Prelude to eruption
By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002
The British Governor, Sir Herbert Stanley (1927-1931), opened the parliament building fronting the ocean at Galle Face, Colombo, on January 29, 1930. It was designed for meetings of the Legislative Council, and subsequently the State Council (1931-1947). Initially, it seated 49 Legislative Council members.
Earlier, when the Executive Council and the Legislative Councils were set up in 1831, they met in a building opposite Gordon Gardens, which is now the Presidential Secretariat.
The first structural changes to the parliament building were made in 1947 when membership to the House of Representatives was increased to 101. Later, membership was increased to 157, on the recommendation of the delimitation commission of 1959. With the adoption of the 1972 constitution, membership was increased to 168. These increases created the need for a new parliament building with adequate accommodation and facilities.
When Dudley Senanayake was prime minister (1965-1970), the leaders of the political parties met under the chairmanship of the House Speaker, Sir Albert F Peris, and unanimously resolved on April 4, 1967, that a new parliament building should be constructed on the other side of Biera Lake, parallel to the existing parliament at Galle Face. But no further action was taken.
During Srimavo Bandaranaike’s stewardship as the countryis prime minister (1970-1977), the leaders of the political parties met, presided over by Stanley Tilakaratne, the Speaker, and they entrusted the drawing up of plans for a new parliament building to architects, but subsequently the project was abandoned.
On July 4, 1979, Mrime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa obtained sanction from parliament to construct a new parliament building at Kotte. A 12-acre island, about 10 miles East of Colombo, off Baddegana Road, Pita Kotte, situated in Diyavanna Oya, was selected as the site. On April 29, 1982, the new parliamentary complex was declared open by President J R Jayewardene.
The attendance by Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) members of parliament at the ceremonial opening of the complex at Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte, upset Tamil militants. They did not want the TULF to participate in any government organized ceremonies or functions. This was disregarded. Appapillai Amirthalingham made a speech at the opening ceremony in his capacity as the leader of the opposition. Gradually, the TULF, led by Amirthalingham, began to face opposition from Tamil youths.
The Tamil Youth Front, at a meeting on April 29, 1980, passed a resolution that the TULF should convert itself into a liberation movement by May 31, 1980. If it failed to do so, the Tamil youths would severe ties with it. Mavai Senathirajah, one of the Tamil Youth Front leaders, who had recently been released from jail, after the lapse of the state of emergency, announced that he had resigned from the TULF, because of its inaction. The Suthanthiran group led by its editor, Kovai Mahesan, also revolted against the TULF. On April 21, 1980, Suthanthiran, in banner headlines, urged the TULF to launch a liberation struggle in line with the Vaddukoddai resolutions. But the TULF retaliated by expelling the rebel group led by Kovai Mahesan, the editor of Suthanthiran.
The clash with the TULF came into the open at a May Day rally, where Tamil Youth Front members shouted slogans criticizing Amirthalingham. The youths asked, “When are you going to set up the promised constituent assembly?” They further shouted, “Give up your post and become freedom fighters.” M Sivasithamparam, who presided over the May Day meeting, chided the youths, “Can you achieve anything by getting rid of Amirthalingham?”
In the meantime, after District Development Council elections, life in Jaffna became nearly impossible for Tamil militants. Prabkaran and his men found it difficult to stay in their normal hideouts. In those days the Tamil militant organizations did not have speed-boats of their own. They were ferried to India by the other owners of the boats. Prabakaran and his men, except Mahataya, who stayed behind, left for India on June 6, 1981. The police learned of this and the otti (coxswain) who took the group to India was arrested on his return and tortured to find out about the person behind the arrangements of the escape, but he did not betray anyone.
In Tamil Nadu, Prabakaran made the necessary arrangements to set up centers where he could provide training for his recruits in guerilla warfare. He opened safe houses in Sirumalai, Pollachi and Mettur, where Tiger recruits were taught how to use walkie-talkies and other wireless communication instruments, and also how to handle arms.
On July 20, 1981, the Sun newspaper reported that the government intended to set up a permanent army base in the North which would be invested with investigative and other police powers as a matter of course, not only under emergency regulations. In the meantime, on August 27, 1981, a group of Tigers hijacked a van a few kilometers from Jaffna town and went to the Anaikodai police station, situated about nine kilometers from Jaffna city. The militants first shot a police constable, Nazeer. On hearing the gun shot, Constables Jayaratna, Guruswamy and Bandulasena rushed to the scene, and were also shot. The youths then fled with guns and ammunition taken from the station.
The injured policemen were rushed to hospital, where Constable Jayaratna died. This was the first attack on a police station in the country since the Janata Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP) rebellion of 1971. It was also the first attack on a police station by the Tamil militant group, which gave a foretaste for future attacks on the Sri Lankan government’s security and police forces.
The TULF leaders immediately condemned the attack, but the government was not perturbed. Additional army units were sent to Jaffna, bringing with them by now well-known techniques of mass terror and torture. The death of the police constable reverberated in the hill country. Tamils of Indian origin living in Ratnapura, Balangoda and Kahawatte were attacked.
President Jayewardene decided to have talks with the TULF. He telephoned A J Wilson, the son-in-law of the late S J V Chelvanayakm, who had gone back to the university in Canada – the University of New Brunswick – where he was a professor of political science, and told him of his decision to appoint a high-level committee to end feuding between the Sinhalese and Tamils. He requested Wilson to return to Colombo to help start the negotiations.
Amirthalingham met Jayewardene at the president’s House, where Ministers Lalith Athulathmudali, Ranil Wickremasinghe, S Thondaman, Nissanka Wijeratne and M H Mohamed were present. Wilson took up the role of an advisor and go-between.
The implementation of the UNP’s policies of reconciliation was discussed, and solutions were proposed for urgent problems as they emerged on a day-to-day basis. Genuine attempts were made to find solutions to those problems, and this made a big difference.
An official statement was issued on August 31 after three rounds of talks. It read, “The leaders of the United National Party and the Tamil United Liberation Front, who met under the chairmanship of His Excellency the President, discussed the unfortunate loss of life and damage to property in various parts of the country during the last few months and agreed, in order to end racial tension, to restore peace and harmony:
“1. To constitute a high level committee under the chairmanship of His Excellency the President. The committee will, in addition, comprise the prime minister, Ministers and the Leaders of the TULF. The committee will discuss all questions in dispute with a view of their peaceful resolution.
“2. Persuade all political parties to cooperate and contribute to end all forms of violence, throughout the country.
“3. In addition to other measures, lend their efforts towards the proper and satisfactory working of the District Development Councils.
“(Signed: J R Jeyawardene, President of Sri Lanka, dated 31/8/1981.)”
Despite efforts to bring about an improvement in relations between the government and the TULF, there was little reduction in the growing incidence of political violence in the Jaffna district. Tamil youths and their organizations had their own program of action, based on a separate state for Tamils. None of these youth groups were willing to accept a reconciliation with the government on the basis of a system of District Development Councils. They were also not prepared to concede political leadership in Tamil areas, to the TULF and specially not to A Amirthalingham.
Through their links with expatriate Tamil groups in Europe and America, they managed to internationalize the issue of the Tamils in general and a Tamil separate state in particular. They also had their safe houses, bases and close political and social links in Tamil Nadu, India. Their links with all sections of Tamil leadership in Tamil Nadu constituted a new dimension in the political problems of Sri Lanka.
After a fourth round of talks with the government on September 13, Amirthalingham said, “TULF was prepared to go half way with the government.” The government appointed a committee to look into the four demands of the TULF. They were:
- Action to be taken against the police officers responsible for violent incidents in Jaffna;
- Payment of compensation to affected people;
- Increasing the number of Tamil policemen in the North and East, and;
- Appointment of home guards to prevent the recurrence of violence.The Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976, calling for a separate state of Eelam, created a lasting impact on the minds of Tamils, as well as with Sinhalese. The resolution developed a belief in the hearts and minds of Tamils that a permanent separation from the Sinhalese stranglehold would soon become a reality. They had in mind the success story of East Pakistan, separated from Pakistan, when within a year it emerged as the independent sovereign state of Bangladesh.
Having pledged and promised Tamil Eelam, the TULF leadership kept on declaring that they had a secret plan to make Eelam a reality. People were convinced when they saw the budding militant organizations that were yet to be organized as a conventional armed force of Tamils. The ordinary Tamil man believed that the militant organizations worked secretly under the direction of the TULF leadership.
