Turbulence in any language
By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore
When the Western colonial powers, the Portuguese, Dutch and British, captured the littoral regions of Ceylon, they administered the North and East, the traditional habitat of the Tamils, as a single, whole and distinct unit, keeping intact the homogeneity and the indivisibility of the region.
Sir Hugh Cleghorn, the British Colonial Secretary, wrote in 1799, “Two different nations, from a very ancient period, have divided between them in possession of the island [Ceylon]. First the Sinhalese, inhabiting the Southern and Western parts from the river Wallouve to that of Chilaw, and secondly the Malabars [Tamils], who possess the Northern and Eastern districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religions, language and manners.”
Sir Alexander Johnstone, the Chief Justice of Ceylon, who was responsible for the abolition of slavery in 1816, wrote on July 1, 1827, to the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, “… I think it may safely be concluded both from them and from all the different histories which I have in my possession, that the race of people who inhabited the whole of the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island of Ceylon, at the period of their greatest agricultural prosperity, spoke the same language, used the same written character, and had the same origin, religion, castes, laws and manners, as that race of people who at the same period inhabited the southern peninsula of India …”
The Cleghorn Minute of 1799 and the Arrow Smith Map of 1802 are official proof that Ceylon consisted of two separate countries. Sir Alexander Johnstone must have reached his conclusions on the basis of this evidence.
In 1831, Lieutenant-Colonel William MacBean George Colebrooke and Charles Hay Cameron, the two Royal Commissioners, submitted five reports on various aspects of the administration of Ceylon (i) December 24, 1831: Colebrooke – The Administration of the Government of Ceylon; (ii) January 31, 1932: Colebrooke – The Revenues of Ceylon; (iii) January 31, 1832: Cameron – The Judicial Establishments and Procedure in Ceylon; (iv) March 16, 1832: Colebrooke – The Compulsory services to which the Natives of Ceylon are subject to; (v) May 28, 1832: Colebrooke – The Establishment and expenditure of Ceylon.
However, under the Colebrooke Commission Report of 1831 – The Administration of the Government of Ceylon – it was unfortunate that the territories of the earlier Tamil Kingdom were merged with the rest of the country for “supervisory convenience”. Based on the Colebrooke Commission Report, the British divided the Island into nine provinces. The regions originally belonging to the Tamil Kingdom were carved into two different provinces, North and East, although vast areas of the Tamil Kingdom were incorporated with North-Central and Western provinces. The Eastern province was again divided into two revenue districts – Trincomalee (Thirukonamalai in Tamil) and Batticaloa (Maddakalappu in Tamil), and the Kachcheri administrative system (secretariat) under the Government Agent, was introduced. In the Batticaloa district, there were three great perennial rivers, the Mahaveli Ganga (Great Sand River), the Pattipalai Aru and the Madura Oya, which flowed into the Indian Ocean.
In 1931, under the Donoughmore Constitution, D S Senanayake became the Minister of Agriculture and Lands. In 1933, Senanayake presented to the State Council an ordinance to provide for the systematic development and alienation of Crown land.
In 1936, he arranged to examine the entire valley area of Pattipalai Aru (in Tamil – Aru means river). Subsequently, with a total investment of the then equivalent of US$67.2 million, an earthen dam was constructed across the river at Inginiyagala to form a large reservoir, which was called the Gal-Oya multi-purpose project. Nowadays, the reservoir is called Senanayaka Samudra (Samudra – sea). The building of the dam was entrusted to a firm of American engineers, Morrison Knudsen of San Francisco, and they completed the project in 1947.
The dam was 3,600 feet long and 154 feet tall at its highest point. It was the idea of J S Kennedy, the Director of Irrigation, to have a deep-water reservoir rather than a wide one, in order to prevent loss of water by evaporation.
Thousands of acres of jungle were cleared and blocked into small units. Huts for the colonists were erected on high land and low-lying lands were allocated for paddy cultivation. Thousands of Sinhalese families were moved from the Southwestern parts of the country and settled on land belonged to the Tamils. The land settlement and land development laws, which had existed since British rule, insisted that beneficiaries of such schemes must be selected from among people of the district where the scheme was launched. Thousands of Tamil families who lived in the Southern district of Batticaloa, were virtually forced to move out of the region to give way to the Sinhalese colonization.
With the outbreak of World War II, rice imports from Burma became irregular, and finally stopped. The need for the cultivation of paddy was urgently felt. In 1948, Parliament allocated Rs700 million for the restoration of abandoned tanks, such as the Padavilkulam, Kantalai, Huruluwewa, Kandalama and Kaudulla tanks.
The Government took up the restoration of Allai Kulam (Kulam in Tamil means – tank) in the Trincomalee district. Also, they restored the Kantalai Kulam in the Trincomalee district, which was an ancient irrigation tank that had silted up and fallen in disuse during the centuries of colonial rule. Another was the Padavil Kulam in Sinhalese – Padaviya, where there lay the fertile lands of West and North of Trincomalee. These three tanks were restored, forests were cleared and blocked into units for Sinhalese colonists, who were brought from the south, thus purposely changing the demographic map of the Tamil region.
Prime Minister D S Senanayake, in his independence day anniversary broadcast on February 4, 1951, declared, “Colonization of land development activities are going at full speed and we are now able to bring more [Sinhala] colonists to lands that have been fully developed and provided with irrigation and other facilities than we have ever done before.”
Professor A Jeyaratnam Wilson in his, S J V Chelvanayakam and the Crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 1947 – 1977, writes, “His Federal Party (Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi) now offered the alternative of a Tamil-speaking autonomous state. Chelvanayakam linked the Tamil language with the traditional homelands, these being the two most relevant components of statehood. These were parts of Ceylon that were inhabited, and they could therefore ‘put up a fight for their existence’ against Senanayake’s government’s plans for colonizing ‘other parts of the Eastern province and parts of the Northern province’ having already ‘started Sinhalese colonization of Gal Oya’ in the East.” – page 34.
The Tamil leaders objected to the Sinhalese colonization, not because of the loss of territory, but mainly because it resulted in a change of the ethnic composition of the Tamil region. One example: it was due to the government-sponsored settlement in the South of Batticaloa, with the Sinhalese, in the early 1960s, the Government was able to create a new Amparai district out of Batticaloa, where Tamils had predominated since time immemorial, until as late as the 1946 census. The new district appeared as a separate administrative entity after the 1963 census and now has an 80 percent Sinhalese population. The Tamils who lived there were forced out of the region and were outnumbered by the government-sponsored Sinhala colonists.
