War or peace?
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Time,’ Singapore, 2002
The general election for the eighth parliament of Sri Lanka was a turning point in the post-independence history of the country. It brought about marked ethnic polarization. Up to this point, it was distinctly a domestic issue, but after 1977 it turned into a conflict that became more protracted, more genocidal and internationalized.
As recorded in the previous chapter, polling for the eighth parliament was scheduled for July 21, 1977. On June 6, 1977, nomination day, the United National Party nominated 154 candidates, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party 147, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party 82, the Mahajana Eksath Permuna 27, the Communist Party 25, the Tamil United Liberation Front 23, the Ceylon Workers Congress 2 and there were 295 independents, with 756 candidates contesting the 168-member parliament. There were 6,667,589 eligible voters and polling was to be completed on the same day – July 21.
Nearly 21 former Members of Parliament did not contest. They were W P G Ariyadasa (SLFP – Haputale) – Minister of Local Government; R S Perea (SLFP – Kelaniya) – Minister of Information and Broadcasting; Mrs. J P Siva Obeyasekera (SLFP – Mirigama) – Minister of Health; M P de Z Sriwardene (SLFP – Minuwangoda) – Minister of Labor; I A Cader (SLFP – Beruwala) – Deputy Speaker; Pani Ilangakoon (SLFP – Weligama); Richard Digammas (SLVB – Matale); Roy Rajapakse (SLFP – Hakmana); J D Weerasekera (SLFP – Kotamale); P B Balasuriya (SLFP – Galigamuwa); Prins Gunasekera (SLVB – Habaraduwa); G D H Srisena (SLFP – Akurana); A M Jayewardene (SLFP – Bibile); A T Basanayake (SLFP – Gampaha); Mrs. Kusala Abhayawardene (LSSP – Borella); Rukman Senanayake (UNP – Dedigama); N Wimalasena (UNP – Senkadagala); Falil Gafoor (UNP – Colombo Central); K Jeyakody (ITAK – Udupiddy); and B Neminathan (ITAK – Trincomalee).
For the first time, the Ceylon Workers Congress, which represented Tamils of Indian origin upcountry, put up two candidates. Though the CWC was a constituent party of the Tamil United Liberation Front, they opted to contest on their own party ticket.
Earlier, prior to the dissolution of the parliament, Srimavo Bandaranaike called a meeting of the Tamil and Muslim Members of Parliament, at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH), on February 21, 1977. The meeting was entirely devoted to identifying the areas of Tamils’ grievances. The grievances identified were – language, education, standardization, employment and colonization. While speaking on behalf of the government, Felix R Dias Bandaranaike said that the government would not entertain the idea of a separate state, but was ready and willing to consider the genuine grievances of the minority communities in the country.
At that point, the TULF unfortunately failed to record their protest, when Felix Dias Bandaranaike branded the Tamils as “a minority community” within the larger state. According to the Vaddukoddai Resolution, the Tamils had to be considered a separate nation, equal to the Sinhalese nation.
In his reply, S J V Chelvanayakam declared that the Tamil United Liberation Front would not compromise on the issue of a separate state, but all that the TULF was willing to accept was an interim arrangement to find redress to the grievances of the Tamils and Muslims.
At the end of the conference, the government issued a communique. “A review was made about the various questions and problems confronting the Tamil speaking people. The discussion took place in a cordial, friendly and informal atmosphere. It was decided to meet again to continue the dialogue.”
Tamil youths were unhappy at the outcome of the meeting. They insisted that the Tamil moderate leaders not to attend the meeting and alleged that the SLFP was not genuine in their approach. But, the TULF ignored the warning and attended the second meeting, held on March 16, 1977. The Tamil parliamentarians spelled out some of the key issues to be accommodated by the government. They were:
- Decentralized administration
- Use of the Tamil language
- University admissions
- Problems faced by Tamils of Indian origin in the plantation sector, and
- Problems faced by Tamil public servants.Unlike her earlier hardened position, astonishingly, Srimavo Bandaranaike was very accommodating and said that the government was committed to the policy of decentralization. She further indicated her readiness to enshrine the reasonable use of the Tamil language law and the related regulations in the constitution. She also said that the government was ready to modify the standardization scheme and expressed her desire to solve the problems of the Tamils.Despite assurances given by Srimavo Bandaranaike, Tamil youths called these an election ploy and they were not the least convinced. The youths urged the leaders not to compromise on the Vaddukoddai Resolution on a separate state for Tamils. Due to the massive pressure exerted by the youths, the TULF delegation was not happy and they felt that the Government and the SLFP were not prepared to compromise on any substantial issues, mainly on the form of government. This led to the hardening of the Tamils’ stand.
The hard position was reflected at the TULF convention held at Hindu College, Trincomalee, on March 26, 1977, where Chelvanayakam for the last time, before his death on April 5, said, “An irrevocable decision with regard to the future of the Tamil Nation in this country had been taken at the first convention of the TULF, held in May 1976.”
He added, “My advice to the Sinhalese leaders is to allow us to go our way .. Let us avoid bitterness and agree to part peacefully. This will pave the way for greater cooperation between the two nations on a footing of equality. The Tamils are not with any other alternatives. Bitterness is growing in the midst of the younger generations. Without allowing it to grow any further, which may lead to inevitable confrontation leading to foreign intervention, therefore a method of peacefully working out this entanglement is necessary. We are confident that the truth will ultimately triumph and we will win in the war of endurance.”
After the death of Chelvanayakam, A Amirthalingham was the natural choice for the leadership of the TULF. Once he was elected as leader, his immediate task was to prepare the TULF for the parliamentary elections. Amirthalingham, right from the beginning, was disappointed over the attitude the SLFP displayed during the talks it had had with his party, in February and March. He sensed that the United National Party had a sure chance of winning in the election and forming the government in July 1977. Therefore, he felt an understanding with the UNP would be beneficial to the TULF.
The idea was floated through press interviews and followed up by a public statement by Amirthalingham. United National Party leaders picked it up and they resolved at the UNP Working Committee meeting held on April 7, to empower Jayewardene to negotiate with the Tamil leaders.
The leader of the CWC, Thondaman, who was also a leader of the TULF and a close ally of J R Jayewardene, arranged a meeting in his flat, opposite the Royal college, in Colombo. The UNP delegation, led by Jayewardene, consisted of M D Banda and Esmond Wickremasinghe, met the TULF team led by Amirthalingham, which included M Sivasithamparam and S Kathiravetpillai.
At the meeting, the Tamil leaders avoided placing any demands, instead, they made it clear that they were ready able and willing to support J R Jayewardene in his effort to save democracy in the country. S Kathiravetpillai, the TULF MP for Kopay, considered the theoretician of the party, said, “We are not here to make any demands. We know well that this is not the right time to make demands. Democracy is in peril. We are prepared to support you sir, in your effort to save democracy.”
Jayewardene was pleased with the diplomatic approach of the TULF delegation. He asked the delegates what demands they would put forward, in the case the UNP was elected to power. The grievances identified were the use of the Tamil language, ending Sinhalese colonization in Tamil areas, employment, abolition of media-wise standardization, and the issue of citizenship for Tamils of Indian origin.
The UNP came forward to positively consider these grievances. The party in its election manifesto included a special section, “Problems of Tamil-Speaking People”. According to the manifesto, “The United National party accepts the position that there are numerous problems confronting the Tamil-speaking people. The lack of solution to their problems had made the Tamil-speaking people to support even a movement for the creation of a separate state. In the interest of the national integration and unity, so necessary for the economic development of the whole country, the party feels such problems should be solved without loss of time. The party when its comes to power will take all possible steps to remedy their grievances in such fields as education, colonization, use of Tamil language, employment in the public and semi-public corporations. We will summon an all-party conference as stated earlier and implement its decision.”
Also, the UNP manifesto sought a mandate to adopt and operate a new republican constitution, “We seek your mandate to draft, adopt and operate a new Republican Constitution in order to achieve the goals of the democratic socialist society. We shall include in the constitution the ‘Basic Principles’ accepted by the 1975 party session, with reference to religions and languages and among them being the guaranteeing to the people their fundamental rights, privileges, and freedoms and re-establishing the independence of the press and judiciary and freeing it from the political control and interference. We will ensure in the constitution that every citizen, whether he belongs to a majority or minority, racial, religious or caste group, enjoys equal and basic human rights and opportunities. The decision of an all-party conference, which will be summoned to consider the problems of the non-Sinhala speaking people will be included in the constitution.
