A further lack of perspicuity
By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore
Dudley Senanyake was sworn in as the prime minister for the fourth time on March 25, 1965. A few weeks after resuming office, he was again afflicted with his peculiar stomach ailment. The pain affected him to the point that he decided to resign his position.
“He discussed the matter with Esmond Wickremasinghe, whom he urged to prepare a draft of a letter of resignation, laying the blame fairly and squarely on his health. Wickremasinghe rushed back to Lake House and summoned Earnest Corea, a trusted senior journalist, to prepare a draft.
“Since the utmost secrecy was called for, Corea enlisted the services of his wife to type the letter, rather than leave it to the Lake House stenographers. Wickremasinghe took the draft when he went to see Dudley Senanayake the next morning, but he was determined to persuade the prime minister to change his mind. A few hours later, a thoroughly relieved Wickremasinghe returned to Lake House and informed Corea that there would be no resignation. The prime minister has indeed changed his mind.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A political Biography, Volume II: From 1956 to his retirement in 1989 by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 150.
Earlier, during the SLFP administration in 1962, the government nationalized the assets of American oil companies, but it failed to take adequate steps to pay compensation. Subsequently, due to this, US president John F Kennedy applied the Hicken-Looper Amendment to suspend aid to Ceylon. US experts who had been working at Katunayake airport, which was being extended to take Boeing 707 flights, were recalled.
But when Dudley Senanayake’s government was installed, a settlement was worked out with the US companies, handled by J R Jayewardene. Eventually, the government paid Rs55 million, which was then worth about US$5.5 million.
Meanwhile, Dudley Senanayake’s health gave him and his close associates further cause for concern. He was often laid up for days with a recurrence of a stomach problem, at times, for more than a week. A decision was taken to send him to America for treatment in Washington, under the expert attention of one Dr Lattimore.
Dr Lattimore, a specialist, had been in Ceylon in 1960, during the parliamentary general elections. The doctor traveled with Dudley Senanayake during the campaign and treated him almost daily. “Dr Latimore’s presence in Dudley Senanayake’s entourage during the part of the election campaign of March 1960, was one of the most guarded political secrets of the time.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A political Biography, Volume II: From 1956 to his retirement in 1989 by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 149.
When Dudley Senanayake left for America in February 1966, it was a private visit, as a patient, to the Walter Reed Hospital. While in Washington, he first met Dean Rusk, the American secretary of state, and then Lyndon Johnson, the president.
After the meeting with the American president, Senanayake was disappointed that the US was not interested in injecting aid into Ceylon, subsequently he was admitted into hospital. Dr Latimore and physicians at the hospitals confirmed that his stomach ailment was definitely not cancer, but it occurred due to a congenital defect aggravated by a nervous condition. After the treatment, he left for London.
His trip to London proved to be painful and eventful. On the appointed day, in the afternoon, it was arranged to have an audience with Queen Elizabeth II. Suddenly, his health broke down and as his personal physician was not available, a Ceylonese woman, Dr Dora de Fonseka, was summoned to attend to him. The prescribed medication by her, according reports, was an anti-cholera inoculation, and no sooner had it been administered, the prime minister had a blackout.
Maybe due to sudden illness and wrongly administered medication, the audience with the Queen and the luncheon were cancelled. When this was made known in the diplomatic circles in London, the London Times began preparing an obituary in the event that the prime minister of Ceylon passes away in London. They contacted the Times of Ceylon for information for the obituary. This set off a series of repercussions in Ceylon.
While Dudley Senanayke was in Washington, several privates and non-commissioned officers in the army had been arrested in connection with an abortive coup. At the time, the Army Commander, Major-General Richard Udugama, was in Britain, and when he finally arrived in Colombo, in July 1966, he was arrested at the Katunayake airport.
During police investigations into the plot, the name of one Dr Tissa, also known as Dr Wickremasinghe, began to emerge. He was, it was subsequently learnt, Don Patabendige Nandasiri Wijeweera, later known as Rohana Wijeweera. At that time he was a drop-out from the medical faculty of the Lumumba Friendship University in Moscow, and making his first entry in Ceylon’s turbulent political history.
During the arrest of the coup suspects, J R Jayewardene was the acting prime minister. “J R and his cabinet colleagues scrupulously avoided any personal involvement in the investigation of the coup plot, and the interrogation of the suspects. Clearly, they have learnt the lessons of the investigative process of the coup of 1962. On this occasion the matter was left entirely to the police and army authorities. The principal plotters were identified in the course of the investigations and taken for questioning: they included N Q Dias, who had retired from the position of Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defense and External Affairs, when the new government came o power, the Army Commander Major General Udugama, and a well known political bhikkhu with a strong links to the SLFP – Henpitagedera Gnanashia. The second and third were among the principal accused in the case, that was instituted against the plotters. The others taken into custody and prosecuted were recently recruited subalterns, non-commissioned officers and other ranks.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A political Biography, Volume II: From 1956 to his retirement in 1989 by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 156.
Of the 31 suspects originally arrested, it was a curious mixed jumble. There was one general, one retired civil servant, one bhikhu, one captain, 20-odd privates, corporals and sergeants and few civilians.
Among the suspects, two of them, Corporal Tilekawardene and Dodampe Mudalali, reportedly committed suicide by jumping off the CID (Police – Criminal Investigation Department) office on the fourth floor of the secretariat building.
A plaint was filed before Ben David, the Chief Magistrate, Colombo, and he committed the accused to trail before the Supreme Court. H N G Fernando, the Chief Justice, arranged a Division bench of three Supreme Court judges and a jury panel. The case was subsequently dismissed when the jury unanimously acquitted all of the accused in a plot to overthrow the legally elected government.
On the eve of the Hindu/Buddhist New Year celebrations in April 1966, J R Jayewardene visited Sir John Kotelawala at his residence at Kandawala, Ratmalana. Sir John told Jayewardene that he and Dudley Senanyake had been involved in the planning of the 1962 failed coup to topple Srimavo Bandaranaike’s government.
“By the time the coup suspects had all been acquitted by the courts and there seemed little danger that this dark secret would carry anything other than political penalties – a national scandal. The diminution of Dudley Senanyake’s reputation as a democrat – if it were revealed. But apart from a few select persons, few others were privy to the secret. Yet, Dudley Senanyake upbraided Sir John for revealing it to J R, telling him ‘we are not out of the woods yet’.
“Sir John’s revelations came as great shock to J R, who did not have any inkling of his leader’s involvement in the coup of 1962, at the time, he came to his defense in parliament, on February 13, 1962, or indeed later that day, in April 1966, when Sir John decided to tell him.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A political Biography, Volume II: From 1956 to his retirement in 1989 by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 114.