In 1947, when J R Jeyawardene took up the important finance portfolio, he pressed for systematic economic planning. He promised to provide such a plan in his first budget for 1947-48, presented in July 1947. In his budget speech he argued that achieving self-sufficiency in food held a place of “supreme importance” among Government policies. He declared that substantial resources had been committed to improving peasant agriculture in the wet zones and to expanding irrigation systems in the dry zones.
In September 1947, the new Government in its throne speech, declared, “In regard to finance, my government intends to seek expert advise with regard to changes in our financial sector which may be necessitated by the transition from a colonial to a free national economy.” Accordingly, early in 1949, Jeyawardene obtained the services of John Exter, an American economist attached to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve system of the United States, to make recommendations for the establishment of a Central Bank.
The Central Bank of Ceylon was established in 1950, based on Exter’s report, under the Monetary Law Act No 58 of 1949. It became the apex institution in the financial sector. It is a semi-autonomous body, governed by a three-member monetary board comprising the Governor of the Central Bank as the chairman, the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and a third member appointed by the Governor-General. John Exter became the first Governor of the Central Bank.
In 1950, Jayewardene pioneered international cooperation to help improve the economic conditions of the people in South and Southeast Asia. At the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers’ Conference, held in Colombo in January 1950, he made an historic contribution with the idea for a Colombo Plan, of which he and Sir Percy Spender of Australia were the co-authors.
In those days, the country’s economy depended on the export of plantation products, mainly, tea, rubber and coconuts. Earlier, the country had had coffee plantations.
Tea trees were discovered in the Upper Assam region of northeast India and the first chests of Indian tea reached London in 1839. In the same year, Assam tea seeds were successfully tested and planted in Ceylon. The Governor General of India, Lord Bentick, officially announced the discovery of tea in India in 1844 and called for the development of the industry.
Earlier, in 1804, a Scotsman named James Taylor moved to the island to reap profits from coffee production. He planted acres of coffee and decided in a small area to experiment by planting some Indian tea seeds. He is noted as saying that the tea bush was an “ugly little shrub”, yet despite its appearance it produced large yields.
However, it is generally accepted that James Taylor was the first person to plant tea for commercial crops. He planted No 7 field on the Loolecondera estate in 1827, some 19 acres in extent. He was a manager at the time, earning #8-6-8d per month.
In 1901, the total acreage under tea plantations was nearly 407,000, and by 1946 it expanded to 553,000 acres. In 1949, tea dominated exports – nearly 61 percent of total value.
Though coconuts were not indigenous to the country, they were grown in the south and western coastal regions. In the beginning, coconuts were cultivated from Chillaw to Dondra Head, but it was at the dawn of the 20th Century that it began to be cultivated in the Jaffna and Batticaloa districts. Where the Europeans invested their capital in coffee and tea, the Ceylonese invested in coconut cultivation. By the early 1900s, coconuts covered 41 percent of the total cultivated acreage, in contrast to the 32 percent under paddy cultivation. Pressure from the coconut estate owners brought about the expansion of the railway network from Colombo to Matara (1877-95), the construction of lines to Negambo (1907-09) and to Jaffna through to Kurunegala (1894-1905).
Despite Brazil’s legal restrictions, rubber seeds were smuggled to England in 1876. This resulted in the seedlings being sent to Ceylon, and later to many tropical regions, especially to Malaya, Java, Sumatra and Thailand, thus beginning the enormous East Asian rubber plantation industry. Plantations were so carefully cultivated and managed that the Amazon rubber industry lost ground. American rubber companies subsequently enlarged their plantation holdings in Liberia and in South and Central America.
The expansion of rubber production in Ceylon only began in the 20th Century. In 1900, less than 2,000 acres were under rubber, but by 1910 it had risen to almost 150,000 acres.
Dudley Senanayake, when he was the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, opened up the Tea Research Institute, the Talawakele Rubber Research Institute at Agalawatte and the Coconut Research institute at Lunuwila.
After the general elections of 1952, when the price of rubber declined in the international market, Dudley Senanayake, the new premier, was suddenly saddled with a stagnant economy. Following the end of the World War II in 1945, the price of rubber dropped to Rs 1 per pound. With the impact of synthetic rubber, the price dropped further to a low of 46 cents per pound. During the Korean War, the price began to pick up with the entry of China into the war. Ceylon sold a large quantity of rubber to China.
Ceylon took a bold step by entering into a rubber-rice barter agreement with China. Ceylon was to get six tons of rice for every ton of rubber exported to China, which was double the current market price in those days. Credit must go to Dudley Senanayake, along with R G Senanayake, the cousin of the prime minister, who was the Minister of Trade and Commerce.
At the time Ceylon had not established diplomatic ties with China, so the ambassadors of China and Ceylon based in Burma negotiated the barter agreement. As a follow-up, the Ceylon government sent a trade delegation to China in September 1952. It was led by R G Senanayake and left on September 14. The minister clinched the deal on behalf of Ceylon and on October 4 a provisional rubber-rice agreement was signed. After initial hesitancy and opposition, a second mission left for Peking, led by Susantha de Fonseka, Ceylon’s Ambassador in Burma, on November 23, and a pact was signed on December 18. The agreement came into force on January 1, 1953 and Ceylon benefited immensely for years from the agreement.
Britain and the United States protested against Ceylon selling rubber to China. The US strongly objected to the deal with communist China because relations between the two powers were at a low as a result of the Korean War. America invoked the Battle Act and stopped a substantial portion of its aid to the country. It also placed an embargo on the export of several items to Ceylon.
Despite the agreement, though, Dudley Senanayake did not establish diplomatic relations with China and continued with his pro-Western foreign policy.
In June 1953, Dudley Senanayake participated in the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II. While in London he talked with Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian premier, about issues connected with stateless Tamils of the Indian origin.
On his return, Dudley Senanayake took the courageous decision to withdraw the food subsidy and divert some of this money to the development of the country. The budgetary proposal for the year 1953-54 was outlined in the House of Representatives, on July 23, 1953 by J R Jeyawardene, the Minister of Finance. In moving to reduce the food subsidy, the minister set off a chain reaction as the loss of the subsidy meant an increase in the price of rationed rice from 25 cents to 75 cents a measure, and also an increase in the price of sugar.