“Executive power will be vested in a president, elected from time to time, by the people. This will ensure the stability of the executive, for a period of years, between elections. The constitution will also preserve the parliamentary system we are used to, for the prime minister will be chosen by the president from the party that commands the majority in parliament and the other ministers of the cabinet will also be elected members of parliament.
“Under the Srima Government the powers of the parliament have been superseded by Emergency Regulations published in Gazette Notifications. The independence of the judiciary has been eroded by patronage in appointments and interference by the executive. The rule of law has been made a mockery by vesting members of parliament and the bureaucracy with dictatorial powers and through political victimization.
“We shall strengthen democratic institutions and the judiciary and re-establish the rule of law. Members of Parliament and the bureaucracy will not be allowed to victimize the people for political reasons.”
Meanwhile, in the North and Eastern provinces, the TULF saw that they were an extra-ordinary force to reckon with. The candidates put forward by the TULF were considered to be the true Tamils and others who opposed them were treated as miscreants, traitors and quislings who betrayed the cause of the Tamils.
Earlier, Amirthalingham contested elections from his home constituency Vaddukoddai, but this time he came forward to contest Kankesanthurai, the seat that had been held by the late Chelvanayakam, to propagate his leadership image. His candidature was proposed by V Ponnampalam, the erstwhile Communist Party stalwart of the Northern province, who contested against Chelvanayakam at the by-election in 1975 and in every other parliamentary general election.
In the 1970 general elections, the Udupiddy seat was won by K Jayakody of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi. He defeated the then sitting member M Sivasithamparam. As the TULF allotted the Udupiddy seat, T Rasalingham, a member of the minority Tamil community candidate, M Sivasithamparam came forward to contest from the Nallur constituency against the sitting member C Arulampalam, who contested the election on the SLFP ticket.
Rasalingham, from the minority community, was a circuit education officer. Though he was from Vathiry in the Udupiddy electorate, conservative minded parents and teachers opposed his posting to Udupiddy to supervise and guide the education program and activities in the 47 government-controlled schools in the area.
It was this writer who represented this matter with the Minister of Education, and got Rasalingham posted to the Udupiddy electorate. This writer called a conference of the principals and headmasters of the schools in the electorate, along with leading people of the area, and solicited their cooperation for the acceptance of Rasalingham to work as their education officer.
Thus, this writer had nurtured the Udupiddy electorate since 1970 to contest. However, as the seat was allocated to T Rasalingham of the minority Tamil community, who considered this writer a friend, guide and well-wisher, this writer instead contested the Point Pedro electorate as an independent candidate.
At the Jaffna seat, S Yogeswaran, a young advocate, was the choice of the TULF, who contested against the sitting member, C X Martyn, who had been dismissed from the ITAK for anti-party activities and G G Ponnampalam – Junior (Kumar Ponnampalam). At Kilinochchi, V Ananthasangaree, the sitting member, contested on the TULF ticket and he was opposed by C Kumarasuriar, the SLFP candidate and the Tamil Minister.
In the Eastern province, C Rajadurai, the sitting member, contested the double-member Batticaloa constituency on the TULF ticket, while Kasi Ananthan contested the same seat as the ITAK candidate. Rajadurai showed his dissent in pitching another Tamil candidate against him. He subsequently began to isolate himself from party activities. In the delimitation of the constituencies, the former double-member Muthur constituency was made a single member constituency, reducing the chances of victory for a Tamil.
For the 1977 general elections, the Trincomalee district was divided into three electorates, where the city of Trincomalee was designed for Tamils, Muthur to the Muslim and Seruwaila, a new constituency, was carved out in such a way as to entertain a Sinhalese member to the parliament. The TULF-nominated S M Makeen, a Muslim, as its candidate to Muthur. Sammanthurai was another new electorate carved out from the former Pottuvil double-member electorate, and H L M Hassim was nominated to contest on the TULF ticket against M A Abdul Majeed, the sitting member, a UNP candidate. Also, at Kalmunai, the TULF nominated A M Samsudin, another Muslim candidate.
The TULF and the Tamils considered the election as a plebiscite to determine whether the Tamil people wanted to continue to live with the Sinhalese or whether they wanted to have a separate state.
In the election manifesto of the TULF, it highlighted the racial terrorism that was rampantly propagated and promoted by the Sinhalese and government leaders.
“For the last 20 years, racial terrorism has been let loose in this country against the Tamil and Muslim population in a manner that reminded them that they were slaves who were not entitled to any rights or protection. Tamils and Muslims have been quite often the objects of violence of the Sinhalese hooligans, instigated by government-supported Sinhalese communal organizations, the police and the armed forces, in whose hands they suffered untold misery by way of looting and arson in homes, shops and places of business, by grievous injuries, loss of life and property and violation against women. In 1956, Tamils were attacked in Colombo and in part of the Tamil territory of Eelam, that had turned into a Sinhalese land. Amparai and age-old Tamil villages like Thuraineelavanai had to resort to firearms in defense of their hearts and homes from the attack by the Sinhalese hoodlums.
“The communal fury against the Tamils in 1958, in the entire Sinhalese land, is a chapter of a dreadful blot in the history of this country. Thousands of Tamils were taken to Northern and Eastern provinces in commandeered ships and army protected convoys. Property worth several millions was lost, several hundreds lost their lives and thousands their homes. While Sinhalese terrorism raged against the Tamils all over the country, the Sinhalese government arrested the Tamil leaders and put them behind the bars. It was insult added to injury.
“Military terror was let loose in Tamil provinces against the Tamils, who were engaged in a non-violent campaign of civil disobedience in 1961, to demand their language rights. On the 2nd Februyary 1976, seven Muslims praying inside a mosque at Puttalam were ruthlessly massacred by the Sinhala police, inside the holy spot. 271 houses, 44 shops, 2 fiber factories belonging to the Muslims of Puttalam were set on fire, 2 mosques were burnt down, 2 Muslim youths were burnt alive by the Sinhalese hooligans. The government was not willing to hold public inquiry into the horrible murders. These were incidents only which reiterate the fact that the lives and property of Tamils and Muslims who are living as slaves in this country do not enjoy any protection from the Sinhalese governments.”
The manifesto of the TULF posed a leading question – “What is the alternative to a nation that lies helpless as it is being assaulted, looted and killed by hooligans instigated by the ruling race and by the security forces of the State? Where else is an alternative to the Tamil nation that gropes in the dark for its identity and finds itself driven to the brink of devastation?”
The TULF manifesto declares, “There is only one alternative and that is to proclaim with the stamp of finality and fortitude, that, ‘we alone shall rule over our land that our forefathers ruled. Sinhalese imperialism shall quit our homeland’. The Tamil United Liberation Front regards the general election of 1977 as a means of proclaiming to the Sinhalese government this resolve of the Tamil nation. And every vote that you cast for the Front would go to show that, the Tamil nation is determined to liberate itself from the Sinhalese domination.”
The election campaign conducted in the North and Eastern provinces was a cast of its own, entirely a different ball game. Amirthalingham and others in the TULF kindled the Tamils’ imagination and provoked the Tamils against all those who opposed the TULF candidates.
Accordingly, it was told, “hence the Tamil United Liberation Front seeks in the general election the mandate of the Tamil nation to establish an independent sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam, that includes all the geographically contiguous areas that have been the traditional homeland of the Tamil-speaking people in the country.”
It went on to state, “At the same time, the Tamil United Liberation Front proclaims the following guarantees on the political, social and economic structure of the State of Tamil Eelam. The Front declares that the Tamil state of Eelam will be established on the basis of these guarantees. According to the guarantees, the Tamil United Liberation Front declared that following shall be the citizens of the Tamil Eelam:
- All those people now living in the territory of Tamil Eelam.
- Tamil-speaking persons from any part of Ceylon seeking citizenship in the state of Tamil Eelam.
- Tamil-speaking people of Ceylonese descent living in any part of the world and seeking citizenship in the state of Tamil Eelam.”Political power shall be decentralized so that no one region or no one religion is allowed to dominate over any other region or religion, thus ensuring regional autonomy for the people in the various regions in the pattern of federalism obtaining in Switzerland. The Tamil United Liberation Front guarantees that, particularly Muslims, who form part of the State of Tamil Eelam, will be established in the regions where they are in a majority, as an autonomous province, with the right to secede, on the basis of the right to self-determination.”The Tamil United Liberation Front guarantees that neither a Tamil majority region nor a Muslim majority region will be allowed to be colonized by the other groups, thus ensuring that no group of people is reduced to a minority in its own region.
“The caste system along with the atrocity of untouchablity by birth will be totally eradicated and any such practice would be subjected to rigorous punishment by law.
“The State of Tamil Eelam shall be a secular one, while all the religions practiced by the people in the state will receive equal protection and aid.
