money have been devoted to village tanks. Before that date, public expenditure on these minor works was relatively small. The amount now spent on the annual maintenance of these works exceeds the annual expenditure upon their construction at the time when the Minister for Agriculture first assumed office.
“166.In view of the relatively limited resources at the command of the Government, it was inevitable that the larger proportion of public revenue devoted to irrigation works in the Sinhalese Provinces during the last decade should have involved a considerable diversion of funds otherwise available to the Northern and Eastern Provinces. But there is much to be said for the argument that the restoration of agriculture in the Sinhalese provinces was long overdue and that the Government’s policy was an endeavor to make good the neglect of past generations and to base public expenditure on the needs of the locality.
“167. It is not within our terms of reference to pronounce judgment upon the wisdom of the agricultural policy pursued by the Ceylon Government, or to make any recommendation in regard to future agricultural policy. But from our own observations and after careful consideration of the whole matter, it would in our opinion be wrong to condemn this program as discriminatory or to censure it as an attempt to favor the Sinhalese at the expense of another community. We think that the attitude of the Ceylon Government can be fairly summed up in a reply given in September, 1944, by the Minister for Agriculture to one of the Members for the Eastern Province :-
” Irrigation works are needed and have to be carried out in all in all parts of the the Island, and it is not my intention to neglect any Province. All that could be done for any Province we are ready to do. Merely because the other Provinces now receive the attention which they did not get before, merely because we have made the Irrigation Department an ‘all island’ Department carrying out Island- wide activities, my Honorable Friend should not think that the Eastern Province is being neglected.”
“171. It seemed to us that in the district of Jaffna the major part of the medical treatment available was provided by voluntary hospitals founded and conducted by the American Missionary Society. It may be that the absence of similar private provision elsewhere accounts for the large proportion of public expenditure on the construction of hospitals, etc., in the rest of the Island, but from the information at our disposal we are unable to endorse the charge of discrimination against the Government in this regard, and we see no reason to suppose that in the allocation of public funds to these services the Government has been actuated by any other consideration than the needs of the various localities.”
“172. Jaffna has benefited for over a century from first-rate secondary schools founded and endowed by missionary effort of various denominations. But the complaint was made to us that despite the immense increase in the education vote since 1931, a negligible provision of State schools had been made for those parts of the Jaffna district which did not enjoy the benefit of English elementary and secondary education.
“173.Accordingly,as in the case of Agriculture and health, we are more disposed to attribute the discrepancies in expenditure and disproportionate allocation of public funds of which complaint is made, to the Government’s desire to redeem certain localities and communities from the neglect of the past years than to any deliberate partiality towards racial or religious interests. Education among the Muslims, for instance, has in the past, for various reasons, been relatively backward. We were much impressed by the efforts of the Minister for Education, himself a Sinhalese and a Buddhist, to promote the educational advance of this community.”
“174. We received from the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress complaints of discrimination against the members of their community in regard to appointments in the Public Services. This matter provides a common source of dissension between majority and minority communities, but in this case the complaint did not, as might have been expected, disclose that the proportion of posts held by the Ceylon Tamils was smaller than the size of their community would justify. On the contrary, the Ceylon Tamils appear, at any rate as late as 1938, to have occupied a disproportionate number of posts in the public services.
“175. It does, however, appear that what was described to us as ” the preponderant position occupied by the Tamils in the Public Services, especially in the clerical services by open competitive examination” is now being challenged by competition from the Sinhalese. The Tamil witnesses maintained that in order to improve the chances of Sinhalese candidates, various small changes in examination syllabuses and conditions of entry have been made as a result of the intervention of Sinhalese Ministers, who have also endeavored in various ways to use their influence, e.g. with Selection Boards, to favor candidates of their own race. One of the example cited to us as that before 1931 arithmetic was a compulsory subject for the General Clerical Services examination. But after the introduction of the Dououghmore Constitution in that year this subject was deleted from the list of compulsory subjects because the well-know aptitude of the Tamils for mathematics was thought to give them an advantage in it over their competitors of other races.