People believed and felt that it was essential to weed out the quislings in the Tamil political arena and those politicians who opposed the views and policies of TULF. Initially, those who opposed TULF were physically weeded out by Tamil militants, pointedly on the direction of Amirthalingham and other leaders of TULF, especially from the Jaffna peninsula.
The militants played a crucial role, canvassing for TULF leaders during the general elections of 1977. People were given the impression that TULF was involved in organizing a militant organization, similar to that of Mukthi Bahani of Bangladesh, and rumors abounded that secret plans were afoot with foreign countries to create a sovereign and independent nation to be called Eelam. The facade of this myth did not last long, though. Amirthalingham and other TULF leaders proved that their desire was to win parliamentary seats and nothing else beyond negotiations and concessions as usual.
And the average Sinhalese man was disturbed at the growing communal politicking in the Tamil region. They grew suspicious and considered the Tamils as a challenge to their desire for a Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinist state of Sri Lanka. The mistrust provoked by the Tamils resulted in unending communal tension.
Gradually, Tamil Eelam came to be treated as another electioneering slogan and a forgotten one with TULF, but it was taken up earnestly by militant youths in Tamil areas. The TULF position on Eelam and its desire for continued negotiations with the government drew the wrath of militant youths. In May 1982 the radical wing within the TULF, consisting of younger elements, broke away and formed the Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (TELF), led by S C Chandrahasan, the son of S J V Chelvanayakam. It included Kovai Mahesan, Dr S A Tharmalingham and M K Eelaventhan, and they became sympathetic with the cause of the Tamil militants.
The TULF was in a quandary over the issue of the arrest and extradition of Uma Maheswaran and Prabakaran. They remained silent. Meanwhile, TELF publicly proclaimed its support for the militants and urged the Indian government not to extradite them.
From July 1982, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were on their own in the Tamil areas of Northern Sri Lanka. On July 2, 1982, they ambushed a convoy of policemen from Point Pedro police station, at Nelliady Junction, gunning down four policemen. They were Gunapala, Arunthavarajah, Mallawaratchi and the jeep driver Ariyaratne. Others in the convoy were seriously wounded. The officer in charge of the police station, Police Inspector I Thiruchitampalam, Constables Sivarajah and Anananda, were admitted to Jaffna hospital with injuries. The assailants were believed to have escaped in a passing car. The incident frightened the army and the police. The army resorted to harassment of ordinary people in the vicinity of Nelliady, Alvai, Vathiry and Karaveddy and it detained 20 youths.
Eleven months of talks with the government produced nothing substantial for the Tamils. Although the talks with the government helped the TULF to obtain relief for Tamil government servants affected by the riots of 1977 and 1981, they also helped to get more Tamil policemen transferred to the North and East and they managed to stop attempts by the government to alter the boundaries of Vavuniya district. Though TULF had continuous talks with the government, it failed to obtain the necessary finances required for the District Development Councils and to get constitutional provisions relating to the Tamil language implemented.
In the beginning of 1982, J R Jayewardene planned to revamp the UNP’s regional organizations ahead of parliamentary general elections scheduled for mid-1983. He had already mended fences with the TULF, and the SLFP was in serious disarray.
Once the Special Presidential Commission found Srimavo Bandaranaike guilty of the abuse of power, parliament on October 16, 1980 resolved to impose civic disabilities and debar her from parliament for seven years.
The day after Srimavo Bandaranaike was expelled from parliament, the government again resolved to amend the Elections Act and the Presidential Elections Act to prohibit any persons who had been expelled from parliament from participating in any elections to any offices during the disqualification period. Accordingly, she was also prevented by law from even addressing any election rallies or meetings on behalf of any candidates participating in any elections. The amendment further stated that those candidates on whose behalf the disqualified person addressed any election meeting would also be disqualified.
Srimavo Bandaranaike was not allowed to appeal against the banning. When parliament imposed civic disabilities on her, she automatically lost her position as the MP for Attanagalla constituency. Subsequently, Lakshman Jayakody took oaths in parliament, on December 17, 1981, as the nominated SLFP MP for Attanagalla. Also, Murugesu Alalasunderam took an oath as the TULF-nominated MP for Kopay, on July 23, 1981, in place of the vacancy that arose with the death of S Kathuravetpillai, on April 2, 1981. In the meantime, Dr S A Wickremasinghe, a founder member of the Ceylon Communist Party, died on August 28, 1981.
According to the time schedule, the next presidential election was due only at the end of 1983, with parliamentary elections six months earlier. But in the early part of 1982, the UNP thought of advancing the date of the presidential elections to some time in the third quarter of 1982, well ahead of the parliamentary elections. The UNPers thought that Jayewardene’s personal popularity in the country was still high enough for the UNP to take the risk of advancing the date of the election. Though the UNPers and Jayewardeneis optimism was justifiable, there was, however, a constitutional hurdle to overcome. Article 30 (2) of the constitution read, “The President of the Republic shall be elected by the people, and shall hold office for a term of six years.”
Article 160 of the constitution provided that Jayewardene’s first term was deemed to have started on February 4, 1978, so he could continue to hold office until the beginning of 1984. Jayewardene and his cabinet colleagues decided to opt for an amendment in favor of a flexible first term for a president, almost as though he was a head of government under a parliamentary system and had the right to call for a new presidential election at any time after four years of his election. This was to be the gist of the third amendment of the Constitution, the government proposed to introduce.
Earlier, on February 22, 1979, parliament had amended the constitution for a second time. The amendment specified that for the duration of parliament an MP expelled from his party had the option of appealing to his parliamentary committee, and this committee would investigate the expulsion and report to parliament. The member concerned would lose his seat only if a majority in the parliament voted in favor of expulsion after discussion. Through this amendment, Jayewardene was able to keep his rebellious party MPs under control.
The Bill for the Third Amendment to the constitution was introduced in parliament. Accordingly, Article 31 was amended. Earlier 31 (3) read, “The poll for the election of the President shall be taken not less than one month and not more than two months before the expiration of the term of office of the President in office.”
It was amended to read, “(3A (a) (i) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the preceding provisions of this chapter, the President may, at any time after the expiration of four years from the commencement of his first term of office, by proclamation declare his intention of appealing to the people for a mandate to hold office, by an election, for a further term.”
The Third Amendment to the 1978 constitution was passed by parliament on August 26, 1982 by a two-thirds majority. The voting was 139 for the amendment and Sarath Mutetuwegama, the sole representative of the Communist Party, voting against it. The SLFP at that time was split into two factions, and both abstained, while TULF members were absent from parliament at the time of voting. The issue was raised in the Supreme Court before a bench of three judges, Justices Sharvananda, Ratwatte and Soza, by the Civil Rights Movement.
In the beginning there was no certainty that the Supreme Court would agree to the amendment to the constitution without the requirement of a referendum, in addition to a two-thirds majority in parliament, according to provisions 83 (a) & (b) of the constitution. However, the Supreme Court approved the Third Amendment and did not require approval of the people by a referendum.
The judges expressed the view that by “reducing the irreducible period of President’s office from six to four years, the President would be enabled to discover the will of the people, and the people will be given an opportunity to express their approval or disapproval of his stewardship or his program of action prior to the expiration of the full period of six years.” The amendment was certified on August 27, 1982.
Jayewardene made use of the amendment and a presidential election was held on October 20, 1982, though his term could have been continued, legally, until February 1984.
Earlier, S Sivanayakam, in an editorial in the Saturday Review, dated July 10, 1982, entitled “Bringing the constitution up to date” wrote, “This is an old joke, but it has got new life now. A customer walked into a bookshop in London and asked for a copy of the Sri Lanka constitution. ‘Sorry Sir’, said the courteous shop assistant, ‘we do not deal in periodicals’.” It was aptly said and the constitution was continuously amended up to 1979.
Meanwhile, T Thirunavukarasu, the TULF MP for Vaddukoddai, died on August 1, 1982. Also in August, two Tamil youths, named Yogachandran Selvarajah alias Kuttimani and Jegan, alleged to be members of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), were sentenced to death after prolonged and vicious torture. This was the first time a death sentence had been handed down under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
The TULF sensed its decreasing popularity among Tamil youths and considered to embrace their support. They nominated Kuttimani, while in prison, as an MP for Vaddukoddai, in place of A Thirunavukarasu, the elected member who had died. The Commissioner of Elections accepted the nomination and notified parliament. Amirthalingham explained why the TULF decided to nominate Kuttimani. “Kuttimani was chosen to focus the attention of the people on the question of trying Tamil youths under the Prevention of Terrorism law, which admits confession obtained by the police under duress, as evidence.”