“Tamil shall be the official language of the state of Tamil Eelam, while the Sinhalese living in the state will be provided the right to be educated in their own language. Similarly, guarantees will be sought from the Sinhala State about the language rights of the Tamil-speaking people living in that state.
“In the Tamil Eelam, which shall be a scientific socialist State, (i) Exploitation of man by man will be prevented by law; (ii) Dignity of labor will be protected; (iii) While the private sector will be permitted within the limits imposed by law, means of production and distribution will be state-owned or subject to state control; (iv) Full protection will be afforded to tenant-cultivators and residents on privately owned lands; (v) Economic development of the Tamil State of Eelam will be on the basis of socialist planning; (vi) A ceiling will be fixed on the wealth an individual or a family could accumulate.
“While the socialist state of Tamil Eelam would follow a policy of non alignment, it would in the international field lend its support to the anti-imperialist forces and democratic liberation movements.
“The state of Tamil Eelam will develop friendship with the progressive forces in the Sinhalese state and would on the basis of fraternity, work out a peaceful solution for the mutual problem facing the two nations.”
In conclusion, the manifesto deals as follows, regarding the achievement of the liberation:
“The Tamil nation must take the decision on the basis of its right to self-determination. The only way to announce this decision to the Sinhalese government and to the world is to vote for the Tamil United Liberation Front. The Tamil-speaking representatives who get elected through these votes, while being members of the National State Assembly of Ceylon, will also form themselves into the National Assembly of Tamil Eelam, which will draft the constitution for the state of Tamil Eelam by bringing that constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action struggle.
“The National Assembly of Tamil Eelam will draw up and implement plans relating to the economic development, social progress, protection of territory, educational development, etc. Action will be taken to enlist international support to achieve the freedom of Tamil Eelam.”
Thus, the TULF campaigned in the North and East exclusively on a separatist agenda, challenging the national agenda declared by this writer and the majority of the other candidates, except for V Navaratnam, one of the founder members of the ITAK, dismissed from the party for anti-party activities and who contested on a similar separate state agenda in Thamilar Suya-Aadchi Kazhagam (Tamil Self Rule Party), from Kayts.
The TULF managed to mobilize overwhelming support in the Northern province, but in the East, it was tightly challenged by the UNP, as well as by the SLFP. The 1977 election campaign, which was managed and run by Amirthalingham, raised the hopes that it would solve the problems of the Tamils once and for all. The TULF promised everything, which included the honor, dignity, equality and a sovereign state for Tamils.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in its manifesto, under the heading, “National unity and national problems,” said, “A state advisory council would be set up representing all nationalities to advise the government to discuss essential factors and to take steps including institutional reforms on cultural, social, economic, national and language problems of the people of all minorities.”
The Tamil demand for separation urged the Sinhalese political parties to show urgency in finding a solution to the problem. Each political party took up its own, but decisive, position on the issue.
The SLFP wished to reap the benefits of the anticipated economic recovery by extending the life of the parliament beyond May 1977, But unfortunately the move proved abortive. Subsequently, as the election was announced, the SLFP was somewhat in a weaker position compared to the UNP. Its former electoral allies, those political parties which were with it in the 1970 general elections and after, the Marxist parties – the LSSP and the CP had formed a United Left Front together with some dissidents of the SLFP left-wing, who were making a separate bid to attain power and position.
The United Left Front declared in its election manifesto under the heading of National Minorities:
“While retaining the unitary character of the state, the principal of regional autonomy will be applied within the general national framework of the district councils, while protecting and implementing to the full language rights already provided for. Our government will facilitate the use of Tamil as the language of administration in the Tamil-speaking areas. The Republican Constitution will be amended to include the rights already administratively granted to the Tamil language. Tamil will be declared a national language in terms of the constitution, without prejudice to the status of Sinhala as the official language of the country. Discrimination in education, or employment, on the basis of race, religion, or caste, will be prohibited. Incitement of racial or religious hatred will be declared a penal offence.”
Meanwhile, the UNP, a resurgent political party under J R Jayewardene, emphasized the need to establish a dharmista (righteous) government. Jayewardene struck a deep chord of ethical values among the rural Sinhala-Buddhist population by a concerted corruption propaganda campaign against the SLFP members of parliament, during the tenure of office of Srimavo Bandaranaike’s government. The campaign also concentrated on allegations of nepotism and the providing of government positions and power to Srimavo Bandaranaike’s children and relatives. The UNP effectively portrayed itself as an anti-feudal force, effectively attacking the aristocratic family of the Bandaranaikes.
Srimavo Bandaranaike had become increasingly unpopular. During the seven years of her administration, widely considered as misrule, the economy had stagnated, food shortages had become acute and the prices had risen sharply. Despite the earlier JVP youths’ insurrection, the government did not take note of the warning of the unemployment problem, which during the election period had reached crisis proportions. The Prime Minister was accused of countenancing police brutality, abuse of power and family patronage.
According to the allegations, the people of the country in general and the Tamil speaking minorities in particular, had endured untold hardship during her administration. The biggest blunder she caused was the hijacking of the constitution and replacing it with an illegal document in the name of a constitution, thus she was responsible for the perpetuation of fraud by successive governments.
At a massive public rally held at Jaffna on July 19, 1977, to wind up the TULF election campaign, Amirthalingham declared, “Ours is no longer a national problem. Ours is a dispute between two nationalities. The election day after tomorrow [21 July] is no ordinary election. It is a plebiscite. It is a plebiscite to determine whether the Tamil people want to continue to live with the Sinhalese or they want to separate.”
In the South, J R Jayewardene said, “We will definitely defeat Mrs. Bandaranaike at the general election.” He added, “I confidently predict that the UNP will be able to form a one-party government with 90 to 100 seats.” He warned Srimavo Bandaranaike to have her belongings packed and to be ready to go home on July 21.
Polling took place on July 21, except for the two-member Pottuvil electorate, where polling was postponed to September 12 owing to the death of one candidate.
When the results was announced, the UNP won a clear majority of 139 seats, later increased to 140 after the Pottuvil election. The TULF initially won 17 seats and after the Pottuvil election 18. All three Muslim candidates who contested on the TULF ticket were defeated. At Kalkudah, the UNP sitting MP, K W Devanayakam, retained the seat, whereas in Batticalao, which was a two-member seat, C Rajaudurai, the sitting member, won easily on the TULF ticket and the second seat went to the Muslim candidate from the UNP, Ahamed Rizvi Sinna Lebbe. Kasi Ananandan, who contested as an ITAK candidate, polled 22,443 votes and was defeated by 2,902 votes by the UNP candidate. In fourth place came Dr Badi-ud-din Mahmud, the Minister of Education in the Srimavo Bandaranaike government and one of the founder members of the SLFP, who polled 21,275 votes. In the Eastern Province, the TULF managed to win four seats, including that of Pottuvil, but in the Northern province it was a clean sweep and all those who contested the TULF candidates, including this writer, were roundly defeated.
Of the two candidates of the Ceylon Workers Congress, its leader, S Thondaman, was elected as the third member in the three-member Nuwera Eliya-Naskeliya seat. At the same time, M S Sellasamy, the General Secretary of the CWC, who contested in the three-member Colombo Central electorate, came fourth, polling 26,964 votes, and the third elected member, Haleem Ishak of the SLFP, managed to win with a majority of 26,813 votes over and above that of Sellasamy.
Out of the 147 candidates who contested on the SLFP ticket, only eight, including Srimavo Bandaranaike and her son Anura Bandaranaike, triumphed. Except Maitripala Senanayake, all other ministers were defeated.
Not a single candidate from the LSSP, the MEP or the CP won. The defeated ministers were Felix Dias Bandaranaike – Minister of Finance and Justice; Hector Kobbekaduwa – Minister of Agriculture and Lands; S K K Suriarachchi – Minister of Food, Cooperative and Small Industries; T B Ilangaratne – Minister of Public Administration, Home Affairs and Trade; T B Subasinghe – Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs, but he had resigned his position before the elections; K B Ratnayake – Minister of Transport, Parliamentary Affairs and Sports; P B G Kalugalle – Minister of Shipping, Tourism and Aviation; Dr Badi-ud-din Mahmud – Minister of Education; Chelliah Kumarasuriar – Minister of Post and Telecommunication and also Housing and Construction; T B Tennakoon – Minister of Cultural Affairs; Peter Keuneman – Minister of Housing and Construction, but he had resigned earlier; Ratnasri Wickremanayake – Minister of Plantation Industry; V T G. Karunaratne – Minister of Textiles; and S D R Jayaratne – Minister of Fisheries.