The removal brought about an explosive situation which led to the resignation of Maitripala Senanayake, who was a Parliamentary Secretary (Junior Minister) and the Member of Parliament representing Madawadchchiya electorate. The Jaffna-educated (at St John’s College, Jaffna) Maitripala Senanayake, crossed over to the opposition and joined the SLFP, led by Bandaranaike.
Immediately, the Marxist parties seized the opportunity and announced ahartal general work stoppage. It turned out to be a violent one and on August 12, 1953 the government declared a state of emergency and took strong measures to quell riots and disorder, which had begun to spread rapidly all over the country.
“August 12, 1953 was a dark day in the brief history of independent Ceylon. A hartal, had been organized for the day by revolutionary leaders as a protest against the government’s decision to increase the price of rationed rice. The government, however, had not been prepared to meet the emergency of a complete failure of public transport on August 12. There were many outbreaks of violence and much damage to property. Rumors spread panic. As Minister of Transport I was unjustly blamed for not ensuring the proper functioning of rail and road services to serve the people who were anxious to cooperate with the authorities and go about their business as usual. Drastic action has to be taken to prevent further violence and a state of emergency was declared. A curfew was imposed and rigorously enforced. Some people thought that the Government’s countermeasures were too severe. Several lives were lost, and the total damage caused by the hartalwas assessed at approximately Rs 3,000,000.” An Asian Prime Minister’s Story by Sir John Kotelawala, page 90.
Meanwhile, Dudley Senanayake was ill with a painful and chronic stomach ailment, which was exacerbated during times of stress. The opposition blamed Dudley Senanayake for the deaths caused by police shootings. On August 18, when Dudley Senanayake arrived in the chamber of the parliament, before the Speaker had taken his seat, a few opposition members heckled him, and others shouted, “Minneemaruwa … minneemaruwa …” (Murderer … murderer in the Sinhla language). Enraged, Dudley Senanayake rushed forward to assault one heckler and members had to forcibly restrain him. During the debate on the amendment to the Public Security Act he collapsed. In September, on the advice of his physician, Dr Oliver Medonza, he left for Nuwera-Eliya on vacation, in the company of Robert Senanayake, his brother.
On his return to Colombo he informed the British government to postpone the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ceylon, scheduled for April 1954. On October 11 he called on Lord Soulbury, the Governor-General, to discuss the issue of continuing in office. Unfortunately, while he was taken ill and began to vomit violently. On October 12 he tendered his resignation. Dudley Senanayake had suddenly disappeared from the political scene, but he subsequently came back to occupy the back benches in the House of Representatives.
Regarding the transition period, Sir John Kotelawala wrote, in his Asian Prime Minister’s Story, pages 91-92, “The Governor-General, Lord Soulbury, must have been more embarrassed than anybody by the turn of events. While he waited for Dudley Senanayake’s decision, I was certain that he was still determined not to send for me if he could help it. A prominent European businessman called on me with a message from the Governor-General to the effect that I must apologize to him for all that I was supposed to have said or written disparagingly about him, if I was to be the prime minister. My answer was that I was not one of those who would do anything for the sake of becoming prime minister. And I would in no circumstances apologize to Lord Soulbury. His prejudice against me was too strong to be easily overcome. He attempted to arrange for a friendly meeting between the two of us through a third party. But I would have none of it. He would have to approach me direct.”
Ultimately, Lord Soulbury called Sir John Kotelawala to form the government. On October 12, 1953, when Lord Soulbury met Sir John Kotelawala on the steps of Queen’s House, he shook his hand and said, “Let bygones be bygones.” According to Sir John, thereafter they remained good friends.
Sir John Kotelawala was sworn in as the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and External Affairs, and he also retained the Transport and Works Ministry, until 1954. Later, Montague Jayawickreme was made the minister. In a surprise move, J R Jeyawardene was made the Leader of the House, as well as the Minister of Agriculture and Food. Senator Oliver Goonetilake was made the Minister of Finance. P B Bulankulame Dissawe retained the Ministry of Lands and Land Development, while M D Banda retained the Ministry of Education and E A Nugawela the Ministry of Health.
Former leading Ceylon civil service officer, Sir Kanthiah Vaithiyanathan, a Tamil, who was the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during D S Senanayake’s period, was made a senator and also sworn in as the Minister of Housing and Social Service. Dr C W W Kannagara, who had been the Minister of Education in the 1931 to 1947 period, during the State Council days, was made the Minister of Local Government. During the stewardship of Dudley Senanayake there had been no Muslim ministers in his cabinet, but Sir John Kotelawala appointed Dr M C M Kaleel as the Minister of Labor, while Subiayah Natesan retained his Ministry of Posts and Broadcasting, with the name changing to broadcasting instead of information, which he had held in the earlier government. R G Senanayake, a cousin of Sir John Kotelawala, remained as the Minister of Trade and Commerce, and A Ratnayake as the Minister of Home Affairs.
Two ministers who were subsequently considered as controversial personalities by the prime minister, G G Ponnampalam, at the Ministry of Industries and Fisheries, and Senator Sir Lalita Rajapakse, at the the Ministry of Justice, retained their positions. Sir John Kotelawala explained in his Asian Prime Minister’s Story, page 93, “When I formed the cabinet, I was severely criticized for bringing back the old gang, with a slight reshuffle of the pack, retaining one or two discredited jokers. It was suggested that I had yielded to appeals for mercy from some of my old colleagues, and that I did not have the heart to deprive them of their portfolios. As I said at the time, I intended to fill the role of an executioner and ended as a humanitarian. But within a week, I asked the two members of my cabinet to resign. There had been a public outcry against their appointment, and I felt I had yielded to the popular demand.” The two ministers were G G Ponnampalam, the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and Senator Sir Lalita Rajapakse.
Ponnampalam, the son of Ganapathipillai Gangeyar, was born in Alvai, Point Pedro. His father was a postmaster, later promoted as an investigating inspector of post offices. He was educated at St Patrick’s College, Jaffna and later completed his secondary education at St Joseph’s College, Colombo. After winning the then much coveted British University scholarship, he attended Cambridge University, where he obtained a science degree and subsequently an MA, L.LB (Cantab), and passed out as a barrister-at-law. On his return to Ceylon, he took his oaths as an advocate of the Supreme Court and set up practice as a criminal lawyer.