Kuttimani, one of the founders of TELO, was charged in the High Court, Colombo, for the murder of the police constable Sivanesan, at Valvetithurai, in 1979 and was convicted on August 13, 1982, a few weeks before the nomination. Since the Election Commissioner accepted the TULF’s nomination, Kuttimani filed an application with the Appeal Court, praying that the court direct the Commissioner of Prisons to take him to parliament so that he could take his oath as an MP. The Solicitor General, who appeared for the Commissioner of Prisons, raised a preliminary objection, stating that the court had no jurisdiction to issue the order. The Appeal Court upheld the objection.
Therefore, Kuttimani could not be sworn in as an MP. According to parliamentary regulations, a new MP should take his oath of allegiance to the constitution within three months from the date of election, or nomination. Since Kuttimani could not do so, he sent in his letter of resignation on January 24, 1983, a day before the end of the three-month period. Subsequently, TULF nominated Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam, the son of former Solicitor General M Thiruchelvam.
Amirthalingham, a defiant Tamil leader both loved and hated, was forced to defend his political decisions publicly. Generally, Tamil militants began to cast suspicion on his activities and he was gradually reduced to defending all of his actions.
Throughout 1981, under the cover of the country-wide state of emergency, the army, after the slightest provocation, became involved in acts of violence in Jaffna Peninsula, hitting people in the street, assaulting school children, burning houses and shops. In November 1981, the army, on the pretext of hunting a terrorist, entered the Gandiyam Society in Vavuniya, where 11 families of Tamils of Indian origin, who had been earlier victims of violence, had been resettled. This organization was formed in 1976 for community and social services for Tamil displaced persons and refugees. When the army entered the Gandiyam Society they rounded up the volunteer workers and assaulted them.
In the meantime, Jayewardene appealed to Amirthalingham that he needed the support of the TULF to win Tamil votes for his October 1982 presidential election. This request put the TULF in a fix, and it got out of the fix by deciding to boycott the election. Amirthalingham in a statement said that the Tamils had not accepted the 1978 constitution and as such the only course available to them was to boycott the election.
“J R treated the elections schedule for October 20, 1982, as a logical extension of the campaign of 1977. In planning the new campaign, he sought to move in from a position of overwhelming strength. The UNP was assured of the support of its principal electoral ally, the CWC, as in 1977. When the attempt was made to secure the support of the TULF, Amirthalingham politely rebuffed it, but gave him the assurance that his party would not be contesting the election, which, from J R’s point of view, was a satisfactory turn of events.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A political Biography – Volume Two: From 1956 to his Retirement (1989) K M de Silva & Howards Wriggins, page 531.
The nomination day for the presidential election was September 17. A total of nine nominations were received by Chandananda de Silva, the Commissioner of Elections. He recognized six candidates: Dr Colvin R de Silva, Lanka Sama Samaja Party; J R Jayewardene, United National Party; H S R Kobbekaduwa, Sri Lanka Freedom Party; Vasudeva Nanayakara, Nava Sama Samaja Party; G G Ponnampalam (Kumar Ponnampalam), All Ceylon Tamil Congress; Rohana Wijeweera, Janata Vimukthi Perumuna.
The Election Commissioner rejected the nominations of Mudiyanse Tennakoon, N H Kirthiratne and S C Wijesuriya.
The Saturday Review in its editorial of September 11, 1982, “The Dark Horse in the Presidential Race”, was very critical of the TULF. The editorial dealt with two aspects why TILF failed to garner the support of the Tamils living outside the North and Eastern provinces “on a question of principle, Mr Ponnampalam is logical enough when he says that a fresh mandate for a separate Tamil state is necessary on two counts; firstly that the Tamils outside North and East, had hitherto no opportunity to vote on that issue, secondly the TULF which sought a mandate for Eelam in the North and East in 1977 and claimed it got it, had now fallen by the wayside.”
Also, S Sivanayakam openly asked why the TULF failed to put forward Yogachandran, or the person popularly called Kuttimani, as a symbol to fight against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He writes in his editorial, “And now there is a new factor. The name of a dark horse is being mentioned – of all places from the Welikade stables! [Welikade is a high security prison complex] Running a man who is facing a death sentence for the highest office in the land is certainly an exciting prospect.”
Meanwhile, the SLFP was in complete disarray. A major conflict within its ranks was between Simavo Bandaranaike’s son Acura Bandaranaike and his sister Chandrika Kumaratunge. Chandrika worked very closely with her husband Vijaya Kumaratunge, a matinee idol. The conflict was to some extent precipitated by Srimavo Bandaranaike’s loss of civic rights in 1980. Differences between her son and daughter arose as to who should fill the vacancy, leading to a split among party members. The split also was said to have had some degree of ideological overtones, with more radical groups supporting Chandrika and her husband, while more moderate groups backed Anura Bandaranaike.
Differences over whether the SLFP should contest the District Development Council elections in 1981 eventually led to the SLFP being split into two, with Anura Bandaranaike and the deputy leader Maitripala Senanayake leading one faction, while Srimavo Bandaranaike, backed by Chandrika and her husband Vijaya Kumaratunge, led the other.
However, the Kumaratungas began to lose Srimavo Bandaranaike’s trust in 1982 when they successfully managed to impose Hector Kobbekaduwa as the SLFP’s presidential candidate. This rift and the presidential election results enabled Anura Bandaranaike to return to Srimavo Bandaranaike’s faction. Backed by his mother, he began to assert control over the party activities. This led to a further split in the party and the Kumaratungas left the SLFP, and in January 1984 they formed the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP).
The Ceylon Communist Party decided to support Hector Kobbekaduwa, the presidential candidate for the SLFP. Though the Communist Party did not have much of an electoral base on the island, it had the advantage of its newspaper, the Sinhala daily Aththa (Truth), which had a wide circulation and readership all over the island well beyond the party’s faithful.
Kobbekaduwa promised that the 1972 constitution would be restored, as would the subsidies that the UNP government had reduced or eliminated. He assured that the strikers who had been dismissed in July-August 1980 would be restated. He toured Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and the Jaffna Peninsula, where he had 14 meetings over a three-day period, whereas J R Jayewardene had only one.
Kobbekaduwa promised Jaffna farmers protected markets for their produce and assured them that the anti-terrorist legislation introduced by Jayewardene would be revoked.
The massive, spontaneous and affectionate reception that Kobbekaduwa received from the people in the Northern and Eastern provinces gave a hint of how they would vote – and indeed Kobbekaduwa’s biggest electoral victories were achieved in these two provinces.
Thondaman and the CWC supported the UNP in the presidential election. This earned Thondaman the wrath of the SLFP candidate, Hector Kobbekaduwa. When addressing a party organizers’ meeting of the Central province, he said, “Thondaman has been dancing a little too much of late. He was very silent when our government crushed his estate kingdom. Now that he is a minister, he seems to think that he is ruling the country. I repeat what I said in during the 1977 election campaign. If I become the president, I will take action to acquire the balance of 52 acres he is left with and deport him from this country.” Very harsh words indeed.
In 1972, during the takeover of estates, Kobbekaduwa said, “Thondaman is an Indian. I will send him to India. We cannot permit him to dictate affairs in Sri Lanka.”
Kobbekaduwa made the following points during election campaign speeches, “Jayewardene claims to be Napoleon. The presidential election will be his Waterloo, for I am Wellington, who would give leadership to the public to defeat the so-called Napoleon.”
Referring to the 1978 constitution, he said, “We do not need this constitution, which has concentrated all powers in the hands of one person. We will restore to parliament the power. Under the constitution no member of the government is free to speak out because he will loose his membership in parliament. The constitution should be torn up.”
J R Jayewardene went to Jaffna on a one-day electioneering swing, the first time he had visited the North since assuming power in 1977. The TELF and the General Union of Eelam Students (GUES) appealed to the Jaffna public to close down shops, schools and all other public and private establishments in protest against the visit. “Eelam people are very hospitable, but not to foreign invaders,” said one poster on a wall of Jaffna Hospital.