The only person who lost his reputation and his position over the 1962 abortive coup was the former Governor-General and the point-man of D S Senanayake – Sir Oliver Goonetilake. In reality, he was more or less removed from his office by Srimavo Bandaranaike and was replaced by her relative, William Gopallawa, politically an unknown entity. Sir Oliver Goonetilake in his last days spent his time in exile in England and India. After the parliamentary general elections were over in 1965, he returned to the island. Sir Oliver Goonetilake approached Dudley Senanyake, but he refused even to meet him. Also, he refused to assist Sir Oliver Goonetilake with any help in finding him employment.
When Dudley Senanyake retuned to the island from London he was a changed man. He began to suspect that there was a plot to get rid of him from the position of prime minister. He began to believe what he was told by his relatives, especially by Neela Senanayake, his sister-in-law and the wife of his brother Robert Senanayake, and Freida Corea – his live-in-friend and the sister of Sir John Kotelawala.
Dudley Senanayake chose to act in a capricious manner. The possibility of his friends plotting against him grew into paranoia. J R Jayewardene was ignored by the prime minister, and Jayewardene felt embarrassed and humiliated.
The prime minister began to look with suspicion at Esmond Wickremasinghe. Dudley Senanayake thought that only J R Jayewardene could displace him from office within the life of the current parliament. He also figured that, without Esmond Wickremasinghe, such an exercise would not be possible. Dudley Senanyake believed in mischievous stories without even asking for an explanation from either of the two, and he kicked out Esmond Wickremasinghe from the Committee of Ten and subsequently abolished it.
Not long afterwards, he fell out with Hema Basanayake, the retired Chief Justice of Ceylon, who had been responsible for garnering the support of the Buddhist clergies for the UNP in the previous general elections, and who was also one of the members of the Committee of Ten. Also, he fell out with Cyril Mathew, former General-Secretary of the UNP and the person responsible for organizing mass rallies of Bhikkus against the last days of the SLFP government, in 1964, and N G P Panditaratne, a well-known charted accountant and his confidante in financial matters.
Again, in 1967, when William Gopallawa’s term of office as Governor-General came to an end, and there were many aspirants for the post within the UNP, and one of them was Sir John Kotelawala, Dudley Senanyake, for reasons unknown, was determined to keep Sir John Kotelawala away from the post. Subsequently, as he could not come to terms with a choice, he gave William Gopallawa a second term as Governor-General.
In the meantime, the Lianas Thamil Arasu Kadchi by now had lost the common touch and S J V Chelvanayakam, due to old age and sickness, was far removed and isolated. Tiruchelvam and Amirthalingham began to dominate the decision-making process of the party. Party stalwarts such as V Navaratnam, C Rajadurai, the first Member of Parliament for Batticaloa, felt that they were cornered and harassed. Rajadurai called Amirthalingham a “Cardboard Hitler” within the party. A political party that was formed to protect the interests of the down-trodden masses began to divorce itself from the masses.
The United National Party began to feel the weight of having the ITAK with them. The opposition parties alleged that the UNP had sold the country to the Tamils, thus betraying the Sinhalese. The government party back-benchers were annoyed of the mounting criticism.
Normally, the ITAK met Dudley Senanayake at the Woodlands, the private residence of the prime minister, at regular intervals. In one such meeting, the ITAK delegation consisted of S J V Chelvanayakam, A Amirthalingham, M Tiruchelvam, S M Rasamanickam and Dr E M V Naganathan, J R Jayewardene and others. One UNP back-bencher, who was with the UNP leadership at Woodlands, slapped Tiruchelvam, the minister and one of the FP leaders in front of the prime minister and other senior ministers of the government, MPs and the members of the national press. The UNP man slapped a cabinet minister, without provocation, to exhibit his hatred towards the Tamils and the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi. Unfortunately, the incident was ignored, without any follow-up action. Even after such a disgraceful incident, the ITAK stayed on with the government.
The two Tamil political parties that supported the government were at each other’s throats. G G Ponnampalam was all out to attack the ITAK at all available opportunities, inside and outside parliament. The deep divisions within the Tamils helped the Sinhalese. Unity among the Tamil political parties and leaders was lacking. Both parties failed to talk on serious matters concerning the fate of the Tamils. No common strategies were evolved nor adopted to fight for the rights of the Tamils. Whatever one party proposed, the other one blindly opposed.
The spirit of the Tamil community was at its lowest ebb ever. The rhetoric of the two Tamil political parties reached the point of no return that led to a permanent schism in the community. Ranasinghe Premadasa, the junior minister of local government, who was the deputy of Tiruchelvam, told the House of Representatives that he was saddled with defending a QC (M Tiruchelvam, the minister who was one the best legal luminaries in the country and a Queen’s Counsel) against another QC (G G Ponnampalam, the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, who was the best criminal lawyer of the time in the country and also a Queen’s Counsel).
The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi laid great emphasis to the District Councils proposal, agreed to by Dudley Seananayke. Ever since the passing of the Indo-Ceylon Implementation Act, the party persistently urged the government to come up with the proposals.
The ITAK appointed a five member committee comprising Chelvanayakam, Naganathan, Tiruchelvam, Rasamanickam and Amirthalingham to discuss the question of District Councils with the prime minister. When they met the prime minister and pressed for the enactment of the Bill, Dudley Senanyake said, “I thought that after some months you will not insist on your demands.” This was something that the Tamil political party leaders never expected from the country’s prime minister, who had entered into an agreement with them before the formation of the national government.
Chelvanayakam replied, “We are elected on a mandate and that was to obtain for the Tamil people, their rights. How can we forget that pledge?”
Subsequently, with reluctance, the prime minister came forward to announce the government’s intention to establish District Councils in its Throne Speech of July 8, 1966.
Again, the negotiating team of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi met the prime minister on September 10 and pressed for the establishment of the District Councils. Jayewardene, who was on the government side along with the prime minister, suggested that the ITAK prepare the draft of the District Council Bill for the consideration by the cabinet.
Tiruchelvam, the party representative in the cabinet and the Minister of Local government, drafted the Bill:
- The Council would comprise the elected and the nominated Members of Parliament of that area, mayors and chairmen of the local government and three other councilors, nominated by the minister in charge of local government;
- It would have an executive committee of not more than seven, elected by the council;
- The Executive Council would formulate programs for the development, conduct the administrative functions of the council;
- A District Council could formulate and recommend to the central government development schemes relating to that particular council;
- It could raise loans with the approval of the Minister of Finance, and ;
- Also, it could perform the functions and responsibilities provided for in the schedule of the Bill, such as agriculture, food, animal husbandry, industries, fisheries, rural development works, regional planning, education of specified types, cultural affairs, ayurveda (indigenous medical system), social welfare and health services.Central ministers were provided with the powers to direct and control the District Councils. The government agent of each district would be the Chief Executive Officer. The councils would have no power to amalgamate with another council.By this time the opposition began to intensify its campaign against the government and it adopted a dual strategy. One involved a mischievous propaganda campaign that a difference of opinion was fast emerging between the ITAK and the UNP, therefore the government was finding it difficult to survive. The other tack adopted by the opposition was that Dudley Senanyake has sold out the country to the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi – the Federalists. The opposition accused the Prime Minister of deciding to divide the country through the adoption of the District Councils.