As an advocate, he was one of the most distinguished lawyers that Hulftsdorp in the century. He ranks with H A P Sandrasegara and R L Pereira as one of the most brilliant Silks seen around the courts. In politics, he was a most popular personality and the leader of the Tamils. Sir John Kotelawala had an axe to grind because earlier Ponnampalam had supported Dudley Senanayake in the premier stakes, in 1952. This led the prime minister to demand his resignation to disgrace him. On October 22, 1953, Ponnampalam resigned his portfolio. Out of the four ACTC Members of Parliament, V Kumarasawamy (Chavakachcheri) and Alfred Tambiaiyah (Kayts) remained with UNP, while T Ramalingham (Point Pedro) crossed over with Ponnampalam.
Sir Kanthia Vaithiyanathan was given the added portfolio of minister of Industries, Housing and Social Services. Senator E B Wikramanayake was appointed as the Minister of Justice on the resignation of Sir Lalita Rajapakse on November 7.
After assuming the premiership, the first thing that Sir John Kotelawala did was to cancel all the telegrams and messages that had been sent to London, urging the Queen to cancel her visit to Ceylon. He declared that the Queen and the Duke Edinburgh would be assured of a grand and sincere welcome from the people of Ceylon.
So it was that the Queen and the Duke arrived in Ceylon on April 10, 1954, on a 10-day tour. It was the first time a reigning British monarch had visited the island. They were given a rousing welcome, and the Queen also celebrated her 28th birthday in Ceylon.
The Queen, on April 12, ceremoniously opened the third session of the second parliament, at Independence Hall, which more than 25,000 people from all walks of life attended. The Queen also delivered a Throne Speech, wearing her Coronation robe, despite the oppressive heat of Colombo.
The Leader of the House, J R Jeyawardene, moved a vote of thanks, saying, “The people of Asia are on the march. We have contributed to their past achievements and I trust we can continue to inspire their future.” He also reminded that the last King of the island’s dynasty “was compelled by the people to surrender his sovereignty” to Her Majesty’s ancestors. This reference was a blatant distortion of the facts. C Suntheralingham, who was present during the opening of the Parliament, publicly upbraided J R Jeyawardene for not providing a Tamil translation of his speech.
In February 1954, Lord Soulbury rushed to Britain to be at the bedside of his wife, who was knocked down by a bus in London. Chief Justice Sir Alan Rose was also away from Ceylon, and the acting Chief Justice, C Nagalingham, the brother C Suntheralingham, acted as the first Ceylonese Governor-General.
Sir John Kotelawala recommended to the Queen when she was in Ceylon that Sir Oliver Goonetilake, a Ceylonese, should succeed Lord Soulbury as the Governor-General. Lord Soulbury left Ceylon on July 17, 1954 and on that very day Sir Oliver Goonetilake took the oath as Governor-General.
Meanwhile, Dudley Senanayake, after resigning the premiership and recovered from his chronic stomach problem occupied the back benches. At one stage he proposed that Buddha Jayanthi be celebrated as a major national event under the auspices of the government. Kotelawala’s government readily accepted the proposal and proceeded to establish the Lanka Buddha Mandalaya, in October 1954, to organize and direct the Buddha Jayanthi activities. The organization initiated an ambitious and costly program that continued into the Jayanthi year 1956-57 and beyond. On October 12, Sir John Kotelawala inaugurated the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations at the independence memorial hall.
Earlier, the Tamils of the Indian origin gradually began to feel that the actions and policies of Sir John Kotelawala were not beneficial to them. He imposed a series of legislation against the Indians. It was alleged that he placed greater restrictions on the Indian Tamils who lived in Ceylon with residence permits. He also stopped the issue of further residence permits.
The Indian High Commissioner in Ceylon C C Desai, was unable to stem the anti-Indian Tamil trend with Sir John Kotelawala. He arranged talks in New Delhi between Nehru and Kotelawala. On October 30, 1953, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited Sir John Kotelawala to visit New-Delhi for the resumption of Indo-Ceylon negotiations.
Earlier, negotiations had taken place between C C Desai and Dudley Senanayake, when he was the premier. These continued in London in June 1953 when Dudley Senanayake and Jawaharlal Nehru participated in the coronation ceremony of the Queen. The following points constituted the basis of the discussion between the two prime ministers:
a. Four-hundred-thousand Indians now resident in Ceylon were expected to be registered as Ceylon citizens. This figure was not a guaranteed one but an estimate, the actual figure depended on the results of the impartial administration of the Citizenship Act;
b. The number of citizens registered under the Act, plus the number of persons granted permanent residence permits should be 65,000. This was not to be a minimum figure but a maximum;
c. Persons granted permanent residence permits would have their future status determined at the end of 10 years, during which period, if any of them desired to go back to India and take up citizenship of that country, the government of India was not to object to their proposal;
d. The balance of the Indian residents in Ceylon, approximately 300,000 or more, were to be accepted as Indian citizens by the government of India, and to be compulsorily repatriated, with the operation phased over a definite period of years;
e. All these steps were to be a part of a single scheme of settlement of the Indo-Ceylon problem. There was to be no question of settling any one point without at the same time coming to an arrangement with regard to the others.
The discussions between Nehru and Dudley Senanayake ended in failure. Nehru did not agree to any form of compulsory repatriation and he also desired that the total number of citizens registered under the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act, plus the number of persons granted permanent residence permits, should be increased to 700,000. The two men finally agreed that for time being matters might be left where they were.
Meanwhile, the Ceylon Indian Congress stressed that they, too, should be present when the Ceylon government’s delegation went to New Delhi for talks with the Indian government. A Aziz was sent on behalf of the CIC to New Delhi to brief Nehru on the plight of the Indian plantation workers, their deplorable status and to urge him to accept a delegation of the CIC to be present in the negotiations. Finally, Nehru agreed to have a CIC delegation with him, while the Indian side negotiated with the Ceylonese. The CIC delegation consisted of A Aziz, S Thondaman and Somasundaram. The CIC delegation was accommodated in a room next to the conference hall. Indian officials consulted with them at every stage.
The Ceylon delegation, which arrived in New Delhi on January 15, 1954, led by Sir John Kotelawala, included M D Banda, Minister of Education, a Kandyan Sinhalese, E B Wickrmanayake, Minister of Justice, Sir Oliver Goonetilake, Minister of Finance, and two unofficial advisors of the prime minister, Senator Sir Ukwatte Jayasundere and D B Ellepola.