At the rally, held at Chunnakam, a retired police sergeant, Saba Sinnathamby, presided, where Jayewardene said, “I want you to take part in the election. Vote for anybody you like. That is your business, but vote, because that is the sovereignty of the people.” Sinnathamby was subsequently killed by “Oberoi” Thevan, who headed a small militant group, the Tamil Eelam Army (TEA).
Jayewardene told Tamil voters in Padiruppu, in the Eastern province, “You have been asked by some not to vote; but I say to you, go and vote for the elephant [the UNP’s election symbol] for the sake of development, peace and prosperity.”
Jayewardene adopted new tactics of writing to all voters on the island to solicit their votes. “My government and I have taken this country along a path of development and some of the results of which are already visible. Never in the history of Sri Lanka have so many development projects been undertaken simultaneously. Whether in the areas of agriculture or irrigation, electricity or water supply, industries or fisheries, urban or rural housings, the results of this program are visible to you in every part of the country.”
Dr Colvin R de Silva, the veteran leader of the LSSP, outlined his party’s program in a broadcast. He said, “I am sure it will be clear to you now that there is a direct relationship between the president’s thirst for personal dictatorship and the nature of the problems the incumbent president has to face in the struggle to keep himself and his party in power. In truth, this solution to the power problem is in keeping with the general trend in the Third World, where in country after country which has been the object of economic crisis, dictators have taken over.”
It has been reported that the year 1982 was the peak period of the growth of the JVP. Rohana Wijeweera was growing in confidence, as could be gauged from a statement he made during the 11th anniversary commemorative meeting of the 1971 insurgency, held at the Sugathadasa Stadium, on April 5, 1982.
“The Sama Samaja Party now exists in little pockets in five districts. But now, the JVP is ready to contest in all 24 districts. Jaffna will be contested. Batticaloa too will be contested. We will contest in all 24 districts, the JVP exists in all 24 districts. Perhaps at the next elections, the JVP will be the only party contesting in all areas of the country.”
Between 1977 and 1983 the JVP was said to have done everything possible to make its electoral projection a success. The leaders and members of the party made every attempt to compete with the other political candidates.
Wijeweera told a JVP election rally at Amparai, in the Eastern province, that the UNP had ruled the country for 19 years, and the SLFP for 16 years. The two parties cheated the masses at every election campaign with false propaganda, he said. Both governments, he added, were unfair and were cruel in their administration. Bribery and corruption were rampant. Justice was denied. They retired people, from their offices when they attained 50 years of age, he said.
In a television address he said, “If the people of Sri Lanka elect me as the president, you can be sure that I will neither force you to go to work on bicycles, nor retire all those over 50 years. This was a clumsy effort of the foolish propagandist, some strange Dr Goebbels, who took you, the intelligent people of this country, for fools. I, for one, do not intend to insult your intelligence.”
Kumar Ponnampalam accused the TULF of trying to help Jayewardene by telling the Tamils not to vote for him.
“Today, the Tamil voter is wandering in political no-man’s land. Within the TULF there is only one MP who has shown some resource in translating the anemic call of the party into positive dissociation with the presidential polls. Having pinched the Eelam clothes once worn by the TULF, Mr Kumar Ponnampalam is now playing the role of a crown prince to an increasingly appreciative TULF audience, particularly in the Eastern province. Traditional supporters of the TULF among the extensive farming villages in Jaffna are no longer thinking of Tamil rights; they will vote for the SLFP if given the chance to make money on onions and chilies. In short, the Tamil thinking is now shattered, top, bottom, center, right, left and Libya.” – Saturday Review editorial, October 2, 1982.
Kumar Ponnampalam, in a radio speech, said that the Tamil nation must seize the opportunity afforded by the presidential election to establish its unity, strength and aspirations.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, during the last stages of the campaign, distributed replicas of rice ration books and promised that they would be restored to the people should the SLFP win.
The UNP reacted to this with fear and anger. It was seen as a blatant breach of election laws. The police sealed the printing press where the copies were being turned out for breach of election laws.
The campaign came to an end on October 16 and on October 20, 1982, the country went to polls to elect for the first time an executive president. Out of a total of 8,145,015 registered voters, 6,522,147 cast their votes – 81.062 percent of the total voters. The result was as follows:
1. J R Jayewardene (UNP) – 3,450,811 or 52.91 percent.
2. H S R B. Kobbekaduwa (SLFP) – 2,548,438 or 39.07 percent.
3. Rohana Wijeweera (JVP) – 273, 439 or 4.19 percent.
4. G G Ponnampalam (ACTC) – 173,934 or 2.67 percent.
5. Dr Colvin R de Silva (LSSP) – 57,532 or 0.88 percent.
6. Vasudeva Nanyakara (NLSSP) – 17,005 or 0.26 percent.
J R Jayewardene thus won with a majority of 902,373 votes, and except for Kobbekaduwa, all the other candidates forfeited their deposits. Eighteen of the 22 electoral districts voted overwhelmingly for Jayewardene and Jaffna voted for Kumar Ponnampalam.
Despite the boycott announcement by the TULF, 228,613 voters out of 533,478 registered voters in the Jaffna district voted: 87,263 voted for Ponnampalam while Kobbekaduwa received 77,300 votes and Jayewardene 44,780 votes.
The result was announced from the Colombo town hall on October 22 by the Election Commissioner. Jayewardene, in a brief message to nation, said, “I wish to express my deep gratitude to those who voted and worked to ensure the success of my campaign on behalf of the United National Party. I am also greatly encouraged by the support of my fellow citizens for the policies followed by my government during the past five years. I am deeply grateful to them. I shall endeavor to do my duty to fulfill the mandate given to us in 1977 to establish a free and just society, which will benefit all my countrymen irrespective of any distinction.”
On February 4, 1983, he took his oath of office on Galle Face Green, administered by the Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon.
J R Jayewardene’s gamble paid off in the end, but it would be unwise to say that he was re-elected because he manipulated his position to become president earlier than he should have.
The election revealed the true picture in the country. When the total votes of the four candidates, including Hector Kobbekaduwa, a low key candidate from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, who opposed Jayewardene, managed to poll more than 3 million votes, which reflected the divergent mood of the country. The government faced having to stage parliamentary elections under a proportional representation system, as introduced in the second constitution. The government felt that such elections might spell disaster to the overwhelming majority they currently enjoyed.
Therefore, the government came up with a startling scheme. Firstly, R Premadasa, the prime minister, proposed that all the UNP MPs should present undated letters of resignation to the president. Accordingly, Jayewardene obtained letters from the ministers of his cabinet, as well as from all the UNP MPs. Then the government announced that in the interest of on-going national development programs, they proposed to extend the life of the present parliament for a period of six years, and announced the holding a public referendum for December 22, 1982 to obtain the approval of the people on these issues.
Earlier, President J R Jayewardene had certified Referendum Act No 7 of 1981, on February 27, 1981, which came into operation on August 10, 1982. The order of the President under Section 2 of the act was published in Gazette Extraordinary No 219/2 of November 14, 1982.
The proposal submitted for approval by the voters of Sri Lanka was as follows, “Do you approve the Bill entitled the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution published in Gazette Extraordinary No 218/23 of November 13, 1982, which provides inter alia that unless sooner dissolved the First parliament shall continue until August 4, 1989, and no longer and shall thereupon stand dissolved.”
The Fourth Amendment to the constitution was moved by Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. In the first instance he read the bill as follows:
“An Act to Amend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
“Whereas the people of Sri Lanka have on the 20th day of October 1982, reaffirmed their faith in the unremitting efforts made after July 1977, to ensure a prosperous, just and free society, and whereas it is essential to ensure for a further term, the stability necessary for the continuation of the program undertaken for the advancement and progress of the People of Sri Lanka and the realization of their aspirations, now therefore, be it enacted by the Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka as follows:
“1. This Act may be cited as the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
“2. Article 161 of the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is hereby amended by repeal of paragraph (c) of that Article and the substitution therefore, of the following new paragraph: ‘(e) unless sooner dissolved, the First Parliament shall continue until August 4, 1989, and no longer, and shall thereupon stand dissolved, and the provisions of Article 70 (5) (b) shall, mutatis mutandis, apply’.
“The cabinet of ministers has certified that the above Bill is intended to be passed with the special majority required by Article 83 of the constitution and submitted to the People by Referendum.”