Dudley Senanyake rejected the accusations and issued a statement on October 17, 1966. “My opponents in recent times have been conducting a propaganda campaign that I have entered into an agreement with the Federalists [ITAK]. All I have done is that I have formed a government with the help of the Federalists. This national government, which has been formed with the help and cooperation of people belonging to all races and religions in this country. The objective of this government is to secure complete economic independence for the country, which had been delayed for nine years.”
In November 1966, Minister Tiruchelvam, at a ITAK public meeting, held in Mannar, declared that he was for federalism and stood by it strongly. But, the Daily News, the English language daily, carried his speech under the headline, “Tiru says federalism is the best form of government.”
The matter was raised at the government Parliamentary Group meeting held on November 23. The prime minister reprimanded Tiruchelvam, saying that being a member of the cabinet his statement might be construed as the policy of the government. Therefore, he should be bound by the collective responsibility of the cabinet and thus should refrain from making such frivolous statements.
Tiruchelvam was hurt for being reprimanded. He wrote to Chelvanayakam that it was too much for him to stomach and he wanted to resign, but as he has been nominated by the ITAK to represent the party in the cabinet, he would await the party’s decision. However, the matter was settled when Chelvanayakam, Amirthaligham and Tiruchelvam met the prime minister and cleared the misunderstandings.
At this juncture, the writer of this series, I recall an incident that happened in 1967. During those days, I was a staff reporter attached to the Independent Newspapers Ltd, the publishers of the Sun, (Morning) Star (Evening), Dinapathy (Tamil – Morning), Thanthi (Tamil – Evening), Dawasa (Sinhala – Morning) and Sawasa (Sinhala – Evening) daily newspapers. One day I received a call from Balasubramaniam, the private secretary to M Tiruchelvam, the Minister of Local Government. I was told that the minister wanted to see me. Accordingly, I met him and we talked on many matters, especially about the incident at Woodlands where the UNP back-bencher slapped the minister.
As I was about to leave, I met Balasubramaniam and I went with him to his cabin for a coffee and we talked on subjects of mutual interest. Then I noticed copies of the draft District Council Bill lying on his table. I asked him whether I could have a copy. Without any reluctance, he told me in Tamil “Athukku Ennah” (Why not) and gave me a copy.
It was a known fact that as a Tamil I was not happy with the position taken by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, Amirthalingham and their coalition with the United National Party.
Later, I went through the draft of the District Councils Bill. I found it to be a glorified version of some form of a County Council, as found in England. Nothing less and nothing more. Secondly, I also observed that the bill was designed, knowingly or unknowingly, to introduce the Sinhala language as the official language through a Tamil minister, in five of the 22 proposed district Councils in the Northern and Eastern provinces (Jaffna, Vavuniya and Mannar in the North and Trincomalee and Batticaloa in the East).
I thought that the people should know what a Tamil minister was about to do, so I wrote a piece based on the proposed draft bill and send it to the news pool of the newspaper group for publication. Abeyadhiera, the news editor of the pool, could not believe it because anything connected with the District Councils proposal was a well guarded secret by the government. The piece was taken to D B Dhnapala, a veteran journalist and the editorial director of the group of newspapers for his guidance and direction.
The company was in a big ha-hoo. It was, according to them, the biggest scoop of the century. S T Sivanayakam and K K Ratnasingham, the editor and the news editor of Dinapathy, called and told me that it was such a big prized story, and I would be receiving an award for writing such a scoop. At that time, I was not the least interested in any awards or rewards, but my interest was to expose the fallacy of the District Councils – in Tamil it was called, Ma+Vattam + Sabai = it also means a big “sooniyam” void – nothinhgness and Sabai means Council
The following day, the group published, in all three languages, the story about the District Councils proposal under banner headlines. This was followed by the publication of the full text of the draft bill the following day.
I received a call from Balasubramaniam on the day that the news item appeared, and he told me that it was well written and he added that he thought the minister had also read it, but he did not indicate how he had reacted. But I also received telephone calls from Amirthalingham and from Chelvanayakam. They were not happy about it. Later, in 1996, when I met Mangkayarkarasi Amirthalingham, the widow of the slain Tamil leader Amirthalingham, at her house in Surrey, England, she reminded me about the story and the controversy it had created among Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi supporters.
Two days after the publication of the news item, I was in parliament seated in the press gallery. I received a note from Dudley Senanyake urging me to meet him immediately in the parliament’s canteen. There he congratulated me for the story and asked how I had got the story. As soon as he had called for me I knew that his intention was to find out the source. I told him without hesitation that I had received the copy of the draft bill from his office and that the draft had been given to me by one of his staff. He could not believe this, but he did not challenge my version as he knew very well that I used to frequent his office.
Hema Basanayake, the retired Chief Justice who has become estranged with the prime minister, wrote to him asking for draft copy of the District Councils Bill, insisting that it has been given publicity in the newspapers.
Dudley Senanyake called a press conference a few days later and said, “Mr Hema Basanayake wrote to me some days ago asking for a draft copy of the District Councils Bill. In fact, there was no such draft yet available. All that happened was that I had some sort of a meeting with my ministers on the subject and also with the members of the Federal Party, on some basic proposals put forward by Mr Tiruchelvam.” When the press contacted Tiruchelvam for his comments, he refused to comment, saying that the prime minister had already given an adequate reply.
In the meantime, Ceylon received an invitation to join ASEAN – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – from the founders of the proposed regional organization. Ceylon had a dual heritage of being South Asian as well as Southeast Asian. Ceylon was offered a chance of being one of the founding members of ASEAN. Unfortunately, the 1967-68 invitation was not accepted by Ceylon. Dudley Senanayake did not give high priority in his political agenda for external affairs. He was said to be a knowledgeable leader about foreign affairs, and was in touch with developments, and showed genuine concern for the human suffering caused by wars in Vietnam, Nigeria and the Middle East, but he opted for a low-key profile in issues connected with external affairs.
Dudley Senanayake thought, should Ceylon accept the invitation and join ASEAN, the Marxists in the country, including Srimavo Bandaranaike, who was the leader of the opposition, might exploit the situation as the country could be said to be slanting towards a pro-Western side. The general feeling in the country was that accepting the membership amounted to supporting the American involvement in Vietnam. Rightly or wrongly, Ceylon rejected the invitation. But in 1981, when the country, then Sri Lanka, sought to join ASEAN, its initiative was not considered favorably.
