Tryst with independence
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore
The first-ever parliamentary general election in Ceylon was held in 1947, under the territorial representative system, but electioneering was conducted, out and out, on a communal basis. However, at the election propaganda meetings, D S Senanayake declared that he wishes to build a great nation based on Ceylon nationalism.
Unfortunately, sectarian trends prevailed. In the predominantly Tamil areas prominent Tamils, such as Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva and Subbiah Natesan, contested on the United National Party (UNP) ticket. Elsewhere, D S Senanayake did not give nominations to any Tamil candidates in electorates where Sinhalese and Tamils lived, even in Colombo Central, which was created as a three-member constituency with the view that a Tamil be elected as one of the three members.
A surge of Buddhist monks entered the election campaign. A section of them supported the UNP candidates, while the Left parties roped in the majority of the radical monks, who openly campaigned for them. A new brand of militancy among monks reared its ugly head.
Notable among them was Mapitigama Buddharakita Thero of Kelaniya, who was considered a socialist monk, and he worked against J R Jayewardene in the parliamentary elections at Kelaniya. Buddharakita’s opposition to J R Jayewardene took a virulent turn after he assumed the prestigious position of Chief Prelate of the Kelaniya temple.
The Left parties opposed the Soulbury Constitution. The Bolshevik Leninist Party (BLP) opposed restrictions on immigration, while the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) advocated the introduction of a minimum restriction. Both parties insisted that estates over 500 acres be acquired and distributed to the landless. They also insisted on the nationalization of the road transport system, public utility companies and foreign trade, while the Communist Party called for the closing of the British bases in Ceylon.
In the Northern Province, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) had candidates in all the electorates, except in Mannar, where the party supported an independent candidate. Just before the elections, the Tamil Congress signed a pledge with the Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC) on the issue of citizenship rights for the Tamils of the Indian origin. The election for the Jaffna seat attracted everyone’s attention. It was a “battle royal” where the two Tamil leaders, G G Ponnampalam, the leader of the Tamil Congress and Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva, the Minister of Home Affairs in the previous Government and one of the vice presidents of the United National Party, were pitched against each other.
Though Ponnampalam contested in Jaffna constituency, he started his first election rally from Malusanthi Pillayar Temple (Pillaiyar is another name for Lord Ganesh, the Lord of the Beginning), Alvai, his birthplace, located on the Point-PedronNelliadynJaffna Main road. He offered responsive cooperation to the majority community. He wound up the election campaign at a rally held at the Jaffna esplanade. It was preceded by a long tumultuous procession. Ponnampalam and other Tamil Congress candidates from other electorates were paraded, to the beat of drums and the blowing of nadhaswaramoriental music pipes. They were offered a traditional welcoming at each and every doorstep en route the meeting venue, which amounted to a demonstration of popular support for the Tamil Congress.
Polling for the general elections was held in stages, from August 22 to September 20. The results of the last poll were announced on September 22.
Accordingly, the UNP won 42 seats, the LSSP 10, the Tamil Congress 7, the CIC 7, the BLP 5, the CP 2, the Labor Party 1, with 21 independents winning. Ethnic-wise, the Sinhalese won 68 out of 95 seats, while the Ceylon Tamils won 13 seats in both the North and Eastern provinces, seven seats were won by the Tamils of the Indian origin, while Muslims won six seats, and one went to the Burgher community.
A total of 1,710,150 people cast their votes, which amounted to 55.8 percent of the total eligible voters. This figure excludes voters in the Puttalam electorate, where the H S Ismail (UNP) was elected uncontested. Accordingly, 67 percent of the seats went to the Sinhalese community, against the 63 percent they managed in the State Council general elections held on 1936. Ceylon Tamils managed to obtain 18 percent of the seats.
The Soulbury Constitution had made the Tamils a minority community under the overlordship and mercy of the Sinhalese.
Even though Ponnampalam had pleaded with the Soulbury Commissioners for the introduction of measures to check the Sinhalese dominance and their practice of discrimination against the Tamils, but the Commissioners adamantly refused to consider his plea. As an act of revenge, he routed all the Tamil leaders who supported the Soulbury Commission Report and came forward to contest on the UNP ticket. Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva succumbed to a humiliating defeat in Jaffna. S J V Chelvanayakam, a complete newcomer to politics, defeated S Natesan. An independent candidate, C Sittampalam, squarely defeated Jeganathan Tiyagarajah in Mannar. Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva and Tiyagarajah subsequently never returned to politics.
Once the results were announced, G G Ponnampalam dispatched an urgent cable to the Colonial Office, claiming that the election results had vindicated his stand for balanced representation, and he called for the rejection of the Soulbury Constitution. He also claimed that the Tamil Congress had sought and obtained a mandate from the Tamils for his party to render “responsive cooperation” with the “progressive-minded” Sinhala parties. (See the annex for the Soulbury Commissioners’ Report on G G Ponnampalam’s submissions.)
Meanwhile, the Governor appointed E F N Gratien, F H Griffith, J A Martenz, J J W Oldfield, S A Pakeman and G R Whitby as nominated members to parliament.
On September 23, 1947, the governor invited D S Senanayake, the leader of the UNP, whose party won the largest number of seats, to form the government. On the next day, Senanayake addressed the nation in English, Sinhalese and Tamil, after attending a Buddhist religious ceremony at the Dalada Maligawe, the Buddhist shrine for the Tooth Relic, at Kandy. Senanayake made use of his position as Prime Minister to lure independently elected members of parliament with the bait of office. The tactic helped him to secure a slim majority in parliament, along with the six members nominated by the Governor. Senanayake was able to win over a few of the 21 independent members, out of them two were Tamils – C Suntheralinhgam (Vavuniya) and C Sittampalam (Mannar).
The cabinet of D S Senanayake was sworn in at King’s House (the official residence of the Governor-General), on September 26, 1947. The newly sworn in Ministers were:
D S Senanayake – Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and External Affairs.
S W R D. Bandaranaike – Minister of Health and Local Government and Leader of the House.
George. E de Silva – Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries.
Senator Sir Oliver Goonetilake – Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development.