The talks lasted for three days. The negotiations between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sir John Kotelawala were held on a friendly and conducive atmosphere. Finally both sides agreed:
1. Both governments are determined to suppress illicit immigration traffic between the two countries and will take all the possible steps, in close cooperation with each other, towards that end. Periodical meetings between high police authorities on either side of the Palk Strait may be held, and information relating to illicit immigration exchanged.
2. The government of Ceylon proposes to undertake the preparation of a register of all adult residents who are not already on the electoral register, and will maintain such registers up to date. When this registration is completed, any person not so registered will, if his mother tongue is an Indian language, be presumed to be illicit immigrant from India and liable for deportation and the Indian High Commissioner will extend all facilities for the implementation of such deportation.
3. The government of Ceylon may proceed with the Immigrants and Emigrant Amendment Bill which throws on the accused the onus of proof that he is not an illicit immigrant. But before any person is prosecuted in accordance with this provision, the Government of Ceylon will give an opportunity to the Indian High Commissioner to satisfy himself that a prima facie case exists for such prosecution. The final decision being that of the Government of Ceylon.
4. The registration of citizens under the Indians and Pakistani (Citizenship) Act will be expedited and every endeavor will be made to complete the disposal of pending applications within two years.
5. All persons registered under the Act may be placed by the government of Ceylon on a separate electoral register, particularly in view of the fact that the bulk of the citizens do not speak the language of the area in which they reside. This arrangement will last for a period of only 10 years. The government of Ceylon agrees that certain constituencies where the number of registered citizen voters is not likely to exceed 250, they will be put on the national register.
6. Citizens whose names are placed in the separate electoral register will be entitled to elect a certain number of members to the House of Representatives, the number would be determined after consultation with the prime minister of India. The government of Ceylon expects to complete their action in this respect before the present Parliament is dissolved in 1957.
7. In regard to those persons who are not so registered, it would be open to them to register themselves as Indian citizens. If they so chose, at the office of the Indian High Commissioner in accordance with the provision of the Article 8 of the constitution of India. It is noted that Ceylon proposes to offer a special inducement to encourage such registration and that these inducements will be announced time to time. The Government of India will offer administrative and similar facilities to all persons of Indian origin to register themselves as Indian citizens under the Constitution of India, if they so chose, and will also give publicity to the availability of such facilities.
8. Both prime ministers are desirous of continuing the present practice of close consultation between the two governments in matters affecting their mutual interests.
The above famous Nehru-Kotelawala Pact was signed on January 18, 1954, and was one more attempt by the two governments to bring about a fair and honorable settlement to the Indo-Ceylon problem. It became apparent in the years to come that what the two men did was simply an act of laying the foundation for the simmering human problem.
“When the CIC delegation returned to Colombo, Thondaman was asked by the press for his views on the Delhi agreement. He replied, ‘If the agreement is to be a success, the Ceylon government should continue to display the spirit shown at the Delhi conference’.” Out of Bondage by T Sabaratnam, page 55.
On March 2, 1954, S W R D Bandaranaike, the Leader of the Opposition, moved a motion in the House of Representatives refusing to endorse the ratification of the joint proposals reached between the premiers of India and Ceylon. The motion was seconded by Neal De Alwis, the member for Udugama. At the conclusion of the debate on March 5, the motion was defeated by a majority of 37 votes, (54 yeas, to 17 no’s).
The Ceylon Indian Congress was dismayed when nothing tangible emerged from the Nehru-Kotelawala Pact. They organized a public meeting on Mach 3, 1954, at which Thondaman expressed his frustration by saying, “We thought things would ease after the Delhi meeting, but they have turned worse.” He also told of many instances where Ceylon government officials discouraged Indian Tamils from seeking Ceylon citizenship.
Sir John Kotelawala wrote about the follow-up developments of the pact, “The ink of ratification on the joint proposals was scarcely dry when trouble started again. It had always been difficult to drive suspicion out of Deasai’s mind, and, although scarcely an Indian was being registered on his side as an Indian citizen, he once again began to complain that we were willfully chary of registering Indians as Ceylon citizens. He also suddenly took the stand that an Indian who had applied for Ceylon citizenship could not change his mind and apply for Indian citizenship, and this of course meant that very nearly the whole of the Indian population was thrown into our hands. He also took certain steps which savored of force majeure. He desisted from issuing travel papers for India to Indians, unless they were either definitely Indian citizens or definitely Ceylon citizens. Last of all, he began to raise fanciful objections when we were about to amend the Constitution to make the special provision agreed upon for the representation of Indians who had been given citizenship under the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act.” An Asian Prime Minister’s Story, page 110.
A joint army-police unit known as the Task Force Anti-Illicit Immigration (TAFII) was set up to arrest illicit Indian immigrants or kalla thony in Tamil this means those who sneak into the country illegally by boat. Special detention centers were set up to incarcerate those apprehended as illicit immigrants. The task force was disbanded after 1977.
India was worried about the slow pace of registration and the combative attitude of Ceylonese officials, who frustrated Indian Tamils from registering themselves for Ceylon citizenship. A stalemate was experienced as the Delhi agreement could not be implemented.
As the earlier agreement did not work out as expected, another meeting was arranged to be held in New Delhi, in October 1954. Meantime, R G Senanayake, the Minister of Commerce and Trade and the cousin of Sir John Kotelawala, resigned his ministerial portfolio on July 10, 1954, just before budget day. He disapproved of the appointment of Sir Oliver Goonetilake as the Governor General of Ceylon. He also believed that the elimination of the bulk of the Indians from the voting registers was entirely justifiable, and that the political gains that sprang from this, made evident in the elections of 1952, should not be jeopardized by making any concession that would increase the chances of Indians securing citizenship under the laws introduced in 1948 and 1949.
Sir John Kotelawala invited one of the strong opponents of the Nehru-Kotelawala Pact, S W R D. Bandaranaike, the Leader of the Opposition, who earlier participated in the Indo-Ceylon discussions in the Donoughmore days and Dudley Senanayke, his predecessor, and during whose period much of the later negotiations between the two governments had taken place. Also, M D Banda, Minister of Education, Senator E B Wikramanayake, Minister of Justice, V Nalliah, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defense and External Affairs, and Bernard Aluwihare, member for Matale, were included in the Ceylon delegation.