In 1968, the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), along with the Department of Irrigation, finalized a master plan for harnessing the resources of the Mahaveli River basin. The project envisaged the diversion of the Mahaveli (the Great Sand River), the largest and the longest river in Ceylon, thereby irrigating 654,000 acres of uncultivated land and making double cropping possible in 236,000 acres of existing paddy land.
The master plan envisaged the construction of 58 reservoirs, 250 miles of main channels and 10 power stations. Implementation of the program was phased over a period of 21 years, commencing in 1970. The plan envisaged covering nearly two-fifths of the island.
The total capital investment for the project was estimated at Rs5,600 million, including US$300 million in foreign exchange. The first phase to cover the period 1969-1980, at an estimated cost of Rs1550 million, was divided into three stages: the Polgolla Diversion Scheme, (1969-73), the Victoria-Minipe Diversion Scheme (1973-77) and the Moragahkanda Multi-Purpose Scheme (1977-80).
The ambitious project was the brainchild of Tamil engineers in the irrigation department. The diversion project was initiated during the time of V N Rajaratnam when he was director of the irrigation department. Even after his retirement from service, he was retained as consultant of the Ministry of Mahaveli Development.
During Rajaratnam’s period, the Polgolla diversion was estimated to cost Rs576 million, including $29 million in foreign exchange. The Polgolla diversion would provide irrigation to 186,000 of acres of land, out of which 86,000 acres would be virgin land. This project was to divert the water of the Mahaveli to the Sudhu Ganga, a tributary of the Amban Ganga, along the Polgolla-Kala Oya canal, and the last portion of the diversion was to be done through a tunnel.
The World Bank was impressed with the project report. It was reported that after the diversion – the Polgolla phase – agricultural production was estimated at Rs118million and the generation of hydro electrical energy at Rs12 million per year. The World Bank agreed to grant the required loan of $29 million with the condition that it be given authority to supervise the project.
On the political front, a by-election for the Kalmunai constituency was scheduled for polling on February 18, 1968. Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi fielded Mashoor Moulana, a long time member of the party and the chairman of the Sainthamaruthi village committee, in the Kalmunai electorate. Mashoor Moulana was the national government’s candidate in the by-election, whereas the SLFP fielded M C Ahamed. The latter won comfortably.
In the 1965 to 1970 period, a total of 15 by-elections, including that for the Kalmunai constituency, were held and the results were revealing. Three of them were held on October 24, 1966. In Balangoda, Mallika Ellawaal Ratwatte won and the SLFP retained the seat. R M Appuhamy won Bandrawela and the SLFP retained the seat but, by the victory, Albert Karywasam at the by-election at Bentara-Elpitya, the SLFP wrested the seat from the UNP. Again, on January 15, 1967, by the victory of Leticia Rajapakse, the SLFP retained the Dodangaslanda seat. At the by-election held on February 28, 1967, T B Ilangaratne, the former minister in the SLFP government, who lost his seat at Hewaheta, contested at Kolonnawa against Kusuma Gunawardene, the wife of Philip Gunawardene, the minister in Dudley Sewaneeis government. T B Ilangaratne won the seat with a comfortable majority of 3,363 votes.
In the following month, at by-election held on March 16, 1967 for the Devinuwara seat, Ronnie De Mel, a retired young civil servant, won and the SLFP retained the seat. On May 17, 1967, Dr Colvin R De Silva won in the by-election and the LSSP retained the Agalawatte seat, but a month later on June 13, 1967, the UNP retained the Negambo constituency and Denzil Fernando won it handsomely with a 7,288 majority as against the 15,290 majority obtained during the last general election.
When Sir Albert Pieris died and the Nattandiya seat was rendered vacant, the UNP nominated Hugh Fernando, who was the speaker in the last stages of Srimavo Bandaranaike’s United Left Front government. He was High Commissioner in Pakistan in Dudley Senanayke’s administration. The SLFP vehemently opposed Hugh Fernando, who was for many years a SLFPer, but in 1964 he supported the UNP during the last years of the Srimavo Bandaranaike administration. The UNP threw its weight behind their nominee and on the election day on January 5, 1968, Hugh Fernando managed to scrape through with a paltry majority of 260 votes.
After the defeat of the Kalmunai by-election, the government party members demanded the postponement of the District Councils Bill, but Dudley Senanayake decided to proceed. The bill, drafted by Tiruchelvam, was discussed and approved by Dudley Senanayake. The prime minister placed the bill before the leaders of the parties that constituted the national government. On April 22, 1968, the bill was sent to the cabinet. It took nearly three weeks to examine it, clause by clause, and then placed it before the joint body of the UNP working committee and the parliamentary group of the party, on May 21, 1968.
The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi delegation met Dudley Senanayake on May 22, 1968, and urged him to table the bill in the House before the prorogation of the current session of parliament. Dudley Senanayke said that he was not in a position to do so and offered to resign. Chelvanayakam told the prime minister that his resignation would not serve the purpose of the Tamils’ welfare. Subsequently, Dudley Senanayake said that he would present a White Paper – an official government report which sets out the government’s policy on a specific matter – on District Councils to parliament for debate.
The government presented this on June 7, 1968, containing the envisaged District Councils’ proposals. These stated that there will be a District Council in the each of the 22 districts on the island. Furthermore, the councils shall function under the general directions and control of the government. The appropriate minister, under the subject of District Councils, may from time to time, issue general or special directions to the councils, which the councils are supposed to carry out accordingly.
The proposals embodied in the White Paper fell far short of people’s expectations. They failed to show the availability of any provisions concerning the decentralization power. It amounted to the transformation of the District Secretariats (Kachcheris) into a form of an elected body for better and effective governance, sans the decentralization of authority.
When the agreement with Dudley Senanayake was signed in 1965, embodying the District Councils clause, the expectation was to set up autonomous councils with administrative powers decentralized, considered as an alternative to the federal units. Eventually, the proposals put forward by the government betrayed the trust and earlier hopes.
As usual, the opposition Sinhalese political parties condemned the proposals as paving the way for divisions and fragmentation of the country. They adopted the usual ploy to allege that the Hath Haula (the seven parties antagonistic group) government was trying to sell the Sinhalese to the Tamils by adopting such a District Council system.
When the White Paper was taken up for consideration in parliament, the entire opposition members, except for R G Senanayake and V Navaratnam, led by Srimavo Bandaranaike, demonstrated their displeasure by staging a walkout. One opposition member, Prins Gunasekera of Habaraduwa, set fire to a copy of the White Paper and hurled it into the well of the house.