T B Jayah – Minister of Labor and Social Services. Senator Dr (later Sir) Lalita Rajapakse – Minister of Justice.
J R Jayewardene – Minister of Finance.
Sir John Kotelawala – Minister of Transport and Works. E A Nugawela – Minister of Education.
A. Ratnayake –
Minister of Food and Cooperative undertakings.
Dudley Senanayake –
Minister of Agriculture and Lands. C. Sittampalam – Minister Posts and Telecommunication
C. Suntheralinhgam – Minister of Trade and Commerce.
R S S Gunawardene – Minister without Portfolio.
The premier was 66 years old, while his son Dudley Senanayake was 36 years old and was the youngest of the ministers. He became the Minister of Agricultural and Land, which had earlier been held by his father, from 1931 to 1947, during the State Council days.
Reluctance and hesitance were the outward hallmarks of Dudley Senanayake. “In some quarters, eyebrows were raised over the appointment of his son as Minister of Agriculture. It was known that, Dudley himself was reluctant to accept the office, but the old man told him: ‘I cannot be both Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture. But I want to keep an eye on the various projects I have started. With another Minister of Agriculture, I cannot do this without being accused of interference. So you have to take it.'” – Sri Lanka’s First Prime Minister – Don Stephen Senanayake by H A J Hulugalle, page 162
Almost all the ministers included in the cabinet were qualified in England. Suntheralingham and Bandaranaike came from the Oxford University; Kotelawala, Dudley Senanayake and Sittampalam from the Cambridge University; Lalita Rajapakse had a Doctorate from the London University; Oliver Goonetilake, Jayah, Ratnayake and Gunawardene had External Degrees from the London University.
C Suntheralinhgam was one of the most talented men in the cabinet. His mood swings and outbursts were no secret in the political arena. Suntheralingham won the Vavuniya seat as an independent candidate. He was the Tamil Minister supposed to represent the Tamils. The majority of Tamils, opposed him for accepting the ministerial portfolio.
“There was considerable opposition in the country against Suntheralingham joining the Government. He convened a meeting at the New Town Hall, in Colombo, to explain to the people, why he had accepted D S Senanayake’s offer of a Ministry. It turned out to be a particularly boisterous meeting, at which the opposition forces led by G G Ponnampalam (Jaffna), S J V Chelvanayakam (Kankesanthurai), C.Vanniasingham (Kopay), Dr E M V Naganathan (Senator) and V.Kumaraswamy (Chavakachcheri), who were the new Members of Parliament, all elected on the newly formed Tamil Congress party tickets, clashed with the supporters of Suntherlingham. The opposition demanded that Suntheralingham to quit the Cabinet. Suntheralingham stubbornly refused and the meeting broke up in a pandemonium.” – The Fall and Rise of a Tamil Nation by V Navaratnam, page 42.
When the cabinet met for the first time under Premier D S Senanayke, a resolution was introduced requesting Britain to grant full independence to Ceylon. The resolution was approved unanimously without division and Suntheralingham gave his consent to demonstrate that the Tamils joined in the request for independence.
Suntheralingham was a bold, fearless and a recalcitrant person, who stuck to his policies courageously. In one of his documents, “Freedom from Sinhala Imperialism”, published in 1964, he fearlessly explained the reasons behind his acceptance of the Ministerial portfolio:
“I resigned from the Indian Civil Service in 1920, in order to serve Ceylon in a manner that I thought might help to free her from British imperialism. I feel gratified that, whatever part I played, incurring on occasions the opposition, nay, the odium of the fellow Tamils, I prompted, in my own fashion, the cause that was nearest my heart. It has been publicly acknowledged by those who were in the know of things, that I had not along with two or three others been so intimately associated with D S Senanayake in his political education and activities during the period 1924 onwards and had I not joined his cabinet in 1947, Independence would not have been achieved so smoothly. Ceylon would have been forced to tread the weary tortuous path leading to ‘Dominion Status’ in a ‘space of time’ as set out in the first Ceylon Constitution Order-in-Council, 1946. The policy of Divide et Impera would have run its full course in a colonial rule. As I said recently in parliament, even though my conduct has not resulted in the two Nations in Ceylon obtaining complete freedom, at least I am proud to feel that it has helped the Sinhala Nation to shake off the shackles of foreign domination after nearly four centuries.” –Eylom: Beginnings of Freedom Struggle – Dozen Documents By C Suntheralinhgam, page 51.
The All Ceylon Tamil Congress did not seek participation in the formation of the government, but it was involved in the so-called “Yamuna Talks”. Sri H Nissanka, an independent MP who represented Kurunegala constituency, made an attempt to form a non-UNP government. He invited S W R D Bandaranaike to head a non-UNP government. Bandaranaike refused and consequently Sri Nissanka’s attempt failed. This was attributed to the participants failing to come to a consensus regarding a common working program.
The Ceylon Indian Congress parliamentary group elected S Thondaman as its leader and the party sat in the opposition. Leftists could not agree on a common candidate for the post of Leader of the Opposition. In the beginning, Dr N M Perera, the leader of the LSSP, unofficially functioned as the Opposition leader.
In the early 1950s, the Ceylonese Trotskyite movement achieved greater unity, then suffered further divisions. In June 1950, the LSSP and the Bolshevik Leninist Party led by Dr Colvin R de Silva were finally reunited after almost five years of separation. This move to unify the Trotskyite ranks was opposed by Philip Gunawardena, who refused to go along with it and pulled out to launch his own Viplavakari (Revolutionary) Lanka Sama Samaja Party (VLSSP). After the amalgamation of the LSSP and Dr Colvin R De Silva’s Bolshevik Leninist Party, Dr N M Perrera became the official Leader of the Opposition.
The first meeting of the House of Representatives was held on October 14, 1947. Sir Francis Molamure, who was the first Speaker of the State Council, was elected as the Speaker of the House. Sir Francis served as Speaker of the first parliament from October 1947, until his death in January 1951. It was during Sir Francis Molamure’s tenure in 1949, that the presentation of the Speaker’s Chair and the Mace by the House of Commons took place, on January 3, 1949.