Nearly 6,243, 573 people voted, which was nearly 86.7 percent of the total voters registered for the 8th parliament of Sri Lanka. The UNP polled 3,179,221 votes, which was 50.9 per cent of the total votes polled, whereas the SLFP polled 1,855,331 votes, which was 29.7 per cent, the TULF obtained 421,488 votes, which amounted to 6.4 per cent and the CWC polled 62,707 votes, which was 1 per cent of the total votes.
On July 22 , William Gopallawa, the President, announced on radio that, it was his intention to ask J R Jayewardene, the UNP leader, to form the government, but that he was unable to do so until the results of the two multi-member constituencies, Colombo Central and Nuwera Eliya-Maskeliya (each returning three members) were known. Various rumors were afloat as the defeated Prime Minister delayed tendering her resignation. Ultimately, Srimavo Bandaranaike called on the President on the evening of July 22, and tendered her resignation.
Finally, on Saturday July 23, 1977, Junius Richard Jayewardene, the leader of the UNP, took his oaths as the 11th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, before William Gopallawa. On the same day, a 24-member cabinet was sworn in.
Jayewardene took up the portfolios of Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs and Minister of Plan Implementation. Up to this time, Foreign Affairs had always been a subject under the Prime Minister. For the first time, a separate Ministry for Foreign Affairs was launched and A C Shahul Hameed was sworn in as the Minister.
Ranasinghe Premadasa was made the Minister of Local Government, Housing and Construction and the Leader of the National State Assembly. The only elected Tamil UNP Member of Parliament and the senior party member, K W Devanayakam, was sworn in as Minister of Justice. Ronnie De Mel was made the Minister of Finance, Lalith Athulathmudali – Minister Trade, Cyril Mathew – Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs, Gamini Dissanayake – Irrigation, Power and Highways. Wimala Kannangara, a woman member, was made the Minister of Shipping Aviation and Tourism, while D B Wijeyatunge was sworn in as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Nissanka Wijeyratne as the Minister of Education and Higher Education. M H Mohamed, the former Mayor of Colombo, was made the Minister of Transport and Vincent Perera, who had been the Mayor of Colombo, was sworn in as the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Sports and also as the Chief Government Whip.
M D H Jayewardene was made the Minister of Plantation Industry, Wijayapala Mendis – Minister of Textile Industries, Srisena Bandara Herath – Minister of Food and Cooperatives, Montague Jeyawickrem – Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs, Lionel Senanayake – Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Captain Senivaratne – Minister of Labor; E L B. Hurulle – Minister of Cultural Affairs; and Shelton Jayasinghe – Minister Post and Telecommunication.
Violence broke out in Colombo and in other parts of South Sri Lanka no sooner had J R Jayewardene was sworn in as Prime Minister.
UNP supporters went around, in government vehicles and began to assault their political opponents. In reality, the UNP gangs unleashed a reign of terror, especially on SLFP members and supporters. Curfew was imposed in Kandy, Kegalle, Gampaha and in Kurunegalle districts. Despite the curfew and orders for the police to fire at rabble rousers, the UNP hooligans continued their violent attacks, and also set fire to property belonging to the opposition.
At a cabinet meeting, the date was set as July 27 and 28, 1977 for a ceremonial visit to the Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy. Every new Prime Minister since independence had made the journey to Kandy.
Usually, “a ceremony of affirmation was held at the historic Temple of the Tooth, the Dalada Maligava, the repository of the tooth relic of Buddha, the most sacred relic of Theravada Buddhism, preserved there in a many layered gold casket, the Palladium of Sinhalese rulers of the past for well over one thousand, five hundred years.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography: Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) K M de Silva & Howard Wriggins, page 325.
In the early afternoon of July 28 the new Prime Minister climbed the stairs from the inner courtyard of the Dalada Maligawa to the balcony of the Octagon, the pattirippuva, overlooking Kandy Lake. From there he delivered his speech to the nation.
“His appearance on the balcony of the Octagon was greeted with rapturous acclamation. His personal response was one of warmth and satisfaction, but the tone of his speech was characteristically unemotional. To the massive partisan crowd, he preached the need to look beyond party ties to the national interest; to the exultant crowd he spoke the virtues of moderation and good sense. He promised much, asked for more, but above all, throughout his speech, the intelligent observer noted a tone that was more religious than political, as Buddhism sensibilities overcame the ephemeral passions of victor in a long and hard struggle against a formidable opponent.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography: Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) K M de Silva & Howard Wriggins, page 328.
Meanwhile, the TULF parliamentary group met at Vavuniya on July 30, to elect its leader, who would automatically become the Leader of the Opposition as the TULF was the second largest political party with 18 MPs. Amirthalingham proposed the name of S Thondaman, the leader of the CWC, who is also the senior most leader of the TULF. Thondaman, however, declined, saying that he preferred to function as the CWC representative.
Subsequently, M Sivasithamparam proposed Amirthalingham’s name and was seconded by P Ganeshalingham, the MP for Paddiruppu, and he was unanimously elected. M Sivasithamparam, the MP for Nallur, was elected as the vice-president of the parliamentary group. The decision of the TULF parliamentary group to accept the post of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament earned the wrath of Tamil youths. They issued a statement to the press criticizing the TULF as going back on their mandate given by the Tamils. Kathiravetpillai, the MP for Kopay, issued a statement the next day, announcing that the TULF intended to use parliament as a forum to canvas support locally and internationally for a separate state for Tamils.
The TULF parliamentary group met at the CWC office in Colombo and decided to participate in the ceremonial opening of parliament. It also decided to soften the demands for a separate state and give the new Prime Minister sufficient time to express his views on the urgent and pressing problems confronting Tamils.
The Tamil United Liberation Front, by overwhelmingly registering victory in 18 constituencies in the Northern and Eastern Provinces provided a life-time opportunity to Appapillai Amirtalingham, the first Tamil leader ever to assume the official position of Leader of the Opposition in the National State Assembly.
When the TULF MPs attended the ceremonial opening of parliament on August 4, Amirthalingham occupied the seat of the Leader of the Opposition. He seconded Anandatissa de Alwis, a UNP candidate, as Speaker of the House, proposed by R Premadasa, the Leader of the House. After the election, welcoming the Speaker, Amirthalingham told the House that the TULF would cooperate with the chair. He informed that the TULF MPs would conduct their business only in the Tamil language.
The stage was set for a challenge – the Sinhalese versus the Tamils in the supreme legislative organ of the country. The whole country awaited eagerly for the panacea to cure the ethnic disparities and the economic progress, by Jayewardene, the most experienced senior political leader of the country. Unfortunately, it was not forthcoming.
The July 1977 general elections to the National State Assembly ushered in a new cycle of violence and a virulent anti-Tamil program. The Tamils in the North and Eastern Provinces participated in elections to determine the urgency and the necessity to mandate the Tamil United Liberation Front for the secession of the country and to find ways and means to create a separate state for Tamils.
The Tamils were quick to learn that the Sinhalese leadership was not to be trusted, neither Srimavo Bandaranaike nor Jayewardene. The Vaddukoddai resolution calling for a separate state for Tamils had already created a deep emotional impact on Tamils locally, and it also began to create the same emotional impact among Tamils living abroad. The ethnic violence that erupted after the 1977 elections forced Tamils to preserve their own national identity.
The Tamil youths who were already at the vanguard of the militant movement began to position themselves to decide the fate of the community as a whole, and during this period it was becoming increasingly clear that the moderate Tamil leadership was gradually being edged out of the main political stratum.
In this context, Tamil youths abandoned any hope of further constitutional agitation. They saw constitutional agitation as a futile act, despite the fact that the leadership of the Tamil United Liberation Front continued to pin its hope on a negotiated settlement. The American magazine Newsweek, in its August 8, 1977 issue, carried a report on the Sri Lankan election. It read as follows:
“When he confronted Mrs. Srima Bandaranaike at the polls last month, Junius Richard Jayewardene walked away with the premiership of Sri Lanka – and a whopping 139 seats in the island’s 168-man legislature. Yet, despite that mandate, Jayewardene is in for some turbulent political sailings. Charging discrimination at the hands of the majority Sinhalese, Sri Lanka’s 3 million Tamils are demanding a complete independence from the Colombo government. With 17 seats, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) is the largest opposition group in the new parliament and it plans to make trouble for Jayewardene.
“Though rivalry between Tamils and Sinhalese is centuries old, mistreatment by the Bandaranaike regime has raised the Tamil resentment to a new pitch. Today Sri Lanka faces the danger of an ethnic clash that could divide the island nation into two.