On October 28, 1982, the parliamentary group of the United National Party unanimously agreed to endorse the decision of the cabinet and of the UNP working committee, taken few days earlier, to extend the term of the parliament for a further period of six years from August 1983. The group also agreed to sign undated letters of resignation addressed to President Jayewardene.
There was no opposition to the proposal that the MPs should hand in their resignation. Jayewardene told the parliamentary group that the letters would be acted upon at a later date, as he thought appropriate.
When the sitting began, the Speaker of the House, M A Bakeer Markar, read out that the majority of the seven judge bench of the Supreme Court, in its judgment, indicated that the court, by a 4-3 majority judgment, had ruled that parliament’s term may be extended as proposed in the draft Bill submitted to it. The court held that in view of the decision it “does not have and exercise any further jurisdiction of the said Bill”.
A Amirthalingham, leader of the TULF and the leader of the opposition, informed the house that the TULF would vote against the Bill to extend the life of parliament for a further six years. Later, members of the TULF were conspicuously absent at the time of voting.
Lakshman Jayakody, Anura Bandaranaike and Ananda Disanayake of the SLFP and the lone member of the Communist Party voted against the Bill.
Mitripala Senanayake in his speech on the Bill said that he felt that he had no moral right to oppose the amendment because earlier, in 1970-77, as a minister, he had participated in the discussions to extend the life of parliament and on that occasion and had supported the move in the cabinet, the government parliamentary group, and elsewhere. He and Halim Ishak of the SLFP voted with the government benches. The Bill was passed by a two-thirds majority on November 5, 1982, with 142 votes in favor and four against.
On November 14, 1982, President Jayewardene issued a proclamation directing the Commissioner of Elections, Chandrananada de Silva, to hold the referendum on December 22, 1982.
There were 8.1 million voters on the register. If more than two-thirds of them voted at the referendum, a simple majority was all that was needed. If less than two-thirds polled, in addition to the majority, at least a third of the voters on the register had to say “Yes”.
Srimavo Bandaranaike, the former prime minister who was disqualified from taking part in the presidential election owing to the alleged misuse and abuse of power, was permitted to participate in the campaign for the run-up to the referendum.
The campaign opened in November 1982 with a meeting at Kochchikade, Colombo, where Jayewardene said that the idea of a referendum was not a new one and was included in the 1978 constitution.
He added that unlike Srimavo Bandaranaike, who had extended the life of the parliament by two years, 1975-1977, without the consent of the people, he had decided to go before the people to ask their approval to extend the life of parliament in order to push through with the government’s development program.
Appearing on state-run television, Rupavahini, Srimavo Bandaranaike said, “If you want to preserve your civic rights, I appeal you to vote for ‘Pot’. I appeal to you in the name of the future generations to vote for the ‘Pot’ and preserve the franchise that we have safeguarded from 1931.”
She continued in her broadcast, “Casting your vote for the ‘Pot’ does not mean a vote for any party. It is not a vote against any party. The vote for the ‘Pot’ means a vote to retain the right of electing members of parliament and governments enjoyed by you since 1931.”
On December 22, 1982, for the first time, voters received ballot papers without any names of candidates. The ballot paper contained the proposal in the form of a question – either “yes” or “no”.
A total of 5,768,662 voters polled at the referendum throughout the country, which was 70.82 percent against the total number of registered voters of 8,145,015.
The symbol “Lamp” that represented “yes” received 3,141,223 votes, 54.45 percent, and the symbol “Pot” that represented “no” received 2,605,983 votes, 45.17 percent. There were 21,456 rejected votes, 0.37 percent.
In the Jaffna polling district, out of a total of 493,705 voters, 290,849 people voted and 265,534 voted no while 25,315 voted in favor of the extension of parliament. Similarly, in the Vanni polling district, out of the total of 119,093 voters, 74,954 voted, out of which 48,968 voted no and 25,986 voted in favor of the extension.
In the Trincomalee polling district, out of 133,646 voters, the number of persons polled was 91,338 – 51,909 voted no and 39,429 voted yes. In the Batticalao polling district, out of 172,480 voters, 120,453 voted and 72,971 voted no and 47,482 voted yes.
But in the polling district of Digamadulla, which was the former Amparai district, baptized with a Sinhala name, which consisted of Tamils, Tamil-speaking Muslims and a large section of implanted Sinhalese voters, out of a total of 204,268 voters, 153,965 took part in the referendum and 91,129 voted in favor of an extension of the life of parliament and 62,836 voted against an extension.
These statistics showed clearly that although there was no Tamil leadership or Tamil group that came forward to lead the referendum campaign, the Tamils who did vote declared their will against the extension of the life of parliament.
This refusal to grant permission for the extension of parliament was met with anger by the government, and subsequently it decided to teach a serious lesson to the Tamils and the entire Tamil community was in for collective punishment.
Also, a closer examination of the results revealed a disquieting tendency, where out of 168 electoral districts (member constituencies), the government was defeated in 48. These included the constituencies of five cabinet ministers, five deputy ministers, the speaker and the deputy speaker and 19 sitting UNP MPs.
“The prolongation of parliament was another matter, but there was always the four-fifths majority in the House to amend the constitution yet again and bring in a referendum in lieu of elections to justify the government staying in power. It was essentially a vote asking the voters to give up their right to vote. But this it was not so much the internecine politics of the opposition that gave the government the victory, but its use of intimidation, impersonation, forgeries, theft (of ballot boxes), assault and every violation of electoral practices and principles (and some purely Sri Lankan). It was a method of electioneering that had been perfected and legitimated in the Tamil North – but had passed the Sinhala voters by.” Sri Lanka: Racism and the Authoritarian State – Racism and the Politics of Underdevelopment by A Sivanandan, page 35.
The sole purpose of the referendum was to show the world the popular assent to Jayewardene’s proposal to cancel the August 1983 parliamentary general elections. The political skullduggery, the government’s machinations, including police intimidation, bending the laws and regulations of the country with impunity by high ranking political leaders close to the president was a very tall order for those opposed the government’s intention.
The government’s high-handed approach demanded a lot of courage and willpower for those opposed to the scheme to canvass the masses to vote for the “Pot”, the symbol of “no”. A succinct description of the situation during that period is briefly given as follows:
“People who observed events after the presidential elections with great care and made extensive investigations have drawn attention to the following:
1. The imposition of emergency rule without reason from referendum campaign.
2. Much-publicized CID questioning of Hector Kobbekaduwa, who had, despite all the obstacles placed in his way, received 2,548,243 votes in the presidential elections.
3. The sensational announcement of an SLFP ‘ration book fraud’ and the so-called ‘Naxalite plot’ in connection with the presidential election.
4. Harassment of and assault by police and thugs on the leading opposition party (SLFP) organizers all over the country, and arbitrary police arrest of some of them, as well as the raid on the SLFP party headquarters and seizure of documents, including list of members and cadres and contributors to the party fund.
5. The sealing of newspapers for continued elections. The sealing of presses and arrests and detention of printers.
6. A massive ‘Yes’ (Lamp) campaign, much of it known by the public to be illegal but supported by the government, police, the security forces and the government’s foreign backers. This was a clear indication that Jayewardene, the cabinet, the rest of the government and the UNP were above the law, and free to act with impunity.
7. Equally massive obstruction of the campaign for democracy, for holding the general election (Pot). Police seizure of legally permitted literature, and obstacles to meetings, including threat and use of violence.
8. The unwillingness of the police to enforce the law whenever it had been infringed in the interests of the Government’s aim of securing a Yes vote.” Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After by L Piyadasa, pages 59-60.
The government resorted to intimidation and all forms of violence to register 3,141,223 votes out of the total number of registered voters, which amounted to 38 percent in favor, as against the opposition polling of 2,605,983 votes. Jayewardene thus robbed the country of an elected democratic form of government for the next six years and plunged the country into chaos and disarray.
The two known prominent perpetrators of intimidation and violence were Paul Perera, the chairman of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission and Anura Bastian, a Member of Parliament and the confidante of Jayewardene. Subsequently, Jayewardene rewarded Perera with a nomination as an MP and Anura Bastian, the gun-wielding MP, with the fitting appointment as deputy minister in charge of the Home Guards.