Meanwhile, the British government formulated agreements on the subjects of external affairs, defense and public officers and forwarded the draft to Ceylon. The agreements defined Ceylon’s position as a sovereign independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Once the draft of the agreements arrived, D S Senanayake requested Sir Oliver Goonetilake to discuss them with S W R D Bandaranaike.
“When the draft agreements had been received, Senanayake requested Sir Oliver Goonetilake to discuss them with S W R D Bandaranaike, the leader of the Sinhala Maha Sabha, a member of the new cabinet and the Leader of the House. Sir Oliver records that Bandaranaike, after studying the draft said to him: ‘Well my old friends, at last, D S and you have over-reached yourselves. I shall come to the cabinet meeting with my resignation in my pocket!’ When informed of this contretemps, Senanayake, with a chuckle, told Oliver: ‘Read all your notes and come early to the cabinet meeting prepared to answer all questions. It will be all right’.
“At the end of the cabinet meeting, Bandaranaike is reported to have told the Prime Minister: ‘Well, D S, what my good friend Oliver claims is that he has persuaded the UK to grant us a constitution, which will enable us to do everything possible in Ceylon immediately after the constitution is promulgated. Within a day, we could turn out the British from Trincomalee and Katunayake. To me it is a miracle in the constitutional history that a ruling power which could hold us in bondage for ever, has willingly performed an act of renunciation.'” Sri Lanka’s First Prime Minister – Don Stephen Senanayake by H A J Hulugalle, pages 153-54
The agreements were signed in Colombo on November 11, 1947. Governor Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore on behalf of Great Britain and Prime Minister D S Senanayake on behalf of Ceylon, signed the agreements.
The External Affairs Agreement gave Ceylon the full international status of a Dominion. Accordingly, Ceylon would appoint its own diplomatic representatives or use those of Britain. Ceylon would make its own treaties and agreements subject to the rules of constitution and cooperation laid down by the imperial conferences, which apply equally, to Britain. Ceylon could make representations directly or through the high-commissioner and could receive representations through the same channels.
The Defense Agreement provided Ceylon to have its own defense forces and would receive such assistance as it required from Britain. In so far as it could not provide for its defense, it could rely on British forces, which would be provided bases and facilities as may be agreed upon, and bound itself to render assistance as in its own interests to do so. The forces to be stationed would be agreed upon by the Ceylon Government and the bases provided would remain under its control, as has been the practice in other domains.
The Public Officers’ Agreement provided that the officers who hitherto held their appointments subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Colonies, or who entered into agreements with Crown Agents, would be protected in their present conditions of service. Those officers were given the right of retirement, but the agreement did not confer any compensation for loss of career, or where the officer is transferred to a post in the Colonial Service. They would no longer be under the control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
There arose a controversy regarding the proprietary of signing defense and other agreements with Britain, even before the grant of independence. Fears were expressed of secret treaties and the harmful effects it may bring to the country. “For many were suspicious of it all, and fears were expressed that the Defense Agreements which were signed as a preliminary to the grant of independence were evidence of continued subordination of Sri Lanka to Britain; and there were other fears, also widely expressed, of a secret treaty even more harmful to Sri Lanka’s status as an independent nation, or secret clauses of the Defense Agreement.” – J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography, Volume One: The First Fifty Years by K M da Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 195.
Unfortunately, Britain simply ignored the issue of 665,853 British subjects who enjoyed residence and franchise rights in Ceylon. Out of the total number of Indian origin, more than 85 percent were Tamils. Those Tamils of the Indian origin showed allegiance to the British Crown throughout, and it was intriguing why their issue was not taken up when entering into the other three agreements, or after, with the Ceylon Government, prior to the granting of independence.
On November 13, 1947, the British parliament moved to enact the Ceylon Independence Act to renounce its right to legislate for Ceylon. On November 14, a White Paper containing the three agreements signed in Colombo between the government of Ceylon and Britain was too published in London.
Arthur Creech-Jones, the British Secretary of State for Colonies, on November 21, 1947, moved in the House of Commons, the second reading of the Ceylon Independence Bill. While concluding his speech, he said, “There are difficulties ahead for Ceylon – but her people have courage and faith in themselves and their destiny, and they have loyalty to the Commonwealth and goodwill towards us. We are confident that that they will prove themselves a great democracy in the vicissitudes through which their region of the world is passing.”
A memorandum by the prime minister giving a summary of the Order in Council, which was subsequently named the Ceylon Independence Order-in Council 1947, to remove the limitations on self-government contained in the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council of 1946, the Ceylon Independence Bill, the British White Paper, which contained the text of the agreements and the motion approving the action of the cabinet, were introduced in the Ceylon parliament in December 1947. The memorandum was passed in the House of Representatives by 59 to 11 votes and in the Senate by 21 to five votes. The Ceylon Independents Act received Royal assent on December 10, 1947 and all documents were to take effect from the “appointed day”, of the independence of Ceylon. The appointed day was fixed as February 4, 1948, which was also the birthday of Sir Ivor Jennings.
It was a well-known fact that Senanayake admired Sir Ivor Jennings, the renowned constitutional lawyer, who was in a big way responsible for the drafting of Ceylon’s constitution. He offered him the post of first Governor-General of Ceylon, but was politely turned down by Sir Ivor. However, Senanayake, who leaned heavily on Sir Ivor for his advice on constitutional matters and matters of governance, was determined to honor the man and is said to have fixed February 4, on that score.
Complete law-enacting authority was vested with the country’s parliament under the Ceylon Independence Act of 1947. However, the British Parliament retained the power to legislate for Ceylon, but only at the request and with the consent of Ceylon.
Furthermore, the Ceylon Independence Order in Council, 1947 and the Ceylon Independence Act 1947 retained Section 29 of the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council of 1947. This was an entrenched clause to safeguard social interests.