The opposition parties held a public meeting at Hyde Park, where several copies of the White Paper were burnt. Maha Sangha – the grand Buddhist order – held another meeting denouncing District Councils, at the Colombo Town Hall.
“I stayed behind as I did not wish to miss that unique opportunity to proclaim the real Tamil view point,” wrote V Navaratnam the Tamil Member of Parliament and one of the founder members of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, but recently, dismissed from the party for opposing the Registration of Person Bill in parliament. He continues, “So that, when I rose to speak, the oppositions seats were all empty, and there remained only, the UNP and the Federal Party and the Tamil Congress Members on the government Benches, to listen to what I had to say. It was not only an occasion to declare that the White Paper proposals were totally unacceptable to the Tamils, whatever the Federal Party may think of them, it was also an opportune moment to tell the government and the Country at large, that Sinhalese governments and political leaders could no longer be trusted to honor their plighted word to the Tamils and that the two peoples have reached the parting of the ways.” The Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation by V Navaratnam, pages 276-277.
Navaratnam in his speech also expressed the same sentiments. About his speech he wrote, “When, therefore, I was addressing the House on the White Paper proposals for the District Councils, I traced the history of the ill-fated pacts between the Tamils and the Sinhalese and told my listeners within and outside the House, that never again would the Tamils want t have any more pacts. Let DS-C agreement be the last pact, and the last betrayal. My speech was constantly interrupted by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and J R Jayewardene. They belonged to the UNP, and it was not difficult to understand their reaction. What rather incongruous were the interruptions from a Tamil MP in the House, S M Rasamanickam of the Federal Party.
“Turning to my erstwhile colleagues of the Federal Party, I urged them to abandon the District Councils proposals and to give up any hope they may have to get their pact implemented in the letter and spirit in which it was entered into. I also appealed to them not to take on the task of enforcing the Sinhala Only Act in the Tamil provinces.
“Finally, I made the declaration that it was now time for the Tamil people to wake up and re-established the ancient Tamil state in their hereditary homeland in Ceylon’s north and east which they lost to the European colonial powers. I issued an earnest call to the Tamil-speaking people to strive hard and struggle for the establishment of the Tamil state, since that alone would ensure their continued existence as a respected and distinct people in Ceylon and preserve and protect their glorious cultural heritage, language and religions. Only then would the Tamil-speaking people be able to live in an equally free state in their part of the island on terms of amity and friendship and absolute equality with the Singhalese State and the Singhalese people.”The Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation by V Navaratnam, pages 280-281.
On June 30, 1968, after the working committee meeting, the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi met the prime minister and conveyed their displeasure to events leading to the White Paper and after. Chelvanayakam told the press after the meeting with the prime minister, “That was a free and frank meeting. I told him that we were let down by Mr Bandaranaike. We were let down by Mrs Bandaranaike. Now we are let down by you.”
The ITAK also requested the prime minister to grant extension to Tamil public servants, who had made an honest attempt to study the official language. Though the prime minister conceded to their request, the language department selected three young Tamil public servants, Pathmanathan, Surenthiranathan and Kulamani, and dismissed them from government service for non-proficiency in the official language. The three were the first batch of causalities for not acquiring proficiency in Sinhala, while the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi was part and parcel of the national government, led by Dudley Senanayake.
The Throne Speech of July 18, 1968, contained a cursory reference to the District Councils, “A White Paper on the establishment of the District Councils under the direction and control of the central government was presented in parliament. The views expressed during the discussion will be given careful consideration before presenting the legislation.”
The rank and file of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi were opposed to the party continuing to ally itself with the UNP and Dudley Senanayake. The joint meeting of the party’s working committee and the parliamentary group urged the leadership to quit the government.
The motion on the vote of thanks for the Throne Speech was debated and on August 12, 1968, Amirthalingham, the ITAK Secretary, concluded his speech in the floor of parliament declaring, “We will continue to give support to the government and to the prime minister.”
The party’s decision to allow Thiruchelvam to continue to hold on to his portfolio and to continue to support the government angered many youths.
The ITAK delegation met the prime minister and informed him of the decision of the party. The meeting with the prime minister concluded with an agreement that Tiruchelvam would continue as a minister in the government and the Federal Party would offer qualified support to the government.
The District Council proposal had it natural death, without even seeing parliament. The failure to come up with District Councils legislation, as agreed, confirmed that the Sinhalese political leadership was not in the least worried in honoring any of its pledges to the Tamils. They were worried only about the opinions of their Sinhalese constituencies and the Buddhist clergies on the island.
Even after the betrayal by the prime minister, the Federal Party came forward to render qualified support to the government to enable it to complete, to the satisfaction of the party, the unfinished agendas subsequently agreed, such as setting up a full fledged Tamil University in Trincomalee, to declare Tiru Konesar Temple and its precinct as a Hindu Sacred area, and the inauguration of a few development projects in the north and eastern provinces.
A group of prominent Hindus sent a memorandum to the prime minister to declare the Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee a sacred site and the Prime Minister told Tiruchelvam to take necessary action.
Tiruchelvam, a devout Hindu, as well as the Minister of Local government, appointed a committee to look into the question. The appointment of the committee was Gazetted on August 27, 1968, “Declaration of Fort Frederick of Trincomalee, a Sacred Area”.
Two days later, a Buddhist clergy named Mangalle Dharmakirti Sri Damasgasare Sri Sumedhankara Nayaka Thera of the Trincomalee district brought the matter to the notice of the prime minister. The prime minister, an indecisive man, as usual, gave into to the threats of the Sinhalese chauvinists and the Buddhist clergies. The Prime Minister immediately asked Tiruchelvam to suspend it. In protest, Tiruchelvam resigned his ministerial portfolio in November 1968. Chelvanayakam wrote to Dudley Senanayake of the decision of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi’s withdrawal from the national government. Tiruchelvam, after resigning, said in the senate that the prime minister’s action on the letter from the Buddhist priest “brought to naught the unanimous wish of all Hindu religious bodies”.
The Tamils experienced severe humiliation and disappointment over this incident, which in turn proved that cooperation with the Sinhalese was always a futile act.
Chelvanayakam, as leader of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi and a signatory to the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Agreement, intimated to the prime minister the party’s decision to withdraw its participation in the national government. Thereafter, the party followed the policy of critical support to the government. They crossed over to the opposition benches from April 1969, until the dissolution of parliament in March 1970.
On March 11, 1970, C P De Silva presented a bill in parliament on the Mahaveli Development Board, and it was rushed through. Marathon debate continued from the morning till the following night. There was so much confusion, and the speaker Shirley Corea found it very difficult to maintain order. At one stage, the commotion climaxed when T B M. Herath (SLFP – Walapane) was physically carried out of parliament by policemen after being cited by the speaker.