Closer examination of the referendum showed that despite the massive fraud and rigging, the voting pattern reflected that the government was convincingly defeated in 48 out of 168 parliamentary seats. The referendum remained a mocking postscript of the 50 years of parliamentary democracy when on October 21, 1982, the government celebrated 50 years of universal franchise with the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince Philip, the Duke Edinburgh, as the guests of honor.
The TULF parliamentary group decided on November 4, 1982, that its members should resign at the end of the term of the then parliament. All the TULF MPs handed over their letters of resignation to Amirthalingham, but decided not to join the common opposition political campaign.
The position adopted by the Tamil United Liberation Front was ambiguous. It was a clear indication of foot-dragging adopted by Amirthalingham, the leader of the opposition, by refusing to join the opposition groups for a joint campaign against the referendum. President Jayewardene came out to publicly state that he had received assurance from the TULF leadership that it would not actively canvas against the referendum. This statement went unchallenged, thus the TULF failed to give a clear direction to Tamils.
“To many, it seems unbelievable that the TULF under a once combative leader like Amirthalingham, should sit back and allow things to drift, waiting for a promised jam. The TULF too had reflected the general lack of conviction about democracy amongst the Tamil elites, whose public conduct was for the most part based on patronage. Although not very evident at that time, the TULF’s inactivity during the referendum had cut it adrift from its political base. Jaffna voter had shown that he had a mind of his own by registering a 91.3 percent vote against the government’s proposal. Despite the TULF’s lukewarmness, 60 percent (14 percent more than in the presidential elections) had taken the trouble to go and cast their opinion. For a political party to indulge in secret talks without actively articulating the feelings in its own constituency, spelt political suicide.” The Broken Palmyra, page 49.
On February 10, 1983, 17 members of parliament belonging to the United National Party resigned their parliamentary seats. Those were the constituencies where the government was defeated during the presidential election and during the referendum poll. Those resigned their seats included one minister, six deputy ministers and two district ministers.
They were, Dr Ranjit Arapattu (Beliata) – Minister of Health; Tudor Gunasekera (Mahara) – District Minister Gampaha; Dr P M B Cyril (Tissamaharama) – District Minister Hambantota; Sumanadasa Abeyawickrema (Akmeemana) – Deputy Minister Agricultural Development and Research; Mrvyn Kularatne (Eheliyagoda) – Deputy Minister of Defense; Premaratne Gunasekera (Maharagama) – Deputy Minister of Public Omnibus Transport; D E Tilakaratne (Ratgama) – Deputy Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Sports; Harish Wanigasekera (Hakmana) – Deputy Minister of Rural Development; V L Wijemanne (Kalutara) – Deputy Minister of State Plantation; Sepala Akurugoda (Baddegama); Ryter Tilakasekera (Ambalangoda); Albert de Silva (Kamburupitiya); Padmin Fonseka (Panadura) T D Franciscu (Mulkirigala); Reginald V Wijegoonaratne (Matugama); Jinadasa Weerasinghe (Tangale) and S Sumathiratne (Habaraduwa).
Earlier on February 9, Ronnie De Mel, the Minister of Finance and Planning, resigned his parliamentary seat of Devinuwara. On February 10 he was nominated as the new member of parliament for Bulathsinghala, instead of O S Perera, who had resigned his seat earlier.
The holding of the parliamentary by-elections necessitated another amendment to the constitution. The 5th amendment to enable the holding of by-elections for 18 vacancies in the parliament was passed in Parliament on February 24, 1983, with 122 votes to none against. The SLFP MPs of the Srimavo group and the lone Communist Party MP abstained from voting. The TULF, Maitripala Senanayake, S D Bandaranaike and Halim Ishak were absent when the vote was taken.
Earlier, on October 27, 1982, a group of eight Tigers led by Seelan arrived at Chavakachcheri police station in a hijacked mini bus. Seelan was accompanied by Aruna, Shankar, Pulendran, Raghu, Mahattaya, Santhosam and Bashir Kaka. The station was located in a double-storey building and was well guarded and considered impregnable.
As they entered the police station they started firing at the guards outside and sprinted towards the first floor and searched for policemen, room by room, and also searched the residential section of the station. Three policemen were killed – police Constables Kandiah of Mirusuvil, Karunanandan of Uduvil and Tilakaratne of Kegalle. Constable Jayatilleke, who jumped from the upper storey of the station, was injured and admitted to Jaffna Hospital, along with Sergeant Kandiah, who suffered gunshot injuries.
Two prisoners, Karthigesu and Aiyathiurai, in the police lock-up at the time of the lightening raid by the LTTE, were also wounded.
The police armory, which consisted of two SMGs, nine rifles, one pistol, 19 repeater guns and two shot guns, was cleaned out by the LTTE fighters. During the 15-minute attack and exchange of fire, one policeman fired back at the attackers and one bullet pierced Pulendran’s shoulder, another hit Raghu and broke his right hand and the third went through Seelan’s kneecap, seriously wounding him. Seelan was given shelter by Jaffna University lecturer M Niththyanandan and his wife Nirmala. Subsequently, Seelan was ferried to Tamil Nadu, India for medical attention and returned to Jaffna, along with Prabakaran, on February 18, 1983. Again, in October, the LTTE gunmen killed army Corporals Hewavasam and Tissera at Kankesanthurai.
Meanwhile, on November 14 and 15, 1982, security forces arrested three Roman Catholic priests, Father A Singarayer, Father S Sinnarasa and Father Jayatilakarajah, who were detained at the notorious Gurunagar Army Camp in Jaffna. The Christian clergies were held incommunicado, denied access to lawyers or friends.
On November 18, Nirmala Nithiyananthan, a sociologist, political scientist and popular writer, became the first women to be arrested, along with her university lecturer husband, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and both were detained in the Gurunagar camp. It was reported that she was beaten up there. The charges against the two were harboring terrorists and withholding information. Nirmala Nithiyananthan was held in the custody of male guards.
The arrests of the Catholic priests sparked off protests. Thousands of Tamil demonstrators, including students, priests and nuns, took part in demonstrations, pickets and hunger strikes. The Bishop of Jaffna, Reverent V Dogupillai, registered the strongest protest to the president.
On December 15, 1982, police invaded St Anthony’s Church in Vavuniya where more than 500 people were assembled to observe a day of prayer and fasting in protest against the arrests of the Catholic clergies. In the morning, police threw teargas grenades into the crowd and women were kicked and beaten. To general disbelief, Jayewardene, the president who preached Buddhism, did nothing to bring to justice those responsible.
On January 26, 1983, students from several schools in Jaffna and from the University of Jaffna marched through the streets of Jaffna city and demanded the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the release of student leaders, clergies and social workers.
On February 4, 1983, the entire North and Eastern Provinces was crippled by the observance of a general strike on Sri Lanka’s independence day, in response to an appeal by student groups and political leaders to protest discrimination against the Tamils.
On February 24, a bizarre court room drama unfolded when Thangathurai, the founder of TELO, made a moving statement in the High Court of Colombo. Thangathurai, in Tamil, stated that, “We are not lovers of violence, nor victims of mental disorder. We are fighters, belonging to an organization that is struggling to liberate our people. To those noble souls who keep on babbling about terrorism, we have something to say.
“Did you not get afraid of terrorism when hundreds of Tamils got massacred in cold blood, when the racist hate spread like wild-fire in this country? Did terrorism mean nothing to you when innocent Tamil women were raped and their chastity molested? When the cultural treasures of the Tamils were torched and reduced to ashes? Why, in 1977, alone, 400 Tamils were butchered, killed and their blood spattered and reddened the mother earth? Haven’t you not seen the phantom growth of terrorism then? It is only when a few ruthless policemen were killed in Tamil Eelam and few millions’ rupees is robbed from the banks, you begin to prate about terrorism and the ghost of terrorism begins to haunt you! Why?
“I pray that innocent ordinary Sinhalese should not reap what the power-hungry Sinhalese politicians have so far sown. These trials and tribulations, we consider them as boon bestowed on us by the God Almighty to cleanse us. Ultimate victory shall be ours.” High Court Judge C L T Moonemale sentenced Thangathurai and the other five accused to life imprisonment on two counts and 15 years rigorous imprisonment on two other counts.