“The legislative powers of the Ceylon Parliament contained in section 29 of Ceylon [Constitution] Order in Council, 1947, is not a sovereign legislature because it was thought wise to limit its powers in the interest of religious and communal minorities. The limitation, though peculiar in form and substance, because it relates to the social conditions of the Island, is similar in principle to that imposed by most written Constitutions. It is indeed rare to confer upon a legislature that full unrestricted or sovereign power which is possessed, by an accident of history, by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Absolute power unrestrained by the constitutional law is generally considered to be dangerous because it is in fact exercised by transient majorities, which may use it for themselves. The limitation can, however, be altered or even abolished by the Ceylon parliament itself by means of constitutional amendment which satisfies section 29(4) of the Constitution. It is in fact a limitation which Ceylon chooses to impose on her legislature in the interest of her own people.” The Constitution of Ceylon Sir Ivor Jennings, page 23.
The entrenched section 29 of the constitution was considered a constitutional safeguard arrangement to protect the interests of the minorities in the country: Lord Soulbury said he felt he had “entrenched all the protective provisions for minorities that the wit of man could devise”. The section that regulated the Ceylon parliament’s power to make law too was contained in section 29, which is given below:
S.29 (1) Subject to the provisions of this Order, parliament shall have power to make laws for peace, order and good government of the Island.
(2) No such law shall:
a. Prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; or b. Make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or
c. Confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions; or
d. Alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body.
3. Any law made in contravention of subsection (2) of this section shall, to the extent of such of such contravention, be void.
(4) In the exercise of its powers under this section, parliament may amend or any of the provisions of this Order or any other Order of His Majesty in Council in its application to the Island.
Provided that no Bills for the amendment or repeal of any of the provisions of this order shall be presented for Royal Assent unless it is endorsed on it certificate under the hand of the Speaker that the number of votes cast in favor thereof in the House of Representatives amounted to not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members of the House (including those not present).
Unfortunately, the constitution failed to provide legal interpretation on the usage of the word “community”, as emphasized in the general prohibition stipulation. As no legal interpretation was provided, the meaning has been interpreted according to the whims and fancies of judges and legislators, which in the end provided undesirable effects on the Tamils.
Accordingly, it must be borne in mind that parliament was the creature of the constitution and any amendments to the constitution or any repeal or replacement of the constitution had to be done according to the clauses in the constitution. The spirit of Section 29 has to be taken into consideration when any attempts were initiated to repeal or replace the constitution. In any form, any adoption of extra-constitutional procedures to repeal or replace the constitution would be deemed unconstitutional. There are no such things as adopting autochthonous measures to repeal or replace the constitution, other than following what is stipulated very lucidly and laid down as the correct procedures in the constitution.
The new Soulbury Constitution, in fact, was drawn with defects that became the gateway for the future miseries of the Tamils in particular and in general attributed to the instability that grips the country today. Unfortunately, there was no definition regarding citizenship, franchise or of fundamental human rights of individuals, in the constitution.
On April 30, 1964, Lord Soulbury, in one of his letters addressed to C Suntheralinhgam, accepted his mistakes for his failure to include clauses on human rights in his constitutional proposals. His letter, states:
“In the constitution which I recommended – there seemed to me at the time to be ample safeguard for minorities – but Section 29 has not been efficacious as I had hoped – and I now wish that I had recommended a ‘human rights’ clause, as in the constitution of India – and elsewhere.” Eylom: Beginnings or Freedom Struggle – Dozen Documents C Suntheralinhgam, page 75.
The necessity for a national flag was discussed in the House of Representatives. On January 16, 1948, A Sinnalebbe, MP for Batticaloa, tabled a motion in the House suggesting that the Lion Flag of the last Kandyan King Sri Vikrema Rajasinghe, which was taken to Britain in 1815, should be made the national flag.
“That this House is of opinion that the Royal Standard of King Sri Vikrema Rajasinghe, depicting a yellow lion passant, holding a sword in its right paw, on a red background, which was removed to England after the Convention of 1815, should once again be adopted as the Official Flag of Free Lanka.”
The MPs belonging to the All Ceylon Tamil Congress resolutely opposed the motion. On January 16, 1947, Chelvanayakam moved an amendment in parliament that the official national flags of Ceylon should be the Lion flag of the Sinhalese, the Nandi (Bull) flag of the Tamils and the Crescent and Star flag of the Muslims.
There was much wavering until as late as December 22, 1947, which is apparent from the speech by D S Senanayake. “The cabinet has not yet come to any decision with regard to this matter of national flag. Some regard the Union Jack as the national flag and some regard the Lion flag as the national flag.”
D S Senanayake, closing the debate, highlighted the fact that the last king who used the royal standard was a Tamil. “It is a well known fact that this flag happens to be the flag of the last king of Kandy, and we all know that the last king of Kandy was a Tamil. But still, I am proud to proclaim this as the Sinhalese flag, because I embrace the Tamils now, as the Sinhalese embraced the Tamils then. We claim the flag to be a Sinhalese flag, although we inherited it from a Tamil king.
“If we are going to have a flag ceremony at all, I want the Lion Flag hoisted for this main reason. When we lost our country, when the people chose the king of England as their sovereign, this was the flag of the last Kandyan king, who was dethroned, and that was pulled down. Now that England is transferring sovereignty to the people of this island, I want England also to replace that flag along with the sovereignty that they are giving us back. It is for this main reason that we intend hoisting this flag on the independence day.
“After this flag is hoisted, if it is the general wish of everyone that we should alter it, then a suitable flag should be hoisted according to the wishes of the people. I will not mind if, after the Lion Flag is hoisted, some other flag replaces at this time, and it is the emblem of transfer of sovereignty that we want to celebrate.” He also announced that “for the purpose of the forthcoming independence celebrations, the Lion Flag will be used”.
Subsequently, a committee was appointed to advise the government on the question of the national flag, headed by S W R D Bandaranaike. Other members were G G Ponnampalam, T.B. Jayah, Sir John Kotelawala, Dr L A Rajapakse and Senator S.A. Natesan, with Dr Senarat Paranavithana, the Commissioner of Archeology, as the Secretary to the Committee. Jayewardene left the investigations and the recommendations of this committee will be dealt with later. But it is interesting to proceed with how the Sinhalese disliked Sri Vikrema Rajasinghe, even after his dethronement and how the flag was traced back in England and brought in time for hoisting to celebrate the country’s independence.