“Tamil leaders are outspoken in their outrage. ‘We have become second class citizens in our own country’ declares M Sivasithamparam, one of the TULF leaders, recently elected to parliament. And the Tamils have no faith that Jayewardene will put things right. As a result, the TULF is preparing for a unilateral declaration of independence. The party has already picked the port city of Trincomalee as the prospective capital of Tamil Eelam, the historic Tamil name for Sri Lanka. The TULF members will soon meet there to hammer out their post-election strategy and to draft a constitution for an independent Tamil State.
“The TULF plans to begin its independence crusade with civil disobedience. ‘We are attached to a program of non-violent agitation, but I envisage a stage sooner or later, when we are going to fight it out,’ says TULF general secretary A Amirthalingham. ‘I expect most of us will be brought to trial, even hanged.’ Those are strong words and TULF leaders plainly hope it won’t come to that. By choosing Trincomalee, one of the world finest natural harbors, as their capital, the Tamils appear to believe that they can interest the foreign powers – namely the US and USSR – in their cause. ‘He who controls Trincomalee controls the Indian Ocean,’ Napoleon once remarked. Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev, please take note.”
In the meantime, Jayewardene accused Amirthaligham of promoting secessionism and thundered amid applause from his MPs, warning the Tamils that if they wanted war they would have war, and if they wanted peace they would have it. He was not repentant on the violence and tension that made Tamils to flee to their homeland.
This sarcastic challenge was extended on August 18, when Jayewardene speaking at an adjournment motion, saying, “People become restive when they hear that a separate state is to be formed, that Trincomalee is to be the capital of the state, that Napoleon said that Trincomalee was key to the Indian Ocean and that it is going to be the capital of the state. I do not thing Napoleon ever said that – I do not think Napoleon ever made a foolish remark like that. Whatever it is, when statements of that type are made, the newspapers carry them throughout the island, and when you say that you are not violent, but that violence may be used in time to come, what do you think the other people in Sri Lanka will do? How will they react? If you want to fight, let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there be peace, that is what they will say. It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say that. J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography: Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) K M deSilva & Howard Wriggins, pages 351-352.
The Tamils in general began to show their discontent towards the moderate Tamil leadership for its ambiguity and ambivalence. All these factors led to the consolidation of separatist feelings among Tamils. Every repulsive act of the government was seen as a punitive measure to do away the just rights of Tamils with impunity. During the early days the militant youths respected the TULF by not challenging it, even though the TULF adopted the same old policy of negotiating with the Government for a fairly modest grant of autonomy, even after receiving an overwhelming mandate for the creation of a separate state. The TULF failed to make any concerted progress towards setting up a separate state for Tamils.
The worst violent took place during between August 13 to September 15, 1977. It was orchestrated just few weeks after the general elections.
It all occurred, it is said, over an incident at a carnival held at St Patricks College, Jaffna, organized by the Rotary Club of Jaffna. On August 12, the organizers refused entry to some plain-clothed policemen, who wanted to enter without holding valid entry tickets. Subsequently, the policemen bought tickets and entered the carnival premises.
Some time later, after drinking in the carnival’s bar, they began to assault the ticket collectors and other staff. The organizers reported the incident to the Jaffna Police station and requested not to allow police constables to the carnival. The next day, a group of policemen in civilian clothes went to the carnival and clashed with the public. As they were in civilian clothes, they were chased away by the public.
On August 14, the police retaliated by attacking people on the road. Passers-by were assaulted and roughly beaten. V Yogeswaran, the Member of Parliament for Jaffna, brought up the matter with Police Headquarters in Colombo, but the attacks in Jaffna city continued.
Early on the morning of August 15, three police constables stopped three boys riding bicycles at Puttur in Jaffna. Without warning, one of the boys fired at the policemen, injuring one of them before escaping.
Again on the morning of the 16th, policemen not in uniform went on the rampage and set shops in Jaffna city on fire. They shot four civilians and 30 people were injured. As tension escalated, on August 17, policemen from Jaffna Police station marched to Hospital Road and set fire to the Jaffna market building. A large portion of the market and adjoining shops was gutted and two more civilians were shot dead.
Once the matter was brought to the notice of Amirthalingham, he went to Jaffna market to make inquiries. On August 19, he informed parliament, while speaking at an adjournment motion, “When I went to the troubled areas, the police aimed a gun at me. I am lucky to be here today. The men were in uniform but did not wear numbers. When I asked the policemen as to why they shot and killed innocent civilians, the policemen abused me in filthy language and assaulted me.”
He told parliament that he had been assaulted, when he gave his identity to the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), who was at the market with a police party when the incident took place. Amirthalingham said that a constable standing behind the ASP, attacked him with the butt of the gun. Amirthalingham pointedly asked the Prime Minister, “Can you rule the country like this? We are at the receiving end from the police.”
Earlier, in 1974, when Jayewardene was the leader of the opposition, he visited Jaffna. He was scheduled to address a public rally at the esplanade, located next to Jaffna Stadium. But as the meeting started and Jayewardene was about to address the rally, the make-shift platform on which the speakers were seated crashed down, causing pandemonium. The meeting was canceled. Jayewardene considered this as an act of sabotage to discredit him by the Tamils, and vowed that he would avenge his disgrace at a proper time. No sooner had he become Prime Minister, it was alleged that he took sweet revenge on the Tamils through a planned violence program.
The attacks on Tamils spread to other parts of the country. In 1977, almost 10 percent of the Jaffna population was Sinhalese. But no Sinhalese who lived in Jaffna came under attack from the Tamils, although Sinhalese students on the Jaffna campus left Jaffna in special busses. When they reached Anuradhapura they told Sinhalese people that they had been attacked by Tamils in Jaffna. This story sparked retaliatory violence all over the country.
Furthermore, the Sinhalese believed that the Tamils’ desire for secession was one of the reasons for the emergence of violence by the Sinhalese in 1977. The anti-Tamil program organized by the Buddhist clergies and Sinhalese chauvinist political leaders was orchestrated with the intention to teach the Tamils a lesson for indicating their intention for separation so loudly and clearly.
The cause of the riots were never fully investigated. It was also said that Tamils of Indian origin, whose voting rights had been restored, voted the SLFP out of power and supported the UNP. This was a potent factor in the resurgence of violence.
At the height of the anti-Tamil program, the police did nothing to safeguard Tamils. They turned a blind eye and they helped to fuel rumors, which in turn spread violence to other parts of the country. The government was content to declare curfews, that were broken. Jayewardene refused to declare a state of emergency because he said that it was contrary to the principles of democracy.
For nearly two weeks a reign of terror was unleashed on Tamils. For the first time, plantation workers, the Tamils of Indian origin, suffered a lot. The Sinhalese gangsters raided their line-rooms, looted their possessions and assaulted and tormented men and women.
More than 50,000 Tamils were rendered homeless and several hundreds died. In Colombo, Tamils were held in more than six refugee camps, subsequently they were shipped back to the Northern province. Unfortunately, Tamils of Indian Origin, who had spent their lives for the past decades in the hill country, had no place to go. Arrangements were made to locate housing and other facilities in the border town of the Northern Province – Vavuniya – as well as in the Trincomalee district, by voluntary Tamil charitable organizations. It was estimated that more than 60,000 Tamils of Indian origin became displaced. Many of them who went to Vavuniya in the North were looked after by voluntary societies such as the Gandhiyam Society and the Tamil Refugees Rehabilitation Organization.
According to the state-controlled Daily News of August 29, approximately 112 Tamils had been killed, 25,000 rendered homeless and property estimated Rs1,000 million damaged or looted. The report further added that 4,000 persons had been arrested and 2,500 remanded and held in the country’s 13 prisons.
The riots provoked indignation in India, especially in Tamil Nadu. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the most opportunist political party, organized a general work stoppage, procession and public rally. The Legislative Assembly resolved to express its shock and concern and urged Moraji Desai, the Prime Minister, to send a cabinet minister to Sri Lanka for an investigation.
“Within months of Jayawardene’s government taking office, the anti-Tamil program of August 1977 broke out. Mobs of Sinhalese thugs incited by the Sinhala Buddhist activists rampaged through the towns and villages of the Sinhala areas, killing hundreds of Tamil men, women and children and burning their shops and houses. Due to the discrimination in the public service against Tamils, the police and army were Sinhalese almost to a man and made no effort to intervene, a pattern that was to emerge as a consistent feature of later programs. Apart from declaring a state of emergency and imposing a curfew, the government did nothing to end the violence and enforce the rule of law. Fifty thousand Tamils became homeless refugees. Most fled to the Tamil areas in the North.” Sri Lanka: Island of Terror – Indictment E M Thornton and R Niththiyananthan, page 32.