Following the incident, C P De Silva moved for closure of the debate. Amid confusion, the speaker placed the motion before the house, and when it was carried by acclamation, the opposition walked out in disgust, and as such the bill was passed without a division.
The United National Party ceremoniously launched the inauguration of the first phase of the Mahaveli diversion project. Speaker after speaker harped-on about the immediate economic benefits and the usefulness of the project, especially its usefulness of providing employment. In the meantime, the opposition played up the issue of an increased water tax of Rs40 per acre. They said that the UNP has undermined the country’s sovereignty by giving in to World Bank and International Monetary Fundis pressure by fixing the water tax at Rs40 per acre.
Dudley Senanayake ruled the country for 1,825 days, of which 1,086 days were under emergency regulations. Early in March 1970, Dudley Senanayake proudly announced in Dedigama, his own constituency, that parliament would be dissolved on March 25, 1970, thus he became the first prime minister to have completed a full five-year term.
Earlier, in 1966, during the investigation of the second abortive coup suspects, one name, Dr Tissa, also Dr Wickremasinghe – emerged repeatedly, but the police investigators ignored the name as it was not in any way connected with the organization of the coup and the suspects.
Again, a couple of years later, Ana Senevaratne, Superintendent of Police, who was the head of the Crime Investigation Division (CID), warned Dudley Senanayake that a kind of a surreptitious revolutionary movement was gathering momentum in Ceylon, but the government ignored the warning and failed to take it seriously. In 1969, John Attygalle, retired inspector of general police and the special security advisor to the Ministry of Defense and External Affairs, submitted a report on the same subject.
By 1966, a group of Sinhalese youths had began to undergo military training in more remote jungles, especially in the Sinha Raja forest and in the Knuckles region. They were also subjected to regular indoctrination.
The group traces its beginnings to Dr Tissa, or Dr Wickremasinghe. He was in fact Patabendige Don Nandasiri Wijeweera – alias Rohana Wijeweera. He was born in July 1943 in Tangalle, and grew up in Kottegoda, a small village in the Matara district. He was admitted to the Goda Uda government Primary Boy’s School in the middle of 1947, where he received primary education until 1953. In 1954 he joined the Goda Uda government Senior English School and passed his General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level – equivalent to grade 10), public examination.
His father was said to be an ardent supported of the Ceylon Communist Party. It was reported that his father was severely injured in 1952 when a fight erupted between the supporters of the ruling UNP and the Communist Party. In 1960, Wijeweera, it is said, worked for the Communist Party candidate, Aelian Nanayakara, in Devundara. Subsequently, in 1960, Wijeweera received a scholarship to study medicine in Russia. In 1962, during the Chinese-Russian split, he took the side of China. In 1964, Wijeweera returned to Ceylon on vacation, but the Russian Embassy in Colombo, on instructions from Moscow, refused to grant him visa to go back to Moscow to continue his education.
Once it was confirmed that he could not continue his studies in Russia, due to his publicly known sympathy for China, he joined the newly formed Ceylon Communist Party led by N Shanmugathasan, a Tamil. By the end of 1964, he joined the party as a full-time functionary, receiving a monthly allowance of Rs150. While in the party, he slowly joined dissident groups within the party, who were dissatisfied with Shanmugathasan’s leadership.
Among them were Sanath, Piyatilaka, Karunaratne, Loku Athula, Premapala and Milton, who after their dismissal from the Communist Party worked closely with Wijeweera in his new organization. From the very beginning, Wijeweera’s main grouse was that the Ceylon Communist Party, which had to operate among the majority Sinhalese, could not afford to have a minority Tamil from Jaffna as its leader.
In the 1965 general elections, Shanmugathasan was a candidate for the Colombo Central electorate on the Communist Party (Peking Wing) ticket. He appealed to the Tamil voters in the electorate because he was a Tamil. Wijeweera, as a full time functionary of the party, was in charge of the printing of posters and leaflets for Shanmugathasan. Shanmugathasan was alive to the ground situation of Colombo Central – a three-member constituency – which had a sizeable number of Tamil-speaking voters. Therefore, he instructed Wijeweera to print more Tamil posters and leaflets for display and distribution in the electorate.
Wijeweera was unable to accept this instruction and after the parliamentary elections he was expelled from the party, in late 1966. Wijeweera and his colleagues were left high and dry with no apparent political future and no means of livelihood. For some time he left Colombo and remained at his home in Tangalle. During this period, it is said that Wijeweera met some army personnel who were alleged to have been involved in the attempt to overthrow of the government led by Dudley Senanayake. Wijeweera held discussions with those soldiers, under the assumed name of Dr Tissa. The soldiers, it was reported, were not impressed by the doctrinaire approach advocated by Wijeweera.
Rohana Wijeweera and others decided in mid-1966 to launch a revolutionary party, which they had to literally start from scratch. Janata Vimukthi Perumuna (People’s Liberation Front), without any fanfare, embedded itself in the political milieu of Sri Lanka. Readers should not be confused with the Kahoka Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP) organized and led by K M P Rajaratne and the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP), an ultra-Marxist organization of Sinhalese youths. Jathika Vimukthi Perumuna and Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna are both Sinhalese supremacist Party.
Towards 1967, Wijeweera and his friends started a small poultry farm in Kirinde, to generate income for their livelihood. During these days they began to formulate the five lectures or five classes. The purpose behind the five lectures was to explain in simple and plain language the politics of social revolution. The leftist and the Marxists in Ceylon expressed their views in an abstract doctrinaire fashion, with lot of high-sounding phrases, which were alien to the ordinary common man in the country.
Wijeweera and his men formulated lectures on such topics such as:
- Crisis of the capitalist system in Ceylon;
- The history of the left movement in Ceylon;
- The history of the socialist revolutions;
- Indian expansion, and;
- The path of revolution in CeylonThe classes, at the beginning, were conducted at the poultry farm in Kirinda, but when the villagers around the farm grew suspicious of the unusual movement of youths, they complained to the Grama Sevaka.Immediately, the location was changed, and the educational camp was held at Karunaratne’s house at Akmeemana in 1967. Thereafter, the five lectures were disseminated throughout the country by full-time party workers.
The government, meanwhile, was fully aware of the JVP’s activities. A special CID unit was set up to probe the “Che Guevara” clique. The JVP first emerged publicly during the election campaign in early 1970. The UNP-led government claimed a plot. On March 16, 1970, at Julgama, in the Hambantota district, police arrested about 12 young people suspected of connections with the JVP, including Rohana Wijeweera. He had with him a revolver and there was evidence that he was the leader of an underground movement which had as it aim the overthrow of the government by force of arms. This led to Wijeweera being placed behind bars during the elections to the seventh parliament.