After the dethronement of the last king of Kandy, Kandyan chiefs, the so-called aristocrats, unleashed a propaganda war to justify their acts of betrayal. When they betrayed the king and the kingdom for their personal aggrandizement, they never expected that the kingdoms sovereignty would be lost forever to the British.
Two Sinhala propaganda works, Kirila Sandesya (The message of the Lapwing, Sandesa – a message poem) by Kitilagama Devamitta, a monk, and Vadiga Hatana Ahelopola Varnanaya (The Tale of Vadigas – Northerners, or the praise of Ahelopola – a parasasti – poems of praise) by Valigala Kavisundara Mudali, were both written (1815-1817) just after the dethronement of Sri Vikreme Rajasinghe. These two works were mostly full with anti-Tamil diatribes, were intended to put Ahelopola on the Kandyan throne. Both in common, they denounced the Nayakar kings who ruled the kingdom for 76 years (Since the assumption of the Nayakar Dynasty from King Vijaya Rajasinghe – 1739-47, followed by King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe – 1747-82; Rajadh Rajasinghe – 1782-98 and Sri Vikreme Rajasinghe – 1798-1815) and the Tamils in particular.
King Sri Vikrema Rajasinghe and his family members were deported to Madurai, South India, on January 24, 1816, and subsequently transferred to Vellore prison, where he died on 1832. Ahelopola, who masterminded the overthrow of King Sri Vikrema Rajasinghe, also suffered the same fate. He was captured by the British, disgraced, and deported to Mauritius, where he died in 1929.
After the last king of Kandy being denounced as a ruthless person, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sinhalese, it was indeed astonishing on the part of Senanayake to have claimed, “Sinhalese embraced the Tamils”, a clear distortion of historical events. It is understood that he came forward to hoist the Royal Standard because of the Lion emblem in the flag, which represented the totemic origin of the Sinhala race, according to myths of history.
Unfortunately, on the very day the independent Ceylon was to be born, no one considered hoisting the Royal Standard of the Tamil Kingdom. The recumbent bull, with the crescent and the radiating sun, was the Royal Standard of the Tamil kings, offered to them by the legendary Irama, but it was ignored on independence day. Hoisting it side by side with the Sinhalese flag should have been the obligation of D S Senanayake and other Sinhalese leaders. Failure to show this gesture of simple magnanimity contributed to today’s sectarian conflict.
The flag, according to “Sinhalese banners and standards” by E W Perera, had been captured by Captain William Pollock of the 51st Regiment, and was known as the War Standard of the king of Kandy. Perera wrote that “I discovered the missing banner quite unexpectedly at the Chelsea Hospital. Acting upon a suggestion by the late Lord Stanmore [the Hon Sir Arthur Gordon] who evinced a lively interest in the subject, I visited that institution and was rewarded with the discovery of three Ceylon banners. A colored key-plate on the wall, led to the discovery of the flags, which were hanging in the Great Hall, along with other standards and the eagles of Napoleon … Two were, judging from the key plate, clear representations of the Royal flag and the other, probably the banner of Atapattuwe Lekam.”
E W Perera also gave details about the hunt for the national flag, “While in London, I attempted to trace the Sinhalese royal flag from a statement by Bennet that the banner of the last king of Kandy was deposited at Whitehall, together with the eagles of Napoleon.”
He narrates that the search had proved fruitless and then information had been received that they were at Chelsea Hospital, but was again told that no Kandyan flags were there. Then he went on to inspect the College of Arms, that also included the charges of the arms of Sir Robert Brownrigg, who was the governor at the time of the capture of the Kandyan kingdom. On a sudden visit to Chelsea Hospital he found the banner there, which was finally to be adopted with a few alterations, as the national flag, on independence day – February 4, 1948.
However, the Lion flag fluttered in the air on that day. It and the Union Jack flew on the occasion of the opening of the first parliament of independent Ceylon, on February 10, 1948. Prime Minister D S Senanayake unfurled the Lion Flag at the Octagon (Pattirippuwa) during independence celebrations in Kandy, on February 12, 1948.
Three years later, during a debate on the flag, D S Senanayake said, “When we received independence we wanted the Lion Flag. For what reason? As far as I am concerned, I can tell you that the decision was mine, because the government had not been formed then.
“I had taken a part in getting our constitution and we wanted the Lion Flag. I can tell you that even before independence day, when I was leader of the State Council, I asked the Government Store-keeper to order the Lion Flag. I wanted that flag to be hoisted all over Ceylon and I hoisted that flag.”
Meanwhile, at a solemn ceremony held at Kings House, Sir Henry Monck-Moore, the last Governor of the Colonial era, was sworn in as the new Governor-General of Ceylon, on February 4, 1948. From that day, the dominion of Ceylon came into operation and became the latest independent nation in world.
On the recommendation of the Sri Lanka Gandharva Sabha, a competition to select a national anthem was conducted in January 1948. Ananda Samarakoon’s “Namo Namo Matha” (salutation to the mother) was chosen as the national anthem.
The main theme of the anthem is designed to instill honor and respect to the motherland and create national progress though unity. The English translation is:
Mother Lanka – we salute Thee!
Plenteous in prosperity, Thou,
Beauteous in grace and love,
Laden with corn and luscious fruits
And fragrant flowers of radiant hue,
Giver of life and all good things,
Our land of joy and victory,
Receive our grateful praise sublime,
Lanka! We worship Thee.
Thou gave us Knowledge and Truth,
Thou art our strength and inward faith,
Our light divine and sentient being,
Breath of life and liberation.
Grant us, bondage free, inspiration.
Inspire us forever.
In wisdom and strength renewed,
Ill will, hatred, strife all ended,
In love enfolded, a mighty nation,
Marching onward, all as one,
Lead us, Mother, to the fullest freedom.
During the early 1950s, there was a controversy about the anthem. A defect was found in the lyrics and the opening words were changed to Sri Lanka Matha – “Apa Sri Lanka” (Our Sri Lanka Mother). The first rendering of the National Anthem was made on independence day on February 4, 1948, by a group of 500 students from Musaeus College, Colombo and it was broadcast over Ceylon Radio.