“On August 22, J R met M C Sansoni, a former Chief Justice, a Burgher, and persuaded him to accept the onerous task of inquiring into the causes of the incident in the riots that had broken out in the previous week, and suggesting remedial action. The choice of this highly respected and ‘ethnically neutral’ figure to head an official inquiry was accepted by all sections of opinion in the country as an astute move and as an important step in the process of confidence building after the blood-letting August.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography: Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) K M deSilva & Howard Wriggins, page 348.
The violent incidents during this period were of such an extreme nature and so widespread that on November 9, 1977, William Gopallawa, the President, appointed a Commission of Inquiry, under Section 2 of the Commissioner of Inquiry Act (Chapt 393) and for this purpose appointed Milani Claude Sansoni, the retired Chief Justice. The terms and reference of this commission covered the following three matters:
(1) To ascertain the circumstances and the causes that led to, and particulars of, the incidents which took place in the island between the 13th day of August, 1977 and the 15th day of September, 1977 and resulting in:
(a) Death or injury to persons;
(b) The destruction or damage of property belonging to, or in the possession of, any person, or any state institution or the state;
(c) The robbery or theft of any such property;
(2) Whether any person or body of persons or any organization, or any person or persons connected with such organization:
(a) Committed or conspired to commit;
(b) Aided or abetted in or conspired to aid or abet in the commission of; or
(c) In any manner assisted, encouraged in the commission of, any of the acts referred to paragraph (1); and
(3) To recommend such measures as may be necessary
(a) To rehabilitate or assist in any other manner the persons affected by such acts; and
(b) To ensure the safety of the public and to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
This commission, commonly referred to as the Sansoni Commission, was appointed on November 9, 1977; it commenced its sittings on February 8, 1978 and concluded on October 12, 1979. The total number of sittings were 298.
The Sansoni Commission’s report was not debated in parliament, but on the orders of the government it was published as Sessional Paper No VII – 1980. Under the terms of reference 3(a), the recommendation of the commission was as follows: Page 262 –
“… Whatever may be the rule in this island under normal conditions, the incidents which occurred during the specified period were of such an extreme nature and so widespread that an exception should be made as regards the payment of compensation to all those persons who were adversely affected … I recommend that all persons who suffered damages arising out of the incidents which occurred during the period 13th August, 1977 to 15th September 1977, be paid full compensation to the extent of such damages.”
Sansoni, in his lengthy report, to an extent, places the cause of the violence on the TULF leadership for fostering a climate of hostility.
The report runs to 277 pages; 952 victims and witnesses gave evidence. Apart from that, 275 affected persons filed affidavits and a number of organizations, led by an eminent legal counsel, also gave evidence. It is therefore a great pity that so much of valuable material, prepared in detail after hearing the evidence of victims as well as public men and organizations concerned with the welfare of the people and the country, was not used properly and effectively.
To date, not one single Tamil affected by the violence has received any compensation, as should have been done so, according to the recommendations of the Sansoni Commission.
The UNP government that came to power in July 1977, raised hopes of solving ethnic problems in the country. Time proved that it was only toying with the idea of solving the problem, in fact it was the UNP that started and created more problems for Tamils, on a well-planned basis.
J R Jayewardene, with a view to introducing an executive presidential system, moved on September 22, 1977, the second reading of a bill for a second amendment to Republican Constitution of 1972. By amending the 1972 constitution, provisions were made for J R Jayewardene to assume office as executive president, on February 4, 1978.
Furthermore, on October 20, 1977, the National State Assembly (Parliament), adopted a resolution to empower the Speaker to appoint a select committee and chairman to “consider the revision of the constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka and other written laws as the committee may consider.”
The committee was announced on November 3. It consisted of J R Jayewardene – chairman, R Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Disanayaka, Ronnie de Mel, K W Devanayakam, M H M Naina Marikar, all from the UNP and Srimavo Bandaranaike, Maitripala Senanayake from the SLFP. The TULF refused to serve on the committee, but S Thondaman, the leader of the CWC, agreed to join.
By February 4, 1978, Jayewardene ceased to be a member of the National State Assembly and was sworn in as the country’s first executive president. Immediately after Jayewardene’s assumption of the presidency, there was a minor reshuffle in the Cabinet. Ranasinghe Premadasa was sworn in as the Prime Minister, in addition to his earlier portfolio of Minister of Local Government, Housing and Construction. The president assigned himself the subjects and functions set out under the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Plan Implementation.
Earlier, Jayasinghe, who was the Minister of Fisheries, died on September 26, 1977, and was replaced by Festus Perera on October 30. Festus Perera continued to remain as the Minister of Fisheries in the shake-up. Subsequently, the speaker nominated R Premadasa, as chairman of the select committee, with effect from February 23, 1978.
Meanwhile, on the Northern front, on May 6, 1976, a group of four men went to the residence of Police Inspector K Pathmanathan, the officer in charge of the District Crime Bureau of the Jaffna Police Station, and waited for his arrival. Pathmanathan, who was dealing with the Puloly Rural bank robbery, had been branded as a traitor, some months earlier, by Amirtalingham, at an open court. When Pathmanathan returned to his home, the waiting men fired at him from point blank range. Pathmanathan, who was 55 years old and an expert on Tamil militancy, chased his assailants for about 200 yards before fatally collapsing.
In August 1977, a police constable, A Karunanithy, who was a member of the Puloly Rural Bank robbery investigative team, along with two police sergeants of the same name, Shanmuganathan, were shot and killed. Karunanithy was killed first at Maviddapuram and the two Shanmuganathans were killed at the Inuvil Junction, located on the Kankesanthurai-Jaffna main road.
In June 1977, Kuttimani and Jegan gunned down the retired Police Inspector Kumar, who had rejoined the police to work on the Puloly Rural Bank robbery. It was alleged that he and Inspector Pathmanathan had tortured a woman suspect, named Thangarani, from Myliddy, who had been arrested as one of the suspects along with her brother Thanga Mahendran.
In the early part of 1977, Kadirgamapillai Nallainathan, from Tellipalai, a land surveyor in the Government service, better known as Uma Maheswaran, joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He was made the chairman of the central committee of the LTTE and Prabkaran, who was younger than Uma Maheswaran by some 10 years, continued as military commander. The English-speaking Uma was referred to in the LTTE as Mukundan.
Meanwhile, M Canagaratnam, who contested the double-member constituency of Pottuvil in the Eastern Province on the TULF ticket, had been elected as the second member. He crossed the floor of the House on December 19, 1977 to join the government party. He was later admitted to membership of the UNP, increasing its numbers to 141 MPs.
In January, Uma Maheswaran and Prabakaran went to Colombo. They began to follow Canagaratnam, the MP for Pottuvil. On January 27, 1978, Uma Maheswaran and Prabaharan shot him in a Colombo street. Canagaratnam succumbed to gun shot wounds some months later.
On April 7, 1978, a police raiding party led by Inspector Bastiampillai, acclaimed for his ruthless handling of arrested victims, surrounded the Tiger training camp deep in the Northern jungle near Madhu, in Mannar district. The police held the Tamil militants at gunpoint, but Chelvanayakam, alias Amman, one of the Tamil militants, swooped on the police officer, snatched his arms and gunned down the police party. Inspector Bastiampillai, (CID) Sub-Inspector Perampalam, Police Constable Balasingham and police driver Sriwardene were killed.
On April 25, the Tigers officially claimed responsibility for the murder of the police party. The LTTE claimed responsibility for the killings of 11 people in all, starting from the death of Alfred Duriayappa, the popular Mayor of Jaffna.
A letter addressed “To Whom it May Concern” dated April 25, 1978, read as follows:
“The founder name of the organization – Tamil New Tigers (TNT), was changed on 5-5-76 and the new name is Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. We claim responsibility for the following deaths:
Mr Alfred Duriaappah (Mayor for Jaffna, SLFP organizer, Northern region).
Mr N Nadarajah (proprietor, petrol garage, Urumpirai and the SLFP organizer, Kopay), bombed.
Mr A Karunanithi (CID Police, KKS), shot dead. Mr Shanmuganathan (CID Police, KKS), same day shot dead.
Mr Shanmuganathan (CID Police, VVT)
Mr Thangarajah (Secretary of the former SLFP MP Nallur Arulampalam).
Mr C Kanagaratnam (MP for Pottuvil, former TULF and present UNP).
Mr Bastiampillai (CID, Inspector of Police).
Mr Perampalam (CID, Sub-Inspector of Police).
Mr Balasingham (CID, Sergeant of Police).