They were accused of being “Che Guverist” – a term they had never applied to themselves – and also being US agents. The JVP at this stage supported a SLFP-LSSP-CP common program, hence the opposition parties committed themselves to releasing the internees once they were elected to power. The leader of the opposition, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, had made a reference to this effect in her May Day speech in 1970.
Parliament was dissolved on March 25, 1970 and the last day of filing nominations was April 23, and the polling day was May 27. The new parliament was scheduled to be summoned on June 7, 1970.
There were a total of 5,505,028 eligible voters, and 441 candidates filed nominations for 145 electoral districts. R M Bandara of the SLFP was returned uncontested at the Welimada electorate.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Lanka Sama Saja Party and Communist Party formed the United Front and they not only entered into a no-contest arrangement but also contested on a common working program. The SLFP fielded 108 candidates, the LSSP 23 and the Communist Party (Moscow Wing) nine candidate and the UF fielded in all 140 candidates. The United National Party fielded 130 candidates, the Mahajana Eksath Perumuna (MEP – People’s United Front) four, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress 12, the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi 19 and the Independents, including candidates from the unrecognized political parties, totaled 136.
Meanwhile, V Navaratnam inaugurated Thamilar Suyadchi Kazhagam in 1969 with a free and self-governing Tamil state in Ceylon as its objective. Navaratnam contested as a candidate of the Tamilar Suyadchi Kazhagam at the Kayts electorate.
In June 1968, R G Senanayake formed the Sinhalese Mhajana Pakshya (Sinhalese PeopleIs Party) and contested the 1970 elections with 51 candidates. The party was not recognized by the Commissioner of Elections. The recognition of a political party is dependent on whether it has been engaged in political activity for a continuous period of five years prior to the date of making such application, or that at least two candidates nominated by the party at the general election immediately preceding that date had been elected as Members of Parliament.
R G Senanayke, in the mid-1960s, founded the Ape-Sinhale (WE Sinhalese) movement promoting and encouraging and adopting extreme chauvinistic anti-Indian, and anti-Tamil positions. Throughout his political career he was a staunch communalist and was determined to adopt ways and means to discriminate against Tamils.
The manifesto of the United Front promised the establishment of a Constituent Assembly to declare Ceylon a free, sovereign and independent state. It also promised the implementation of the Official Language Act, the introduction of the official language in the courts of law, to give Buddhism, the religion of the majority people in the country, its rightful place and the full implementation of the Indo-Ceylon Agreement of 1964. They presented the electorate with a political program that was a blueprint for radical social and economic reform based on an expansion of the state sector and rigid control over private enterprise.
As far as United National Party election arrangements were concerned, most of the important personalities who had played a leading role during the 1965 elections were no longer active in the party. H H Basanayake, the former Chief Justice, was already with the Srimavo Bandaranaike, along with him went the support of the Independent Newspapers of Ceylon, the publishers of Sun, Dawasa, Dinapthy and a host of other dailies, weeklies and monthlies in all three languages. In the 1965 elections this newspaper group was with the UNP and supported its successful campaign. Unfortunately, the Lake House group of newspapers were then totally discredited because of a foreign exchange scandal in which their directors were involved.
Esmond Wickremasinghe and N G P Panditharatne were alienated and Cyril Mathew, though approached by Srimavo Bandarnaike, remained neutral. The major achievement of Dudley Senanayke’s government of 1965-70 lay in agriculture. His faith was in the development of agriculture by introducing better seeds, better cultivation practices and better and more fertilizers. Unfortunately, during the middle of the election campaign it was felt that these achievements of the past five years were not adequate enough to match the United Front’s election campaigning.
As election fever increased, rice seemed to become an increasingly important issue. Srimavo Bandaranaike made capital out of it. In almost every United Front election rally people begin to chant as follows before the arrival of Srimavo Bandaranaike on to the platform:
“Apay Amma Maga eneva. Haal Seru deka denawa.”
(“Our Mother is on her way – will give two measures of rice.”)
On arrival to the platform, amidst deafening applause, Srimavo Bandaranaike would claim:
“… api baley ta avama, thymus nameless haal serums deka, handen unath genath denawa.”
(“When we come to power, will give you two measures of rice, we will bring it even from the moon.”)
Srimavo Bandaranike continued her relentless campaign against the UNP. She promised to restore Saturday and Sunday weekly holidays to win the support of Christians. Meanwhile, youths belonging to the JVP worked for United Front candidates all over the island. JVPers expressed the danger of an imminent internal coup within the UNP and they used this fear to express to voters – all peace loving and democratic minded people – to vote for the United Front. Also, the expression of fear of dictatorship of the UNP was a ploy by the JVP leadership to urge its militant rank and file to collect necessary weapons needed to counter an armed struggle.
On April 4, 1970, the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi released its manifesto for the elections. It stated the experiences of the Tamil speaking people since independence had made it very clear for the urgent need for a federal form of government. The Manifesto declared:
“It is the present constitution of Ceylon that paved the way for the Tamil-speaking people to be pushed down to the level of second-class citizens and thereby destroy their individuality and identity irrespective of whether representatives were with the government group or the opposition in the parliament.
“The Tamil-speaking people of Ceylon also believe that the federal type of constitution would enable them to look after their own affairs alone would safeguard from total extinction. Only under such a condition could the Tamil-speaking people of this country would live in dignity and with our birthright to independence as equals with our Sinhalese brethrens.
“As a prelude to a federal constitution we sought regional autonomy. What we sought to achieve through the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and the District Councils was a decentralization of power to provide for regional autonomy. However, nothing short of federal constitution could be an adequate remedy to the political ills of the Tamil speaking people. We pledge hereby that we will carry on our struggle for freedom and lead our people towards the goal, whatever misery or misfortune may befall us.”
In the general elections, there were many surprises. The United Front won 106 of the 145 seats (including the uncontested victory at Welimada). The Sri Lanka Freedom Party alone won 91 seats, while the LSSP won 19 and the CP six seats, and with the six nominated Members of Parliament, the United Front obtained 112 seats in a house of 151 members, which amounted to more than a two-thirds majority.
The United National Party managed to win only 17 seats. J R Jayewardene, R Premadasa, V A Sugathadasa, Dudley Senanayake, Dr W Dahanayake, K W Devanayakam, A C S Hameed, S B Herath and N Wimalasena were the few victors of the United National Party.
A Amirthalingham, the Secretary of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi who contested Vaddukoddai, M Sivasithamparam, the Secretary, G G Ponnampalam the president of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and T Sivasithamparam, who contested Udupiddy Jaffna and Vavuniya electorates, were trounced by little-known candidates. Amirthalingham was defeated by A Thiagarajah of the Tamil Congress, while Ponnampalam by a newcomer to politics, C X Martine of the Federal Party. In the Eastern province, the ITAK stalwart S M Rasamanickam was trounced.