The formal opening of parliament took place on February 10, 1948, where the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of King George VI, and Duchess of Gloucester, formally opened the first session. The Duke of Gloucester was commissioned by the King of England to perform the function in his name and to read the speech from the throne.
The duke first read the announcement of his Commission provided to him by the king, “I have entrusted to my brother, the Duke of Gloucester, the duty of opening, on my behalf, the first session of the Parliament of Ceylon, to be held on the coming into operation of the Ceylon Independence Act. My thoughts are with you on this memorable occasion, for it is with heartfelt gladness that I welcome a new member, fully grown to nationhood, of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
“I know that my people in Ceylon are ready to make a full and rich contribution to this association of free peoples, and I know that you will carry your new responsibilities ably to the end. My good wishes go out to you on this day and I pray that Ceylon will enjoy peace and prosperity in full measure. May God bless you all and guide your country through the years that lie ahead.”
Then the Duke of Gloucester read the following speech:
“Senators and Members of the House of Representatives; By Royal Commission issued by His Majesty the King, I have been commanded to visit this Island on behalf of His Majesty and to declare the causes of opening a new session of the Parliament of Ceylon, the first session under the new status of Independence. It is a matter of considerable gratification to me that I have been chosen to convey to you His Majesty’s Most Gracious speech from the throne, to both Houses of Parliament,” which as follows:
“Senators and Members of the House of Representatives: I regret that it has not been possible for me to address you in person on this occasion which marks an event of the greatest importance in the history of this country. After a period of nearly a century and a half, during which the status of Ceylon was that of a colony in my Empire, she now takes her place as a free and independent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
“It was in the year 1796, that the Dutch Governor of Ceylon surrendered the Town of Colombo and all Dutch territory in Ceylon, and under the terms of the Peace of Amiens of 1802 the Maritime Provinces of Ceylon became a British possession. In the year 1815, in accordance with the terms of the Kandyan Convention, the Dominion of the Kandyan Provinces was vested in the Sovereign of Great Britain and the Whole Island thus became a part of my Empire. An advance in the political emancipation of Ceylon was achieved in the year 1912, when the principle of election to the Legislature was introduced and an elected member to represent the Educated Ceylonese, took place in the Legislative Council. Further advances were made from time to time in the share which the people of Ceylon had in the Government of the country, and in 1931, responsible government was achieved by the inauguration of the Donoughmore Constitution.
“In 1944, a Commission presided over by Lord Soulbury was appointed to report on further constitutional changes. As a result of the recommendations of the Commission, there was constituted in the latter part of the last year a Parliament of Ceylon. Ceylon has now achieved independence as a fully responsible Member of the British Commonwealth of Nations and with the status of a Dominion. You meet today in enjoyment of all rights and privileges pertaining to that status. I have given over charge of the conduct of all relations between my Government of Ceylon to my Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. I have also, on the advice of my Prime Minister in Ceylon, appointed Sir Henry Monk-Mason Moore to be the first Governor-General.
“That Ceylon has been able to achieve her freedom by constitutional and peaceful methods in collaboration with my Government of the United Kingdom is a matter of profound satisfaction. This fact augurs well for the future of my people in Ceylon. I congratulate my people in Ceylon on their achievement, and extend to them my best wishes for the future. Members of the House of Representatives: in this session of parliament, you will be called upon to make financial provision for the public services of the Island, when the budget for the forthcoming financial year is placed before you.
“Senators and Members of the House of Representatives: I do not propose to dwell at length on the policy of my government in Ceylon and on the legislative measures, which will be introduced in parliament during the present session. The last session of this parliament was opened three months ago, and in declaring the causes of the summoning, His Majesty the Governor gave you a full statement of the policy of my government and of the various measures that my ministers propose to carry out.
“You will recall that proposals were set out for the amelioration of the condition of the people in many directions and for the improvement of the existing government organizations and for the development of the resources in the country. My government adheres to the policy announced on last occasion. With the attainment by Ceylon of the status of a Dominion, my government fully realizes both the advantage and the responsibilities involved in its achievement of Independence. It intends to make full use of the advantages by increasing the prosperity of the country and by providing better conditions of living for the people in every possible way.
“It is also prepared to meet its new responsibilities by maintaining good and ordered government and by cooperating with all free nations of the world to strive for the preservation of peace and progress of all peoples. The necessary legislation to enable my Government to carry out its various measures will be placed before you as time and opportunity occur. I commend all these matters to your careful consideration.”
S W R D. Bandaranaike, the Leader of the House, proposed the address of thanks, “On behalf of the House of Representatives, I have the honor to present to you, an Address in Reply to the Gracious Speech, with which, you have been pleased to open the parliament. This occasion not only marks the opening of a new session of parliament, but is distinguished by an event of the highest importance, in the long history of our land. Once again we are free. It is true that no people can live on memories alone; it is equally true that their history often provides a source both of strength and inspiration, to guide them in future. It is only against the background of the past that the present and the future can be viewed in their correct perspective.
“Now, after a long slumber of servitude, we are again awakening to a new life of freedom. Without bitterness, without strife and turmoil, we have achieved independence. It is but fitting that we should remember with gratitude the unremitting labor, the patience, and the statesmanship of our patriots and leaders, both past and present, which have made that achievement possible. It is also fitting that we should recall with appreciation the instinct of justice and fair-play, the vision of imagination, and the high sense of realism that have induced the British people to part with power voluntarily, with grace and with dignity, and to convert, it might almost be said with a stroke of the pen, discontented subjects into equals and friends. In the fine phrase of Mr Noel Baker, used in a different connection in a recent speech, this might well be termed ‘a concession to humanity’. There are some who accuse Britain of weakness in her abandonment of imperial domination. But if this is weakness, I venture to think it is weakness that is strong enough for peace.