Mr Sriwardene (CID Police Driver).
“The Bastiampillai party came in search of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at about 6am on April 7, 1978 with SMG, shot gun, revolvers and pistols, and attacked Tigers, but the Tigers destroyed them without any death or body injury to Tigers and the car was also destroyed.
“No other groups, organizations or individuals can claim this death. Serious action will be taken against those who claim the above other than Tigers in Ceylon and abroad. We are not responsible for past robberies of any kind. “Secretary, Central Committee. “TULF – Tamil United Liberation Front; UNP – United National Party; SLFP – Sri Lanka Freedom Party; KKS – Kankesanthurai; VVT – Valvetiturai; CID – Criminal Investigation Department; MP – Member of Parliament.”
The most intriguing thing about the letter was that it was typed at Amirthalingham’s official office, the office of the Leader of the Opposition, without the knowledge of Amirthalingham, by the young divorcee Urmila Devi, who was to play a role in years to come. The stationery on which it was typed showed a head of a roaring tiger, two paws outstretched, resting on two rifles and 33 bullets set against a circle ringing the tiger’s head. It was said that the Tiger insignia was the logo of the ancient Chera Tamil kings of India.
When the letter appeared in the Virakesari – a Tamil-language daily, published from Colombo – people became aware of the organization for the first time. Until then it had been talked about in whispers in unbelieving tones. In May, the police issued a list of 38 wanted men, headed by Velupillai Prabakaran.
Up to that time, the activities of the Tamil militants had been devoted to small news items on the inside pages of newspapers. Suddenly, with the LTTE claiming responsibility for the killings, they became headline news, and have remained so.
On September 7, 1978, the LTTE blew up an Avro aircraft belonging to the Air Ceylon, at Ratmalana airport on the outskirts of Colombo. The London contacts of the LTTE issued a statement, “Let this blowing up of the aircraft serve as a lesson for all aggressors who are under the illusion that they can barter our ideal or arrest our struggle by doing out concessions.”
The political committee of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam issued a statement outlining the Tamil struggle in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Tamil, when the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students was held at Havana, Cuba. The full text of the pamphlet is given as an annex at the end of this chapter, which is now a rare document.
Adele Balasingham, an Australian married to Anton Balasingham, lived with the Tigers for nearly 20 years. Her recently-published book The Will to Freedom is the only one of its kind to give inside details on the workings of the Tiger movement. She wrote of the political class Balasingham was taking in 1978, to the Tamil expatriates and refugees living in London and how the representatives of the underground organizations belonging to Eritreans, East Timorese, the African National Congress and Chile used to address Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates in London.
She writes, “As much as the Tamils were politically active, so too was the Sinhala ‘left’. The demand for a separate state for Tamil opened up a controversial debate and the Sinhalese ‘leftists’ were confronted with the dilemma of wanting to remain ‘radical’ by supporting the socialist principle of a people’s right to self-determination, yet at the same time opposing the right of the oppressed Tamils to secede. Bala [Anton Balasingham] was annoyed by this apparent theoretical confusion amongst ‘leftist’ Sinhala politicians and ‘revolutionaries’. We decided to produce a document in response to this theoretical muddle. Bala painstakingly applied himself to this project and soon produced a cogent theoretical document, drawing on a Marxist/Leninist framework to legitimize the Tamil people’s right to self-determination. As he wrote, I typed, and we spent our education grant money on the printing of this document. It was released and distributed to the public with the title ‘On the Tamil National Question’ – page 35.”
Amirthalingham, the Secretary General and M.Sivasithamparam, the President of the Tamil United Liberation Front sent a written appeal to the Sri Lankan Tamils living abroad to contribute their share towards the Eelam cause. The appeal, dated 14 August 1979, was sent from the TULF Office in Jaffna with the headline “An Appeal to Eelam Tamils Abroad”, as follows:-
“At this momentous stage of our freedom struggle, every Eelam Tamil, he be in Eelam or he be in the Capitals of the world, must play his part. London-based Eelam Tamils have played and have yet to play an important role in calling world’s attention to the justice of our cause, to the reasonableness of our objective of freedom, to every instance of the flagrant violation of human rights in Sri Lanka, to gross discrimination against the Tamils in every field of governmental activity. While we appreciate the tremendous tasks undertaken by our compatriots in London, we have, at times, been grieved to witness the multiplicity of organizations, the conflict of personalities, which often lead to fissiparous tendencies among our brothers. We have before us the lessons of the past. We have seen how repeatedly, in spite of our many virtues and our great abilities, we have failed in our aim to win freedom for our people. We have learnt this lesson here at home; the tremendous force that the TULF is today, is undoubtedly due to this unity. This is the message we wish in all humility, to convey to our brothers abroad.
“A first step in the right direction has been taken by the Eelam Tamils Association, Eelam Liberation Organization and Thamilar Viduthalai Peraney, (Tamil Freedom Mass-organ)coming together to take joint decisions and to take collective action through the Tamil Coordinating Committee. We appeal to all organizations and the individuals who share the ideals of Thamil Eelam and who are ready to cooperate with the TULF to join the TCC. We wish to assure all that the TCC shall function in democratic way, taking decisions, as far as possible, on the basis of consensus; if decisions have to be taken on the basis of a vote, it shall be after a full and free discussion.
“Our tasks are many and onerous; the path we have to traverse before we reach our cherished goal of freedom is long; our resources are limited; let us not fritter our limited resources and waste our energy in useless inter-fighting; let us , on the other hand, close ranks, co-ordinate our actions in an organization like the TCC and forge ahead with our many tasks.”
As a whole, Tamil militants were involved in acts of violence against the Sri Lankan government, and expatriate Sri Lankan Tamils living in European countries were involved in the Tamil Eelam propaganda campaign. One such campaign, which shocked the world, was undertaken by Krishna Vaikuntahavasan.
Vaikunthavasan started his career as a clerk in the Ceylon government service and gradually rose to become one of the executive members and later the General Secretary of the General Clerical Service Union. He also organized and was the Joint Secretary of the 100,000 strong All-Island Middle Class and Public Service Trade Unions during 1947-50. In the 50s, he was also the editor of the People’s Voice, one of the leading independent news weeklies. While he was a trade union activist he studied law was called to the English in 1960 and practiced as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Ceylon for 10 years till 1971. He was also Advocate of the Madras High Court from 1962.
He contested Kankesanthurai constituency as the official candidate of the United Left Front. In 1971 he accepted appointment in Zambia as a District Judge (Senior Resident Magistrate) and Registrar of the High Court. He represented Zambia as an official delegate at two Commonwealth Magistrates’ Conferences in 1973 and 1975. In August 1978, in his capacity as a practicing barrister in England, he participated in the American Bar Association Centennial Convention held in New York as a British guest.
Suddenly, on October 5, 1978, the Tamil cause became world headlines. A Reuters despatch:
“United Nations, Oct 5, A member of the Tamil ethnic minority in Sri Lanka seized the General Assembly rostrum today and tried to denounce the nation’s government, just as its foreign minister was about to address the 150-nation body. But the microphone was cut off after he had uttered only a few sentences and he was led away by the security guards. The interloper identified himself to the startled delegates only as ‘Krishna’ and said he came from the ‘Two-and-a-half-million strong Tamil Ilam Nation, lying between India and Sri Lanka’. ‘The Sri Lanka Sinhala government is continuing a policy of genocide,’ he declared. His microphone went dead at this point.”
Reuters, after breaking the news, in its subsequent coverage of the incident – “Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Sahul Hameed, taking the incident lightly, began his speech by saying, ‘I wish to thank the previous speaker who tried to steal my opportunity and thereby create a little sensation’.”
A final news dispatch by the Reuters on the same subject, “After the interloper was questioned, a UN spokesman identified him as K Vaikunthavasam and said that he was a Sri Lankan-born former judge who was now practicing law in London. His London address was not available. He was said to have eluded any check on his identity before entering the assembly hall by mingling with a group of delegates. Once inside, he took a seat at the side of the chamber used by diplomats and their guests and hurried to the podium when the Sri Lanka foreign minister was called to deliver his speech. The UN spokesman said he would be ‘escorted out of the building and told not to come back’. Earlier this week, Mr Vaikunthavasam told a reporter that he had come to the US to attend the annual convention of the American Bar Association in NY in August and had stayed on to publicize the Tamil cause.”
The text of the speech made by Krishna Vaikunthavasan to the UN General Assembly on October 5, 1978 is as follows (the president of the assembly, I Livened, presided):
“Mr President! Leaders of the World! If oppressed minority nations such as Tamil Eelam cannot make representations to this supreme body, then where we go? My name is Krishna and I come from the 2 1/2 million strong Nation of Tamil Eelam, lying between Sri Lanka and India. The Sri Lanka Sinhala government is continuing a policy of genocide aimed at the destruction of our Tamil Nation.