The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi won 13 seats while the Tamil Congress took three seats and two independents, Mudyanse Tenakone from Nikaweratiya and Rajan Selvanayakam, from Batticaloa, won.
In all, 4,991,778 votes were polled, which was 85.2 percent of the total registered votes. The SLFP, which won 91 seats, polled 1,839,979 votes, which was 36.9 percent of the total votes polled. But though the UNP won only 19 seats, it polled 1,892,525 votes, which was 37.9 percent of the total votes polled.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the main constituent of the United Front, nominated Abdul Azis, the president of the Democratic Workers Congress, to represent the plantation interests, Dr Badi-ud-din Mahmud, one of the founder members of the SLFP, Dr M D S Jayawardene, S S Kulatilake, J E J Rodrigo and M C Subramaniam, a Jaffna Tamil from the minority Tamil community and a member of the Ceylon Communist party (Moscow Wing), as the Members of Parliament. Also, Chelliah Kumarasuriar, another Jaffna Tamil and a civil engineer by profession, was made a senator.
Srimavo Bandaranaike was elected prime minister for the second time. A 21-member ministry was sworn in on May 31, 1970. In addition to being the Prime Minister, Srimavo Bandaranaike was sworn in as Minister Defense and External Affairs and also Minister of Planning and Employment. Maitripala Senanayake, one of the senior SLFP members, became the leader of the house, a second in command position, and also he was sworn as the Minister of Irrigation, Power and Highways. Dr Bdi-ud-din Mahmud was made the Minister of Education, while Felix Dias Bandaranaike was appointed as the Minister of Public Administration, Local government and Home Affairs.
Dr N M Perera, the leader of the Lanka Samaja Party, was appointed as the Minister of Finance, while Leslie Gunawardene, the General-Secretary of the Party, was appointed as the Minister of Communication, and another senior leader, Dr Colvin R De Silva, was made the Minister of Plantation Industry, and later he was also sworn in as the Minister of Constitutional Affairs.
Peter G B Keuneman, a Burgher and a senior leader of the Communist Party and a veteran parliamentarian, was sworn in as Minister of Housing and Construction. For the first time, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party appointed a Tamil, Senator Chelliah Kumarasuriar, as the Minister of Post and Telecommunication. The party also appointed him to look after the interests of Tamil areas and the Tamils.
After Srimavo Bandaranaike came to power, one of her first acts was to order the release of Rohana Wijeweera and his colleagues from prison. He was freed on July 9, 1970. He then began in earnest the move to arm the JVP, as around the country activists were being arrested or assaulted by the police.
By this time, the JVP was a force to be reckoned with. On its “A List” there were 10,000 full-time members, including some 200 women and a handful of Muslims. There was also a “B List” of sympathizers and a “C List” of those who could be approached for help.
Kegalle and Galle were the hotbeds, with over a thousand full-timers each, Badulla had around 500 members. Despite the lack of weaponry, the full-timers were equipped with blue uniforms, military boots, haversacks and were supposed to have a shotgun each.
Communication was by code. The politburo met every two months in Colombo and the district secretaries would take back message to the districts.
The JVP was organized on the lines of police divisions and police committees. From the district secretaries, couriers or “mallis” who knew the hideouts would take the messages to the cadres.
As part of the militarization of the movement, every member was asked to have a gun and 10 cartridges ready. Bombs were also made using cheena chatty, cast iron shells, dynamite and an elementary mechanism to blow them up. Empty condensed milk tins were ordered from factories and sent around the country to make crude bombs.
The movement was now gathering momentum. Between July 1970 and the end of the year, Wijeweera addressed some 20 public rallies in places such as Kegalle, Wellawaya, Tangalle, Entombed, Moratuwa and Elpitiya. The JVP also published its own paper, the Janatha Vimukthi, which was widely read.
Several heists were also carried out by JVP members, among them the Okkampitiya bank robbery, the Badulla mail bag robbery, the Ambalangoda bank robbery and the York Street robbery, to raise funds.
By early 1971, recruitment to the JVP had been stopped and members were urged to collect as much money as possible, through whatever means (mortgaging lands and homes) to arm the movement. The promise was that once the JVP secured power, the members would be able to reap the fruits of their sacrifice.
The first rumblings within the JVP, however, also came in early 1971, when some of the leaders were found to be having relationships with the daughters or sisters of other members. “Allegations of abortions being performed on these women spread and the politburo reacted angrily. A decision was taken to keep these liaisons secret,” says Sunanda. This was also the first inkling the JVP hierarchy had of their leader’s weaknesses. On that day they called him “Sahodaraya” (comrade) instead of “Mahaththaya”.
Then in February 1971, a clear warning went to the authorities that something was brewing among university students. The JVP had hidden a large number of detonators in the ceiling of Peradeniya University’s Mars Hall, but due to the heat they began exploding like firecrackers. The explosions went on for five days. Meanwhile, in March, a bomb explosion in Kegalle killed five JVP members. Activated, the police began raiding JVP hideouts. Within the movement, pressure was building up to launch the revolution.
At the JVP’s last public rally before the uprising, held at Colombo’s Hyde Park on February 27, 1971, Wijeweera made a stirring call. “Let the revolution of the workers, farmers and soldiers be triumphant.”
On March 6, 1971, there was demonstration outside the embassy of the United States of America in Colombo. In the course of it, a policeman was killed. The JVP denied any involvement.
Also, the JVP promptly denounced the incident. On March 16, 1971, the government under the leadership of Srimavo Bandaranaike announced, that a JVP plot to overthrow the government had been uncovered. The prime minister declared a state of emergency and a dust-to-dawn curfew was imposed and the army and the police were given full powers of arbitrary arrest and disposal of bodies without having to carry out inquests or inform the relatives of those killed. Srimavo Bandaranaike went on the radio to broadcast an appeal to the Ceylonese people for vigilance against terrorists groups. By March 26, the government announced the arrest of 300 people suspected connection with the JVP, and reported discoveries of arms.
Thereafter, in March, Wijeweera traveled around the country, visiting Hambantota, Colombo, Kandy, Matale, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa. But on the 13th, while in Ampara, he was arrested for a second time by a special police team and later removed to Jaffna jail.
On April 2, a crucial meeting was held at 2 pm. Nine members of the JVP inner circle met in secret at the Sangaramaya temple of the Vidyodaya University in Kelaniya. It was a meeting that would change the course of Sri Lanka’s destiny. The inner circle decided that all police stations in the country would be attacked on the night of April 5.
The meeting was apparently convened in response to a message sent from Jaffna jail by Wijeweera, who requested that posters and leaflets should be published calling for his release and in the case of an attack, 500 comrades should be sent to Jaffna to secure his release.
- NEXT: Chapter 22: ‘Only god can save the Tamils’