“It, therefore, behoves [sic] us to assume our new status of independence in a sprit, not of pride or elation, but rather of humbleness as well as determination to understand clearly the grave responsibilities and duties that now devolve upon us, and to shoulder them efficiently and effectively. Those are the high tasks that face Free Lanka in the future. And those are the high tasks that we shall all, to the best of our ability, try to perform with diligence, devotion and efficiency.”
After the opening of parliament in the specially constructed assembly hall, at Torrington Place, Colombo, D S Senanayake, in the presence of a vast concourse of people, hauled down the British Royal Ensign and unfurled the Lion Flag, which fluttered high in the sky, heralding the birth of the new Sinhala nationalism.
The acceptance of the country’s independence through an act of the British parliament rather than by a constituent assembly, as in the case of India, the retention of the British monarch as the nominal ruler of Ceylon and the signing of the defense agreement before independence gave room for doubts and criticism. The Left political parties were severe with these criticisms and about the existence of some form of hidden restrictions on the country’s independence. These doubts were further confirmed by the Soviet Union’s refusal to sanction Ceylon’s membership to the United Nations organization, until 1955.
On June 29, 1949, the first Governor-General of Ceylon, Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore, left the Island after a ceremonial farewell.
Now, it was D S Senanayake’s turn to a arrange the successor to the departed Governor-General. As a fitting gesture of paying back his gratitude, D S Senanayke recommended the appointment of Lord Soulbury as the second Governor-General. On July 6, 1949, Herwald Ramsbotham Baron Soulbury (1887-1971) assumed duty as the second Governor-General of Ceylon, and held the position until July 17, 1954.
Lord Soulbury himself narrates as to how he received the proposal from D S Senanayake. “My next visit to Ceylon was as the guest of D S at Temple Trees [Official residence of the Prime Minister of Ceylon] in February, when the inaugural celebration of Ceylon’s independence took place. During this visit, D S and I had a long talk on the lake at Bolgoda which concluded by his asking me whether I would accept the office of the Governor-General of Ceylon upon retirement of Sir Henry Moore. There was no hesitation in my answer.” Sri Lanka’s First Prime Minister: Don Stephen Senanayake by H A J Hulugalle, from Appendix 1, by Viscount Soulbury, P C, page 262.
Ceylon – Report of The Commission on Constitutional Reform
CHAPTER XIII REPRESENTATION
Dispatch dated 11 January 1923.
“The Ceylon [Legislative Council] Order in Council, 1920, under which the existing Legislature has been constituted, provides that it shall consist of 23 Unofficial and 14 Official Members. The selection of these 23 Unofficial Members has been so arranged that, while every community shall be represented in the Legislative Council, and while there is a substantial Unofficial majority, no single community can impose its will on the other communities if the latter are supposed by the Official Members. If, on the other hand, these Unofficial Members has been elected by purely territorial constituencies, the Sinhalese community would almost certainly have been a majority [disproportionate even to their numerical superiority in some cases] over all other sections of the Legislative Council, including the Government.”
Dispatch dated 22 January 1924.
“So long as the several communities in Ceylon remain convinced, as they appear now to be, of the divergency of their interests in many important matters, so long must some provision be made for the maintenance of communal representation in the Legislative Council.
The All-Ceylon Tamil Congress Scheme
254. These passages were cited in support of a scheme for “balanced representation”, submitted to us by the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress and endorsed by a number of other minority witnesses. The main purpose of the scheme was to prevent the domination in the legislature of any one community over another, in conformity with this principle, viz, that no single community should be able to impose its will on the other communities; and it was proposed that the voting powers in the Legislature should be “based on a balanced scheme of representation that would avoid the danger of concentration of all power in one community but would ensure its equitable distribution among all communities and the people as a whole”.
The All-Ceylon Tamil Congress advocated that, in order to attain this position, the island should be divided into 100 territorial constituencies for an assembly of 100 members, and that of these constituencies 50 should be demarcated for the election of members to fill 50 general seats, while the remaining 50 should be allocated to members of the minorities (25 to the Tamils-Ceylon and Indian – and the rest to the other minorities).
It was pointed out in discussion that if 50 seats were assured to the minorities but the remainder left open to anyone to contest, the Sinhalese, who had always been and still were the majority group, might, by the loss of one or more of these seats, be converted into a minority. According, the scheme was amended to reserve these 50 seats for the Sinhalese in the same way as the other 50 seats were reserved for the minorities.
255. This scheme has been widely published in the island under the title of “Fifty-fifty”, and the following advantages were claimed for it:
a. The domination of any particular community in a country with a conglomerate population would be prevented, and self-government would become a reality for all racial communities in the Island.
b. The minorities would be freed from the feelings of “subservience or frustration”, which resulted from being heavily outnumbered in the legislature.
c. Purely territorial representation, which meant simply numerical representation, could only result in placing in power a permanent racial system made an alternative government impossible and consequently had the effect of making those in power overbearing and autocratic. “Balanced representation” provided the only corrective.
d. Such a scheme would help to compensate for the absence in Ceylon of any party system on Western lines. Where representative government and the good sense of the party in power set a limit to despotic action by a majority. The realization by the government and its supporters that “the Opposition was an alternative government ever on the alert and ready to assume power by constitutional means” had no parallel in Ceylon.
e. The scheme contained the seeds of growth and was a natural evolution from the form of government in existence before the Donoughmore “interlude”, and a natural extension of past tendencies.
256. We are not inclined to agree that the system of representation recommended by the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress contains the germs of development, and we do not regard it as a natural evolution from the Constitutions of 1921 an 1924. On the contrary, we should describe a system which purported to re-impose communal representation in the rigid form contemplated, as static rather than dynamic, and we should not expect to find in it the seeds of a healthy and progressive advance towards parliamentary self-government.
We are of course well aware that, unless and until parties in Ceylon become divided on social and economic, in place of racial, lines, a minority will have no reason to rely on the swings to the right or left that occur in Western democracies and, consequently, will have little expectation of taking over the reins of government. Despite the proposal in S P XIV for a re-distribution of electoral districts, which we shall presently examine, we are under no illusion as to the likelihood of a speedy reversal of the majority’s present predominance in the legislature. But it seems to us that under the “Fifty- Fifty” scheme each general election will inevitably produce a legislature of the same complexion as its predecessor, and we cannot recommend a stereotyped cast-iron division of the communities from which it would, in our judgment, be very difficult, if not impossible, ever to develop a normal party system. But apart from a general consideration of this nature, we find it difficult to see how any stable government could be formed or any head of a government be able either to frame a policy or carry it out in a legislature so constituted.