At the conclusion of the negotiations, a statement issued on October 10, 1954, spotlighting the new and fundamental differences that had arisen between the two governments, but leaving them unsettled. Ceylon recognized no “stateless” Indians, and India would now recognize as her own only those Indians who held Indian passports and Indians who had obtained Indian nationality under the terms of the Indian constitution.
Also, it was agreed that the two processes of citizenship would be speeded up so that positions might be reviewed at the end of two years. Ceylon said that it would encourage registration as Indian citizens by permitting persons so registered to remain undisturbed in their employment until the age of 55. India reiterated its earlier assurance to give every opportunity and facilities to Indians to register themselves as Indian citizens.
The governments of India and Ceylon were deadlocked and could not find a plausible solution to resolve the Indo-Ceylon humanitarian issue. While an impasse existed, the protagonist to the problem were caught up in the hotbed of political feud. The Ceylon Indian Congress, which represented all Indian plantation workers, found itself at the crossroads of dissension and rivalry. The long-standing clash between S Thondaman and A Aziz of the CIC surfaced publicly. The two powerful personalities of the CIC came from different backgrounds. Thondaman, a Tamil, was the son of a plantation worker, who later rose to be a an estate owner, while Aziz, a commerce degree holder from the University of Bombay, migrated from India and was the son of a businessman and a non-Tamil.
At the 1954 annual session of the CIC held at Hatton, Aziz contested the post of president successfully, challenging Somasundaram, a nominee of Thondaman. In the election for the Executive Committee members, Thondaman’s group won the majority. Subsequently, dissension intensified and on December 13, 1955 Aziz was expelled from the CIC.
Also, at the Hatton session, the name of the Ceylon Indian Congress was changed to Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC). After the expulsion, Aziz instituted legal action challenging his expulsion, but the District Court of Colombo dismissed his application. Thereafter, Aziz launched an organization named the Democratic Workers Congress (DWC), on January 1, 1956.
The three prime ministers Ceylon had had since independence were from the United National Party. They strongly opposed the existence of the Tamils of the Indian origin within their midst, in the up-country regions. The three men were also strong anti-workers, anti-leftist, anti-communists and were branded “rightist” and “cats’ paws of the Western powers”. Criticism was heaped on Sir John Kotelawala for allowing American Globemasters carrying French troops to Indo-China to use Colombo airport. Kotelawala, when replying to his critics from the floor of the House of Representatives, declared, “if even the devil wanted to fight communism, I would be on his side”.
Meanwhile, the commission appointed to inquire into the affairs and the general conduct of N U Jayawardene, the governor of the Central Bank of Ceylon and his wife Gertrude Mildred Jayawardene, submitted its report. The commission reported against N U Jayawardene, the first Ceylonese Governor of the Central Bank. Sir John Kotelawala dismissed him despite an appeal by leading men. Yet he consistently overlooked allegations against Sir Oliver Goonetilake, under whose purview came the Central Bank, who was the Minister of Finance, and who also at that time was the Governor-General designate.
Earlier, the newly-framed Indian constitution came into operation on in January 1950. Its drafters accepted that India was a multilingual country and that it had to remain so. The constitution, therefore, recognized all the major languages as India’s national languages. But it also decided that Hindi would be India’s official language, with English being used for official purposes, until 1965, thereafter it would be replaced by Hindi.
The Soulbury Constitution – Ceylon (Constitution) Order-in-Council, which was in force even after independence, failed to address the language issue. J R Jeyayawardene, made an attempt to make Sinhalese the official language during the State Council days, but was thwarted. Subsequently, S W R D Bandaranaike gradually brought up the language issue. The tone was set in 1951 for debate on the issue.
On February 15, 1951, a UNP member of Parliament moved a Private Member’s Motion in the House of Representatives for “the use of the national languages, both Sinhalese and Tamil in conduct of all the government business, including the conduct of business in the House of Representatives”. In May 1951, the LSSP resolved that the national languages be adopted as official languages.
But on May 23, 1951, D S Senanayake established a National Language Commission. Subsequently, he addressed this issue in his speech on July 24, 1951, in parliament, as follows:
“We have decided that Sinhalese and Tamil should be the national languages. We have appointed a commission to give effect to that. Whenever possible with the knowledge we got people with the knowledge of Sinhalese and Tamil into the public service and we are going on with that practice and are trying our best to maintain it [sic]. How soon we would be able to give effect to that decision of ours to introduce Sinhalese and Tamil language as official languages depends on the success of the university and the pundits. The commission will see how that could be done. In this instance, although we decided that the official language should be Sinhalese only and, if the Tamils like it, Tamil also. In spite of the fact it was pointed out at the UNP committee meeting that the decision was that Sinhalese and Tamil should be the official languages and that we were doing our best to introduce them, this resolution places the Tamil language in a doubtful position.
“In fact I remember the occasion, when at a UNP Committee meeting the question of the introduction of Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages was considered. There were certain people at that meeting who felt that Sinhalese should be the official language, and the reason, the ancient culture and the association of the Sinhalese. It was then stated that Tamil also could claim to have a culture of their own. It was ultimately decided that if the culture of the Sinhalese has to be preserved as it is to the benefit of the community, then the culture of the Tamils also has to be preserved. That was the decision of the UNP. That was the decision of the parliament. In spite of all that to put the decision now altogether varied and to keep the Tamil language in suspense is not the right attitude. Of course, the reason that was given for having worded the motion in that way was that the Sinhala Sabha has no objection. That shows the danger of communal organizations dabbling with politics in Ceylon.” (Hansard – cc 1550-1551.)
Again, the official Language Commission on Higher Education, set up in 1954 under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Wijewardene, a retired chief justice, set off a train of events that culminated in the rider of dissent by its chairman in the final report – Sessional Paper XXI of 1954, dated August 23, 1954, in which he came out in favor of English being replaced by one and not two official languages, that is to say by Sinhalese. “In my opinion,” asserted Wijewardene, “the commission produced a majority report, written by Sinhalese, recommending that ‘in the interest of equal opportunity’, provisions for higher education should be available to at least six Sinhalese students for every Tamil students. The commission was also pressured by the Sinhalese Buddhists lobby to go beyond its terms of reference and question the desirability of having two official languages. The commission accordingly questioned the need for two official languages. This provoked the Governor-General, Sir Oliver Goonetilake, to write to the commission as follows, ‘You are no doubt aware that it is the accepted policy of the government that Sinhalese and Tamil should be the official languages of the country, and any examination of this policy would be contrary to the terms of reference’.” Sri Lanka and the Tamil Liberation Struggle Satchi Ponnampalam, pages 95-96.