During this period, student unrest in the universities had taken shape. Students at all campuses went on a one-day strike on February 24, 1983, and one of their main demands was the repeal of the Prevention of the Terrorism Act. There was mounting discontent over the arrest and detention of three students from the University of Jaffna, and already a strike in the University of Colombo was on. A wave of discontent and unrest was clearly seen when the police unleashed brutal terror on the students at the universities of Colombo and Jayewardenepura.
Students from the universities of Peradeniya, Kelaniya, Ruhuna and Batticaloa protested to police excesses against the striking students at Colombo and Jayewardenepura and boycotted lectures.
On March 14, 1983, on the orders of the Assistant Government Agent, a joint police and army operation team raided the Pankulam settlement of Tamils of the Indian origin and set fire to crops and burnt down their huts. On April 6, police raided the Gandhiyam head office in Vavuniya – a charitable organization of the Tamils which was a driving force in rehabilitating hundreds of displaced Tamils of Indian origin.
The organizing secretary, Dr S Rajasundaram, was arrested and taken to the Gurunagar army camp for questioning. Two days later, Arulanandam David, the founder president of Gandhiyam, was also arrested and taken for questioning. The issue of the arrest and torture of A David received nation-wide condemnation.
In March 1983, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam circulated a memorandum addressed to the chairman and world leaders who were participating in the seventh summit meeting of Non-Aligned Nations, held in New Delhi between March 7 and 15, documenting the state terrorism practiced by the government of Sri Lanka and the need for the Tigers to enter into an armed conflict with the government for the creation of a separate state for Tamils. The memorandum declared:
“To the community of world nations, Sri Lanka attempts to portray itself as a paradise island, cherishing the Buddhist ideals of peace and dharma, adhering to a noble political doctrine of socialist democracy and pursuing a neutral path of non-alignment. Paradoxically behind this political facade lies the factual reality, the reality of racial repression, of the blatant violation of basic human rights, of police and military brutality, or attempted genocide. Masterminding a totalitarian political system with the collusion of US imperialism, the Sri Lankan ruling elite since ‘independence’ wielded their political power by invoking the ideology of national chauvinism and religious fanaticism and by actually practicing a vicious and calculated policy of racial repression against the Tamil people.
“It is a tragic paradox that dictatorial regimes like Sri Lanka, who stand indicted by world humanist movements, for crime against humanity, could parade on a world forum with the mantle of democracy and dharma. Our objective is to expose this hypocrisy and place before you the authentic story, the story of the immense sufferings as well as the heroic struggle our people, who have no choice but to fight for dignity and freedom, rather than reduced to slavery and slow death.”
A conference was scheduled at the Jaffna secretariat to discuss with the chiefs of the armed forces and the police the deteriorating situation in Jaffna. Lalith Athulathmudali, who assumed the post of Minister for National Security, on March 23, 1983, was to participate. But on the morning of April 2 a powerful bomb was detonated at the secretariat building, hours before the meeting was to take place, as a reminder to the minister about his unwelcome presence in Jaffna.
Even though confusion and antagonism prevailed in the North, Jayewardene had his own plans to settle his score with the Tamils, who posed a real threat to his ability to govern the country. Furthermore, he was very much distressed over the active participation of Tamils in the referendum. Escalation of violence in Tamil regions, too, invited his earnest attention to put end to Tamil militancy in the North.
Rumors were afloat that the Tamils were under close surveillance by the government and that an extra-judicial program was being worked out in detail, and which at any time the government might implement.
The militancy that emerged in the North and Eastern provinces was gradually accepted in the region as another form of political statement. This gave Tamils a sense of identity and dignity. Alalasundaram, one of the TULF leaders and a member of parliament, who represented the Kopay constituency, was shot and injured at his house by a militant group for allegedly carrying out a smear campaign against the militant movements. This incident provoked strong condemnation, but people were beginning to understand their helplessness against the uncontrollable underground of Tamil militancy.
Militant activities have always been considered as political tools used in any liberation struggle by political organizations. Unfortunately, Tamil militancy took the wrong direction and gradually fully-grown militant organizations emerged as units to subjugate the Tamils rather than involve them in any useful political exercises. Lack of political expediency and political direction caused untold misery and suffering to the very people for whom these organizations came forward to struggle. The militant organizations learned to stage-manage protest marches to promote inter-organization rivalries, and they reached a stage where they were not accountable to the people any more.
The militant organizations, by their gun-wielding culture, refused to tolerate any form of democracy within and out of the organizations. Any form of dissent within their own rank and file or emerging from the public was dealt with severely, generally with death. They began to claim publicly of their successful exploits of military ambushes and attacks against government security organizations. Initially, people were thrilled by these exploits, but gradually they began to realize the offensive nature of the incidents as they had no political strategy and appeared designed simply to claim individual superiority over another militant organization. This realization, however, came too late and the dictum of the militant organizations prevailed.
The government announced the date for holding local government elections in the entire country. Few Tamils came forward to contest as United National Party candidates in the Urban Council elections at Point Pedro and Chavakachcheri. On April 29, gunmen struck terror and the principal UNP candidates who filed nominations were shot and killed. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam decreed to boycott the local government elections proposed to be held on May 18, 1983. However, Amirthalingham and the TULF, unmindful of the decree from the LTTE, vigorously and defiantly pursued their election campaign at Point Pedro, Chavakachcheri and in the Jaffna municipal area.
“Amirthalingham, however, pursued his campaign defiantly. On May 8, the LTTE took on the TULF publicly for the first time. As Amirthalingham was addressing a public meeting in Jaffna asking the people to vote fearlessly, six young Tigers burst into the gathering, firing in the air and ordering the crowd to disperse. One LTTE member shouted, looking at Amirthalingham: ‘What have you done for the last 30 years?’ The Tigers then drove away with Amirthalingham’s car at top speed and it was later found abandoned opposite a crematorium, its windscreen smashed and tires shot and deflated. The firing at the public meeting triggered a panic run, but the TULF chief stood his ground visibly unfazed, as he would increasingly in the years to come. He put up a brave front that day, saying his party was not afraid of the gun and the poll boycotters should place their case before the electorate. ‘We are ready to accept the verdict of the people,’ he thundered.” Tigers of Lanka – From Boys to the Guerrillas by M R Narayan Swamy, page 86.
The turn out on polling day was low and the LTTE went beyond the boycott by attacking a polling booth at Kantharmadam, Jaffna. They hurled a bomb into the polling booth and opened fire at an armed guard, killing one soldier.
The Sinhalese soldiers were furious at the death of the soldier and they went on a rampage, setting fire and destroying 64 houses, three mini-buses, nine motor-cars, three motorcycles and more than 36 bicycles within three hours. The army high command withdrew the unit that went berserk and six leaders were dismissed. In retaliation, nearly 90 soldiers deserted from the army. They, too, were sacked from the army, along with six officers found to be in sympathy with their men.
On April 11, 1983, Leslie Gunawardene, the General Secretary of the LSSP and a veteran politician dies.
Meanwhile, on April 29, 1983, nominations were received for the 18 vacant constituencies in the parliament. A total of 82 candidates filed nominations as follows: UNP – 18; SLFP – 14; JVP – five; CP – two; LSSP – one; NLSSP – one and the balance were independent candidates. The polling took place on May 18, 1983.
At the polling, UNP won 14 seats- they were – M H K Jagathsena (Ambalangoda); Dr Ranjit Attapattu – (Beliata); P S L Galappaththy (Devinuwara); Dr Leonard Kiriella (Eheliyagoda); Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena (Hakmana); G V S De Silva (Habaraduwa); Gamini Lokuge (Kesbawa); K Jayakody (Mahara); Ananda Kularatne (Mulkrigala); Asoka Somaratne (Ratgama); Dr P M B Cyril (Tissamaharama); and Jinadasa Weerasinghe (Tangalle).
The SLFP won the following three seats:
Richard Katherine (Akmmemana); Amarasiri Dodangoda (Baddegama); and Anil Moonesinghe (Matugama). Dinesh Gunawardene of Mhajana Eksath Perumuna (MEP) won in one seat.
After the by-elections, Tamil undergraduate students and a few Tamil lecturers at the University of Peradeniya were attacked in May 1983 by Sinhalese undergraduates of the same university. The Tamil undergraduates were dragged out of their rooms and clubbed with iron bars. They were ordered to leave the campus. Some of these Tamil undergraduates were admitted to a hospital at Kandy. Tamils students were told, “No campus and no Eelam for you bastards.”