257. We think it is highly probable that if the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress scheme were adopted action would be taken by the Sinhalese which would be by no means acceptable to the advocates of balanced representation. In a legislature composed of 50 Sinhalese and 50 members of the minority groups, the obvious course for the largest homogeneous group to adopt in order to recover its commanding position would be to make a pact with one or other of the minorities and thereby obtain once more a working majority for itself. No doubt the result would be advantageous to whichever section of the minorities was induced to cooperate and, so long as the pact endured, the support of the minority group in question would be made worth its while. But the other minorities would be left to suffer the feelings of “subservience or frustration” with which, according to the Ceylon Tamil spokesman, they are at present afflicted, and it might well be that the existing majority group, exacerbated by the statutory deprivation of its electoral predominance in the country, would be much less inclined than it is at present to pay regard to minority interests.
258. This possibility was present in the minds of the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress, for their memorandum stated as follows:
“With the minorities as against the majority precariously balanced, any supporting group will really become the decisive factor. The majority group will naturally be much more cohesive than any other and if it can anyhow attract a single group or a number of individuals from different groups of the minorities, it can always retain power. In such a case the majority group and its supporters will become the new oppressors.”
It was apparent, therefore, that the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress attached more importance to representation in the executive than in the legislature. For that reason they claimed that “communal non-domination should be translated into the Executive for a balanced gegislature with an executive that leaves power in the hands of any one community would be a mere delusion and snares.” Accordingly they proposed that:
a. The present method of government by executive committees should be abolished and its place taken by a Council of Ministers so composed as to “enable the minorities to take their due share in the government of the country”.
b. The governor should choose the Council of Ministers in consultation with leaders of the various communities in the legislature, but that it should be provided by statue that less than half of the members of the Council of Ministers should be chosen from any one community.
c. The Council of Ministers should elect one of its members to be Leader of the House.
d. The governor should have the right to preside at all meetings of the Council and the Leader of the House should be Chairman of the Council and preside over it in the absence of the governor.
259. These proposals seem to us to be open to grave objection. The result of the statutory injunction to be laid upon the governor regarding his choice of ministers would, according to the evidence given by the exponents of the scheme, be that a Council or Cabinet of, say, 10 ministers would consist of four Sinhalese, two or three Tamils, one or two Muslims and perhaps a European or Burgher. Thus, the Sinhalese group would get less representation in the cabinet than the “Fifty-fifty” system would justify. We think that any attempt by artificial means to convert a majority into a minority is not only inequitable, but doomed to failure. We have received no evidence to convince us that such a method would produce the collective responsibility of the ministers to the legislature which the witnessed professed to favor and the absence of which has proved detrimental to the successful working of the present constitution.
260. Our attention was drawn to the constitution of the provincial governments in India, where the Instrument of Instructions to the governor enjoins him “to use his best endeavors to select his ministries in the following manner, that is to say, to appoint in consultation with the person who, in his judgment, is most likely to command a stable majority in the legislature those persons [including so far as is practicable members of important minority communities] who will best be in a position collectively to command the confidence of the legislature” and to bear constantly in mind the need for fostering a sense of joint responsibility among his minister, they had been selected, not so much because they represented a minority community as because they were agreeable to the majority in the Council, and not considered to be likely to give trouble to their colleagues. The All-Ceylon Tamil Congress maintained that the inclusion of minority members in any Council of Ministers or cabinet which might figure in the new constitution should be mandatory.
261. It does not, however, seem to us likely that any Council of Ministers or cabinet formed under such circumstances would accept collective response for its actions, nor was our attention directed to any precedent for the successful working of a compulsory coalition of the nature indicated. But it is not because of the novel character of this proposal that we reject it: it is because of its inherent defects. For all political experience suggests that men will work with other men when they are agreeable to them, or are men of their own choice, or under the stress of very grave emergency, but not otherwise. But co-operation and willingness to accept joint responsibility are most unlikely amongst colleagues who are forced upon each other by statute. We are, however, strongly of the opinion that, until parties develop in Ceylon on lines be well advised, in forming a government, to offer a proportion of the portfolios to representatives of the minorities and, in selecting those representatives to consult the elected members of the group or groups to which they belong.
262. We have no reason to suppose that the head of Ceylon government would be devoid of the qualities and attributes of statesmanship, and indeed, if the scheme proposed in S P XIV for the delimitation of constituencies has the result which we understand it is intended to have, common political prudence, apart from statesmanship, will commend to him the course we have suggested. For as will be seen later, the additional weightage which it is proposed to give to the minority communities may reasonably be expected to diminish the present disparity between the majority and minority groups; and the majority group itself cannot be counted on always to remain of the same mind and the same allegiance. There is by no means complete unanimity among the Low Country Sinhalese and the Kandyans as to their respective interests and aspirations, and the growth of left-wing opinion already constitutes must inevitably present themselves to any leaders desirous of obtaining for his government a stable and reliable basis of support in the legislature.
263. Considerable stress was laid upon the proposal that the Council of Ministers should elect the Leader of the House, but it seems to us improbable that this procedure would promote the choice of the most suitable person for we think that negative rather than positives qualities would commend various communities. In any event, as in the case of the legislature, the largest homogenous section in the Council of Ministers would have every inducement to secure support for their own candidates by making a deal with one or more of the other sections. We do not favor a system likely to produce arrangements of this nature.
264. Nor do we favor the suggestion that the governor should, after, consultation with the leaders of the minorities, choose the members of the Council Ministers and himself preside over the Council. It is not consonant with progress towards full responsible government under the Crown in all matters of internal civil administration; nor it is in keeping with the spirit of the Declaration of May, 1943, which, as it appears to us, involves so far as is possible keeping the governor out of politics.
Chapter 13: British subjects become stateless