“There is every danger of the Tamil problem threatening the peace of the Indian region. The problem in Sri Lanka will develop to be as serious as the Palestinian and Cyprus problems unless you, the world leaders, intervene and help in its solution now. We appeal to you for such help! Thank you. I apologize for speaking without permission. Long Live Tamil Eelam.”
Vaikunthavasan’s speech was welcomed by the moderate TULF leadership. Amirthalingham, the Secretary General of the TULF and the Leader of the Opposition, in his statement dated October 25, 1978, said, “Mr Vaikunthavasan has very succinctly brought out the case for self-determination for the Eelam Tamil nation and the need for Tamil National liberation from the Sinhala neo-colonialists. The pressing need of the hour is publicity among the nations of the world for the Tamil cause. Mr Vaikunthavasan placed Tamil Eelam on the map of the world when he took the podium of the UN General Assembly before the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka.”
Annex: The Struggle for Tamil Eelam and the Liberation Tigers
This political pamphlet attempts to sketch a brief outline of the Tamil National Independence struggle in Sri Lanka and the revolutionary armed struggle advanced for that cause by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. As a liberation movement the Tigers constitute themselves as the authentic revolutionary vanguard of the struggling masses, who, by their deep dedication and commitment to the revolutionary tasks of national emancipation and socialist revolution have earned the name of freedom fighters of the people.
The movement emerged at the peak of national oppression as the militant expression of the determined will of our people to fight the oppressive bourgeois state machinery with armed struggle, which Lenin taught us, is the highest expression of revolutionary political practice. We wish to introduce our revolutionary organization with its historical genesis, its militant struggles and its aims and objectives with a brief historical note on the national struggle of the masses of Tamil Eelam.
The Tamil national question in Sri Lanka is the burning political issue and the most crucial national problem confronted by the present dictatorship in that country. The Tamil nation as a whole is agitating for political independence on the basis of a universal democratic principle, on the basis of a nation’s sacred right, that is, the right to self-determination, the right to secede and form an independent sovereign state. The Tamil speaking nation was forced into this inevitable political choice as a consequence of nearly 30 years of violent and brutal oppression practiced by the successive chauvinists ruling classes of the Sinhala nation. Years of peaceful struggle to gain the very basic human rights were met with vicious forms of suppression and the national friction between two nations became the major contradiction leading to the demand for secession by the oppressed.
The island, formerly called Ceylon is the traditional homeland of two nations: Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka: two distinct social formations with distinct culture and language; having their own unique historical past. The Tamils have been living in the island from pre-historic times long before the arrival of the Sinhalese people from Northern India in the 6th century BC. The Sinhalese historical chronicles, ‘Mahawamsa’ and ‘Culavamsa’ record the turbulent historical past of the island, of centuries of violent power struggles ands wars between Tamil and Sinhalese kings for political hegemony. The island was ruled by both Tamil and Sinhalese kings.
From the 13th century onwards, until the penetration of Portuguese colonialism, Tamil Eelam lived as a stable national entity ruled by its own kings. The Portuguese annexed the Tamil Kingdom yet ruled it as a separate national formation, as the traditional homelands of the Tamil speaking people. Dutch colonialism too, did not violate the territorial integrity of the Tamil Kingdom until British imperialism in the 19th century brought about a unified state structure amalgamating the two kingdoms irrespective of ethnic differences laying the foundation for the present national conflict.
National oppression and demand for secession
The Sinhala chauvinist oppression against the Tamil nation began to unfold in its devious forms soon after the so-called national independence in 1948 when the state power was transferred to the Sinhala national bourgeoisie. The first major assault of the notorious racialist program was directed at the Tamil plantation workers through a legislation in 1949 which disenfranchised more than a million people, reduced them to statelessness and debased them without any civic rights. This infamous act of inhumanity marked the beginning of a 30-year history of national oppression, a planned systematic oppression, that seriously undermined the very foundation of the social, political, economic and cultural life of Tamil speaking masses.
The oppression penetrated into various spheres of the conditions of social existence of our people and threatened the very survival of our nation. The gradual annexation of the traditional Tamil lands by Sinhala colonization aided by the state; the forceful imposition of the Sinhala language on the Tamil speaking people; blatant discrimination and injustice practiced against the Tamil youth in the sphere of education and employment; planned economic strangulation of Tamil areas-all these vicious forms of national oppression practiced by all successive governments aggravated the national conflict.
The worst of all is the state inspired racial conflagrations, which unleashed its terror against the Tamil speaking masses (particularly in 1958 and 1977) with mass murder, looting, arson and rape, with abominable crimes of genocide in which the State police openly colluded with the vandals. Such racial holocaust aimed at the annihilation of our national identity made unitary existence a political and social impossibility.
At the height of national oppression, when the struggle for political independence became the inevitable alternative, the Tamil political parties converged into a single national movement with the formation of the Tamil Untied Liberation Front in 1976. Confronted with steadily mounting national oppression, frustrated with the failure of political agitations demanding basic human rights, the Tamil nationalist movement resolved to fight for political independence on the basis of the nation’s right to self-determination. It was primarily a decision to secede and form an independent sovereign state over which the 1977 elections were fought and endorsed overwhelmingly by the Tamil speaking masses. Thus, it was the intolerable national oppression and the emergence of national conflict as the major contradiction that led to this inevitable political demand to secede which opened a new era in Tamil politics, a new historical epoch to launch a revolutionary struggle for national independence.
The birth of the Tamil Tigers
The Tamil Liberation Tigers are the historical product of the Sinhala chauvinist oppression. They were the product of a revolutionary situation generated by the contradictions of national conflict. Caught up at the peak of national oppression, constantly victimized by the police brutality for political actions, the revolutionary ardor of the militant Tamil youth sought concrete political expression to register their protest. Disenchantment with the political strategy of the nonviolence, confronted with the demand for revolutionary political practice, the Tiger Movement gave its historical birth in 1972, as the armed resistance movement of the people. Structured as an urban guerrilla force, disciplined with an iron will to fight for the cause of national freedom, the Tigers launched a series of attacks against the armed forces of the oppressive regime.
The Government became alarmed at the growth and strength of the movement, angered at the success of its military operations on the Government property and personnel, and above all, horrified of its growing support among the wider sections of the Tamil masses. On April this year (1978), when the Liberation Tigers launched a tactical attack of self-defense and destroyed a party of police personnel which was in hot pursuit to track them down, the ruling bourgeois dictatorship utilized the situation to intensify its policy of national suppression. A repressive legislation was rushed through the Parliament which proscribed the Tiger Movement. At the same time, the Government dispatched large contingents of Military personnel to Tamil areas to keep Tamil Eelam under constant military surveillance and domination. Even with the intensification of the military and the tight screen of surveillance the Freedom Fights continue with their armed struggle, launch occasional strikes at chosen targets and evade all possible tactics to hunt them down. Though confronted with all odds, and obstacle, the Tiger Movement grows in its strength as the armed vanguard of the mass struggle, grows as the authentic national liberation movement to advance the cause of national freedom through armed struggle.
Aims and objectives
The revolutionary political objectives of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam express the profound aspirations for the Tamil speaking masses to gain political independence from the autocratic domination and oppression of the Sinhala chauvinist regime. As a liberation movement we are pledged to the tasks of national emancipation and socialist revolution. Our fundamental objectives are:
Total independence of Tamil Eelam. The establishment of a sovereign, socialist democratic people’s government.
Abolition of all forms of exploitation of man by man and the establishment of a socialist mode of production ensuring that the means of production and exchange of our country becomes the ownership of our people.
To achieve these revolutionary tasks we firmly uphold that armed revolutionary struggle is the only viable and effective path open to us to liberate our homeland. The armed revolutionary struggle advanced by our movement is the extension of the political struggle for liberation. Our guerrilla warfare, which is the mode of armed revolutionary struggle suited our situation, will be gradually and systematically transformed into a genuine people’s war of liberation. To this end, our liberation movement is working persistently to mobilize and organize the broad masses to actively participate in the national struggle.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has resolved to work in solidarity with the world national liberation movements, socialists states, international working class parties. We uphold an anti-imperialist policy and therefore, we pledge our militant solidarity with the oppressed humankind in the Third World in their struggle against imperialism, neo-colonialists, Zionism, racism and other forces of reaction.
Note: This document was released by the political committee of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in November 1978 and was published in “Towards Liberation”, which contained also selected political documents of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.