On February 7, 1955, the Colombo Municipal Council decided to adopt the two national languages for its administrative functions. Philip Gunawardene, considered the Father of Ceylon-brand of socialism and the leader of the Viplayakari (Revolutionary) LSSP, stated as early as March 1955 that his party stood for “Sinhalese Only”, with “Tamil as a regional language, in the Northern and Eastern provinces.”
In 1955, the Kotelawala government adopted a two-point policy for the medium of instruction in schools and with regard to recruitment to the public services:
1. Every child born of Sinhalese parents must be taught in Sinhalese; every child born of Tamil parents must be taught in Tamil; every Burgher child in English and every Muslim child either in English, Sinhalese or Tamil; and
2. From 1958 onwards, examinations for recruitment to the public services, like the clerical service, will be in Sinhalese or Tamil, and from 1962 onwards, no recruitment can take place in English.
On June 24, 1955, C Suntheralingham, the independent Member of Parliament for Vavuniya, moved an amendment to the Throne Speech, expressing grave dissatisfaction with the government’s policy on the use of national languages for state purposes and as a media of instruction for higher education, which had reached the point of a demand for “the formation of a separate independent state of Thamil Ilankai” comprising the Tamil speaking peoples in Ceylon, within the Commonwealth”.
During the third reading of the budget of 1955-56, Suntheralingham alleged, “The Tamil-speaking peoples of Ceylon stand in jeopardy at the present moment; their fundamental rights, conserved by concerted action, have been violated – they are being denied what is their birth-right. The five specific standing grievances: (1) Linguistic discrimination; (2) Discriminatory recruitment; (3) Civic discrimination; (4) Discriminatory land alienation; and (5) Suppression of liberty, all on the only ground that the Tamil-speaking peoples were not Sinhalese.”
Subsequently, he released a press statement dated August 17, 1955, that he would absent himself from the sittings of the House for a continuous period of three months. He declared, “It is thus a matter for the voters of Vavuniya to decide in the first instance whether, as their Member of Parliament, I should tolerate to acquiesce in politics, in legislative and administrative acts of Kotelawala government as have the effect of depriving the Tamil-speaking peoples their rightful place as sons and daughters entitled to equality of treatment by their Mother Lanka.” In conclusion he added, “I should add that this statement has been formulated in close consultation with, and with the active cooperation of, Mr G G Ponnampalam, MP, President, Tamil Congress, and of Mr C Vanniasingham, MP, President, Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi.” By this action his seat became vacant, on November 18, 1955.
In a related development, The All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress, after failing to persuade D S Senanayake, in 1951, to constitute a Buddhist commission, appointed an unofficial Buddhist committee of inquiry in April 1954. It toured the country and released a report in the Sinhala language in 1955. The report was overwhelmed with a feeling of discontent, that Buddhism had not been given its due place in the independent country. This created antipathy against the government and among ordinary Sinhalese masses.
The report was an open denunciation of those Sinhalese political leaders who were completely dominated by an alien outlook and values and estranged from their national history and culture. The commission advocated that the correct remedy lay with active state intervention in support of Buddhism. The English translation of the report, The Betrayal of Buddhism, an abridge version with 124 pages, was released on February 4, 1956. The effect of the report on the Kotelawala government was devastating. It severely condemned the proselytizing activities of the Christian missionaries in the island. The report gave a big boost to the communal and anti-government Sinhala organizations.
One of the persons associated with the Buddhist commission of inquiry was D C Wijewaedene, the uncle of J R Jeyawardene. He was the author of a book of 700 pages The Revolt in the Temple, which was published in 1953. The book openly pronounced the chauvinistic sentiments of the Sinhla Buddhists.
As tempers were flying in the south, premier Sir John Kotelawala visited the Jaffna district and was given a grand welcome at the island of Delft, in the Kayts electorate, by Alfred A Thambiaiayah, the sitting MP.
There are about 113 small islets around the island of Ceylon. Kayts electorate consists of seven islands, Nainativu (422 hectares ) Karativu (2,295 hectares) Pungudtivu (2,256 hectares ) Eluvaitivu (140 hectares ) Delft (4,717 hectares) Analaitivu (482 hectares) and Kayts (6,401 hectares). Also, the electorate includes the islands of Saravanai and Velanai. But by now many of these islands have been bridged and roads constructed to link them with the Jaffna mainland.
Kayts too was an island, named by the Dutch, but the Tamil name is Urkavalthurai. That means Ur+Kaval+ Thurai = Ur is the place or city name + Kaval = watch post + Thurai = port or harbor. Modaliar Simon Cassie Chitty (1807-1860), a scholar and Member of the Legislative Council from 1838-1845, in his Ceylon Gazetteer, which give details about the place names of Ceylon, writes “Kaits [sic], a seaport and village, in the parish of the same name, situated at the extreme end of a harbor, which is formed by an opening about half a mile broad, between the islands Karadive and Leyden, connecting the Jaffna lake with the sea. Its Singhalese name was Ooratotte – or hog-ferry.”
The island is also known as Kalah, Kalah-bar and now called Kala Bhumi. Kalah became the center of trade, an emporium, as early as the beginning of the Christian era, and ships from East and West found safe anchorage at this port on their way and back to China. Up to the 19th Century, elephants from Ceylon were shipped from this port.
The name Delft is also another Dutch adaptation. In Tamil, the island is called Nedunthievu or Long Island. In old charts it has been called Ilha da Vacas or the Cow island. It is the farthest of the seven islands and is nearly eight miles long and three miles broad and is surrounded by coral reefs. When Sir John Kotelawala visited Delft, he was given an unprecedented welcome and crowned as the “King of Delfts”, at a welcoming ceremony.
In his last leg of his tour of Jaffna, at a public meeting held at the Kokuvil Hindu College, Jaffna, presided over by Handy Perinpanayagam, an educationalist of repute and a veteran Jaffna Youth Congress leader responsible for the boycott of the first State Council elections in the Jaffna district, he appealed to the prime minister that Sinhala and Tamil should be written into the constitution as the official languages.