There were clear indications in the months of June and July that the police and armed forces were planning a systematic assault on Tamils in the North, as well as in the Eastern provinces. In Trincomalee, at least 23 people were killed in a spate of violence by the police that continued until the end of July 1983. In several joint operations by army and police the houses of Tamil residents were searched, and the residents taken away to unknown destinations. Their houses were burned. Hundreds of shops in the area were also burned down, as well as several Hindu temples and a church. In July 26 and 27, Sri Lankan Navy personnel ran amok in the Eastern port city of Trincomalee, killing people and burning down more than 200 houses.
This anti-Tamil program of the government has been very clearly described by Nancy Murray, who is a member of the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism and the Council of the Institute of Race Relation, as follows:
“The two-months program at Trincomalee left the town in ruins, thousands homeless and over 30 dead by the end of July. There was a certain method in all this destruction. For years, the government had been sponsoring Sinhalese settlement of Eastern Districts, determined that the Sinhalese, and not the Tamils benefit from the Mahaweli Development Scheme. By 1983, some of the Eastern Districts were becoming predominantly Sinhalese. These settlers were too willing to take parts in acts of aggression against their Tamil neighbors, as part of their expansionist drive. The government also hoped that the Sinhalese settlers could be duped into accepting an American military presence in their midst – on the grounds that what the Tamils saw was bad must be viewed as good by the Sinhalese.” The State Against the Tamilsappeared in the Sri Lanka Racism and the Authoritarian State, by Nancy Murray, page 104.
On June 30, 1983, the TELF president, Dr S A Tharmalingam and secretary, Kovai Mahesan, sent telegrams from Jaffna about Trincomalee to a number of Western embassies in Colombo, as well as to the embassies of Cuba, Iraq, Libya, the USSR, the PLO, the UN and the Apostolic Nunciate. The contents of the telegram, which appeared in the press on July 1, were, “Tamils experience a pathetic situation in Trincomalee. Killing, looting, arson now taking place under government declared curfew. Racist security forces behind violence. We seek immediate intervention of friendly nations to stop genocide of Tamils”. The TELF also called for a Hartal in Jaffna on July 1 to protest against the violence in Trincomalee.
The Tamil Eelam Army (TELA), a new breakaway group from the TELO, led by Oberoi Thevan, who was responsible for the bomb at Hotel Oberoi in Colombo, marked its advent with a series of attacks on government property. Ten bogeys of the Yarl Devi train were burnt down, causing damage estimated at Rs60 million. Eleven buses worth Rs7.7 million were also burned. Several sub-post offices and an office in Jaffna were burned. But on August 14 Oberoi Thevan was shot and killed by two unidentified LTTE gunmen.
All this, of course, had nothing to do with the TELF. Dr Tharmalingam was an old-time nationalist and former Jaffna mayor who would very likely have felt uncomfortable with the gun-carrying youths. On hearing of the atrocities against Tamils in Trincomalee, his blood must have boiled, as would that of most people in Jaffna. It was then a growing sentiment in Jaffna that only foreign intervention could save the Tamils. In this sense, the TELF telegram was an accurate reflection of Tamil sentiment.
On July 2, 1983, the Saturday Review, the English Weekly and the Tamil bi-weekly Sutatntiran, a semi-official organ of the TELF, both published from Jaffna, were sealed by the Ggovernment. They were the local voices of the Tamils and they exposed the atrocities of the armed forces. Kovai Mahesan, the editor of Sutantiran and Dr Tharmalingham were arrested and taken to an army camp for interrogation.
The government proclaimed Emergency Regulation 15A on July 3, 1983, which authorized the security forces to bury or cremate bodies of people shot by them without revealing their identities or carrying out any inquest. Through this atrocious proclamation, the government authorized its armed forces and the police to shoot and kill Tamils at their whim, without any worry of disciplinary inquiries, or of any future judicial actions against them by the government.
On July 6, 1983, Amnesty International published the report of its mission to Sri Lanka, January 31 to February 9. The report described events up to May 1983.
Amnesty International remained concerned about the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and emergency regulations to detain members of the Tamil minority and the opposition parties without trial, sometimes incommunicado, and about continuing allegations of torture of detainees held under the PTA. The major concern expressed by Amnesty International was the random killing of selected Tamil civilians by the members of the security forces and the majority Sinhalese population.
Amnesty International in its report held that, “Political suspects under the PTA were frequently held incommunicado sometimes for more than eight months, that they have been tortured both in army camps and by the police. Methods of torture reportedly included hanging victims upside down from hooks, beating them with metal bars, driving needles under fingernails and applying chilly powder to sensitive parts of the body.”
When the report was published, Amnesty International said that it had continued to receive reports that detainees were being ill-treated, that relatives were being denied information about their whereabouts and that lawyers were being prevented from meeting them for weeks after their arrest.
According to the Amnesty report, the mission also collected evidence that three Tamils had been abducted and killed by the security forces, apparently in retaliation for the killing of the two police officers on June 3 and 4, 1981, and two other Tamils had been abducted, shot and left for dead, and that apparently no measures had been taken against those responsible – despite verdicts of homicide having been entered by the magistrate in all cases.
The report made 12 recommendations which included: informing detainees of the grounds for arrest; disclosing the place of detention to relatives and allowing immediate and regular access to lawyers; establishing independent machinery to investigate complaints of torture; and restoring the normal rules of evidence, according to which statements made solely to the police while in custody and not made before the magistrate are inadmissible in court.
Amnesty International sent the report to President J R Jayewardene in February 1983, with a request to meet the president, offering to publish the government’s comments. On April 6, the government informed that it was not possible to discuss the report.
The government issued a nine-point statement on the day of the report’s publication denying in general terms that the human rights violations described had taken place, although stating that some people had been held incommunicado. It was reported that Amnesty International wrote to the president, on July 19, to express its grave concern about the governmentis response. On July 22 the Sri Lankan High Commission in London released a more comprehensive statement on the report.
In the meanwhile, an interview with the correspondent of Daily Telegraph, a London based newspaper, appeared on July 8, which was reprinted in the Sunday Observer of July 17. J R Jayewardene said that, “I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now … now we can’t think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us.” The president of a country made this racist statement to indicate what was in store ahead for Tamils, as the anti-Tamil program of “Final Solution” had already been finalized and was awaiting implementation once the time was ripe.
Meanwhile, the General Council of the TULF met on July 9, 1983, and decided to hold its third annual convention from July 21 at Mannar. In the meeting, V N Navaratnam, the TULF Member of Parliament for Chavakachcheri, announced that he would resign his seat on July 21, 1983 at the end of the six-year term, and he subsequently did so.
“Poddar” Nadarajah, the chairman of the District Development Council, Jaffna, tendered his resignation on July 15. He asked, “What is the use of being the chairman of a council, which has no powers and finances?” The resignation brought an end to the DDC. Nadarajah resigned as chairman out of utter frustration at the way the government treated issues connected with finance and the devolution of powers to the DDC.
Thondaman, the minister and the leader of the CWC, was very upset over Nadaraja’s resignation. He told the press, “It is unfortunate Mr Nadraajah had to resign. This will have tragic consequences.”
The Sri Lankan government issued a ban on press reporting of Tamil militant activities on July 20, 1983. The Tamil United Liberation Front declined to attend the All Party Conference organized by the president as it was busy with its annual conference to be held at Mannar on July 23 and 24. In Madras, The Hindu, a conservative but a well-respected popular English daily, deplored the violence in the Tamil regions of Sri Lanka. It stated that it was up to the TULF leadership to safeguard Tamils from misguided groups of agent provocateurs.
On July 23, parliament voted for the extension of the emergency rule. Despite the promulgation of the harsh anti-terrorism law, the government kept on renewing the state of emergency monthly to license the armed forces to instill terror in the minds of the Tamils, as well as to shoot and kill them.
On July 23, around midnight, a group of LTTE men, including Prabakaran, Kittu, Iyer, Victor, Pulendran, Chellakili, Santhosam and Appiah, waited after laying a powerful landmine for the army, code-named “Four-Four Bravo” at the Gurunagar army camp near Tirunelvely junction, Jaffna.
The operation was to be a fateful one that would change the entire political perceptions of the government, the Sinhalese, the militants, the Tamils, India and the international community
Indeed, the dawn of July 24, 1983, was to be a new chapter in the history of Sri Lanka in general and the Tamils in particular.