“176. It appears to us that there have been minor instances of this kind of discriminatory action by the Sinhalese … But it would not in our opinion be right to regard the Sinhalese Challenge to the predominant position of the Tamils in public appointments, as based on such small acts of discrimination; rather it is natural effect of the spread of education and of the effects to bring other portions of the Island up to the intellectual level of one portion of it. Our recommendation as regards the Public Services Commission should, if fully carried into effect secure that in future strict impartially will prevail in all matters affecting Public Appointments.
“In this connection, we cannot help recalling a period in our own history, when, as a result of the superior educational facilities and better teaching prevalent in Scotland, a minority was enabled to secure a larger share of administrative and executive posts in the United Kingdom, than could been justified on any proportional allocation. Since then the English have made strenuous and not altogether unsuccessful endeavors to redress the deficiencies of the past.”
“177. A careful review of the evidence submitted to us provides no substantial indication of a general policy on the part of the Government of Ceylon of discrimination against the minority.”
It was very unfortunate that Lord Soulbury and his two other fellow commissioners are not living today to see for themselves that those allegations of discrimination and fear expressed by the Tamil deputations are a reality and have been put in force by the Sinhalese leadership and practiced with vengeance and glee, especially against the Tamils.
The Soulbury Commission, which left the island on April 9, 1945, paid tribute to G G Ponnampalam’s performance, but completely rejected the formula put forward by him. The commissioners made their recommendation on July 11, 1945, accepting the scheme of the Board of Ministers in its totality. The Soulbury Commission concluded that there was no discrimination against Tamils and other minority communities in Ceylon.
The commissioners acted nefariously when dismissing the genuine grievances and fears expressed by the minority communities. The commissioners, who worked with a predetermined agenda, generally treated the allegations made by the Tamils and other minorities as baseless.
This allegation leveled against the Soulbury commissioners is hereby substantiated by the following passages in the book, An Asian Prime Minister’s Story, written by no less a person other than Sir John Kotalawala, on page – 64. He wrote as follows: “When Lord Soulbury and other commissioners came out to Ceylon in December 1944, the ministers decided not to cooperate with them. Officially, we held aloof. We did not defend them or our draft Constitution, and we did not attack anybody else.”
But unofficially, a good deal of political maneuvering went on. To quote Sir Ivor Jennings again, “It may not have been obvious to the commission that all the early Ceylonese invitations started from Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, but the commission played up. It must have been obvious that the crowds that collected in every town and village even before the commission arrived were result of organization; what may not have been obvious was that the Air Raid Precautions Service has been mobilized. [Sir Oliver was then Civil Defence Commissioner]. Lord Soulbury’s tact and D S Senanayake’s good sense helped to bridge the gap between the United Kingdom Government and the Ceylonese ministers.”
This was a confession made by Sir John Kotelawala as to how Lord Soulbury and the other two commissioners worked, were hand in gloves with D S Senanayake and how the commissioners stabbed the Tamils and minorities in the back. This was the greatest political duplicity, preached and practiced by Lord Soulbury and his fellow commissioners, against the Tamils.
The British press described the Soulbury commissioners as “unquestionably sympathetic to the Sinhalese”. The All Ceylon Tamil Congress called the commissioners’ proposals “a charter of slavery” and condemned all the recommendations. I X Pereira, the acting president of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, expressed consternation at the report, which in his view placed the Tamils in a worse position than under the existing conditions. The report failed to provide any significant safeguard to the Tamils.
The soulless Soulbury Commission report, which boasts of the protection it provided to the minorities, was a borrowed fragile version from the Board of Ministers’ Draft Constitution of 1945. All those sections dealing with the protection of the minorities were found in clauses 7, 8 and 10 of the ministers’ draft.
NEXT: Chapter 11: Threshold of freedom, but communal divide permeates