Sir John Kotelawala agreed to the proposal and said, “Provision will be made in the constitution to give parity of status to Sinhalese and Tamil as the official languages of the country.” His speech was reported in a Jaffna English weekly: “The United National Party, of which I am the head, stands for development through cooperation. It eschews communalism and all forms of sectionalism in politics. It gave a clear indication of its mind on the language problem, when it adopted a resolution that the Tamil and Sinhalese languages should have identical status throughout the island. This resolution has been adopted by the government parliamentary party on January 21, 1954, and my government intends to uphold to it steadfastly,” said Sir John Kotelawala. He added, “This is no more lip service to an ideal, but an assurance that we intend to adhere the resolution in the letter and in the spirit.” – The Hindu Organ, October 1, 1955.
The phrase, “Parity of Status” created a furor among Sinhalese communal leaders. The issue was taken up first by L H Mettananda, the principal of Ananada College, a prestigious Buddhist school in Colombo. He came out with an interpretation that it meant the study of the Tamil language by the Sinhalese. Newspapers took up the issue and blew it out of proportion. Alarm bells began to ring that parity of status would end the Sinhalese as a race in the country.
Up to 1953, S W R D Bandaranaike and his SLFP clamored for a two language policy. In September 1955, Bandaranaike declared that the language sub-committee of the SLFP had resolved that Sinhalese be declared the official language of the country, with the reasonable use of Tamil.
Meanwhile, Dr N M Perera, the Member of Ruwanwela, moved a motion in the House of Representatives on October 19, 1955 “that in the opinion of this House, the Ceylon [constitution] Order-in-Council be amended forthwith to provide for the Sinhalese and Tamil languages to be state languages of Ceylon with parity of status throughout the Island”.
Immediately, S W R D Bandaranaike moved an amendment to this motion, as follows, “That in the opinion of this House, the Ceylon [Constitution] Order-in-Council should be amended forthwith to provide for the Sinhalese language to be the State language of Ceylon.”
Debate on the motion and amendment lasted the whole day and was interrupted at adjournment time. Subsequently, the motion lapsed. Dr N M Perera, the leader of the LSSP, moved the motion, and spoke in the house as follows, “Mr Speaker, I want in the first instance to ask this question: What are we aiming at? What is the objective we have in mind for this Country? Do we want a united, strong and integrated Nation or not? Our attitude to that will determine the answer to the question I have posed in this motion. Do we want that or do we not? That, I submit, is the most important question that Hon Members have to face.
“I was trying to point out to Hon Members that it is not enough for us merely to mouth phrases and say that the minority communities need not have any fears. It is not enough to say that the minority communities have nothing to fear from the majority community that in the past all have got on well and that we will get on in the same old way, it is not enough for you to say, we will continue to treat you like this. Please do not have any fears.
“If democracy is to be treated as an arithmetical concept that whatever majority decides must be accepted that if the majority decides that the majority religion must prevail it must be accepted merely because they have got superiority in members, that is not democracy. Where you have different religions, the sovereignty of the majority is automatically checked by those inalienable rights that the minorities have which cannot be overridden by the mere whim and fancy of a majority. The test of a democratic decision is the morality of the law. It is not merely a counting of heads but whether in point of fact the minorities are given full consideration of their points of view.
“There is no reason why they should separate unless we force them to separate by making Tamil a regional language confirmed to the Northern and Eastern provinces. That is what we are driving them to, that is what people who are advocating Sinhalese as the only official language do not seem to realize; if the Northern and Eastern provinces are viable, they are not going to keep quiet. They have one or two alternatives. For instance, we should be prepared to accept them as a Federation and work, give them all the assistance to make them viable and have a Federate State for Ceylon, small as it is. That is thoroughly workable and I am certain they will go away with so much disharmony and ill-feeling that the rest of Ceylon will not be prepared to do that.
“Then what is the other alternative left for the Northern and Eastern Provinces? They must break away. Certainly that is what is likely to happen. That will be the Tamil minority to swallow Sinhalese and enforcing Tamil as the regional language for those areas. They will either look to other imperialists counties who will be fishing in troubled waters. If you compel those people in the Northern and Eastern provinces to accept Sinhalese only as the state language and Tamil as a regional language, it will lead to so much rioting, bloodshed and civil war.” (Hansard)
Bandaranaike while presenting his motion on the amendment said, “It has been suggested that Sinhalese should be the official language and Tamil the regional language. I am entirely in agreement with Hon Member for Ruwanwella that the making of Tamil as a regional language will eventually lead to a federal form of Government. What are the Tamil regions in this country? Do you think they are restricted to the Northern and Eastern Provinces alone? All the areas where the Tamils are resident in the Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa Provinces could be claimed for this purpose to be Tamil areas or Tamil regions. I do not like the use of a regional language and give due recognition if necessary regionally for the use of the Tamil language in the various branches of national services which I mentioned.”
At a public meeting held on November 13, Bandaranaike warned the Sinhalese, “If parity is granted, it will mean disaster to the Sinhalese race.” At the annual session of the SLFP in December resolved to make Sinhala only as the official language with provision recognition of the reasonable use of Tamil. Bandaranaike also claimed that UNP would soon adopt the same line of his party n that Sinhalese should be the official language.
On December 15, 1955, by unanimous vote of the United Nations General Assembly, Ceylon was elected as the member of the UN. Earlier, attempts by Ceylon to gain membership had been vetoed by the Soviet Union. Sir John Kotelawala expressed, “I take personal pride in the fact that during my regime as prime minister of Ceylon takes her place as a member of the United Nations.”
Dudley Senanayake, who remained as back-bencher in parliament, resigned from active politics on January 13, 1956.
In the by-election held on February 13, 1956, for the vacant Vavuniya seat, C Suntheralingham was elected back to parliament. Earlier, the executive committee of the UNP met to decide about the official language issue. When it was confirmed that the party was preparing for a volte face at its annual session to be held in Kelaniya, Subiaya Natesan resigned his ministerial portfolio on January 19, 1956 and all the Tamil UNP members of parliament, namely A L Thambiaiyah (Kayts), S M Rasamanickam (Paddiruppu), V Kumaraswamy (Chavakachcheri), Subiayah Natesan (Kankesanthurai), and C Sittampalam (Mannar) resigned their membership of the party.
At the United National Party’s Kelaniya session on February 17, Sir John Kotelawala introduced a one sentence resolution proposing the UNP’s Sinhala Only policy. That parliament’s life was due to remain until June 1957, but Sir John Kotelawala decided to take the language issue to the electorate, and hence he called for a premature dissolution of the parliament on February 18, 1956.
The language bomb had exploded, and a collective insanity prevailed across the country.